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Peter Robinson: Ever since the enlightenment, God and science have been kept in separate compartments. And a lot of scientists will tell you that God doesn't even exist, let alone matter; which is of course the way it should be. Or is it? Today, on Uncommon Knowledge, Dr. Stephen Meyer, on his new book, the "Return of the God Hypothesis." Welcome to Uncommon Knowledge. I'm Peter Robinson. A graduate of Whitworth College, the author, Stephen Meyer holds a doctorate in the history and philosophy of science from Cambridge. In 2009, Dr. Meyer published "Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design." Of "Signature in the Cell," the philosopher Thomas Nagel of NYU wrote that quote, "Anyone who believes God never intervenes in the natural world will be instructed by Meyer's careful presentation of this fiendishly difficult problem." Close quote. In 2013, Dr. Meyer published "Darwin's Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design." Of "Darwin's Doubt," David Galana of Yale, one of the founders of the discipline of computer science wrote, quote, "Stephen Meyer's thoughtful and meticulous book convinced me that Darwin has failed." Close quote. Dr. Meyer now directs the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute in Seattle. His newest book, "Return of the God Hypothesis: Three Scientific Discoveries That Reveal the Mind Behind the Universe." Stephen Meyer, thank you for joining us.
Stephen Meyer: Thank you for having me, Peter.
Peter Robinson: Steve, a couple of preliminary questions. What is the God hypothesis?
Stephen Meyer: Well, the God hypothesis is the idea that the postulation of the existence of God provides explanatory power, with respect to observations we can make about the natural world. And in the book, I argue that the God hypothesis provides superior explanatory power over and against other competing metaphysical hypothesis or worldviews, whether it be deism or materialism or pantheism, or some other things that I consider in the book as well.
Peter Robinson: Another preliminary sort of question here is, biologist Richard Dawkins, quote, "The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference." Close quote. Mistaken but you can sort of see his point or demonstrably mistaken.
Stephen Meyer: Well, mistaken but beautifully framed. This is in a sense the money quotation that I use in the book to frame the argument. Because what's implicit in Dawkins' quotation is that a metaphysical hypothesis. What he means by blind pitiless differences, after all the philosophy of scientific materialism. That metaphysical hypotheses, every bit as testable in their own way, the scientific ones. We can judge the merits of a metaphysical hypothesis of a worldview by looking at the world around us, to see if it matches the expectations, what we think should follow if that hypothesis were true. Dawkins says that the universe we observe has exactly the properties we should expect, if scientific materialism is true. Scientific materialism being that worldview that affirms that matter and energy are the thing from which everything else comes, and that matter and energy are eternal and self-existed and required no prior creator or creation. And in the book, I appreciate Dawkins for framing the argument that way, but then take them head on and ask the question, is that true or not? And argue that in fact, that the universe has precisely the properties we should expect if there was intelligent design built into the universe, and indeed intelligent design that has a theistic source.
Peter Robinson: So, the subtitle is three discoveries, three scientific discoveries that effectively have changed everything. But before we get to those three discoveries, you spend a portion of your time at the beginning of the book, elucidating the old or the original relationship between science and theology. Theology here in the Judeo-Christian view of theology. And I'd like to take a moment or two to go through these points. Because frankly, because I found them so striking. This is not what one hears in the usual debates. You quote the historian of science Ian Barbour. Quote, "Science in any modern form arose in Western civilization alone." Well, that's politically incorrect, that's a dangerous assertion right there. "Science in its modern form arose in Western civilization alone, among all the cultures of the world, because only the Christian West possessed the necessary intellectual presuppositions." Close quote. So let's take the first and outrageous suggestion that science arose in the West. What about the advanced aspects of Chinese civilization, mathematics, architecture, and so forth? They've had those for at least a few millennia depending on how you count before the West did. Or the Islamic civilization, which reached a high point in reading and interpreting classical texts, working out mathematics, algebra, all of that, while the West was in its dark ages. What about all that?
Stephen Meyer: Well, it may be a controversial point in the current climate. But almost all historians of science have observed the same thing. That modern science in the sense of a systematic method for interrogating and investigating nature, arose uniquely in a Judeo-Christian mill you in Western Europe roughly between 1300 and 1750, with a particular focus on the period of time from 1500 to 1750 often called the Scientific Revolution. It is absolutely true that there have been many advanced civilizations. The Chinese invented gunpowder, they had advanced forms of military weaponry, they organized cities and city states, the Romans built roads and aqueducts and so forth. But this actually highlights what was unique in the West. The material conditions of doing science were present in many cultures. But somehow this systematic way of investigating nature, involving the isolation of variables, various scientific methods, and then the mathematization of the descriptions of nature. This didn't happen everywhere. It only happened in the Judeo-Christian West, and it only happened during a particular period of time. And so it's raised this question in the way historians of science opposed it is, why there, why then? What was the difference? What was the variable? What was the difference that made the difference? And they have found that difference in the realm of ideas.
Peter Robinson: So, well, let's go back to Barbara's phrase; intellectual presuppositions. Presupposition one, the contingency of nature. From your book, the "Return of the God Hypothesis," in 1277, this says something about the sweep of your book right there. "In 1277, Etienne Tempier, the Bishop of Paris, writing with the support of Pope John XXI, condemned necessarian theology and 219 separate theses influenced by Greek philosophy about what God could or couldn't do." Close quote. Now, that's a mouthful and it seems just unbelievably abstruse. What on earth has that got to do with the scientific method?
