ID supporters seem to like Antony Flew, the one-time atheist philosopher who has apparently seen the light and become a deist. They have awarded him the Phillip Johnson Award for Liberty and Truth, they have lauded his latest book, and Bill Dembski exclaims "God bless Antony Flew!" But at the risk of raining on the parade, there’s something that Bill needs to realize – the fearless Flew seems to have a very ambivalent attitude (to put it mildly) to eugenics.
Prometheus Books recently published its New Encyclopedia of Unbelief, a work to which I provided an entry on Haeckel and co-wrote (with Matt Young) the entry on unbelief among scientists. While browsing my copy, I stumbled across the entry on eugenics (pp. 294 – 296, pdf), written by none other that Antony Flew. Now, I was a little bemused as to (a) why the encyclopedia would have an entry on eugenics, and (b) why it would be written by a philosopher rather than a historian. So I read on and encountered one of the strangest "discussions" of eugenics I’ve seen in awhile.
Incredibly, for an article in an encyclopedia on unbelief, Flew’s article never mentions any connection (if any) between eugenics and unbelief and indeed any relevant term (unbelief/atheist/agnostic) does not occur in the entry. Flew merely gives an account of eugenics that focuses on Francis Galton and lauds the "practically minded Victorians" who concluded that their race was degenerating. Flew then bloodlessly mentions US sterilization laws and virtually ignores Nazi racial hygiene. Indeed the sole mention of Nazi Germany is the following sentence: "This [Swedish sterilization between 1934 and 1976] amounts to roughly the same proportion of the population as was sterilized in Nazi Germany between 1933 and 1939." That’s it. No mention of what happened after 1939 and certainly no attempt to repudiate the excesses of eugenic policies worldwide. No attempt to offer any opinion or moral judgment.
But it is the end of the entry that allows Flew to show his hand. Flew appears to regret the decline in eugenics in the 1960’s and the fact that French eugenicist (and Vichy collaborator) Alexis Carrell had his name removed from roads in France. (Carrell is, incidental, a favorite of Jean-Marie le Pen.) But it is the final paragraph that is truly remarkable. Here we see Flew offer opinion and moral judgment:
In the United States, three people, Mark Haller, Kenneth Ludmerer, and Daniel Kevles, published polemical and abusive histories of the eugenics movement. Extracts from the third of these were serialized in the New Yorker, while the New York Times Book Review described it as "a revealing study by a distinguished historian of science." For an alternative and better-informed view of this work by Kevles see pp. 15 – 17 of the first chapter of Richard Lynn’s scholarly Dysgenics: Genetic Deterioration in Modern Populations (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1996).
End of entry. Dan Kevles is indeed a "distinguished historian of science" and his work, In the Name of Eugenics, is recognized by historians (but apparently not philosophers like Flew) as the standard history of the eugenic movement – a "polemical and abusive" history it is not, unless one actually has well-developed sympathies for the eugenicists and racists that populate Kevles’ pages. And why would we go to a book by Richard Lynn, a psychologist best know for his racism, support of eugenics, and involvement with the Pioneer Fund, unless Flew himself shared significant aspects of Lynn’s thought?
There you have it. Flew manages to write a three column entry on eugenics without actually offering any opinion except to diss the work of a distinguished historian of science and replace it with the work of a eugenicist psychologist. To Flew, eugenics is apparently without any discernable flaws, and practicing historians have it wrong.
How is the Center for Science and Culture going to respond to this, given the mileage that John West is getting out of arguing the pernicious effects of Darwinism in his latest book. Will they distance themselves from their wunderkind? Will they even comment? Or will they just conveniently ignore Flew’s pro-eugenic views and acceptance of the scholarship of the likes of Richard Lynn? Flew’s eugenic leanings are as much his as his deism.