11/11/2007                                                                                       View Comments

Richard Dawkins and Lee Strobel: Antony Flew

Richard Dawkins talks about Antony Flew's recent conversion to deism.


Lee Strobel holds an interview with Antony Flew on the afterlife.


From Wikipedia:

Professor Antony Garrard Newton Flew (born February 11, 1923) is a British philosopher. Known for several decades as a prominent atheist, Flew first publicly expressed deist views in 2004[1].

Biography

Antony Flew, the son of a Methodist minister, was born in London, England. He was educated at St Faith's School, Cambridge followed by Kingswood School, Bath. During the Second World War he studied Japanese at the School of Oriental and African Studies, and was a Royal Air Force intelligence officer.

After the war, Flew achieved a first class degree in Literae Humaniores at St John's College, Oxford. Flew was a graduate student of Gilbert Ryle, prominent in ordinary language philosophy. Both Flew and Ryle were among many Oxford philosophers fiercely criticised in Ernest Gellner's book Words and Things (1959). A 1954 debate with Michael Dummett over backward causation was an early highlight in Flew's career.[2]

Flew was a Lecturer in Philosophy at Christ Church, Oxford from 1949 to 1950, following which he was a lecturer for four years at the University of Aberdeen, and a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Keele for twenty years. Between 1973 and 1983 he was Professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading. Upon his retirement, Flew took up a half-time post for a few years at York University, Toronto.

Flew developed the No true Scotsman fallacy in his 1975 book, Thinking About Thinking.

Atheism and deism

Prominent atheist

While an undergraduate, Flew attended the weekly meetings of C. S. Lewis's Socratic Club fairly regularly. Although he found Lewis to be "an eminently reasonable man" and "by far the most powerful of Christian apologists for the sixty or more years following his founding of that club," he was not persuaded by Lewis's argument from morality as found in Mere Christianity. Flew also criticized several of the other philosophical proofs for God's existence. He concluded that the ontological argument in particular failed because it is based on the premise that the concept of Being can be derived from the concept of Goodness. Only the scientific forms of the teleological argument ultimately impressed Flew as decisive.[3]

In God and Philosophy (1966) and The Presumption of Atheism (1984), Flew earned his fame by arguing that one should presuppose atheism until evidence of a God surfaces. He still stands behind this evidentialist approach, though he has been persuaded in recent years that such evidence exists, and his current position appears to be deism. In a December 2004 interview he said: I'm thinking of a God very different from the God of the Christian and far and away from the God of Islam, because both are depicted as omnipotent Oriental despots, cosmic Saddam Husseins.[4]

Revised views

On several occasions, apparently starting in 2001, rumours circulated claiming that Flew had converted from atheism. Flew refuted these rumours on the Secular Web website.[5] In 2003, he signed the Humanist Manifesto III.

In December 2004, an interview with Flew conducted by Flew's friend and philosophical adversary Gary Habermas was published in Biola University's Philosophia Christi, with the title Atheist Becomes Theist - Exclusive Interview with Former Atheist Antony Flew. Flew agreed to this title.[1] According to the introduction, Flew informed Habermas in January 2004 that he had become a deist,[1] and the interview took place shortly thereafter. Then the text was amended by both participants over the following months prior to publication. In the article Flew states that he has left his long-standing espousal of atheism by endorsing a deism of the sort that Thomas Jefferson advocated ("While reason, mainly in the form of arguments to design, assures us that there is a God, there is no room either for any supernatural revelation of that God or for any transactions between that God and individual human beings."). Flew states that certain philosophical and scientific considerations had caused him to rethink his lifelong support of atheism.

Flew's conception of God as explained in the interview is limited to the idea of God as a first cause. He rejects the ideas of an afterlife, of God as the source of good (he explicitly states that God has created "a lot of" evil), and of the resurrection of Jesus as an historical fact. He is particularly hostile to Islam, and says it is "best described in a Marxian way as the uniting and justifying ideology of Arab imperialism.[1]

Reaction and response

Flew has subsequently changed his position given in the Habermas interview as justification for his endorsing of deism. In October 2004 (before the December publication of the Flew-Habermas interview), a letter written to Richard Carrier of the Secular Web, stated that he was a deist and also said that "I think we need here a fundamental distinction between the God of Aristotle or Spinoza and the Gods of the Christian and the Islamic Revelations.".[6] Flew also said: "My one and only piece of relevant evidence [for an Aristotelian God] is the apparent impossibility of providing a naturalistic theory of the origin from DNA of the first reproducing species ... [In fact] the only reason which I have for beginning to think of believing in a First Cause god is the impossibility of providing a naturalistic account of the origin of the first reproducing organisms."

