Skip to comments.Why Top Atheist Now Believes in a Creator : An Interview with Antony Flew
Posted on 11/03/2006 1:47:02 PM PST by SirLinksalot
Why Top Atheist Now Believes in a Creator
By Lee Strobel
Some news items are so staggering that they demand personal investigation. That was the case with the stunning announcement in late 2004 that the worlds most famous philosophical atheist, Dr. Antony Flew, had abandoned his skepticism and now believes in a Creator.
Finally, I was able to sit down with the Oxford-educated author of three dozen books including The Presumption of Atheism and Atheistic Humanism and interview him about his new conclusions. The remarkable conversation was captured on video and is now available in free clips at www.LeeStrobel.com. Here are some highlights of my chat with the spry 83-year-old professor.
Flew was warm and friendly during our conversation, offering thoughtful responses to my questions. He seemed comfortable in talking about his new beliefs, yet he was still careful in how he stated his position. It was clear that he was still thinking through some of the implications of his new-found belief in a Creator.
Asked what prompted him to so dramatically change his views, Flew focused on one particular issue. "Einstein felt that there must be intelligence behind the integrated complexity of the physical world," he said. "If that is a sound argument, the integrated complexity of the organic world is just inordinately greater all the creatures are complicated pieces of design. So an argument that is important about the physical world is immeasurably stronger when applied to the biological world."
He said in his opinion it was "just obvious that [this] argument is much stronger now" than ever before.
Interestingly, this is some of the evidence I discuss in my book The Case for a Creator, which retraces and expands upon the scientific investigation that led me from atheism to Christianity. Included in my book is an eye-opening interview with Dr. Michael Behe, the biochemist from Lehigh University, who describes complex and interdependent biological systems that cant be explained by Darwinian evolution and instead are better explained as the work of an Intelligent Designer.
During my interview, Flew spoke out strongly against Islam (calling it "intellectually contemptible") and made it clear that hes not yet a Christian. Still, as I pressed him on the attributes of the God he believes in, I was struck by how they tracked so well with the Christian conception of the Creator. For instance, Flew said he thinks the Creator is an omnipotent, eternal, conscious and intelligent being.
Although Flew takes a deistic approach by saying the Creator is uninvolved with humanity, he did concede that "its a reasonable thing for someone to argue" that the Creator is caring toward those he created.
Concerning Christianity, Flew called Jesus "a defining case of a charismatic figure." I probed on the issue of the resurrection a topic on which the atheist Flew had debated with Christian philosopher Gary Habermas in the past. Previously, Flews position was that a miraculous event like the resurrection wasnt possible because God didnt exist.
I pointed out that since Flew now believes in a supernatural Creator, then the possibility of Jesus resurrection becomes more plausible. His reply was encouraging to me: "Im sure youre right about this, yes," he said.
Still, Flew said he hopes there is no afterlife. "I dont want to go on forever," he said. "Really?" I asked. "Even if theres a heaven?" Flew replied: "Well, it would depend rather on what the activities were."
"If the Christian God exists," I said, "What would he have to do to convince you?"
As an atheist for most of his life, this wasnt something Flew had pondered. "Ive never thought about this at all," he said. Then he added: "But he would presumably know."
I pointed out that famous atheist Bertrand Russell said that if he were ever confronted with God, he would complain to him that he had failed to provide sufficient evidence of his existence. "But youve found enough evidence of an Intelligence, so youre further along than he was."
"Yes, oh, yes," he said. "I mean, theres been a gigantic advance in the sciences since the death of Bertrand Russell."
I asked whether it would require an encounter with God for him to believe in Christianity. "Well, yes, it would, but until youve had that experience, I think its impossible to believe it. You know, if I now had this sort of experience, it wouldnt seem right to me. I would wonder what was going on [and whether] I was going crazy."
His biggest barrier to Christianity, he said, is the doctrine of hell. "If I had begun as a Christian believer, I should have believed in the goodness of God, and I should regard itas I do regard it nowas totally inconsistent with the doctrine of eternal torment for anyone."
At one point, he commented: "If I had been brought up in a Catholic school [with the teaching about hell], I would presumably have been terrorized into belief."
I mentioned to him that my book The Case for Faith includes an interview with Christian philosopher J. P. Moreland on the rationality of hell. Flew said he would be willing to read the chapter if I sent it to him.
