Some background, as best I can summarise: Antony Flew was a relatively well known atheist -- not "the world's most notorious", by any stretch, but well known as a philosopher due at least in part to a paper he published in the 1950s on the question of whether God is a scientifically verifiable claim. More recently, however, in his eighties, he has changed his mind on the existence of God.
In 2004, Biola University awarded Flew the "Philip E. Johnson Award for Liberty and Truth". (I am tempted to request that you shoot me if I ever receive an award named for someone thus famed for the distortion of science. In so doing, I reveal my own bias, of course! Still, I really am trying to be fair here). Flew said in his acceptance speech:
In speaking to, or writing for, my fellow professional philosophers I write or speak only about Aristotle's God, who was not concerned with or about human beliefs or behavior. But in speaking to an audience in the United States I cannot do better than to say that I have become, like the young Mr. Jefferson who drafted the Declaration of Independence, a Deist.There has been more than one insinuation that Flew would have to be senile to accept the arguments for God that he has done. This is too typical of the way some atheists feel about religion in general to be entirely credible. We cannot always understand why any sensible person would believe it, but many otherwise sensible people do. In Flew's case, shifting to Deism shows at least some sign of rigour. Many, indeed perhaps most, of the standard arguments for God will take you little further.
Recently, a book has come out, with authorship credited to Flew and to the evangelical Roy Varghese. A New York Times article questions the book's authorship:
As [Flew] himself conceded, he had not written his book.Richard Carrier, an atheist who corresponded with Flew over his change of mind, has posted his own version of events, along with a theory of his own about the book's authorship:
“This is really Roy’s doing,” he said, before I had even figured out a polite way to ask. “He showed it to me, and I said O.K. I’m too old for this kind of work!”
When I asked Varghese, he freely admitted that the book was his idea and that he had done all the original writing for it. But he made the book sound like more of a joint effort — slightly more, anyway. “There was stuff he had written before, and some of that was adapted to this,” Varghese said. “There is stuff he’d written to me in correspondence, and I organized a lot of it. And I had interviews with him. So those three elements went into it. Oh, and I exposed him to certain authors and got his views on them. We pulled it together. And then to make it more reader-friendly, HarperCollins had a more popular author go through it.”
So even the ghostwriter had a ghostwriter: Bob Hostetler, an evangelical pastor and author from Ohio, rewrote many passages, especially in the section that narrates Flew’s childhood. With three authors, how much Flew was left in the book? “He went through everything, was happy with everything,” Varghese said.
Cynthia DiTiberio, the editor who acquired “There Is a God” for HarperOne, told me that Hostetler’s work was limited; she called him “an extensive copy editor.” “He did the kind of thing I would have done if I had the time,” DiTiberio said, “but editors don’t get any editing done in the office; we have to do that in our own time.”
I then asked DiTiberio if it was ethical to publish a book under Flew’s name that cites sources Flew doesn’t know well enough to discuss. “I see your struggle and confusion,” she said, but she maintained that the book is an accurate presentation of Flew’s views. “I don’t think Tony would have allowed us to put in anything he was not comfortable with or familiar with,” she said. “I mean, it is hard to tell at this point how much is him getting older. In my communications with him, there are times you have to say things a couple times. I’m not sure what that is. I wish I could tell you more. . . We were hindered by the fact that he is older, but it would do the world a disservice not to have the book out there, regardless of how it was made.”
In my opinion the book's arguments are so fallacious and cheaply composed I doubt Flew would have signed off on it in sound mind, and [the reporter] Oppenheimer comes to much the same conclusion. It seems Flew simply trusted Varghese and didn't even read the book being published in his name. And even if he had, he is clearly incapable now of even remembering what it said. The book's actual author turns out to be an evangelical preacher named Bob Hostetler (who has also written several books with Josh McDowell), with considerable assistance from this book's co-author, evangelical promoter and businessman Roy Abraham Varghese.Carrier's post is interesting but he's biased as heck -- possibly biased as to his own influence on Flew's change of mind (Flew seems to have flip-flopped a bit) and the extent to which Flew would remember it, and definitely biased towards atheism; we can't help that. He does, however, give some interesting details on Flew's book. And apart from the speculation, much of what Carrier says is so entirely consistent with Varghese's statement on the matter, as quoted above, that I'm inclined to believe both.
However, I don't completely believe the story they told Oppenheimer. The style of the chapters attributed to Flew differs so much from the portions explicitly written by Varghese (such as a lengthy preface), that I suspect Hostetler was responsible for much more than the publisher claims. Whether that's so or not, this is a hack Christian tract, not formal or competent philosophy, nor anything from the mind of Antony Flew.
Here's is Varghese, repeated from above:
“There was stuff he had written before, and some of that was adapted to this,” Varghese said. “There is stuff he’d written to me in correspondence, and I organized a lot of it. And I had interviews with him. So those three elements went into it. Oh, and I exposed him to certain authors and got his views on them. We pulled it together. And then to make it more reader-friendly, HarperCollins had a more popular author go through it.”Here is Carrier on the book:
Curiously absent from the entire book is any discussion of Deism...These are strong indications that the overall shape and content of the book aren't Flew's doing -- which they wouldn't be, if Varghese's statement is accurate! It's not at all far-fetched to suppose that Varghese et al are using Flew to promote a worldview that doesn't precisely align with his. It would be possible to do this without actually lying, per se -- just omitting inconvenient qualifiers that Flew might have placed on his position had he been putting the book together himself, and adding in some (credited) bits from other authors that push people towards Christianity particularly.
...this book is filled with the typical concerns and methods of contemporary Christian apologetics...
Finally, chapters provided by Varghese (actually written in Varghese's name) vent a fireball of rage and calumny against the renowned, popular, and bestselling atheists Dawkins, Dennett, and Harris.
I can imagine them rationalising it this way, putting it together so carefully from things Flew actually did say, choosing the bits that made the story they wanted. They may well have even used statements from Flew that he later retracted, as Carrier claims. I can imagine Flew agreeing to let them write the book after a bit of pressure, thinking they had the right to the 'data' of his personal story, not paying attention to the way they were writing as if he agreed to the worldview they were promoting with that 'data', and feeling as if he had to go along with it once he'd said yes.
I can even imagine Varghese and possibly Hostetler rationalising that Flew probably would agree with such-and-such an argument, because it makes so much sense... but, though I can imagine them thinking that, I am inclined to withhold belief that they actually did include arguments that Flew didn't agree with. I really don't think they would have needed to. I could have done it without resorting to that.
In short, Flew may simply have decided that he doesn't have the energy to fight the war over subtext in the way his views are being presented by others. Varghese is being somewhat dishonest in presenting the view of the book as Flew's when it is really being pulled towards Varghese's own as a result of the fact that he did most of the work, but that's it.
And yes, Flew's old age may make him less inclined to expend the energy to argue over subtleties. He may also be in decline somewhat intellectually -- we know he's suffering from an inability to remember some things. That probably exacerbates the situation. It doesn't mean that Varghese and Hostetler made the whole thing up, though. With my imperfect knowledge, my current guess is that they merely took a real change of opinion and dressed it up to support their position as much as possible, but probably without lying outright.