Book Review

  • Issue 101 / September - October 2014



    How the world's most notorious atheist changed his mind

    D. Omer Guney

    Antony Flew, who once claimed to be one of the world's leading atheists, chose to believe in God before he passed away in 2010. In our article, we briefly summarize and comment on his book [1] titled, "There is a God: How the world's most notorious atheist changed his mind." We bring to the reader's attention some of the key points which played an important role in Flew's final decision. Although this book may help believers strengthen their faith and discourage atheists, we argue Flew's methodology is not safe.

    In his book, Flew states, "I should point out, moreover, that this is not the first time I changed my mind on a fundamental issue. Among other things, readers who are familiar with my vigorous defense of free markets may be surprised to learn that I was once a Marxist ..." Flew in fact consistently mentions throughout his book that it is not actually the first time he changed his mind. These statements may disappoint those readers who want to hear more reliable arguments on the question of God. However, as a philosopher, Flew is confident in his decision and leaves it to readers to decide how to deal with his reasons for changing his mind. Given the possibility of progress in philosophy, Flew considers it a principle to follow the argument wherever it may lead him. Therefore, before reading this book, one should keep in mind that the book has a philosophical perspective rather than a religious one. Philosophical thought is inherently unbiased (or unguided) and quite evolutionary as opposed to any given religion (say Christianity, Islam or Judaism), which usually has its own well-defined and self-consistent structure.

    It is not possible in this short article to summarize all of the reasons which led Flew to believe in God in the later stage of his life. Below, we mainly discuss how Flew's decision was influenced by the origin of the laws of physics. We also show how his final thoughts compare with modern Muslim scholars Nursi and G├╝len, who have roots in revelations rather than philosophy. Then we explain why we believe Flew's methodology is not safe as long as it stays within the territories of traditional philosophy.

    Laws of physics and "mind of God"
    When Flew discusses the origin of the laws of physics (or undeniable design in the universe), he gives statements from the founders of quantum physics, all of whom connect the laws of nature with the "Mind of God," as described by Einstein. He refers to Max Planck, Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrodinger, and Paul Dirac. Below, we only quote Schrodinger's statement:

    "The scientific picture of the world around me is very deficient. It gives me a lot of factual information, puts our experience in a magnificently consistent order, but is ghastly silent about all that is really near to our heart, that really matters to us. It cannot tell a word about the sensation of red and blue, bitter and sweet, feelings of delight and sorrow. It knows nothing of beauty and ugly, good or bad, God and eternity. Science sometimes pretends to answer questions in these domains, but the answers are very often so silly that we are not inclined to take them seriously.

    Science is reticent too when it is a question of the great Unity of which we somehow form a part, to which we belong. The most popular name for it in our time is God, with a capital 'G.' Science is, very usually, branded as being atheistic. After what we have said this is not astonishing. If its world picture does not even contain beauty, delight, sorrow, if personally cut out of it by agreement, how should it contain the most sublime idea that presents itself to the human mind?"

    Nursi and G├╝len, two great scholars of our modern times, have the following views on this. According to Nursi [2,3], only through the light of faith in God and His Divine Revelation, can humans understand their true essence, the universe that they reside within, their past, present, and their future. Otherwise, things and events surrounding them would be highly difficult to comprehend, because the only mechanism that would remain to interpret the purpose behind would be the ego equipped with limited knowledge and experience, which is too subjective to rely on and far from being convincing. Most of the time, the ego misguides people into the darkness and heedlessness. However, with the light of faith, believers do not fall into such catastrophes. Believers better understand and appreciate the universe and do not suffer as unbelievers do; rather they enjoy the whispering galleries in the universe and beyond.