Stephen Meyer: Let's unpack that because it's actually fairly clear. The Greeks always are the great histories of the Western intellectual tradition. And so they should be. They gave us philosophy, that Plato and Aristotle. But Greek science was impeded by assumptions that the Greeks made about the nature of nature. They assumed that built into nature was a kind of intrinsic logic that they characterized as the logos. And so they also assume that the order in nature was governed by this logic. So that whatever seemed most logical to us, was also what was built into nature; it was the logical form of the order in nature. So what's the most logical and perfect form of motion? It's a circle. So how do the planets go? What are planetary orbits? What kind of shape do they have? It must be circular. And there were numerous logically deduced conclusions about nature that were not empirically grounded.
Peter Robinson: So the Greeks worked things out in theory and assumed that they worked that way in practice?
Stephen Meyer: Exactly, exactly. So they did a lot of armchair philosophizing about nature. It wasn't that they weren't interested in nature, or they didn't assume that there was an order there, but they assumed it was an order that had to be a certain way, the way that appeared most logical to them.
Peter Robinson: Okay. And now, again from the "Return of the God Hypothesis," because God Himself, because God Himself possesses a certain freewill, a certain freedom. Quote, quoting you. "The order in nature could have been otherwise the job of the natural philosopher," the old term for scientists. "The job of the natural philosopher was not to ask what God must have done, but what God actually did." Close quote. And that intellectual presupposition is unique to the West.
Stephen Meyer: Yes. And the idea is that, yes, there's an order in nature, but it's an order that's impressed upon nature, or engraved upon nature from the outside. Because there was a Creator who chose the form of order that would be manifest in creation. We have to go and look and see which form it is. When I was teaching, I used to use the example of paintbrushes with my students. Show them all the different kinds of paint brushes that a painter could use. All of them manifested a form, function relationship, a kind of order, orderliness. But the painter could choose which one he or she wants to use for the particular application in mind. In the same way, God could, in providing, for example, the law of gravity, could have chosen to have a gravitational attraction much stronger or weaker. It has an inverse square law in Newton's formulation. But it might've been an inverse cube law, might not have had an exponent in the denominator at all. It could have been entirely different. There's an order, but which order is up for us to go and to discover? And that quote that you just attributed to me is almost a direct paraphrase of Robert Boyle. Who said that the job of the natural philosopher is, not to decide what God must have done, but to go and look and to see what He actually did do. And that was the shift. Yeah.
Peter Robinson: The following question would only occur in the West. And that question is, hmm, this is interesting. Let's see what the big guy actually did here. This gives rise to the Western emphasis on actual observation; go look.
Stephen Meyer: Go look and see, go look and see. It becomes an empirical science rather than a deductive or philosophical approach to studying nature.
Peter Robinson: Presupposition two, the intelligibility of nature. Again, I'm quoting from the "Return of the God Hypothesis." "Modern science was inspired by the conviction that the universe is the product of a rational mind who designed it to be understood, and who designed the human mind to understand it." You go on to quote the 17th century astronomer, Johannes Kepler. Quote, "God created us after His own image so that we could share in His own thoughts." Close quote. Now that seems to me almost to merge, to be stepping a step or two in the direction of a kind of feel good 21st century psychobabble view of Western theology. But it's not.
Stephen Meyer: And yet it was a crucial idea, because it's actually very hard to discover the order of nature. It's not an easy thing to conduct experiments. There has to be an instinctive confidence that there is a secret there in nature to be revealed, to motivate people to do the hard work of investigating, or interrogating nature. And this conviction that nature had an intelligible order that was the product of the rational mind of the creator, the same creator who made our minds and endowed our minds with a rationality that enabled us to understand the rationality and the design and the order built into nature. That's what gave us confidence.
Peter Robinson: The theology that human beings are distinctive, that we allow this notion about being made in God's image, in one way or another, not dogs or cats or fish or any, but human beings can understand. That's vital here.
Stephen Meyer: We've been made this. Yeah, it was the Judeo-Christian idea that we'd been made the steward of the creation.
Peter Robinson: So this is also politically incorrect, of course.
Stephen Meyer: Yeah, right, of course.
Peter Robinson: One long continuum from amoeba to human beings, human beings are different.
Stephen Meyer: Well, I thank you for pointing that out. Yeah, exactly. No, it's absolutely human exceptionalism, if you will. That there's something unique about the intellectual and cognitive capabilities of human beings, that allow them uniquely to understand the design and the order and the rationality built into the natural world.
Peter Robinson: Okay. So, intellectual presupposition number three. And this is three of three, so it's the last one; human fallibility. On the one hand, human beings are created in the image of God, so they can understand. On the other hand to quote you, you know the Christian doctrine of original sin. "Humans are vulnerable to self-deception, flights of fancy and jumping to conclusions. Scientists must therefore employ systematic experimental methods." Close quote. Explain that.
