345 Return of the God the Hypothesis

During the past two decades the dramatic increase of Americans self-identifying as “Nones” (having no religious faith) has concerned thoughtful Christians.  Particularly among the young, it seems, many are disinterested and even hostile to the Christian tradition.  Asked by pollsters to explain their stance, they often say “science” (especially  the chemical evolution of life and the biological evolution of species) had disproved it.  Concerned by this development, Stephen Meyer has written Return of the God Hypothesis:  Three Scientific Discoveries that Reveal the Mind Behind the Universe (New York:  HarperOne, Kindle Edition, c. 2021) to show why their position is certainly questionable and probably untenable.  

Meyer received his PhD from the University of Cambridge in the philosophy of science and works with the Discovery Institute in Seattle.  He has written two scholarly treatises, Signature in the Cell and Darwin’s Doubt, which I have favorably reviewed in earlier editions of my “Reedings.”  Therein he “argued that certain features of living systems—in particular, the digitally encoded information present in DNA and the complex circuitry and information-processing systems at work in living cells—are best explained by the activity of an actual designing intelligence.  Just as the inscriptions on the Rosetta Stone point to the activity of an ancient scribe and the software in a computer program points to a programmer, I’ve argued that the digital code discovered within the DNA molecule suggests the activity of a designing mind in the origin of life” (p. 10), though  he refrained from making philosophical claims concerning the existence of God.  

With this recent treatise he makes such claims, challenging entrenched scientific dogmas that have shaped the worldview of millions of people.  He begins by acknowledging that today’s scientific worldview is deeply materialistic, asserting that “matter, energy, and/or the laws of physics are the entities from which everything else came and that those entities have existed from eternity past as the uncreated foundation of all that exists.  Matter, energy, and physical laws are, therefore, viewed by materialists as self-existent.”  Without any mental qualities, these entities have randomly assembled themselves into all that exists.  So there cannot be immaterial realities such as God or the human soul.  Varieties of materialism have been propounded for thousands of years by ancient Greeks such as Democritus as well as makers of modernity such as Thomas Hobbes, Charles Darwin, and Francis Crick.  The materialistic position was succinctly summed up by astronomer Carl Sagan:  “The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.”

On the contrary, Meyer seeks to demonstrate that:  “The properties of the universe and of life—specifically as they pertain to understanding their origins—are just ‘what we should expect’ if a transcendent and purposive intelligence has acted in the history of life and the cosmos.  Such an intelligence coincides with what human beings have called God, and so I call this story of reversal the return of the God hypothesis” (p. 19).  This “hypothesis” was basic to the development of modern science, as is evident in the works of Copernicus, Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton.  Such theistic scientists endeavored to “‘Diligently pursue the physical causes of things, for that’s how science is done; but, at the same time, [recognize that] design is sometimes evident in the whole contrivance one is studying’” (p. 54).  Indeed:  “This tradition attained an almost majestic rhetorical quality in the writings of Newton” (p. 72).  “As he explained: ‘How came the Bodies of Animals to be contrived with so much Art, and for what ends were their several Parts?  Was the Eye contrived without Skill in Opticks, and the Ear without Knowledge of Sounds? . . .  And these things being rightly dispatch’d, does it not appear from Phænomena that there is a Being incorporeal, living, intelligent, omnipresent?’” (p. 72).  In short:  Meyer’s views are thoroughly in accord with the West’s greatest scientists.

In the 19th century, however, the “theistic science” of Newton et al. was edged aside by the “scientific materialism” now dominating the West.  Influential philosophers such as David Hume and Karl Marx, as well as scientists such as Pierre Laplace and Charles Darwin, worked to eliminate the need for a Creator/Sustainer, so that:  “By the beginning of the twentieth century, science—despite its theistic beginnings—seemed to have no need of the God hypothesis” (p. 99).  

