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Sorry to Disappoint, Still an Atheist! [Antony Flew sets the record straight]
Rationalist International ^ | December 12, 2004 | Antony Flew

Posted on 12/13/2004 2:08:55 PM PST by snarks_when_bored

Has Antony Flew ceased to be an atheist?

In a sensationalist campaign in the internet, it is alleged that Professor Antony Flew, British philosopher, reputed rationalist, atheist and Honorary Associate of Rationalist International, has left atheism and decided that a god might exist.

The controversy revolves around some remarks of Prof. Antony Flew that seems to allow different interpretations. Has Antony Flew ever asserted that "probably God exists"? Richard Carrier, editor in chief of the Secular Web quotes Antony Flew from a letter addressed to him in his own hand (dated 19 October 2004): "I do not think I will ever make that assertion, precisely because any assertion which I am prepared to make about God would not be about a God in that sense ... 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."

This is not the first time that Professor Antony Flew's atheist position is attacked. In reaction to an internet campaign in 2001 that tried to brand him a "convert" to religious belief, Professor Antony Flew made the following statement. In 2003 he answered yet another campaign in this direction with the same statement. It is still now his latest official position in this regard.



Sorry to Disappoint, but I'm Still an Atheist!

Prof. Antony Flew

Prof. Antony Flew
Prof. Antony Flew

Richard C. Carrier, current Editor in Chief of the Secular Web, tells me that "the internet has now become awash with rumors" that I "have converted to Christianity, or am at least no longer an atheist." Perhaps because I was born too soon to be involved in the internet world I had heard nothing of this rumour. So Mr. Carrier asks me to explain myself in cyberspace. This, with the help of the Internet Infidels, I now attempt.

Those rumours speak false. I remain still what I have been now for over fifty years, a negative atheist. By this I mean that I construe the initial letter in the word 'atheist' in the way in which everyone construes the same initial letter in such words as 'atypical' and 'amoral'. For I still believe that it is impossible either to verify or to falsify - to show to be false - what David Hume in his Dialogues concerning Natural Religion happily described as "the religious hypothesis." The more I contemplate the eschatological teachings of Christianity and Islam the more I wish I could demonstrate their falsity.

I first argued the impossibility in 'Theology and Falsification', a short paper originally published in 1950 and since reprinted over forty times in different places, including translations into German, Italian, Spanish, Danish, Welsh, Finnish and Slovak. The most recent reprint was as part of 'A Golden Jubilee Celebration' in the October/November 2001 issue of the semi-popular British journal Philosophy Now, which the editors of that periodical have graciously allowed the Internet Infidels to publish online: see "Theology & Falsification."

I can suggest only one possible source of the rumours. Several weeks ago I submitted to the Editor of Philo (The Journal of the Society of Humanist Philosophers) a short paper making two points which might well disturb atheists of the more positive kind. The point more relevant here was that it can be entirely rational for believers and negative atheists to respond in quite different ways to the same scientific developments.

We negative atheists are bound to see the Big Bang cosmology as requiring a physical explanation; and that one which, in the nature of the case, may nevertheless be forever inaccessible to human beings. But believers may, equally reasonably, welcome the Big Bang cosmology as tending to confirm their prior belief that "in the beginning" the Universe was created by God.

Again, negative atheists meeting the argument that the fundamental constants of physics would seem to have been 'fine tuned' to make the emergence of mankind possible will first object to the application of either the frequency or the propensity theory of probability 'outside' the Universe, and then go on to ask why omnipotence should have been satisfied to produce a Universe in which the origin and rise of the human race was merely possible rather than absolutely inevitable. But believers are equally bound and, on their opposite assumptions, equally justified in seeing the Fine Tuning Argument as providing impressive confirmation of a fundamental belief shared by all the three great systems of revealed theistic religion - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. For all three are agreed that we human beings are members of a special kind of creatures, made in the image of God and for a purpose intended by God.

In short, I recognize that developments in physics coming on the last twenty or thirty years can reasonably be seen as in some degree confirmatory of a previously faith-based belief in god, even though they still provide no sufficient reason for unbelievers to change their minds. They certainly have not persuaded me.