Stephen Meyer: This is an idea that's been emphasized by the historian and philosopher of science, Steve Fular, in Britain, and Peter Harrison in Australia. That the doctrine of original sin which was recovered in the same period, in late medieval Catholic theology and during the Protestant reformation, the doctrine of creation was being reemphasized with that came also the doctrine of the fall of human beings. And therefore, the idea that that fall affected our cognitive capabilities. We were capable of understanding the rationality and design of nature, but we were also capable of flights of fancy, of deceiving ourselves of self-deception. And therefore, it was necessary to test our theories against nature. And this again, gave an impetus to observation. We could think of all kinds of different ways that nature might be, it was important to find out what nature actually was like in its reality. And to do that, methods of testing were developed. And so when we think of testability as a crucial aspect of scientific investigation, this is part of where it came from.
Peter Robinson: All right. So we've got this notion that nature is contingent. It could have been different. And the only way to figure out what it is is to observe it. That humans being human, they can actually get someplace, they can understand, but humans being human, they'd better double-check those observations. That's why we have peer-reviewed journals.
Stephen Meyer: That right. Yes, exactly. Are systems of accountability that are built in to check our own capacity for either self-deception or simply missing things.
Peter Robinson: Okay. So, what I think is so striking here is, I mean, I'm used to books and arguments where science has its realm, religion has its realm. But you make a much stronger argument that science as we understand it, arose from a distinctively Judeo-Christian worldview. Well, so the next question is, what happened? We've already quoted Kepler, God created us after His own image. Newton is explicitly and unashamedly, in fact, unselfconsciously a believer. He writes effectively; how did God do this? What was going on here? How do we test this? But he assumes some, we could argue about exactly what the characteristics of his God are, but there is an omniscient that he assumes.
Stephen Meyer: He makes all those same presuppositions that we just discussed. But then, he also sees in the scientific realm that he's investigating, in the realm of nature that he's investigating, evidence for design. So in the general scholium to the Principium, the theological epilogue that he writes to his great master piece on gravitation, he makes a design argument about the initial condition fine-tuning, the setup job that was required to create stable planetary orbits. And in this memorable passage, he says, "This most beautiful system of sun, planets and comets could only proceed from the council and dominion of an and powerful being." Now, this is written in one of the greatest works of physics ever written. And yet there is a theological, deep theological reflection, a design argument in these which is a form of natural theology, but he also brings to bear a theology of nature, that is to say, he's bringing theological presuppositions to bear in the whole framing of the inquiry.
Peter Robinson: All right. And then it all falls apart. The "Return of the God Hypothesis." "The success of new scientific theories in the 18th century," you begin there, "About astronomical, geological and biological origins contributed to the rejection of theism as an explanatory framework." Explain that. They feel they no longer need God to explain phenomenon that they observe in nature, no longer useful, or they must reject God. Well, explain that.
Stephen Meyer: Well, it becomes a little of both ends. The shift starts with enlightenment philosophy in the 18th century, and then the many of the theories, especially theories about origins, scientific theories in the 19th century. I tell the story of Pierre Laplace in the book who is summoned to receive commendation before the French emperor, Napoleon, for his great work, the celestial mechanics. He attempts to do precisely what Newton said could not be done. Newton thought that the laws of nature were a mode of divine action. But he also thought the laws, given that they produced very predictable regularities, could not explain the origin of the very precise and specified initial conditions that made the solar system stable in the first place. And that required an initial act of design or creation that could not be explained as the result of a regularity or a law. Laplace came along and attempted to explain the origin of the solar system without such initial acts of design. And then there were other theories of geology, and of course, in biology with the origin of species and Charles Darwin, and the way his ideas were extended to explain both the origin of human beings, in his book, "Descent of Man," and to explain even the first life by other early evolutionary biologists in the late 19th century. So, by the end of the 19th century, you had this kind of seamless materialistic narrative about where everything had come from, from the origin of the solar system, to the great geological features on earth, to the origin of the first life and subsequent forms of life, without any reference to a designing intelligence or a creator of any kind. And that combination of theories gave rise to a larger kind of worldview known as scholars of scientific materialism. And there were other thinkers in that era, Freud, Marx, Huxley, who contributed to this grand materialistic synthesis by the end of the 19th century.
Peter Robinson: You right, Darwin Marx, Freud, Huxley quote, "Science seemed to answer many of the deepest worldview questions that heretofore Judeo-Christian religion had answered. Science no longer needed to invoke a preexistent mind to explain the evidence of nature." Close quote. Okay. So, I just want to say for our viewers, there's a lot in your book, it's over 400 pages of close argument, and we're just getting started. I can't begin to do justice to the book in video. Just can't do it. So, one of the many pleasures of this book is this historical tour de force. Before you get to the three scientific discoveries, which we will get to in just a moment, you give us about five centuries of history of science. All right, which brings us to the present. We've already quoted Richard Dawkins, biologist. Here's David Barash, if I'm pronouncing his name correctly, of the University of Washington. He wrote a piece in the New York Times about the talk he gives to his students each year. Quote, "As evolutionary science has progressed, the available space for religious belief has narrowed." Close quote. Now that's a little bit different from saying, science no longer needed to resort to an omnipresent, omni, all-knowing fast mover. Now it's saying that as science progresses, it squeezes out any legitimate possibility of religious belief. Correct?
