There are significant turning points in the history of mankind. We are now living in one of them. Some call it globalization and some say that this is the genesis of the “information age.” These are true, but there is yet a more important concept than these. Although some are unaware of it, great advances have been made in science and philosophy in the last 20-25 years. Atheism, which has held sway over the world of science and philosophy since the 19th century is now collapsing in an inevitable way.
Of course, atheism, the idea of rejecting God’s existence, has always existed from ancient times. But the rise of this idea actually began in the 18th century in Europe with the spread and political effect of the philosophy of some anti-religious thinkers. Materialists such as Diderot and Baron d'Holbach proposed that the universe was a conglomeration of matter that had existed forever and that nothing else existed besides matter. In the 19th century, atheism spread even farther. Thinkers such as Marx, Engels, Nietsche, Durkheim or Freud applied atheist thinking to different fields of science and philosophy.
The greatest support for atheism came from Charles Darwin who rejected the idea of creation and proposed the theory of evolution to counter it. Darwinism gave a supposedly scientific answer to the question that had baffled atheists for centuries: "How did human beings and living things come to be?" This theory convinced a great many people of its claim that there was a mechanism in nature that animated lifeless matter and produced millions of different living species from it.
Towards the end of the 19th century, atheists formulated a world view that they thought explained everything; they denied that the universe was created saying that it had no beginning but had existed forever. They claimed that the universe had no purpose but that its order and balance were the result of chance; they believed that the question of how human beings and other living things came into being was answered by Darwinism. They believed that Marx or Durkheim had explained history and sociology, and that Freud had explained psychology on the basis of atheist assumptions.
However, these views were later invalidated in the 20th century by scientific, political and social developments. Many and various discoveries in the fields of astronomy, biology, psychology and social sciences have nullified the bases of all atheist suppositions.
In his book, God: The Evidence, The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason in a Postsecular World, the American scholar Patrick Glynn from the George Washington University writes:
The past two decades of research have overturned nearly all the important assumptions and predictions of an earlier generation of modern secular and atheist thinkers relating to the issue of God. Modern thinkers assumed that science would reveal the universe to be ever more random and mechanical; instead it has discovered unexpected new layers of intricate order that bespeak an almost unimaginably vast master design. Modern psychologists predicted that religion would be exposed as a neurosis and outgrown; instead, religious commitment has been shown empirically to be a vital component of basic mental health…
Few people seem to realize this, but by now it should be clear: Over the course of a century in the great debate between science and faith, the tables have completely turned. In the wake of Darwin, atheists and agnostics like Huxley and Russell could point to what appeared to be a solid body of testable theory purportedly showing life to be accidental and the universe radically contingent. Many scientists and intellectuals continue to cleave to this worldview. But they are increasingly pressed to almost absurd lengths to defend it. Today the concrete data point strongly in the direction of the God hypothesis.
Science, which has been presented as the pillar of atheist/materialist philosophy, turns out to be the opposite. As another writer puts it, "The strict materialism that excludes all purpose, choice and spirituality from the world simply cannot account for the data pour in from labs and observatories."
In this article, we will briefly analyze the conclusions arrived at by different branches of science on this issue and examine what the forthcoming “post-atheist” period will bring to humanity.
Cosmology: The Collapse of the Concept of An Eternal Universe And the Discovery of Creation
The first blow to atheism from science in the 20th century was in the field of cosmology. The idea that the universe had existed forever was discounted and it was discovered that it had a beginning; in other words, it was scientifically proved that it was created from nothing.
This idea of an eternal universe came to the Western world along with materialist philosophy. This philosophy, developed in ancient Greece, stated that nothing else exists besides matter and that the universe comes from eternity and goes to eternity. In the Middle Ages when the Church dominated Western thought, materialism was forgotten. However in the modern period, Western scientists and philosophers became consumed by a curiosity about these ancient Greek origins and revived an interest in materialism.
The first person in the modern age to propose a materialist understanding of the universe was the renowned German philosopher Immanuel Kant—even though he has not a materialist in the philosophical sense of the word. Kant proposed that the universe was eternal and that every possibility could be realized only within this eternity. With the coming of the 19th century, it became widely accepted that the universe had no beginning, and that there was no moment of creation. Then, this idea, adopted passionately by dialectical materialists such as Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, came into the 20th century.
This idea has always been compatible with atheism. This is because to accept that the universe had a beginning would mean that God created it and the only way to counter this idea was to claim that the universe was eternal, even though this claim had no basis on science. A dogged proponent of this claim was Georges Politzer who became widely known as a supporter of materialism and Marxism in the first half of the 20th century through his book Principes Fondamentaux de Philosophie (The Fundamental Principles of Philosophy). Assuming the validity of the model of an eternal universe, Politzer opposed the idea of a creation:
The universe was not a created object, if it were, then it would have to be created instantaneously by God and brought into existence from nothing. To admit creation, one has to admit, in the first place, the existence of a moment when the universe did not exist, and that something came out of nothingness. This is something to which science can not accede.
