Thursday, May 12, 2005

Flew on God and the Critics

More and recent thoughts on former atheist philosopher Antony Flew's newfound conviction in the existence of God:

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."


Flew's U-turn on God lies in a far more significant reality. It is about evidence. "Since the beginning of my philosophical life I have followed the policy of Plato's Socrates: We must follow the argument wherever it leads." I asked him if it was tough to change his mind. "No. It was not hard. I've always engaged in inquiry. If I am shown to have been wrong, well, okay, so I was wrong."

The Impact of Evangelical Scholars
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. Surprisingly, he gives first place to Aristotle in having the most significant impact on him. "I was not a specialist on Aristotle, so I was reading parts of his philosophy for the first time." He was aided in this by The Rediscovery of Wisdom, a work on Aristotle by David Conway, one of Flew's former students.

Flew also cites the influence of Gerald Schroeder, an Israeli physicist, and Roy Abraham Varghese, author of The Wonder of the World and an Eastern Rite Catholic. Flew appeared with both scientists at a New York symposium last May where he acknowledged his changed conviction about the necessity for a Creator. In the broader picture, both Varghese and Schroeder, author of The Hidden Face of God, argue from the fine-tuning of the universe that it is impossible to explain the origin of life without God. This forms the substance of what led Flew to move away from Darwinian naturalism.


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."

1 comment:

Kathy Carroll said...

Fascinating post, thank you. I wish more scientists had Flew's intellectual honesty and courage.