Skip to comments.Flew's Flawed Science - [critique of Antony Flew's 'conversion']
Posted on 02/01/2005 5:41:20 AM PST by snarks_when_bored
Flew's Flawed Science
by Victor J. Stenger
The following article is from Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 25, Number 2.
The late-in-life conversion of philosopher Antony Flew from atheism to belief in God has been widely reported in the media.1 In a recent interview with Gary Habermas, misleadingly titled My Pilgrimage from Atheism to Theism, Flew explains his new position, which he identifies as deism rather than theism.2 Richard Carrier has also conducted a correspondence with Flew, which clarifies some of the issues.3
Flew has not changed his mind on the inadequacy of the various philosophical arguments for God, which he very ably covered in his classic work, God and Philosophy.4 For example, he still does not buy into the moral argument, and remains unimpressed by the kalâm cosmological argument.5 However, he says he is impressed by recent claims that science has discovered evidence for God, although he admits to Carrier that he has not kept up with the scientific critiques of those arguments.6
Flew does not completely reject the theistic revelation of scientific facts. As he tells Habermas, I am open to it, but not enthusiastic about potential revelation from God. On the positive side, for example, I am very much impressed with physicist Gerald Schroeders comments on Genesis 1. That this biblical account might be scientifically accurate raises the possibility that it is revelation.
Flew has also warmed to contemporary design arguments: I think that the most impressive arguments for Gods existence are those that are supported by recent scientific discoveries. However, I think the argument to Intelligent Design is enormously stronger than it was when I first met it.
Is Genesis Scientifically Accurate?
In his 1998 book, The Science of God, and other works,7 Gerald Schroeder attempts to reconcile the Bible with modern science. I will only address the particular claim that Flew finds impressive, that our current cosmological understanding of the history of the universe was revealed in Genesis.8
Schroeder asserts that the six days of creation in the Bible really span 15.75 billion years of cosmic time. This he regards as a successful biblical prophecy, since it is a mere two billion years greater than the current best estimate of the age of the universe.
Let us see how Schroeder extracts this remarkable prophecy from Genesis. He obtains the cosmic time for creation by multiplying the six days of biblical time by the redshift of light at a moment in the early universe called quark confinement. The redshift tells us how much the frequency of a particular atomic spectral line decreases because of the expansion of the universe. That frequency, Schroeder argues, is the only proper clock for measuring cosmic time. At quark confinement, when atomic nuclei first form, the redshift is about a factor of a trillion.
Actually, Schroeder assumes a redshift factor of 9.5x1011. A more precise value, by current estimates, is 4.4x1012, which would have the six biblical days of creation last 72 billion years. So the biblical prophecy, by Schroeders own method of calculation, is over four times too high.
In any case, according to Schroeders choice of numbers, the first biblical day of creation is eight billion cosmic years long. Each succeeding day is half as long as the previous one in cosmic time, so, by the magic of the exponential function, we arrive at the time of Adam and Eve (plus or minus two billion years), at which moment conventional human time takes over. The 6,000 or so years from then to now, in human time, is insignificant on this scale, the last day of creation being 250 million cosmic years long.
As usual, prophecy is easy after the fact. Clearly, Schroeder played around with the numbers until he found that quark confinement gave him roughly the answer he wantedand even then, he used the wrong number. But in any case, our universe did not begin at quark confinement. It actually began about a millionth of a second earlier, at the so-called Planck time. At this time, the redshift was 1.6x1030. If Schroeder had used this redshift for his calculation, the six days of creation would have lasted over 1028 cosmic years!
Schroeder claims he chose quark confinement since, in day one of Genesis, light is separated from darkness. But there was no light at quark confinement. It took about another 400,000 years for light to appear, when radiation finally decoupled from matter. If Schroeder had used the redshift at radiation decoupling for his calculation, the six days of creation would have lasted only 6,000 years (not to be confused with the 6,000 years since Adam and Eve).
When I first read The Science of God, I thought it was a clever spoof on religious apologetics. Come on, Gerald, admit you are pulling Antonys leg!
In fact, the creation story in Genesis looks nothing like Big Bang cosmologyno matter how you spin it. In the Bible, the universe is a firmament and Earth is fixed and immovable (not to mention flat). In reality, the universe is expanding and Earth rotates about the sun. In the Bible, Earth is created in the first day, before the sun, moon, and stars. In reality, Earth did not form until nine billion years after the Big Bang and after the sun and many other stars.