By supporting the idea of an eternal universe against that of creation, Politzer thought that science was on his side. However, very soon, the fact that Politzer alluded to by his words, “if it is so, we must accept the existence of a creator”, that is, that the universe had a beginning, was proven.
This proof came as a result of the “Big Bang” theory, perhaps the most important concept of 20th century astronomy.
The Big Bang theory was formulated after a series of discoveries. In 1929, the American astronomer, Edwin Hubble, noticed that the galaxies of the universe were continually moving away from one another and that the universe was expanding. If the flow of time in an expanding universe were reversed, then it emerged that the whole universe must have come from a single point. Astronomers assessing the validity of Hubble’s discovery were faced with the fact that this single point was a “metaphysical” state of reality in which there was an infinite gravitational attraction with no mass. Matter and time came into being by the explosion of this mass-less point. In other words, the universe was created from nothing.
On the one hand, those astronomers who are determined to cling to materialist philosophy with its basic idea of an eternal universe, have attempted to hold out against the Big Bang theory and maintain the idea of an eternal universe. The reason for this effort can be seen in the words of Arthur Eddington, a renowned materialist physicist, who said, "Philosophically, the notion of an abrupt beginning to the present order of Nature is repugnant to me". But despite the fact that the Big Bang theory is repugnant to materialists, this theory has continued to be corroborated by concrete scientific discoveries. In their observations made in the 1960’s, two scientists, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, detected the radioactive remains of the explosion (cosmic background radiation). These observations were verified in the 1990’s by the COBE (Cosmic Background Explorer) satellite.
In the face of all these facts, atheists have been squeezed into a corner. Anthony Flew, an atheist professor of
philosophy at the University of Reading and the author of Atheistic Humanism, makes this interesting confession:
Notoriously, confession is good for the soul. I will therefore begin by confessing that the Stratonician atheist has to be embarrassed by the contemporary cosmological consensus. For it seems that the cosmologists are providing a scientific proof of what St. Thomas contended could not be proved philosophically; namely, that the universe had a beginning. So long as the universe can be comfortably thought of as being not only without end but also without beginning, it remains easy to urge that its brute existence, and whatever are found to be its most fundamental features, should be accepted as the explanatory ultimates. Although I believe that it remains still correct, it certainly is neither easy nor comfortable to maintain this position in the face of the Big Bang story
An example of the atheist reaction to the Big Bang theory can be seen in an article written in 1989 by John Maddox, editor of Nature, one of the best-known materialist-scientific journals.
In that article, called “Down With the Big Bang,” Maddox wrote that the Big Bang is “philosophically unacceptable,” because “creationists and those of similar persuasions… have ample justification in the doctrine of the Big Bang.” He also predicted that the Big Bang “is unlikely to survive the decade ahead.” However, despite Maddox’ hopes, Big Bang has gained credence and many discoveries have been made that prove the creation of the universe.
Some materialists have a relatively logical view of this matter. For example, the English materialist physicist, H.P. Lipson, unwillingly accepts the scientific fact of creation. He writes:
I think …that we must…admit that the only acceptable explanation is creation. I know that this is anathema to physicists, as indeed it is to me, but we must not reject that we do not like if the experimental evidence supports it.
Thus, the fact arrived at finally by modern astronomy is this: time and matter were brought into being by an eternally powerful Creator independent of both of them. The eternal power that created the universe in which we live is God who is the possessor of infinite might, knowledge and wisdom.
Physics and Astronomy: The Collapse of the Idea of a Random Universe and The Discovery of the Anthropic Principle
A second atheist dogma rendered invalid in the 20th century by discoveries in astronomy is the idea of a random universe. The view that the matter in the universe, the heavenly bodies and the laws that determine the relationships among them has no purpose but is the result of chance, has been dramatically discounted.
For the first time since the 1970’s, scientists have begun to recognize the fact that the whole physical balance of the universe is adjusted delicately in favor of human life. With the advance of research, it has been discovered that the physical, chemical and biological laws of the universe, basic forces such as gravity and electro-magnetism, the structure of atoms and elements are all ordered exactly as they have to be for human life. Western scientists have called this extraordinary design the “anthropic principle”. That is, every aspect of the universe is designed with a view to human life.
