Anthony Flew

Presented without comment. (Ok, one little comment: HOLY CRAP!) … _interview

whats the big deal?

It surprises me a lot, and it’s the kind of thing that I’d have thought this particular forum would have mentioned, considering the subject matter and all.

I thought Anthony Flew died years ago. The “big deal,” presumably, is that he used to be an atheist but changed his tune as he reached his 70’s/80’s or so.

It’s a huge deal, since was the atheist equivalent to C.S. Lewis for about 50 years.

Oh, and it’s Antony, not Anthony. Sorry about that.

There was a thread in the philosopy forum a month or two back. As a near-deathbed conversion, it didn’t seem either surprising nor particularly earth shattering. His arguments in either camp always seemed a bit strained. Of course, that’s the viewpoint of an agnostic.


I don’t think it’s a big deal at all. First off, it’s not uncommon for people to turn to religion as they near what they assume will be the end of their lives- it’s rooted in psychology. Secondly, he’s just one guy with his opinion. Sure, he’s an undisputed expert in nearly all conceivable areas of philosophy, but he has no more clue about whether God really exists than you or I do.

Perhaps some people believe in God because Mel Gibson does or reject God becaues Nietzsche did, but free thinkers typically don’t choose so simplistically. Is McD’s great because Michael Jordan says it is? Does Oldsmobile make great SUVs because Tiger Woods shills for them? Does God become more plausible when Flew concedes he’s now a deist? Does atheism become more valid when a Catholic priest renouces the Church and professes atheism? I’d answer a resounding “no” in each case.

I don’t think it’s a matter of there being loads of people who were atheists just because Flew was, and now they have to change there minds. It’s simpler than that.
I don’t know how free thinkers do things, I suppose, but most of the philosophers I talk to think reading the works of notable philosophers who have gone before you is important. How can one grant this importance, while maintaining that when an authoritative philosopher changes it’s mind, it’s irrelevant or inconsequential?
People read Flew. He’ll have to be read differently now.

IMOHO Flew was far more relevant as a commentator on others works, and I can’t think of a single original contribution he made to philosophy. Maybe I’m underestimating his worth, but I always considered him a minor figure, and it would be a stretch to consider him among the great atheist thinkers. He may be read differently now, if he’s read at all, but I can’t fathom how his comments on others work will be affected much by his “change of heart.” At any rate, he still won’t concede that God has taken any interest in us, aside from creating the Universe we inhabit. His recent deist conversion is amusing, but hardly earthshaking.

If lost corresponences & letters of Nietzsche or Schopenhauer revealed they decided they were wrong about God, that would cause a sensation. But Flew? I don’t really see it. But that’s just my take on it.

You have point there, Phaedrus. I think he seems more of a giant to me because I grew up reading C.S Lewis. I think the impact of this change of heart will be felt because he’s still widely read, not necessarily because a bunch of other philosophers have to rethink their own positions.

At least he chose deism…if he was aethiest and one day suddenly became a born again Catholic, Xtians would have a field day with that. This really isn’t much of a big deal since he doesn’t believe in a personal god.

[contented edited by ILP]

What we have in the testimony of Flew is that an atheist, an eminently staunch and intellectual one too, can think himself wrong, and switched positions. So should not atheists, with lesser minds then Flew, not consider the possibility that they too can be wrong, as Flew now think he is?

Now what if CS Lewis flipped? Well the same conclusions above applies, but then CS Lewis didnt.

But even if you say that Flew switched because he fear death, it simply reaffirms the fact that all we humans fear death; and that when confronted with the inevitability of death, so fearful is it that one is more than willing to put aside one’s pride and submit humbly that one have been wrong, and even have one’s entire life’s work now considered rubbish.

[contented edited by ILP]

And just what this might be in this instance?

I would add that without context everything is meaningless. What if it is raining today? Unless I had a golf game this afternoon, it may be enitrely irrelevant to me.

You have a good point here, and no, I wouldn’t convert if some letter was discovered in which C.S. Lewis renounced his faith before dying. By the same token, however, if I were an atheist, I couldn’t see myself referencing anything Lewis wrote in defence of theism once I learned that.
If I spent the 14.95 on a C.S.Lewis book, and a spent the 10 hours or so reading it, and I allowed myself to be impressed by his seeming intelligence and wit, then it seems to me that I’ve given him some sort of credit. It seems irrational to me that he would lose that credit if he were to cease agreeing with me. And that’s the attitude you’ll see around the Net if you read about this. I haven’t seen anyone saying “Oh wow, I wonder how such an intelligent person could change his mind about something they were so adamant about”. I’ve seen plenty of people (not just around here) saying, “He was never that clever/influential/good at philosophy anyways, who cares what he thinks.” That’s just wrong. If Flew was incisive and brilliant the day before his decision, he still is the day after as well.
SO what’s the middle ground, between changing your mind because that other guy changed his mind on one extreme, and having utter disregard for a philosopher who you used to think was brilliant- because they changed their mind- on the other?

[contented edited by ILP]

Look at Steven Hawkings- not long ago he flip flopped 180 degrees on whether information can escape a black hole. Yet his opinions are still revered by other scientists. Does that mean everything he though before '97 is irrelevant? Hardly. Does it mean he’s right now? We’ll see.

The middle ground is disregard who said what, but only solely based your conclusions, and what you think and believe, from what is said, its internal consistencies, its corroboration with other things, etc. Hasn’t it been said that if an angel is to preached another gospel, then the angel be damned? Or that it does not matter if its a donkey who said it, but the matter spoken is what matters.