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COLLECTIONBook reviews
TITLEGod, Chance, and Necessity, by Keith Ward: Review
AUTHOR 1Brad Pokorny
PUB_THISBahá'í International Community
NOTES Mirrored with permission from
CONTENT "God, Chance and Necessity"
Author: Keith Ward
Publisher: Oneworld, Oxford, 1996
Review by: Brad Pokorny

Ever since Darwin, belief in God has been under a seemingly strong and continuous assault by science and scientists. And most recently, new notions about how the universe may have grown from a quantum singularity and refinements in the theory of evolution have given fuel to those who would argue that creation was an accident and human consciousness a lucky fluke.

In response, many scientists (and others) who believe in God have written that these same new theories can, in fact, be seen to bolster a belief in an omnipotent Creator. These authors argue that the elegance and economy of the new theories are actually evidences of the operation of a great unseen Hand - and not merely the result of some materialistic mechanism of probability and Darwinian pruning.

In terms of straightforward logic, among the soundest of the thinkers in this pro-God camp must surely be Keith Ward, the Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford University. Prof. Ward has written a tightly reasoned and highly accessible book that seeks to show the fallacies of modern scientific atheism and to make the case for an all-knowing, all-powerful and all-good Creator who continues to play an active (if undetectable) role in running the universe.

Entitled God, Chance and Necessity, the book created quite a stir in England when it came out a year ago, inasmuch as much of it was directed at the work of two Oxford colleagues, Peter Atkins and Richard Dawkins.

Prof. Atkins, a chemist, argued in his 1994 book, Creation Revisited, that the "big bang" singularity which scientists generally believe marked the start of our universe could have emerged spontaneously out of "nothingness," suggesting that the laws of quantum physics provide for just such an occurrence. And Prof. Dawkins, a biologist, has argued similarly in a series of recent books that the laws of natural selection can easily explain how increasingly complex organisms have arisen without the help of God, even in apparent violation of the overall tendency for things to become simpler (to decay or breakdown, in other words) over time.

Prof. Ward seeks to rebut these ideas and others, aiming to prove that modern scientific knowledge does not undermine a belief in God but, instead, actually shows that a Supreme Being is the best explanation of why things are the way they are.

He undertakes this quest largely by using logic and philosophical reasoning against Atkins, Dawkins and others. Indeed, his modus operandi is to show how their own arguments can be turned around in support of the God hypothesis - something he often does quite convincingly.

Discussing the idea, for example, that the universe could have sprung spontaneously from a primordial soup of quantum fluctuations, proto-particles and probabilities (as Atkins and others have suggested), Prof. Ward argues that such a preexistent state is not "nothing" at all, but rather a very big "something."

"…the hypothesis proposed by Atkins, that 'spacetime generates its own dust in the process of its own self-assembly', is blatantly self-contradictory," Prof. Ward writes. "It is …logically impossible for a cause to bring about some effect, without already being in existence." He bolsters this argument by asking what it is in the universe that keeps such quantum processes - and all other natural laws - in operation if not for an omnipotent being.

Prof. Ward, a Christian who obviously possesses a broadly ecumenical mind, likewise argues that various new refinements to the theory of evolution fail to explain how something as complex as human consciousness might arise.

"According to the theory of natural selection, mutations are random; that is, they have no built-in tendency to develop in any particular direction," Prof. Ward writes, saying that it is accordingly "wholly improbable" to then suggest that "the repeated application of a completely blind and non-purposive process of organic mutation and replication" might give rise to beings that possess the capacity of self-consciousness.

Aside from all the rather dry titillation provided by the image of these erudite Oxford dons arguing back and forth about such questions, God, Chance and Necessity makes a number of important contributions to the overall debate about the existence of an active and all-loving God. As anyone who has reflected on these questions knows, there is a duality to the answers that is somewhat like the famous optical illusion that oscillates between a vase and two faces. As a phrase from the Bahá'í sacred writings tell us: God is at once and the same time both the "most manifest of the manifest and the most hidden of the hidden."

In his book, however, Prof. Ward powerfully brings the theistic side of this duality into sharp focus. Consider this critique of those who would say that the laws of the universe simply are, and that there is no need to postulate a Creator:

"Suppose the basic laws of physics popped into existence for no reason at all," Prof. Ward reasons. "One day, they did not exist. The next day, there they were, governing the behavior of electrons and atoms. Now if anything at all might pop into existence for no reason, there is actually no way of assessing the probability of laws of physics doing so. One day, there might be nothing. The next day, there might be a very large carrot… If anything is possible, that certainly is. The day after that, the carrot might disappear and be replaced by a purple spotted gorilla. Why not? Why does this thought seem odd, or even ridiculous, whereas the thought that some law of physics might just pop into existence does not? Logically, they are on a par."

Accordingly, Prof. Ward writes, the existence of God is actually the simplest and therefore the most scientific theory for the creation of the universe and the impulse behind evolution.

"That the whole cosmos has developed from simplicity and unconsciousness to complexity and self-awareness is a foundational view of modern science," he writes. "Such an evolution from a state where no values are apprehended to states in which values can be both created and enjoyed gives an overwhelming impression of purpose or design. There is thus every reason to think that a scientific evolutionary account and a religious belief in a guiding creative force are not just compatible, but mutually reinforcing."

From a Bahá'í point of view, there is much to agree with in Prof. Ward's reasoning. Bahá'ís certainly hold the view that an all-loving Creator did initiate the universe and that God continues an active role in a process of continuous recreation.

Indeed, Prof. Ward's overall view that the vastness, wonder and diversity of creation is itself a powerful sign of the existence of God, and that the development of human consciousness is surely one of this creation's main purposes, calls to mind the following passage from Bahá'u'lláh:
"All-praise to the unity of God, and all-honor to Him, the sovereign Lord, the incomparable and all-glorious Ruler of the universe, Who, out of utter nothingness, hath created the reality of all things, Who, from naught, hath brought into being the most refined and subtle elements of His creation, and Who, rescuing His creatures from the abasement of remoteness and the perils of ultimate extinction, hath received them into His kingdom of incorruptible glory. Nothing short of His all-encompassing grace, His all-pervading mercy, could have possibly achieved it. How could it, otherwise, have been possible for sheer nothingness to have acquired by itself the worthiness and capacity to emerge from its state of non-existence into the realm of being?"
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