God and Philosophy by Antony Flew (book review)

Geplaatst door

Titus Rivas   (publicatiedatum: 7 August, 2011)


Book Review by Titus Rivas of "God and Philosophy" by Antony Flew.


Book Review

Antony Flew. God & Philosophy. Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2005. ISBN 1-59102-330-0.

Lately, there has been quite a lot of commotion about the supposed 'conversion' of a well-known atheist, the analytical philosopher Antony Flew, to a moderate position about the existence of a divinity. Supposedly, his position would now be deism, the theory that reality was indeed created by a God, but that the creator would have withdrawn from this world right after his creative act, never to interfere again.
The publisher of Flew's treatise in favour of atheism, God & Philosophy, made a clever move by issuing a new version of the book with an updated introduction by the author himself. Anyone who was following the debate in the media, would have expected that the main text would also have been adapted to Flew's newest ideas, but in this respect the reader should be ready for a disappointment.
To be honest, my main conclusion about the supposed revolution in the philosopher's thought is that Flew does not succeed in presenting a clear formulation of his latest convictions.
He really seems to take the so called argument from order to design seriously, namely that there would be so much 'integrated complexity' in nature that we simply have to assume some kind of intelligence behind it. However, he still has great difficulty in accepting the notion of an non-physical, purely spiritual creator. His assumption that an entity could never be wholely spiritual is also the reason why Flew rejects the reality of an afterlife. He is even well known for this assumption within the philosophy of parapsychology.
What's outright bizarre about Flew's supposed new position is that in this very book he gives important reasons (especially in Chapter 3) why the Intelligent Design-argumentation so hotly debated today would be philosophically untenable. It is very odd that in this new edition, he does not explicitly reconsider his previous arguments so that the reader is left with a feeling of intellectual dissatisfaction.
For me, even in its original structure, God & Philosophy is not really the clearest philosophical book I've ever read. The way Flew treats arguments and counter-arguments concerning the existence of a theist creator could certainly have been a bit more systematic. Nonetheless, Flew is certainly an interesting and on the whole consistent thinker and he has produced a number of important arguments against traditional Christian doctrine. Thus, the notion of eternal damnation is characterised as disproportional, because no human crime, however abominable, could ever legitimize endless suffering. Also, the macabre thought that God gets pleasure from the pain and despair of sinners in Hell is not easy to reconcile with the concept of a loving divinity.
In several respects, the treatise is also revelant for the implications of Near-Death Experiences. First, there is the question of theodicy: How can we harmonise the idea of a perfectly good divinity with the existence of pain and misery in reality? Also, Flew asks himself to what extent spiritual and religious experiences could contribute to the philosophical debate about the existence of a god.
Despite all the recent turmoil about the person of Antony Flew, God & Philosophy mainly remains an interesting book because of his concise discussion of theist proofs and arguments from the perspective of an erudite atheist.

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