What Holds Him Back from Christianity?
Flew's preference for deism and continued dislike of alleged revelation emerge from two deep impulses in his philosophy. First, Flew has an almost unshakable view against the supernatural, a view that he learned chiefly from David Hume, the 18th-century Scottish philosopher. Flew, a leading authority on Hume, wrote the classic essay on miracles in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
What is rather surprising in Flew's dogmatism is that he believes Hume did not and could not prove that miracles are, strictly speaking, impossible. "If this is the case, why not be open to God's possible intervention?" I asked. He replied by saying that the laws of nature are so well established that testimonies about miracles are easy for him to ignore. He is not impressed by people who hear regularly from God. He did concede, reluctantly and after considerable discussion, that God could, in principle, puncture his bias against the supernatural.
Of more significance, Flew detests any notion that a loving God would send any of his creatures to eternal flames. He cannot fathom how intelligent Christians can believe this doctrine. He even said in his debate with Terry Miethe that he has entertained the thought that the Creator should punish, though not endlessly, only those who defend the notion of eternal torment. On this matter, Flew is willing to entertain fresh approaches to divine justice. In fact, he had just obtained Lewis's book The Great Divorce in order to assess Lewis's unique interpretation on the topic of judgment.
When I asked Flew about his broader case for deism, he asked rhetorically: "Why should God be concerned about what his creatures think about him anymore than he should be directly concerned with their conduct?" I reminded him of biblical verses that also ask rhetorically: "He who planted the ear, does he not hear? He who formed the eye, does he not see?" (Ps. 94:9) It seems incredible to argue that any human cares more about the world than God does. "Is the Creator really morally clueless?" I asked. Flew responded to what he called this "interesting argument" with openness. Moreland, who teaches at Biola, says he hopes that Flew "will become even more curious about whether or not God has ever made himself clearly known to humanity."
Unlike many other modern philosophers, Flew has a high regard for the person of Jesus. Early in the interview, he stated rather abruptly: "There's absolutely no good reason for believing in Islam, whereas in Christianity you have the charismatic figure of Jesus, the defining example of what is meant by charismatic." By charismatic, he means dynamic and impressive. He dismissed views that Jesus never existed as "ridiculous."
Later I asked, "Are you basically impressed with Jesus?"
"Oh yes. He is a defining instance of a charismatic figure, perplexing in many ways, of course." Beyond this, Flew remains agnostic about orthodox views of Jesus, though he has made some very positive remarks about the case for the Resurrection. In the journal Philosophia Christi he states: "The evidence for the Resurrection is better than for claimed miracles in any other religion." No, he still does not believe that Jesus rose from the dead. However, he told me, the case for an empty tomb is "considerably better than I thought previously."
Plantinga, the dean of Christian philosophers, told me that the radical change in Christian scholarship over Flew's career has been remarkable. When Flew originally attacked theism more than 50 years ago, there were few Christians working in philosophy. Now there are a large and growing number of scholars committed to intellectual defense of the gospel. It is, of course, no small matter that one of the world's leading philosophers has moved somewhat closer to the side of the angels.