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My Pilgrimage from Atheism to Theism
My Pilgrimage from Atheism to Theism
A Discussion between Antony Flew and Gary Habermas
Department of Philosophy
University of Reading
Department of Philosophy and Theology
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 20 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 of 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 leads."7
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, and career.
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 Rawls9) 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 with others.
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.2 3 4 5