    G├╝len's perspective [2,4,5] is similar to Nursi. Although it might be possible for some brilliant scientists to discover how things work at the most fundamental levels of particles, it is impossible to fully comprehend how these particles actually constitute the whole in such a perfect harmony. This is because there is infinite knowledge of the Omniscient behind the scenes. Those who deny the existence of the Omniscient are shocked by the incredible harmony in nature and yet attribute it all to the creatures themselves. These limited, shortsighted perspectives and prejudices leave so many gaps in the quest for existence that the systems developed based on them cannot convince anyone, but rather open up greater questions in the heart, mind, and soul, all waiting to be answered. However, a person equipped with the former perspective can reach more conclusive results in very short times with much less efforts compared to those unbelievers who consume their lives to understand existence. Believers feel the signs of God in everything they explore and live their days as if in the avenues of Paradise. If the reason is integrated with the revelation, only then can it elevate us to the realms of the unreachable. It opens the doors to the true universe, which is otherwise hidden in darkness and chaos. With revelation, the universe turns into a great book of existence, telling about its Creator on every page. Then those struggling in emptiness and tyranny are awakened to humanistic ideals and the truth.

    On the different pages of his book, Flew reminds the reader that scientists like Paul Davies and John Barrow have received the Templeton Prize for further developing the insights of Einstein, Heisenberg, and other scientists into theories of the relationship between the rationality of nature and the Mind of God. Flew draws attention to the existence of natural laws and cites Paul Davies, who says, "even the most atheistic scientist accepts as an act of faith the existence of a law-like order in nature that is at least in part comprehensible to us." The critical question Flew asks is, "whose laws?"

    Flew thinks, no matter what, we still have to come to terms with the origin of the laws of nature. He says, "the only viable explanation here is the divine Mind." Once the physical laws are set correctly, one can think of our resultant universe; however, the question that needs to be answered is 'who set the laws and why did they set them this way?'"

    Flew also reminds the reader of the following question related to the origin of life, a question that has not been answered: "How can a universe of mindless matter produce beings with intrinsic ends, self-replication capabilities, and coded chemistry?" He quotes from Paul Davies again, "The problem of how meaningful or semantic information can emerge spontaneously from a collection of mindless molecules subject to blind and purposeless forces presents a deep conceptual challenge." Flew makes an important distinction between this question and what is being addressed by "evolution." He says that the latter is dealing with the interaction of chemicals, whereas the above question is interrogating how something (chemicals) can be intrinsically purpose driven.

    Nursi explains this as follows [6]:
    "If you do not accept that the particles in your body are tiny officials in motion in accordance with the law of the Pre-Eternal and All-Powerful One, or that they are an army, or the nibs of the pen of Divine Determining, with each particle as the nib of a pen, or that they are points inscribed by the pen of Power with each particle being a point, then in every particle working in your eye there would have to be an eye such as could see every limb and part of your body as well as the entire universe, with which you are connected. In addition to this, you would have to ascribe to each particle an intelligence equivalent to that of a hundred geniuses, sufficient to know and recognize all your past and your future, and your forbears and descendants, the origins of all the elements of your being, and the sources of all your sustenance. To attribute the knowledge and consciousness of a thousand Plato's to a single particle of one such as you who does not possess even a particle's worth of intelligence in matters of this kind is a crazy superstition a thousand times over!"

    Here Nursi argues that the intelligence and consciousness that are exhibited in the universe can only be understood by the existence of the Pre-Eternal and All-Powerful One. He guides these mindless particles toward a Divine Determining and in accordance with the law. Nursi also draws attention to a subtle point which is missing in the philosophers' question above. The particles and the law they are bound to are created so intelligently and consciously that they do not only give rise to the sustenance of the current universe, but we can tailor them for our future sustenance and well being. To give an example, consider a 10 billion year old particle, an electron. How did this particle lead to today's electronic revolution? How did it know it could function one day as part of a flowing current in a computer chip?