Stephen Meyer: That's not only the opinion of Barash and many of the so-called new atheist writers. But public opinion polling data show that it's increasingly the opinion of many young people. We have this phenomenon that the pollsters are picking up, they call it the rise of the nuns, the religiously unaffiliated agnostic and atheistic young people between 18 and 33 in that kind of age cohort. And when you probe deeply with that group of young people, you find that science has played an out-sized role in cementing that disaffection with religion and with belief in God. In fact, two thirds of the young atheist surveyed and one poll said, quote, "Affirm the following statement. The discoveries of science make belief in God less probable." So this is the kind of direction that we've been going into popular culture. And the argument of the book is that, this move towards agnosticism and atheism is unnecessary, especially if it claims to be grounded in science, because the scientific evidence is actually pointing in the opposite direction.
Peter Robinson: Okay, which brings us to the first of these three great scientific discoveries; the origin of the universe, the big bang. I quote you. "Advances in astronomy and cosmology have established that the material universe had a definite beginning in time and space, suggesting a cause beyond the physical or material universe." That's possible to stop right there and just spend an afternoon thinking about that. But the universe began. This is of course what it calls to mind from the theological point of view as Genesis. But it had a specific beginning. All right, I think I understand that you may add a sentence or two on, that's a mid 20th century, early to mid 20th century development scientists. It's now pretty solidly, widely accepted, I think. Correct from your book?
Stephen Meyer: Correct. Although there are attempts to circumvent the conclusion. And one of the things I do in the book is to show that even those attempts within theoretical physics to circumvent the beginning, themselves end up having implicit theological, or have theological implications.
Peter Robinson: So, the universe began, which is a thought that's hard to get one's mind around in the first place. My little mind anyway. Why does that suggest a cause beyond the physical or material universe? I mean, Steve, things just happen sometimes.
Stephen Meyer: Well, one of the basic principles of rationality is the principle of causality. That everything that begins to exist must have a cause. This is presupposed in every attempt we make to make sense of the world scientifically or otherwise. And the big discovery of both observational astronomy and astrophysics on the one hand and theoretical physics on the other, is that the universe is expanding outward in a roughly spherically symmetric way in the forward direction of time. We first got an inkling of this from the light that was coming from distant galaxies, and learning that it was stretched out and looked redder than it should otherwise look. Where the redder light indicates longer wavelengths as if the objects in the night sky from which the light is issuing are receding. So if the universe is expanding outward in the forward direction of time, then as we back that time scale up in our mind's eye, we back extrapolate, then the matter would be getting closer and closer together, the space would be getting more and more tightly curved, because this is the contribution from theoretical physics. Einstein's theory of general relativity published in 1915, asserted that gravitational force is a consequence of massive bodies curving space around those massive bodies. So as a theoretical physicist reflected on this, in particular, Stephen Hawking in the 1960s, he realized that as you back that time sequence up, the matter in the energy is getting more and more densely concentrated, causing space to be more and more tightly curved, until at some point in the finite past and this was called a singularity theorem, there was a point where you reach a limiting case; where the matter becomes so densely compacted, that the space becomes infinitely curved. And at that point, all physical reasoning becomes impossible. The physicist, Paul Davy, said, beyond that point, you reach an extremity where it's impossible to do any physical reasoning at all. And before which there would be neither matter nor space, nor time or energy. They come into existence at that point. So you can't explain the origin of the universe as the result of a material cause, because it's matter and energy themselves that come into existence at that point before which there was no matter to do the causing. So, this suggests an event that took place, that began to exist. Therefore it must have a cause, and yet the cause can not be material. It must transcend the domains of matter space, time and energy.
Peter Robinson: All right. I say, all right, as though I followed absolutely every word of that. Oh, that, yes, of course. In investigating the big bang, scientists have made a corollary finding. You've alluded to it several times already. But I'm going to quote the book, the "Return of the God Hypothesis." "We apparently live in a kind of Goldilocks universe, where the fundamental forces of physics have just the right strengths. The contingent properties of the universe have just the right characteristics. And the initial distribution of matter and energy at the beginning exhibited just the right configuration to make life possible. These facts are so puzzling that physicists have given them a name; the fine-tuning problem." Explain that.
Stephen Meyer: Well, perhaps a helpful illustration of that is, well, let's talk about that expansion of the universe. First, the expansion is driven by a number of factors. One of which is the outward anti-gravity pushing force that Einstein called the cosmological constant. If gravity is pulling everything in, then there must be something that has pushed everything out because we don't live in a world where all the matter has collapsed into one place. And Einstein called that the cosmological constant. That's just one of many finely tuned parameters. It turns out that for the cosmological constant, for the universe to expand in a way that will be life conducive. Cosmological constant has to be finely tuned to one part in 10 to the 90th power, is an accepted degree of fine-tuning. It's accepted by many physicists. There are varying estimates. But to put that number in context, that would be like to get that degree of fine-tuning by chance would be like looking for one elementary particle blindfolded, not just in our universe, but in 10 billion universe is our size. It's an exquisite degree of fine-tuning. Meaning, that things have to be just right within very fine tolerances or limits, to get a universe that's gonna come out right. But there are dozens of them.
Peter Robinson: If that constant is too small, the universe collapses on itself.
Stephen Meyer: It collapses back on itself and get that crunch.
Peter Robinson: It's a little bit too big what happens.
Stephen Meyer: We get heat death of the universe where everything dissipates and we don't get stable galaxies or even chemistry, in fact.
Peter Robinson: And there are dozens of such constants.
