Stranger Fruit

Flew’s Eugenic Leanings

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.


  1. #1 Siamang
    November 8, 2007

    There’s an easy parry:

    Flew wrote that stuff while an atheist. Ergo atheism = eugenisism.

    All they have to do is have their Christian ventriloquist work Flew into saying he repudiates what he wrote as an atheist. Maybe Flew could even “write” an entire article on how darwinism leads directly to eugenics.

  2. #2 John Lynch
    November 8, 2007

    Flew went deist in 2004/05 and received the award in May 2006. I – for one – was only commissioned to write my article for the encyclopedia in early 2006 (if I remember correctly).

    Perhaps he has changed his mind on eugenics since becoming a deist. I offer him this opportunity to clarify his views on eugenics.

  3. #3 Jim Anderson
    November 8, 2007

    I’m not sure Flew is mentally at the point where he conceivably could clarify his views. He seems to be in steep cognitive decline.

  4. #4 Danley
    November 8, 2007

    Dembski is feeding Flew too much Darvocet.

  5. #5 John Pieret
    November 8, 2007

    Okay. I agree that is a disturbing entry but, without more information on Flew’s views, it seems pretty thin grounds to start labeling him as having eugenic leanings. No offense meant to you but would you have highlighted this, without more, if it wasn’t for this flap over his “conversion”?

    Frankly, I find this near obsession both sides have with this one old man and his beliefs unwarranted in the extreme.

  6. #6 John Lynch
    November 8, 2007

    @John Pieret

    Actually, I would have. As a historian of biology, I find his comments about Dan Kevles’ work ridiculous and worthy of mention.

  7. #7 John Lynch
    November 8, 2007

    Oh, and I’ll scan the entry and put it online tomorrow (Friday).

  8. #8 John Pieret
    November 8, 2007

    I understand, though I still wonder about the phrase “eugenics leanings.” But how many others will understand after PZ’s “summary“?

  9. #9 Russell Blackford
    November 9, 2007

    John Pieret and I don’t seem to have the quite same take on the whole Flew saga, judging by an exchange over on my blog, but I do generally support his comments on this thread. Going around trying to vilify Flew is not the right way to respond to the bizarre events surrounding the appearance of “his” new book. I’m not suggesting that that is what John Lynch has done … but let’s all take a deep breath and recognise the tempatation before we do succumb to it.

    I add that it’s just too easy to smear someone as being in favour of “eugenics”. We should be trying to discourage that kind of demonisation of opponents.

    There’s a vast range of practices, real and imagined, that can be described as “eugenic”. Some of those practices may well be quite acceptable or even good. For example, the ban on/severe regulation of Thalidomide clearly has a eugenic rationale, i.e. it is aimed at “good births” (in this case, the births of babies that are less likely to have developmental abnormalities).

    Furthermore, I have no objection whatsoever to people using embryonic sex selection – whether for so-called family balancing or simply because they have a preference to become the parent of a child of one sex, rather than the other – though some will condemn this as “eugenic”. People involved in IVF programs should also, as far as I’m concerned, have the right (perhaps even a duty!) to select a potentially healthy embryo for implantation over a potentially unhealthy one, even if this is eugenic (which it clearly is). And so on. There’s a great deal to be said about such issues in bioethics, and the use of a “eugenics” tag tends to prevent it being said.

    If we despise various authoritarian and racist eugenic programs carried out in the past … well sure, we all look back on those with horror, and I suppose it is vaguely interesting that Flew discusses them in the way he does. But our attitude to those programs cannot be transferred neatly to, for example, the range of possible practices discussed by Nicholas Agar in Liberal Eugenics or by the authors of From Chance to Choice.

    Bottom line: the world is full of wing-nut bioconservatives who are quick to smear their opponents as favouring “eugenics”. It’s better not to play into their hands by adopting this particular trope ourselves. If we mean that Flew appears to be strangely sympathetic to the notorious authoritarian and racist programs practised by governments in the past – and commonly referred to by bioethicists as “the old eugenics” – then we should be that precise.

    Personally, I don’t see the point of raking over it. Let Flew be.

