« Previous | Main | Next »

On deathbed conversions

Post categories:

William Crawley | 11:20 UK time, Friday, 23 April 2010

6a00d83451c23269e200e5502fd9748833-800wi.jpgThere has been some discussion on the blog of the case of Lady Hope, who famously alleged that Charles Darwin had a deathbed religious conversion -- a claim that has been comprehensively challenged by Darwin scholars, such as James Moore, and also by some creationists. The recent death of Antony Flew -- who did have a conversion, of sorts, but well ahead of his deathbed -- has prompted Austin Dacey to write about Flew's change of mind.

On last Sunday's programme, I explained that I interviewed Antony Flew in 2005, not long after he announced that he was no longer an atheist. We recorded a twenty-minute interview. Professor Flew, who was then 82, struggled to understand my questions, his answers were mostly befuddled, confused and incoherent, and, in the end, my producer and I agreed -- out of respect to this once great intellect -- that it would be inappropriate to broadcast the interview.


  • Comment number 1.

    "Professor Flew, who was then 82, struggled to understand my questions, his answers were mostly befuddled, confused and incoherent"

    William, You answered your own question. The brain was dying. Lack of oxygen etc. will cause hallucinations etc. Neuroscience has the answers.

    Richard Dawkins is a Darwin scholar.
    'There is grandeur in this view of life' by Richard Dawkins, AAI 2009

    Charles Simonyi gave Richard an original copy of Origin of Species. The document was pre the editing forced on Darwin by the religious bullies of the day.

  • Comment number 2.

    I presume the interview is being kept safe for possible future broadcast?

  • Comment number 3.

    On the topic of deathbed conversions, however, why the deathbed? Why can one not convert *after* death? Let's say all this cabbage about the baby Jesus and Schroedinger's donkey and resurrections and that is correct, but we have no way of knowing until after we're dead. But Jesus makes his determination, and those of us fortunate enough to have made the right decision end up in hell with >90% of the human race. Why can't we repent then?

  • Comment number 4.

  • Comment number 5.

    Of course, it is worth pointing out that Flew did not "convert" anyway - he simply adopted a form of deism (entirely unnecessarily, but the poor chap was losing it). Christianity is, I would suggest, a little more than adopting a belief position with regard to a magic space pixie. "Belief" is utterly irrelevant; if there is a god (and no-one has produced any evidence that there is), then it presumably can see into people's inclinations and motivations, and it will know when people are being honest or not. Indeed, it cannot do otherwise than to value open and honest scepticism above the sort of slack-jawed belief-as-obedience nonsense that spews forth from the pulpits of Ulster and beyond. Religion at the one time lifts god up as some supreme being beyond human ken, yet at the same time pretends he is shackled by a series of silly rules that demand he treat people in certain ways dependent on whether or not they accept certain wacky propositions as "true"!

    Religion is absurd, ESPECIALLY if god exists.

    Which is why we Atheists and Freethinkers really have nothing to fear from the old deathbed.

  • Comment number 6.

    Helio - I agree with you on many points - and may not be able to address them all in this post as not got the time .....there is nothing to fear from a deathbed for anyone ....hell does not exist ...religion as we know it today does make a nonsense of GOd and actually often perpetuates evil teachings ....like we are all sinners/bad /guilty and doomed....all designed to keep us from the truth of who we are....consider that God is not 'out there' anywhere...there is no place to go to other than inside your own heart .....there is no transcendency .....The word religion comes from the latin and means to have relationship with ....is about relationship ....and that is through love ....no amount of mind thinking analysis will lead you or anyone to GOd in my view...(I have done enough of it too ...) ...only love ...and I again say this is not the emotional, soppy romantic love that people think is love but isn't....it is possible to know GOd....and then 'evidence' is all around ....but nothing or no amount of evidence will convince you only yourself ....its also not about pleasing any pixie ....GOd loves no matter who or what ....but we are all unfolding on a return journey back to GOd ....and that path can be one or wisdom or one of woe ...that is our choice ...and it is our choices that chart our destiny ....hence why many people only come to GOd when they have had suffering of some kind and realise that just perhaps there is another way to live .....another way to choose....that brings more love/joy/harmony to one's life rather than the chaos and suffering and emptiness that existed before.....it is also possible to wake up to this before suffering....its just that as humans we tend not to do that!

    with love

    ps ...so dont wait til the deathbed and miss out on all that love and joy!! :-)

  • Comment number 7.

    Could I take this opportunity to thank Eunice and GrokesX for introducing me to the concept of "Deepity"
    (BTW Helio, I believe Daniel Dennett was the originator)

  • Comment number 8.

