Is the scientific data pointing towards a universe of design or towards a universe that needs no supernatural explanation? In this interview, Sean and Scott talk with leading intelligent design proponent Stephen Meyer about his latest book The Return of the God Hypothesis. Dr. Meyer argues that cosmology, physics, and biology all point to the existence of a transcendent mind and that God is making a comeback in both academia and the wider culture.
About our Guest
Stephen C. Meyer received his Ph.D. in the philosophy of science from the University of Cambridge. A former geophysicist and college professor, he now directs Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture in Seattle. He has authored the New York Times best seller Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (HarperOne, 2013), Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design (HarperOne, 2009), which was named a Book of the Year by the Times (of London) Literary Supplement in 2009, and now, The Return of the God Hypothesis (HarperOne, 2021).
Sean McDowell: Welcome to Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith and Culture, a podcast from Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. I'm your host, Sean McDowell, Professor of Apologetics. Well, we have a guest today that you will definitely recognize because he's been on the show before, but also is one of the leading philosophers, apologists, scientists today and, really, could be considered one of the founding thinkers of the intelligent design movement. Has written some New York Times best-selling books such as Darwin's Doubt, but has a new book out called Return of the God Hypothesis that we are going to jump into. So, Dr. Stephen Meyer, thanks for joining us.
Stephen Meyer: It's awfully nice to be talking to you and talking to you again, Sean. Thank you.
Sean McDowell: Oh, my pleasure. Your book, again, Return of the God Hypothesis, is fantastic. I do this little Instagram post where I do a book of the week, where I pick a book that shifted my thinking, and your book was featured on this because I think it's just so timely and insightful. I want as many of our listeners to pick it up, so let's jump in with the title. You call it Return of the God Hypothesis. What is God returning from?
Stephen Meyer: Right. Well, God never went anywhere, but our thinking about God has changed in response to scientific evidence and our approach to science. And you're right. The title of the book invites the telling of a story. The story is, in the period of the Scientific Revolution, from roughly 1500 to 1750, modern science in its contemporary form, where the systematic methods of investigating nature were developed, science began, in a decidedly Judeo-Christian context... or milieu, as the scholars call it. It did so not incidentally, but instead for specifically Judeo-Christian and, indeed, biblical reasons. The early founders of modern science believed, first of all, that nature was intelligible. That it could be understood. That it had secrets to reveal. There was a hidden order or design built into nature that they could understand because... and they believed this because they believed that nature was created by a rational creator, namely the God of the Bible, who had made our minds in His image in order that we might understand the rationality and the order and the design that He had built into nature.
So, there was a principle of correspondence between what Sir John Polkinghorne, the great Cambridge physicist who only recently passed away, described as the order within nature and the order... or the order within in our minds and the order without. The reason within and the reason without. There was a match between the two. There were many other presuppositions that the Judeo-Christian view of the world brought to the understanding of the natural world that inspired science. The early founders thought that nature had a lawful order to it. That that lawful order was contingent on the will of the creator because it was a creation. Yes, there was an order built into nature, but it could've been otherwise. There were many different types of order that God could've built into nature. The laws of nature had a precise mathematical form, but they could've had other mathematical forms. To discover how God actually made things, one needed to go look and see and to examine things carefully and empirically and systematically and experimentally.
This was a departure from the Greek approach, which was somewhat concerned with a certain level of empiricism to look at things, but the Greeks believed that nature was governed by an internal logic that was self-evident to any logical person. You could essentially sit down and do armchair philosophizing and figure out how nature must work. That's why we had, for so long, the idea that orbits were circular. The circles were, after all, perfect motions. And so that was the most logical way for the solar system to be organized and therefore that's the way it must be. Robert Boyle came along and said, no, it isn't the job of the natural philosophers to find out what God must've done, but rather to go and see what He actually did do. This new approach to science, which emphasized the doctrine of creation and that creation was contingent on the will of the creator, inspired an empirical approach.
That was the period of the Scientific Revolution. Most historians of science now see these Christian ideas as crucial to science getting going. That was lost in the late 19th century with the rise of thinkers like Darwin, Marx, later Freud, Thomas Huxley, and others who inaugurated a kind of science... a materialistic approach to science that we've inherited to this day. But the argument of the book is that there are three big discoveries that have been made that challenge this materialistic understanding and which are again pointing to the reality of God, where what I call the God hypothesis can function not only as a set of presuppositions that make science possible but actually as an explanatory hypothesis that makes sense of what we're seeing in the natural world.
