Antony Flew

region = Western Philosophy
era = 20th-century philosophy
color = #B0C4DE

image_caption = Antony Flew
name = Antony Garrard Newton Flew
birth = birth date and age|1923|2|11
school_tradition = Analytic
main_interests = Philosophy of religion
influences = David Hume, Richard Swinburne
notable_ideas = No True Scotsman
Professor Antony Garrard Newton Flew (born 11 February 1923) is a British philosopher. Known for several decades as a prominent atheist, Flew first publicly expressed deist views in 2004 [ My Pilgrimage from Atheism to Theism An Exclusive Interview with Former British Atheist Professor Antony Flew] Gary R. Habermas, Biola, December 9, 2004. pp 6] . These changes, however, are a matter of great controversy, with critics maintaining that Flew has mentally declined, and is being manipulated by religious apologists. [ The Turning of an Atheist] ,Mark Oppenheimer, New York Times Magazine, 11/4/07]


Antony Flew, the son of a Methodist minister, was born in London, England. He was educated at St Faith's School, Cambridge followed by Kingswood School, Bath. During the Second World War he studied Japanese at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and was a Royal Air Force intelligence officer.

After the war, Flew achieved a first class degree in "Literae Humaniores" at St John's College, Oxford. Flew was a graduate student of Gilbert Ryle, prominent in ordinary language philosophy. Both Flew and Ryle were among many Oxford philosophers fiercely criticised in Ernest Gellner's book "Words and Things" (1959). A 1954 debate with Michael Dummett over backward causation was an early highlight in Flew's career. [cite news | url= | title= Backward Causation | work= Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy |date=2005-08-29 | author= Jan Faye ]

Flew was a Lecturer in Philosophy at Christ Church, Oxford from 1949 to 1950, following which he was a lecturer for four years at the University of Aberdeen, and a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Keele for twenty years. Between 1973 and 1983 he was Professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading. Upon his retirement, Flew took up a half-time post for a few years at York University, Toronto.

Flew developed the No true Scotsman fallacy in his 1975 book, "Thinking About Thinking".

Atheism and deism

Prominent atheist

While an undergraduate, Flew attended the weekly meetings of C. S. Lewis's Socratic Club fairly regularly. Although he found Lewis to be "an eminently reasonable man" and "by far the most powerful of Christian apologists for the sixty or more years following his founding of that club," he was not persuaded by Lewis's argument from morality as found in "Mere Christianity". Flew also criticized several of the other philosophical proofs for God's existence. He concluded that the ontological argument in particular failed because it is based on the premise that the concept of Being can be derived from the concept of Goodness. Only the scientific forms of the teleological argument ultimately impressed Flew as decisive. [ My Pilgrimage from Atheism to Theism An Exclusive Interview with Former British Atheist Professor Antony Flew] Gary R. Habermas, Biola, December 9, 2004.]

In "God and Philosophy" (1966) and " [ The Presumption of Atheism] " (1984), Flew earned his fame by arguing that one should presuppose atheism until evidence of a God surfaces. He still stands behind this evidentialist approach, though he has been persuaded in recent years that such evidence exists, and his current position appears to be deism. In a December 2004 interview he said: "I'm thinking of a God very different from the God of the Christian and far and away from the God of Islam, because both are depicted as omnipotent Oriental despots, cosmic Saddam Husseins". [ [ Atheist Philosopher, 81, Now Believes in God] Richard N. Ostling. Associated Press, December 10, 2004.]

Revised views

On several occasions, apparently starting in 2001, rumours circulated claiming that Flew had converted from atheism. Flew denied these rumours on the Secular Web website. [ [ Sorry to Disappoint, but I'm Still an Atheist!] Antony Flew. Internet Infidels, August 31, 2001] In 2003, he signed the Humanist Manifesto III.

In December 2004, an interview with Flew conducted by Flew's friend and philosophical adversary Gary Habermas was published in Biola University's Philosophia Christi, with the title "Atheist Becomes Theist - Exclusive Interview with Former Atheist Antony Flew". Flew agreed to this title. [ My Pilgrimage from Atheism to Theism An Exclusive Interview with Former British Atheist Professor Antony Flew] Gary R. Habermas, Biola, December 9, 2004. pp 6] According to the introduction, Flew informed Habermas in January 2004 that he had become a deist, and the interview took place shortly thereafter. Then the text was amended by both participants over the following months prior to publication. In the article Flew states that he has left his long-standing espousal of atheism by endorsing a deism of the sort that Thomas Jefferson advocated ("While reason, mainly in the form of arguments to design, assures us that there is a God, there is no room either for any supernatural revelation of that God or for any transactions between that God and individual human beings."). Flew states that certain philosophical and scientific considerations had caused him to rethink his lifelong support of atheism.