In another letter to Carrier of 29 December 2004 Flew went on to retract his statement "a deity or a 'super-intelligence' [is] the only good explanation for the origin of life and the complexity of nature." "I now realize that I have made a fool of myself by believing that there were no presentable theories of the development of inanimate matter up to the first living creature capable of reproduction." wrote Flew. He blames his error on being "misled" by Richard Dawkins, claiming Dawkins "has never been reported as referring to any promising work on the production of a theory of the development of living matter". (Although Dawkins has written on the subject, it is unclear whether Flew is aware of it or what he thinks of it - in "Evolutionary Chemistry: Life in a Test Tube," published in the 21 May 1992 issue of Nature, with Laurence Hurst) The work of physicist Gerald Schroeder had been influential in Flew's new belief, but Flew admitted to Carrier that he had not read any of the scientific critiques of Schroeder that Carrier referred him to.

When asked in December 2004 by Duncan Crary of Humanist Network News if he still stood by the argument presented in The Presumption of Atheism, Flew replied he did but he also restated his position as deist: "I'm quite happy to believe in an inoffensive inactive god". When asked by Crary whether or not he has kept up with the most recent science and theology, he responded with "Certainly not", stating that there is simply too much to keep up with. Flew also denied that there was any truth to the rumours of 2001 and 2003 that he had abandoned his atheism or converted to Christianity.[7]

A letter on Darwinism and Theology which Flew published in the August/September 2004 issue of Philosophy Now magazine left the world hanging when it closed with, "Anyone who should happen to want to know what I myself now believe will have to wait until the publication, promised for early 2005, by Prometheus of Amherst, NY of the final edition of my God and Philosophy with a new introduction of it as ‘an historical relic’."[8]

But in 2005, when God and Philosophy was republished by Prometheus Books, the new introduction failed to conclusively answer the question of Flew's beliefs. The preface says the publisher and Flew went through a total of four versions (each extensively peer-reviewed) before coming up with one that satisfied them both. The result is an introduction, written in a distinctly detached third-person context, which raises ten matters that came about since the original 1966 edition. Flew refrains from personally commenting on these issues, and basically says that any book to follow God and Philosophy will have to take into account these ideas when considering the philosophical case for the existence of God.

  1. A novel definition of "God" by Richard Swinburne
  2. The case for the existence of the Christian God by Swinburne in the book Is There a God?
  3. The Church of England's change in doctrine on the eternal punishment of Hell
  4. The question of whether there was only one big bang and if time began with it
  5. The question of multiple universes
  6. The fine-tuning argument
  7. The question of whether there is a naturalistic account for the development of living matter from non-living matter
  8. The question of whether there is a naturalistic account for non-reproducing living matter developing into a living creature capable of reproduction
  9. The concept of an Intelligent Orderer as explained in the book The Wonder of the World: A Journey from Modern Science to the Mind of God by Roy Abraham Varghese
  10. An extension of an Aristotelian/Deist concept of God that can be reached through natural theology, which was developed by David Conway.

In an interview with Joan Bakewell for BBC Radio 4 in March 2005, Flew rejected the fine-tuning argument, and retracted his earlier claims that the origins of DNA could not be explained by naturalistic theories. However, he restated his deism, with the usual provisos that his God is not the God of any of the revealed religions:[9]

Q And certainly in America where you've been to lecture...
A Oh America, this is a very real phenomenon - oh yes. Part of Bush's second election success is due to this. And the unbelievers are absolutely furious, not believing that anyone with any intelligence could be anything but a Democratic voter.
Q What view do you take of what is happening in America - where presumably you're being hailed now as ... one of them?
A Well, too bad. [laughs] I'm not 'one of them'.

In late 2006, Flew joined 11 other academics in urging the British government to teach intelligent design in the public schools.

In 2007, Flew published a book titled There is a God, which was listed as having Roy Abraham Varghese as its co-author. Shortly after the book was released, the New York Times published an article reporting Varghese had been almost entirely responsible for writing the book, and that Flew was in a serious state of mental decline, having great difficulty remembering key figures, ideas, and events relating to the debate covered in the book.[10] The article provoked a public outcry, in which PZ Myers called Varghese "a contemptible manipulator."[11] Varghese, however, defended his actions.[12]

Political commitments

Flew has a long history of involvement in "ultra-conservative" politics. In the late 1980s he became an active vice-president of the Western Goals Institute, an interest group opposed to immigration and free trade, and supportive of apartheid. Flew was also a committee member of Majority Rights, alongside Ray Honeyford and Tim Janman, M.P. Antony Flew has never supported apartheid or protectionism, indeed he has always opposed both. [citation needed]

Professor Flew is a member of the management committee of The Freedom Association and a Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association. He has contributed to Right Now! magazine, the Salisbury Review, and publications of the Libertarian Alliance, the Social Affairs Unit, the Society for Individual Freedom and the Institute of Economic Affairs. He is also a supporter of the Better Off Out campaign for Britain to leave the European Union.[1]

Awards

On May 11, 2006, Antony Flew accepted the second "Phillip E. Johnson Award for Liberty and Truth" from Biola University. The award, named for its first recipient, was given to Flew "for his lifelong commitment to free and open inquiry and to standing fast against intolerant assaults on freedom of thought and expression." When informed of his award, Flew remarked, "In light of my work and publications in this area and the criticism I’ve received for changing my position, I appreciate receiving this award."[13]

