Thursday, February 18, 2010

The honest ex-atheist

Anthony Flew, the well known philosopher, having argued the case for atheism for fifty years, caused a scandal when he revealed in 2004 that he had changed his mind and now believed in the existence of God. Flew's philosophy has always been guided by the Socratic principle to follow the argument wherever it leads and it is a tribute to his openness of mind that he remained wedded to this maxim even when it led to what must have been for him uncomfortable conclusions. Unlike the so called 'new atheists' who sidestep serious philosophical arguments, Flew has spent the whole of his academic life in active engagement with philosophical theism.

Atheists have had great difficulty accepting the revision in Flew's thinking with anything approaching good grace. It is telling that on hearing of Flew's conversion Dawkins accused Flew of 'tergiversation' (apostasy) in his 'old age'. Rumours immediately began to circulate on the internet that, weakened by fear, Flew had succumbed to a deathbed conversion. Flew repudiates this charge in his book, There is a God: How the world's most notorious atheist changed his mind, New York, 2007, where he points out that since he does not believe in an afterlife he has nothing to gain from his conversion in this respect.

Here is an interview with Flew where he talks honestly and with modesty about the evidence of 'irreducible complexity' that led him to revise his beliefs in favour of some sort of intelligent design. However, atheists rumours have not abated and a bizarre introduction has been pasted onto this film suggesting that Flew is suffering from the first signs of dementia, and hence the victim of a religionist plot by its makers. Certainly in the film Flew occasionally pauses to think before he speaks, and at one point has difficulty pronouncing a word, but all this is hardly remarkable in a philosopher and a man of eighty plus years. If these are the symptoms of the onset of dementia then I suspect we must all have it. It seems that ordinary explanations like thinking before one speaks or revising one's beliefs are alien concepts to the atheist.

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