The Warren-Flew Debate

By Roy C. Deaver [1922-2007]

[Note: The following review was written by my grandfather soon after the debate occurred, and published in the December 1976 issue of Biblical Notes. The debate was momentous then, and continues to be. Thirty-one years after, in 2007, Flew would publish a startling book reversing everything he stood for in his debate with Warren. Flew would title his book, There Is a God (How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind). In it, Flew refers to his debate with Warren on pp. 67-69. Warren died in 2000; Flew in 2010. The book and DVDs of the Warren-Flew Debate are still available and highly recommended—Weylan Deaver.]

On Thursday, September 16, 1976, Thomas Warren and I moved into a motel room in Denton, Texas to continue preparation for the Warren-Flew debate scheduled to begin on the following Monday night. We were joined on Friday by James Bales and Bob Camp. During these eight days we lived together, prayed together, worked together, studied together — in full and deep realization of the importance of the occasion.

During the months preceding the debate it was advertised as being “The Debate of the Century.” I believe that this is an apt description of it. It was reminiscent of the great Campbell-Owen Debate, but it might be more accurately likened to Paul’s meeting the Athenian philosophers on Mars’ Hill when “…certain also of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him” (Acts 17:18). Upon that memorable occasion Paul preached the God whom they had left out. And in Denton, Texas brother Warren preached the God whom Dr. Flew (and all atheistic naturalism) has left out.

The debate was conducted on the campus of North Texas University, in the massive, beautiful coliseum. The debate was well-attended, with thousands of people having come from distant places. Wonderful fruits—even in generations to come—will be produced by these labors.

Since the debate it has been my privilege to speak a few times about the debate, and in these sessions we have devoted some time to answering questions. In this article I would like to consider several questions which have been asked.

How Was the Debate Brought About?

The University church of Christ in Denton, Texas conducts two Bible Chair programs within the city. One is directed by brother Gary Ealy; the other is directed by brother Rex Dean. These Bible Chairs work together in striving to accomplish the greatest good among the students. Each year they plan something “unusual” for the students. Last year (1975) they had Dr. Douglas Dean on campus for a special series of lectures on evolution. For 1976 the Bible chairs—together with the University church of Christ—planned the Warren-Flew debate. Since the debate was conducted by the Bible Chairs it was permitted to be held “on campus” and in the Coliseum.

An Evaluation of Dr. Flew

Many have asked: “How would you evaluate Dr. Flew?” Dr. Flew’s academic credentials are impressive and are unquestioned. He is a professor of philosophy at the University of Reading, in Reading, England. He is in constant demand as a “special lecturer,” and he travels the world as a spokesman for “atheistic naturalism.” He is without doubt one of the top atheists in the world today.

He writes almost constantly on the subject of “God.” brother Warren pointed out in the debate that he (Dr. Flew) seems to be almost “God-intoxicated.” Dr. Flew responded by saying: “I seem to be sobering up from my God-intoxication, and henceforth will not write upon the subject of God—except in response to those who attack me—but will devote more time to writing on social matters.” I consider this to be a highly significant statement from Dr. Flew—one which indicates that he keenly felt the force of Dr. Warren’s arguments.

In order that I might be of more help to brother Warren I have spent considerable time during the past year reading some of Dr. Flew’s books. I have found him extremely difficult to read (probably because of his British accent!). The vastness of his knowledge is apparent. Many have expressed disappointment that Dr. Flew did not do a better job in the debate. We emphasize that Dr. Flew’s failures were not the consequence of his not being a qualified opponent. No atheist has done more writing, or more speaking, or more debating than has Dr. Flew.

Dr. Flew is a personable, likable man. As brother Warren said, “You can’t help but like him.” It is my judgment that Dr. flew was shocked, bewildered, astonished, flabbergasted. So far as he was concerned “Christianity” meant Catholicism and denominationalism. He had never before encountered simple New Testament Christianity. And, he had never before encountered an opponent of Dr. Warren’s caliber. Dr. Flew, son of a Methodist minister, knows full-well that truth cannot be established upon the basis of feelings (emotionalism, subjective experiences). It must have been quite a shock to him when brother Warren said: “Dr. Flew, we fight that kind of thing just as much as you do. On that point you are just speaking to the wrong crowd.”

I think Dr. flew is honest and has some very strong feelings about truth. Dr. Flew entered the debate as a “positive atheist.” In a very short time he had become a “negative atheist.” Then, he began taking positions that were not atheistic, but that were agnostic. This he admitted. Then, he explained that he was “a spokesman for atheistic naturalism.” It seems to me that Dr. Flew left the debate as an agnostic rather than as an atheist.

