I can't let this article by Mark Oppenheimer, from the New York Times , pass without comment here, though I expect that just about every blog on the net must be responding to it today.
Oppenheimer has investigated the background to a new book by (supposedly) Antony Flew. Flew was one of the most influential philosophers of religion in the second half of the twentieth century, but at 84 he seems to be little more than a husk of the man he once was.
The position that Flew now adopts is evidently neither atheism nor a traditional religious one, but some sort of philosophical deism. That's fine. It's a respectable enough position to take.
The problem is that it's unclear that he has much understanding of the book's arguments, and he seems to have been in no position to a write new a book on the subject or even to sign off on something patched together by collaborators or ghostwriters. The new book There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind was evidently written by Flew's "co-author", the Christian apologist Roy Varghese, who did shuffle in some material by Flew from emails and an interview. Varghese was clearly responsible for the substance of the book, including its scientific arguments. Another layer of polish was apparently added by an evangelical pastor, Bob Hostetler, who is not credited as an author. In discussion with Oppenheimer, Flew is unable to recall people whom "he" discusses in the book, or to comment meaningfully on their work.
Putting it with distressing bluntness, Flew appears to be suffering not just nominal aphasia and the ordinary effects of old age, but some kind of dementia. His name is on a book that he did not write and scarcely seems to understand. It has been packaged not to advocate the rather anti-religious deism that he's evidently presented in public as recently as last year, but merely to discredit atheism in the services of a group of conservative Christian apologists who have persuaded him to tag along with their project and lend it his famous name.
Flew was once a, well, "notorious atheist" ... but I certainly wouldn't care if, at the height of his considerable powers, he had concluded that some sort of deism is actually the most likely world picture. Maybe he'd even have convinced me - I rather doubt it, but I'm not totally close-minded about it. It's all arguable. In any event, the world could probably do with some high-powered advocates for the philosophical deist position, if only to liven things up.
If he had published a real book before his decline, presenting a powerful and forthright case for deism, it would have been welcome. He doubtless would have made a worthy contribution to philosophical debate.
Even now, if he'd had enough clarity to produce his own book, perhaps with a lot of editorial help, and if it had carried a title and a slant representing what seems to be his real position, this might have been of some value. (Bending over backwards to be fair, it's even possible, if rather unlikely, that Varghese's arguments have some intellectual merit, but that's not the point; he could simply have published them in a book appearing honestly under his own sole authorship.)
I find it hard to imagine the mentality of those who have taken advantage of Antony Flew's situation in this way. If Oppenheimer's reportage is even half accurate, the exploitation of a forgetful old man and his distinguished career is despicable.
This leaves a nasty taste in my mouth.