Sean McDowell: One of the things that I love about the way that you write is that you tell stories. You do that in all of your books, but I also know, in this book, it's a reflection of your own story. What's the story behind your interest in the question of God's existence?
Stephen Meyer: Thank you very much. I had a kind of long, torturous conversion. I tended to overthink everything and so... Somewhere between my senior year in high school and the first year out of college, I became a Christian. I'm not sure exactly when to pinpoint that. There were a lot of ups and downs and backs and forths and so forth. But the considerations that moved me intellectually to feel confidence about the existence of God initially were philosophical. The argument for epistemological necessity made a tremendous amount of sense to me. The crucial question in the philosophy of knowledge today is the reliability of the human mind. It seemed that theism grounded a confidence in the reliability of the mind better than any other competing worldview. On that basis, I was a fairly convinced theist, and also a Christian, coming out of college.
In my mid 20s, I attended a conference in Dallas, where I was working. I was working as a geophysicist. I was doing digital signal processing, an early form of information technology. The conference convened scientists to discuss the origin of the universe, the origin of life, and the origin and nature of human consciousness. It was exactly the set of questions that had long interested me. Those that were at the intersection between science and philosophy. The attendees were world-class scientists and world-class philosophers on these topics. Some were theist. Some were materialist or atheist or agnostics. The panels were divided between those who were theistic friendly and those who were more operating out of a scientific materialist worldview.
I was stunned to find that the theists seemed to an intellectual initiative in all three of these conversations. One of the... The opening conversation about the origin of the universe featured, among others, Allen Sandage, who was the great observational astronomer from Cal Tech, who had been Edwin Hubble's graduate assistant and who had gone on to continue Hubble's work verifying the expansion of the universe as the result of the redshift evidence from the galaxies in all different quadrants of the night sky. Sandage shocked everyone... most people there at least... when he rose to the podium and sat with the theists in this conversation back and forth and gave an extraordinary talk about how the evidence from observational cosmology confirmed the idea that the universe had a beginning and that this was not evidence that could be explained within the framework of scientific materialism or within physics as we know it, as he put it. It was evidence for what he called a supernatural event. It was a creation event.
He then recounted how this discovery and the discovery of what we call the fine tuning and some other considerations from biology about design had moved him to a point of recognizing that his materialistic worldview was inadequate and also to the point where he didn't want to consider anything else. At which point he said he began to do business with God because he realized that, despite his vaunted objectivity, he wasn't being very objective about this. That there was something in him that did not want there to be evidence of a designing mind or creator behind the universe. Eventually, he realized the problem was internal and he had a conversion. And he recounted this whole story.
I heard this and then, in a subsequent panel, there was a discussion about the origin of life, which was equally interesting to me. There, there was another intellectual conversion announced and that was the conversion of Dean Kenyon, who had been a leading chemical evolutionary theorist. He announced that he no longer accepted his own most popular theory of the chemical evolutionary origin of life and that instead he thought that the whole question of natural theology needed to be reopened because of what the biologists were discovering at the foundation of life, about the information bearing properties of cells. That the information he thought indicated the activity of a prior intelligence.
Well, I was seized with these presentations. Ended up meeting a man named Charles Thaxton, who was on the origin of life panel. He and I began to talk. A year later, I was off to grad school and dove in first on the whole question of the origin of life. I spent from basically 1986 to 2009 when I published Signature in the Cell focused and thinking about that question and whether or not it was possible to make a scientifically-based argument for intelligent design, which I did or at least in my own estimation did in developing the case for intelligent design in Signature in the Cell. But after Signature in the Cell... Signature in the Cell concluded that a designing intelligence of some kind was necessary to explain the origin of the digital information that's stored in DNA, in RNA, the molecules that are the foundation of life. I didn't attempt to identify the designer. This new book brings in other evidence to do that and to answer the question who is the designing intelligence responsible for life and what can science tell us about that?
