Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

The New York Times has an interesting piece up about Antony Flew, formerly vocal atheist and revered philosopher, who’s been co-oped by the Intelligent Design brigade in his dotage. In 1950, Flew published a discourse on atheism “Theology and Falsification” which pointed out something quite astute: that the term “God” is so amorphous as to be impossible to either prove or disprove. Seems like common sense now, but at the time it sent shock waves through an academia only recently comfortable with evolution and secular science.

Years later, Flew was forking over his legacy to the creationists, allowing himself to be paraded around at their various meetings to stand up and recant his earlier beliefs in a halting voice marred with age. While Flew seemed to reject fundamentalist Christianity, but his admittances that ‘there is a God’ is enough to set the Religious Right into a frenzy—look, a vocal scientific atheist has recanted! Perhaps it is only significant because it is so rare and unusual, and is it any coincidence that the onset of religiosity settled in in Flew’s extreme old age? How disappointing to see a revered rational thinker, who posed many excellent arguments paving the way for today’s intellectuals, fall for the very tired old tricks that he once dismissed as unscientific. Flew even signed a petition to England’s Prime Minister encouraging the teaching of intelligent design in schools.

However, the plot thickened as a concerned graduate student writes to Flew and points out that his trust in the religious allies is misguided and not scientifically sound. Amazingly, Flew listened and recanted many of his recent deist statements. Then two years later, Flew was back in the pro-deist thick of it all again, but suffering from memory loss and a “nominal aphasia.”

“He once was a great philosopher,” Richard Dawkins, the Oxford biologist and author of “The God Delusion,” told a Virginia audience last year. “It’s very sad.” Paul Kurtz of Prometheus Books says he thinks Flew is being exploited. “They’re misusing him,” Kurtz says, referring to the Christians. “They’re worried about atheists, and they’re trying to find an atheist to be on their side.”

Check out the NYT story for the full story.

Comments

  1. #1 Warren
    November 6, 2007

    Watson! Come quickly! I need you!

  2. #2 DSKS
    November 6, 2007

    I don’t about anybody else here, but I’m having my lawyer draft up a legal document tomorrow,

    “After exceeding the age of 80yrs, the undersigned considers that the risk of his having gone completely bonkers is of sufficient value as to determine that nothing he says regarding science should be taken seriously from thenceforth. In addition, the undersigned waives all responsibility for whatever wild, raving nonsense should slip out from between the false teeth of this aforementioned octogenarian, and thus it shall have absolutely no bearing on his reputation as a scientist. Assuming he ever gets one.”

    If only James Watson had thought of it.

  3. #3 Josť Fernando Illa
    November 6, 2007

    Its absolutly natural and very common people who in their yonger years are atheists and have an absolute faith in the capacity of science to explain everything and to deliver some kind of consolation, to at an older age see that there are more dimensions to the human life and turn to spirituality and to some kind of believe in some idea of a God.
    I dont see why scientists must insinuate that Antony Flew must be senile or have some kind of problem due to old age that invalidates his current opinions.
    I myself had once an immense believe in science as a mean of understanding the world and of making sense of things in a way that could bring some kind of peace or happinnes, but have lately been discovering that many dimension of the human experience fall out of the reach of science and open the door to what can be called spirituality, as is the case os subjective experience for instance.

  4. #4 John P. Baumlin
    November 6, 2007

    One of my best friends was, in his youth, a devout Jehovah’s Witness who later became a thoroughgoing atheist and his convictions as a rationalist in all things became more deeply embedded the older he got. He’s gone now, but remained a committed atheist even through the ravages of Alzheimer’s.
    It’s unfortunate that Flew is being used as an example by creationists in need of converts, but what does it say about their position when they embrace the views of someone with “cognitive issues” associated with aging? Smells like desperation to me, but then I’m firmly on evolutionary ground.

  5. #5 C J Fitzsimmons
    November 6, 2007

    How many great thinkers have thought about chocolate doughnuts or flies on the wall? To believe; or, to think.
    Firmly anchored in the School of Doubt, I watch as genius
    tries to leave the party by the closet door. Often.

    Individuals may, or not, demonstrate evolution The collective is a demonstration of devolution.

    The faith of an athiest is a belief to counter any thought.

    Answers are for those who cannot question.

  6. #6 Wes
    November 7, 2007

    How many great thinkers have thought about chocolate doughnuts or flies on the wall? To believe; or, to think.
    Firmly anchored in the School of Doubt, I watch as genius
    tries to leave the party by the closet door. Often.

    Individuals may, or not, demonstrate evolution The collective is a demonstration of devolution.

    The faith of an athiest is a belief to counter any thought.

    Answers are for those who cannot question.

    Posted by: C J Fitzsimmons | November 6, 2007 10:20 PM

    Incoherent thought and incoherent grammar seem to be two peas in a pod. Bad poetry is for those who can’t reason.

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