    Pilgrimage of reason is not safe
    In his book, Flew considers three evidences which require an Intelligence explaining not only its own existence but also that of the world. These are the laws of nature, life, and the existence of the universe. Flew admits that the journey to his discovery of God has so far been a pilgrimage of reason. He has followed the argument where it has led him. The arguments led him to accept the existence of a self-existent, immutable, immaterial, omnipotent, and omniscient being.

    Although it's quite impressive what Flew has gone through and he put forward reasonable arguments, no one can actually guarantee that his arguments will ultimately lead to Truth, since they can be neither proved nor disproved. Worse, a smarter philosopher or scientist may well appear in the future and challenge him. Then, how can we actually make sure that Flew is actually right in his arguments?

    The answer is, "we can never be." There is a need for a strong "point of support," since science and philosophy alone, by definition, as admitted in Schrodinger's statement above, cannot provide absolutely convincing arguments. If God exists and wants man to know Him, there is a need for a clear message immune from any kind of ambiguity and understandable by virtually anyone. Nothing would be clearer than direct revelations from God. Interestingly, there are, in fact, many verses in the Quran [7], for example, which draw attention to such clarity in God's messages:

    "A.L.R. These are the Ayats of Revelation, of a Quran that makes things clear." (The Rocky Tract 1)

    "We have already sent down to you verses making things clear, an illustration from (the story of) people who passed away before you, and an admonition for those who fear (Allah)." (The Light 34)

    "Thus we have sent down Clear Signs; and verily Allah guides whom He will!" (The Pilgrimage 16)

    "We have sent down to you Manifest Signs; and none reject them but those who are perverse." (The Heifer 99)

    "A.L.R. (This is) a Book, with verses basic or fundamental (of established meaning), further explained in detail, from One Who is Wise and Well-Acquainted (with all things):" (The Prophet Hud 1)

    "A Sura which we have sent down and which We have ordained: in it We have sent down Clear Signs, in order that you may receive admonition." (The Light 1)

    "This is the Way of your Lord, leading straight: We have detailed the Signs for those who receive admonition." (The Cattle 126)

    Revealing the Message of God
    Flew finishes his book with a very beautiful analogy of a satellite phone discovered by an island tribe. The sage in the tribe suggests that the phone is a medium of contact with other humans. After some investigation, the tribe confirms that the phone is connected to a network which transmits the voices of intelligent beings that exist. They go even further and decipher the patterns and rhythms and their whole world changes. Similarly the discovery of phenomena like the laws of nature-the communications network in this parable--has led the thinkers to accept the existence of an infinitely intelligent Mind. Although Flew summarizes his pilgrimage in a very beautiful fashion with such a parable, we should agree, however, that the direct revelation of God through his messengers is the integral part of this communication network. Even Flew subconsciously acknowledges the role of the "sage" in his parable.

    Acknowledgment: This article was produced in Mergeous [8], an online article and project development service for authors and publishers dedicated to the advancement of technologies in the merging realms of science and spiritual thought. The longer and live version of the article [9] is also available in Mergeous for interested readers.

    References
    1. A. Flew, "There is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind," HarperCollins Publishers (New York, 2007).
    2. Kainata Imanla Bakis, http://www.mergeous.com/projectcon.asp?aid=21
    3. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, Sozler, Sayfa 281-299 (risaleinurenstitusu.org).
    4. M. F. G├╝len, "Islam'in engin ufku," Yagmur, Sayi 30, Ocak-Mart 2006.
    5. M. F. G├╝len, "Marifet, Muhabbet ve Medyuniyet," Kirik Testi, http://www.herkul.org/kiriktesti/?article_id=7978
    6. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Flashes, pg. 237 (translated by Sukran Vahide).
    7. A. Y. Ali, The Qur'an Translation, Tahrike Tarsile Qur'an, Inc. (New York 2004).
    8. Mergeous, Online article and project development service, mergeous.com
    9. There is a God: How the world's most notorious atheist changed his mind, by Antony Flew (Review), http://www.mergeous.com/articlecon.asp?aid=16

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