    #3 & #5 - Heliopolitan -

    "On the topic of deathbed conversions, however, why the deathbed? Why can one not convert *after* death?"

    I hate to be seen to be agreeing with you (no, I don't really! ;-)), but you have actually made a good point here. Not all Christians hold to the bureaucratic interpretation of salvation, whereby one has to make sure all the correct boxes have been ticked by the deadline or else...

    "Religion is absurd, ESPECIALLY if god exists."

    Something I have been saying for a very long time (although I would have to slightly modify the context of the comment, as I think we may possibly disagree on which propositions should be regarded as "wacky").

  • Comment number 9.

    LSV, this is getting too weird! :-)

  • Comment number 10.

    I hate to be seen to be agreeing with you (no, I don't really! ;-)), but you have actually made a good point here. Not all Christians hold to the bureaucratic interpretation of salvation, whereby one has to make sure all the correct boxes have been ticked by the deadline or else...

    LSV, this is getting too weird! :-)

    I think LSV is pssibly referring to the differences between:

    Limited atonement,

    Universal reconciliation,

    Universal salvation.


  • Comment number 11.

    Peter, perhaps. Atonement for what? Salvation from what? If I have wronged someone, I apologise. I accept that their forgiveness will not always be forthcoming, but I sure as heck deny the offices of a mythical sky pixie to forgive me on their behalf. Furthermore, not believing in pixies is not a "sin", so I really don't know what god's beef is with me. So LSV and I will wait until we're dead, and sort out any issues with whatever pixie we encounter at that point. LSV, you with me?

  • Comment number 12.

    Helio - how about salvation from yourself????!!!!

  • Comment number 13.

    And of course there was Oscar Wilde, a closet Catholic all his life, who came out at the end.

  • Comment number 14.


    Post-mortem evangelism? Don't tell UCCF...

  • Comment number 15.

    Helio – perhaps God has no beef with you – but do you have beef with him!?? Based on my reading of your posts and how you describe God (space pixies and some external outer being…..) I’m not surprised you don’t support the existence of such a God….. and I would agree with you. Is there a ‘type’ of God that you would support?
    Would you be interested in a God that was pure love? Or is that not your bag either?
    Speaking of space pixies though – did you see Stephen Hawkings is warning about space aliens…..based on mathematics…..maybe that’s more up your street?? ;-)

  • Comment number 16.

    ps re:salvation - to my understanding you can only save yourself ......from yourself .....from misbeliefs and misperceptions that we hold and that result in human suffering ......salvation is to be free from the usual stresses and strains of life that the majority of humans experience on a daily basis.....based on knowing who you are and living from that essence ......that's one view anyhow .....Plato put it this way

    “For a man to conquer himself is the first and noblest of all victories.”

  • Comment number 17.

    Re #16

    Eunice, I'm a bit curious about your views on God and salvation. You seem to suggest that salvation comes from within oneself but do you see God as having any role in this? My own belief (coming from a Christian perspective) is that salvation is something that comes from outside oneself and is inspired by God working in people's lives (however they want to describe that.) I would be interested to hear your views.

  • Comment number 18.

    Eunice, gods who create firmaments and gardens of Eden and send floods and Messiahs and ravens and manna are pixies pretty much by definition. If you conceive of god as pure love, I have no beef with *that*, curried or otherwise, but neither does it require me to make any claims that run contrary to reason. In that respect, your position is probably atheism too, but you don't know it yet :-)

  • Comment number 19.

    Hi Valerie,
    Yes - as I understand it we can only save ourselves and this is an 'inside' job and not something that comes from outside or from any other person...(although others can assist on the journey it ultimately comes down to our choices and way of living/being in the world).. Jesus provided an example of how to do this.....but in my view he does not save us because we each have to make choices and all choices have consequences.....those consequences are not negated by 'belief' in God/Jesus nor are the consequences any sort of punishment or judgment by God - they are just the fulfilment of energetic laws of cause and effect....and we bring them upon ourselves by making choices that are not true, not aligned to the truth of our being as love. God(love) is very much involved as we are all sons of God and have the spark of God(love) within us .....it is by re-connecting to that spark, to our innermost/inner heart, to that love through the breath and making choices from there (self-loving choices that honour the truth of who we are as sons of God) that the false misbeliefs and misperceptions we hold about ourselves fall away(eg that we are bad/worthless/not good enough/sinners etc etc) and we become more grounded in the truth of our being as love - irrespective of the story or experiences of the persons life. In this way we become more centred and less emotional, less reactive to events that happen in life and more able to respond appropriately from that centre with love and to be the presence of love and stillness no matter what is going on - this takes time and is an unfolding. We are more able to observe life, to love and live and let live and not take on other peoples stuff/emotions etc Thus we experience increasing freedom from the emotional reactions and also have more love and joy on a daily basis .....and this is salvation. It also affects how one sees/understands death and other life events such that one is less de-stabilised by them and sees them in a very healing way. We realise that each person is a son of God, and they are where they are through their choices in this life and over many lifetimes. I realise the latter (many lifetimes) may not be part of your Christian perspective but for me, it is consistent with a God of love. I'll stop there for now but feel free to ask further/discuss or clarify anything that is not clear.

