Professor Antony Flew, who became a deist just six years ago after championing atheism for most of his life, died last Thursday after “long illness,” according to an obituary placed by his family Tuesday in the Times of London.
Flew, who was 87 at the time of his death, was one of the best-known atheists of his generation, arguing that people should presuppose atheism until evidence of God surfaces.
And that’s precisely what he did until 2004, when he said “the findings of more than 50 years of DNA research have provided materials for a new and enormously powerful argument to design.”
Like proponents of Intelligent Design, Flew concluded that a super-intelligence is the only good explanation for the origin of life and the complexity of nature.
In "Has Science Discovered God?" - a video released in the year of his conversion - Flew said biologists' investigation of DNA "has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce [life], that intelligence must have been involved.”
In an interview with The Sunday Times months later, Flew referred to the arguments of physicist and Jewish theologian Gerald Schroeder, who “pointed out the improbable statistics involved and the pure chances that have to occur."
“It's simply not on to think this could occur simply by chance,” Flew reportedly said, referring to elegance and complexity of DNA.
Despite his exodus from atheism, Flew is believed to have remained simply a deist, believing in a god who created the world but has since remained indifferent to it.
Since he was 15, Flew was not able to believe in the God of the Bible as he was unable to reconcile the existence of both evil and an omnipotent deity.
He did, however, view religion in a positive light – unlike most of today’s leading atheist figures.
Flew even advocated religious instruction in schools, saying that it was better than no moral education at all.
He would later attribute the "explosions both of unwanted motherhood and of crime" in Britain to the decline of Methodism.
Before fading back out of the spotlight, Flew co-authored a book with science-religion writer Roy Abraham Varghese that has been the subject of controversy.
The 2007 book, There is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, describes Flew's conversion from atheism to deism and is thought by some to be the work of Varghese that Flew merely signed off on.
New York Times Magazine writer Mark Oppenheimer expressed his doubts over Flew's mental capacities after meeting up with him in England, suggesting that the once great philosopher had become a "blissfully unaware" old man "just following the evidence as it has been explained to him."
"Depending on whom you ask, Antony Flew is either a true convert whose lifelong intellectual searchings finally brought him to God or a senescent scholar possibly being exploited by his associates," he wrote.
Flew, however, released a statement rebutting the circulating allegations, saying that he would not have a book issued in his name that he does not 100 percent agree with.
“I needed someone to do the actual writing because I’m 84 and that was Roy Varghese’s role,” Flew stated. “The idea that someone manipulated me because I’m old is exactly wrong. I may be old but it is hard to manipulate me. That is my book and it represents my thinking.”
The book, notably, went on to win the 2008 Christianity Today Book Award in Apologetics and Evangelism, with the judges hailing it for making the philosophical search for God both “accessible and exciting.”
“After a meal of Flew's rich stew of argument and opinion, one lifts a spoonful of most professional apologetics and mutters, 'Thin soup indeed,'" they wrote.
Still, the matter remains contentious to this day, with atheists PZ Myers and Richard Carrier supporting the allegations.
"With his powers in decline, Antony Flew, a man who devoted his life to rational argument, has become a mere symbol, a trophy in a battle fought by people whose agendas he does not fully understand," Oppenheimer claimed.
According to Tuesday's obituary, a private funeral for Flew is being arranged.
He is survived by his wife and two daughters.