Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Abandoning Atheism

In 2013 Thomas Nagel, a leading atheistic philosopher from NYU, was branded a heretic by many of his academic colleagues for his public dissent from Darwinism. In his controversial book, Mind and Cosmos, Nagel comes “out of the closet” and admits he has serious misgivings about the theory of evolution to explain the origin of life.

Nagel argues that evolution’s main failing is that it cannot explain how the random process of matter rearranging itself could ever give rise to consciousness. The raw elements of the universe do not have the mind or will to choose to create themselves into more complex life-forms. In short, matter cannot produce mind.

Nagel said, “For a long time I have found the materialist account of how we and our fellow organisms came to exist hard to believe, including the standard version of how the evolutionary process works . . . Believing, as Darwinists do, life arose first from accidental chemical reactions in the primordial ooze, and, once established, progressed via the mechanism of natural selection to create all the wonders of human consciousness, flies in the face of common sense.”[1]

As you might imagine Nagel received harsh criticism from others in the camp of unbelief. Steven Pinker, a cognitive scientist at MIT called Nagel’s work, “the shoddy reasoning of a once-great thinker.” Nagel has not abandoned his atheism just yet, but at least he is intellectually honest to concede that Darwin’s theory is seriously flawed.    

What is interesting is that Nagel is not alone. In fact, in recent times there have been many outspoken atheists who have jumped from their ivory towers of scientific skepticism. Here are just a few other examples:

Antony Flew was one of the world’s most popular and published atheists, boasting over thirty books on his godless worldview. However, in 2004 at the age of 81, Flew announced that his atheism was no longer intellectually tenable. An Associated Press story carried the news, “A British philosophy professor who has been a leading champion of atheism for more than a half-century has changed his mind. He now believes in God.”[2] Flew was adamant that he had not become a Christian, but rather a deist like Thomas Jefferson.

Flew gave his reasoning for adopting faith in a Creator, “What I think the discovery of DNA has done is show that intelligence must have been involved in getting these extraordinary diverse elements together. It could be a person in the sense of a being that has intelligence and a purpose.”[3]
Simply changing from “no God” to “God” was enough to send shock waves through the ranks of atheism. The cover of his 2007 book tells the whole story. The title, reads, There Is No A God. One review described the book as “a most uncomfortable jolt to those who were once his fellow atheists.”[4]       

Francis Collins grew up an avowed atheist. He enrolled in Yale University as a young man and there his studies in science further confirmed his disbelief in God. He concluded that religion and faith was a carryover from an earlier, irrational time, and now that science had begun to figure out how things really work, and so we didn’t need the crutch of God anymore.

Midway through his scientific career, Collins changed courses and became a doctor. He was not prepared for how the medical profession would challenge his airtight worldview. What changed his thinking was how his patients handled death. Many had terrible diseases from which they were probably not going to escape, and yet instead of railing at God, they seemed to lean on their faith as a source of great comfort and reassurance. This was interesting and unsettling to Dr. Collins.

Dr. Collins said, “As I began to ask a few questions of those people, I realized something very fundamental: I had made a decision to reject any faith view of the world without ever really knowing what it was that I had rejected. And that worried me. As a scientist, you're not supposed to make decisions without the data. It was pretty clear I hadn't done any data collecting here about what these faiths stood for.”[5] Collins started talking to a local Methodist minister who answered his questions about God. 

Then he started reading C.S. Lewis’ classic work, Mere Christianity. Collins long held atheism began to crack. “I didn't want this conclusion,” speaking of God’s existence. “I was very happy with the idea that God didn't exist, and had no interest in me. And yet at the same time, I could not turn away. I had to keep turning those pages. I had to keep trying to understand this. I had to see where it led. But I still didn't want to make that decision to believe.”

Collins ended up giving his life to Christ at the age of twenty-seven. In 1993 he was given one of the most prestigious jobs in all of science. He became the director of The Human Genome Project whose mission was to map out and decode the genetic code found in DNA.
In one of his books Collins wrote, “I do not believe that the God who created all the universe, and who communes with His people through prayer and spiritual insight, would expect us to deny the obvious truths of the natural world that science has revealed to us, in order to prove our love for Him . . . The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome. He can be worshiped in the cathedral or the laboratory.”[6]

Whether an atheist by choice or by callousness, it takes a lot of energy to maintain atheism. It takes energy to surpass evidence that is abundantly available. In Romans 1:18-20 Paul wrote about those who suppress the truth, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”

We have overwhelming evidence for God, but that evidence can only lead us so far. Often times people stop at the edge of reason and the beginning of faith and insist on another piece of evidence before they take that step. However, we must come to point where we say, “God there is no way I can know everything, but I believe there is enough evidence to place my trust in what you have said about Your Son being the way to eternal life.” 

[1] Joseph Brean, “’What Has Gotten into Thomas Nagel?’: Leading Atheist Branded a ‘Heretic’ for Daring to Question Darwinism,” National Post, 23 March 2013  <http://life.nationalpost.com/2013/03/23/what-has-gotten-into-thomas-nagel-leading-atheist-branded-a-heretic-for-daring-to-question-darwinism/> 
[2] Richard Ostling, “Famous Atheist Now Believes in God,” The Associated Press, 9 December 2004 <http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory?id=315976>
[3] Ibid.
[4] A.N. Wilson, “Can You Love God and Agree with Darwin?” New Statesman, 2 April 2009
[5] Francis Collins, “The Question of God,” PBS 2004
[6] Francis Collins, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2006), 220-211.

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