Dr. Flew stresses that men “ought to be honest” and “ought to seek after truth.” We can continue to hope and pray that his honesty and concern about truth and evidence will yet bring him to the truth of God.

An Evaluation of Dr. Warren

I have known, loved, respected, and worked with brother Warren for near twenty-five years. I know him better than any other man knows him. I stand amazed in contemplation of his great abilities—natural and attained. He possesses the greatest natural brilliance of mind that I have ever seen. He has worked so hard for so many years in so many different academic disciplines in preparing himself to be an efficient servant of the Lord.

I know of his deep feelings related to the fact that as a people we are not doing enough to combat the forces of atheism and liberalism. It grieves him deeply to know that we sit back and allow the atheists to write our textbooks and to exert their infidel influences in the colleges and universities across the land.

More than twenty years ago he determined to do something about this situation. He knew that it would be necessary for him to hold the highest academic degree—and from a university of unquestioned prestige, and in the field which would be respected even by the atheists. To obtain this degree—his doctorate in Philosophy, from Vanderbilt University—he went into the lions’ den. To say the least, his professors were not favorable toward the traditional view (the Bible view) of God. Upon one occasion the professor said: “Mr. Warren, perhaps we ought to let YOU explain to the class the traditional view of God, since we so seldom have a man in this class who holds that view.” I know how hard and how fervently he prayed that—if the Lord so willed—he might be admitted to that program. At the time, Vanderbilt was admitting only six to eight students out of eighty applicants.

In reality, brother Warren’s debate with Antony Flew was that toward which he had been working for more than twenty years.

The more immediate preparation was made during the past year. The magnitude of this preparation is almost unbelievable (and is indescribable). He had very meticulously prepared over 400 charts for the debate. We used only 75 during the debate, but the others were there and ready to be used, if needed.

We thank God for brother Warren’s abilities, but—more than this, for the fact that these abilities are dedicated, consecrated, to the glory of God.

Why Did Dr. Flew Refuse to Make A Sound Argument?

This question comes in recognition of the fact that it is the case that Dr. Flew did steadfastly refuse to make a sound argument.

In logic, the term “argument” refers to the basic unit of reasoning. It means a “unit of discourse in which beliefs are supported by reasons.” An argument is a unit of discourse which seeks to prove that something is or is not the case. An argument therefore, is made up of two basic parts: (1) premises—the evidence—, and (2) the conclusion.

When a series of statements are intended to prove a point they may be (and, in fact, ought to be) reduced to a syllogism. An error which is concealed in three hundred pages becomes crystal clear when reduced to a three-line syllogism.

In order for an argument to be sound two things are necessary: (1) the syllogism has to be valid, and (2) the premises have to be true. A syllogism is valid when the premises (whether true or false) demand the conclusion. There is a difference in validity and truth. There are definite laws (five basic laws) governing validity, and if a single law of validity is violated the syllogism is not valid. If the syllogism is valid, then the logician asks: are the premises true? If the syllogism is valid, and if the premises are true—then the argument is sound.

Dr. Flew knows full-well what a sound argument is. He knows that argumentation is not assertion and is not insinuation. He constantly chides and ridicules religious people for refusing to make a sound argument. He constantly calls upon them to face up to the task of proving their position. The “Law of Rationality” holds that “We ought to justify our conclusions by adequate evidence.” Dr. Flew respects this law. Dr. Flew (of all people) did not refuse to make a sound argument because he did not know what a sound argument is!

Literally hundreds of people have expressed to me their disappointment because Dr. Flew refused to make an argument. He raised questions. He chided. He insinuated. He indicated that he would eventually get around to actual argumentation. But, he never did. He did a lot of talking and philosophizing, but he never did get down to the task of trying to prove his point. (Dr. James Bales observed: “A philosopher often spends his time throwing dust into the air, and then complains because he cannot see.”) One person said: “Dr. Flew would approach the microphone as if he were really going to do something this time, and then…just fizzle.”

It seems to me that the weak and disappointing efforts upon the part of Dr. Flew really show the force, the power, and the value of the debate. If Dr. Flew COULD have made a sound argument the conclusion of which would have been “I know that God does not exist” Dr. Flew WOULD have done so. The fact that Dr. Flew DID NOT proves that he COULD NOT, and that HE KNEW THAT HE COULD NOT! Dr. Flew’s failure to make an argument also indicated his profound respect for Dr. Warren. He knew that every word he said would be carefully and thoroughly examined by brother Warren, and that no error would be allowed to pass unnoticed. Dr. Flew could not make an argument which would stand up under the light of logical examination.