Flew's conception of God as explained in the interview is limited to the idea of God as a first cause. He rejects the ideas of an afterlife, of God as the source of good (he explicitly states that God has created "a lot of" evil), and of the resurrection of Jesus as an historical fact though he has allowed a short chapter arguing for Christ's resurrection to be added into his latest book. He is particularly hostile to Islam, and says it is "best described in a Marxian way as the uniting and justifying ideology of Arab imperialism."

Reaction and response

Flew has subsequently changed his position given in the Habermas interview as justification for his endorsing of deism. In October 2004 (before the December publication of the Flew-Habermas interview), a letter written to Richard Carrier of the Secular Web, stated that he was a deist and also said that "I think we need here a fundamental distinction between the God of Aristotle or Spinoza and the Gods of the Christian and the Islamic Revelations.". [ [ Antony Flew Considers God...Sort Of] Richard Carrier. SecWeb, October 10, 2004.] Flew also said: "My one and only piece of relevant evidence [for an Aristotelian God] is the apparent impossibility of providing a naturalistic theory of the origin from DNA of the first reproducing species ... [In fact] the only reason which I have for beginning to think of believing in a First Cause god is the impossibility of providing a naturalistic account of the origin of the first reproducing organisms."

In another letter to Carrier of 29 December 2004 Flew went on to retract his statement "a deity or a 'super-intelligence' [is] the only good explanation for the origin of life and the complexity of nature." "I now realize that I have made a fool of myself by believing that there were no presentable theories of the development of inanimate matter up to the first living creature capable of reproduction." wrote Flew. He blames his error on being "misled" by Richard Dawkins, claiming Dawkins "has never been reported as referring to any promising work on the production of a theory of the development of living matter".

The work of physicist Gerald Schroeder had been influential in Flew's new belief, but Flew told Carrier that he had not read any of the critiques of Schroeder that Carrier referred him to.

When asked in December 2004 by Duncan Crary of Humanist Network News if he still stood by the argument presented in "The Presumption of Atheism", Flew replied he did but he also restated his position as deist: "I'm quite happy to believe in an inoffensive inactive god". When asked by Crary whether or not he has kept up with the most recent science and theology, he responded with "Certainly not", stating that there is simply too much to keep up with. Flew also denied that there was any truth to the rumours of 2001 and 2003 that he had abandoned his atheism or converted to Christianity. [ [ No longer atheist, Flew stands by "Presumption of Atheism"] By Duncan Crary. Humanist Network News, December 22, 2004.]

A letter on Darwinism and Theology which Flew published in the August/September 2004 issue of Philosophy Now magazine left the world hanging when it closed with, "Anyone who should happen to want to know what I myself now believe will have to wait until the publication, promised for early 2005, by Prometheus of Amherst, NY of the final edition of my God and Philosophy with a new introduction of it as ‘an historical relic’." [ [ Letter from Antony Flew on Darwinism and Theology] Philosophy Now, issue 47.]

The preface of "God and Philosophy" states that the publisher and Flew went through a total of four versions (each extensively peer-reviewed) before coming up with one that satisfied them both. The introduction raises ten matters that came about since the original 1966 edition. Flew states that any book to follow "God and Philosophy" will have to take into account these ideas when considering the philosophical case for the existence of God: ["God and Philosophy", Antony FlewPage number]
# A novel definition of "God" by Richard Swinburne
# The case for the existence of the Christian God by Swinburne in the book "Is There a God?"
# The Church of England's change in doctrine on the eternal punishment of Hell
# The question of whether there was only one big bang and if time began with it
# The question of multiple universes
# The fine-tuning argument
# The question of whether there is a naturalistic account for the development of living matter from non-living matter
# The question of whether there is a naturalistic account for non-reproducing living matter developing into a living creature capable of reproduction
# The concept of an "Intelligent Orderer" as explained in the book "The Wonder of the World: A Journey from Modern Science to the Mind of God" by Roy Abraham Varghese
# An extension of an Aristotelian/Deist concept of God that can be reached through natural theology, which was developed by David Conway.