Sean McDowell: Wow. I love that you get into this data. I would say your last chapter in the book, to me, is worth the price of the whole book. You had this line. You said, "I remember thinking at 14 my life was over." And I'm reading that going that means since 14, you had been thinking about these questions and wrestling with them. This book really reflects decades of research. It's clear that you thought about it as a scientist but you know the implications that follow from it. With that said, let's jump into the first piece of evidence that you cite, which is the origin of the universe. What key discoveries led scientists to conclude that the universe is not eternal and what follows from those discoveries for the source of the origin of the universe?
Stephen Meyer: Well, that's an excellent question. The story of the discovery of the beginning of the universe is absolutely fascinating. It starts in roughly the 1920s. There's some indications before that, in the '10s, but the astronomers begin to discover that the universe... Sorry, that the light coming from distant galaxies is being stretched out. It looks redder than it should look if the objects in the night sky are stationary in relation to us. This is the well-known phenomenon known as redshift. It's a form of Doppler shift, where as an object moves away, the wavelengths of light are being stretched. They become longer. Longer wavelengths correspond to redder light. If you shine light through a prism, it separates into red to violet. The red corresponds to the longer wavelengths. This was first discovered by a little known American astronomer named Vesto Slipher. He discovered it in the '10s, but it was coming from what were then called nebula. People didn't know at the time that nebula were distant galaxies.
Hubble established that the nebula were galaxies and then confirmed that the light coming from those galaxies was red shifted and then therefore that the galaxies were moving away from us. That suggested an expanding universe in the forward direction of time, where the universe would be expanding something like a balloon. He also discovered that the further away the galaxies were, the faster they were receding, and that suggested a spherically symmetric expansion. I just did a talk on this and blew up a ballon to illustrate the idea with the galaxies drawn on the surface of the balloon. But the key insight comes when you wind the clock backwards and all that galactic material becomes more and more compressed, closer together, more dense. Eventually, it all congeals... or would have been compressed into one dense point marking the furthest extent to which you could back extrapolate the universe. In other words, the creation of it. The beginning of the universe and the beginning of the expansion.
So, that was one line of evidence. A parallel development in theoretical physics seemed to confirm the same conclusion. This was Einstein's general theory of relativity, which he published in 1915. The theory of relativity was a new theory. This general theory was a new theory of gravity. It suggested that gravity was produced as massive bodies actually curved the fabric of space around them, creating preferred lines of trajectory that caused other massive bodies passing by them to be pulled towards them. One implication of this theory of general relativity is that the universe must be dynamic and expanding. Because if gravity were the only force in the universe, then everything should've pooled together into one giant black hole. But we don't live in a black hole universe. We live in a universe with empty space between the galaxies. Between the massive bodies that are in the universe. And so that implied that there must be a contrary force, an antigravity force, pushing outward, which implied a dynamic universe.
Einstein didn't like this implication of his theory very much. And so what he did is he arbitrarily chose a value for what is called now... this outward pushing force is called the cosmological constant. He chose an arbitrary value for that. He essentially fine tuned the system, in his mind at least, so that the outward pushing force of the cosmological constant and the inward pulling force of gravitation were precisely balanced so that he could depict the universe as a steady state. A static universe that was neither expanding nor contracting, in which case then he didn't have the uncomfortable question of what had caused the beginning of the universe. There was no beginning. He could again portray the universe as eternal and self-existent, as many physicists and even philosophers going back to the Greeks had thought the universe was best depicted.
Two problems arose with that. One, subsequent physicists, including the great Belgian priest physicists, Georges Lemaitre, showed that even with the finely tuned value for the cosmological constant that he had chosen, the universe would be unstable. It would either contract or expand. Even slight perturbations in matter would throw the whole thing off, so it wasn't possible to fine tune it in the way that Einstein attempted. But then, as I like to say in the book, the heavens talked back. This was the discovery of Hubble. That the universe was in fact expanding. In a famous taxi cab ride in 1927, Lemaitre told Einstein about the redshift evidence. Eddington invited him to Cambridge two years later. Eddington told Einstein about the redshift evidence. And then finally Einstein went out to see Hubble in 1931 at the Mount Wilson Observatory. There's some famous newsreel footage of Einstein walking in, looking through the telescope. Two weeks later, he gives an interview to the New York Times and says that Hubble and [inaudible] and his colleague had proven that the universe was expanding. It was dynamic. It wasn't static. He was wrong. He later said that his gerrymandering of the cosmological constant was the greatest mistake... the greatest blunder of my scientific career.
