Does Modern Science Undermine Atheism? Prominent Atheist Antony Flew Has Announced That the Latest Science Convinces Him Some Sort of God Exists after All. Religious Scientist Roy Varghese and Non-Believer Christopher Hitchens Debate His Rethinking

By Varghese, Roy; Hitchens, Christopher | The American Enterprise, April-May 2005 | Go to article overview

Does Modern Science Undermine Atheism? Prominent Atheist Antony Flew Has Announced That the Latest Science Convinces Him Some Sort of God Exists after All. Religious Scientist Roy Varghese and Non-Believer Christopher Hitchens Debate His Rethinking


Varghese, Roy, Hitchens, Christopher, The American Enterprise


YES IT DOES: Roy Varghese

The most famous atheist in the academic world over the last half century, Professor Antony Flew of England's University of Reading, now accepts the likelihood that some sort of Deity brought the universe into existence.

Flew's paper, "Theology and Falsification," which grew out of a 1950 presentation to the Socratic Club chaired by none other than C. S. Lewis, set the agenda for modern atheism. Now, in a remarkable evolution, Flew accepts the existence of a God who "possesses most of the usual defining characteristics of omnipotence, omniscience, immateriality." His new-found "Deism" is the product not of a personal conversion, but of reasoned analysis of the latest scientific data.

"What I think the DNA material has done is show that intelligence must have been involved" in the origination of life, he states. "The enormous complexity by which the results were achieved looks to me like the work of intelligence."

The philosopher has said that if admirers are upset with his about-face, then "that's too bad. My whole life has been guided by the principle of Plato's Socrates: Follow the evidence, wherever it leads."

Flew's conclusion is actually consistent with the beliefs of most modern scientific pioneers, from Albert Einstein to Werner Heisenberg. In their view, the intelligence of the universe--its laws--points to an intelligence without limit, "a superior mind," as Einstein put it. Many of our men and women of letters, it would seem, have been looking for God in all the wrong places.

Those who dismiss God as a product of psychological conditioning or pre-scientific myth have not come to terms with the findings of modern science. The universe follows laws, which leads us to ask how those laws came into being. How does the electron know what to do?

In A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking asks what breathes fire into the equations of science and births a world that follows their descriptions. The answer, he concluded, would reveal "the mind of God."

Last May, I helped organize a New York University symposium on religion and science, with the participation of Professor Flew and others. Our starting point was science's new knowledge that the history of the universe is one of quantum leaps of intelligence, the sudden yet systematic appearance of intrinsically intelligent systems in an ascending order.

Many people assume that intelligence somehow evolves out of non-intelligence, given chance and enough time. But even in the most hardheadedly materialistic scenario, intelligent systems come fully formed from day one. Matter came with all its ingenious, mathematically precise laws from the time it first appeared. Life came fully formed with the incredibly sophisticated symbol-processing of DNA, the astonishing phenomenon of protein-folding, and the marvel of replication from its very first appearance. Language, the incarnation of conceptual thought, appeared out of the blue, again with its infrastructure of syntax, symbols, and semantics intact from the start.

Modern science has shown that "mindless matter" is in fact a network of precise and exquisite processes, laws, and structures. It has demonstrated that living beings are imbued with ingenious architecture, databases, and operating systems that construct, repair, and replicate themselves.

Discovery of these algorithms induced Antony Flew to infer therefrom the existence of an intelligent Source. The critics who protest that he hasn't consulted the most recent speculations on the origins of life miss the point. No scientific work can ever address the question of how intelligence arose in a universe of undifferentiated matter.

Three central facts of our existence simply cannot be explained by science: the laws of nature; the presence of intelligent, autonomous agents; and the existence of consciousness and conceptual thought irreducibly different from material reality.

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