Why did Antony Flew really convert to theism?

Discussion in 'Politics & Religion' started by spect8or, Jul 17, 2006.

  1. Most people who know who Flew is would know that he left behind a lifetime of atheism by admitting that he'd become a theist a couple of years ago. Understandably, that one of the foremost atheist philosophers would abandon his position rattled atheist loyalists. Atheist leaders rushed to point out that Flew had only accepted a vague sort of 'first cause' theism, or 'deism', and that he certainly hadn't become a Christian. In a letter to Richard Carrier, Flew said, "My one and only piece of relevant evidence [for an Aristotelian God] is the apparent impossibility of providing a naturalistic theory of the origin from DNA of the first reproducing species ... [In fact] the only reason which I have for beginning to think of believing in a First Cause god is the impossibility of providing a naturalistic account of the origin of the first reproducing organisms". That seemed to calm atheist foot soldiers, and atheist higher-ups promptly set about refuting Flew's reasoning. Perhaps disappointing them, Flew doesn't seem to have bothered responding with further arguments of his own; he appears to have completely withdrawn from the debate.

    Did Flew really abandon atheism for the reason he stated? It came as comfort to many theists that he did (myself included, I admit), but philosophically, I was quite underwhelmed by the reason he gave. In an interview with Christian philosopher Gary Habermas, Flew made some comments that got me thinking that there were other reasons for his 'conversion'.

    In that interview he said, "But some things I am completely confident about. I would never regard Islam with anything but
    horror and fear because it is fundamentally committed to conquering the world for Islam." Very few philosophy professors today would dare state something so culturally insensitive, but Flew is old-school. At 83, he hails from an era in which Europeans weren't afraid of defending the superiority of their civilization.

    Since Flew began his adventures as one of atheism's leading minds, he's seen his native Britain undergo massive demographic and social changes. Changes that Flew doesn't seem to think have been particularly positive. In the 1980s Flew became a vice-president of the Western Goals Insitute, an 'ultra-conservative' organization committed to fighting third-world immigration, which also supported South African apartheid. I have also read a (non-hostile) letter which Flew wrote to an American racialist journal.

    All this suggests to me that Flew recognizes the damage done to society by its wholesale abandonment of religion. I imagine he probably regrets the unwitting role he played in the social revolution and the mass cultural degradation it caused. I think he recognizes that a somewhat organized religion is the lynchpin of a moral, ordered society; indeed, of civilization itself. No doubt he would argue against the persecution of heresy or religious infidelity, but he would simply urge that religious dissent take place in private, rather than a full-scale assault on everything that was once assumed 'normal' in favor of the celebration of freaks and diversoids of all sorts (homosexuals, Afro-centrists etc) considered to be the unfortunate 'victims' of the existing religious order. Unfortunately, after a lifetime of promoting atheism, it was too late for Flew, too difficult, intellectually and psychologically, to pretend, now, to be a Christian. But in that Habermas interview he speaks very favorably of Christianity, hinting, perhaps, that though it's too late for him, current Christians can feel philosophically justified in their Christian beliefs.

    I think this is a sturdy little hyopthesis and I see a lot of myself in the analysis I've offered. I myself once frantically promoted atheism, without once stopping to consider just what it was I was really doing. And I empathize with Flew's probable views on social issues. Dammit, I think it's desastrous that the Salvation Army no longer marches down my street, stopping in front of each house and playing Christmas carols on Christmas Eve. That would be far too 'insensitive' these days; imagine if there was some Muslim or Hindu living there? The psychological damage that would wreak on him! I lament that my kids won't be singing those same carols in public school, the way I did as a kid; that they won't be taken to church on Good Friday (I was Orthodox and they took us to a protestant church, and I didn't even celebrate easter on the same date, but who cared? Not my parents). It galls me to think that they're going to 'celebrating' homosexuals and aborigines in favor of being primed on British history and Western Civilization. Australia isn't the country I first immigrated to and that's a damn shame, no two ways about it.
  2. stu


    Flew is said to have stated...
    "... the only reason which I have for beginning to think of believing in a First Cause god is the impossibility of providing a naturalistic account of the origin of the first reproducing organisms ".

    So that boils down to - I don't know how life could have begun therefore God did it ?? That really is a big stretch for any 'foremost philosopher '

    In my opinion you are presuming or equating - to have moral standards in a society there must be religion present. I think you will find the record does not bear that out at all. For all we know, the positioning of religion in society more as an art form to be enjoyed by those who find it comforting and not as a basis for dubious moral standards, which it is, would improve things more than not. Surely The Sally Bashers would be welcome just about anywhere when they are seen generally more as entertainment.
  3. In a sociology college course, taken long ago, the professor gave example of a tribe that punished infidelity by applying burning hot coals' to the offenders' genitals.

    First world missionaries eventually made contact with this tribe--I don't recall if they were specifically religious or not--and successfully convinced the tribe that the practice of burning someone's genitals with hot coals is wrong.

    The problem was, the genital-burning practice was an effective deterrent to infidelity and promiscuity. The missionaries removed the deterrent, but didn't replace it with anything else--and promiscuity and infidelity thus ran rampant, and the social fiber of the tribe was nearly torn apart.

    You can probably see the analogy by now: Flew might view the absence of religion with the same lament that a tribesman might view the absence of the genital-burning practice.

    The problem is the vacuum created by removal of the old solution; it doesn't mean that the old solution is best or even desirable. It's just preferable (with room for disagreement) to no solution at all.

    One of the remarkably sad things about today's world is what little emphasis we place on culture, even though the intrinsic quality of a culture (or lack thereof) can make or break the society that embraces it.

    If people turn into snarling mongrels when religion is taken away from them, perhaps that's more an indictment of religion than an argument in favor of it--evidence that religion was little more than a behavioral stopgap.

    Perhaps actual enlightenment--educating people, encouraging wisdom as well as knowledge, getting them to stretch their minds and embrace excellence in thought and word and deed--would be a better solution than a return to the old standbys.

    Why couldn't, say, the Greek concept of arete function as the moral bedrock of an enlightened society? The quality of the culture is really the thing. Specific beliefs on the afterlife and the cosmos are optional.

  4. There can't exist 'no solution'. This isn't some abstract mathematical problem about which we might well throw our hands in the air over, despairing that 'there's just no solution'. A set of social circumstances cannot but obtain. Thus to call the old order preferable isn't to compare it to 'no solution' but to compare it the current state of affairs.

    And how is that, then, an 'indictment'? If a thing saves us from our own nature, then that thing - be it a religion, a law, a social convention - would seem to be beneficial. Denying this rather obvious truth (to me, anyway), would lean one to indicting the law for proving a deterrent to murder.

    Isn't that what we've had for the last fifty years? How can you have missed it? The state of affairs that exists today is a consequance of such high-mindedness.
  5. hardly. the last poll i saw indicated that 80% of americans believe in god and 50% believe god created man in the last 10000 years. how can you call that educated?

    "A Gallup Poll reveals that 46 percent think God created man in his present form sometime in the past 10,000 years,"