  10. #10 truth machine
    November 9, 2007

    Ambivalent? Hardly. See

    The Western Goals Institute (WGI) was an “ultra-conservative”[1] pressure group in Britain, re-formed in 1989 from Western Goals (UK), which originated in 1985 as an offshoot of the U.S. Western Goals Foundation. Its stated intent was anti-communism, although it was also known for its opposition to non-white immigration into Europe and Britain….
    The Institute’s stated aims were to “combat the insidious menace of liberalism and Communism within all sectors of British society” (The Times, October 13, 1989), and at the same time to create “a powerful international axis of the right”. To the latter end, the group forged links with parties such as the Front National of France and the Conservative Party of South Africa….
    Its list of Vice-Presidents included Professor Antony Flew …

  11. #11 truth machine
    November 9, 2007

    No offense meant to you but would you have highlighted this, without more, if it wasn’t for this flap over his “conversion”?

    This seems like a rather silly question. Whether he would have or not, in his first paragraph he gave a perfectly good justification for doing so in the current circumstances.

  12. #12 onclepsycho
    November 9, 2007

    Very disturbing. I was considering getting a copy of this encyclopedia, but now I’m not so sure. The blame goes to the editors, not Flew: what the hell is doing an entry on eugenics doing in an encyclopedia of unbelief? Were the entries even peer-reviewed in this book? Talk about ammunition for the ID crooks…

  13. #13 Russell Blackford
    November 9, 2007

    Encyclopedias like this are seldom peer reviewed, though one would expect that the editor would pick up such oddities.

    It sounds as if Flew is ignorant of the current controversy in bioethics that goes under such names as “liberal eugenics”, “the new eugenics”, or even “neugenics”. Since this controversy does in fact involve disputes about the role of religion, it would actually have made sense to include discussion of it in such a book.

    I wonder who picked him to write such an article. I suppose he was contacted and asked whether he wanted to write for the encyclopedia … and he then volunteered to pick up this particular article. That’s how it usually seems to work.

  14. #14 B.B
    November 9, 2007

    It is of my understanding that Flew is a hardcore libertarian, so he would only support eugenic measures that are non-coercive and do not involve government intervention. Eugenics is merely advocating the improvement of human hereditary traits through various forms of intervention, so it doesn’t necessarily mean forced sterilization or racial separatism. A good example of non-coercive non-governmental eugenics would be Project Prevention ( ).

  15. #15 Heleen
    November 9, 2007

    Apart from any other things, this seems to be another example that philosophers cannot be trusted to understand science or represent science correctly. Antony Flew here joins Jerry Fodor and David Stove in pretending to understand science while not understanding any part of it

  16. #16 harold
    November 9, 2007

    I mentioned something at Panda’s Thumb.

    Back in the 60’s, religion had become associated with the civil rights movement and to some degree, advocacy for the poor. Flew was a right winger and an atheist.

    Now religion is associated with the political right, for the most part, and Flew is a right winger and a deist.

    Does Flew simply tailor his religious opinion to his life-long political stance?

  17. #17 Robin
    November 9, 2007

    Is it possible that someone else created the encyclopedia entry and attached Flew’s name to it?

  18. #18 Bartholomew
    November 9, 2007

    Flew was also a prominent patron of the recently-defunct Right Now magazine, with which Richard Lynn was also involved. One discussion of the magazine’s support for eugenics – and its links with British far-right groups – can be seen here.

  19. #19 John Lynch
    November 9, 2007

    From Bartholomew’s link:

    One eugenecist interviewed was Professor Richard Lynn, the Ulster-based academic who has specialised in IQ studies. “There is solid evidence that, on average, blacks have smaller brains than whites,” Lynn told Right Now’s editor Derek Turner. “Higher intelligence of the Oriental and Caucasian peoples was probably an evolutionary adaptation to the problems of survival in cold northern environments. Human beings first evolved in tropical Africa where survival is relatively easy. Then some of them migrated northwards into Eurasia and they found life wasn’t so simple. They had to survive through cold winters, build shelters, make clothing and fires and hunt animals in order to survive. They had to become more intelligent to survive.”


