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Scientific problems for atheists

Published:Sunday | August 30, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Clinton Chisholm

Village atheists and the more educated ones need to read and properly digest the contents of Antony Flew's last book. The late world-renowned British philosopher and 'most notorious atheist', Antony Flew, in his last book gave details of the thinking that led him to abandon atheism. The book published in 2008 was titled There is a God.

One of the three cardinal issues that made Flew abandon atheism was a critical event which he said could not at all be explained from a naturalistic or materialistic base but which made sense if you invoke God.

Drawing on the work of fellow philosopher David Conway, Flew raises the first of three challenges to Darwinian naturalism. He says, "The first challenge is to produce a materialistic explanation for 'the very first emergence of living matter from non-living matter. In being alive, living matter possesses a teleological [purpose-driven] organisation that is wholly absent from everything that preceded it'." (p.125)

In a nutshell, evolution is contrary to a basic rule of biology, which says that only life can give rise to life.

Hear me well, Flew did not say it but his argumentation hints at a miraculous origin for first life. If there is no materialistic explanation, what is the inference to the best explanation but a miracle by God, and indeed there are non-religious natural scientists who admit as much.


Converted creationist


Dean Kenyon, professor emeritus of biology at San Francisco State University and a modern scientific proponent of the view that ordinary non-living chemicals did become living, has renounced that view and is now a creationist. The thesis he renounced was in the 1969 book he co-authored with Gary Steinman called Biochemical Predestination.

There is a most revealing statement from the famous British mathematician and astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle, who originated the steady-state theory of the formation of the universe. In the 1981 book Evolution from Space, which he co-authored with fellow mathematician and astrobiologist Chandra Wickramasinghe, they admitted that though they were lifelong atheists, they were agreed that the high degree of order and specificity in the universe demanded pre-existing intelligence even to the limit of God.

Both men had calculated that the odds of life appearing by random processes was one chance in 1,040,000 so they chide scientists who try to evade the God-pointing nature of first life by saying, "The tactic is to argue that although the chance of arriving at the biochemical system of life is ... utterly minuscule, there is in nature such an enormous number of other chemical systems which could also support life that any old planet like Earth would inevitably arrive sooner or later at one or another of them. This argument is the veriest nonsense, and if it is to be imbibed at all it must be swallowed with a jorum of strong ale."(p. 28)

For Flew then, the emergence of first life was caused by God, for him, Absolute Mind.


Naturalism's challenges


David Hume has been uncritically used by assorted free thinkers, but if Hume was around to have read Flew's last book, he, too, like many naturalists, would have had a most difficult time countering Flew's other two challenges to naturalism.

Flew continues, "The second challenge is to produce an equally materialist explanation for 'the emergence, from the very earliest life forms which were incapable of reproducing themselves, of life forms with a capacity for reproducing themselves. Without the existence of such a capacity, it would not have been possible for different species to emerge through random mutation and natural selection. Accordingly, such mechanism cannot be invoked in any explanation of how life forms with this capacity first 'evolved' from those that lacked it ... .'" (pages 125-126)

Let me say that a bit more bluntly. There is no conceivable way that natural selection could have operated until there was such a thing as reproduction!

Again, let it be clear: Flew did not say it, but his argumentation hints at a miraculous origin for reproduction.

Even if one might wish to say the world now operates exclusively on natural law you could hardly deny miracles or super-natural events (to adopt Prof John Lennox's preference) at the origin of the universe, of life and of genetic coding.

So, then the Apostle Paul was philosophically and scientifically ahead of his time when he wrote: "For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse." (Romans 1:20)

- The Rev Clinton Chisholm is a theologian. Email feedback to and