Atheist Becomes Theist
Exclusive Interview with Former Atheist Antony Flew
The following is an exclusive interview that will be published in the
Winter 2004 issue of “Philosophia Christi” the journal of the
Evangelical Philosophical Society (www.biola.edu/philchristi). “Philosophia
Christi” is one of the top circulating philosophy of religion journals
in the world and we are pleased to offer up the definitive interview on this
breaking story of global interest.
Prof. Antony Flew, 81 years old, is a legendary British philosopher
and atheist and has been an icon and champion for unbelievers for decades.
His change of mind is significant news, not only about his personal journey,
but also about the persuasive power of the arguments modern theists have
been using to challenge atheistic naturalism.
The interviewer is Dr. Gary Habermas, a prolific philosopher and historian
from Liberty University who has debated Flew several times. They have maintained
a friendship despite their years of disagreement on the existence of God.
Craig J. Hazen, Ph.D.
Professor of Comparative Religion, Biola University
Editor, “Philosophia Christi”
Antony Flew and Gary Habermas met in February 1985 in Dallas, Texas.
The occasion was a series of debates between atheists and theists, featuring
many influential philosophers, scientists, and other scholars. (1)
A short time later, in May 1985, Flew and Habermas debated at Liberty
University before a large audience. The topic that night was the resurrection
of Jesus. (2) Although Flew was arguably the world’s foremost philosophical
atheist, he had intriguingly also earned the distinction of being one of the
chief philosophical commentators on the topic of miracles. (3) Habermas specialized
on the subject of Jesus’ resurrection. (4) Thus, the ensuing dialogue on
the historical evidence for the central Christian claim was a natural outgrowth
of their research.
Over the next twenty years, Flew and Habermas developed a friendship,
writing dozens of letters, talking often, and dialoguing twice more on the
resurrection. In April 2000 they participated in a live debate on the Inspiration
Television Network, moderated by John Ankerberg. (5) In January 2003 they again
dialogued on the resurrection at California Polytechnic State University–San
Luis Obispo. (6)
During a couple telephone discussions shortly after their last dialogue,
Flew explained to Habermas that he was considering becoming a theist. While
Flew did not change his position at that time, he concluded that certain philosophical
and scientific considerations were causing him to do some serious rethinking.
He characterized his position as that of atheism standing in tension with
several huge question marks.
Then, a year later, in January 2004, Flew informed Habermas that he
had indeed become a theist. While still rejecting the concept of special revelation,
whether Christian, Jewish or Islamic, nonetheless he had concluded that theism
was true. In Flew’s words, he simply “had to go where the evidence
The following interview took place in early 2004 and was subsequently
modified by both participants throughout the year. This nontechnical discussion
sought to engage Flew over the course of several topics that reflect his move
from atheism to theism. (8) The chief purpose was not to pursue the details of
any particular issue, so we bypassed many avenues that would have presented
a plethora of other intriguing questions and responses. These were often tantalizingly
ignored, left to ripen for another discussion. Neither did we try to persuade
each another of alternate positions.
Our singular purpose was simply to explore and report Flew’s new position,
allowing him to explain various aspects of his pilgrimage. We thought that
this in itself was a worthy goal. Along the way, an additional benefit emerged,
as Flew reminisced about various moments from his childhood, graduate studies,
HABERMAS: Tony, you recently told me that you have come to believe in
the existence of God. Would you comment on that?
FLEW: Well, I don’t believe in the God of any revelatory system, although
I am open to that. But it seems to me that the case for an Aristotelian God
who has the characteristics of power and also intelligence, is now much stronger
than it ever was before. And it was from Aristotle that Aquinas drew the materials
for producing his five ways of, hopefully, proving the existence of his God.
Aquinas took them, reasonably enough, to prove, if they proved anything, the
existence of the God of the Christian revelation. But Aristotle himself never
produced a definition of the word “God,” which is a curious fact.
But this concept still led to the basic outline of the five ways. It seems
to me, that from the existence of Aristotle’s God, you can’t infer
anything about human behaviour. So what Aristotle had to say about justice
(justice, of course, as conceived by the Founding Fathers of the American
republic as opposed to the “social” justice of John Rawls (9)) was
very much a human idea, and he thought that this idea of justice was what
ought to govern the behaviour of individual human beings in their relations
HABERMAS: Once you mentioned to me that your view might be called Deism.
Do you think that would be a fair designation?
FLEW: Yes, absolutely right. What Deists, such as the Mr. Jefferson
who drafted the American Declaration of Independence, believed was that, while
reason, mainly in the form of arguments to design, assures us that there is
a God, there is no room either for any supernatural revelation of that God
or for any transactions between that God and individual human beings.
HABERMAS: Then, would you comment on your “openness” to the notion
of theistic revelation?
FLEW: Yes. I am open to it, but not enthusiastic about potential revelation
from God. On the positive side, for example, I am very much impressed with
physicist Gerald Schroeder’s comments on Genesis 1. (10) That this biblical
account might be scientifically accurate raises the possibility that it is