  • Comment number 20.

    Helio - I've done atheism so it ain't that I assure you - I also don't just buy into something because it is written in a book or a particular tradition or person saying it......Buddha I think said something along the lines of don't believe/accept anything you read or hear without weighing it up in your own heart.....'be a light/lamp unto yourself' (including what he just said!) ....I also don't *conceive* God as pure love .....for me it is a knowing, not a belief nor something I imagine/conceive......it certainly wasn't always that way but it has unfolded/evolved as I have and no doubt will continue to do so....No one is asking you to make claims that run contrary to reason .....but reason is of the mind .....and God is of the heart.....so its like squeezing oranges and hoping it will taste of apples - no matter how many oranges you squeeze they will never taste of apples!! As you have no beef with a God of pure love maybe your position is actually one of being one with God - you just don't know it yet :-))

  • Comment number 21.

    Eunice, why call it "god" then? We all enjoy the warm fuzzies, but they don't affect volcanoes.

  • Comment number 22.

    Helio - God is God's name ....why call you Helio or whatever your name is! The problem with love is that we humans have bastardised (can I say that on here?? ) it .....and have lost touch with what love is energetically....instead we equate love with the emotional love that is based on unmet needs within ourselves ....in addition to there being love, there is that which is not love ......and perhaps it is that that affects the volcanos as the earth self-corrects/heals/clears all that is not love .....not saying it is cos I dont know ....just pondering! The energy of God/love is called fire and has been for aeons - see mystics/bible/jesus etc refer to God as fire.....this love is a living stillness that is all accepting ......all loving .....and needs not ......it is intelligent , creative, play-full, joy-full, harmonious and is also Truth.....truth that is universal and unifying....and that is energetic truth!! You will be going apoplectic at that one Helio!!

  • Comment number 23.

    Hi Eunice, thanks for the clarification. Your views sound quite Eastern/Buddhist at times although I am sure you wouldn't put yourself into any particular religious or philosophical grouping. I have to agree with Helio in the previous post though - why do you call it God? And does God have any particular role in your worldview? I think personally (although I could be wrong in this) if someone believes in God then God would have some kind of role in that person's worldview - even if it is something like cosmic overseer.

  • Comment number 24.

    Hi Valerie,
    For me God is the whole deal - every day, every moment - if possible - (but being human we are very good at living as if we are separate from God) ..... being fully present, each of us can be vessels of God's love or that which is not love - simple as that but not perhaps so easy in practice! due to our ingrained emotional and mental ways of being. I am intrigued as to why you and Helio think I wouldn't call God ... God? And of course God is in my worldview - not as cosmic overseer but as the very substance of my being and everyone else's and so much more besides.....for me, God is intimately interwoven into every aspect of my life as much as I am able to live that without being anal about it! God is with me and in me, with and in everyone all of the time.....but I/we have to choose to be with God and live in and from his Love....as we have free will .....the problem with the world isn't God - it is our inability to choose God/love in every thought, word and deed.....it is our choice to live as if we are separate from God (as in truth we are never separate from God) and this happens when we choose to be emotional/mind driven instead of living from the wisdom of the heart. Sometimes using love can be confusing due to peoples different understandings .....and so a simple way to bridge towards love is to bring gentleness in to everything we say and do - develop a way of being that is gentle. Re my philosophy/religion .....I have explored many avenues/traditions/teachings and aclnowledge there is wisdom in the major traditions but also that which is false and separating......my religion is the religion of love and my philosophy is predominantly based on the Ageless wisdom teachings and esoteric philosophy. Esoteric just means innermost or from within .....and is to do with empowering each person to re-connect to their innermost/the kingdom of God within so that they know/discern truth for themselves, come to know who they are in-truth, and serve humanity in, with and from the love of God that others may come to know who they are in-truth for themselves and do likewise.

  • Comment number 25.

    Eunice, I'm all up for love and it rocks in a big way, but those last few postings (indeed, going even further back) simply carry NO meaning. It is not that I oppose whatever philosophy you may conceivably have - it is impossible to tell or to get to grips with because you are flinging around words that fill up (lots of) space, but provide no useful information about what lies beneath. All feathers and no chicken.

