Things I’m Asked: Has science made God obsolete?

The idea of God creating everything took a bit of battering in 1953 when Harold Urey and Stanley Miller, researchers at the University of Chicago, introduced some electrical sparks to a mixture of gasses and water that simulated the Earth’s early atmosphere. After a few days, the water discoloured with a mixture of a few simple amino acids. As amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, the basis of all life, some people claimed that the idea of God was redundant. Brute circumstances can fluke the existence of amino acids. The mystery of how proteins and life came about was solved.

Alas, this is not so. Leaving aside the rather obvious fact that God began with nothing – no laboratory, no flasks, no chemicals, no physical laws – the fact is, whilst making amino acids is relatively easy, making proteins capable of sustaining life is mind-bogglingly difficult.

To build a protein, you have to put amino acids in precisely the right sequence. As a typical protein consists of two hundred amino acids, the likelihood of making one protein by chance would be equivalent to spinning a slot machine with two hundred wheels, each with twenty symbols (to represent twenty of the most common amino acids), and then getting the winning combination.

You don’t reckon that’s a big deal? Let me explain. It would require you to spin the wheels more times than there are atoms in the universe.[i] And if that is not enough, there needs to be a sophisticated organization that will protect the acidic environment of DNA from the alkaline environment of proteins. (A living cell is lot more than a blob of soup!)

So, it would appear that God is not redundant after all.

The British philosopher, Anthony Flew, says that we need to ask: ‘How can a universe of mindless matter produce beings with intrinsic ends, self-replication capabilities, and “coded chemistry?”

Notwithstanding his atheistic convictions, the English physicist and astronomer, Fred Hoyle wrote that the likelihood of chance alone being responsible for making even the simplest of living cells was about the same as that of a tornado sweeping through a junkyard and assembling a Boeing 747 jet aircraft.[ii]

The British philosopher, Anthony Flew, says that we need to ask: ‘How can a universe of mindless matter produce beings with intrinsic ends, self-replication capabilities, and “coded chemistry?”’[iii] He goes on to wonder why living matter has ‘an inherent goal or end-centred organization, that is nowhere present in the matter that preceded it.’[iv]

It’s a good question, but we need to be careful. When talking about living matter having ‘intrinsic ends’ and ‘an inherent goal’, we are not talking about evolution. Evolution is blind. It doesn’t try to get anywhere. It just selects mutations that help an organism adapt to a particular ecological niche. Flew is talking about something deeper than evolution. He is talking about why life developed in the first place and did so in a universe where time is linear.

The British cosmologist, Paul Davies, makes the point that life is more than complex chemical reactions. The living cell operates according to coded information. As such, the cell is ‘an information storing, processing and replicating system’. He goes on to say, ‘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.’[v]

Flew reminds us that there is ‘no law of nature that instructs matter to produce end-directed, self-replicating entities.’[vi]The fact that it does so is therefore a mystery. He goes on to quote the Nobel Prize-winning physiologist, George Wald, who said, ‘We choose to believe the impossible: that life arose spontaneously by chance.’[vii]

Flew concludes that ‘the only satisfactory explanation for the origin of such “end-directed, self-replicating” life as we see on earth is an infinitely intelligent Mind.’[viii]

And that’s not a bad conclusion from a man who used to be atheism’s leading philosopher in the second half of the 20thcentury.

[i]    Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything (London: Doubleday, 2003), 254.

[ii]   Fred Hoyle, “Hoyle On Evolution,” Nature, 294 (12th November 1981), 105.

[iii]   Anthony Flew with Roy Abraham Varghese, There Is A God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind (New York: Harper Collins, 2007, 124.

[iv]   Ibid.

[v]   Paul Davies, “The Origin of Life, II: How Did It Begin?” http://aca.mq.edu.au/PaulDavies/publications/papers’OriginsOfLife_II.pdf.

[vi]   Anthony Flew with Roy Abraham Varghese, There Is A God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind (New York: Harper Collins, 2007), 131.

[vii] Ibid. 131.

[viii] Ibid. 132.

Dr Nick Hawkes is a scientist, pastor, apologist, writer and broadcaster. He also describes himself as an absent-minded, slightly obsessive man who is pathetically weak due to cancer and chemo, who has experienced, and needs to experience, the grace of God each day.

Nick has written a book Soar above the Storm in which he draws on his experience of cancer to encourage anyone walking through a storm in life to find rest and hope in God. It offers a 40-day retreat to be refreshed and strengthened and find deep peace in God. Order it at Koorong.

He blogs and records podcasts at nickhawkes.net

Nick told his life story to Eternity https://www.eternitynews.com.au/good-news/deadly-storms-heroin-addicts-cancer-and-my-faith/