Antony Flew obituary | World news | The Guardian

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Antony Flew obituary
Humean philosopher and atheist who ultimately came to believe in intelligent design
Piers Benn, Wednesday 14 April 2010 19.04 BST
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Antony Flew's conservatism had a libertarian streak

The chief intellectual influence on the philosopher Antony Flew, who has died
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Flew had become well known to a generation of students as an official atheist philosopher. was a major contribution to Hume scholarship. But then. a Methodist minister. his political Flew tried to show that the hypothesis of an almighty and loving God was unfalsifiable and therefore empty. In an early. Hume's Philosophy of Belief (1961). For them. pointed to the change in his outlook over the last decade. His second book. Theology and Falsification (1950). no horror was. seminal essay. which contained an attempted demolition of revelation. These ideas were developed in God and Philosophy (1966). 2007). undercutting the position he had maintained while holding university posts in England. It was preceded by A New Approach to Psychical Research (1953). There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind (with Roy Abraham Varghese. For Flew. benevolent deity. 2 of 6 4/28/11 3:40 AM . how could there be meaningful evidence for God's existence? Thus. religious folk continued to believe in an all-powerful. Scotland and North America. He claimed the "endemic evil" in theology was that. his last book. even in principle. to some extent. However. and particularly miracles. whom he followed both in his empiricist critique of natural theology and also. much to the chagrin of his father. was the leading Enlightenment figure David allowed to count against this. the language and logic approach of the analytical philosopher did not preclude examination of the most speculative questions. who is said to have prayed for him every day. however terrible the aged 87. theism suffered a "death by a thousand qualifications".Antony Flew obituary | World news | The Guardian http://www.

express concern about the damage his writings on the subject could have done. He did. two shorter books on critical thinking and many other works that often combined a polemical with a philosophical style. Flew was educated at St Faith's school. though he eventually gave up his earlier Humean conviction that free will was compatible with determinism. Cambridge. it came as shock to some of his humanist friends when in 2004. but the revelation was less dramatic than it appeared. a trenchant critique of egalitarian political theory. He still disbelieved in revealed religion and immortality. including his Introduction to Western Philosophy: Ideas and Argument from Plato to Popper (1971). arguing in many works that post-mortem survival was impossible. Thus. especially in DNA. Flew wrote prolifically.Antony Flew obituary | World news | The Guardian http://www. Born in London. and 3 of 6 4/28/11 3:40 AM . had led him to believe in intelligent design after all. He was especially known as a sustained critic of the belief in life after Nevertheless. he confessed to a change of mind concerning God. and The Politics of Procrustes (1981).co. He announced in a video entitled Has Science Discovered God? that aspects of biological order. He adamantly defended human free agency. Commentators seized on this. Among the last of these were Crime or Disease? (1973). an attack on fashionable conceptions of crime. Flew seemed fascinated by the possibility of empirical evidence for theological claims. and maintained a sceptical interest not only in alleged miracles but paranormal phenomena in general. producing both scholarly and general works.

staying as professor of philosophy until 1971.Antony Flew obituary | World news | The Guardian http://www. Alberta (1972-73). who had been accused of racism for claiming that genetic factors might partially account for IQ differences between black and white people. despite the loss of his own faith during his teens. he studied Japanese at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and did intelligence work with the RAF. after his retirement as emeritus professor in 1983. was one of the pioneers who went to the University College of North Staffordshire (now Keele). His study of classics at St John's College. included classical philosophy. with part-time appointments at York Kingswood school. Flew's work was partly influenced by his early teachers. He detested the progressive. and. A former colleague at Keele described how he was once expressly forbidden from turning his seminars into political rallies. Arthur Jensen. and many found him Bath. Flew opposed racism but often 4 of 6 4/28/11 3:40 AM . and Bowling Green State University. Oxford. egalitarian ethos of the late 1960s and 70s. Ohio. After a year at the University of Calgary. His longstanding humanism was reflected in his involvement with organisations such as the Rationalist Press Association. he became professor at Reading University. after a stint at Aberdeen (1950-54). in particular Gilbert Ryle. Toronto. In the 1970s he wrote in defence of an American psychologist. He had various During the second world war. He taught briefly at Christ Church (1949-50). supported the cold war and lamented the state of education. and contact with the Christian apologist CS Lewis helped him maintain his interest in the philosophy of religion.

Paradoxically. "research assessment" and audits now besetting the university world.. A former student recalled wrote condemning the intolerant and illogical features that he saw in much anti-racist and multicultural ideology. Many former colleagues and students remembered him with great respect. Indeed his conservatism had a strongly libertarian streak. not a citizen of Europe". One acknowledged him as having high principles and high standards. in spite of political differences. is a very dangerous thing". His dogged pursuit of reason to reach truth. much of what he courageously said then has now become fairly respectable. and he was a trenchant critic of the Roman Catholic church's teaching on contraception. Another. in his early youth he had briefly been a communist sympathiser before becoming a Conservative) marked him out as having a deep integrity and innocence. in 1962. But his views on abortion and homosexual law reform were liberal.Antony Flew obituary | World news | The Guardian http://www. fearing that it would interfere with studying. proudly declaring himself a "subject of Her Majesty. Moreover. managerialism. he was one of a generation at odds with the climate of bureaucracy. and his willingness to change his mind (as well as altering his beliefs about God. then a novice lecturer at Keele.. noted his helpfulness. 5 of 6 4/28/11 3:40 AM . Old-fashioned to the last. though perhaps he later regretted some of the resulting social effects. he had an excellent reputation as a He was also a passionate opponent of European integration. he boomed at a bemused philosophy class that "sex . always following arguments where they led him.

or inclined to be taken in by the mystics of the 1960s or 70s. born 11 February for or tempted by Marxist historicism. philosopher. house maintenance. But Flew enabled me to abandon the faith of the priests who educated me while understanding what I was doing. He had a grand contempt for vague. he ought.• Antony Garrard Newton Flew. Annis. to have found a more respectable argument to cling to than that of intelligent design. and therefore not being frightened of it. and loved stripping arguments down to their skeletons.Antony Flew obituary | World news | The Guardian http://www. and two Flew was fond of walking. and of course Dawkins is right. When Flew deserted a lifetime's atheism at the age of 81. will always be grateful to him. in Richard Dawkins's view. whom he married in 1952. "Can you hit it with a hammer?" he would ask when confronted with a particularly nebulous concept. a session with Tony Flew was always a little like having a bucket of ice-cold water thrown over you. I. metaphysical statements. Francis Beckett writes: For students brought up to accept without question the assertions of ministers of religion. climbing and. died 8 April 2010 guardian. according to Who's © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011 6 of 6 4/28/11 3:40 AM . He is survived by his wife.

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