Four Reasons Why The World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind (6 of 8)

In 2007, nine years after the Craig-Flew debate, seven years after Dr. Flew’s letters to me, and three years after his interview with Dr. Gary Habermas, Flew wrote There Is A God: How The World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. This would be Dr. Flew’s final book-- his final analysis of the topic he had given over fifty years of his life to research. This would also be his most detailed account of the evidence that finally led him to conclude, “Yes, God does exist!”

In There Is A God, Flew shares some of what was going on in his life leading up to his conversion to Theism. However, the majority of the book is reserved for outlining the four scientific pieces of evidence that led to his change of mind. This week and next I’ll summarize these four lines of evidence, quoting at length from There Is A God.

 

An Intellectual Journey

In the book, Flew wants to be very clear that his journey has been an intellectual one. He came to believe in God because there are very good reasons to do so. Many others, like Flew, can’t believe with their hearts what they can’t accept with their heads. He wants to help others, on a similar intellectual journey, to see the evidence we have for God’s existence as he has.  In the Introduction to There Is A God he writes,

Ever since the announcement of my “conversion” to deism, I have been asked on numerous occasions to provide an account of the factors that led me to change my mind. …I have now been persuaded to present here what might be called my last will and testament. In brief, as the title says, I now believe there is a God! (p. 1)

 

A “Scientific” Journey

Flew is quick to point out that it is scientific evidence that convinced him of God’s existence:

Why do I believe [in God]?...The short answer is this: this is the world picture, as I see it, that has emerged from modern science. Science spotlights three dimensions of nature that point to God. (p. 88)

However, Flew is a philosopher. Many may ask what expertise he has in assessing the strength of scientific data. Shouldn’t we leave this to scientists? He responds to this objection at some length in the book, beginning with

Are we engaging in science or philosophy here?...When you ask how it is that those subatomic particles—or anything physical—could exists and why, you are engaged in philosophy. When you draw philosophical conclusions from scientific data, then you are thinking as a philosopher. (p. 89)

He illustrates this in how to reflect on the question of what life is and how it is related to chemicals and genes in the body:

To think at this level is to think as a philosopher. And, at the risk of sounding immodest, I must say that this is properly the job of philosophers, not of the scientists as scientists; the competence specific to scientists gives no advantage when it comes to considering this question….if they are engaged in philosophical analysis, neither their authority nor their expertise as scientists is of any relevance….As Albert Einstein himself said, “The man of science is a poor philosopher.” (p. 91)

Scientists such as Richard Dawkins may be excellent in their scientific fields, but they have no philosophical training. Flew’s (and Einstein’s) point is that they should stick to research and writing in their fields, drawing scientific conclusions from scientific data.

Drawing out the broader philosophical implications from the conclusions of science is the job of the philosopher. Therefore it is the trained philosopher, like Flew, who is best able to assess the broader implications of scientific conclusions, including whether scientific conclusions prove or disprove the existence of God. Of course, scientists are also able to infer accurate philosophical implications from scientific conclusions (such as is done by Newton, Heisenberg, and others cited below). But in doing so they are engaged in philosophy, not science. (The belief that scientists as scientists can answer all questions authoritatively, not just scientific questions, is a symptom of Scientism. I blogged on the problems with this view a bit here.)

 

Reason #1: The Laws of Nature

The first two evidences that convinced Flew that God exists are signs of design in the universe. He writes:

Although I was once sharply critical of the argument to design, I have since come to see that, when correctly formulated, this argument constitutes a persuasive case for the existence of God. (p. 95)

One sign of design are the laws of nature that seem to come “prepackaged” in the universe:

The important point is not merely that there are regularities in nature, but that these regularities are mathematically precise, universal, and “tied together.” Einstein spoke of them as “reason incarnate.” The question we should ask is how nature came packaged in this fashion. This is certainly the question that scientists from Newton to Einstein to Heisenberg have asked—and answered. Their answer was the Mind of God. (p. 96)

Flew is pointing out that the fact of these regularities in nature must be explained. It is not logically and philosophically adequate to simply say, “they just are.” They cry out for a cause, or an explanation. Citing Oxford philosopher John Foster, “If you accept the fact that there are laws, then something must impose that regularity on the universe?” (p. 110)

The best (most logical, most philosophically coherent) explanation is that God is the cause of these observed effects. Many leading scientists have also drawn this conclusion. In addition to Einstein (p. 101-3) Flew cites similar conclusions drawn by Stephen Hawking (p. 97), Werner Heisenberg (p. 103), Erwin Schrodinger (pp. 104-5), Max Planck (who said “There can never be any real opposition between religion and science; for the one is the complement of the other.” p. 105), Paul A.M. Dirac (pp. 105-6), Charles Darwin (p. 106), and current scientists such as “…Paul Davies, John Barrow, John Polkinghorne, Freeman Dyson, Francis Collins, Owen Gingerich, and Roger Penrose…” (p. 106). It was Davies, who Flew credits as “arguably the most influential contemporary expositor of modern science” (p. 111) who said, “science can proceed only if the scientist adopts an essentially theological worldview.” (p. 107). (See my blog here for more on this point.) The strength of this evidence and argument is one reason Flew gave up his life-long atheism and believed in God.

 

Reason #2: Our Finely-Tuned Universe

The existence of natural laws indicates a Natural-Law-Giver. Flew argues the fact that these laws “seem to have been crafted so as to move the universe toward emergence and sustenance of life” (p. 114) is even stronger evidence of God’s existence.

For instance, consider the fundamental laws of physics, such as the speed of light or the mass of an electron (or twenty-four others—see here for a fascinating article in Forbes magazine on the 26 fundamental constants and the author’s struggle to find a non-theistic explanation). If any of the values of these laws had been even the slightest bit different, a universe could not form nor could life be sustained. Because of such fine-tuning of so many variables, “Virtually no major scientist today claims that the fine-tuning was purely a result of chance factors at work in a single universe.” (p. 115).

The only alternative for one who does not want to admit Design (and thus a Designer) is to believe in a “multiverse”: many universes exist, and we happen to inhabit the one that supports life. Flew points out some of the problems with the multiverse alternative.

First, just because this alternative is logically possible doesn’t make it the best explanation. There must be a good reason to believe it is a better theory than a single universe. But there is not. The multiverse theory is highly speculative without empirical support. The scientific data supports the single-universe theory.

Second, it is not something that can ever be falsified—we may incorporate any new data into the multiverse theory. Therefore there is no way to confirm or falsify the view, which is at the heart of scientific inquiry and discovery. Therefore it cannot be believed as a scientific theory, but only as an article of (blind) faith.

Third, even if there is a multiverse, it still cannot explain the laws of nature, which in this case would govern multiple universes. So this doesn’t eliminate the need for a Law-Giver. It merely pushes the question back a step. Flew concludes, “So multiverse or not, we still have to come to terms with the origin of the laws of nature. And the only viable explanation here is the divine Mind.” (p. 121)

 

Conclusion

These two reasons alone seem adequate to prove God’s existence to anyone but the most ardent skeptic. Yet Flew was just such a skeptic. It required two more pieces of evidence before he could believe that God exists. I’ll discuss those other two pieces of evidence next week. Until then, grace and peace.

 

For further reading see There Is A God: How The World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind  and my previous blog on design here.