One of the true giants of philosophy of the last 100 years, Antony Garrard Newton Flew has passed away at the good age of 87. The eighth of April 2010 was his last day.
He was best known during most of his academic career as a truly intellectually respectable proponent of what is sometimes called “negative atheism.” In fact Flew was largely the one responsible for the introduction of that term. He acknowledged that the word “atheist” historically referred to one who believed that God does not exist, but he asked for a gentler usage, where it essentially means an agnostic who is inclined to doubt theism rather than accept it.
That changed in 2004 when Flew moved away from atheism, and accepted that there was a God after all. Things heated up in 2007 with the publication of There is a God: How the World’s most notorious atheist changed his mind. Unfortunately, many in the atheist community, especially Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers, responded to this change of mind by belittling and patronising Flew with suggestions that he had lost his marbles, that Christians were manipulating him into saying what they wanted, and that his change of mind was “sad.” I suppose there are no holds barred when it comes to the possibility of admitting that an intelligent person was convinced by the evidence that there is a God. Flew was strongly critical of the work of Dawkins, labelling him a “bigot”. Those close to Flew maintained that whether he was right or wrong, he knew full well what he was talking about when he explained his new position. According to Antony Flew himself:
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.
I wish he had changed his mind more than he did, for obvious reasons.
The world recently lost one of its finest philosophers.
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7 thoughts on “Antony Flew 1923-2010”
Good writeup. I read one of Flew’s books late last year and appreciated his ability to present complex ideas in a concise and interesting style.
Rest in Peace, thanks for stopping by Anthony Flew.
I don’t know if this is an appropriate place to discuss this, but as far as I understand it, he wasn’t a Theist. He rejected publically in a handwritten letter to Richard Carrier, that origin of life was impossible to explain under naturalism. He also wrote a letter talking about difference between the God of Spinoza and Aristotle, and that of Christianity. Isn’t he then more rightly titled a Deist?
I am using “theist” to refer to any form of belief that God exists. But yes, his was the God of Jefferson more than the God of Calvin. He had a deistic view of God.
As to controversies over details of what he believed about origins, I think he said enough in his books and in recorded interviews (some are on Youtube I think) to let us make up our minds entirely based on what we find there.
I remember reading his 1987 debate with Gary Habermas on the resurrection. I still have the book somewhere.
I like Antony Flew after that. I’m sad that he died.
I learned a lot about baseball from Flew’s last book.
Who would have thought that an octogenarian British philosophy professor knew so much about baseball, a game almost entirely ignored by most people in Britain?
At 1:29 the interviewer of Flew explains he could not broadcast the interview he had done with Flew, because Flew could not understand the questions.
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