Antony Flew was supposed to have received the “Phillip E. Johnson Award for Liberty and Truth” from Biola University yesterday. Presumably it went as planned, though I can only find the “Former Atheist to Receive Award at Biola” announcement on Biola’s web site. Flew was a well-known philosophical atheist (and complete political Neanderthal) of the older generation, and his conversion to a variety of Deism was newsworthy for a while. Biola’s web site has an interesting interview with Flew describing how he changed his mind.
I don’t greatly care about a philosopher changing his mind about God — in a way, it’s even a good sign. Even in “serious” academic debate about such questions it can be difficult to avoid the impression that all the arguments are really not to the point, and that nobody is really entering the discussion in a way that puts their basic commitments at risk. So, hey, when someone does change their long-held position, and particularly when they say they “had to go where the evidence leads,” that’s not a bad thing. Mind you, I don’t agree with the conclusion, but at least such a change of mind could make me seriously look at the claimed evidence and arguments once more. There could even be a chance that there’s a significantly new argument out there rather than the tired old stuff.
But then, it turns out that what Flew is referring to is an “intelligent design” sort of argument. He has even been impressed by some truly piss-poor ID-style arguments (though later he sort of backed off some of his endorsements), inspiring me to write one of the nastier book reviews I’ve ever published.
So, in the end, I can only think of the Flew affair as a disappointment. It ends up being good for nothing but an illustration of how an armchair-style philosopher can get suckered in by fancily packaged pseudoscience. Biola, the Discovery Institute and similar outfits will get plenty of propaganda out of it, but its intellectual significance is practically nil.
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