Anthony Flew

I am coming a little late and a little slow to this topic. I must be one of the very few people on the planet who was not aware that Anthony Flew had moved on from his widely known rejection of belief in God. He had written an essay back in the 1990s, I think, where following people like A.J. Ayers, he had demonstrated that since the idea of God is not “falsifiable”, it is therefore an impossible concept. By definition, impossible. Reading over the week-end a 1991 book by Terry Miethe and, as usual, digging around on the web, I made my very belated discovery. All the more interesting for all that. I was also sorry to learn that he had died in 2010.

Flew revised his previous intellectual position from that of atheism to deism. By “deism” he meant his conversion to the God of Aristotle, God as “first mover”. He did not go further to espouse the idea of God from any particular religious position. This change of mind on his part took place in 2004 and he published his reasons for adopting a new position in his 2008 book, There is a God.

The following is a quote from an interview he gave in 2008 (on the web):

There were two factors in particular that were decisive. One was my growing empathy with the insight of Einstein and other noted scientists that there had to be an Intelligence behind the integrated complexity of the physical Universe. The second was my own insight that the integrated complexity of life itself—which is far more complex than the physical Universe—can only be explained in terms of an Intelligent Source. I believe that the origin of life and reproduction simply cannot be explained from a biological standpoint despite numerous efforts to do so. With every passing year, the more that was discovered about the richness and inherent intelligence of life, the less it seemed likely that a chemical soup could magically generate the genetic code. The difference between life and non-life, it became apparent to me, was ontological and not chemical. The best confirmation of this radical gulf is Richard Dawkins’ comical effort to argue in The God Delusion that the origin of life can be attributed to a “lucky chance.” If that’s the best argument you have, then the game is over. No, I did not hear a Voice. It was the evidence itself that led me to this conclusion.

In the same interview Flew takes up the question whether those who continue to believe in God are obscurantist and irrational in their continued adherence to the idea of God as the personal creator of all things, Flew notes that there are three questions that Dawkin’s position on theism has failed to address:

Two noted philosophers, one an agnostic (Anthony Kenny) and the other an atheist (Thomas Nagel), recently pointed out that Dawkins has failed to address three major issues that ground the rational case for God. As it happens, these are the very same issues that had driven me to accept the existence of a God: the laws of nature, life with its teleological organisation, and the existence of the Universe.

So the three questions are:

  • the laws of nature
  • life with its teleological organisation
  • the existence of the Universe

In relation to the problem of evil, which the interviewer rightly points out is often conflated with the issue of how things came to be Flew notes that he sees the problem of evil as different. It requires a different kind of answer. His believe is in the Aristotelian idea of a divine cause which he regards as personal.

I should clarify that I am a deist. I do not accept any claim of divine revelation though I would be happy to study any such claim (and continue to do so in the case of Christianity). For the deist, the existence of evil does not pose a problem because the deist God does not intervene in the affairs of the world. The religious theist, of course, can turn to the free-will defence (in fact I am the one who first coined the phrase free-will defence). Another relatively recent change in my philosophical views is my affirmation of the freedom of the will.

There is a link to a video in which Anthony Flew discusses his change of mind on philosophical atheism here.

Dr. Geisler Touches On Antony Flew's Change of Heart from Papa Giorgio on Vimeo.

In this short broadcast Dr. Norman Geisler talks about Antony Flew's conversion from atheist to God believer, to a step or two away from becoming a Christian. Good insights.

For more clear thinking like this from Dr. Norman Geisler, see his site: http://www.normangeisler.net/

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One thought on “Anthony Flew

  1. Hi, Miriam, it’s definitely time for coffee. Sometimes, like in this instance, I write just to clarify my own thinking. I am reading an essay by Anthony Flew at the moment, an early one, where I have to pause and read back over a sentence a few times. So you’re not the only one. This topic, like so many controverted ones, is a difficult one, and it has a long history. Even the Greeks were at it!

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