Yet, as the 21st century begins, some of the guiding assumptions of materialism may be crumbling.  By definition, materialism assumes the eternality of the material world—in one mode or another matter has existed and simply circulated from one thing to another, and no Creator is needed to explain it.  However, sophisticated discoveries by astronomers such as Edwin Hubble led to an avalanche of evidence regarding an expanding universe which pointed to an initial, explosive moment of creation, popularly known as the “big bang.”  (This is the first of Meyer’s three scientific discoveries justifying the return of the God hypothesis.)  One of Hubble’s gifted associates, Alan Sandage, an agnostic for much of his life, found the evidence so persuasive that he ultimately changed his mind.  Speaking at a meeting in 1985, “he not only described the astronomical evidence for the beginning of the universe; he shocked many of his colleagues by announcing a recent religious conversion and then explaining how the scientific evidence of a ‘creation event’ had contributed to a profound change in his worldview.  I recall his looking intently at the audience and gravely stating, ‘Here is evidence for what can only be described as a supernatural event. There is no way that this could have been predicted within the realm of physics as we know it.’  As he spoke, he paused between the words ‘super’ and ‘natural,’ saying them separately for emphasis. He went on to explain that ‘science, until recently, has concerned itself not with primary causes but, essentially, with secondary causes.  What has happened in the last fifty years is a remarkable event within astronomy and astrophysics.  By looking up at the sky, some astronomers have come to the belief that there is evidence for a ‘creation event’” (p. 172).  “He continued:  I now have to go from a stance as a complete materialistic rational scientist and say this super natural event, to me, gives at least some credence to my belief that there is some design put in the universe.’”  Still more:  “‘I am convinced that there is some order in the universe.  I think all scientists, at the deepest level, are so startled by what they see in the miraculousness of the inner connection of things in their field . . . that they at least have wondered why it is this way’” (p. 172).

What Sandage and contemporary cosmologists recognize as a point of “singularity” indicates the physical universe came into being from nothing physical!  It was, as Christian theologians have always declared:  “creatio ex nihilo—‘creation out of nothing’ (nothing physical, that is)” (p. 186).  Trying to evade such a possibility, various materialists have proposed alternative theories, including the “many universes” hypothesis.  But quite recently some of the world’s finest physicists have ruled out such options, showing why “all cosmological models in which expansion occurs—including inflationary cosmology, multiverses, and the oscillating and cosmic egg models” cannot evade a creation event.  Indeed, the “evidence for a beginning is now almost unavoidable.  As he [Alexander Vilenkin] explains, ‘With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe.  There is no escape; they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning’” (p. 203).  Indeed, “in the beginning God!”  

The second scientific discovery Meyer discusses is often called the “Goldilocks Universe.”  From every angle of investigation, the universe seems amazingly fine-tuned.  Four fundamental forces underlie all that is:  gravity; electromagnetism; the strong nuclear force; the weak nuclear force.  The slightest difference in any one of these forces would have made the formation of the universe impossible.  Essential chemicals, most especially carbon, need to be precisely what they are in order for anything to be.  Physicist Fred “Hoyle was stunned by these and other ‘cosmic coincidences’ that physicists began to discover after the 1950s.  Whereas before he affirmed atheism and denied any evidence of design, he began to see fine tuning as obvious evidence of intelligent design.  As he put it in 1981, ‘A common-sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.  The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question’” (p. 218).  Meyer carefully cites the scientists and provides the mathematical data to show that the universe is incredibly fine-tuned, suggesting the Mind of a Maker at work.

The third scientific discovery Meyer explores is the “origin of life and the DNA enigma.”  Monistic materialists, such as Richard Dawkins, tenaciously upheld the dogma that biology is “‘the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose’” (p. 257).”  But the more we know of living things the more it seems they have been meticulously designed by an all-knowing Mind.  One of America’s premier biologists, Dean Kenyon, published a rigorously materialistic textbook, Biochemical Predestination in 1969.  But within a decade he was overwhelmed by the implications of recently discovered realities of DNA and began to question his own positions.   In 1985 he publicly repudiated his earlier theory and “argued that the presence of information in the DNA molecule defied explanation by all current naturalistic theories of the origin of life, not just his own” (p. 263).  The notion that “chance and necessity” would bring living creatures into being appears less and less possible.  Thus “Nobel laureate Christian de Duve, a leading origin-of-life biochemist until his death in 2013, categorically rejected the chance hypothesis precisely because he judged the necessary fortuitous convergence of events implausible in the extreme.  In a memorable passage in his 1995 article ‘The Beginnings of Life on Earth,’ de Duve made explicit the logic by which he rejected the chance hypothesis.  As he put it, ‘A single, freak, highly improbable event can conceivably happen.  Many highly improbable events—drawing a winning lottery number or the distribution of playing cards in a hand of bridge—happen all the time.  But a string of improbable events—drawing the same lottery number twice or the same bridge hand twice in a row—does not happen naturally’” (p. 273).  Nor, says Meyer, could life on earth have happened naturally!  Furthermore,  since the discovery of DNA every materialistic explanation of the information indwelling and shaping biological cells has failed.  

