Before there was Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens, there was Anthony Flew. For most of his career, Flew was a strong advocate of atheism …. But then he changed his mind.
He did not have any spiritual or near death experience. The decision for him was not an emotional one. It was a rational one based on the weight of the evidence.
He concluded: 1) “there had to an Intelligence behind the integrated complexity of the physical Universe”; and 2) “the integrated complexity of life itself—which is far more complex than the physical Universe—can only be explained in terms of an Intelligent Source.”
Anthony Flew, who became famous for arguing for the presumption of atheism, came to see it the other way around: “I think the origins of the laws of nature and of life and the Universe point clearly to an intelligent Source. The burden of proof is on those who argue to the contrary.”
Given the statements of other well-known atheists, one might wonder why the presumption ever seemed to favor atheism. For instance, Dr. George Wald, an evolutionist, Professor Emeritus of Biology at the University at Harvard, and Nobel Prize winner in Biology famously conceded the options as follows:
“There are only two possibilities as to how life arose; one is spontaneous generation arising to evolution, the other is a supernatural creative act of God, there is no third possibility. Spontaneous generation that life arose from non-living matter was scientifically disproved 120 years ago by Louis Pasteur and others.” [This by the way, is a very loose paraphrase of what Wald says, which can be read in more detail at talkogorigins.com]
One might conclude that Wald conceded to God, but he did not. Though he rejected the idea of spontaneous generation, he stretched to grab on to a longer, more drawn out version of spontaneous generation. He concluded,
“life inevitably arises wherever conditions permit. We look upon life as part of the order of nature. It does not emerge immediately with the establishment of that order; long ages must pass before it appears.”
He is not the only atheist to have come to the same conclusion and to have made the same choice. Fred Hoyle, the astronomer who coined the phrase, “Big Bang”, even while wrestling with the implications, conceded:
“A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.”
Hoyle was particularly pointed in his dismissal of evolutionary theories as the source for the origin of life:
“Would you not say to yourself, ‘Some super-calculating intellect must have designed the properties of the carbon atom, otherwise the chance of my finding such an atom through the blind forces of nature would be utterly minuscule. A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.'”
Yet, Hoyle would not concede God.
Perhaps, the greatest scientific mind of the last half of the 20th Century, Stephen Hawking, agrees pointedly, and, like most scientists who study these things, cannot help but speak of the wonder of the universe in terms of design:
“The universe and the Laws of Physics seem to have been specifically designed for us. If any one of about 40 physical qualities had more than slightly different values, life as we know it could not exist: Either atoms would not be stable, or they wouldn’t combine into molecules, or the stars wouldn’t form heavier elements, or the universe would collapse before life could develop, and so on…”
But Hawking does not concede God.
Perhaps, the most famous atheist of the present day, Richard Dawkins concedes the same evidence of design: “Biology is the study of complicated things that have the appearance of having been designed with a purpose.” Indeed, pick up any text on evolution, and the descriptions of the process will inevitably use words that are more at home in the idea of designing force, but they will not concede God.
The evidence leaves enough nuance that intelligent minds can find room to exclude God, even when the evidence seems to point in God’s direction. One might wonder why? Why, if God is God, would He allow such ontological equivocation.
God gives adequate, but not coercive, evidence of His existence, according to Dr. William Lane Craig. The issue is not so much whether God exists, but whether one wants Him to exist. He leaves enough nuance and doubt that no one is forced to concede to Him.
And that makes sense, because God is revealed to be loving to those who concede Him. He has made us with unique and compelling capabilities to captain our own lives, or at least appear to, with a subtle, yet profound, ability to understand immaterial realities such as beauty, morality, honor, poetry and imagination.
We are not like the other animals. We have compulsions, but we are not controlled by instinct. We have choice. (At least, we almost universally believe that we have choice.)
The Bible says God created us in His own image. We are more like gods than the rest of creation. We are not automatons. And, if God is love, we are created with the capacity to reflect and reciprocate that love – but we can choose not to. We can choose to live in relation to God or live in denial of God.
God gives us that choice because God is love, and He created us to have fellowship with Him. We can only have true fellowship with God if we have a choice.
Scientists speak of the fine-tuning of the universe. From the moment of the Big Bang, the universe was finely-tuned in all of its elements and laws to make life on Earth not only possible, but inevitable. If any of the constants that sprang into existence from the moment of the Big Bang were off by a hair, life would not exist. We would not exist.
Some people look at those facts and conclude that it is simply the way it is, but that doesn’t mean there was any purpose or God behind it. Others look at the fine-tuning and see the work of God. Intelligent people fall on both sides of this divide.
This too is a kind of fine-tuning. That intelligent people can look at the facts and come out convincingly on opposite ends, itself, is a kind of fine-tuning that gives us choice.
If God is love, and if we are created in His image to have fellowship with Him, choice is necessary. If we had no choice but to concede God, we could not love Him or reflect His love back to Him. The world is finely-tuned to give us that choice, lest we be compelled to concede God.
6 thoughts on “The Nuance of Choice”
Reblogged this on Navigating by Faith and commented:
God leaves us choice, the most loving and most fearful thing He could have done.
Just so you know, those clincher quotes from Wald and Keith are misquotes. In fact, the one from Keith was completely fabricated. So here for more.
Thank you for pointing this out. I don’t have time now to follow up, but I will.
I see what you are saying. The quoted material is not what Wald said, but more of a paraphrase of the text you linked to. He does limit the options to a form of spontaneous generation and creation. He does reject the kind of spontaneous generation that may have been understood in centuries past, and he also rejects creation. In the end, he settles for the “slower” spontaneous generation of the inevitability of life wherever conditions permit – the idea of generation by necessity – which seems to be one resting place for modern materialists. Why, I really cannot understand. Where does not this necessity arise and why should it be so? I know I am asking ontological questions, but aren’t they just the sort of questions that begged to be asked? Aren’t they also the types of questions that science is particularly incapable of answering, though many try? That science is confined to the study of the material world does not exclude an immaterial world. I do need to rewrite this blog, however. Thank you for the tip.
Those all seem like interesting questions. Perhaps in rewriting this post you’ll find inspiration for plenty more.
The rewriting has been done. The “help” given to Wald’s comment was dishonest, but really unnecessary. He does limit the options to two, rejects spontaneous generation and than opts for a longer (Darwinian) version of it, which is the standard line – anything not to concede the other of the two options. Aliens and multiverses are preferable to the other option, which simply underscores my point, which is that it comes down to choice in the end.