Fine-tuning and Intelligent Design
Next, let me turn to the two other contemporary scientific claims that Flew finds impressivefine-tuning and Intelligent Design. These are no more than modernized variations on the ancient argument from design, which can be simply stated: I cannot understand how the universe and the enormous complexity of living things we see around us can have come about naturally. Therefore, they must have been created supernaturally.
In 1802, William Paley could not understand how the human eye, so fine-tuned for the collection of light and formation of images, could have developed naturally. So, he concluded, it had to be designed by God. Now we understand how eyes evolved several times by natural selection.
Today, Antony Flew cannot understand how the universe, so fine-tuned for the manufacture of the materials needed for living organisms, could have happened naturally. So, he concludes, it most likely had to be designed by at least some kind of minimal deity.
Apparently, Flew is unaware that physicists and cosmologists are not as totally stumped by fine-tuning as he seems to be. While slight changes in the constants of physics could make life as we know it impossible, what about life as we do not know it? We have no reason to believe that our kind of carbon-based life is the only form that is possible under every possible variation in constants and the laws of physics. I have shown that long-lived stars, which are regarded as necessary for the building of the chemical elements that constitute living structures, can be expected for a huge range of physical constants.9 Similarly, Anthony Aguir[r]e examined the universes that result when six cosmological parameters are varied by orders of magnitude and found that they do not preclude the existence of intelligent life.10
Furthermore, modern cosmology indicates that multiple universes may exist with different constants and laws of physics. In that case, it is no more surprising that we live in a universe suited for us than it is that we live on the planet suited for usEarth rather than Mars or Venus. The universe is not fine-tuned to life; life is fine-tuned to the universe.
Theists argue that the multiple universe hypothesis is nonparsimoniousa violation of Occams razor. On the contrary, multiple universes are implied by our best current knowledge. It takes an additional hypothesis, not required by the data, to rule them outthus multiplying hypotheses beyond necessity. No one thinks the atomic model, which multiplied the entities we deal with in physics by a factor of 1024, violated Occams razor.
However, I must emphasize that the failure of the fine-tuning argument does not rest upon the existence of multiple universes. It fails even for a single universe, since some form of life might have developed in whatever way that lonely universe happened to come about. At least we do not currently have the knowledge to say otherwise.
Finally, Flew says, the argument to Intelligent Design is enormously stronger than it was when I first met it. I am surprised that such a noted philosopher cannot see the fatal flaws in the Intelligent Design argument, as exemplified by Michael Behes irreducible complexity11 and William Dembskis design inference.12 They assert that a complex system can only arise out of something with high intelligence. Although complexity is difficult to define, we can reasonably expect a highly intelligent entity to be highly complex. Thus, it can only have arisen out of something even more intelligent and complex, in infinite regress. Its Intelligent Designers all the way down, not Aristotles first cause, as Flew seems to think.
Fortunately, we can avoid an infinite regress. We can just stop at the world. There is no reason why the physical universe cannot be its own first cause. As we know from both everyday experience and sophisticated scientific observations, complex systems develop from simpler systems all the time in naturewith not even low intelligence required. A mist of water vapor can freeze into a snowflake. Winds can carve out great cathedrals in rock. Brontosaurs can evolve from bacteria.
And our relatively complex universe could have arisen out of the entity that is the simplest and most mindless of allthe void.
1. Associated Press, December 9, 2004.
2. Antony Flew and Gary Habermas, "My Pilgrimage from Atheism to Theism," Philosophia Christi (Winter, 2004), to be published on the Web at http://www.biola.edu/antonyflew/index.cfm (accessed December 12, 2004).
3. Richard Carrier, Antony Flew Considers God Sort Of," The Secular Web (October 10, 2004), http://www.secweb.org/asset.asp?AssetID=369 (accessed on December 13, 2004).
4. Antony Flew, God and Philosophy (New York: Dell, 1966).
5. William Lane Craig, The Kalâm Cosmological Argument, Library of Philosophy and Religion (London: Macmillan, 1979).
6. Victor J. Stenger, Has Science Found God? The Latest Results in the Search for Purpose in the Universe (Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2003).
