Responding to the atheist Stuart Kauffman Part 2

Responding to the atheist Stuart Kauffman Part 2


The first post I did on Stuart Kauffman used the Fine Tuning Argument of Antony Flew against him among other things. Today I put an article by Kauffman on the question Does science make belief in God obsolete?, and his article asserts, “No, but only if…” Then I post right behind it a response by William D. Phillips. Phillips, a Nobel Laureate in physics, is a fellow of the Joint Quantum Institute of the University of Maryland and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. In this article by Phillips he asserts, “Recently, the philosopher and long-time atheist Anthony Flew changed his mind and decided that, based on such evidence, he should believe in God.”



Antony Flew pictured below:


Does science make belief in God obsolete?

Stuart KauffmanNo, but only if…

we continue to develop new notions of God, such as a fully natural God that is the creativity in the cosmos.

Humans have been worshipping gods for thousands of years. Our sense of God in the Western world has evolved from Abraham’s jealous God Yahweh to the God of love of the New Testament. Science and faith have split modern societies just as some form of global civilization is emerging. One result is a retreat into religious fundamentalisms, often bitterly hostile. The schism between science and religion can be healed, but it will require a slow evolution from a supernatural, theistic God to a new sense of a fully natural God as our chosen symbol for the ceaseless creativity in the natural universe. This healing may also require a transformation of science to a new scientific worldview with a place for the ceaseless creativity in the universe that we can call God.

We must “reinvent the sacred,” but it is dangerous: it implies that the sacred is invented. For billions of believers this is Godless heresy. Yet how many gods have we worshiped down the eons? It is we who have told our gods what is sacred, not they who have told us. This does not mean that what we deem sacred is not sacred. It means something wonderful: what we deem sacred is our own choice. At this stage in the evolution of humanity, are we ready to take responsibility for what we will claim as sacred, including all of life and the planet? If so, we must also avoid a dangerous moral hegemony and find ways to allow our sense of the sacred to evolve wisely as well. Reinventing the sacred is also likely to anger many who, like myself, do not believe in a supernatural God. For many of us, the very words “God” and “sacred” have become profoundly suspect. We think of Galileo forced to recant his heliocentric views by the Inquisition. We do not want to return to any form of religion that demands that we abandon the truth of the real world. We think of the millions killed in the name of God. We often ignore the solace, union with God, and the orientation for living that religion brings.

I believe that reinventing the sacred is a global cultural imperative. A global race is under way, between the retreat into fundamentalisms and the construction of a safe, shared space for our spirituality that might also ease those fundamentalist fears.

The new scientific worldview is just beginning to become visible. It goes beyond the reductionism of Descartes, Galileo, and Laplace in which all that occurs in the universe is ultimately to be described by physical law. In its place, this new scientific vision includes the emergence of life, and with life, of agency, meaning, value, doing, hence of “ought” and ultimately our moral reasoning. The rudiments of morality are already seen in the higher primates. Evolution, despite the fears of some faithful, is the first source of morality. While no law of physics is broken, the emergence of all this in the natural evolution of the biosphere cannot be deduced by physics alone.

What we think of as natural law may not suffice to explain nature. We now know, for example, that evolution includes Darwinian pre-adaptations – unused features of organisms that may become useful in a different environment and thus emerge as novel functionalities, such as our middle ear bones, which arose from the jaw bones of an early fish. Could we prestate all the possible Darwinian preadaptations even for humans, let alone predict them? It would seem unlikely. And if not, the evolution of the biosphere, the economy, and civilization are partially beyond natural law.

If this view holds, then we will undergo a major transformation in our understanding of science. Partially beyond law, we are in a co-constructing, ceaselessly creative universe whose detailed unfolding cannot be predicted. Therefore, we truly cannot know all that will happen. In that case, reason, the highest virtue of our beloved Enlightenment, is an insufficient guide to living our lives. We must reunite reason with our entire humanity. And in the face of what can only be called Mystery, we need a means to orient our lives. That we do, in reality, live in the face of an unknown is one root of humanity’s age old need for a supernatural God.

Yet our Abrahamic God is too narrow a stage for our full human spirituality. In the Old Testament, this God created the world and all its creatures for the benefit of humanity. How self-serving and limiting a vision of God. How much vaster are our lives understood as part of the unfolding of the entire universe? We are invited to awe, gratitude, and stewardship. This planet and this life are God’s work, not ours. If God is the creativity in the universe, we are not made in God’s image. We too are God. We can now choose to assume responsibility for ourselves and our world, to the best of our limited wisdom, together with our most powerful symbol: God, as the creativity in the natural universe.


