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Image of birds flying. Image of birds flying.

#609 Debate with Antony Flew

December 16, 2018

“Of all my debates, the two best attended were the debates of 1976 and 1998. The 1976 debate with Thomas Warren in Denton, Texas, had an audience, on different days, of five to seven thousand. The 1998 debate with William Lane Craig in Madison, Wisconsin, drew a crowd of about four thousand. These two events were the only times in my life in which I served as one of two protagonists in a formal public debate.” (Anthony Flew. There is a God)

I'm currently reading this book, in which Anthony Flew mentions you and was wondering if what you remember about your debate and have you had any correspondence with him since his change of stance?


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Photo of Dr. Craig.

Dr. craig’s response


Ah, the Flew debate! I remember it vividly! Although I had no correspondence with Prof. Flew after the debate, I do have a bit of a back story to our contest that you might find interesting.

The organizers of the debate at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, arranged for Flew and me to have dinner with the debate organizers prior to the debate. Flew sat opposite me at the table.  He was visibly nervous and began expressing his reservations about participating in the debate. “My wife told me I should never have gotten involved in this,” he grumbled.

When we arrived at the venue, we saw that the debate was being held in one end of a large basketball arena. The huge crowd in the steep bleachers just went up and up and disappeared into the bright lights hanging overhead. We were seated on a raised platform facing the stands with two podiums. After being introduced, I rose and delivered my opening statement as planned without incident.

But when Flew made his way to his podium and began to speak, his microphone malfunctioned, and so nobody in the vast crowd could hear a word coming out of his mouth! People in the audience began to cry out, “Can’t hear you!”, “It’s not working!” and so on. I don’t know if Flew thought these were catcalls or what, but at that point he became completely unhinged and began to stomp about the platform, saying, “Well, if it’s not going to work, we may as well call the whole thing off!” I was afraid that he was going to storm off the stage and scuttle the whole event!

Fortunately, the technician came up on stage and handed him the mike from my podium, so that he was able to continue.  But you imagine how shaken he was!  I think that opening incident threw him off and contributed to his poor performance in the debate. None of this is included in the edited video recording of the debate.

Another funny anecdote that I heard about Flew: he was the son of a prominent Methodist minster in England. Apparently Rev. Flew was scheduled to speak at a certain church conference but fell ill and was unable to attend. At the conference it was duly announced that “Rev. Flew has taken ill and so is home in bed. Moreover, his secretary Miss _____ is also unable to be here with us.  She’s in bed with flu.”

- William Lane Craig