When you’ve devoted a lifetime to arguing against the existence of a divine Creator, it can be hard to admit you were wrong. So what compelled one of the world’s leading atheists to do just that?
Imagine for a moment being one of the world’s foremost atheists. You’ve basked in the fame of academic circles for 50 years and have written more than 30 books, many of which are hailed as hallmarks of atheistic thought. You’re highly respected, honored as one of the world’s brightest minds.
Then, suddenly, you announce you have reversed course and now believe in God.
“I now believe that the universe was brought into existence by an infinite Intelligence. I believe that this universe’s intricate laws manifest what scientists have called the Mind of God.”
It’s a fascinating story, and one that holds many valuable answers for young and old alike who have asked the most basic and most important question: Does God exist?
Dr. Antony Flew was an Oxford professor who spent 50 years teaching philosophy and constructing clever arguments to support an atheistic point of view. Why did he change his mind? And more importantly, why did he go public about his acceptance of God’s existence, knowing the damage to his reputation among his colleagues that would follow?
Prior to his death in 2010, Dr. Flew wrote a book in 2007 titled There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, explaining why he had reversed his long-held position and what had compelled him to admit he had been wrong. It’s not often that we see a premier philosopher who was an atheist explain why he changed his mind and came to believe in a divine Creator. His reasons are great answers to those who question God’s existence.
In his book Dr. Flew mentioned that early in life, he came on a principle that would guide his career: Follow the evidence wherever it leads, no matter how unpopular that may be.
In particular, he offered three lines of evidence that convincingly led him to his belief in God.
The first of these has to do with the origin of the laws of nature.
“Three domains of scientific inquiry have been especially important for me … The first is the question that puzzled and continues to puzzle most reflective scientists: How did the laws of nature come to be?” (p. 91).
One of the most enigmatic aspects of the laws of nature is that these invisible forces act on matter and energy, but are not matter or energy themselves. For them to work, they had to be in place before matter and energy existed, and they are not tangible objects. To believe all these intricate laws that act in unison somehow appeared together at just the right time, with just the right force, without some organizing Intellect behind them, defies logic.
“The important point,” Flew brought out, “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).
“Those scientists who point to the Mind of God do not merely advance a series of arguments or a process of syllogistic reasoning. Rather, they propound a vision of reality that emerges from the conceptual heart of modern science and imposes itself on the rational mind. It is a vision that I personally find compelling and irrefutable” (p. 112).
Flew’s second line of evidence for a belief in God has to do with the great difference that exists between life and non-life.
Pondering over this question, Flew came to the conclusion that a self-replicating living thing being produced by chance from non-life utterly defies all odds. Self-replication means that something has within itself the ability to copy components of its being and pass traits and the mechanism itself to future generations.
Indeed, that copy has to be so perfectly reproduced that it can perpetuate itself in turn, and yet it also has to carry an additional system that permits it to adapt to a changing environment to improve its chances of survival.
He came to see that scientists don’t have a satisfying answer to this question.
“Carl Woese, a leader in origin-of-life studies,” he explained, “draws attention to the philosophically puzzling nature of this phenomenon. Writing in the journal RNA, he says, ‘The coding, mechanistic, and evolutionary facets of the problem now became separate issues. The idea that gene expression, like gene replication, was underlain by some fundamental physical principle was gone.’
“Not only is there no underlying physical principle, but the very existence of a code is a mystery. ‘The coding rules (the dictionary of codon assignments) are known. Yet they provide no clue as to why the code exists and why the mechanism of translation is what it is.’
“He frankly admits that we do not know anything about the origin of such a system. ‘The origins of translation, that is before it became a true decoding mechanism, are for now lost in the dimness of the past, and I don’t wish to … speculate on the origins of tRNA, tRNA charging systems or the genetic code’”(pp. 127-128).
Although there is an increasing body of knowledge about how DNA and RNAwork, scientists still don’t have a clue about how all these coding systems originated, which Flew concluded do point to a Superior Intelligence at work.
Flew’s third line of evidence is the very existence of the universe.
In his early years, Flew believed that the universe had always existed, a popular belief at that time. If something had always been around, he reasoned, there was no need to bring up a Creator to explain it. But new scientific discoveries made him question this premise and whether something could come out of nothing. “When I first met the big-bang theory as an atheist, it seemed to me the theory made a big difference because it suggested that the universe had a beginning and that the first sentence in Genesis (‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth’) was related to an event in the universe …
“If there had been no reason to think the universe had a beginning, there would be no need to postulate something else that produced the whole thing. But the big-bang theory changed all that. If the universe had a beginning, it became entirely sensible, almost inevitable, to ask what produced this beginning. This radically altered the situation” (pp. 135-137).
Of course, atheists and secular scientists came up with counterarguments for the growing evidence for a universe with a beginning. Over the years all kinds of unlikely explanations have appeared.
“Modern cosmologists,” he pointed out, “seemed just as disturbed as atheists about the potential theological implications of their work. Consequently, they devised influential escape routes that sought to preserve the nontheist status quo. These routes included the idea of the multiverse, numerous universes generated by endless vacuum fluctuation events, and Stephen Hawking’s notion of a self-contained universe” (p. 137).
Flew found all these arguments to be desperate attempts and quite unconvincing.
This is an edited version of an article from Beyond Today Magazine: https://www.ucg.org/beyond-today/beyond-today-magazine/answers-from-a-famous-ex-atheist-about-god