So, there's two lines of evidence. There were many more that came. The cosmic background radiation. The discovery of the anomalies that people were looking for in the cosmic background radiation with the COBE satellite. There have been a lot of observational evidences from astronomy that have confirmed the superiority of the Big Bang model with its affirmation of a beginning over competing models such as the steady state and the oscillating universe. The idea of the beginning... I argue in the book... There are ways to try to get around that. There's a new model of cosmology called quantum cosmology. I show in the book that quantum cosmology has its own hidden theistic implications, but I point out... The claim I make in the book is, as best we can tell from both observational astronomy and theoretical physics, the universe had a beginning.
Sean McDowell: How would you compare the acceptance of the Big Bang model, that the universe had a beginning, with the acceptance of biological evolution among biologists? Is it as widely accepted? Is it more accepted? How would you compare those two?
Stephen Meyer: Well, it's really hard to say right now precisely because the contemporary Neo-Darwinian theory of evolution is now so widely doubted among leading evolutionary biologists despite the almost uniform affirmation of the theory in science textbooks, public proclamations of public spokespersons for science, statements issued from the AAAS, the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, or from the National Academy of Science. Official sciencedom has proclaimed Neo-Darwinism to be completely without... totally solid. Don't look behind the curtain. There's no problem here. But if you get into the peer-reviewed literature on evolutionary biology, there is a tremendous amount of doubt, especially about the creative power of the mutation selection mechanism.
I attended a conference in 2016 at the Royal Society in London. The Royal Society being the oldest and most august scientific body in the world, it was called... The conference was called by leading evolutionary biologists who are unhappy with Neo-Darwinism, recognize its explanatory limitations, and who are looking for... These scientists are looking for new models and new mechanisms of evolution that would have the kind of creative power necessary to produce the major innovations in the history of life. The mutation selection mechanism does a nice job of explaining adaptation and minor variation. It does not do a good job of explaining the origin of major innovation in the history of life. Events like the Cambrian explosion or the mammalian radiation or the angiosperm big bloom of flowering plants or many other such events in the history of life.
So, it's a little hard to make that comparison. I would say that the acceptance of some form of Big Bang cosmology is pretty wide and pervasive among physicists, astrophysicists, cosmologists, and astronomers. There's an inflationary model of... the inflationary Big Bang and that's quite popular. It has some problems, but it also presupposes a beginning. As do, oddly, these quantum cosmological models that were developed to try to circumvent the problem of the cosmological singularity. These models also end up presupposes a singularity, a singular beginning, to the universe in the technical papers.
Sean McDowell: That's great. Now, one of the things we hear frequently is that Stephen Hawking, one of the greatest physicists, scientists, over the past half century has shown that the universe could maybe even have a beginning but not need a creator. What's one or two key ways you think that his math doesn't add up?
Stephen Meyer: That's a big part of the new book, as you know, or you wouldn't have asked such an astute question. Thank you. Hawking is such an interesting figure. In 1966, in his Ph.D. thesis, he proved... made an initial proof of what's called the singularity theorem. It was a brilliant idea. He was doing black hole physics. He knew about the expanding universe. He knew that if you wound the clock backwards, the mass of the universe would've gotten more and more densely concentrated, causing a more tightly curved... causing the space of the universe to become more and more tightly curved. If you went back far enough, he argued, eventually you would reach a limiting case where the curvature of the universe would go to an infinite. Infinite curvature corresponds to zero spatial volume. At that point, that would mark the beginning of the universe itself. It also is a profoundly anti-materialistic implication because if the curvature of space goes to an infinite that corresponds to zero spatial volume, then you can't anything in no space. This is a picture of the universe arising. It's almost [inaudible], the creation of the universe out of nothing physical.
Hawking is profoundly, over time, uneasy with his own result. He does some more work on this in the '60s with Roger Penrose, one of his Ph.D. supervisors, and then with George Ellis. They end up providing more rigorous proofs of the singular at the beginning of the universe. A temporal singularity and a spatial singularity. Showing there was a beginning to time and space if the theory of general relativity is true. But there has been doubt about whether you could back extrapolate using general relativity all the way to the beginning because we don't know how gravitation would work in the very small smidgen of time and space right after the beginning when the universe would've been small enough to be affected by quantum fluctuations and be subject to quantum mechanical effects. The universe is always subject to quantum mechanical effects, but when the universe is small enough, those effects become relevant to its depiction.
