Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A note from Jason Pratt on Antony Flew

JP: Victor, This morning I heard from one of our Cadre who knows Gary Habermas. Most recent up-to-date word then, is: Antony Flew remains a dedicated deist-theist, and is planning to release a book this autumn entitled _There is a God_. Amazon already has it up for pre-order, published by HarperOne, hardcover,co-authored with Roy Varghese, due Nov 1, 256 pages. Book description reads: "In one of the biggest religion news stories of the new millennium, the Associated Press announced that Professor Antony Flew, the world's leading atheist, now believes in God. "Flew is a pioneer for modern atheism. His famous paper, Theology and Falsification, was first presented at a meeting of the Oxford Socratic Club chaired by C. S. Lewis and went on to become the most widely reprinted philosophical publication of the last five decades. Flew earned his fame by arguing that one should presuppose atheism until evidence of a God surfaces. He now believes that such evidence exists, and _There is a God_chronicles his journey from staunch atheist to believer. "For the first time, this book will present a detailed and fascinating account of Flew's riveting decision to revoke his previous beliefs and argue for the existence of God. Ever since Flew's announcement, there has been a great debate among atheists and believers alike about what exactly this 'conversion' means. _There is a God_ will finally put this debate to rest. "This is a story of a brilliant mind and reasoned thinker, and where his lifelong intellectual pursuit eventually led him: belief in God as designer."

One could be excused from this description for not quite getting that Flew is a minimal deist who barely even acknowledges the existence of God (much less any action at all taken by Him in regard to our Nature); and his previous 'belief' hasn't really changed because it was more of a _lack_ of belief. (i.e. negative atheism as a default position, kind of like a hardcore agnosticism.) Still, it's interesting and will likely be fuel for more debate! {g} Jason

VR: See, Flew was never really an atheist in the first place. Just goes to show, there are no atheists. (Just kidding).


exapologist said...


I look forward to reading Flew's book! Perhaps he'll have something to contribute that pushes the debate forward.

Anonymous said...

My guess is that even if he has something to contribute none of the apologists on the opposite side will admit that he has pushed the debate forward. And if he is still a 'minimal theist' with no belief in immortality, he will probably give both sides things to complain about.

Nick said...

I too, look forward to the book.

On a slightly off-topic note in regards to Victor's closing comment, it always astounds me when atheists boast about their apparent growing numbers.

The reason this is so misleading is because a very large group of people who would have traditionally been considered agnostics (i.e. those who merely lack belief in God), have now been classified under the "atheist" heading. The truth of the matter though, is that fewer and fewer people are answering "no" to the question "Does God exist?".

Jason Pratt said...

Incidentally, this report came about because a rumor was going around on CARM that Flew had recanted his deism; on investigation it looks like the rumorist had gotten about halfway down Richard Carrier's running observations on the topic over at the SecWeb (updated every once in a while since Flew first announced his change of mind a few years ago), and mistook RC's analysis for an actual recant by Flew. (Not necessarily Richard's fault.)

When I was emailing Victor to see if he had heard anything, I titled the email "Flew recanting?" When I sent the news from Habermas via one of the Cadrists, I titled the email "Flew still canting. {g}"

Mainly I'm hoping that he'll be clearer about his grounds, in print, than he has tended to be in person. I'm not entirely sure I expect it, at this late date. (I _am_ entirely sure that Richard Carrier won't be expecting them to be any clearer. {g} Can't say I'd bet against him on it, though.)

We're probably looking at either a popular-level lead-in to his revised philosophy tome, or else we're looking at what will replace the revision plan. Normally I'd bet on the first, but given his age and failing health I expect the revision of the philosophy tome is now cancelled; but he went ahead (with some help) and got done what everyone was going to be most interested in about the revision anyway.

Not sure who'll do the review for the Cadre, though it may be me. And I agree with JD, he'll probably give both sides things to complain about. {g}


Staircaseghost said...

I think I would not be so concerned about whether Flew was ever "really" an atheist as I would over whether he was "really" persuaded by anything resembling a well-supported argument. I for one would be embarrassed to claim as my cultural ally on any topic someone who arrived at it for his stated reasons, and especially by someone who holds to it even after admitting that he had "made a fool of himself" on abiogenesis and was "mistaught" by his primary creationist source (a creationist using academic credentials to spread misinformation, how shocking!)

The whole affair is just sad.

Jason Pratt said...

Yes, and in the same late 2004 correspondence with Richard Carrier, Flew also said that he had been "misled" by Richard Dawkins, too. {g} Though not directly so; he stated that Mr D "has never been reported as referring to any promising work on the production of a theory of the development of living matter". RC points instead to Dawkins & Hurst's article in May 1992 _Nature_, though that seems a little out of date to be 'promising'; but he's right that "it was Flew's responsibility to check the state of the field... rather than wait for the chance possibility that one particular evolutionist would write on the subject." (RC also asserts that there have been several books by actual protobiologists published in just the last five years.)

Whatever the content of the forthcoming book is going to be--and we'll have to wait and see on that--Flew's positioning hasn't seemed very credible so far, I agree.


Victor Reppert said...

There seems to be a lot going on behind the scenes and below the surface. I tire of getting bits and pieces of the story employed to support an apologetic enterprise on either side. If there is a significant part of the case for theism that has come out of Flew, I haven't seen it. There may be good reasons for rejecting previous anti-theistic arguments, however.

Jason Pratt said...

{{There may be good reasons for rejecting previous anti-theistic arguments, however.}}

I haven't seen any of those yet, either. Actually, I've heard less along _that_ line than along the other line so far. I mean when he has bothered to talk about reasons for believing at all, he's mentioned positive reasons--before y'know disavowing them {wry g}--not reasons for rejecting anti-theistic arguments. Whenever he's mentioned _those_, he seems to still hold to them as much as ever. (Which is precisely why he's doing a hyperminimal-deism instead of anything at all more robust.)

Book'll be out in Nov. We'll all give it a good critical thrashing then.


PS: I should have said we're probably looking at a popular level _replacement_ for a full revision of his philosophy tome, i.e. for _God and Philosophy_. That was already released in 2005, with a revised (revised) foreword, and apparently with no other revision. Reading his foreword, one might excusably think he wasn't even claiming to be a deist, but just claiming to respect theism slightly more.

philip m said...

I take the Jim Lazarus approach (I read this on his blog once): other people convert and deconvert all the time. It doesn't really affect me personally.

Christopher said...

Did anyone see the write up in this week's NYT Magazine? Seems to characterize Flew as having lost his mind whilst being puppeteered by Christians. . . .