Stuart Kauffman is the director of the Institute for Biocomplexity and Informatics at the University of Calgary and an external professor at the Santa Fe Institute. His most recent book is Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason, and Religion.



This article was written in response to the article above:

William D. PhillipsAbsolutely not!

Now that we have scientific explanations for the natural phenomena that mystified our ancestors, many scientists and non-scientists believe that we no longer need to appeal to a supernatural God for explanations of anything, thereby making God obsolete. As for people of faith, many of them believe that science, by offering such explanations, opposes their understanding that the universe is the loving and purposeful creation of God. Because science denies this fundamental belief, they conclude that science is mistaken. These very different points of view share a common conviction: that science and religion are irreconcilable enemies. They are not.I am a physicist. I do mainstream research; I publish in peer-reviewed journals; I present my research at professional meetings; I train students and postdoctoral researchers; I try to learn from nature how nature works. In other words, I am an ordinary scientist. I am also a person of religious faith. I attend church; I sing in the gospel choir; I go to Sunday school; I pray regularly; I try to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God.” In other words, I am an ordinary person of faith. To many people, this makes me a contradiction – a serious scientist who seriously believes in God. But to many more people, I am someone just like them. While most of the media’s attention goes to the strident atheists who claim that religion is foolish superstition, and to the equally clamorous religious creationists who deny the clear evidence for cosmic and biological evolution, a majority of the people I know have no difficulty accepting scientific knowledge and holding to religious faith.As an experimental physicist, I require hard evidence, reproducible experiments, and rigorous logic to support any scientific hypothesis. How can such a person base belief on faith? In fact there are two questions: “How can I believe in God?” and “Why do I believe in God?”On the first question: a scientist can believe in God because such belief is not a scientific matter. Scientific statements must be “falsifiable.” That is, there must be some outcome that at least in principle could show that the statement is false. I might say, “Einstein’s theory of relativity correctly describes the behavior of visible objects in our solar system.” So far, extremely careful measurements have failed to prove that statement false, but they could (and some people have invested careers in trying to see if they will). By contrast, religious statements are not necessarily falsifiable. I might say, “God loves us and wants us to love one another.” I cannot think of anything that could prove that statement false. Some might argue that if I were more explicit about what I mean by God and the other concepts in my statement, it would become falsifiable. But such an argument misses the point. It is an attempt to turn a religious statement into a scientific one. There is no requirement that every statement be a scientific statement. Nor are non-scientific statements worthless or irrational simply because they are not scientific. “She sings beautifully.” “He is a good man.” “I love you.” These are all non-scientific statements that can be of great value. Science is not the only useful way of looking at life.

What about the second question: why do I believe in God? As a physicist, I look at nature from a particular perspective. I see an orderly, beautiful universe in which nearly all physical phenomena can be understood from a few simple mathematical equations. I see a universe that, had it been constructed slightly differently, would never have given birth to stars and planets, let alone bacteria and people. And there is no good scientific reason for why the universe should not have been different. Many good scientists have concluded from these observations that an intelligent God must have chosen to create the universe with such beautiful, simple, and life-giving properties. Many other equally good scientists are nevertheless atheists. Both conclusions are positions of faith. Recently, the philosopher and long-time atheist Anthony Flew changed his mind and decided that, based on such evidence, he should believe in God. I find these arguments suggestive and supportive of belief in God, but not conclusive. I believe in God because I can feel God’s presence in my life, because I can see the evidence of God’s goodness in the world, because I believe in Love and because I believe that God is Love.

Does this belief make me a better person or a better physicist than others? Hardly. I know plenty of atheists who are both better people and better scientists than I. I do think that this belief makes me better than I would be if I did not believe. Am I free of doubts about God? Hardly. Questions about the presence of evil in the world, the suffering of innocent children, the variety of religious thought, and other imponderables often leave me wondering if I have it right, and always leave me conscious of my ignorance. Nevertheless, I do believe, more because of science than in spite of it, but ultimately just because I believe. As the author of Hebrews put it: “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”



William D. Phillips, a Nobel Laureate in physics, is a fellow of the Joint Quantum Institute of the University of Maryland and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.


Jesus’ Resurrection: Atheist, Antony Flew, and Theist, Gary Habermas, Dialogue

Published on Apr 7, 2012 – Did Jesus die, was he buried, and what happened afterward? Join legendary atheist Antony Flew and Christian historian and apologist Gary Habermas in a discussion about the facts surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Join the third and final debate between Flew and Habermas, one that took place shortly before Flew admitted there might be a God, just before his death.

