Saturday, December 11, 2004

Anthony Flew's newfound belief in God

The word is that Professor Antony Flew (pictured right), the former champion of Humean skepticism and philosophical atheism, now believes in God. Flew, whose teaching career has led him from philosophy professorships in Britain at Oxford, Aberdeen, Keel, Reading, and York, to posts in North America in Toronto, Calgary, San Diego, and Los Angeles, is author of numerous books offering philosophical arguments against theism as well as naturalistic alternatives to theistically-based theories of human nature, cognition, belief, and ethics. Representative are his books:
  • Hume's Philosophy of Belief (1961)
  • God and Philosophy (1966)
  • Evolutionary Ethics (1967)
  • The Presumption of Atheism, and other philosophical essays on God, Freedom and Immortality (1976)
  • A Raional Animal: Philosophical Essays on the Nature of Man (1978)
  • Darwinian Evolution (1984)
  • Atheistic Humanism (1993)
I can remember being assigned books by Flew when I was beginning my undergraduate classes in philosophy in the 1970s. His perspective was consistently imbued with an unequivocal opposition to what he regarded as nonsense quite typical of the tradition British empiricism, which had invested all its stock in the "sensible." His arguments and illustrations against theistic belief seemed, at least within the framework of that mindset, devastating. (This, of course, was before Alvin Plantinga [pictured left] injected new enthusiasm among theistic philosophers for a counter-offensive beginning in the late sixties and early seventies.)

Philosophical debates between philosophers about the existence of God, of course, have a venerable tradition. I remember reading as an undergraduate the famous BBC Copleston-Russell debate of 1944 beween Fr. F.C. Copleston, J.S. (pictured right), the great Catholic historian of philosophy, and Bertrand Russell (pictured left), the author of Why I Am Not a Christian (Amazon link)--a book, which, I've heard it said, has ironically nudged more than one disappointed atheistic reader in the direction of theistic belief! More recently the same tradition of debate has been continued by William Lane Craig, Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, and Walter Sinnot-Armstrong, Philosophy Professor at Dartmouth College, in their book God?: A Debate Between a Christian and an Atheist (Point/Counterpoint Series, Oxford, England) (Amazon link). Antony Flew himself has been involved in such debates. One famous debate, published back in 1977, was that between Flew and Thomas B. Warren, under the title: The Warren-Flew Debate on the Existence of God (Amazon link). Another, more recent debate was that between Flew and William Lane Craig (pictured left), under the 2003 title: Does God Exist: The Craig-Flew Debate (Amazon link) In the same year (2003), a debate between Flew and Gary Habermas, a prolific philosopher and historian from Liberty University, was published under the title of Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?: The Resurrection Debate (Amazon link)

The Winter 2004 issue of Philosophia Christi features an exclusive interview with the former atheist Antony Flew, conducted by Gary Habermas (pictured right). Flew, who is eighty-one years old, says that he doesn't yet believe in the God of a "revelatory system," although he's "open to that." It will be interesting to see where his newfound theism leads. Flew is hardly the first philosopher, of course, to find his way from atheism and agnosticism to theism. Many have pushed beyond that to explicit belief in the "revelatory God" of Judaism or Christianity. Examples that come to mind include Alasdair MacIntyre (pictured below right), who converted from sexular Marxism to Catholicism some years ago, as well as Mordimer J. Adler (pictured left), who converted from a secular Jewish background to theistic belief, then to Christianity, becoming a member, first, of the Episcopal Church in 1986, then the Catholic Church in 1999. MacIntyre, whose book After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (1984) brought him international attention, is now Professor of Philosophy at Notre Dame. Adler, who chaired the Board of Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, founded the Great Books program and authored many books, including Aristotle for Everybody and How to Think About God, died on June 28, 2001. Edward T. Oakes has written an account of MacIntyre's career and conversion in "The Achievement of Alasdair MacIntyre" (First Things, August/September, 1996). An account of Adler's conversion is available in the Wikipedia article, "Mortimer Jerome Adler," as well as a humorous remembrance by his secretary, "Nancy Olson Remembers."

For a detailed academic curriculum vitae of Antony Flew, listing his educational background, teaching posts and publications, see a Brief Biography of Antony Flew.

Link to publications by Antony Flew:

Link to publications by Alasdair MacIntyre:

Link to publications by Mortimer J. Adler:

[Credits: Thanks to Christopher Blosser for the tip regarding the Habermas interview in Philosophia Christi.]


Mark Oppenheimer, The Turning of an Atheist (New York Times, November 4, 2007).