Works

  • A New Approach to Psychical Research (1953)
  • New Essays in Philosophical Theology (1955) editor with Alasdair Macintyre
  • Essays in Conceptual Analysis (1956)
  • Hume's Philosophy of Belief (1961)
  • Logic And Language (1961) editor
  • God and Philosophy (1966)
  • Logic & Language (Second Series) (1966) editor
  • Evolutionary Ethics (1967)
  • An Introduction to Western Philosophy - Ideas and Argument from Plato to Sartre (1971)
  • Body, Mind and Death (1973)
  • Crime or Disease (1973)
  • Thinking About Thinking (1975)
  • Sociology, Equality and Education: Philosophical Essays In Defence Of A Variety Of Differences (1976)
  • Thinking Straight (1977)
  • A Dictionary of Philosophy (1979) editor, later edition with Stephen Priest
  • Philosophy, an Introduction (1979)
  • Libertarians versus Egalitarians (c.1980) pamphlet
  • The Politics of Procrustes: contradictions of enforced equality (1981)
  • Darwinian Evolution (1984)
  • God, Freedom and Immortality: A Critical Analysis. (1984)
  • The Presumption of Atheism (1984)
  • Examination not Attempted in Right Ahead, newspaper of the Conservative Monday Club, Conservative Party Conference edition, October 1985.
  • God: A Critical Inquiry (1986) - reprint of God and Philosophy (1966) with new introduction
  • Agency and Necessity (Great Debates in Philosophy) (1987) with Godfrey Norman Agmondis Vesey
  • Did Jesus Rise From the Dead? The Resurrection Debate (1987) with Gary Habermas
  • Power to the Parents: Reversing Educational Decline (1987)
  • Prophesy or Philosophy? Historicism or History? in Marx Refuted, edited by Ronald Duncan and Colin Wilson, Bath, (UK), 1987, ISBN 0-906798-71-X
  • Readings in the Philosophical Problems of Parapsychology (1987) editor
  • God, A Critical Inquiry (1988)
  • Does God Exist?: A Believer and an Atheist Debate (1991) with Terry L. Miethe
  • A Future for Anti-Racism? (Social Affairs Unit 1992) pamphlet
  • Atheistic Humanism (1993)
  • Thinking About Social Thinking (1995)
  • Education for Citizenship (Studies in Education No. 10) (Institute of Economic Affairs, 2000)
  • Merely Mortal? (2000)
  • Equality in Liberty and Justice (2001) Transaction Publishers.
  • Does God Exist: The Craig-Flew Debate (2003) with William Lane Craig
  • Social Life and Moral Judgment (2003)
  • God and Philosophy (2005) - another reprint of God and Philosophy (1966) with another new introduction
  • There is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind (2007) with Roy Abraham Varghese

References

>

9 comments:

Chucky Jesus said...

Well researched article, but I'm wondering what difference it makes? If Flew changed his mind, to suggest that we also should do that, or that the atheistic position is somehow weakened by his changing his mind, is nothing but an argument from authority.

Furthermore, if he, in fact, did change to the Deist position, he himself is making an argument from ignorance to suggest that the complexity of existence requires an intelligent force of some kind.

Billybee said...

All I wanted from "atheism" was to find a way to free myself from the horrible effect that believing the bible was doing to my life. It's interesting to watch the really really smart guys/girls battle over the bigger issues, but when I try to follow it too closly, my head starts to smoke...Anywho, I hope they get this is/ain't a god thing figured out. I need to know what to tell my kids.....
(I'm joking...)

redtail said...

Actually I think the whole situation with Flew is kinda sad...he seems very confused. I think he's ill or something. When asked a question, alot of times he answers that it's not something he's thought about. Makes me wonder- what is he thinking about!?

ding dong said...

can I play too?

Anonymous said...

I could care less what the ole fucker thinks one or the other. Christianity tormented me for 15 years! Theres no way in Hell I could ever go back I don't care how old I live to be.....

Monk said...

I've noticed that several unbelievers tend to go through a cycle: atheist to agnostic to deist and then back to atheist and so on (or some variation of the above). Maybe this is what he's doing?

But I'm like chucky jesus...what difference does it make? Why should he be so important?

Even if Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, Hitchens, etc...even if they ALL converted to some fundamentalist religion, that's their problem, not mine. And I don't see how such a conversion would REALISTICALLY effect the non-theistic position.

Lizzy said...

Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, Hitchens, ect.. all seem to be pretty smart guys, so if they all suddenly believed in God, the only thing I would be interested in would be:
(1) Why were you an atheist?
(2) Why are you no longer an atheist?

The atheistic position would only be weakened if their answers were any good.

Monk said...

Lizzy,

They ARE smart guys, and I see your point. However, my point was that, if we change our stance only because THEY did, then we are no better off than when we were christians. All we'd have been doing is following yet another charismatic, this time in a different guise, but fundamentally (no pun intended) the same.

Still, I'm we're just speaking hypothetically.

Monk said...

Edit: My last sentence should read, "I'm GLAD we're just speaking hypothetically."