Antony Flew, the former atheist, died on April 8, 2010, at the age of 87. Flew was a philosopher and a well-known atheist who debated Christians on whether there is a God. Flew wrote a very influential essay, “Theology and Falsification,” which he presented at the C. S. Lewis’s Socratic Club. His essay became the basis for atheists all over the world in their debate with Christians.
Below are excerpts taken from Flew’s obituary published by the Times Online. Throughout the obituary, the writer spelled Flew’s name with an “h” (Anthony), but his name was Antony Flew.
Anthony Flew was one of the best-known atheists of his generation but he finally repudiated the label. As an academic philosopher he subjected the question of God’s existence to careful, non-polemical analysis. When he declared himself a theist in his old age he annoyed many of his admirers — which might have been the intention.
He was educated at St Faith’s School, Cambridge and then Kingswood School in Bath. At 15 he was struck by the incompatibility of divine omnipotence and the existence of evil, and lost his faith. He later identified this as the first step towards his career as a philosopher. His study of that subject was delayed by the war; he studied Japanese and served as an intelligence officer in the RAF.
In the 1960s he became well known for his atheism, speaking in public debates with energy, clarity, and courtesy. In God and Philosophy (1966) he argued that one should presuppose atheism until evidence of a God surfaces. He developed this evidentialist approach in The Presumption of Atheism (1984). His atheist image is somewhat surprising, for by the standards of today’s public atheists he was far from zealous: he showed real interest in the arguments of believers, and respect for the cultural effects of religion. In 1987 he debated the resurrection of Jesus with the US theologian Gary Habermas, declaring that the evidence for the resurrection was much better than that for other Christian miracles but still did not convince him. He enjoyed religious discussions, not because he enjoyed rubbishing belief but because he thought it important that Christian tradition was carefully reflected on.
His conversion to theism was controversial. His writing on the subject was produced in co-operation with a circle of US Christians who were accused of exploiting Flew in his old age. Critics alleged that he allowed them to influence his thought and to write books and articles in his name. His final book was There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind (2007).
Whatever the truth of such allegations, it is clear that Flew’s repudiation of atheism was heartfelt and seems to have been largely rooted in his dislike of polemical atheism. His own atheism was always cautious, nuanced and respectful of Christian tradition.
When Flew became a theist, he was urged by atheists not to change his views about God. In his book There Is a God, Flew describes what led him to the conclusion that there is a God.
I have written several posts on Antony Flew. Four of those posts were a review of his book, There Is a God. It is a book worth reading. If you have never read Flew’s book and his journey from atheism to theism, you will enjoy reading my posts. Below is a list of my posts on Antony Flew:
Studies on Antony Flew
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary