Who is Antony Flew?
Antony Flew is not just any atheist. For decades, he has been a dominant figure in the philosophy of religion, among the most influential of atheist philosophers. He lectured on philosophy at the University of Oxford and the University of Aberdeen, and subsequently held professorships at the University of Keele and the University of Reading. He is the author of the celebrated essays “Theology and Falsification” and “The Presumption of Atheism”, and many monographs including Atheistic Humanism and Merely Mortal?: Can You Survive Your Own Death?. He has also represented atheism in published oral debates with William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, and Thomas Warren.
Flew has not become a Christian; he has merely accepted the existence of God. He has described his new position as a form of deism. Deists accept that there is a God responsible for creating the universe, but reject claimed special revelation such as the Bible.
For Flew, this rejection of special revelation is not non-negotiable; Flew expresses an openness to the possibility of special revelation, and acknowledges that there is some evidence supporting the view that the Bible is such, but he makes it clear that his present view is that God does not intervene, and has not intervened, in human affairs since Creation.
What changed Flew’s mind?
Although Flew now believes that the case for the existence of God is powerful, he continues to reject outright the ontological, cosmological, and moral arguments for God’s existence.
Flew cites Gerald Schroeder’s work The Hidden Face of God and Roy Abraham Varghese’s The Wonder of the World: A Journey from Modern Science to the Mind of God as particularly impressive. In the foreword to the new (and final) edition of his God and Philosophy, which Flew now describes as “an historical relic”, he acknowledges that the argument from design “becomes progressively more powerful with every advance in humankind’s knowledge of the integrated complexity of what used to be called the ‘system of nature’.” As this progress continues, perhaps more will follow Flew’s lead in conceding ground to theism.
For atheists, this shift in Flew’s beliefs is highly embarrassing. To have such a prominent atheist accept the case for God’s existence is a major blow. To see how major a blow, consider the words of About.com’s resident atheist Austin Cline on October 16th, 2004:
“Have you read the news about Antony Flew abandoning atheism? This would be big news because Flew is one of the most prominent atheist philosophers of the 20th century. It would be big news, that is, if it were true.”
Some atheists have tried to explain Flew’s shift in thinking by his age; Flew is now 81, and so, it has been suggested, is professing belief in God just in case he soon has to give account of his life to his Maker. That is clearly not the case; Flew remains adamant that there is no afterlife—disembodied existence, he maintains (as he has always maintained) is impossible. In any case, Flew is not professing the kind of belief that any religion says will get you into heaven; he still rejects all purported divine revelation, including the Bible, the Koran, and any other example you’d care to mention. There’s no way that Flew, suddenly facing his own mortality, is trying to cover his bases just in case God exists. What has happened, is seems, is what he says has happened: he has gone where the evidence leads.