Stephen Meyer: There are dozens of such parameters. The initial conditions of matter and energy have to be finely tuned. That's an even more exquisitely finely tuned parameter. But then the fundamental forces of physics, gravitation, electromagnetism, the strong and weak nuclear forces. The masses of the elementary particles have to exist within very particular values; not too heavy, not too light. So this is where the Goldilocks concept comes from. Each of these things collectively are within very specific tolerances to allow for a life conducive universe.
Peter Robinson: Right. Now, there's an obvious objection. I say it's obvious because you say in your book that it's obvious. I'm not coming up with independent objections here. And to quote the physicist, Brandon Carter, quote, "What we can expect to observe must be restricted by the conditions necessary for our presence as observers." Close quote. If you're a fish in the ocean, you might be startled to learn that four-fifths of the planet is covered with water, that the water has just the right salinity and so forth, because you're a fish. And because we're humans, we look at all this and say, wow, isn't that remarkable? To which the answer is what?
Stephen Meyer: Well, it is, of course, we live in a universe that has conditions which are consistent with our own existence. But that is not an explanation for how the conditions were set, or why the conditions are so exquisitely improbable, overwhelmingly improbable. So, this is called the weak anthropic principle. That says, essentially, we don't need to explain the fine tuning because of course we live in a universe that is consistent with our existence. But that is of course obvious that that would be the case. It's necessary. But it's not necessary that those conditions would have been so overwhelmingly improbable. And therefore it doesn't actually provide an explanation for what needs to be explained, which is the exquisite fine-tuning of the fine-tuning. Why are the fine-tuning parameters so improbable? There's a great philosopher of physics named John Leslie, who's come up with an illustration to illustrate the fallacy here. He says, imagine that you are a part of the resistance, you've been captured by the Nazis, yore in prison camp, they put you up against the wall. You're now facing a firing squad of 100 Nazi marksman. And the command is given ready, aim, fire. There's a hail of bullets. And you look down, and there's a perfectly inscribed pattern of bullets around your body, but none of them have hit you. What do you conclude? He says, well, you don't say, well, of course, I live in a universe which is consistent with my own existence. You say, gee, there must've been something going on here that the marksman so perfectly missed me. And so, when given a choice between design, and well, it had to be this way. When the conditions are so improbable, the design hypothesis is the better explanation.
Peter Robinson: All right. We go from inconceivably vast to unimaginably small, the DNA enigma. In 1953, Watson and Crick discovered the basic structure of the DNA molecule. The "Return of the God Hypothesis." Quote, "Due in large measure to the discovery of the information-bearing properties of DNA." Information-bearing, fascinating to me. I think of it as little twisted molecules or... And all right, "we'll come to this in a moment. "Given the discovery of the information-bearing properties of DNA, the materialist understanding of life has begun to unravel. Scientists have become increasingly aware that there is at least one appearance of design in biology that has not been explained by natural selection; the information present in even the simplest living cells." Close quote. So, why is that such a problem for the materialist view?
Stephen Meyer: Well, a little bit more on the discovery and then I'll explain the problem. Watson and Crick elucidate the structure of the DNA molecule in 1953. In 1957, 1958, Crick on his own puts forward something called the sequence hypothesis; in which he proposes that the chemical subunits called basis or nucleotide basis that run along the interior of the twisting helix, are function...
Peter Robinson: Four different amino proteins, right?
Stephen Meyer: Amino acids are in the proteins, the nucleotide basis are the constituent parts of the DNA. And these nucleotide bases are functioning like alphabetic characters. They are literally providing instructions for arranging the amino acids that build the proteins. So, what they end up discovering, and Crick's hypothesis has confirmed.
Peter Robinson: It's code.
Stephen Meyer: It's code. What we have now, it's not that the nucleotide base, their function is not determined by their physical properties, their shapes, their masses, it's determined by their arrangement in accord with an independent symbol convention, later discovered and now known as the genetic code. And so what we have is a sophisticated information storage, transmission and processing system at the heart of every single cell. And Bill Gates, our local hero here in Redmond, has said that the DNA is like a software program, but much more complex than any we've ever devised. Richard Dawkins himself has acknowledged that the DNA contains machine code. Leroy Hood, the biotech pioneer, simply calls DNA chock full of digital code. We have an information-bearing molecule. What we know from our uniform and repeated experience, the basis of all scientific reasoning, is that whenever we find information, whether it's in a section of software, or a paragraph in a book, or a hieroglyphic inscription, or even information embedded in a radio signal, and we trace that information back to its ultimate source, we always come to a mind, not a material process. The software program requires a programmer. The information in DNA, I argue, requires a master programmer. Now, to justify that conclusion, I have to examine the various materialistic attempts that have been made to explain the origin of information. I did that first in the book "Signature in the Cell." I reprized some of those problems with materialistic attempts to explain the origin of information, whether they're based on chance or principles of law, or necessity or some combination of the two. But it is universally recognized within origin of life research that the information problem has not been solved, even as prominent, an advocate of scientific atheism in Neo Darwinism, is Richard Dawkins, has acknowledged that, quote, "No one knows how life arose from a strictly materialistic chemical evolutionary process."
Peter Robinson: Okay. We begin vast, we go very small, and now we go very, very old. The Cambrian, Cambrian or Cambrian? The Cambrian explosion.
Stephen Meyer: Either way.
Peter Robinson: Listen, I'm gonna take it the way you pronounce it.
Stephen Meyer: I always say Cambrian.