7. Gerald L. Schroeder, Genesis and the Big Bang: The Discovery of the Harmony between Modern Science and the Bible (New York: Bantam Books, 1992); The Science of God: The Convergence of Scientific and Biblical Wisdom (New York: Broadway Books, 1998); The Hidden Face of God, How Science Reveals the Ultimate Truth (New York: The Free Press, 2001).
8. I reviewed The Science of God in Victor J. Stenger, Fitting the Bible to the Data, Skeptical Inquirer 23, no. 4, (1999): 67. See also The Secular Web, http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/vic_stenger/schrev.html (accessed December 13, 2004) and Has Science Found God?, pp. 165170. A detailed critique of Schroeders three books can be found in Perakh, Mark, Not a Very Big Bang about Genesis, Talk Reason (December 2001), http://www.talkreason.org/articles/schroeder.cfm (accessed December 15, 2004).
9. Victor J. Stenger, The Unconscious Quantum: Metaphysics in Modern Physics and Cosmology (Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 1995), pp. 23538; Natural Explanations for the Anthropic Coincidences, Philo 3, no. 2 (2001): 5067.
10. Anthony Aguir[r]e, The Cold Big Bang Cosmology as a Counter-example to Several Anthropic Arguments, Physical Review D64 (2001): 083508.
11. Michael J. Behe, Darwins Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (New York: The Free Press, 1996).
12. William A. Dembski, The Design Inference (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).
Vic Stenger is Emeritus Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Hawaii and Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado.
Numerous FR threads have been devoted to the Flew flap. Although I may have missed a few, here's the list I've come up with (from latest to earliest):
01/11/2005: Antony Flew Considers God...Sort Of (Update - Jan. 2005)
01/11/2005: An Atheist Abandons Atheism
01/10/2005: Weighing the Evidence: An Atheist Abandons Atheism
12/29/2004: A Change of Mind for Antony Flew
12/24/2004: Going All the Way - An atheist "converts" to intelligent design. Why so timid, Mr. Flew?
12/21/2004: A Victory for Theism (The prominent atheist philosopher Antony Flew goes back to square one.)
12/13/2004: Sorry to Disappoint, Still an Atheist! [Antony Flew sets the record straight]
12/11/2004: Weighing the Evidence: An Atheist Abandons Atheism
12/10/2004: Atheist finds 'God' after 50 years
12/10/2004: Famous Atheist Now Believes in God
12/09/2004: Famous Atheist Now Believes in God
12/09/2004: Famous Atheist Now Believes in God
Here's a link to the Anthony Aguirre article that Stenger refers to:
"The Cold Big-Bang Cosmology as a Counter-example to Several Anthropic Arguments" [Abstract, PDF version]
And I can't resist linking to a few more articles by Aguirre (and co-authors):
"Steady-State Eternal Inflation" (co-authored with Steven Gratton) [Abstract, PDF version]
The clearest evidence of truly intelligent life are two things: an insatiable curiosity in matters most commonly referred to as "science", and an easy and unabashed admission that one does not and can not know everything.
The simple corrolary is the admission that one could be wrong, the ease in saying so, and the total absense of that most juvenile and (ignorant) of pronouncements when debating, "it's the truth".
I truly admire this man and am currently reading the two books he claims "brought him around" to his present state in the matter.
By the way, much gratitude for your compilation of articles. You have no idea how interesting this subject is beyond the recreational all fire-no light "evolution-creationist" debate crowd.
Are you certain that the void (i.e., blank non-entity, perfect emptiness) has to have come from something or from somewhere? Why?
I have to leave but I really want to hear the answer!
> but even if it did where did the void come from... there must be a being whose nature is beingness itself... hence God.
Why "hense God?" Why not "hense Astaroth?" Or "hense something else?"
I think you and certainly Cato1 misconstrue the philosophical and theological notion of the void.
The void is not 'perfect emptiness' since 'emptiness' implies extent
without content. The void simply isn't, therefore it doesn't 'come from something or from somewhere' because it isn't.
Theology is the one place where ordinary language and concepts collapse into complete irrelevancy in a more complete failure than in discussing quantum mechanics (where they don't do very well either).
