Back when I was a blogging greenhorn, right about this time last year, an evangelical YEC thought he had come up with an intellectual coup de grâce to make me see “the light”; “Antony Flew believes in a god, so there.” (Ok, so I’m paraphrasing just a bit) Chalk it up to ignorance, but I had never even heard of Antony Flew, and saying that he believed in a deity had about as much effect on me as saying “Charlie Parker thought the sky was purple” (and given his problems with drug addiction, maybe he sometimes did). Still, over and over again Christian apologists have invoked Flew’s name and I could never quite figure out why; either I was living in a proverbial cave on the dark side of the moon or Flew’s influence isn’t as great as it had been previously during my lifetime. Indeed, according to a new article by Mark Oppenheimer in the New York Times, Flew’s primary claim to fame was a very important essay entitled “Theology and Falsification” published in 1950, but he is being touted these days as a poster boy for conversion.
After reading Oppenheimer’s piece, I can’t help but feel a bit sorry for Flew; he’s been taken in my claims of intelligent design and paraded around by conservative evangelicals as if he now has the same beliefs as Lee Strobel (one of the most detestable of modern apologists) or Anne Coulter. In reality Flew claims to have a belief in an impersonal, removed deity, although to the best of my knowledge he has not discussed what he does or does not believe in at length. It is strange then, why he is letting so many evangelicals take advantage of him. Rather than rigorously researching the claims of his new circle of fairweather friends, he seems to have simply gone along with the flow, throwing in his support for intelligent design but having theistic beliefs that are quite different from those who so often interview him. This is made even stranger by the fact that publisher HarperOne has just published There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind which was not actually written by Flew himself and has gone through various evangelical filters before hitting the shelves. While the book bears Flew’s name and was supposedly vetted by him, Oppenheimer’s article reveals that he does not recall much about important content in the book and that Flew’s portion was amalgamated primarily from correspondence and interviews, so Roy Abraham Varghese (the book’s other author) is really just cashing in on Flew’s name.
As Oppenheimer notes in his NYT piece, some have felt compelled to battle for Flew’s allegiance, but be it be carelessness, senescence, or some other reason Flew seems content with his name being ran out in front of the masses as an evidence of the existence of the Judeo-Christian God (again, a deity that Flew doesn’t actually believe in). All the name-dropping might influence or impress evangelicals, but what Flew does or does not believe does not change the overwhelming lack of evidence for design or divine intervention in nature. The argument of “How could so many believers be wrong?” and it’s cousin “Einstein/Linnaeus/Flew believed in God” hold no weight whatsoever, and while it is unfortunate that Flew is being duped and profits made off of his minimalist conversion this issue is a sad background story at best. Indeed, in the debates in which I’ve heard Flew’s name mentioned, the subject of the conversion of one atheist to deism has nothing to do with the evidence for evolution from the fossil record or whatever other scientific subject is being discussed; it is immaterial to the debate, and while some apologists think it’ll give evolutionary biologists pause, the only response I can think of to such an argument is “So what?”
Update: And just in case you thought I was lying when I said that creationists often mention that Einstein believed in God to support their case, check this out. Even if that doesn’t help things sink in, here’s a quote from Einstein himself on the topic of religions from his 1931 essay “The World As I See It” (taken from the anthology Ideas and Opinions);
The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed. It was the experience of mystery – even if mixed with fear – that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, our perceptions of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which only in their most primitive forms are accessible to our minds – it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute true religiosity; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man. I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the kind that we experience in ourselves. Neither can I nor would I want to conceive of an individual that survives his physical death; let feeble souls, from fear or absurd egoism, cherish such thoughts. I am satisfied with the mystery of the eternity of life and with the awareness and a glimpse of the marvelous structure of the existing world, together with the devoted striving to comprehend a portion, be it ever so tiny, of the Reason that manifests itself in nature.