News of Antony Flew scandal is continuing to spread. It's been picked up in a number of places, from God is for Suckers! to Atlantic Monthly blogger Ross Douthat. Brain Flemming has a perfect account of why the exploitation of Flew is reprehensible:
Imagine that in Ronald Reagan's twilight years -- the "long goodbye" of the neurodegenerative disease Alzheimer's -- some opportunistic political hack gained access to Reagan, manipulated a few quotes out of this mentally compromised old man, then penned the book, "The Democrats Were Always Right: Why I Am No Longer A Republican by Ronald Reagan."Now, the worst/best part of it is that they aren't backing down. Vic Reppert has put up a post passing along something gotten via Gary Habermas: Roy Abraham Varghese's response to the NYT piece. By passing this along with no disputing comment, both Habermas and Reppert are giving this their implicit endorsement. Part of me's saddened to see that there are people so morally bankrupt that they're willing to help in a project like this, but I have to confess to also being thrilled: if such people must exist, I'm glad that they're willing to expose themselves in such a public manner.
Sleazy wouldn't begin to describe this behavior.
Let's look at the details of Reppert's post now, shall we?
I personally thought that the Oppenheimer piece was pretty clearly biased, in that it sounded as if he had talked to the people on the atheist side (like Carrier), but had not spoken to anybody on the theist side.This is at best sloppy reading. Oppenheimer explicitly says he talked to Varghese. On page two, he says: "'I’ve been involved with him for 20 years or more,' Varghese told me in August." Even if that weren't the case, Oppenheimer's most damning revelations come from his direct interaction with Flew himself (see the first quote in PZ Myers' post). Note that Reppert doesn't link to Oppenheimer's article, making it difficult for his readers to check these things out for themselves. Now let's look at what Varghese himself has to say:
Among those who have personally been most influential in Tony Flew’s pilgrimage of reason is Professor Gary Habermas. Both intellectually and at a personal level Gary has become one of Tony’s closest friends and advisors. I know this from discussing the matter with Tony. As is their wont, the freethinking blogaholics (with their single digit audiences and gnat-sized attention spans) have turned their guns on all those (including Gary) who are associated with Tony. Since they have no interest in truth or even serious debate, there’s no point spending time or energy on their daily diet of diatribe. The Constitution guarantees freedom of speech. These folks interpret this as a continuous obligation. But that’s no reason for the rest of us to share their fate."I have no interest in debating them, based on an unsubstantiated assertion by me that they don't want to debate!" Talk about projection; this is one of those times when I think Freud doesn't deserve all the shit he gets.
After that, Varghese spends most of his time bolivating about issues that aren't in significant dispute, so I'll skip to the last paragraph (though follow the link if you're curious--unlike Reppert, I provided one):
Pure obfuscation. Again, as Oppenheimer said, "he forgot more than names"--again, see PZ's snippings for details.
Is Tony Flew "all there" mentally? Oppenheimer asks if he is "a senescent scholar" with a "failing" memory. As he himself notes, Tony cheerfully volunteered the fact that he has "nominal aphasia", the inability to reproduce names. Now, starting at the age of forty, the average human being progressively forgets recent names, events and the like. So nothing out of the ordinary there. Is Tony slower to respond when asked a question than a younger person? No question about that – age certainly leaves a mark with each passing year and he is now eighty-four. But then again there are numerous scholars in their seventies and eighties who have trouble remembering recent names and events. And yet in most such cases, the thinkers concerned have been clear and consistent in their reasoning whether or not we agree with their conclusions. The same holds true for Tony. When he sets pen to paper (as will be seen in the most recent issue of Skeptic), he is as cogent and coherent as you could want (and also as terse as he was in his 1950 article). The only reason why people ask questions about his mental faculties is because he dared to change his mind. But let’s not forget that his new view of the world is one embraced by many of today’s leading philosophers in the Anglo-American world as well as most of the pioneers of modern science. This is the dirty little secret that the "new atheists" and their drum-beaters never talk about. It’s so much easier to shoot the messenger!