Beyond calling into question the materialistic position on the origin-of-life, Meyer argues Intelligent Design properly explains it.  Drawing upon the notion that new information is a consciously-developed activity, there might be a “way to formulate a rigorous scientific case for intelligent design as an inference to the best explanation—specifically, the best explanation for the origin of biological information.  The creative action of a conscious and intelligent agent clearly represents a known and adequate cause (one ‘now in operation’) for the origin of specified information.  Uniform and repeated experience affirms that intelligent agents can produce large amounts of functional or specified information, whether in software programs, ancient inscriptions, or Shakespearean sonnets. The specified information in the cell also points to intelligent design not just as an adequate explanation, but as the best explanation. Why?  Experience shows that large amounts of specified information invariably originate from an intelligent source.  This is particularly apparent when the information is expressed in a digital or alphabetic form.  A computer user who traces the information on a screen back to its source invariably comes to a mind, that of a software engineer.  Similarly, the information in a book or newspaper article ultimately derives from a writer—from a mental, rather than a strictly material, cause” (p. 288).  

In his final chapters, Meyer shows how the these scientific discoveries justify believing the “God hypothesis.”  An Intelligent Being could bring into being all that is, design it meticulously, and create living creatures on planet earth.  The rational process of abduction—inference to the best explanation—makes such belief highly reasonable and persuasive.  Reflecting on his research at Cambridge University, especially devoted to one of its most illustrations professors, Sir Isaac Newton, he thought about “how thinking about science and God had changed since the publication of Newton’s great Principia in 1687, almost exactly three centuries earlier.  In the epilogue to a later edition of that book called ‘The General Scholium’ and in other scientific works, notably the Opticks, Newton articulated a profoundly theological perspective.  Not only did he extol the order and uniformity of nature as a reflection of God’s character and superintending care of creation; he argued for the existence of God based on the design evident in nature—in short, for a God hypothesis” (p. 593).  Newton “also understood that the most fundamental laws of nature either merely describe the observed regularities in nature or they manifest the ‘constant Spirit action’ of a ‘Divine Sustainer’ of the world.  He did not think the laws of physics alone explained the origin of the solar system or, still less, the origin of the universe” (p. 596).  Consequently:  “For Newton, nature not only provided evidential support for belief in God, but his God hypothesis functioned as a hugely productive science starter.  There is no reason to think that updating that hypothesis will threaten scientific advance today. On the contrary, there is good reason to expect that it will inspire deeper interest in discovering more about the intricacy, order, and design of the universe, just as it did for Newton himself” (p. 622).

Though Meyer’s in-depth scientific discussions may challenge general readers, he generally makes his ideas clear and provides personal insights as well as illustrative materials.  To understand how an advocate of Intelligent Design applies his scientific expertise to theological positions, Return of the God Hypothesis is a fine presentation. 

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Richard E. Simmons III worked in the insurance industry for 28 years before establishing The Center for Executive Leadership to help counsel and inspire for businessmen and professionals.  He recently published Reflections On The Existence Of God:  A Series Of Essays (Birmingham, AL:  Union Hill, c. 2019)—a decidedly non-academic, but deeply serious, presentation of reasons to believe there’s a God.   Simmons has been seriously reading and pondering the issue for nearly three decades, so his short chapters (easily read in 10 minutes) reveal his rhetorical gift for popularization.  They usually focus on a significant person, or a quotation, eliciting commentary by the author.  “This book lays out,” he says, “in short essays, much of the evidence for the existence of God that is available.  We should seek to take the evidence offered and use it to make reasonable conclusions.  What you will find is, as the evidence accumulates, it enables us to come to confident conclusions about God. Who He is.  And, that He truly is” (p. 21).

