Professor Antony Flew, a distinguished British philosopher whose 1950 paper Theology and Falsification was, according to the Telegraph, “reputedly the most frequently quoted philosophical publication of the second half of the 20th century”, has died at the age of 87.
Flew was also a celebrated atheist, for many decades often referred to as the best-known proponent and justifier of that position on the planet. But then, within the past few years, he changed his mind. The headlines (over)simplified it — “Sorry, says atheist-in-chief, I do believe in God after all” was how the Sunday Times reported the story in 2004.
Flew had in fact become a deist, a word that the Sunday Times managed not to mention once in its article. As I wrote in the 2009 NS “God” issue:
Flew was no more sympathetic to the revealed religions of the Book, with their “monstrous Oriental despots” of gods, as he called them, than before. He had simply come to the conclusion that, at the very least, there was probably some kind of “first cause”; and that this, rather than an interventionist deity presiding over an afterlife, was what he meant by “god”.
You can find the full piece here. My own sadness is that I would dearly have loved to have met and talked with Professor Flew, but as I explained last year, he refused my request for an interview — not because he bore me or the NS any animosity, but because he clearly felt buffeted and hurt by the turmoil in which he found himself after he announced his conversion.
All I would say is that he was a man who bravely sought the truth as he saw it right to the end, and at some considerable personal cost. Few of us could hope to do better than that.