What Did Dr. Flew Say?

He stressed ideas of incoherence, inconsistency, and logical contradiction. These words relate to two basic points: (1) It is Dr. Flew’s view that the doctrine of eternal punishment in hell is inconsistent with the notion that God is all-loving; (2) He holds that the fact of evil in the world is contradictory to the theists’ concept of an all-loving and all-powerful God. The concept of “hell” is really disturbing to Dr. Flew. He said, “It upsets my British cool.” but, Dr. Flew admitted that the concepts of love and justice were not contradictory, and that God could be just in punishing a sinner for “one minute.” Dr. Flew thus placed himself in the position of judging God in connection with what constitutes just punishment.

The atheist habitually accuses the theist of affirming a logical contradiction. The theist affirms the existence of God who is all-loving and who is all-powerful. The atheist counters: “These concepts are contradictory. There is the fact of evil in our world. If God is all-good He would want to destroy evil; if God is all-powerful He would be able to destroy evil. If He wants to destroy evil, but cannot, then He is not all-powerful. If He is able to destroy evil, but does not want to destroy evil, then He is not all-good. If He is not all-powerful, or if He is not all-good, then He is not God.” But, the atheist fails to understand the relationship of the existence of evil to God’s plan for man’s redemption, and the atheist overlooks (and fails to understand) God’s respect for man’s free-moral agency.

Dr. Flew admitted the fact of human guilt and the fact of the existence of human conscience. He also admitted that atheism has no way of dealing with these. He admitted the existence of “law” higher than international law and that the Nazis were wrong in killing six million Jews. He failed to explain the source of this law.

Whether intending to do so or not, Dr. Flew rejected the theory of evolution. In answer to pointed questions he said that the first human being was not born of a non-human, and that the first human being was not the product of transformation from a non-human into a human! What else is left? Only creation by God.

Dr. Flew admitted that philosophy cannot deal adequately with the matter of origin. He said, “I begin with the universe and end with the universe.” This is a mighty restricted view of things, and fails to deal satisfactorily with either origin or destination.

Brother Warren powerfully refuted the theory of evolution. He stressed that the doctrine of evolution cannot be substantiated by the claims of science. Dr. Flew responded: “I am not a scientist—I am a philosopher.” I find this statement (and the attitude which it evidences) most astonishing. Here is a man who is a world-renowned atheist-philosopher. In rejecting the existence of God he puts himself in the position of having to accept the theory of organic evolution. This theory at least claims to rest upon scientific evidences. But, when the errors, inadequacies, and false claims of this theory are pointed out Dr. Flew simply says: “I am not a scientist—I am a philosopher.” It is astonishing—indeed, incredible—that a man would build his entire atheistic, philosophic house upon a doctrine which at least claims to rest upon science without knowing whether or not the scientific claims were true. How in the world could Dr. Flew be content simply to say: “I am not a scientist—I am a philosopher”? Keep in mind also that when Dr. Flew said that the first human being came (1) not by birth and (2) not by transformation that he rejected the theory of evolution.

What Basic Arguments Did Brother Warren Present?

First, brother Warren presented the cosmological argument. He argued (and proved) that for every effect there has to be a sufficient cause. He discussed our marvelous universe as an amazing effect. He declared that only the all-wise, all-powerful, all-loving God of the bible is sufficient cause. He considered man—marvelous man—as an amazing effect, and the all-wise, all-powerful, all-loving God of the Bible as the only sufficient cause. He considered the matter of the existence of law—law beyond national law, and beyond international law—the existence of which Dr. Flew admitted. Brother Warren argued that there can be no law without a law-giver. Brother Warren forcefully argued that the theory of evolution cannot explain (1) our universe, (2) man, or (3) the existence of law higher than international law.

Precisely stated, brother Warren’s argument would be as follows:

MAJOR PREMISE: If it is the case that our universe (or man, or moral law) is of such a nature

that it’s very existence can be explained only in terms of its having been cre-

ated by the all-wise, all-powerful, and all-loving God—then it is the case that

God does exist.

MINOR PREMISE: It is the case that our universe (or man, or moral law) is of such nature that

its very existence can be explained only in terms of its having been created

by the all-wise, all-powerful, all-loving God.

CONCLUSION: It is the case that God does exist.