Simmons deals with the importance of seeking truth, resolving the problem of pain and evil, discerning moral principles, finding meaning in life, understanding science, the importance of Jesus and His Resurrection, etc.  Finding atheism irrational and self-contradictory, he endorses the Christian Way.  He hopes to “help people see how a God-centered worldview makes sense of what we see and experience in life.  I have tried to demonstrate that Christianity is logical, non-contradictory, and more fully true to the facts of human existence than atheism.  It clearly leads to a more dignified and compassionate view of human life.  The bottom line: It has greater explanatory power than atheism. The reason for this is because it is true. God exists. When you live in harmony with His design you will experience a coherence to your life, which will help make sense of the world” (p. 219).  That he found it true for himself is clarified in the book’s final pages.  

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In God?  Very Probably:  Five Rational Ways to Think about the Question of a God (Eugene OR:  Cascade Books, Kindle Edition, c. 2015), Robert H. Nelson, an economist and professor at the the School of Public Policy of the University of Maryland, sought to set forth “the record of the recent progress of my thinking, taking me from a long-standing basic agnosticism as recently as about eight years ago to now believing that a god (very probably) exists.”  I’ll examine only two of the “rational ways” he proposes.  

One reason to believe is “The Miracle of Mathematical Order in the Natural World.”  Mathematics, as Plato showed, take form in our minds and seem to inform every aspect of the cosmos.  This mathematical order, guiding physicists in their research, has given birth to an amazing series of discoveries (e.g. Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein.  In a 1960 article, “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences,”  Eugene Wigner referred to the miraculous nature of the intricately mathematical laws of nature and of our mental ability to understand them.  No purely naturalistic process, as is expounded by Charles Darwin, can begin to explain this phenomenon.  Centuries earlier, one of the most powerful thinkers in human history, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz—“the smartest person who ever lived,” some think, who co-developed calculus along with Newton—thought similarly.  To him, “all thought has a ‘fundamentally mathematical structure,’ [and] it follows that “God must be a perfect mathematician” (p. 59).

Inasmuch as atheists routinely cite Darwin as their inspiration, Nelson makes a careful study of naturalistic evolution in a chapter entitled “Darwinism as Secular Fundamentalism.”  There’s no doubt the living world constantly changes, or evolves, in many ways, and Darwin’s careful observations are useful in understanding life’s history.  But “to say that ‘evolution exists’ is to say very little, not much more informative than to say that ‘history exists’—a virtual truism” (p. 99).  So too, to say “natural selection” occurs is little more enlightening than to observe wars have helped shape world history.  In fact, Nelson thinks, the updated version of Darwinism (neo-Darwinism) simply lacks empirical confirmation.  It was, as one might say, closer to a matter of Darwinist faith than a demonstrated historical fact” (p. 106).  In fact, it’s significantly different from science—it’s what Mary Midgley says is a ReligionModern secularists, she says, are clearly “evolution-worshippers,” with Life as something akin to a god.  Thinkers such as Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould wrote shortly before he died, “are the ‘apostles’ of a new secular fundamentalism that was seeking to win converts to ‘the true Darwinian scripture’” (p. 108).

Discounting the new fundamentalism, Nelson exposes its internal self-contradictions, joining legions of logicians who have doubted the Darwinian story.  C.S. Lewis, for example, famously said:  “Naturalism . . . offers what professes to be a full account of our mental behavior; but this account, on inspection, leaves no room for the acts of knowing or insight on which the whole value of our thinking, as a means to truth, depends.”  Darwinists routinely claim to have discovered the ultimate “truth” that explains all that lives.  But if they are right, explaining the mechanism of “evolution through natural selection,” they cannot claim to know any durable “truth.”  Yet they dogmatically insist that all beliefs, as well as  all species, continually evolve through the survival of the fittest.  The notion of “fittest” may very well enable it to survive for a time, but all beliefs, like all species, will be replaced by better ones.  “Hence, to believe that Darwinism is ‘true’ leads to the conclusion that it is ‘not true,’ a direct contradiction.  Applying the method of contradiction as widely employed by mathematicians, we can logically then conclude that Darwinism itself is necessarily ‘not true,’ although it may be evolutionarily useful (but we could not know this as a ‘truth’ either).  In order to find real truth in the world, it requires stepping outside the workings of biological evolution, something which for the true-believing Darwinist is impossible” (p. 112).  Importantly, “Darwin himself was aware of this problem,” confessing in 1881, “that ‘with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy.  Would anyone trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?’” (p. 112).

As an eminent economist demanding empirical evidence and employing rigorous logic, Nelson gives readers considerable reason to believe in God.