Peter Robinson: Cambrian, done, done, we're done. The "Return of the God Hypothesis." Quote, "Darwin presented the history of life as gradually unfolding. In this view, novel animal and plant species arose from a series of simpler precursors and intermediate forms over vast stretches of geologic time. But during the Cambrian explosion, beginning about 530 million years ago, most major animals first appear in the fossil record in a geologically abrupt fashion. Although the Cambrian explosion of animals is especially striking, it as far from the only explosion of new living forms. The first winged insects, birds, flowering plants, mammals, and many other groups also appear abruptly in the fossil record." Close quote. So, explain that.
Stephen Meyer: Well, in my previous book, "Darwin's Doubt," I addressed this question in a full book length treatment. But I addressed two separate mysteries that arise from this. One is the obvious one, of the missing ancestral precursors in the fossil record. That should be there, but aren't there. Should be there if there was a gradual unfolding of life in the manner of a Darwinian tree. But the deeper mystery that I make much more of is essentially it's an engineering problem. How would the evolutionary process build these new and distinct animal forms, given what we now know about the primacy of information in living systems? If you wanna give your computer a new function, we know that you have to provide new code. Same thing turns out to be true now in the biological realm. If you wanna build a new form of life from a preexisting form, or if you wanna build the first living cell from non-living chemicals, in both cases, there needs to be an infusion of information. Where does that information come from? That question has not been answered adequately by either chemical evolutionary theories about the origin of life, or biological evolutionary theories about the origin of subsequent forms of life, and major innovations in the history of life, such as these new animal forms that arise in the Cambrian. And as I mentioned in the book, in other places up and down the rock column as well.
Peter Robinson: All right. This brings us, again, this is something you've already touched on in a couple of places, but let's be explicit about it. The question of design itself. You discuss the work of the mathematician and philosopher, William Dembski. To quote you. "According to Dembski, extremely improbable events," feature one, "That also exhibit an independently recognizable pattern," feature two, "Invariably result from intelligent causes, not chance." Close quote.
Stephen Meyer: Right. So, what's happened in the last 20 years or so, is that there has been a development within, Dembski has been at the forefront of this, but others as well, developments in methods of design detection. And we all make design inferences all the time. It's very common. If you look at the faces on Mount Rushmore, or observe a stop sign. We recognize intelligent causes in the echo of the effects they leave behind. And what Dembski began to think about very deeply was, well, what are the features of all such objects that are obviously designed? And the answer to that that had long been given is, well, they're very improbable. But he showed that there are many improbable things that happen all the time that are designed. You can flip up a series of coins, or you can flip a coin 100 times, you're gonna get to get an improbable outcome. But if you flip a coin 100 times and it comes up seven every time, you might infer that the dice were loaded. And so, it's the combination of an improbable event with a pattern that we recognize, or with a set of discernible functional requirements that trigger this awareness of design. And so, I give a number of examples in the book. Mount Rushmore is a great one because you've got the improbable shapes. But that's not alone what triggers the design awareness, it's that there's a pattern that we recognize that matches something we know from independent experience; namely the shape of the human face, indeed the shapes of the specific face of the presidents.
Peter Robinson: Okay. So, to paraphrase that great cosmologist, Bill Clinton, if you see a turtle on a fence post, you know it didn't get there by itself, roughly. All right. The universe had a beginning and was finely tuned to to permit the emergence in a way that permitted the emergence of life. One. Two, DNA demonstrates that even the tiniest, most rudimentary structures possess astounding complexity. Three. Cambrian explosion shows that at intervals, new forms of life simply burst into existence. And this suggests or requires, you adjust this, some kind of, I'm trying to avoid using the word, God, but this suggests certain properties, omniscience, omnipotence. How do you interact with God?
Stephen Meyer: Yeah, let's start with designing intelligence. Because the first two books I wrote were making an argument for intelligent design without attempting to identify the nature of the designer. We know from our uniform and repeated experience that mind is the only known cause of the generation of large amounts of specified information. Especially when we find it in a digital or alphabetic form as we do in the molecules that make life possible. So, from the discovery of the functional digital information in living systems, I inferred that a designing intelligence must've played a role in the origin and subsequent development of life. But I didn't attempt to identify the designing an agent involved. Many of my readers wanted to know, well, who do you think the designing intelligence is? And what can science tell us about that question? And so, to address that question, I broadened the range of phenomenon under consideration. And instead of looking just at the evidence of design in biology, I also looked at developments in physics and cosmology about the origin and fine-tuning of the universe. Because one of the proposed identities of the designing intelligence responsible for life is that it was an imminent intelligence within the cosmos. Even Francis Crick and and Richard Dawkins have floated that idea, that maybe life was seated here on earth because it was so difficult to get life going here. Maybe it started someplace else, and that life form evolved and eventually became very intelligent and seeded some simple cells on planet earth. I argue in the new book that that's an unsatisfactory explanation for a number of reasons. But one thing that that hypothesis clearly can't explain is the origin of the fine-tuning of the laws and constants of physics and the initial conditions of the universe, that pre-seed the origin of any possible imminent intelligence within the cosmos. Dawkins, when Dawkins proposed this, he suggested that such a being would have evolved by purely natural processes. But not being within the cosmos can be responsible for the fine-tuning of the laws and constants of physics upon which its very origin and evolution depend. And so, the fine-tuning points not to an imminent intelligence, but requires instead as a condition of its explanation, both an intelligent cause, but one which also lies beyond the boundaries of matter, space, time and energy, one which is transcendent. And so, when you bring in the evidence for the beginning of the universe and for the fine-tuning of the universe from the beginning, I think this precludes the idea of an imminent intelligence within the cosmos, and points rather to a designing agent which transcends the universe. But then because of the biological evidence, is also active in the creation. So we have not a deistic creator, not a space alien, but rather a theistic designer that has the attributes that Jews and Christians have always described to God.
Peter Robinson: All right. The biologist Richard Dawkins. The quotation with which we began. Quote, "The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design." Close quote. Steve Meyer, "If a purpose of intelligence had acted periodically during the history of life on earth, we might well expect to find evidence of episodic bursts of new information in the biosphere." Close quote. How strong is your argument, Steve? Do you just wanna say, look, let's face it fellows. The big bang, the 20th century has brought major, basic, radical discoveries that are consonant with the Judeo-Christian understanding of God. Which is, in this day and age, that would be a very arresting claim by itself. Or do you want to say, these discoveries require a mind. And I'm sorry, Dr. Dawkins, but you just haven't been paying attention. You haven't been keeping up with the developments in the 20th century.
Stephen Meyer: The great physicists are no Penzias who won a Nobel Prize for discovering the cosmic background radiation in 1965, which was one of the key pieces of evidence that really provided great support for the big bang model, and sounded the death knell, it's the competing steady state model said this. He said that the evidence that we have, and he was speaking of the cosmological evidence in this case, are precisely what I would have predicted, had I nothing to go on, but the five books of Moses, the Psalms, and the Bible as a whole. Now contrast that statement with Dawkins' statement. Now, I'm not arguing necessarily for a specifically biblical God, but I am arguing for what you might call basic or classical theism, which would be consistent with a biblical understanding of God. So, I'm not merely saying that the evidence is consonant with theism. Nor am I saying that theism is proven by the evidence in a mathematical sense where you would derive certainty. But instead, I'm arguing that theism provides a better explanation for these three great pieces of evidence that we have about biological, physical and cosmological origins. And it happens that this standard of evidential support is precisely what can be provided by scientific theories. And scientists are very, if they're astute philosophically, and most of them are, they know that scientific work does not prove conclusions with absolute certainty. We provide evidence or reasons for believing conclusions, but we don't provide absolute proof, because we always have to be open to new evidence coming down the pike. So, we've had this kind of false dichotomy in the discussion of the relationship between science and faith since the middle ages. In the middle ages, there were a lot of people trying to prove God's existence with deductive certainty. When the enlightenment philosophers came along and poked holes in those proofs, and said, "No, they don't really work," then people shifted to the other end of the extreme and embraced something called fideism; faith and faith alone, arguing that there's no evidence for faith, or no reasons for faith, we just make blind leaps. And what I'm arguing is that there's something in the middle that's still very strong. And that is we may have good reasons to believe in God without being able to achieve that unattainable standard of absolute certain proof. And part of this method of reasoning I use is to show that, is to evaluate competing hypotheses by reference to their explanatory power. And when we look at these three great discoveries, the universe had a beginning, that's been finely tuned from the beginning, and there have been bursts of information into the bias since the beginning. Theism provides a better explanation of that ensemble of key facts about our biological and cosmological origins, than the other main competing worldviews, or systems of thought. Whether that'd be deism or pantheism or materialism, or even this a more fanciful panspermia idea, or the space alien designer concept. So I examined theism and its explanatory power and compare it to that of competing systems, and argue that it provides the best explanation. Not proof, but the best explanation of the same kind of standard of evidence that we would want to attain for a very good scientific theory.
Peter Robinson: I've been quoting Darkens. Through this whole discussion, I've been treading water because I'm in the deep end here. But now let me swim over to the shallow end and stand on my own two feet and just tell you a story. I'm an English major, but I'm a product of the American educational system, public schools in upstate New York. And here's the story I can tell you. It starts with some sort of primordial chemical soup. How it got there, we don't know, but it's there. And this comes into being in one corner of some vast universe. Again, how it got there, we don't know, but we don't care. And then there's some sort of natural event. I seem to recall being told that it was a lightning strike.
Stephen Meyer: The Miller Yuri experiment. Yeah.
Peter Robinson: And for some reason there's a lot of ammonia in the atmosphere, but there's the lightning strike. And in this primordial chemical soup, life gets started. And it takes the form of a very simple life form. I seem to remember one teacher saying, just picture a blob of jello, and that's all you need. Because the blob of jello subdivides, now you've got two blobs of jello. And there are random mutations and natural selection acts on those random mutations. And billions of years later, here we are. Now you may believe in God if you want to, but He just doesn't come into the story. I have the feeling that if that's the story I have in the back of my mind, then a lot of people must have roughly that story in the backs of their minds. What's wrong with that?