    “The only solution lies in the break-up of the United States,” Lynn argues. “I believe the predominantly white states should declare independence and secede from the Union. They would enforce strict border controls and provide minimum welfare, which would be limited to citizens. If this were done, white civilisation would survive within this handful of states.”

    This is the sort of “scholar” that Flew would have us accept as an authority?

  20. #20 AnInGe
    November 9, 2007

    Amniocentesis is now so readily available and commonly performed as to almost be a standard in prenatal care. Its sole purpose is to alert expectant mothers/parents to the possibility of a fetus at high risk for a genetic defect so that they can consider whether a pregnancy should be allowed to continue (or to be better prepared to deal with a special needs child). This is certainly a form of eugenics, but shows that the word has too broad a compass and needs to be refined and qualified if meaningful discussions are to advance. In previous comments, we’ve seen ‘old eugenics’, ‘new eugenics’, and even ‘liberal eugenics’ used but these are more emotional than scientific or sociological distinctions. I don’t know enough about the issues to suggest anything better that ‘creeping’ eugenics, but it is certainly here and is being embraced. Better definitions should include the distinction between coerced and elective (fully voluntary) actions.

  21. #21 Glen Davidson
    November 9, 2007

    Those urging caution no doubt are doing well (even as Lynch points out how poor the scholarship behind Flew’s comments).

    However, had the “conversion” gone the other way, there would be no caution from the other side. So we do well to tweak their noses about it, even if we’d best be careful with our “conclusions.” The IDists are trying to make hay out of the “natural selection” claim behind the Finnish mass murder, heedless of the fact that clearly the shooter did not follow the path to evolutionary fitness when he attempted suicide. A bit of sauce for the gander as well as the goose….

    More importantly and regardless of Flew, it’s worth mentioning once again that eugenics is a kind of design, while MET by itself isn’t the slightest bit about design. I don’t want to make much about Flew, then (de facto free speech, if nothing else), but this does provide another opportunity to say that “design” suggests that eugenics would merely be a way to mimic the so-called “designer”, and it is “Darwinism” that tends to suggest that leaving well enough alone is the better route.

    Whatever we might make of Flew, then, one should not pass up the opportunity to point out that ID is about “designed humanity,” MET emphatically is not.

    Glen D

  22. #22 Bryson Brown
    November 9, 2007

    Just a small point in defense of philosophers– yes, there are some of us who do get aspects of science badly wrong– and there are some who’ve made substantial contributions to science as well (for a recent example, see Earman and Norton on the ‘hole argument’ in GTR). On the other hand, it seems to me that many scientists get science wrong too (though they’re rarely entirely lost when it comes to their own fields). There are lots of philosophers out there, after all– some are bound to get important things wrong (and I agree that Fodor is one of those, too).

    As to Flew, he seems to have become more and more extreme and idiosyncratic in his views– something that can happen to anyone as they age (I’ve seen it in some relatives, and it makes me feel diffident about transferring resources to my future self– thought not enough to stop me saving for retirement). A sad story, but hardly surprising. What I regret is the eager exploitation of Flew’s ‘conversion’– and the main point of the post is to attach a little embarasment to that exploitation: If Flew’s views on some sensitive issues are shocking (and I suspect from the above discussion that they are) then it’s harder to make him the poster child for ‘atheists who’ve seen the light.’ And so it should be.

  23. #23 Rolf Aalberg
    November 10, 2007

    Eugenics is as old as humanity: Our more or less distant forefathers used to leave unwanted children out in the woods to die. I believe that has been practiced many places in the world throughout history up to our times. So much for the ‘Darwinism’ connection. Not to mention the genocide we find in the Bible.

  24. #24 Christensen
    November 10, 2007

    And the problem with eugenics is…?

    Darwin favored it, he told us the savage races would be wiped out by the civilized, and that vaccination weakens the race.

    And in The DESCENT OF MAN he praises his cousin Francis Galton for his work…you know, the guy who practically invented Eugenics as we know it.