Copyright © 2004 Rationalist International.


TOPICS: Miscellaneous; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: 1flewoversatansnest; anthonyflew; antonyflew; atheism; atheists; clarification; philosophy; religion; wrongforum
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Because several FR threads have been devoted to the widely reported story of Antony Flew's recantation of atheism, it seems reasonable to start a thread featuring Flew's own response to the story.
1 posted on 12/13/2004 2:08:55 PM PST by snarks_when_bored
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To: snarks_when_bored
Because several FR threads have been devoted to the widely reported story of Antony Flew's recantation of atheism, it seems reasonable to start a thread featuring Flew's own response to the story.

Goes to show that not all on FR is as it seems.

2 posted on 12/13/2004 2:11:32 PM PST by WildTurkey
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To: snarks_when_bored

He's an agnostic, An Atheist is sure he "knows" there is no god, while an agnostic believes there could be.


3 posted on 12/13/2004 2:11:40 PM PST by LauraleeBraswell (Support our troops.........)
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To: WildTurkey

Was an abc news report, not started on FR.

BTW welcome to FR.


4 posted on 12/13/2004 2:15:53 PM PST by KeyWest
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To: snarks_when_bored
Sounds like he's an agnostic - i.e. he can't say for certain whether God exists.

He wishes he could say God definitely does not exist, but he can't.

5 posted on 12/13/2004 2:16:59 PM PST by wideawake (God bless our brave soldiers and their Commander in Chief)
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To: snarks_when_bored

I've often laid awake at night, fretting and sweating, dying to know the status of Antony Flew's theological development.


6 posted on 12/13/2004 2:19:13 PM PST by dead (I've got my eye out for Mullah Omar.)
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To: wideawake

Something along those lines, I think. He points out something that many theists have talked about, i.e., that the Big Bang could be the handiwork of God. But, as a 'negative atheist' (or, if you will, agnostic), he comes down on the side of seeking a physical explanation for the Big Bang.


7 posted on 12/13/2004 2:20:26 PM PST by snarks_when_bored
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To: snarks_when_bored
Site Meter
He must be a John Kerry type of athiest...(was one before he wasn't)

IMHO, Cheers
Sharper Minds Daily
8 posted on 12/13/2004 2:21:36 PM PST by KMC1
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To: snarks_when_bored
So, he responded to an article over a year before it was written?

There's proof of supernatural forces, right there!

9 posted on 12/13/2004 2:21:44 PM PST by B Knotts
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To: B Knotts

As I understand it, this is an up-dated version, responding to the recent spate of stories.


10 posted on 12/13/2004 2:22:59 PM PST by snarks_when_bored
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To: snarks_when_bored

OK, so the old fool is still in darkness.


11 posted on 12/13/2004 2:24:15 PM PST by Pittsburg Phil
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To: dead

I wonder what Anthony Flew's favorite Rolling Stone song is? That question seems almost as important as whether or not he is a negative double secret athiest.


12 posted on 12/13/2004 2:25:50 PM PST by escapefromboston (manny ortez: mvp)
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To: snarks_when_bored
Updated since Saturday?

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-1400368,00.html

Antony Flew, 81, emeritus professor of philosophy at Reading University, whose arguments for atheism have influenced scholars around the world, has been converted to the view that some sort of deity created the universe.

Flew, the son of a Methodist minister, is keen to repent. "As people have certainly been influenced by me, I want to try and correct the enormous damage I may have done," he said yesterday.

But he is unlikely to proclaim his faith from a pulpit. He is still not a Christian and dismisses the conventional forms of divinity as "the monstrous oriental despots of the religions of Christianity and Islam". He also stands by his rejection of an afterlife.


