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Philosophy of Religion

Letter from Antony Flew on Darwinism and Theology

Professor Antony Flew, who is famous for his philosophical arguments in favour of atheism, has contributed these tantalising comments to the debate.

Dear Editor,

The publication of ‘The Alleged Fallacies of Evolutionary Theory’ by Massimo Pigliucci and others in Issue 46 of Philosophy Now provides a convenient occasion for pointing out the limits of the negative theological implications of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection. In the fourteenth and final chapter of The Origin of Species Darwin himself – apart from noticing certain short (a mere handful of million years long) geological periods in which the fossil record reveals the occurrence of inexplicably rapid evolution – wrote:

“Analogy would lead me one step further, namely to the belief that all animals and plants have descended from one prototype.... Therefore I should infer from analogy that probably all the organic beings that have lived on the earth have descended from some one primordial form, into which life was first breathed.”

Probably Darwin himself believed that life was miraculously breathed into that primordial form of not always consistently reproducing life by God, though not the revealed God of then contemporary Christianity, who had predestined so many of Darwin’s friends and family to an eternity of extreme torture.

But the evidential situation of natural (as opposed to revealed) theology has been transformed in the more than fifty years since Watson and Crick won the Nobel Prize for their discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. It has become inordinately difficult even to begin to think about constructing a naturalistic theory of the evolution of that first reproducing organism.

I will here confine myself to recommending two books by individuals who started as believers in two different revealed religions. The author of the first started as, and remains, a Protestant Christian. The author of the second started as, and remains, an Orthodox Jew. The first book is Roy Abraham Varghese’s The Wonderful World: A Journey from Modern Science to the Mind of God (Fountain Hills, Arizona;Tyr Publishing 2003). The second book is Gerald L Schroeder’s The Hidden Face of God: Science Reveals the Ultimate Truth (Touchstone; New York 2001)

Anyone who should happen to want to know what I myself now believe will have to wait until the publication, promised for early 2005, by Prometheus of Amherst, NY of the final edition of my God and Philosophy with a new introduction of it as ‘an historical relic’. That book was a study of the arguments for Christian theism, first published in 1966 in various editions in both hardcover andpaperback in both the USA and the UK. My own commitment then as a philosopher who was also areligious unbeliever was and remains that of Plato’s Socrates: “We must follow the argument wherever it leads.”


Antony Flew

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