A Book You Must Read

I can’t believe I’m just getting my hands on a 2007 book which is simply the best apologetics book I’ve yet to read.  It’s titled, “There is a God:  How the world’s most notorious atheist changed his mind.”  It’s by British philosopher Tony Flew (passed away in April 2010), the man who “helped set the agenda for atheism for half a century” (vii). Flew says during the book that he has always followed Socrates’ reasoning which says, “We must follow the argument wherever it leads” (22, 89).  It’s a statement which recurs many times in the book being rephrased in statements such as, “the impetus for me is still what it has always been:  the pursuit of valid arguments with true conclusions” (81).

The first 81 pages are about Flew’s life as an atheist, what he calls “My Denial of the Divine.”  Part 2 of the book, the crux of the text, is titled, “My Discovery of the Divine.”   He gets to the point quickly and says, “I now believe that the universe was brought into existence by an infinite Intelligence. … Why do I believe this, given that I expounded and defended atheism for more than a half century?  The short answer is this … Science spotlights three dimensions of nature that point to God.  The first is the fact that nature obeys laws.  The second is the dimension of life, of intelligently organized and purpose-driven beings, which arose from matter.  The third is the very existence of nature” (88-89).  Thus, Flew goes on to ask, “How did the laws of nature come to be? … How did life as a phenomenon originate from nonlife? … How did the universe, by which we all that is physical, come into existence? (91).

The ensuing chapters provide his analysis of these questions.  In doing so, he addresses three arguments for the existence of God.  First, Flew speaks to the teleological argument.  He calls the “argument from design” the most “plausible argument for God’s existence (95).  The design argument essentially says there is design in nature and, subsequently, that design implies a Great Designer.  This is a classic apologetic argument that goes back to Thomas Aquinas (c. 1100–1500).

Flew, through his insights into modern science, takes this argument to new levels.  He not only recognizes the regularities in nature, but also notes that they are “mathematically precise, universal, and tied together” (96).  Thus, he asks “how nature came packaged in this fashion” (96).  The answer is found in what people such as Newton and Einstein called the “Mind of God.”

Flew spends a few pages showing how some such as Richard Dawkins have incorrectly characterized Einstein as a fellow atheist, when in fact Einstein explicitly said he was not.  Einstein once said, “Every one who is seriously engaged in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that the laws of nature manifest the existence of a spirit vastly superior to that of men” (102).  Furthermore, Einstein referred to this spirit as the following:  “superior mind,” “illimitable superior spirit,” “superior reasoning force,” and “mysterious force that moves the constellations.”  In essence, Einstein acknowledges that the argument from design is indeed an important one to consider.

Flew, however, does not finish at Einstein.  He then moves to examine the “progenitors of quantum physics” (103).  He quotes Werner Heisenberg (uncertainity principle and matrix mechanics), Erwin Schrodinger (wave mechanics), Max Planch (quantum hypothesis), and Paul A.M. Dirac (third formulation of quantum theory) as understanding that the laws of nature point to God.   Flew’s next step is examine the current leading expositors of science, such as Paul Davies, John Barrow, etc.  Davies notes that the laws of nature are mathematical theory, “cosmic code that scientists must crack in order to reveal the message tht is ‘nature’s message, God’s message, take your choice’ … The burning question he says, is threefold:  Where do the laws of physics come from?  Why is is that we have these laws instead of some other set?  How is that we have a set of laws that drives featureless gases to life, consciousness and intelligence?” (108).  Flew calls Davies “arguably the most influential contemporary expositor of modern science” (111).  This seems to be why he can’t resist quoting Davies yet again, as Davies says, “Atheists claim that the laws [of nature] exist reasonlessly and that the universe is ultimately absurd.  As a scientist, I find this hard to accept.  There must be an unchanging rational ground in which the logical, orderly nature of the universe is rooted” (111).

Flew finishes with the argument from design, by moving to an argment which progresses it:  a more modern argument called the fine tuning argument.  This argument essentially says that the universe if “fine tuned” for providing life.  The fine-tuning argument brings with it what is called the “anthropic principle” which speaks to the law of human existence.  If the cosmos were just slightly different, humanity would not exist.  It seems overwhelmingly implausible that so many variables would align in a such a way to meet the needs of humanity’s existence.

The arguments for fine tuning are threefold, says Flew.  “First, it is a hard fact that we live in a universe with certain laws and constants, and life would not have been possible if some of these laws and constants had been different.  Second, the fact that the existing laws and constants allow the survival of life does not answer the question of the origin of life” (Flew expounds on this later).  Third, he debunks the “multiverse” concept by saying “the fact that is is logically possible that there are multiple universes with their own laws of nature does not show that such universes do exist” (119).  His conclusion, “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” (121).

Before Flew moves to the third argument which points towards the existence of God, he provides a chapter he titles, “How Did Life Go Live?”  In this section he asks questions such as, “How can a universe of mindless matter produce beings with intrinsic ends, self-replication capabilities, and ‘coded chemistry?'”  He explores the origin of life and how it relates to “coding and information processing that is central to all life-forms” (126).  He is in referring to the genetic message of DNA, etc.

The third argument Flew addresses is the classical cosmological argument.  Once again, this was previously set forth by Aquinas.  The argument says that the universe had a beginning and that God is the cause of that beginning.  The “big bang theory,” which virtually every cosmologist adhers to, actually moves in the direction of this argument.

In the final two chapters, Flew addresses the likes of God being outside time-space, how the problem of evil is a “separate issue from the question of God’s existence” (156) and that while he does not adher yet to a personal God, he admits that while considering Christianity, “no other religion enjoys anything like the combination of a charismatic figure like Jesus and a first-class intellectual like St. Paul.  If you’re wanting omnipotence to set up a religion, it seems to me that this is the one to beat!” (157).

Appendix A contains a critical appraisal of atheists such as Richard Dawkins.  Written by Roy Abraham Varghese, it discussses “five fundamental phenomena that underlie our experience of the world and that cannot be explained within the framework of the ‘new atheism'” (164-165).  Varghese addresses:  rationality, life, consciousness, thought, and the self.  This is a great read.

Appendix B is Flew’s dialogue with New Testament scholar N.T. Wright.  Wright defends our ability to know that Jesus both existed and rose from the dead.  It is the latter section which is particularly insightful!

Long review?  Yeah, but for this book it was well worth the time.  The only negative about this book is that Flew presupposes that you understand these topics before you go on this journey with him.  So if need be, get up to speed on the topics I bolded earlier.

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