A few minutes later, as we were saying goodbye in the lobby of the hotel where the interview had taken place, someone came up to me with a copy of The Case for Faith and asked if I would sign it.
Instead, I promised to send the person another copyand promptly took the book, marked the chapter on hell, and gave it to Flew.
No word yet on whether it has influenced his thinking.
Great find. Thanks for posting this.
BACKGROUND OF ANTONY FLEW...
Professor Antony Garrard Newton Flew (born February 11, 1923) is a British philosopher. Though in December 2004 he began expressing deist opinions, he was formerly known principally as a supporter of libertarianism and atheism.
Flew was born in London in 1923, the son of a Methodist minister. He was educated at St. Faith's Preparatory 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, and one of the more prominent in the group identified with ordinary language philosophy. He was among many Oxford philosophers fiercely criticised in Ernest Gellner's book Words and Things, which he called a "juvenile work". Another early highlight in his career was a 1954 debate with Michael Dummett over backward causation.
He was a Lecturer in Philosophy at Christ Church, Oxford from 1949 to 1950, and followed this with four years as a lecturer at the University of Aberdeen, and twenty years as Professor of Philosophy at the University of Keele. Between 1973 and 1983 he was Professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading, and on his retirement took up a half-time post for a few years at York University, Toronto.
In his 1975 book Thinking about Thinking, he developed the No true Scotsman fallacy.
Flew has a long history of involvement in conservative politics. In the late 1980s he became an active vice-president of the Western Goals Institute, a pressure 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, MP.
He sits on the management committee of The Freedom Association, and 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.
Professor Flew is a Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association.
Atheism and Deism
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. Other philosophical proofs for God's existence also fail, according to Flew. The ontological argument in particular is false 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 impress Flew as being decisive.
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 in fact 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.
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. 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. According to the introduction, Flew informed Habermas in January 2004 that he had become a deist , 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. However, it is clear from the interview that Flew is not comfortable with either Christianity or Islam.
Flew's conception of God as explained in the interview is limited to the idea of God as a first cause, and 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."
Flew has subsequently made contradictory statements to those 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.". 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 an 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". (Dawkins has - 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.
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."
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:
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'.
Good isn't good if it doesn't punish evil. It is neutral.
another educated mind dumps atheism
ALSO SEE HERE :
Antony Flew Considers God...Sort Of
Antony Flew is considering the possibility that there might be a God. Sort of. Flew is one of the most renowned atheists of the 20th century, even making the shortlist of "Contemporary Atheists" at About.com. So if he has changed his mind to any degree, whatever you may think of his reasons, the event itself is certainly newsworthy. After hearing of this, I contacted Antony directly to discuss it, and I thought it fitting to cut short any excessive speculation or exaggeration by writing a brief report on, well, what's going on.
Once upon a time, a rumor hit the internet that Flew had converted to Christianity. The myth appeared in 2001 and popped up again in 2003. On each occasion, Flew refuted the claim personally, standing by his response to its first occasion with his own reply for publication at the Secular Web (Antony Flew, "Sorry to Disappoint, but I'm Still an Atheist!" 2001). So I was quite skeptical the third time around. But this time, things have indeed changed somewhat from where Flew stood in his 2001 article. Antony and I exchanged letters on the issue recently, and what I report here about his current views comes from him directly.
The news of his "conversion" this time came from a number of avenues, but the three I have good information on are an interview with Gary Habermas soon to be published by Philosophia Christi in which Flew appears to depart from his past views about God, a letter Flew wrote to a popular philosophy journal expressing doubts about the ability of science to explain the origin of life ("On Darwinism and Theology," Philosophy Now 47, August/September 2004, p. 22; cf. also Flew's Review of Roy Varghese's The Wonder of the World), and, just recently on national TV (the October 9 episode of "Faith Under Fire"), J. P. Moreland used Flew's "conversion" as an argument for supernaturalism.
The fact of the matter is: Flew hasn't really decided what to believe. He affirms that he is not a Christian--he is still quite certain that the Gods of Christianity or Islam do not exist, that there is no revealed religion, and definitely no afterlife of any kind (he stands by everything he argued in his 2001 book Merely Mortal: Can You Survive Your Own Death?). But he is increasingly persuaded that some sort of Deity brought about this universe, though it does not intervene in human affairs, nor does it provide any postmortem salvation. He says he has in mind something like the God of Aristotle, a distant, impersonal "prime mover." It might not even be conscious, but a mere force. In formal terms, he regards the existence of this minimal God as a hypothesis that, at present, is perhaps the best explanation for why a universe exists that can produce complex life. But he is still unsure. In fact, he asked that I not directly quote him yet, until he finally composes his new introduction to a final edition of his book God and Philosophy, due out next year. He hasn't completed it yet, precisely because he is still examining the evidence and thinking things over. Anything he says now, could change tomorrow.