We may summarize the basics of the anthropic principle as follows:
- The speed of the first expansion of the universe (the force of the Big Bang explosion) was exactly the velocity that it had to be. According to scientists’ calculations, if the expansion rate had differed from its actual value by more than one part in a billion billion, then the universe would either have recollapsed before it ever reached its present size or else have splattered in every direction in a way never to unite again. To put it another way, even at the first moment of the universe’s existence there was a fine calculation of the accuracy of a billion billionth.
- The four physical forces in the universe (gravitational force, weak nuclear force, strong nuclear force, and electromagnetic force) are all at the necessary levels for an ordered universe to emerge and for life to exist. Even the tiniest variations in these forces (for example, one in 1039, or one in 1028; that is—crudely calculated—one in a billion billion billion billion), the universe would either be composed only of radiation or of no other element besides hydrogen.
- There are many other delicate adjustments that make the earth ideal for human life: the size of the sun, its distance from the earth, the unique physical and chemical properties of water, the wavelength of the sun’s rays, the way that the earth’s atmosphere contains the gases necessary to allow respiration, or the Earth’s magnetic field being ideally suited to human life.
This delicate balance is one of the most striking discoveries of modern astrophysics. The wellknown astronomer, Paul Davies, writes in the last paragraph of his book The Cosmic Blueprint, "The impression of Design is overwhelming."
In an article in the journal Nature, the astrophysicist W. Press writes, "there is a grand design in the Universe that favors the development of intelligent life."
The interesting thing about this is that the majority of the scientists that have made these discoveries were of the materialist point of view and came to this conclusion unwillingly. They did not undertake their scientific investigations hoping to find a proof for God’s existence. But most of them, if not all of them, despite their unwillingness, arrived at this conclusion as the only explanation for the extraordinary design of the universe.
In his book, The Symbiotic Universe the American astronomer, George Greenstein, acknowledges this fact:
How could this possibly have come to pass [that the laws of physics conform themselves to life]? …As we survey all the evidence, the thought insistently arises that some supernatural agency—or, rather Agency—must be involved. Is it possible that suddenly, without intending to, we have stumbled upon scientific proof of the existence of a Supreme Being? Was it God who stepped in and so providentially crafted the cosmos for our benefit?
By beginning his question with “Is it possible”, Greenstein, an atheist, tries to ignore that plain fact that has confronted him. But many scientists who have approached the question without prejudice acknowledge that the universe has been created especially for human life. Materialism is now being viewed as an erroneous belief outside the realm of science. The American geneticist, Robert Griffiths, acknowledges this fact when he says, “If we need an atheist for a debate, I go to the philosophy department. The physics department isn't much use.”
In his book Nature’s Destiny: How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe, which examines how physical, chemical and biological laws are amazingly calculated in an “ideal” way with a view to the requirements of human life, the well-known molecular biologist, Michael Denton writes:
The new picture that has emerged in twentieth-century astronomy presents a dramatic challenge to the presumption which has been prevalent within scientific circles during most of the past four centuries: that life is a peripheral and purely contingent phenomenon in the cosmic scheme.
In short, the idea of a random universe, perhaps atheism’s most basic pillar, has been proved invalid. Scientists now openly speak of the collapse of materialism. The supposition whose falsity God reveals in the Qur’an, “We did not create heaven and earth and everything between them to no purpose. That is the opinion of those who disbelieve…” (Qur’an, 38: 27) was shown to be invalid by science in the 1970’s.
(1) Patrick Glynn, God: The Evidence, The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason in a Postsecular World , Prima Publishing, California, 1997, pp.19-20, 53
(2)Bryce Christensen, in a review of Gerald Shroeder's book The Hidden Face of God, Booklist March 15, 2001
(3) George Politzer, Principes Fondamentaux de Philosophie, Editions Sociales, Paris, 1954, p. 84
(4) S. Jaki, Cosmos and Creator, Regnery Gateway, Chicago, 1980, p.54
(5) Henry Margenau, Roy Abraham Vargesse, Cosmos, Bios, Theos, La Salle IL: Open Court Publishing, 1992, p.241
(6) John Maddox, "Down with the Big Bang", Nature, vol. 340, 1989, p. 378
(7) H. P. Lipson, "A Physicist Looks at Evolution", Physics Bulletin, vol. 138, 1980, p. 138
(8) Paul Davies, The Cosmic Blueprint, London: Penguin Books, 1987, p. 203
(9) W. Press, "A Place for Teleology?", Nature, vol. 320, 1986, s. 315
(10) George Greenstein, The Symbiotic Universe, p. 27
(11) Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, p. 123
(12) Denton, Michael Denton, Nature's Destiny: How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe, The New York: The Free Press,1998, p. 14
(13) Paul Davies and John Gribbin, The Matter Myth, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1992, p. 10