Second, brother Warren made the moral argument. This argument overlaps the cosmological argument. Brother Warren emphatically argued that there does exist such a thing as outside, objective, moral law—that there is moral law beyond (greater than) international law. Brother Warren stressed that Dr. Flew admitted (1) the existence of this law, and (2) that the Nazis were wrong in murdering six million Jews. Brother Warren also stressed the fact of the existence of human conscience—that “Dr. Flew has a conscience, and Dr. flew admits that he has a conscience.” How explain the existence of moral law and the existence of human conscience? The theory of evolution has no explanation. These can be explained only in the light of creation by the God of the Bible.

Third, brother Warren stressed the argument based upon design—sometimes called the teleological argument. He had carefully and meticulously prepared beautiful charts on the human hand, the eye, the respiratory system, the skeletal system. Brother Warren argued that the marvelous design involved in these could be explained only in the light of an all-wise, all-powerful, all-loving Designer. Brother Warren presented a chart with a picture of an artificial hand. He asked Dr. Flew: “Did this artificial hand have a designer?” Dr. Flew admitted that it did have a designer. Amazing indeed! The artificial hand has a designer, and could not exist without the fact of the designer, but the natural hand does not have a designer! Dr. flew admitted that the automobile has a maker, but denies that the automobile-maker has a maker.  “He just growed.”

Time and space would not allow consideration here of the beautiful and fantastic details with which brother Warren pressed this argument. Its force was completely devastating to atheism.

Why Didn’t Brother Warren Use More Bible in the Debate?

The fact is that brother Warren did use the Bible frequently in the debate, but (for obvious reasons) he did not build his argument upon what the Bible says. As brother Warren said to a certain man who had asked this question: “What passage would YOU cite to Dr. Flew to prove that God exists?”

The argument that the very nature of the Bible proves the existence of God is another entire debate. We felt that to introduce this argument during this debate would have allowed Dr. Flew too much room in which to wander, and consequently, would have detracted from this debate. Brother Warren, in his final speech, did offer to debate Dr. Flew on the “Bible argument,” preferably in Reading, England.

What Do You Think Will Be the Greatest Benefits of the Debate?

There have been and there will continue to be great and wonderful benefits from the debate.

1. Because of the debate many people of the world will hear of the church of our Lord who otherwise would not have heard of it.

2. Some have already been baptized into Christ as a consequence of having heard the debate, and others will be.

3. I think the debate will cause New Testament churches—especially those in the Dallas-Fort Worth area—to become more militant in the battle for truth. The whole world will know that we have absolutely nothing to fear in going up against the forces of atheism.

4. Most probably, there will be other debates. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if one or two debates of this type could be conducted every year—on campuses of colleges and universities everywhere. It seems to me that congregations should—beginning right now—set aside funds to help so that at least one debate per year can be conducted.

5. I think the debate will astound the philosophical world. Dr. Flew will be discredited as a debater in the eyes of his fellow-atheists. Can you imagine an honest, sincere student in one of Dr. Flew’s classes—with a copy of the WARREN-FLEW DEBATE in his hand?

6. The debate will emphasize to God’s people everywhere—and especially to Gospel preachers—the value of and the importance of real education. What an example we have in Thomas Warren.

7. Undoubtedly, the greatest benefits (which cannot be measured) will come from (1) the book, and (2) the video-tape. The book is now being published, and the video-tape will soon be available. These will be tremendous tools in combating the forces of atheism.

CONCLUSION

Brethren, the debate was wonderful and will prove to be one of the most significant events in the history of God’s people.

We express our sincere thanks to Gary Ealy, Rex Dean, Perry Hall, the elders and members of the University church of Christ in Denton, Texas—for making the debate possible. We thank God for—and continue to pray for—brother Thomas Warren. We express our gratitude to the God of heaven by whose providence the debate was brought about. Also, our sincere thanks to Dr. Flew for his willingness to have his atheistic philosophies tested upon the polemic platform. Likewise, we express sincere thanks to brethren Bob Camp and James Bales for their wonderful assistance before and during the debate.

We fervently pray that God will continue to use this great work to His glory and to the salvation of thousands of souls.

I COULD NEVER BE AN ATHEIST

I would have to honest with myself. I would have to be concerned about evidence. I would have to be concerned about proper reasoning. Before I could be an atheist I would have to be able to prove that:

1. Life can come from non-life;

2. Something can come out of nothing;

3. Order can come out of disorder—cosmos can come out of chaos;

4. Chance can produce arrangement;

5. There can be a design without a designer;

6. Like does not produce like;

7. There can be an effect without a cause;

8. Mind can be produced by matter;

9. There is no real purpose in life;

10. There is no hereafter;

11. The Bible is not the word of God;

12. There is no God!

How would YOU like to have the task of proving (1) that the Bible is not the word of God, and (2) that God does not exist?