REALITY: The Universe, an Atheist and a Pocket Watch 3 of 6

Last time I raised the question “How did it all happen?”, and this time I want to look more deeply at that. What would you say to a friend who showed you a silver pocket watch and explained that all the parts simply formed naturally, as a result of random, accidental events? Let’s say he believed that silver ore deep in the ground smelted by itself as a meteor hit the earth thousands of years ago, forming the round, hollow sterling silver case. Heat from a volcano randomly transformed nearby sand into glass of the right shape, thickness and colour to function as a clear crystal over the watch’s hands. All the internal gears formed accidentally too, as did the mainspring, the chain, the numbers on the watch face, and the inscription on the back. Random forces of wind and rain and the spinning of the earth worked together to wind the watch and get it running.

Could any sane person offer this explanation for the origin of a pocket watch and be taken seriously? I can’t imagine how. The idea that a silver pocket watch could somehow form automatically, without a designer and maker, translates to questions about life and our existence, too. In fact, when you look at all the mounting scientific evidence about the complexity of the world and the universe, you can see why some people find that science and the idea of God are two sides of the same coin.  I’ve heard it said that these days, knowing what we do about the amazing complexity of the natural world and the universe, it takes massively more blind faith to be an atheist than it does to believe in some kind of intelligence behind the universe. I’m inclined to agree that complexity is not easily (or even at all) adequately explained by the random meaningless universe position.

All of this is especially true when you realize that even the simplest cell, the smallest garden slug or the most ordinary tadpole is infinitely more complicated than the fanciest pocket watch. As recent scientific observations about the complexities of biology and physics and space add up, it’s getting harder and harder to hang on to the belief that “it all just happened on its own.” The life and thoughts of a famous university professor named Antony Flew is one case in point.

Dr. Flew died in 2010, but for 50 years he was an outspoken defender of the idea that there is no God. He was a professional atheist, he debated experts across the world and he made quite a name for himself in his day. That’s why Flew earned the reputation as “the most famous atheist of the 20th century”. But in December 2004, Dr. Flew did something that took a lot of courage. He publicly admitted that he’d been wrong all these years. He could no longer believe in a random, godless universe because so much of what modern science was discovering recently pointed in an entirely different direction. Here’s one of the many things he said after going public with his humble turn-around:

“I think that the most impressive arguments for God’s existence are those that are supported by recent scientific discoveries. I think the argument to Intelligent Design is enormously stronger than it was when I first met it.” You can see Dr. Flew explain this for himself right here. In this video interview Dr. Flew resisted the idea of writing a book on his change of perspective, but in the end he did. You can learn more about his ideas and thinking here.

If Dr. Flew’s science-based change of opinion on the question of God were the only evidence in favour of a universe designed on purpose by an intelligent designer, then we wouldn’t have much to go on. But the fact is there’s a large and growing collection of scientific facts (and scientists themselves) that point more and more convincingly towards some kind of intelligence behind the universe. Is there room for doubt on this? Certainly. Life always allows room for doubt, regardless of whether you believe there’s a God or that everything happened by random happenstance. But before you make up your mind one way or the other on the God question, let me suggest two things.

First is the fact that the tallest barrier to finding answers about life’s biggest questions isn’t lack of facts, but the lack of interest to bother looking for them. And second, some of the most convincing evidence in favour of a God-made universe comes from former atheists who have changed their minds based on empirical data. That’s what I’ll touch on here next week.

In the mean time, here’s something to leave you with. If you already believe there’s an intelligent designer behind the universe, then I hope this essay (and the ones to come) will strengthen that belief. And if you happen to believe, as Antony Flew did most of his life as an outspoken atheist, then perhaps you’d like to consider where Dr. Flew went wrong changing his mind. Either you are wrong or Dr. Flew ended up believing something wrong. Both cannot be true at the same time.

Why am I writing this? Simply because I care about the truth and I care about you. We may never meet, but I still think the world is a better place when truth prevails in hearts and minds everywhere. And these days, truth is having a hard time in ways I’ve never seen before.

Click here for the next instalment: “Pursuing Truth Demands Work & Risk”