13 posted on 12/13/2004 2:28:19 PM PST by B Knotts
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To: snarks_when_bored
Gods and their associated religions come and go like waves on the seashore.....each one a existing for a second, some a little longer- but not much, against the enormous time span of mankind.
14 posted on 12/13/2004 2:29:20 PM PST by squirt-gun
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To: snarks_when_bored

Looks like the old guy will get his answer soon enough. ;)


15 posted on 12/13/2004 2:30:49 PM PST by anonymous_user
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To: B Knotts

Saturday was December 11, 2004; this piece was published Sunday, December 12, 2004. So I guess the answer to your question is, yes.


16 posted on 12/13/2004 2:38:03 PM PST by snarks_when_bored
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To: snarks_when_bored
You'll notice that he also takes the Aristotle/Spinoza dodge.

Aristotle believed that the world always existed and the Unmoved Mover (i.e. God) always existed and that the UM did nothing much other than organize the preexisting world.

Spinoza believed that the world always existed and that the world and everything in it was God (thoroughgoing pantheism), eliminating Aristotle's distinction.

Both of these theologies dodge the obvious question: where does the world come from if God was not its author?

17 posted on 12/13/2004 2:38:15 PM PST by wideawake (God bless our brave soldiers and their Commander in Chief)
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To: anonymous_user

That seems likely, unless he follows in the footsteps of the long-lived Bertrand Russell.


18 posted on 12/13/2004 2:39:18 PM PST by snarks_when_bored
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To: snarks_when_bored

I do not believe this re-cantation. It is a restatement of an old position and DOES NOT ADDRESS THE ISSUES in last week's story.

Last week's story dealt with the origin of life and *not* with the big bang.

Flew is not that shoddy!


19 posted on 12/13/2004 2:39:29 PM PST by newberger (The amazing thing about communication is that it ever occurs at all!)
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To: wideawake
You'll notice that he also takes the Aristotle/Spinoza dodge.

Aristotle believed that the world always existed and the Unmoved Mover (i.e. God) always existed and that the UM did nothing much other than organize the preexisting world.

Spinoza believed that the world always existed and that the world and everything in it was God (thoroughgoing pantheism), eliminating Aristotle's distinction.

Both of these theologies dodge the obvious question: where does the world come from if God was not its author?

Your last question seems to ignore the points you made earlier about the world having always existed. If the world (i.e., physical being of some sort) has always existed, the question, 'Where does the world come from?', is already answered.

20 posted on 12/13/2004 2:45:32 PM PST by snarks_when_bored
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To: wideawake

" where does the world come from if God was not its author? "

If God was the author, then who wrote God?

:^)


21 posted on 12/13/2004 2:47:07 PM PST by spinestein (Intolerance will not be tolerated !)
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To: spinestein

Anyone who missed him.


22 posted on 12/13/2004 2:48:03 PM PST by spinestein (Intolerance will not be tolerated !)
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To: newberger

Yesterday's Rationalist International posting of Flew's response refers to Flew's letter of October 19, 2004 (about two months ago). I'll have to check again, but I think that the recent stories about Flew's rejection of atheism are based on that letter. I'll check after I post this.


23 posted on 12/13/2004 2:48:36 PM PST by snarks_when_bored
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To: snarks_when_bored
Aristotle recognized the eternity of the world as a question unresolvable by scientific observation, not as a satisfying answer to the question of the world's existence.

The existence of a world that has no internal principle or constituent power that explains its own existence is problematic.

24 posted on 12/13/2004 2:49:34 PM PST by wideawake (God bless our brave soldiers and their Commander in Chief)
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To: snarks_when_bored
But, as a 'negative atheist' (or, if you will, agnostic), he comes down on the side of seeking a physical explanation for the Big Bang.

LOL, newspeak from the Godless.

25 posted on 12/13/2004 2:50:30 PM PST by jwalsh07
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To: newberger
Yes, it was Flew's October letter to Richard Carrier that set off this latest round of stories. Here's a link to the Newsday story:

Famous Atheist Now Believes in God

26 posted on 12/13/2004 2:52:30 PM PST by snarks_when_bored
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To: jwalsh07

I agree with you on that...dumb.


27 posted on 12/13/2004 2:53:07 PM PST by snarks_when_bored
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To: snarks_when_bored
Anthony Flew?