  • Comment number 26.

    Helio - give me a feather and I'll give you a chicken :-)

    Have you ever tried to stop analysing with your mind and instead feel with your body.....??? I know from experience that can sound like double dutch and incomprehensible but it is possible to feel what I am saying.....and whether it feels true or not ....instead of using your brilliant analytical mind! Thinking vs feeling.
    Mind vs heart. LOve is what its all about .....but not the emotional needy love that most of us equate with love....and because we have these different understandings of what love is i introduced gentleness as a key quality instead of using the word love. So be gentle in all that you/we do....in word and deed - cut out the aggressiveness, the anger, frustration etc etc(takes time!) and be gentle .....most people can relate to what gentle is and I suspect even you Helio will know what gentle is for you without needing a scientific definition of the word! :-)

  • Comment number 27.

    Eunice, I can do *both*. Your approach is a very closed minded one, where you simply dismiss the rational, and insist that scampering about like a bedazzled bunny, making up or misappropriating words as you go in a sort of free-association logorrhoea is the only approach. Now, the bunny approach is entertaining for sure, and I am not averse to the occasional flopsy hop through a dappled copse, but where you have over-nibbled your carrot is where you start using words that DO have specific meanings in inappropriate ways. I have said it before, and I shall say it again: terms like "energy" and "light" have very specific scientific meanings. If you apply them to volcanoes, you MUST apply them scientifically - the flopsy-bunny lexicon is NOT available to you. If you are quite explicit that you are NOT discussing volcanoes, but the fluffy bunny warren of the Id, then that's dandy, but you can't then cross-relate this idyllic Watership Down to Eiyafjallajokull and pretend that the words carry the meaning across.

    So please cease with the cabbage, and lettuce have a meaningful discussion.


  • Comment number 28.

    Helio helio ....as well as making me laugh you are having a laugh....
    Re 'very closed minded' .....my dear friend it is not I who is insisting on a change of words/terminology to suit your paradigm, it is not I who is insisting on there being only one meaning, one understanding, one interpretation of a word ...and it is not I who is insisting that that word *MUST* be used scientifically....!!!!methinks there is a little kettle and pot going on here!! Also I do not dismiss the rational - the very opposite....I totally embrace the rational and go beyond it....
    The fact is, if as you say you can feel and think ....then you are feeling energy ....eg you can feel when your energy is low or when you are feeling vital and alive...perhaps you can feel when after being in someone's company you feel drained ....your energy levels can change day to day and are affected by what you eat/drink and how emotional you are and whether you take on or absorb other people's stuff/emotions or stay centred no matter what other people are doing....this is all real and felt by you and everyone else ....we just did not call it energy but that is what it is ...because we are energetic beings!!!! And like I said before too ...once you expand your concept of energy ....and realise everything is energy including us.....you will love this because it is aligned with science .....and with Ageless Wisdom .....a win/win all round! What do you think you are feeling when you feel, if you are not feeling energy???
    with love

  • Comment number 29.

    Eunice, I feel energy and I feel energy, but energy is not the same thing as energy. If you pretend that energy is energy you are simply making a silly mistake. That is where your closed-mindedness lies. Energy is not energy. Rather, what I feel and deal with are energy AND energy - two separate things. And because I can feel BOTH energy and energy, I have *twice* as much fun and insight as you have, with only one energy. It's not that hard to do, and I would encourage you to do it - recognise that energy and energy are two completely different things, and learn to recognise and use them both. Only then can your energy and your energy co-exist in a productive relationship, rather than spiralling into a bottomless wrenching vortex of purest cabbage.


  • Comment number 30.

    Helio - at last you have finally come around to my way of thinking/feeling!! :-))


  • Comment number 31.

    On deathbed conversions...

    "Oh, I *love* what you've done with that old deathbed, Mrs Darwin - you've converted it into a lovely conservatory and play area for the kids. It really brings the place alive, and surely enhances the value of Downe House!"

  • Comment number 32.

    ps now we can converse about energy and energy!! great !

  • Comment number 33.

    Guys and girls...

    What in the name of Auntie Em and the Ozmologists is going on?

    Honestly! At one point I really did think that Glinda the Good Witch was going to appear in a bubble in the sky, wearing a spectacular white dress and holding a wand.

  • Comment number 34.

    PeterM - don't worry - that was just the angel Helio flying by on his way to save some deluded souls from cabbage and pixies..... :-))

  • Comment number 35.

    I like to think of myself more as a fairy godmother. You *shall* go to the ball!


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.