Sunday, November 04, 2007

Antony Flew, Deist

There was a stir in religious circles a few years ago when Antony Flew, a famous British academic atheist, changed his mind about God. The New York Times Magazine today has an article suggesting a semi-senile Flew was led astray by religious scientists.

I read the evidence in Mark Oppenheimer's story a bit differently. As Flew tells the story, Christians who believed in reconciling faith and science befriended Flew more than two decades ago. They brought him to conferences, corresponded with him, and listened to his arguments. And Flew returned the favor, taking seriously the arguments made and the relationships that he was developing.

In the end, years before Flew's current aphasia, he publicly proclaimed several times that he was an Aristotelian deist. He was not a biblical believer, but he did accept the idea that the universe was created by a supernatural intelligence. He was not hostile to more specific scientific supports for a theistic worldview, but as a philosopher he did not claim to be current on the science behind them. Flew's religious audiences accepted that he was not a biblical believer, as they were. That he had changed his mind about atheism for intellectual reasons was the main point.

Flew's story reminds me somewhat of Norma McCorvey's. McCorvey was the "Jane Roe" of Roe v. Wade, who in the early years after the Supreme Court decision became a crusader for abortion rights. However, she found that the evangelical Christian pro-lifers were nice to her and related to her as a person, including sympathizing with the sad conditions in her life that led her to seek the famous abortion of the case. The pro-choicers with whom she worked, on the other hand, were glad to have her as a symbol, but were, she said, personally condescending and uninterested in her as a person. McCorvey was herself born again, and is now a pro-life activist.

Meanwhile, Oppenheimer quotes Richard Dawkins, a crusading atheist of our day, on Flew's changed mind. "He once was a great philosopher. It's very sad."


Anonymous said...

Sory to come to his defense, but the Dawkins quote was taken out of context methinks. The comment about it in context is entirely centered around Flew's viewpoint on Intelligent Design. He said that it wasn't Flew's conversion that made him upset, but his method of affirming it. In fact he says in the same speech, "There may be good reasons for believing in a God." It was the fact that Flew converted because of Michael Behe's book "Darwin's Black Box" and Dawkins is much more an anti-IDer than he is an anti-theist.

See the whole thing here

Gruntled said...

Thank you, D-rew, the article did not make clear that Oppenheimer was quoting Dawkins from a public lecture with a somewhat different context than a overall assessment of Flew's conversion.s

Peter Hoh said...

This article hints at another culture war, within the community of believers. Looks like the "walk humbly with thy God" ethos has been trampled by the "We're number one!" mindset.

Anonymous said...

It almost sounds as if Norma McCorvey would still be "Jane Roe" and happily pro-choice if only those mean pro-choicers were a bit nicer to her. That's kind of funny.

I personally don't see any conflict in believing in God and science. I pity those who say it can only be one or the other. That pity turns to fear, however, when those people ascend to positions of power.

Anonymous said...

"I pity those who say it can only be one or the other. That pity turns to fear, however, when those people ascend to positions of power."

Imagine how fearful atheists feel considering everyone in power (save one congressman) either believes in both science and god, or just the one that doesn't rhyme with shmience.