Science finds God
Ariel A. Roth
The intellectual dignitaries of the world were shocked! What they heard could not be true! On December 9, 2004, the Associated Press broke the news that the legendary British philosopher Antony Flew, who had been leading the cause of atheism for more than half a century, had changed his mind and decided that there must be a God. The stunning news quickly spread over the world. Flew’s move was precisely in the opposite direction of the now-dominant secular ethos promulgated in most scholarly circles.
Flew’s dramatic turnaround, which occurred about a year earlier, was not a conversion to any traditional religion. He believes in a God that had to originate what we are finding, not a God that has produced a supernatural revelation of Himself such as the Bible. However, he comments that he is open to the possibility that God could, or might, have revealed Himself.
Flew is famous. He has written nearly two dozen books on philosophy, and has been called the world’s most influential philosophical atheist. Why did such a well-known and prominent thinker reverse himself and declare that there has to be a God? The answer is simple. He did it because of the scientific data. Science, which now rejects God as an explanation for nature, is providing rather overwhelming data that God exists. In an interview,1 Flew stated: “I think that the most impressive arguments for God’s existence are those that are supported by recent scientific discoveries.” Especially important to Flew is the Big Bang model for the origin of the universe and the necessary precision of the forces of physics in order for matter to exist.
Flew is also impressed with findings in the biological world. Life is very complex, and he refers especially to the “reproductive power” of living things, for which evolutionists have not given an account. He further comments that “it now seems to me that the findings of more than fifty years of DNA research have provided material for a new and enormously powerful argument to design.” By “argument to design,” Flew means the evidence for a designer, and that designer would be God. Flew was willing to overthrow the dominant but restrictive naturalistic (mechanistic) philosophy of science that excludes God, and allowed the data of nature to speak for itself, and that data points to the necessity for a God. In Flew’s own words, he “had to go where the evidence leads.”
The fine-tuned universe
A lot of evidence indicates that the universe had to be exactly the way it is, or its existence, and especially the existence of the life we find in it, would not be possible. Cosmologist Hugh Ross lists 45 different items related to the physical characteristics of the universe that need to be just right.2
Our faithful Sun provides a familiar example. Without our Sun, life on Earth would not be possible because the surface of our planet would be excruciatingly cold. Also, we need the light from the Sun to provide the energy to the plants that keep life going through the food chain. The Sun gives us energy by combining hydrogen to produce helium. This is a complex process that releases energy. It is the same process that takes place when a hydrogen bomb explodes, so we can think of our Sun as a well-controlled hydrogen bomb. Precise values for the forces of physics that keep the fusion of hydrogen under control are involved. We take the Sun for granted and seldom appreciate its faithfulness as it, day in and day out, makes life possible, and it has been doing exactly the right thing for a very long time. There isn’t room for much variation in what we find. For instance, if the Earth were only five percent closer or one percent farther from the Sun, this would rid our planet of all life.3
The precise value of the four basic forces of physics is one of the strongest scientific arguments for God. How could these just happen to have the right values and right domain of action just by chance? A master Mind seems necessary to have planned all this out. These four forces are: strong nuclear force, weak nuclear force, electromagnetic force, and gravity. Some, like the strong nuclear force, are extremely powerful; but fortunately, that force works only within the nucleus of atoms, otherwise most everything in the universe would all be stuck together. On the other hand, gravity is very weak but works over very long distances, keeping our solar system and galaxies together. Experiments and calculations indicate that change in the basic force constant of just a few percent for any of these, and the whole universe would collapse. The universe seems to be balanced on a knife edge. The relationship between some of these forces has to be extremely precise. In referring to gravity and the electromagnetic force, physicist Paul Davies comments, “Calculations show that changes in the strength of either force by only one part out of the number 1040 would spell catastrophe for stars like our Sun.”4 This is an incredibly precise value. It means that you have to have a precision within just one part out of 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.
Such precision happening by chance is extremely remote, but almost pales into insignificance when you combine the various improbabilities found. To be mathematically correct, when you combine improbabilities, you multiply them; thus you come up with extremely improbable figures for what scientists are finding. Oxford University physicist-mathematician Roger Penrose did this and found that the precision necessary for the universe was one part out of the number 1 followed by 10,123 zeros.5 This is a very, very extremely minute chance. If you should try to write that number out by placing a zero on each atom in the universe you would run out of atoms very soon after you got started.
