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Emeritus Professor Antony Flew 1923 - 2010

Emeritus Professor Antony Flew

Professor Antony Flew 1923 - 2010 Photo: John Lawrence

Professor Antony Flew, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy died on April 8 aged 87. Professor Flew joined the University of Reading in 1973 until taking early retirement in 1982.

Professor Flew described himself as a "negative atheist", asserting that "theological propositions can neither be verified nor falsified by experience". His paper Theology and Falsification (1950), is one of the most frequently quoted philosophical publications.

Professor David S. Oderberg recalls some personal memories:

I first got to know Professor Flew shortly after I joined the Philosophy Department at Reading in 1992 but after he had already retired, and had the pleasure of lunch with him and his wife Annis at their home a couple of years before his sad passing.

In between, I enjoyed many hours of conversation with Professor Flew on any and every subject, though the topics inevitably revolved around philosophy, economics, politics, and science. He was unfailingly charming, engaging, and witty.

Most of all, he was always generous in debate, giving a sympathetic hearing to the other side no matter how vigorously he opposed it. Vigour, both intellectual and physical, was his hallmark. I will never forget seeing him cycling into the University even in his 80s, spying me, and immediately hopping off his bike to engage in discussion of this or that nonsense emanating from political or philosophical circles. And if there is anyone who could spot nonsense with the nose of a bloodhound, it was Professor Flew.

He spoke as he wrote - clearly, with precision, a philosopher from the ‘old school' who had no time for fruitless technicalities or rhetorical grandstanding. His motto, which oozes from every publication he penned, was to follow the logic of the argument wherever it led.

Towards the end of his life it led him to what he called ‘Jeffersonian deism', the belief in a divine being that created the universe in all its glorious complexity, though not the personal God of monotheism, which he disdained till the end of his life.

This would not have caused eyebrows to rise were it not for his stature as one of the leading atheists of the twentieth century. Accused (by previously adoring non-believers) of having been hijacked by American Christian fundamentalists, of having descended into the woolly-mindedness of the old man who has lost his mental acuity, he defended his ‘conversion', as it were, in print and orally to the end of his days.

I know for a fact that, though old age had inevitably weakened him physically and mentally he did, both clearly and distinctly, change his position and commit himself to a kind of religious belief with eyes and mind wide open. The charges are baseless. If anyone was their own man, it was Professor Flew.

I regarded Anthony Flew, throughout the time I knew him, with the utmost respect and admiration. It is a great sadness to learn of his death. Would that more philosophers were like him, and would that I had been taught by him.

David S. Oderberg

Professor of Philosophy

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