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Anthony Flew February 7, 2006

Posted by June in Agnosticism, Atheism, Christianity, Deism, Other, Religion, Science.
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Thinking Straighter
Why the world's most famous atheist now believes in God.
by James A. Beverley | posted 04/08/2005 09:00 a.m.

Antony Flew, one of the world's leading philosophers, has changed his mind about God. And he has agnostics worried. . . .

His pedigree in philosophy explains the recent media frenzy and controversy. Raised in a Christian home and son of a famous Methodist minister, Flew became an atheist at age 15. A student of Gilbert Ryle's at Oxford, Flew won the prestigious John Locke Prize in Mental Philosophy. He has written 26 books, many of them classics like God and Philosophy and How to Think Straight. A 1949 lecture given to C. S. Lewis's Oxford Socratic Club became one of the most widely published essays in philosophy. The Times Literary Supplement said Flew fomented a change in both the theological and philosophical worlds.

Flew taught at Oxford, Aberdeen, Keele, Reading, and has lectured in North America, Australia, Africa, South America, and Asia. The Times of London referred to him as "one of the most renowned atheists of the past half-century, whose papers and lectures have formed the bedrock of unbelief for many adherents."

Last summer he hinted at his abandonment of naturalism in a letter to Philosophy Now. Rumors began circulating on the internet about Flew's inclinations towards belief in God, and then Richard Ostling broke the story in early December for the Associated Press. According to Craig Hazen, associate professor of comparative religions and apologetics at Biola, the school received more than 35,000 hits on their site that contains Flew's interview for Philosophia Christi, the journal of the Evangelical Philosophical Society. At his home in Reading, west of London, Flew told me: "I have been simply amazed by the attention given to my change of mind." . . . .

Flew is also quick to point out that he is not a Christian. "I have become a deist like Thomas Jefferson." He cites his affinity with Einstein who believed in "an Intelligence that produced the integrative complexity of creation." To make things perfectly clear, he told me: "I understand why Christians are excited, but if they think I am going to become a convert to Christ in the near future, they are very much mistaken." . . . .

Actually, Flew has been rethinking the arguments for a Designer for several years. When I saw him in London in the spring of 2003, he told me he was still an atheist but was impressed by Intelligent Design theorists. By early 2004 he had made the move to deism. . . .

Flew's preference for deism and continued dislike of alleged revelation emerge from two deep impulses in his philosophy. First, Flew has an almost unshakable view against the supernatural, a view that he learned chiefly from David Hume, the 18th-century Scottish philosopher. . . . He is not impressed by people who hear regularly from God. He did concede, reluctantly and after considerable discussion, that God could, in principle, puncture his bias against the supernatural.

Of more significance, Flew detests any notion that a loving God would send any of his creatures to eternal flames. He cannot fathom how intelligent Christians can believe this doctrine. . . .

When I asked Flew about his broader case for deism, he asked rhetorically: "Why should God be concerned about what his creatures think about him anymore than he should be directly concerned with their conduct?" I reminded him of biblical verses that also ask rhetorically: "He who planted the ear, does he not hear? He who formed the eye, does he not see?" (Ps. 94:9) It seems incredible to argue that any human cares more about the world than God does. "Is the Creator really morally clueless?" I asked. Flew responded to what he called this "interesting argument" with openness. . . .

Unlike many other modern philosophers, Flew has a high regard for the person of Jesus. Early in the interview, he stated rather abruptly: "There's absolutely no good reason for believing in Islam, whereas in Christianity you have the charismatic figure of Jesus, the defining example of what is meant by charismatic." By charismatic, he means dynamic and impressive. He dismissed views that Jesus never existed as "ridiculous." . . . .

Later I asked, "Are you basically impressed with Jesus?"

"Oh yes. He is a defining instance of a charismatic figure, perplexing in many ways, of course." Beyond this, Flew remains agnostic about orthodox views of Jesus, though he has made some very positive remarks about the case for the Resurrection. In the journal Philosophia Christi he states: "The evidence for the Resurrection is better than for claimed miracles in any other religion." No, he still does not believe that Jesus rose from the dead. However, he told me, the case for an empty tomb is "considerably better than I thought previously." . . . .

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