Friday, November 02, 2007

Where is Tony Flew when we need him?

Here, apparently. There's one sense in which Flew's move toward theism is unfortunate. Atheists need a gentlemanly spokesman. HT: Thinking Christian


mattghg said...

I found this review very informative (but I haven't read the book yet).

Anonymous said...

Poor Tony. He's just too nice to tell Habermas where to get off. I think he's been bugging him about Jesus since at least the mid-80s when they had their first debate on the resurrectio of Jesus. I imagine Habermas will be hounding him to "pray the prayer" until he breathes his last. He's like the inappropriately-assertive next-door neighbor Jehova's Witness who never stops his Amway pitch.

philip m said...


If your impression is that Habermas bothers Flew, then you'll be interested by this quote by Flew in an interview with To The Source:

"I should clarify that I am a deist. I do not accept any claim of divine revelation though I would be happy to study any such claim (and continue to do so in the case of Christianity)."

Apparently Flew is not as reluctant as you perceived. And who better to have as his tourguide for the evidence to Christianity than a guy who explored the evidence for all the dominant worldviews before concluding that Christianity was true?

Anonymous said...

philip m said: And who better to have as his tourguide for the evidence to Christianity than a guy who explored the evidence for all the dominant worldviews before concluding that Christianity was true?

me: How about someone within the community of NT scholars -- one who actually contributes to the standard journals and writes peer-reviewed monographs by, say Oxford University Press? You know, someone who actually is a renowned scholar in NT studies, as opposed to a guy who opportunistically sifts the data to support the belief he swallowed as a teenager.

Anonymous said...

And yes, Habermas does have a journal article in one of the standard, non-fundamentalist journals (e.g., his article "Resurrection Claims in Non-Christian Religions" in the journal, Religious Studies). But he is by no stretch of the imagination a leading NT scholar. He's a data-mining, evidence-gerrymandering apologist for Jesus.

Ron said...


You would be more effective if you actually argue against what Habermas argues for rather then just claiming that he is distorting the data to shape his own religious beliefs.

Let me turn this around. What if I was speaking to a group of atheists who really liked Richard Dawkins' arguments and I say to them what you said about Habermas. Now, I could be justified in saying that about Dawkins but I don't think I'd convince any atheists who would probably dismiss me as an 'angry Christian.'

I suggest that the same thing is happenning with you.

Anonymous said...

Flew is gentlemenly?

Have you heard him on politics?

Anonymous said...

Habermas argues that one quarter of NT scholars doubt the existence of the empty tomb.

Compare that with the percentage of biologists who doubt evolution, and see exacrly what is a controversial theory and what is not.

Anonymous said...

before concluding that Christianity was true?

Philip m

The last I heard Flew was a deist not a Christian.

philip m said...

To the first anonymous reply:

You might be confusing Habermas with someone else, because he did not 'swallow his belief as a teenager.' Before being accepting Christ as an adult, he actually came quite close to accepting Buddhism. See more here:

To the anonymous comment above me:

Re-read my comment: that's what I quoted Flew as saying. I was referring to Habermas.

You know guys .. it wouldn't be too hard to just get a pseudonym. It would make this all much less confusing. : )

Anonymous said...

Tony has apostatized, and he'll be treated like a heretic from here on out. Hail Reason!

Anonymous said...

'Tony has apostatized, and he'll be treated like a heretic from here on out.'

Matthew 18:17 'If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.'

You can see the atheists rushing to put the teachings of Jesus into practice!

Steve said...

Hi. I'm a fan of your blog, Dr. Reppert, although I "lurk" and haven't commented in a long time.
I just read a new article and interview in today's NY times magazine article on Antony Flew. (I think it's available with free registration at It seems to offer a sad, but understandable account of recent twists in Flew's thinking: that his cognitive faculties have unfortunately been in decline. See what you think of the article. Best regards, - Steve Esser

Anonymous said... has some extracts of an iinterview with the gentlemanly spokesman, Antony Flew

Anonymous said...

I don't know if the earlier comments were meant for me, but I'm not attacking Flew. I said I feel sorry for him. I was criticizing Habermas for pestering the poor old man.

john said...

I see the atheists are already claiming that Antony Flew is senile.

That didn't take them long, did it?

Anonymous said...

It was the NY Times who said it.

stunney said...

My reflections can be read

The following are the first three paragraphs of a long article that appeared today in the
NEW YORK TIMES magazine:

November 4, 2007

The Turning of an Atheist

Unless you are a professional philosopher or a committed atheist, you probably have not heard of Antony Flew. Eighty-four years old and long retired, Flew lives with his wife in Reading, a medium-size town on the Thames an hour west of London. Over a long career he held
appointments at a series of decent regional universities — Aberdeen,
Keele, Reading — and earned a strong reputation writing on an unusual range of topics, from Hume to immortality to Darwin. His greatest contribution remains his first, a short paper from 1950 called "Theology and Falsification." Flew was a precocious 27 when he delivered the paper at a meeting of the Socratic Club, the Oxford salon presided over by C. S. Lewis. Reprinted in dozens of anthologies, "Theology and Falsification" has become a heroic tract for committed atheists. In a masterfully terse thousand words, Flew argues that "God" is too vague a concept to be meaningful. For if God's greatness entails being invisible, intangible and inscrutable, then he can't be disproved — but nor can he be proved. Such powerful but simply stated arguments made Flew popular on the campus speaking circuit; videos from debates in the 1970s show a lanky man, his black hair professorially unkempt, vivisecting religious belief with an English public-school accent perfect for the seduction of American ears. Before the current crop of atheist crusader-authors — Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens — there was Antony Flew.

