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A Review of Antony Flew's There is a God

Nick Covington

All over the Internet, Christian apologists have been ecstatic about "converting" long time atheist Antony Flew to belief in God. Of course, Flew only believes in some vague sort of intelligent creator, and he is still insistent that there is no afterlife and that all so-called revealed religions are false. Nevertheless, Christian Apologists such as Roy Varghese and Lee Strobel are over the moon about Flew's change of heart. Perhaps they think it adds credibility to their beliefs.

In his latest book, There is a God, Flew lays out the four major arguments which convinced him that God exists, as well as a critique of the so called "new" atheists. I will deal with both of these issues in this review.

The four arguments for God which Flew presents are as follows:

  1. The regularities or "laws" of Nature can only be explained by a divine mind.
  2. The constants of the Universe are fine tuned for our existence.
  3. Life must be something more than matter, for matter cannot reproduce or sustain itself as life does. The most reasonable explanation is that these properties come from God.
  4. Everything which begins to exist had a cause. The Universe began to exist. The Universe had a cause.

Professor Victor Stenger has elegantly explained that Noether's theorem proves that many familiar laws of physics (or "conserved actions") arise from symmetries.[1] A symmetry is present anytime that something is the same from all points of view. Since a void is the same from all points of view, it would possess symmetries, and thus would possess laws. According to Brian Green,[2] the values of some of these universal constants were undulating wildly in the first moments of our universe due to intense heat and energy, but have since remained fairly constant since we no longer experience the conditions of intense heat present during the Big Bang. In other words, these constants stay the same because there is nothing to upset them. In Appendix A of the book, Roy Varghese attempts a swift dismissal of this proposal by stating that Stenger is making a "fundamental error" by assuming that "nothing" is a kind of "something." I find this distinction to be a pointless word game, but it is easily countered: If nothing cannot have properties of any sort, then it cannot possess the laws of conservation, and therefore something could come from nothing.

Flew's second argument is that the Universe, in Freeman Dyson's words, must have "known we were coming." That is, it appears that the laws of the Universe being such as to allow our existence is grossly improbable and is economically explained by invoking God. Richard Dawkins counterargument to this is that a God capable of fine-tuning the laws of physics must be at least as fine-tuned as the laws (or combinations thereof).[3] Flew reacts to this by pointing out that God is a spiritual entity, and is thus not complex since He (it?) has no parts. This may very well be true. (How would we know anyway?). Nevertheless, God cannot be defined as simple. Dawkins quotes Sir John Polkinghorne, who says that it is "... quite coherent, however, to suppose that God, while indivisible, is internally complex." Internal complexity is right on the mark. The God Flew subscribes to is conscious[4] and therefore highly complex.

I will quote an article from "The Freethought Zone":

[Theists] could claim that human consciousness may be complex, but the supernatural, spiritual consciousness of God is not. This type of claim, however, cannot be correct. Consciousness by its very nature is complex; whether we are discussing the consciousness of biological organisms or the consciousness of a hypothetical supernatural being is irrelevant. To see that consciousness itself is complex, consider that consciousness requires the ability to store and access information that is linked together in many intricate ways as well as the ability to process that information, and to reason. The web of intricately interconnected data that consciousness requires is extremely complex. One measure of the complexity of a system is the logarithm of the number of states of the system. Applied to a conscious system, this measure of complexity is proportional to the number of pieces of data that the conscious system knows times the degree of interconnectedness in the data. There are three interesting things to note here: 1) this measure of complexity is very large if a large amount of data is accessible; 2) the interconnectedness of data that consciousness requires greatly increases the complexity; and 3) for an omniscient being, this measure of the being's complexity diverges.[5]

In addition, the argument from Cosmological fine-tuning makes a number of highly questionable assumptions:

  1. The arguer is assuming that the laws actually can vary. They may interact in such a way that they could never vary, much like the "law" that two plus two must always equal four.
  2. The arguer is assuming that absolutely no other combinations of these constants could lead to life. In fact, calculations show that this is not the case.[6]
  3. The arguer is assuming that no forms of life other than our own are possible.

Without justification of these assumptions, no recourse to any further explanation is required. Before we conclude that something is out of this world, we want to first make sure that it is not in this world.

