Sunday, January 09, 2005

Antony Flew retraction


Antony Flew has retracted one of his recent assertions. In a letter to me dated 29 December 2004, Flew concedes:

I now realize that I have made a fool of myself by believing that there were no presentable theories of the development of inanimate matter up to the first living creature capable of reproduction.

He blames his error on being "misled" by Richard Dawkins because Dawkins "has never been reported as referring to any promising work on the production of a theory of the development of living matter," even though this is false (e.g. Richard Dawkins and L. D. Hurst, "Evolutionary Chemistry: Life in a Test Tube," Nature 360(6399): pp. 25-26, 5 November 1992) and hardly relevant: it was Flew's responsibility to check the state of the field (there are several books by actual protobiologists published in just the last five years), rather than wait for the chance possibility that one particular evolutionist would write on the subject. Now that he has done what he was supposed to do in the first place, he has retracted his false statement about the current state of protobiological science.

Flew also makes another admission: "I have been mistaught by Gerald Schroeder." He says "it was precisely because he appeared to be so well qualified as a physicist (which I am not) that I was never inclined to question what he said about physics." Apart from his unreasonable plan of trusting a physicist on the subject of biochemistry (after all, the relevant field is biochemistry, not physics--yet it would seem Flew does not recognize the difference), this attitude seems to pervade Flew's method of truthseeking, of looking to a single author for authoritative information and never checking their claims (or, as in the case of Dawkins, presumed lack of claims). As Flew admitted to me, and to Stuart Wavell of the London Times, and Duncan Crary of the Humanist Network News, he has not made any effort to check up on the current state of things in any relevant field (see "No Longer Atheist, Flew Stands by 'Presumption of Atheism'" and "In the Beginning There Was Something"). Flew has thus abandoned the very standards of inquiry that led the rest of us to atheism. It would seem the only way to God is to jettison responsible scholarship.

Despite all this, Flew has not retracted his belief in God, as far as I can tell. But in response to theists citing him in their favor, Flew strangely calls his "recent very modest defection from my previous unbelief" a "more radical form of unbelief," and implies that the concept of God might actually be self-refuting, for "surely there is material here for a new and more fundamental challenge to the very conception of God as an omnipotent spirit," but, Flew says, "I am just too old at the age of nearly 82 to initiate and conduct a major and super radical controversy about the conceivability of the putative concept of God as a spirit." This would appear to be his excuse for everything: he won't investigate the evidence because it's too hard. Yet he will declare beliefs in the absence of proper inquiry. Theists would do well to drop the example of Flew. Because his willfully sloppy scholarship can only help to make belief look ridiculous.

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