One Flew over the cuckoo's nest

Blogger (friend, colleague, etc.) Radley Balko has responded to news that philosopher Antony Flew has had a come-to-Prime Mover moment thus:

Antony Flew

. . . would like you to know that contrary to web rumors, he still hates the Baby Jesus.

Posted by Radley Balko on December 11, 2004

The piece he links to is a statement by Flew that some of his writing on the subject of proof and belief had been misconstrued by giddy believers.

The title of the article, "Sorry to disappoint, but I’m still an atheist!," fairly accurately summarizes the text that follows. Flew writes, "I still believe that it is impossible either to verify or to falsify — to show to be false — what David Hume in his Dialogues concerning Natural Religion happily described as ‘the religious hypothesis.’"

Further, Flew opines that "the eschatological teachings of Christianity and Islam" make him wish he could "demonstrate their falsity."

Having reasserted his atheist bona fides and inveighed against Osama bin Laden and the Left Behind series, Flew then proceeds to make an interesting — indeed, fascinating — concession:

We negative atheists are bound to see the Big Bang cosmology as requiring a physical explanation; and that one which, in the nature of the case, may nevertheless be forever inaccessible to human beings. But believers may, equally reasonably, welcome the Big Bang cosmology as tending to confirm their prior belief that "in the beginning" the Universe was created by God.

. . . I recognize that developments in physics coming on the last twenty or thirty years can reasonably be seen as in some degree confirmatory of a previously faith-based belief in god, even though they still provide no sufficient reason for unbelievers to change their minds.

Three things are worth pointing out about this statement:

1) This is a remarkably conciliatory response to religious believers by one of the world’s most famous atheists.

2) It sounds very much like Flew is wrestling with an idea, trying to reassert his atheism against evidence that bolsters the case of his old sparring partners.

3) It was written in 2001.

That’s right, take a look at the table of contents of the Antony Flew page at To rebut news reports in 2004 that Flew has changed his mind about the existence of God, Balko has linked to an article from before Republicans took back the Senate.

According to the AP, Flew now calls himself a deist and definitely does believe in some sort of Prime Mover. Flew doesn’t believe in the Christian God but he doesn’t insist on the aloofness that many famous deists ascribe to the Almighty. He now admits that God "could be a person in the sense of a being that has intelligence and a purpose, I suppose."

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  • sharon

    About your illustration … Isn’t that Blake’s evil demiurge? I guess he did think it was the Creator, but I don’t think it’s the same thing most of us mean by the Creator.

  • Paul Barnes

    Another one bites the dust. Now, we wait until he enters the Catholic fold…

  • ken53

    As a believer I have more respect for intellegent atheist and agnostics than I do for most of the so called Christians out there. People like Bush, Falwell, and others turn my stomach when I think about how far from God they really are yet how they are worshipped by the sheep they lead. Then we see examples like Mother Teresa and I know that God has his few, his humble, and his brave after all.

  • Paul Barnes

    So Ken, you basically think that you are more intelligent and better than Bush, Falwell, et al?

  • Molly

    Paul, where did Ken state he was more intelligent than Bush et al? I think you are either reading something into what Ken was writing or are trying to pick a fight.

    As to the ARTICLE, I have been surprised but secretly glad that many more scientists are discovering the hand in glove nature of science and faith. I would imagine that being a molecular biologist – to grab a discipline off the stack – would lead one to all sorts of questions about the grand scheme of things. I have heard a lot of reports from scientists whose faith informs their work and vice versa. Isn’t one of the two guys who mapped the human genome a Christian?

  • Paul Barnes

    I may have read more into Ken’s statement than he intended, but it was an honest mistake.

    “As a believer I have more respect for intellegent atheist and agnostics than I do for most of the so called Christians out there.”

    Why should he have more respect for someone who follows a falsehood, no matter how sincerely held? (That is, I believe that Ken claims some sort of Christianity) My concern is with Ken’s presumption with “most of the so called Christians out there” than with anything else. Ken’s next sentence seems to imply that Bush et al are not “true Christians” and are stoopid.

    “People like Bush, Falwell, and others turn my stomach when I think about how far from God they really are yet how they are worshipped by the sheep they lead.”

    Thus, Ken judges people’s states in relation to God and their followers intelligence. If Ken wishes to correct my interpretation of his writing, I am more than willing to be corrected.

    I do not wish to pick a fight, per se either. I do believe that statements that Ken made should be corrected though.

  • Leighton

    Richard Carrier’s correspondence with Flew (last updated Oct 19th this year) seems more relevant, in which he [Flew] states:

    “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…” [emphasis his--originally italics]

    This hardly seems relevant when you consider that none of the current abiogenesis models require that DNA appear in the first reproducing organisms.

    Carrier also states:

    “Flew’s tentative, mechanistic Deism is not based on any logical proofs, but solely on physical, scientific evidence, or the lack thereof, and is therefore subject to change with more information–and he confesses he has not been able to keep up with the relevant literature in science and theology, which means we should no longer treat him as an expert on this subject (as Moreland apparently did).”

    It’s hard to come to reliable conclusions without being aware of the relevant data.

    Since it looks like hyperlinks are disabled, here’s the link written out:

  • Leighton

    Oops, the last update to the *article* was December 2004; the October 19th 2004 reference was, rather, the date of Flew’s most recent quoted letter. Sorry for the error.

  • ken53

    Paul, my disgust with a lot of so called Christians is easy to understand when you compare a Mother Teresa with a GW Bush. Mother Teresa used faith as a tool in her service to others, as Jesus commanded. Bush and Falwell use faith as to tool for others to serve them.

    I respect agnostics and atheist more because they at least are not leading people astray with an appeal to faith.

  • Leighton

    Molly, the mapping of the human genome is an immense project with many more than just two people involved; here’s more information:

    Incidentally, plenty of biologists are Christians, so I’m sure that if you cared to dig around in this project you’re statistically likely to find more than a few.

    You might have been thinking of one of the co-discoverers of DNA, but alas, this is not to be. Francis Crick was a very outspoken atheist and almost as obnoxious about it as Paul Dirac was (Feynman has some amusing anecdotes about Dirac). There was, IIRC, a rumor floating around that James Watson was a Christian. This also turns out to be false, but he’s at least gracious about it. Here’s an interview:

    Hope this helps,


  • Dan Berger

    Actually I think Molly was thinking of the guy who headed up the Human Genome Project, Francis Collins. He’s an evangelical Christian, and a member of the American Scientific Affiliation.


  • Jeremy Pierce

    So why is it that being an atheist or a deist requires hating the baby Jesus?

  • Molly

    That’s it, Dan, thanks!

  • Garrett


    Why is there an image of Alexander Waugh’s book on this page? I didn’t see any reference to it, but was curious about it nonetheless.