Perhaps the weakest argument in the entire book concerns the supposed impossibility of life emerging from inanimate matter. Flew quotes Philosopher John Haldane asserting that inanimate matter has absolutely no capacity to self-replicate. This is blatantly false. In 1975, two scientists managed to isolate an RNA replicase which spontaneously assembled RNA chains capable of self-replication and evolution.[7] Stanley Miller reported that he was able to synthesize RNA nucleotides under plausible conditions simulating the early earth. Discover Magazine reports that, "[scientists] introduced random mutations into the hairpin RNA, shortened it from its normal length of 58 bases, and even cut it into pieces--all in an effort to produce RNA enzymes that were as dodgy and imperfect as early Earth's first enzymes likely were. These pseudoprimitive RNA enzymes do nothing at room temperature. But freeze them and they become active, joining other RNA molecules at a slow but measurable rate."[8] These short, primitive enzymes could be formed by chance. Ice concentrates these molecules and "encourages" them to join together. Furthermore, we know that RNA ribozymes can perform a variety of functions, such as Peptide Formation.[9] Researchers have even managed to evolve an RNA ribozyme into DNA.[10] Further research has shown that some ribozymes can act as both messenger and transfer RNA.[11] It would seem almost naive to assume that no naturalistic account of the origin of life will ever be found. However, I am not an expert in this field and will end my discussion of the subject here.

The last major argument for God presented in the book is essentially a modified version of the Kalam Cosmological Argument. Flew quotes Theologian Richard Swinburne, essentially saying that an uncaused (because he is eternal?) God might be expected to produce something like our Universe, but our Universe would not be expected to exist uncaused (because it had a beginning?). The reasoning is not clear, nevertheless this argument fails on at least two counts: First, why should we accept God as some sort of necessary being, with no further explanation? Second, I, as well as some Physicists such as Victor Stenger, think that the Universe was caused, but that it arose from a Void, which was uncaused ("Nothing" need not have a cause).

In closing, I would like to leave you with what is perhaps the most persuasive argument for God, the argument from bumblebees, uttered by none other than the coauthor of the book himself (as quoted by Mark Stuertz in the Dallas Observer)[12]:

Roy Abraham Varghese has a God equation. It is self-evident. He sees it in a grain of sand. He sees it in bees, especially bees. By rights, bees shouldn't fly. The haphazard way in which they beat their wings simply shouldn't haul their pot-bellied bodies aloft. But they fly, hovering and reversing over bluebonnets and bachelor buttons. Bees flout the laws of physics and aerodynamics, a puzzle that perplexed scientists for 70 years. "How is it that they can do that?" he asked in a 2005 interview at Perry's Restaurant while smacking on bites of filet mignon. "The fact that these insects can do this..."

For a scientific explanation of bee flight, see:
www.livescience.com/animals/060110_bee_fight.html.

References


[1] See: www.colorado.edu/philosophy/vstenger/nothing.html

[2] Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Green, pp. 258-260

[3] The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, pp. 141-151

[4] Flew believes that a God designed life, may communicate with people, and so on.

[5] freethought.freeservers.com/reason/complexity.html

[6] prola.aps.org/abstract/PRD/v64/i8/e083508

[7] Sumper M, Luce R., "Evidence for de novo production of self-replicating and environmentally adapted RNA structures by bacteriophage Qbeta replicase." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 1975 January; 72(1):162-166. Accessed at: www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=432262

[8] Discover Magazine, "Did Life Evolve in Ice?" accessed at:
discovermagazine.com/2008/feb/did-life-evolve-in-ice

[9]Kelly Sheppard, Jing Yuan, Michael J. Hohn, Brian Jester, Kevin M. Devine and Dieter Söll, "From one amino acid to another: tRNA-dependent amino acid biosynthesis" Nucleic Acids Res. 2008 Apr;36(6):1813-25. Epub 2008 Feb 5.

[10] Scripps Research Institute (2006, March 27). 'Accelerated Evolution' Converts RNA Enzyme To DNA Enzyme In Vitro. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 24, 2008, from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/03/060327083737.htm

[11] Di Giulio M., The early phases of genetic code origin: conjectures on the evolution of coded catalysis. Orig Life Evol Biosph. 2003 Oct;33(4-5):479-89.

[12] www.dallasobserver.com/2007-05-03/news/god-in-the-details/





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Published:
  2008-09-14

Categories:
  Book Reviews, Christian Apologetics, God

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