Outside of creation (I don't want to use 'before' since time, as well as space are created), there is not God and the Void, but only the Uncreated God. 'EgO eimi ho On' (using o for omicron and O for omega and an h for the 'rough breathing') God replies from the burning bush when asked His name. (As an Orthodox Christian I regard the Septuigent, Greek Old Testament as authoritative, as did, evidently, the authors of the New Testament). In English, roughly "I am The Existing One" (or better "I am The Being" but with 'being' as a part of the verb to be rather than the English noun). Only God has absolute, uncontingent, unconditioned existence. As a guard against attaching to Him our finite conception of existence, some of the Church Fathers said things like "It is not strictly correct to say that God exists. Not that He lacks existence,
but that his supraexistential being is beyond existence." (from Dionysius
the Areopagites' The Names of God), or even "I believe in God, God does not exist." (I forget which of the Cappadocian Fathers).
All binary distinctions, being vs. non-being, fullness vs. emptiness, unity vs. multiplicity, even transcendence vs. immanence, are created. God is Uncreated.
(As an aside, I would note for Orthodox and Latin Christians creation ex nihilo is a Biblical doctrine, while for protestants it isn't: the only Scriptural testimony for the doctrine occurs in 2nd Macabbees--the widow Solomonia in exhorting her sons to accept martyrdom rather than abandon Judaism for paganism, testifies 'He created the world from nothing".)
BTW: Is the snark a boojum?
My last post answers that question. Paganism has no concept of 'beyond being' and vests absoluteness in concepts drawn from created being. "The gods of the nations are idols," as Scripture puts it.
Whether one ends up as a Christian, a deist or a Taoist, that which is beyond being is neither nothing, nor a bigger, badder version of us. (Though as a Christian, I believe His decisive self-revelation was through the Incarnation, as a standard-sized, better through the unconfused union of the two natures edition of us: Jesus Christ.)
True; different order, etc.
In the Bible, the universe is a firmament and Earth is fixed and immovable (not to mention flat). In reality, the universe is expanding and Earth rotates about the sun.
Come now, that's a bit ridiculous. Genesis clearly uses "observational" language, describing things from the perspective of a person on earth. Does the writer really refuse, in everyday language, to refer to the sky as "up" or the ground as "down"? Does he refuse to use the terms "sunrise" and "sunset"?
In the Bible, Earth is created in the first day, before the sun, moon, and stars. In reality, Earth did not form until nine billion years after the Big Bang and after the sun and many other stars.
Talk about using your conclusion to prove itself...
> My last post answers that question.
Not very well. You make assumptions aboutt he nature of God, and then use those asusmptions to *justify* the notion that God created the universe. Bad logic.
Start from scratch: assume there was opriginally nothing, and then the universe sprang into being, cause unknown. OK, for the sake of arguement assumed there was some Uncaused Cause. What *actual* *evidence* do you have that this UC was a "being" of some kind? That it had a thought process or desire?
Looks like we found the same passage to critique from different angles...you make good points.
No we don't. The studies that purport to show this are pure junk, wishful thinkings, and wild surmises by a few materialist true believers.
I don't get this. "Atomic" model? In context, it would seem that the Standard Model is intended, but invoking that does not seem to support his argument, since it reduces multitudes of possible particles to a small group of quarks and leptons. Occam would have loved it.
I think you and certainly Cato1 misconstrue the philosophical and theological notion of the void.
The void is not 'perfect emptiness' since 'emptiness' implies extent without content. The void simply isn't, therefore it doesn't 'come from something or from somewhere' because it isn't.
My first characterization was the more abstract one"blank non-entity"and your characterization agrees with it"[t]he void simply isn't". Nor am I certain that "emptiness" implies extent. We're probably running up against the limits of figurative speech here.
In the last part of your just-quoted statement, you're simply assuming as obvious your answer to the question I asked Cato1. But I'm not sure what Cato1 had in mind, and that's why I asked him the question I asked.
Outside of creation (I don't want to use 'before' since time, as well as space are created), there is not God and the Void, but only the Uncreated God.
Of course, 'outside of creation' has the whiff of extensive containment and non-containment about it, but, leaving that aside, what you say here (and what follows in your post) is dogma. I'm not at all sure that it falls within the purview of the notions of 'truth' and 'falsehood' (i.e., it may be that it's "not even wrong"). In particular, I don't know what meaning attaches to the following (my underlines):
Only God has absolute, uncontingent, unconditioned existence. As a guard against attaching to Him our finite conception of existence, some of the Church Fathers said things like "It is not strictly correct to say that God exists. Not that He lacks existence, but that his supraexistential being is beyond existence."