In an interview with Joan Bakewell for BBC Radio 4 in March 2005, Flew rejected the fine-tuning argument as a conclusive proof: "I don't think it proves anything but that it is entirely reasonable for people who already have a belief in a creating God to regard this as confirming evidence. And it's a point of argument which I think is very important - to see that what is reasonable for people to do in the face of new evidence depends on what they previously had good reason to believe." He also said it appeared that there had been progress made regarding the naturalistic origins of DNA. However, he restated his deism, with the usual provisos that his God is not the God of any of the revealed religions: [ [ BBC interview, Professor Antony Flew] March 22, 2005.] quotation|Q "And certainly in America where you've been to lecture..." A "Oh America, this is a very real phenomenon - oh yes. Part of Bush's second election success is due to this. And the unbelievers are absolutely furious, not believing that anyone with any intelligence could be anything but a Democratic voter." Q "What view do you take of what is happening in America - where presumably you're being hailed now as ... one of them?" A "Well, too bad. [laughs] I'm not 'one of them'."

However, in the same interview, when asked whether he was retracting belief in an Aristotelian God, Flew responded:

One month later, Flew told Christianity Today that although he was not on the road to becoming a Christian convert, he reaffirmed his deism: "Since the beginning of my philosophical life I have followed the policy of Plato's Socrates: We must follow the argument wherever it leads.". [ [ Thinking Straighter | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction ] ]

In late 2006, Flew joined 11 other academics in urging the British government to teach intelligent design in the public schools. [ [ Creationism gains foothold in schools] , TimesOnline, The Times]

In 2007, Flew published a book titled "There is a God," which was listed as having Roy Abraham Varghese as its co-author. Shortly after the book was released, the New York Times published an article by religious historian Mark Oppenheimer, who stated that Varghese had been almost entirely responsible for writing the book, and that Flew was in a serious state of mental decline, having great difficulty remembering key figures, ideas, and events relating to the debate covered in the book. The article provoked a public outcry, in which atheist PZ Myers called Varghese "a contemptible manipulator." [ [ Roy Varghese and the exploitation of Antony Flew] , Pharyngula] Varghese, however, denied the accusation.Fact|date=January 2008 In response, the publisher released the following statement which it attributed to Flew: [ [ Times Magazine Piece on Former Atheist Kicks Up Controversy] ] quotation
My name is on the book and it represents exactly my opinions. I would not have a book issued in my name that I do not 100 percent agree with. I needed someone to do the actual writing because I'm 84 and that was Roy Varghese's role. The idea that someone manipulated me because I'm old is exactly wrong. I may be old but it is hard to manipulate me. This is my book and it represents my thinking.

A recent audio commentary by William Lane Craig [ [ Dr. Craig's Current Events Audio Blog - ] ] advocates the position that Flew's latest book truly represents his thinking. Richard Carrier's response [ [ Richard Carrier Blogs: Craig the Annoyed ] ] disputes this view.

In 2007, in an interview with Benjamin Wiker, Flew said again that his deism was the result of his "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" and "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." In addition, he rejected Richard Dawkins' 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." He also restated that he was not a Christian theist. [ [ tothesource ] ]

Christian writer Regis Nicoll claims that "Moreover, in a signed, handwritten letter (a copy of which I now have) sent to Roy Varghese, the legendary philosopher reaffirmed his conversion while criticizing Oppenheimer for drawing attention away from the book’s central argument: the collapse of rationalism." [ [ From UnChristian to Christian ] ] He argues that "Even Mark Oppenheimer described the ex-atheist “flaunt [ing] his allegiance to deism” in May 2006 to a Christian audience at Biola University."

Political commitments

Flew has a long history of involvement in politics. In the late 1980s he became an active vice-president of the Western Goals Institute, an interest group opposed to immigration and free trade, and supportive of apartheid. Flew was also a committee member of Majority Rights, alongside Ray Honeyford and Tim Janman, M.P.

Professor Flew is a member of the management committee of The Freedom Association and a Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association. He has contributed to "Right Now!" magazine, the "Salisbury Review", and publications of the Libertarian Alliance, the Social Affairs Unit, the Society for Individual Freedom and the Institute of Economic Affairs. He is also a supporter of the Better Off Out campaign for Britain to leave the European Union.fact|date=September 2008


Flew was awarded the Schlarbaum Prize by the Ludwig von Mises Institute for his "outstanding lifetime achievement in the cause of liberty." [ [ Antony G.N. Flew: 2001 Schlarbaum Laureate] ] Upon acceptance of the award in Auburn, Alabama, in September 2001, Flew delivered an address entitled "Locke versus Rawls on Equality." Of his choice of topics, he stated "I am the first Englishman and the first professional philosopher to receive the Schlarbaum Prize. So it seems appropriate to begin by talking about the greatest English philosopher, John Locke." [Flew, Antony. " [ Locke versus Rawls on Equality] " "". 24 October 2001.]