I also heard a rumor that Flew claimed in a private letter that the kalam cosmological argument proved the existence of God (see relevant entries in Cosmological Arguments). But he assures me that is not what he believes. He said that, at best, the kalam is an argument for a first cause in the Aristotelian sense, and nothing more--and he maintains that, kalam or not, it is still not logically necessary that the universe had a cause at all, much less a "personal" cause. Flew's tentative, mechanistic Deism is not based on any logical proofs, but solely on physical, scientific evidence, or the lack thereof, and is therefore subject to change with more information--and he confesses he has not been able to keep up with the relevant literature in science and theology, which means we should no longer treat him as an expert on this subject (as Moreland apparently did).
Once Flew gives me permission to quote him I will expand this article with more information about his views and the reasons for them. That will have to wait for when Flew himself has finally mulled things over and come to something like a stable decision about what he thinks is most probable, and that may not happen until the release of his 2005 edition of God and Philosophy. For now, I think his view can best be described as questioning, rather than committed. And there is much to criticize in his rationale even for considering Aristotelian Deism. He is most impressed, he says, by Gerald Schroeder's book The Hidden Face of God: How Science Reveals the Ultimate Truth (2001), but Schroeder (a Jewish theologian and physicist) has been heavily criticized for "fudging" the facts to fit his argument--see Mark Perakh, "Not a Very Big Bang about Genesis" (1999); Victor Stenger, "Flew's Flawed Science"; and my own discussion in "Are the Odds Against the Origin of Life Too Great to Accept?" (2000), as well as my peer-reviewed article "The Argument from Biogenesis," Biology & Philosophy 19.5 (November, 2004), pp. 739-64. Flew points out that he has not yet had time to examine any of the critiques of Schroeder. Nor has he examined any of the literature of the past five or ten years on the science of life's origin, which has more than answered his call for "constructing a naturalistic theory" of the origin of life. This is not to say any particular theory has been proven--rather, there are many viable theories fitting all the available evidence that have yet to be refuted, so Flew cannot maintain (as in his letter to Philosophy Now) that it is "inordinately difficult even to begin to think about" such theories. I have pointed all this out to him, and he is thinking it over.
For now, the story of Antony Flew's change of mind should not be exaggerated. We should wait for him to complete his investigation of the matter and declare a more definite conclusion, before claiming he has "converted," much less to any particular religious view.
As if you don't know, Lee Strobel, the interviewer, is the author of three popular Christian Apologetics books --
* The Case for Christ: A Journalist's Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus
* The Case for Faith: A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity
* The Case for a Creator: A Journalist Investigates Scientific Evidence That Points Toward God
"...The rocks cry out," and I think someone is finally listening.
This story does my heart good. Just when I think this world should go to hell via the fastest express elevator, something like this pops up. If an 83-year old die-hard athiest can have a gradual change of heart, then maybe there's hope for us yet.
This man deserves prayer. I think I understand his struggle, a few gentle words from the great I AM could give him peace.
"Blah blah blah blah.."
I have always felt that Hell was to die, suddenly realizing you had been a baseturd most of your life.
ADDITIONAL UPDATES ON THE PHILOSOPHICAL JOURNEY OF ANTONY FLEW...
SEE HERE : http://www.secweb.org/index.aspx?action=viewAsset&id=369
"The Case for Christ" is a must read! "The Case for Faith" is much weaker, with some of the weakest arguments I've ever seen, and Stobel's alleged examinations weren't worth the paper. I haven't read the "Case for a Creator".
So we are too complex to have not had a creator, but God himself is not? Who created God, who is more complex than we?
I aways saw Hell as a loss of God in which God tells those bound for it that they hated Him in life so He's going to give them what the want, namely a place where He's not.
And with billions of souls all convinced of their own supremacy, and all equal in power, and none with a chance to appeal to a benevolent moderator, well, it's not a place I want to end up.
I imagine it as the Soviet Union, or any atheist state, to an infinite power.