The early Catholic theorists knew their Proclus and Plotinus, and, through them, their Plato, but that doesn't guarantee that they were making sense. In Book VII of Plato's Republic, we hear of 'the Idea of the Good', which is said to be 'beyond being (ousia)'. This passage is the fons et origo of all later discussions of 'awesome priors' in the neo-Platonic and Catholic traditions. But, still, all of this sort of talk could well be based on what is simply an especially fulsome bit of Plato's "dear, gorgeous nonsense", an outflowing of his metaphysical enthusiasm that doesn't bear close scrutiny.
I will give you a fuller answer at length, but for now let me note that I am pleased you ask for evidence rather than argumentation.
Nothing is so vexing to me as both a mathematician and an Orthodox Christian as the Western tendency to regard theology as a synthetic science like mathematics rather than a positive science like physics.
SS. Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa and John Chrysostom's readings of Genesis look an awful lot like Big Bang cosmology and even evolutionary biology (!!!).
You might find the following link interesting: The Six Dawns by Alexander Kalomiros (translated from the Greek by George Gabriel)
Thanks for the link...bookmarked for later reading.
Victor Stenger propounds the most simplistic arguments possible. I read one or two of his books. He writes, “Arguments as to the statistical impossibility of the universe are simply wrong.” Now you do not counter mathematical calculations by saying “It’s wrong.” No, it is incumbent on the person claiming error to say WHY, quite precisely, it is wrong.
To cite but one example of Stenger’s error on Flew’s book, Stenger claims “infinite regress. It’s Intelligent Designers all the way down.” Well, no it isn’t. It is science’s position that everything must be explained, and explained in a naturalistic way. God, you see, is not naturalistic by any definition of the term. And God cannot be pigeonholed or characterized by man. God is simply inexplicable, and forever beyond our ability to comprehend, at least so long as we live here on planet earth.
So Flew’s logical point is simply that while science is clearly not up to the task of explaining all that surrounds us, God is up to that task. And as to where God came from, well you don’t even have to wait for the answer to that question. The Bible anticipated it, and said “I am.” God the eternal, never created, just was.
Either you have to believe that the universe made itself, out of nothing, and organized all the physics and chemistry books that exist, or else God is eternal. But please don’t fall for the Big Lie that Christians believe one need not study science. Only atheists prattle such nonsense.
[Stenger] writes, Arguments as to the statistical impossibility of the universe are simply wrong. Now you do not counter mathematical calculations by saying Its wrong. No, it is incumbent on the person claiming error to say WHY, quite precisely, it is wrong.
Statistical impossibility is not the same as statistical improbability. If no one is waiting around for something to happen, and if there's an infinite amount of time available, just about anything can happen. There's a non-zero (albeit exceedingly tiny) chance for a fully equipped Rolls Royce Silver Ghost to materialize somewhere in empty space, but you might have to wait a googol to the googol-th power of yearsor much, much longerto witness that (not to mention the fact that you'd have to be extraordinarily lucky to be near the spot that the materialization occurred).
It is sciences position that everything must be explained, and explained in a naturalistic way. God, you see, is not naturalistic by any definition of the term. And God cannot be pigeonholed or characterized by man. God is simply inexplicable, and forever beyond our ability to comprehend, at least so long as we live here on planet earth.
Giving up on doing science is not the same as doing science.
So Flews logical point is simply that while science is clearly not up to the task of explaining all that surrounds us, God is up to that task. And as to where God came from, well you dont even have to wait for the answer to that question. The Bible anticipated it, and said I am. God the eternal, never created, just was.
Invoking the inexplicable to explain the (potentially) explicable is not doing science. And I would point out that it's more correct to say that "science is clearly not up to the task of explaining all that surrounds us" at the present time.
Either you have to believe that the universe made itself, out of nothing, and organized all the physics and chemistry books that exist, or else God is eternal.
That's a false dichotomy. For one thing, it's quite possible that there was never nothing, that there has always been something. For another thing, perhaps a variety of deities cooperated to make the universe. Who knows? And that's the point.