There is no such person.

28 posted on 12/13/2004 2:54:02 PM PST by N. Theknow (Proud psychiatric parasite of the DU since 1998)
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To: LauraleeBraswell

Wrong, an agnostic thinks the whole question of whether Good is unknowable under any circumstances. A negative atheist merely has a "lack of belief." He would potentially believe if proof could be provided.


29 posted on 12/13/2004 2:54:53 PM PST by Austin Willard Wright
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To: snarks_when_bored

The article I linked to was from Sunday, and said he had said these things "yesterday" (Saturday).


30 posted on 12/13/2004 2:55:09 PM PST by B Knotts
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To: LauraleeBraswell
He's an agnostic, An Atheist is sure he "knows" there is no god, while an agnostic believes there could be.

Ya nailed it, Lauralee.

31 posted on 12/13/2004 2:55:40 PM PST by Terabitten (Live as a bastion of freedom and democracy in the midst of the heart of darkness.)
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To: Austin Willard Wright
A negative atheist merely has a "lack of belief." He would potentially believe if proof could be provided.

That's the "weak-atheist" concept. It's sophistry. A weak atheist is no different than a strong one ... both do everything AS IF there was no God; all assumptions, actions, and conclusions follow from the PRESUMPTION that deity does not exist. A Weak Atheist simply refuses to assert "God does not exist" ... while, nevertheless saying, "I do not believe God exists." The difference is semantics ... nothing more.
32 posted on 12/13/2004 3:00:50 PM PST by TexasGreg ("Democrats Piss Me Off")
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To: wideawake
Aristotle recognized the eternity of the world as a question unresolvable by scientific observation, not as a satisfying answer to the question of the world's existence.

Aristotle's physics is impressively developed (and it became the basis of the Catholic view of the world as enshrined in the teachings of Aquinas), but it's wrong. Even so, Aristotle resorted to metaphysics to explain the ground of the physical world. His deity was 'thought thinking about itself', and it was responsible for the great circular motions of the heavens. This 'thought thinking about itself' was, of course, eternal, without beginning or end.

The existence of a world that has no internal principle or constituent power that explains its own existence is problematic.

That certainly appears to be the case.

33 posted on 12/13/2004 3:01:17 PM PST by snarks_when_bored
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To: snarks_when_bored
I agree with you on that...dumb.

Well, that definitely accrues to your favor. I was expecting an argument. :-}

34 posted on 12/13/2004 3:01:26 PM PST by jwalsh07
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To: B Knotts
Yes, I understand, but the web posting on Rationalist International is from Sunday (and is clearly responding to the stories that hit the press around the world).

Perhaps I'm mistaken on this, but I don't think so at the moment.

35 posted on 12/13/2004 3:02:55 PM PST by snarks_when_bored
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To: jwalsh07

Nah...I'm for speaking plainly. Calling things what they're usually called is okay by me (as long as there's no dangerous unclarity involved).


36 posted on 12/13/2004 3:04:10 PM PST by snarks_when_bored
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To: snarks_when_bored

This article appears to a 2003 statement by Flew republished by Rationalist International.


37 posted on 12/13/2004 3:04:39 PM PST by Tribune7
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To: Tribune7
Yes, but Rationalist International wrote the first few paragraphs of the post and referenced Flew's October, 2004, letter. Also, the last sentence of that preface reads as follows:  "It is still now his latest official position in this regard."

I take that last sentence to mean that Flew was consulted before the piece was re-published Sunday. I don't know this for a fact, of course, but that's the way the web-posting presents itself.

38 posted on 12/13/2004 3:09:15 PM PST by snarks_when_bored
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To: LauraleeBraswell
He's an agnostic, An Atheist is sure he "knows" there is no god, while an agnostic believes there could be.

And as Dr. Schuller says: "You know the agnostic is wrong, because either there is or there is not a God."

39 posted on 12/13/2004 3:12:06 PM PST by Aeronaut (May all the feckless become fecked.)
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To: snarks_when_bored
I think the rational thing to do would be to wait until Flew writes a letter to AP, the Telegraph etc. saying they got the story screwed up and that he's still an atheist.