On May 11, 2006, Antony Flew accepted the second "Phillip E. Johnson Award for Liberty and Truth" from Biola University. The award, named for its first recipient, was given to Flew "for his lifelong commitment to free and open inquiry and to standing fast against intolerant assaults on freedom of thought and expression." When informed of his award, Flew remarked, "In light of my work and publications in this area and the criticism I’ve received for changing my position, I appreciate receiving this award." [cite news | url= | title= Former Atheist to Receive Award at Biola | work= Biola News]


* "A New Approach to Psychical Research" (1953)
* "New Essays in Philosophical Theology" (1955) editor with Alasdair Macintyre
* "Essays in Conceptual Analysis" (1956)
* "Hume's Philosophy of Belief" (1961)
* "Logic And Language" (1961) editor
* "God and Philosophy" (1966)
* "Logic & Language" (Second Series) (1966) editor
* "Evolutionary Ethics" (1967)
* "An Introduction to Western Philosophy - Ideas and Argument from Plato to Sartre" (1971)
* "Body, Mind and Death" (1973)
* "Crime or Disease" (1973)
* "Thinking About Thinking" (1975)
* "Sociology, Equality and Education: Philosophical Essays In Defence Of A Variety Of Differences" (1976)
* "Thinking Straight" (1977) (ISBN 9780879750886)

* "A Dictionary of Philosophy" (1979) editor, later edition with Stephen Priest

* "Philosophy, an Introduction" (1979)
* "Libertarians versus Egalitarians" (c.1980) pamphlet
* "The Politics of Procrustes: contradictions of enforced equality" (1981)
* "Darwinian Evolution" (1984)
* "God, Freedom and Immortality: A Critical Analysis." (1984)
* "The Presumption of Atheism" (1984)
* "Examination not Attempted" in "Right Ahead", newspaper of the Conservative Monday Club, Conservative Party Conference edition, October 1985.
* "God: A Critical Inquiry" (1986) - reprint of "God and Philosophy" (1966) with new introduction

* "Agency and Necessity" (Great Debates in Philosophy) (1987) with Godfrey Norman Agmondis Vesey

* "Did Jesus Rise From the Dead? The Resurrection Debate" (1987) with Gary Habermas
* "Power to the Parents: Reversing Educational Decline" (1987)
* "Prophesy or Philosophy? Historicism or History?" in "Marx Refuted", edited by Ronald Duncan and Colin Wilson, Bath, (UK), 1987, ISBN 0-906798-71-X
* "Readings in the Philosophical Problems of Parapsychology" (1987) editor
* "God, A Critical Inquiry" (1988)

* "Does God Exist?: A Believer and an Atheist Debate" (1991) with Terry L. Miethe

* "A Future for Anti-Racism?" (Social Affairs Unit 1992) pamphlet
* "Atheistic Humanism" (1993) (ISBN 978-0879758479)
* "Thinking About Social Thinking" (1995)
* "Education for Citizenship" (Studies in Education No. 10) (Institute of Economic Affairs, 2000)
* "Merely Mortal?" (2000)
* "Equality in Liberty and Justice" (2001) Transaction Publishers.
* "Does God Exist: The Craig-Flew Debate" (2003) with William Lane Craig (ISBN 978-0754631903)
* "Social Life and Moral Judgment" (2003)
* "God and Philosophy" (2005) - another reprint of "God and Philosophy" (1966) with another new introduction
* "There is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind" (2007) with Roy Abraham Varghese (ISBN 978-0061335297)


External links

* [ The Turning of an Atheist] The Turning of an Atheist by Mark Oppenheimer, NYTimes, November 4, 2007
* [ The Warren/Flew Debate on the Existence of God] Debate between Thomas Bratton Warren and Antony Garrard Newton Flew, Denton, Texas September 20-23, 1976.
* [ "The Presumption of Atheism."] Antony Flew, chapter in "God, Freedom and Immortality: A Critical Analysis." 1984.
* [ Letter from Antony Flew on Darwinism and Theology] by Antony Flew, "Philosophy Now", #47, August/September 2004.
* [ Famous Atheist Now Believes in God] Associated Press news release 2004.
* Joan Bakewell interview with Antony Flew, conducted for BBC Radio 4 broadcast, March 2005: [ text] or [ Real Audio]
* [ Thinking Straighter] by James A. Beverley, "Christianity Today", April 2005.
* [ Freedom for Universities] by Antony Flew, The Freedom Association (undated document).
* [
] Evangelical Philosophical Society (undated document).

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