Over the past two decades, The Veritas Forum has been hosting vibrant discussions on life’s hardest questions and engaging the world’s leading colleges and universities with Christian perspectives and the relevance of Jesus. Learn more at, with upcoming events and over 600 pieces of media on topics including science, philosophy, music, business, medicine, and more!

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Antony Flew, a legendary British philosopher and atheist, has changed his mind about the existence of God in light of recent scientific evidence.Flew — a prolific author who has argued against the existence of God and the claims of Christianity for more than 50 years — first revealed his change of mind in a video of a discussion with several others at New York University organized by the Institute for Metascientific Research. The video, released in December, is titled, “Has Science Discovered God?”Flew said he is now best described as a deist — a person who believes God created the universe but is not actively involved in people’s lives today.”I don’t believe in the God of any revelatory system, although I am open to that,” Flew said in an interview for the winter 2005 edition of Philosophia Christi, the journal of the Evangelical Philosophical Society. “But it seems to me that the case for … [a] God who has the characteristics of power and also intelligence is now much stronger than it ever was before.”Flew, 81, regularly attended the Socratic Club, a weekly religious forum led by famed Christian apologist C.S. Lewis while he attended college at Oxford. Flew proclaimed the lack of evidence for God while teaching at Oxford, Aberdeen, Keele and Reading universities in Britain. He also published numerous books and articles denouncing belief in God.Flew credits his newfound belief in God to arguments from design such as those espoused by the “intelligent design” (ID) movement. ID argues that the universe operates in such a way that it points to the existence of an intelligent creator.”I think that the most impressive arguments for God’s existence are those that are supported by recent scientific discoveries,” Flew said. “… I think the argument to Intelligent Design is enormously stronger than it was when I first met it.”Although many atheists appeal to naturalistic evolution as a method by which the world could have come into existence apart from God, Charles Darwin himself acknowledged that the process of evolution requires a creator to start the process, Flew said.”Darwin himself, in the fourteenth chapter of The Origin of Species, pointed out that his whole argument began with a being which already possessed reproductive powers,” Flew said. “This is the creature the evolution of which a truly comprehensive theory of evolution must give some account. Darwin himself was well aware that he had not produced such an account.”While Flew said he does not believe in a God who is active in the lives of humans, he is “open to” the possibility of divine revelation. He also believes that Christians are intellectually justified in holding to their religion and that the resurrection of Jesus has more evidential support than any other reported miracle in history.”The evidence for the resurrection is better than for claimed miracles in any other religion,” Flew said. “It’s outstandingly different in quality and quantity, I think, from the evidence offered for the occurrence of most other supposedly miraculous events.”Gary Habermas, chairman of the department of philosophy and theology at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., told Baptist Press that Flew’s decision to believe in God points to the strength of theistic arguments.”His conversion is a testimony to the many, especially scientific figures, who are coming by way of intelligent design,” said Habermas, who conducted the interview with Flew in Philosophia Christi. “… The fact that he has become a theist is a testimony to the type of evidence we have for God’s existence today.”Flew’s status as a world-famous atheist makes his conversion to belief in God particularly significant, Habermas said in an interview with Baptist Press.”His conversion to theism is very valuable because of his stature,” Habermas said. “The reason this story is going around the world is that he, not just anybody, but he, has converted to theism. I think that’s very significant.”Despite his belief in the existence of God, Flew said it is unlikely that he will ever become a Christian. The major evidence against the God of Christianity is the problem of evil, Flew said.The problem of evil refers to the apparent tension between the existence of a good God and the presence of evil in the world.”The problem of evil is a problem … for Christians,” Flew said. “The thesis that the universe was created and is sustained by a Being of infinite power and goodness is flatly incompatible with the occurrence of massive undeniable and undenied evils in that universe.”Flew also argues that God does not have “any preferences … about or any intentions concerning human behavior or about the eternal destinies of human beings.”Although he does not accept Christianity, Flew emphatically denies the possibility that he would ever become a follower of Islam, citing Islam’s commitment to conquer all of its opponents.”I would never regard Islam with anything but horror and fear because it is fundamentally committed to conquering the world for Islam,” Flew said.Flew will present a more fully developed explanation of his conversion to belief in God in a forthcoming edition of his book, “God & Philosophy.”Earlier works by Flew include “Atheistic Humanism,” “Darwinian Evolution,” “A Dictionary of Philosophy,” “Introduction to Western Philosophy” and “How to Think Straight: An Introduction to Critical Reasoning.

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