Otherwise, I'm going to be inclined to believe he's really no longer an atheist.

40 posted on 12/13/2004 3:14:18 PM PST by Tribune7
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To: Tribune7

We may well see something like that if the story continues to circulate.


41 posted on 12/13/2004 3:21:11 PM PST by snarks_when_bored
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To: escapefromboston
I wonder what Anthony Flew's favorite Rolling Stone song is?

The internet is awash in rumors that it's Emotional Rescue.

42 posted on 12/13/2004 3:23:44 PM PST by WhistlingPastTheGraveyard
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To: snarks_when_bored
I saw this in a thread on the Boy Scouts. I thought is was worth repeating here.

There are two varieties of Athiest:

Variety One, or the True Athiest, is rational, polite, and maintains a "live and let live" philosophy. True Athiests are not perturbed by the outward displays of other peoples faiths, such as nativities, menorahs, or whatever. They simply don't care. They are more than capable of joining faith aligned organizations such as the Boy Scouts, usually doing so as ostensible Taoists or under the ever so useful umbrella of Unitarianism. They usually make excellent neighbors (and very good Scouts).

Variety Two, is a much noiser breed, and therefore easier to spot and more often mistaken as the genuine article. This is often called an Athiest, though it is really a False Athiest or, more technically, another term that starts with 'A' (and rhymes with 'Bass Hole'). This type has turned non-belief into a false religion in itself. It also never misses an opportunity to proselytize its belief in lack of belief, and always work hard to enforce its own non-belief on others. This variety finds it very difficult to become Boy Scouts etc., because the Boy Scouts themselves are smart enough to know trouble when they see it. These almost never make good neighbors.

Which sort do you suspect Mr. Flew is?

43 posted on 12/13/2004 3:44:00 PM PST by pillbox_girl
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To: TexasGreg

Good explanation.


44 posted on 12/13/2004 3:44:43 PM PST by Austin Willard Wright
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To: wideawake
"Both of these theologies dodge the obvious question: where does the world come from if God was not its author?"

Yes, they do, but if God did create the world then where did God come from? Using the scientific method, unless there is evidence to the contrary you always go with the simplest explanation. In this case it is simpler to postulate that the universe was always there than that God created the universe and that God was always there.

45 posted on 12/13/2004 4:09:01 PM PST by elmer fudd
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To: wideawake
Sounds like he's an agnostic - i.e. he can't say for certain whether God exists. He wishes he could say God definitely does not exist, but he can't.

Only in the same sense that he's "agnostic" about Elvis currently zipping around the galaxy in a flying saucer eating Krispy Kremes. Some claims, even if recognized as physical possibilities, are too unbelievable to be labelled with just "agnostic".

"Atheist" can refer both to someone who *lacks belief* in a god (soft atheist, negative atheist), AND to someone who *believes* there is no god (hard atheist, positive atheist).

Negative atheists probably usually have as much passion for atheism as they do for religion, and would prefer using the word "agnostic" as it seems less offensive to their religious friends.

46 posted on 12/13/2004 4:36:56 PM PST by beavus
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To: snarks_when_bored
he comes down on the side of seeking a physical explanation for the Big Bang.

He chooses to try to explain things in terms of what can be observed.

47 posted on 12/13/2004 4:39:01 PM PST by beavus
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To: anonymous_user
Looks like the old guy will get his answer soon enough. ;)

Only if he's wrong.

48 posted on 12/13/2004 4:40:46 PM PST by beavus
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To: snarks_when_bored
Your last question seems to ignore the points you made earlier about the world having always existed. If the world (i.e., physical being of some sort) has always existed, the question, 'Where does the world come from?', is already answered.

Good point. If it has always existed, then it was never created, and there is no creator.

49 posted on 12/13/2004 4:43:28 PM PST by beavus
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To: snarks_when_bored

This is not Flew's current response! This post is from 2001. Flew now repudiates this.


50 posted on 12/13/2004 4:43:37 PM PST by utahagen
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