How did life get started?
The most baffling problem evolution faces is the origin of life. After a century of searching and proposing various kinds of scenarios, no plausible model has emerged. The problem is much more acute now than it was decades ago, because we are discovering more and more intricate systems in living things that are complex and that will not work unless several other parts are present. This is sometimes called irreducible complexity,6 and represents a major stumbling block to the gradual evolutionary process, because there is no evolutionary survival value until all the necessary parts are present. It turns out that most biological systems are of this kind, and God seems essential for the origin of any kind of life.
The simplest form of independent life we know of is a tiny microbe called Mycoplasma. Viruses, which are much simpler, do not qualify as the first form of evolved life on Earth because they cannot reproduce themselves; they are reproduced only by the living cells in which they are found. The tiny Mycoplasma is not simple; in fact, it is incredibly complex. Its DNA provides more than half a million bits of information, that, through the genetic code, dictate the formula of nearly 500 different kinds of protein molecules that perform a multitude of essential specific chemical functions in the microbe.
Just one protein molecule is incredibly complex and extremely hard to put together in the exact configuration necessary for proper function. Often several hundred amino acids tied to one another are involved, and not much variation can occur for the protein to function properly.
Molecular biologist Herbert Yockey, of the Unversity of California at Berkeley, has estimated how long it would take to produce a specific kind of protein on the Earth before any life had started. He assumes this could take place anywhere in all the oceans of the Earth, and he also assumes that these oceans were already well supplied with amino acids. His calculations indicate that it would take 1023 years to produce one specific protein. To put it in another way, the nearly five billion years geologists commonly assign to the age of the Earth is 10,000 billion times too short a time to produce one specific kind of protein molecule. Now, for life, you need lots of all kinds of specific protein molecules, all at the same time and place. Protein molecules are delicate, so by the time you might expect a second specific protein molecule to appear, chances are the first one would have disintegrated long before, thus making the spontaneous origin of life essentially impossible.
Proteins are just the beginning of the problems for the evolution of life all by itself. DNA is much more complex than proteins, and in cells, you need DNA to produce proteins—and you need proteins to produce DNA! To have life you need both, and to have either evolve first is not going to provide the survival value evolution needs to succeed. You also need all kinds of other molecules like fats and carbohydrates, and many highly specialized structures we find in living cells. Furthermore, you need a genetic code. How do you produce a complex genetic code by random evolutionary changes? The code is useless until the DNA that dictates it and the special molecules that read it understand the same language.
After you have evolved the very first life on Earth, that organism will come to oblivion unless it can reproduce itself. Reproduction is one of the cardinal characteristics of living organisms—and it is incredibly complex. In reproduction, you have to duplicate all the many necessary parts of a cell or the new organism will not survive. Sometimes the process can be quite sophisticated. For instance, when DNA is copied for a new cell or organism, errors in copying the information can occur. These errors are common enough that life would not be possible if it weren’t for a proofreading and editing system. In the cell, there is a set of proteins that checks the new DNA that has been produced, and if an error in copying has occurred, it is removed and replaced with a corrected version. Complexity is even more abundant in advanced organisms. Organs like your eye, which has complex accommodating systems, and your brain, with its 100 million times a million connections, also need to be accounted for. Through all the evolutionary process, many thousands of new kinds of proteins are needed. But at present, on an average, the billions of years proposed for evolution are way too short a time to produce even one specific protein molecule! God seems absolutely essential.
In view of such overwhelming evidence of the necessity for God, why isn’t the scientific community proclaiming this? Instead, we find a significant number of scientists fervently trying to demonstrate how life could have arisen all by itself. Other scientists claim that all the fine-tuning we find in the universe is just one case of good luck after another. Still many other scientists who believe in God remain silent when the question of His existence comes into focus. God is essentially excluded from scientific textbooks and journals. As presently practiced, science is the peculiar combination of a search for truth about nature and a secular philosophy that excludes God. We are dealing with a scientific community that now has such a strong materialistic (mechanistic, naturalistic) commitment, that to include God as an explanatory factor in science is considered to be unscientific. God is not now allowed on the menu of possible scientific explanations. This belies the usual picture we have of science as an open search for truth that follows the data of nature wherever it may lead. This strong secularism in science exists in spite of the fact that 40 percent of the scientists in the United States believe in a God who answers their prayers, 45 percent do not, and 15 percent are not sure.7 It appears that what some scientists believe in and what they publish when they take science’s secular stance can be very different.