  25. #25 snaxalotl
    November 10, 2007

    It’s disturbing to see team evolution moving away from attacking arguments to attacking people. This is what creationsts do, and it’s because they don’t have real arguments. Flew the person has always been irrelevant, and for all the puffery about him being a first rate philosopher, I’d happily wager that 99% of people who argue about evolution and creationism had never heard of him until he turned deist in his dotage. IMO the valid reason for attacking people is when they refuse to engage in meaningful argument (which still gives plenty of oportunity to scathe creationists amongst the humdrum of being civil to them). The response to creationist comments on Flew should only ever have been the response you give every time a creationist waffles on about some “authority” that proves his case: stop giving me your worthless opinion that someone has proved your case. Either make an actual argument or get someone to turn up who can.

  26. #26 Robin Levett
    November 10, 2007


    And the problem with eugenics is…?

    Darwin favored it…

    Cite please; and predictions of a future don’t count as “favouring” that future so don’t just refer me back to your post.

  27. #27 Dan
    November 10, 2007

    Since the other fellow didn’t cite his sources either, I’m going to similarly not support what many people here likely already know; Darwin was fairly progressive, politically, as regards race.

    It might also be noteworthy that some early eugenicists weren’t into eugenics as we conceive of it today, especially as they hadn’t begun to identify Mendelian inheritance. Lamarckian inheritance of acquired characteristics, which hadn’t yet been ruled out, would make altering the gene pool possible by infinitely more benign means.

  28. #28 John Lynch
    November 10, 2007

    It is a bitter irony for Christensen to ask “And the problem with eugenics is…?” and then link to Black’s War Against The Weak. Perhaps he needs to read the aforementioned book (and Kevles while he is at it).

  29. #29 Russell Blackford
    November 10, 2007

    AnInGe, you make a fair comment – terms such as “liberal eugenics” do sound emotive when used out of context, and of course they are employed for a rhetorical purpose (actually, I think the term “liberal eugenics” is meant to sound paradoxical and intrigueing more than emotive).

    But all that Agar means by the term is something like what you alluded to – eugenic decisions made by parents rather than coerced by the state.

    Agar is thinking of high-tech things such as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), but amniocentesis is a good example of “liberal”, rather than authoritarian, eugenic decision-making. This is a widely used, and widely-accepted, procedure that is clearly utilised by many people for a eugenic purpose. Some folks do criticise it as a “eugenic” practice, and I’m sure you’ll find some who even want to ban it on that basis, but most people in Western societies now accept it. As you suggest, it’s not acceptable to condemn eugenics tout court without making these important distinctions.

    And it wouldn’t be sufficient to say (not that anyone has, as yet) that everybody knows what we mean when we criticise an individual for “favouring eugenics”. That is not the case, because often when people are criticised for favouring eugenics the criticism is not that they are sympathetic to the racist programs of the Nazis and others – as Flew may be – but merely that they support undeniably eugenic uses of amniocentesis, PGD, etc. Bioconservatives thrive on this sort of confusion.

  30. #30 baliset
    November 10, 2007

    Erm… and just what’s wrong with Eugenics, anyway? Unlike many Christians, I regard permitting children to be born with profound mental and physical disabilities that have a genetic basis as a kind of blasphemy. This follows on from the notion that God is the author of life, that people are supposed to be in His image, and that the innocent should be spared suffering. If we’re happy to support research that advances medicine, even genetic medicine, then what is so offensive at the idea that as a society and a species, we create biases and societal norms that steer us in the direction of preventing genetic diseases through better breeding.

  31. #31 John Lynch
    November 10, 2007

    That’s not the sort of eugenics Flew addresses (or Lynn advocates). He never mentions the sort of genetic procedures that people have mentioned here.

    Eugenics has historically come in two flavors – positive (get the “good” specimens to breed usually by offering incentives) and negative (prevent the “bad” from breeding via sterilization). Voluntary screening for Tay Sachs by Ashkenazim, for example, is clearly (positive) eugenic but ethically unproblematic. Involuntary sterilization of individuals is clearly (negative) eugenic and ethically problematic.

    Flew only briefly mentions negative eugenics, and never makes any negative comments about either form. *That* leads one to imagine that he has some sympathies with eugenicists of both stripes, an inference that is supported by his support of, and involvement with, far-right groups in the UK.

