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Science and the Mind of God: Oxford Prof Lennox

Another intellectual – Prof of Mathematics and Fellow in the Philosophy of Science at Oxford – is struck by the same compelling Facts that so stunned atheists from Hoyle to Flew.

This review of his book,  God’s Undertaker – Has Science Buried God? alludes to insights of the astonishing fine-tuning of the physical constants that alone make life possible, commenting:

Such features of cosmic design were what led Sir Fred Hoyle to state that “there are no blind forces in nature worth talking about”, and Paul Davies to conclude, simply, “ the impression of design is overwhelming”.

On the mind-boggling complexity of a the simplest living cell:

Quoting geneticist Michael Denton, he points out that the break between the non-living and the living world represents the most dramatic and fundamental of the “discontinuities in nature”: “Between a living cell and the most highly ordered non-biological systems, such as a crystal or a snowflake, there is a chasm as vast and absolute as it is possible to conceive.”

Denton has said that even the simplest cell of all, a bacterial cell, is “a veritable micro-miniaturised factory containing thousands of exquisitely designed pieces of intricate molecular machinery, made up altogether of 100 thousand million atoms, far more complicated than any machine built by man and absolutely without parallel in the non-living world.”

He also points out that there is little evidence of evolution among cells: “Molecular biology has also shown us that the basic design of the cell system is essentially the same in all living systems on earth from bacteria to mammals. In all organisms the roles of DNA, mRNA and protein are identical. The meaning of the genetic code is also virtually identical in all cells.”

In summary, he says there is not “the slightest empirical hint” of an evolutionary sequence among all the incredibly diverse cells on earth. This view was echoed by Nobel Prize-winning biologist Jacques Monod: “The simplest cells available to us for study have nothing ‘primitive’ about them.”

And nowhere else have I read Bill Gates and Antony Flew quoted in the same passage:

Lennox and other scientists compare DNA to a computer language and say that the cell’s information processing capacity far outstrips anything present-day computers can do. As Microsoft’s founder, Bill Gates, has pointed out, “DNA is like a computer program, but far, far more advanced than any software we’ve ever created.”

It was this very fact which led atheist philosopher Antony Flew to change his mind about God: “What I think the DNA material has done is that it has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce (life), that intelligence must have been involved in getting these extraordinarily diverse elements to work together. It’s the enormous complexity of the number of elements and the enormous subtlety of the ways they work together. The meeting of these two parts at the right time by chance is simply minute. It is all a matter of the enormous complexity by which the results were achieved, which looked to me like the work of intelligence.”

In conclusion:

Lennox points out that the obvious conclusion that arises from reflecting on the reality that sciences like physics and biology have uncovered is that “information and intelligence are fundamental to the existence of the universe and life and, far from being the end products of an unguided natural process starting with energy and matter, they are involved from the very beginning”. In other words, the whole universe has the unmistakeable signature of monumental design about it.

Hmmm…  Perhaps future generations will look back on the petulant athesim of this generation as an aberration. Atheism might increasingly seem trivial, even stupid and not worth taking seriously. But I do not think – and I am relieved by this – that acknowledgment, with Polkinghorne, that ‘the universe is shot through with signs of Mind’, compels one to an orthodox monotheistic conclusion. I do not think that we should ever be compelled; just that such a conclusion should be eminently reasonable and convincing. So I think the Gaia-pantheists will readily adapt these insights to an idea of a “cosmic brain” along the lines of Flannery’s  “global brain”. The monotheistic Muslims, Jews, Christians and sects will all be reinforced in their differing views. The determined materialists will still manage to depersonalise the implications of ‘apparent design’, finding some pseudo-scientific formulation that makes Mind just Matter after all. But at least the atheistic cheap shots at Mind of God insights will be well and truly over.

As far as it goes, that is a revival of natural theology in the broadest vaguest sense – but it only goes to that early chapter of Romans where “what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made”. The Christian reaches his highly-personalised conclusion by other, higher-order encounters than merely revering the mathematical beauty of the Universe. He is confronted by a claim and a question: “In the beginning was the Word… and the Word became flesh… Who, then, do you say that I am?”.

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