In past centuries, science was not a secular philosophy. Some of the greatest scientists of all time, such as Sir Isaac Newton, included God in their explanations about nature. Other leading scientists who helped establish the foundations of modern science, such as Kepler, Boyle, Galileo, Linnaeus, and Pascal, all believed in a God who was active in nature, and they occasionally referred to God in their scientific writings. They saw no conflict between God and their discoveries, because they believed that God is the one who established the laws and consistency of nature that make scientific studies possible. They demonstrated how good science and God can work together. Now the rule is that you must try to explain everything materialistically without God.
It needs to be kept in perspective that over the centuries, humanity’s thought patterns have changed dramatically. The intellectual priorities during antiquity were different from those during the Middle Ages, and those differ from our present scientific age. We can expect more major changes in the future. This raises the important question: Is science good or bad? It is both. One of the most important lessons we can learn in this age of science is that there is good science and there is bad science. Discovering the strength of the forces of physics is good science. Describing the fossil Archaeoraptor as an evolutionary intermediate between dinosaurs and birds is bad science. The fossil turned out to be a composite. The tail of a dinosaur had been so skillfully attached to the body of a bird by a fossil collector that it even fooled a number of scientists who, however, were very anxious to demonstrate that birds had evolved from dinosaurs.8 We don’t want to miss the good science, which is very important; but we don’t want to be deceived by the bad science.
How can we tell good science from bad science? Unfortunately, you cannot always trust what scientists say. For instance, if nature is saying that it looks like there has to be a perceptive God to explain the complexities discovered, some scientist may yield to the secular ethos and sociological pressure of the scientific community and not report that. Such biases require that we dig deeper into questions to try and find out what is really going on. This can be laborious, so many do not have time to do it, but at least one can be cautious about accepting scientific pronouncements. If one has the opportunity to study further into a topic, some of the characteristics of a sound scientific conclusion are (1) it agrees with all available data; (2) the idea is testable, especially by repeatable experiments, and it can be disproved; (3) it can predict unknown outcomes; (4) the conclusion is not enshrouded by theory and controversy. Many scientists do not realize how difficult it is to demonstrate a simple scientific fact, and unfortunately, too much of what is published in science is speculative.
In summary: All the precision we are finding in the universe, and all of the complexity evidenced in living things indicate that a Creator God is necessary. This is what convinced Antony Flew that there must be a God. God seems essential to explain what science has found. The observations on the forces of physics, proteins, and DNA are all repeatable, hence provide high-qualify scientific evidence for God. Unfortunately, the secular idealism in science is so strong that the idea of a designer God is now generally rejected by the scientific community. This rejection is based on personal and sociological factors, not scientific data.
Ariel A. Roth (Ph.D., University of Michigan) is the former director of the Geoscience Research Institute and editor of the journal Origins. He has published more than 150 articles in scientific and general journals. His recent book, Origins: Linking Science and Scripture, has been translated into 13 languages. Now retired, he continues to research, lecture, and write. His email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Gary Habermas and A. Flew, “My Pilgrimage from Atheism to Theism: A Discussion Between Antony Flew and Gary Habermas,” Philosophia Christi 6 (2004) 2:197-211.
2. H. Ross, “Big Bang Model Refined by Fire,” in W. A. Dembski, ed., Mere Creation: Science, Faith and Intelligent Design (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1998), pp. 363-384.
3. H. M. Hart, “Habitable Zones About Main Sequence Stars,” Icarus 37 (1979): 351-357.
4. P. Davies, Superforce (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984), p. 242.
5. R. Penrose, The Emperor’s New Mind (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 344.
6. M. J. Behe, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (New York: Touchstone, 1996).
7. E. J. Larson and L. William, “Scientists Are Still Keeping the Faith,” Nature 386 (1997): 435-436. A later survey of the National Academy of Science shows a lower proportion of belief in God for that very small, but leading group, of scientists.
8. See, for example, T. Rowe, “The Archaeoraptor forgery,” Nature 410 (2201): 539, 540.