And so what Hawking ended up developed was an alternative model of cosmology known as quantum cosmology, where he depicted the universe in its earliest stages as a quantum system. It's a little difficult to explain quickly, but in quantum mechanics... that's the physics of the very small. The physics of the very small is also the physics of the very weird, where particles connect like waves and waves connect like particles. In an ordinary quantum mechanical system, as you're trying to track the movement of a particle, until there's an observation, the particle has a finite probability of being in a whole bunch of different places at the same time. Until there's an observation, you don't get what's called the collapse of the wave function. There's a function that describes all the different places the particle could be. And there's a way of... The function allows you to calculate the probabilities associated with those different locations.
What Hawking and his colleague, James Hartle, did was say, well, we could calculate a wave function for the entire universe describing not all the places the particle could be, but all the different types of universes that might emerge out of the singularity. All the different universes with different gravitational fields. In his popular work, he made a lot out of a particular part of his mathematics where, when he's doing a mathematical transformation, the singular beginning to time is temporarily eliminated. He has to do a transformation involving imaginary time and what are called complex numbers. In that intermediate step in the transformation, time becomes what the call spatialized. There's no temporal dimension in the mathematics during this intermediate step in the calculation.
In his popular book, he made a big deal out of this thing. If there's no time, then there's no beginning. If there's no beginning, what need then of a creator? But he admits that this use of imaginary time is a mathematical... that the mathematics of that intermediate stage in his transformation has no physical meaning. It's just a calculation device. And then he drew a major physical and metaphysical implication from that. Well, as we got into the technical papers that Hawking was writing, he did not make that same... He didn't draw that same implication. What he was trying to do was to show that the universal wave function that they were calculating for the entire universe contained a universe that had a gravitational field like ours. That is it had... Yeah. It was a... That the universal function contained a universe like ours with our physics. If it did, he would say that then the laws of quantum gravity... the quantum physics applied to the beginning and the early universe explain the origin of our universe.
But this is a very strange result because... If you think about it philosophically. Because what they were actually saying... First of all, they presupposed the singularity in all these calculations. The singularity never went away. There was still a beginning. He was calculating the odds, effectively, of a universe like ours coming out of a cosmological singularity. So, there's still a singularity. They don't get rid of it. Number one. Number two, before there's matter, space, time, and energy, there is this universal wave function. But the universal wave function is not a thing. It's not matter, space, time, or energy. It's a purely mathematical energy which describes the different possible universes that might emerge out of a prior mathematical way of depicting reality.
One of the other physicists who's been involved in developing quantum cosmological models, named Alexander Vilenkin, has reflected on this quite deeply and he says, well, what are these laws of physics... Before there's matter, space, time, and energy, then, what tablet are these laws written on? This would be a purely mathematical reality. The universal wave function. And he goes on to say that math is a concept that exists in minds. He says, "Are we therefore saying that a mind predates the universe?" Because if matter is coming out of... Math is causally inert. It doesn't cause things to happen. It's a concept that we use to describe how matter behaves. The laws of physics don't... They describe how matter and energy within space and time function once they already exist. They don't produce matter, space, time, and energy.
And so Vilenkin saw that this whole approach of quantum... Well, his rhetorical question, which he never answered, implied that this whole approach of quantum cosmology actually has philosophically idealist or theistic implications. Because it implies the existence of a mind before the creation of matter, space, time, and energy. Hawking himself tumbled to this. In his popular book, A Brief History of Time, he said, "What puts fire in the equations that gives us a universe to describe? The equations don't give us a universe to describe. Something else must do that." So, I don't think he actually succeeds in providing a materialistic account of the origin of the universe.
And if I haven't exhausted your listeners already, there's more angle on this. It's really interesting. The universal wave function is the product of... is the result of detailed and very difficult mathematical manipulation or an attempt to solve, rather, a prior equation. The prior equation is called the Wheeler-DeWitt equation. It's the analog of the famous Schrodinger equation in ordinary quantum mechanics. But the Wheeler-DeWitt equation is a type of equation known as a functional differential equation that has an infinite number of solutions.
