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December 09, 2004

Antony Flew may have found Thomas Jefferson's god

Jason of Wisconsin Moon God sent me this article "Famous Atheist Now Believes in God:(More or less) based on scientific evidence".

The good news is that AP's headline-writer appears to endorse some form of naturalized epistemology. Actually, that's bad news because the headline is misleading. As misleading as saying that Flew now believes in God because DNA is really complicated.

Richard Carrier of Secular Web was skeptical, so he contacted Flew personally. Flew says he has provisionally accepted a hyper-intelligence as the best explanation for complex life on earth. Carrier writes:

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).

Interested readers should ignore the sensational AP report and go directly to Carrier's discussion, in which includes direct quotes from the Carrier/Flew correspondence.


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First from Majikthise, later from Julian Sanchez, Grammar.police, and Matthew Yglesias, we hear about Anthony Flew's theistic waverings. Flew, a philosopher well-known for his atheism, has apparently "converted" to a kind of deism, where he acknowled... [Read More]


I wonder if Flew takes intelligence itself to be complex enough to justify attributing design to it.

I think it is 'Antony' - no 'h'.

I had the pleasure of meeting and dining with Anthony Flew at a conference about three years ago. Although I would describe him as sharp for a man his age, the qualifier is sadly important: Professor Flew is a very elderly gentleman. I'm not saying age alone constitutes a legitimate reason for ignoring him, but... He's saying things inconsistent with everything else he's said in his whole life, and making pronouncements on matters where he admits not having kept up on recent literature. I find it difficult to take what he's saying seriously for those two reasons, and his advanced age provides some explanation for the anomoly.

I think it is 'Antony' - no 'h'.

You're right, Will. Thanks for sparing me considerable embarrassment. Thanks also for your very kind feedback on the latest naturalized epistemology post.

This is a relief. My faithlessness isn't shaken.

It's tough be an 81-year-old atheist.

This is an excuse to mention how proud I am of my 83-year-old grandfather who was sending out pro-atheist jokes from his WiFi accessible hospital bed last week.

Um, where is that Carrier/Flew discussion?

I'm sorry. I'm really useless today. Here's a link to Carrier's article about his>correspondence with Flew. It now shows up in the original post, too. For want of an "a href" the shoe was lost....

Should we coin a new phrase, "there are no atheists in a nursing home"?

Kinda reminds me of what Allan Bloom (himself, personally, an avowed atheist to the end) said in "Closing" that very few men are able to face the hard truth that they (their consciousness) won't exist after death. (The select true who can are the true philosophers. And no true philosopher can believe in God. That last bit was revealed in Ravelstein, not Closing).

Interestingly Saul Bellow, pushing 90, believes in God -- he wrote in Ravelstein (a book about his relationship with Bloom) that after death, "the pictures never stop." And he claimed that no one was really an atheist, that they all, deep down, believed this. That they just "talked tough."

Do they? Or is this just Bellow not being able to face this very unpleasant Truth?

Very amusing! Richard Carrier looks very concerned to paint Flew's assertion as an exceedingly tenative hypothesis, confirmation of which demands Flew's continued slogging through the deliberative process despite his eroding mental capacity, lack of acquaintance with numerous arguments that allegedly undercut his justification for so believing, and unfamiliarity with all the relevant literature. If I had to guess, I'd say that Carrier was doing his damnedest to give both Flew and Flewites several different ways out of this mess.

Sadly, this little item made the Rush Limbaugh show today too. Rush tried to use the opposite of the age argument - that Flew's age is part of the reason why he's changing teams, but that it's only now, faced with his mortality, that he's awakening to the truth. *sigh*... I guess for some people, the old "no atheists in foxholes" canard never gets old. I've gotten versions of this argument myself from my folks, who still think my own atheism is just a phase I'll grow out of when I become an adult.

And Jon, while many people believe in God for bad reasons, and certainly many believe out of fear of oblivion, there are believers who I'd never accuse of cowardice. Thomas Aquinas, for example, who rocks my socks as a philosopher.

Regarding Flew's conversion to theism, those interested might find this interview with philosopher Gary Habermas worth reading. Here is the link:

There are intelligent people on both sides of the argument. Somebody has made an error in evaluation of the facts. Both sides ought to admit that they may be wrong. Anythinl less is just pure arrogance.

There are intelligent people on both sides of the argument. Somebody has made an error in evaluation of the facts. Both sides ought to admit that they may be wrong. Anythinl less is just pure arrogance.

Even now Antony Flew absolutely rejects the idea of an afterlife, so the argument that he has changed his views because he cannot face the prospect of his own death does not seem to apply. He does not believe in a personal God or in life after death, but says he has changed his beliefs about the origins of the universe in the light of new scientific evidence.

Also, not all old people are mentally feeble. I would suggest evaluating him on the substance behind his reasoning rather than dismissing him just because he is older. When a person demonstrates a willingness to change life-long opinions it shows that they are still alert, still thinking actively, still open.

This was published in Rationalist International yesterday:

The news of his conversion was greatly exaggerated.

Concerning Flew's current views concerning God,
the three places where one can find statements
that are either directly or indirectly from
him include his letter to>Philosophy Now .

The>statement by Richard Carrier of the Internet Infidels, as well as an> exchange
with evangelical theologian Gary Habermas.

Flew is certainly to be commended for his
willingness to question and even alter longheld
views. On the other hand, the arguments, such
as they are, that he has put forth to justify
his recent turn to a limited theism, not only
do not seem very compelling but are very much
like the sorts of theistic arguments, that
he had been refuting with grace and ease in the
not so distant past. To be sure as Richard
Carrier has pointed out, we are not likely to
see a full statement of Flew's new views until
next year when the new edition of his book,
*God and Philosophy* comes out, with a new
forward from him,from Prometheus Books.
Meanwhile, I must admit disappointment with
Flew, not because he has changed his mind about
God, but because he has apparently done so for
rather flimsy reasons.

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