  32. #32 Russell Blackford
    November 11, 2007

    John, that’s fair enough … and I’m not so blinkered or pestilential as not to be able to see and appreciate your point.

    But some of us who are immersed in bioethical debates about the issues raised in this thread have reason to be sensitive whenever somebody is criticised for having “eugenic leanings”, as you put it. I hope you can see why we have that sensitivity. The debates we are involved in have advanced to a point where we need to insist on finer distinctions.

    In fact, this has been a problem for some years now. For example, way back in 1999 I had occasion to discuss the manner in which the egregious Bryan Appleyard exploits Nazi history in order to attack genetic technologies (in his book Brave New Worlds). The sort of argument that I tried to expose, in response, keeps popping up in debates about genetic technology, but his book is a very clear example of what I mean.

    Appleyard says, “we can be absolutely sure that genetics has been used in the past to justify the most horrific crimes–mass murder, mass sterilization, and racial and cultural hatred.”

    His argument is that Hitler was influenced by Eugene Fischer’s The Principles of Human Heredity and Race Hygiene and the work of Ernst Haeckel. Not only is Appleyard prepared to invoke the spectre of Nazism in attacking genetic science; he is convinced that Nazism was not a misuse of science, but exemplary of it.

    In writing of the possibility that parents might be able to modify the genes of their children, he insists that this should be described as a form of “eugenics”, knowing that the very use of the word creates an association, however illogical or unfair, with the hateful actions of the Nazis. “For me,” Appleyard says, “it is all too obvious that those who wish to deny the title eugenics to anything other than coercive, socially targeted control of reproduction are doing so because they wish to avoid the Nazi taint.”

    Yet, he equivocates about this, knowing that not all practices with a eugenic component are evil. After relating the way that the Lubavitcher community in Brooklyn discreetly discourages marriages between people who are both carriers of Tay-Sachs disease – the sort of example you offered in your comment just above – he concedes that this “may not be objectionable”. However, once such a concession is made, Appleyard cannot logically continue to use the word “eugenics” and its cognates with the Nazi taint still present. He renounces the palpably invalid argument that Nazism involved eugenics, genetic engineering would involve eugenics, so genetic engineering would be ethically akin to Nazism.

    But he wants to have it both ways, to write as if some such argument were still available.

    The trouble is that some of us are neck-deep in debate with the Bryan Appleyards and similar bioluddite alligators of the world, who do attempt to equate various genetic procedures that they dislikes with the crimes of the Nazis. This is a more common strategy than you might have realised. In Appleyard’s case, it is part of a general campaign against modern science, which he seems to find tainted by the Nazi evils and generally dehumanising.

    While we’re worrying about Flew, this is another sort of mentality that we’re up against, and I’d like to ensure that we never give it solace.


  33. #33 Darwin Youth
    November 11, 2007

    “Vaccination weakens the race.” Charles Darwin

  34. #34 Robin Levett
    November 11, 2007

    Darwin Youth:

    “Vaccination weakens the race.” Charles Darwin

    I said cite, not quote – which, by the way, is not a quote; is your friend…

    Since, however, you have taken up Christensen’s baton, perhaps you could produce a cite for Darwin’s supposed support for eugenics, which was what I asked for?

  35. #35 John Lynch
    November 11, 2007

    @ Robin Levett

    I have a suspicion that “Darwin Youth” and “Christensen” are the same person.

  36. #36 John Lynch
    November 11, 2007


    I agree that there’s a lot going on here and a lot to be worried about. As I said, I only have an axe to grind with Flew’s “history” and how it is a strange bedfellow for the DI. It’s not surprising that four days later, neither the DI’s Media Complaints Division nor the denizens of Uncommon Descent have uttered a word on the issue, even in defense of their cause célèbre.

  37. #37 bob koepp
    November 11, 2007

    A quibble with the way John Lynch has contrasted positive and negative eugenics in #31 above.

