Flew, Dawkins And God

In There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind”, the British philosophy professor, late Antony Flew, shared his reasons for converting from atheism to deism.

“We must follow the argument wherever it leads”, a principle that Plato attributed to Socrates, was the norm to which Flew followed (Flew 2007: 46).  With increasing evidences of the teleological argument, Flew had to change his position.

“I must say again that the journey to my discovery of the Divine”, explained Flew, “has thus far been a pilgrimage of reason.”(Flew 2007: 155). He further expounded,

Science qua science cannot furnish an argument for God’s existence. But the three items of evidence we have considered in this volume the laws of nature, life with its teleological organization, and the existence of the universe can only be explained in the light of an Intelligence that explains both its own existence and that of the world. Such a discovery of the Divine does not come through experiments and equations, but through an understanding of the structures they unveil and map.

Flew pointed out that even though “[s]ome have said that the laws of nature are simply accidental results of the way the universe cooled after the big bang”, Martin Rees showed that there are “laws governing the ensemble of universes”. He explained,

Again, even the evolution of the laws of nature and changes to the constants follow certain laws. “We’re still left with the question of how these ‘deeper’ laws originated. No matter how far you push back the properties of the universe as somehow ‘emergent,’ their very emergence has to follow certain prior laws.”[ Rees 2000: 87]

“So multiverse or not,” argued Flew, “we still have to come to terms with the origin of the laws of nature. And the only viable explanation here is the divine Mind.”(ibid 120-121)

Richard Dawkins was and is not pleased with Flew’s U-turned position. In The God Delusion, Dawkins asserted that “[o]ne can’t help wondering whether Flew realizes that he is being used”(Dawkins 2006: 82). In  a recent Playboy interview, Dawkin explained,

What’s rather wicked is when religious apologists exploit that, as they did in the case of Flew, who in his old age was persuaded to put his name to a book saying that he’d been converted to a form of deism. Not only did he not write the book, he didn’t even read it.

According to Dawkins, Flew changed from atheism to deism because “he went gaga”.  It is sad that Dawkins keep giving false account of Flew conversion knowing that Flew had already responded to the same Dawkinian’s charges in June 4th 2008 letter. Flew wrote,

I have rebutted these criticisms in the following statement: “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 per cent 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. That is my book and it represents my thinking.”

Flew also answered Dawkins’ The God Delusion’s notes’ assertion of his position in a great length. He admitted that Dawkins’ The God Delusion was “remarkable in the first place for having achieved some sort of record by selling over a million copies”. He further wrote,

But what is much more remarkable than that economic achievement is that the contents or rather lack of contents of this book show Dawkins himself to have become what he and his fellow secularists typically believe to be an impossibility: namely, a secularist bigot.

Turning to page 82 of The God Delusion’s footnote, Flew answered Dawkins “remarkable note” of his decision to convert from atheism to deism.  Flew explained that Dawkins caricature of his decision does not say much about Flew but about Dawkins himself. Flew wrote,

For if he had had any interest in the truth of the matter of which he was making so much he would surely have brought himself to write me a letter of enquiry. (When I received a torrent of enquiries after an account of my conversion to Deism had been published in the quarterly of the Royal Institute of Philosophy I managed, I believe, eventually to reply to every letter.)

For Flew, this indicated that Dawkins was “not interested in the truth as such but is primarily concerned to discredit an ideological opponent by any available means”. Flew suspected that Dawkins’ did not set to “discover and spread knowledge of the existence or non-existence of God” in The God Delusion, but to spread his own convictions.

Bibliography

Dawkins, Richard (2006) The God Delusion. Bantam Press

Flew, Antony (2007) There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. HarperOne

Rees, Martin (2000) Exploring Our Universe and Others”, The Frontiers of Space. New York: Scientific American.

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12 thoughts on “Flew, Dawkins And God

    • Thank you Tawia,

      I have watched the whole clip. It is sad and cruel. One of the questions does come up and that needs to be dealt with is animal ethics.

      I do not wish to convert others Tawia, because I can not convert others. What I do is help think, ponder and share knowledge.

      Thank you once again.

      Prayson

  1. Very interesting and informative. I’ll probably pick up the book. Where did you get the 2008 Letter quote?

    Finally I recall reading an article (probably prior to this book) that Flew felt comfortable refuting Christianity up to the issue of the resurrection. Here he was not convinced it did not happen and thus left him less that 100% convinced that the foundations of the faith were wrong. Any thoughts about that? Is there anything in the book on it?

    Thanks for the post. Well written, nice and concise! Chris

    • Hej Christ,

      Thank you. The 2008 Letter was sent to a friend of Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship.

      I believe Flew in “An Exclusive Interview with Former British Atheist Professor Antony Flew(2004) with Gary Habermas” stated that

      “The evidence for the resurrection is better than for claimed miracles in any other religion. It’s outstandingly different in quality and quantity, I think, from the evidence offered for the occurrence of most other supposedly miraculous events. But you must remember that I approached it after considerable reading of reports of psychical research and its criticisms. This showed me how quickly evidence of remarkable and supposedly miraculous events can be discredited.”

      Remember that Flew did not became a Christian nor believed in personal God. Though he thought the evidence for resurrection is better in Christianity, he did not move all board to affirm the resurrection.

      It is important to read Flew as he moved from atheism to deism. As an atheist, he was totally against it, but as a deist, he was open for the possibility.

      Prayson

  2. The problem with Flew’s argument, is that even if there is a creator of natural laws, this proves relatively little. It is a huge leap to go from here to conclude there is a God. If there was or was a not a creator, this does not prove this creator is loving, hears our prayers, had a son named Jesus, created heaven, instructed Mohammed etc. Natural laws are only a tiny piece of the puzzle and it is not possible to reason on the big picture, based solely on them.

    • You are very correct Robert. That is why Flew did not accept a personal God. He became a deist.

      Teleological argument, if true, only gives us a designer of the universe. It does not tell us if its personal or all-powerful et cetera.

      Thank you for a brilliant observation Robert.

      Prayson

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