Stephen Meyer: Professor Phillip Johnson from across the Bay at Berkeley, the law professor who wrote the very influential book, "Darwin on Trial," in the 1990s, used to tell that story by a motive, almost a paraphrase from the biblical texts, only it was inverted. Instead of, in the beginning was the Word, was, from eternity past were the particles and the energy. And the particles arranged themselves into more complex chemicals. And the chemicals arranged themselves into the first cell. And the first cell evolved by Darwinian processes to produce more and more complex forms of life. And then one of those forms of life, namely human beings, conceived of the idea of God. And so, in this materialistic narrative, you do have God, but God only as a concept in the mind of man. Remember, you're fraud. God didn't create man, man created the idea of God. So you have this direct inversion of the theistic worldview. The theistic worldview holds that mind was primary. That God is a conscious agent who brought the universe into existence and shaped it and designed everything that we see. And materialism has the opposite sort of narrative. The question is, which of the two narratives better comports with the scientific evidence that we have. And that's why I appreciate the framing that Dawkins brings to the issue. The new atheists are brilliant at framing the key issues. But I think if you look at these three big discoveries, they definitely support theism. And to underscore that, let me tell you just a quick story. I did a debate with one of my friendly debating partners on the opposite side of this issue. I tell his name in the book, but I won't say it here, it's not really important. We did our debate. He put me through my paces, I put him through his. We were in a car riding back to the airport at St. Louis. And this particular debating partner always starts by telling his deconversion experience; how he was raised in a religious home, how he rejected his belief in God as the result of science. And in the car, I asked him, "Well, what was it specifically about science that caused you to reject your belief in God?" And he said, "Well, it's just a general success of science; its ability to unpack the DNA molecule and discovered the big bang." And I said, "Well, wait a minute friend, in our debate, you acknowledged to me that you didn't actually have an explanation for the origin of the information in DNA. We, theist, love the discovery of DNA too, but you haven't explained the crucial thing about it; the origin of the information." He says, "Well, yeah, that's right." And what about the fine-tuning, I said. And he said, "Well, there's the multi-verse." And I said, "But do you really believe in all those multiple universes out there that can't be detected?" And then he said, "Well, nah." And I said, "Well, what about the problem of consciousness?" And then he says, "Okay, okay, okay, stop piling on." So there are these big questions that scientific materialism doesn't answer; the origin and fine-tuning of the universe, the origin of life, the origin and nature of consciousness. And I would add things like, in philosophy, the reliability of the mind, or the origin of objective morality. Why is it that all of us act as though there is an objective standard of morality, even if we deny that there could be a standard that would render such a belief plausible or meaningful. So there are a lot of fundamental questions, the materialistic worldview has really failed to answer, albeit, not withstanding the great success of science. But science does not actually support materialism. And that's the argument of the book.
Peter Robinson: Steve, you quote the astrophysicist, Robert Jastrow. Quote, "Science has had extraordinary success in tracing the chain of cause and effect backward in time. For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he's greeted by a band of theologians who've been sitting there for centuries." Close quote. But what strikes me in that, very witty, sums up a great deal, but he says it ends like a bad dream. Why, if it offers a better explanation, should theism strike scientists as a bad dream? Or let me put it another way. Why does Steve Meyer who has written now three carefully, reasoned, thoroughly footnoted works of scholarship, why does Steve Meyer get dismissed as some kind of snake handling Yoko, and why? There's something going on here that isn't just searching in an honest, good, faith manner for the best arguments. Isn't there?
Stephen Meyer: This is the shift that we were describing in the beginning of the interview, that this wouldn't have been seen as a bad dream to Newton Kepler and Boyle, that science was revealing the reality of God, or was confirming an expectation of a theistic worldview; which is I think the gravity of the Jastrow quote. But somewhere in the late 19th century, the idea of science, reason and non-belief were all equated. Such that it was assumed that if you were going to make progress in science, it would be outside of, or independent of any kind of theological framework. And that we could explain everything by reference to purely materialistic causes. And when we're talking about the origin of matter itself, clearly, materialism breaks down at that point as an explanation. So, I think reason has been equated with a materialistic way of thinking. And when materialism gets challenged, then for scientists who think of the two things as coextensive or equivalent, there is a sense of cognitive dissonance that emerges. Essentially what I'm arguing in the book is that it's perfectly legitimate to reframe our understanding of reason and science within a theistic framework, because it was very fruitful in the beginning. And it can be fruitful again, not only in our personal lives and thinking about ultimate meaning and purpose, but fruitful for science itself. The belief in God was not a science stopper for Sir Isaac Newton, it was the science starter.
Peter Robinson: Last question, Steve. Genesis 1:1, "In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth." Close quote. If you had to reduce to one sentence all that we know, would that sentence prove scientifically adequate?
Stephen Meyer: It's strikingly convergent with what we've discovered from astrophysics and cosmology. The first three words of the Bible are after all in the beginning. And I've even had physicists tell me the idea that there was light first and matter second, which is affirmed implicitly in that passage, is what we understand from our standard models of particle physics and our most cutting edge, thinking about the early evolution of the universe from the beginning forward. So, it's okay by me. Okay by a lot of scientists.
Peter Robinson: It's okay by you.
Stephen Meyer: Yeah, yeah. And this was the the point of the statement by Arno Penzias, that the discovery of it beginning was what you would expect on that theistic view that has God creating the universe in the beginning.
Peter Robinson: Steve Meyer, author most recently of the "Return of the God Hypothesis." Thank you.
Stephen Meyer: Thank you for having me on, Peter, and for the terrific discussion.
Peter Robinson: For Uncommon Knowledge with the Hoover Institution and Fox Nation, I'm Peter Robinson.