Antony Flew, David Marsland, and Right Now!

Back in 2005, I blogged philosopher Anhony Flew’s conversion from atheism to some kind of Intelligent-Design inspired deism, and his subsequent disavowal of this change in his opinion. However, it appears that Flew has since re-embraced belief in God, and a new book bearing his name – entitled There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind – has received considerable media comment. A New York Times interviewer found that Flew didn’t appear to know anything much about the content of his supposedly co-authored volume, and that he seemed somewhat vague and confused. Flew, it is claimed, is being manipulated in his dotage by exponents of Intelligent Design, who believe that Flew’s endorsement is a powerful argument from authority in the effort to have their theories recognised as proper science. Flew’s supporters have responded by asserting that the Times report was a travesty, and that Flew remains intellectually vigorous and clear-headed.

I have no idea whether Flew’s latest book is evidence of a failing mind. What should be remembered, though, is that he has a history of sounding-off on subjects about which he knows little – presumably he feels that his analytical skills as a philosopher mean he doesn’t need to bother with much actual research. This was in evidence when he first stepped back from supporting ID:

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…I have been mistaught by Gerald Schroeder…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.

This was in a letter to Richard Carrier, who made it public with the following commentary:

this attitude seems to pervade Flew’s method of truthseeking, of looking to a single author for authoritative information and never checking their 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.

Another source well regarded by Antony Flew is Richard Lynn, a University of Ulster-based researcher who studies supposed IQ differences between blacks, whites, and Asians. Historian of biology John M. Lynch notes a recent New Encyclopedia of Unbelief, for which Flew has provided a sympathetic entry on eugenics. Lynch quotes the final paragraph:

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).

Lynch comments:

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…unless Flew himself shared significant aspects of Lynn’s thought?

In fact, Flew and Lynn are long-time political allies in the UK. Flew was a patron of the recently-defunct Right Now! magazine, an organ of the radical right which also held a number of conferences (some at the central London headquarters of the “Mark Masons”). Searchlight, a UK anti-fascist magazine, has reported on Right Now! a couple of times. The first report notes that:

In later issues Right Now has toned down some of its more overtly racist articles. Recognising that most people are genuinely appalled by the crass racism and stereotyping of the sort pushed by the BNP, Right Now seems to be favouring a more sophisticated form of racism in the guise of eugenics. Not only does this give a pseudo-scientific justification for racist beliefs, it also helps justify an anti-welfare agenda.

One eugenicist 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.”

A second Searchlight report, not available on-line (1), describes a 2006 Right Now! conference that included around twenty BNP members, including none other than “Rev” Robert West, whom I last discussed just a few days ago. Lynn was also a speaker there. However, the conference also involved the radical “libertarian” right, represented in particular by Sean Gabb of the Libertarian Alliance.

This “libertarian” angle perhaps explains why Flew was willing to support Right Now! as a patron. It also explains why another of the magazine’s patrons was Professor David Marsland, whom I’ve blogged before. Marsland’s views on social policy have made him a hero to the radical “libertarian right”, and this site shows him in 2003 receiving a “Liberty in Theory Award” from Timothy Evans, a well-known Libertarian Alliance activist (and opponent of CND). Marsland, while a free-market fundamentalist, has a curious view of “liberty” more generally. These views were laid out in a 2004 presentation to the Springbok Club, where he explained how to win the “War on Terror”:

Halt or segregate air flights into or out of Britain by Arabs.

…Strengthen anti-terrorist legislation to allow on suspicion indefinite secret imprisonment (without appeal, without visits and without any privileges), tough interrogation, and where necessary summary execution by authorised agents.

…Reduce the need for prisons in Iraq by authorising summary execution of known enemy. Throw journalists, servicemen or anyone else who seek to file lying and negative reports about conditions in terrorist prisons in Iraq or elsewhere into these same prisons for an indefinite term.

Censor prejudiced and negative reporting of the war against terrorism by British media. Neutralise by military means any Arab media providing a propaganda outlet for terrorists. (2)

The Springbok Club is a London-based organization which pines for the return of white rule over Africa. Journalist Johann Hari wrote about the club for the New Republic a few months ago, as part of a profile of right-wing historian Andrew Roberts:

In 2001, Roberts spoke to a dinner of the Springbok Club, a group that regards itself as a shadow white government of South Africa and calls for “the re-establishment of civilized European rule throughout the African continent.” Founded by a former member of the neo-fascist National Front, the club flies the flag of apartheid South Africa at every meeting. The dinner was a celebration of the thirty-sixth anniversary of the day the white supremacist government of Rhodesia announced a Unilateral Declaration of Independence from Great Britain, which was pressing it to enfranchise black people…The British High Commission in South Africa has accused the club of spreading “hate literature.”

Marsland was not only a patron of Right Now!; he has the same position with the lobby group “Anglican Friends of Israel”. This does not mean, of course, that Anglicans for Israel necessarily approves of Marsland’s other activities (and we certainly would not suggest any AFI sympathy with Lynn’s views), but I would certainly not want to be associated with him.

(Hat tip: Pharyngula)

(1) David Williams, “Right Here, Right Now!“, in Searchlight, December 2006, pp. 14-15.

(2) The speech also appears in Right Now!, October 2004, pp. 10-11.

2 Responses

  1. […] Club will again be addressed by Prof David Marsland, whom I blogged on previously here and here. Back in 2004 Marland gave a speech to the Club on winning the “War on Terror”, which […]

  2. […] should be remembered that libertarianism is not itself inherently “anti-racist” – as I noted in November, for instance, the libertarian Antony Flew (another one-time Western Goalie) is an […]

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