Flew's fame is about to spread beyond the atheists and philosophers. HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins, has just released "There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind," a book
attributed to Flew and a co-author, the Christian apologist Roy Abraham Varghese. "There Is a God" is an intellectual's bildungsroman written in simple language for a mass audience. It's the first-person account of a preacher's son who, away at Methodist boarding school,
defied his father to become a teenage atheist, later wrote on atheism at Oxford, spent his life fighting for unbelief and then did an about-face in his old age, embracing the truth of a higher power. The book offers elegant, user-friendly descriptions of the arguments that persuaded Flew, arguments familiar to anyone who has heard evangelical Christians' "scientific proof" of God. From the "fine tuning" argument that the laws of nature are too perfect to have been accidents to the "intelligent design" argument that human biology cannot be explained
by evolution to various computations meant to show that probability favors a divine creator, "There Is a God" is perhaps the handiest primer ever written on the science (many would say pseudoscience) of religious belief.

Flew's "conversion," first reported in late 2004, has cast him into culture wars that he contentedly avoided his whole life. Although Flew still rejects Christianity, saying only that he now believes in "an intelligence that explains both its own existence and that of the
world," evangelicals are understandably excited. For them, Flew has become very useful, very quickly. In late 2006, Flew was among the signers of a letter to Tony Blair asking that intelligent design be included in the British science curriculum. Flew's fame has reached even to small-town Pennsylvania, where in 2005 Judge John E. Jones cited Flew in his landmark decision prohibiting the teaching of intelligent design in the town of Dover. Referring to a publication of the Dover School Board, Jones wrote that "the newsletter all but admits that I.D. is religious by quoting Anthony [sic] Flew, described as a `world famous atheist who now believes in intelligent design.' "

Anonymous said...

A key paragraph of the article, near the end, reads:

"But is Flew’s conversion what it seems to be? Depending on whom you ask, Antony Flew is either a true convert whose lifelong intellectual searchings finally brought him to God or a senescent scholar possibly being exploited by his associates. The version you prefer will depend on how you interpret a story that began 20 years ago, when some evangelical Christians found an atheist who, they thought, might be persuaded to join their side. In the intellectual tug of war that ensued, Flew himself — a continent away, his memory failing, without an Internet connection — had no idea how fiercely he was being fought over or how many of his acquaintances were calling or writing him just to shore up their cases. For a time, Flew hardly spoke to the media, leaving evangelicals and atheists to trade interpretations of his rare, oracular pronouncements. Was he now a believer in intelligent design? In Christianity? In some vague, intelligent “life force”? With the publication of his new book, Flew is once again talking, and this summer I traveled to England to speak with him. But as I discovered, a conversation with him confuses more than it clarifies. With his powers in decline, Antony Flew, a man who devoted his life to rational argument, has become a mere symbol, a trophy in a battle fought by people whose agendas he does not fully understand."

Buridan said...

Oppenheimer - a jew who really seems to take an interest in these matters - also has a rather devastating critique of Hitchens (not difficult to do).

It is an intellectually shoddy and factually inaccurate rush-job, written with blithe ignorance of what his antagonists actually believe. Completely certain that there is no rigorous thinking in favor of religion, Hitchens is almost gleefully ignorant of important scholarship that would disprove his case. For example, eager to show that religion does almost no good to counterbalance the evil done in its name, he argues that religion was only incidental to the civil rights movement; he seems totally unaware of historian David Chappell's recent and widely lauded book which argues for religion's centrality to the movement. Then there are the factual errors. Happy to praise Fawn Brodie's biography of Joseph Smith, Hitchens elevates her to "Dr. Fawn Brodie," despite her having no Ph.D. Hitchens writes that Lubavitchers regard non-Jews as "racially inferior," which is nowhere in their teachings. And so forth.

So, what's the big error I mentioned at the beginning of this post? On p. 54, Hitchens writes, "Orthodox Jews conduct Congress by means of a hole in the sheet..." This is, as even most idiots know, a total fabrication. As a lie, it's not as bad as the blood libel, but it's not so far from the old tales of sexual perversion in Catholic monasteries and convents -- it's a lie meant to discredit a whole people by making them seem sexually bizarre and far outside decent society.

This urban legend was in the galleys of the book, but I figured that there's no way it would appear in the final version. I figured someone along the way -- a copy-editor, his Jewish editor, his Jewish publicist (a friend of mine and a great guy) -- somebody would say, "Hitch, where did you read this? It's total bullshit." But nobody did. Nor did anybody at Slate, where one imagines the book was read in galleys before somebody decided to excerpt it. In an industry filled with Jews (and plenty of smart Christians and Muslims and Hindus and atheists, too), who will catch this colossal error? Over the next couple weeks, let's watch the book reviews to see.

What to make of this? Two things, it seems to me. First, there are a lot of Jews and non-Jews willing to believe the most incredible things about Jews. Anti-Semitism is but a tiny problem in the United States, but ignorance will always be with us. Second, Hitchens doesn't get religion, and he doesn't get religious people. His book is useful as a primer against fundamentalism and zealotry, but most religious people are neither fundamentalists nor zealots. The comparison I always make is to capitalism: unbridled, libertarian capitalism is quite dangerous, but a more moderated form of the market has been a great boon to humanity, and an inability to make the distinction is a sign of intellectual feebleness. (In fact, old socialists get capitalism and religion wrong in the same way.) Hitchens sees no distinction: at one point, he implies (p. 189) that any Jew who keeps kosher is a fundamentalist. Well, there's subtle thinking for you. Hitchens seems to have done none of the reading on religion that might have broadened his thinking--no Wittgenstein, no Rudolf Otto, none of the phenomenologists who help explain why thoughtful, even intellectual people may be religious. I expected better from Hitchens, and I expect better from the rest of us.

Buridan said...

Forgot the link -

mattghg said...

That link isn't working.

stunney said...

Reflections on Flew's conversion to deism.