He’s Still an Atheist

A flurry of news stories last week announced the news that a famous atheist, 81-year-old Antony Flew, had changed his mind. Apparently he now believed that there was a God, of some sort. Except that it looks like the media jumped the gun a bit. In this article in Rationalist International Flew rebuts the rumors, reassuring everyone that "I'm Still an Atheist!" He then proceeds to explain how all the confusion happened, but unfortunately his explanation succeeded in confusing me even more. Something about positive vs. negative atheists (I'm not sure what he means by this).


Posted on Tue Dec 14, 2004


A positive atheist is the kind that religious people like smugly to declare are just as much faith-based in their beliefs as themselves; that is, who disbelieve in God with a passion equal to that of believers.

A negative atheist is someone who simply doesn't believe in God, without having any real passion of disbelief. Flew points out that the 'a-' prefix simply denotes absense, not negativity - the difference between amoral and immoral.

Since there is no proof of the non-existence of a god (and possibly cannot be) the position of a 'positive atheist' is not really any more rational than the position of believer. 'Negative atheism' is the only truly tenable position fot the rationalist - pending, of course, the discovery of conclusive proof of the existence of a deity:)

Incidentally, that rebuttal was first issued years ago, when these 'rumours' first arose. Flew has simply concluded that since his position has not changed he can't be bothered to draft a fresh declaration of his position, and has re-issued the same statement...
Posted by Paul in Prague  on  Wed Dec 15, 2004  at  03:47 AM
big it up for the agnostics
Posted by joe odd  on  Wed Dec 15, 2004  at  07:55 AM
Ahh!, but does he believe in a CHRISTIAN GOD ;o)
Posted by FKoE  on  Wed Dec 15, 2004  at  02:22 PM
'The fool says in his heart, "There is no God."
They are corrupt, and their ways are vile;
there is no one who does good.' 😠
Posted by meatcleaver  on  Wed Dec 15, 2004  at  02:53 PM
As urban legends go, religion itself has its good points and bad points. It's up to each person to decide if on balance, it's bad, or good.
Posted by cvirtue  on  Wed Dec 15, 2004  at  03:48 PM
'Negative atheism' is just agnosticism rebranded stupidly.

Atheism = without god.
Agnostic = without knowledge.
Posted by Esker  on  Wed Dec 15, 2004  at  04:48 PM
I beg to differ - A true agnostic is one who simply doesn't give a crap whether there's a god, or not.
Posted by stork  in  the spiracles of space  on  Thu Dec 16, 2004  at  12:30 AM
Well, the principal use of agnostic is someone who holds the view that nothing can be known of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; this need not, however, lead to the Occam's Razor position that God does not exist. He's not saying 'I'm not sure'; he's saying that until he sees a reason to believe he will go with the thesis that there is no God. He is, therefore, an atheist - he's just simultaneously disowning the position some atheists adopt of declaring that everything about the world actively disproves the God theory. The latter position, of course, also assumes that anyone who believes in a God is either stupid or deluded, and I'd say he wants to disassociate himself from such an approach. And who wouldn't wish to avoid being targeted with Bad Company attacks?

So, not exactly agnostic, but approaching atheism from the position of agnosticism.
Posted by Paul in Prague  on  Thu Dec 16, 2004  at  03:29 AM
Ok, so now I know the difference between "positive" and "negative" atheists, and can therefore converse with others familiar with the terminology. I'd like to point out, however, that knowledge of either one is not prerequisite to understand the article.

1) He states that he is a "negative" atheist, and defines it. ok then.
2) He mentions that his position could grate with "positive" atheist. Alright, maybe I don't know why, but it's not important here.
3) He clarifies his position without resorting to any more wonky vocabulary. cool.

The point is simply that different people will take the same evidence and draw opposing interpretations of it. Ergo, the "fight", so to speak, between (positive) atheists and theists is unwinnable. Call it a war of attrition and economics.

What confuses me is how Flew's stated arguments (at least in that particular form) could possibly confuse people into 1) being upset in any way and 2) thinking that he believes in a god of some sort. I would describe myself as "as passionate about being atheist as Christians are about Jesus", but Flew's statements come across to me as self-evident. That is to say, it obvious that people will interpret facts in whatever way they choose. And yes, it is possible to do this in a self-consistent way, even if one is Christian (well... as self-consistent as is possible for them, anyway). Us physicists have the same problem (if you can call it such) with those that back Einstein's insistence of a "local" theory and the so-called EPR paradox experiments.
Posted by mike  on  Fri Dec 17, 2004  at  01:47 PM
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