    In my experience, ‘positive eugenics’ has, indeed, meant promoting the reproduction of desirable types, but without specifying what practical measures would be employed. So it might be done voluntarily (through incentives, as suggested by John), or coercively. Similarly, I’ve understood ‘negative eugenics’ to mean preventing reproduction of undesirable types, which again might be accomplished by either voluntary or coercive measures.

    Also, since the point of screening for Tay Sachs is to prevent the birth of infants with this terrible disease, it is usually understood to be a negative eugenic practice, but ethically unproblematic since those who engage in this practice do so voluntarily.

    Speaking very generally, it’s usually the voluntary/coercive axis that is relevant to judgments about the morality of eugenics. But speaking just a bit less generally, some people think that even when voluntary, positive eugenics is ethically quite dangerous, since it open the door to attempts to perfect humanity.

  38. #38 Robin levett
    November 11, 2007


    I have a suspicion that “Darwin Youth” and “Christensen” are the same person.

    It wouldn’t surprise me in the least; given the link they share.

  39. #39 Allen Esterson
    January 13, 2008

    As someone who wrote one of the entries in *The Encyclopedia of Unbelief*, it seems to me that John Lynch has failed to understand its purpose. He writes of Flew’s entry on Eugenics that he made no attempt to offer any opinion or moral judgement, but the same may be said of my entry on Sigmund Freud. I have been highly critical of Freud’s work on a number of levels (see my book *Seductive Mirage: An Exploration of the Work of Sigmund Freud* and articles on Freud on my website [scroll down]), but I did not think I should allow my personal views to intrude on an entry in such a volume, and I don’t believe that anyone reading it would have the least idea of the strength of my antagonism towards Freud’s theoretical and clinical claims and to ethically dubious aspects of his behaviour.

    From my position, I do not read into Flew’s entry what John finds in its details. Flew does not “laud” the practically-minded Victorians, simply uses that as a description in an appropriate context. While John writes that Flew “appears to regret the decline of eugenics in the 1960’s and the fact that French eugenicist (and Vichy collaborator) Alexis Carrell had his name removed from roads in France”, I read him as describing the history of eugenics in that period, and adding a factual statement about a once-favoured physician and eugenicist. John adds that Carrell is a favourite of Jean-Marie le Pen, but I have to say that this comes across to me as an example of guilt by association.

    Of course one can argue that Flew’s preferential references to authors at the end indicates his viewpoint, and not having read them I cannot express definite opinions. But I do know that bien-pensant authors have written one-sided and ahistorical accounts of the eugenicists and early hereditarians (Stephen Jay Gould springs to mind). One does not have to approve of the views of the early advocates of such unfashionable views (an appreciable number of whom were on the left of the political spectrum) to decry tendentiously one-sided histories that are assured of success in the popularity stakes.

    I concur heartily with Russell Blackford when he writes: “I add that it’s just too easy to smear someone as being in favour of ‘eugenics’. We should be trying to discourage that kind of demonisation of opponents.”

  40. #40 Allen Esterson
    January 13, 2008

    P.S.I wrote the above comments the day after first reading John’s piece on Flew and eugenics, and failed to recall that he had stated that he also provided entries in the *New Encyclopedia of Unbelief*. Had I done so I would have phrased my comments about the purpose of the volume differently, but my central point would have been the same. I do not believe that an entry in such a volume should be taken as an opportunity to express one’s personal views on the subject in question, so I do not think there is anything amiss in the fact that Flew, in John’s words, made “No attempt to offer any opinion or moral judgment”.

  41. #41 John Lynch
    January 13, 2008

    @ Allen Esterson

    Reasonable people can disagree on whether Flew (or any contributer) should have offered “any opinion or moral judgment”. What he should definitely have offered is some balance and coverage of the contemporary literature on eugenics. This he did not do, with the exception of his promotion of Lynn over Kevles.

    I’m left wondering how come there was an entry on eugenics in the first place? It is not obvious what the issue had to do with unbelief and Flew makes no implicit or explicit connection.

    And I’d just like to restate that Flew does indeed offer “any opinion or moral judgment” – not of eugenics or eugenicists abut instead of Kevles. The “neutral point of view” (to adopt a Wikipediaism) that Allen sees is not consistently present in Flew’s entry.

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