So, to get a definite solution, a definite universal wave function, out of the Wheeler-DeWitt equation, you have to apply what are called boundary constraints or boundary conditions to the equation. Those, in ordinary differential equations or partial differential equations, are provided by the physical system you're describing. If you use a certain sort of math to describe a certain sort of physics, the physical system will determine, for example, how long a vibrating string might be based on where you put the pegs on the guitar. The initial and boundary conditions are provided by the physical system.
There's no physics yet when we're talking about the origin of the universe, so where do the boundary constraints come from that allow this big monster equation to be solved? They're chosen arbitrarily by the physicist to get a universal wave function that includes a universe like ours. The whole process of mathematical modeling is indirected. It's teleological. There's an input of information from the physicist to constrain the degrees of mathematical freedom in order to get out a universe like ours. So, what are they actually modeling? I argue in the book they're modeling intelligent design. That you need information that constrains the degrees of mathematical freedom to get the answer you want and that information is coming from the theoretical physicist modeling. In a sense, what Hawking used to talk about is the mind of God.
Sean McDowell: That is super interesting. When I was reading through your book, some of those insights I just kind of stopped and was like, oh my goodness. These scientists, great scientists like Hawking and scientists like Einstein, are aware that their beliefs have theistic implications and it shapes the way that they do their science. They can't avoid the beginning and information, like you said, which leads to a mind. This is fascinating. Now, you do three. We've just scratched the surface on how the origin of the universe points to a beginner. The second one is fine-tuning. Now, we're not going to have time to go into depth on this, but it's basically the idea that the laws of physics and cosmology exist on a very narrow range, which can't be explained by chance and [inaudible] points towards a mind. Now, the quick response to this people often say is the multiverse. Could you give us your quick response if possible?
Stephen Meyer: We went into a bit too much detail on cosmology.
Sean McDowell: Oh, it's okay.
Stephen Meyer: The seal from my father's house, dot, dot, dot. Yeah, the fine-tuning. The physicists are telling us we live in a kind of Goldilocks universe where we have these multiple... a couple two, three dozen fine-tuning parameters that are against all odds. And that's an understatement. Beautifully tuned to allow for the possibility of life. They fall within very narrow tolerances or very narrow ranges that correspond to a life conducing universe. A life conducive universe. The common sense interpretation of this, as Fred Hoyle has pointed out, is that a superintellect monkeyed with physics and chemistry to make life possible. In fact, Hoyle upon discovering some of these fine-tuning parameters had a dramatic shift in his worldview from an outspoken atheist to someone who is at least quasi theistic. He believed that there was some intelligent design behind the universe.
The atheistic response or the materialistic response has been the multiverse. The multiverse is the idea that, yes, there are these incredibly small probabilities associated with these many independent factors making the whole ensemble even more incredibly improbable, but if there are enough other universes out there, then some universe with the right combination of fine-tuning parameters would've had to have arisen some place. And we, in this universe, just happen to be in that universe. We are impressed with the improbability, but really it's just an observer selection effect. We don't know that there are all these other universes out there, otherwise we wouldn't be so impressed with how improbable the fine-tuning is.
Here's the problem with this. One of many, but here's the biggest one. In order to make the multiverse hypothesis work, the universes can't just be out there, causally disconnected from one another. If we just have a bunch of causally disconnected universes, then nothing that happens in another universe has any effect on anything that happens here, including whatever process it was that fixed the fine-tuning parameters. Therefore to make the multiverse hypothesis work as a kind of explanation based on a chance process, the multiverse proponents have to posit universe generating mechanisms. There are two that have been proposed. One based on string theory and one based on something called inflationary cosmology. If there is a common cause of all the different universes that are being posited by the multiverse, then you can propose that our universe is... You can depict our universe as a kind of lucky winner of a cosmic lottery, where there is an underlying causal mechanism that's producing all the different universes. We're all connected by a common causal mechanism. All the different universes are.
That's where the rub comes in. The universe generating mechanisms that have been proposed... In order for the universe generating mechanisms that have been proposed to explain the incredible improbability of the fine-tuning parameters and to explain how new universes would arise, even in theory, these universe generating mechanisms themselves have to be incredibly finely tuned. For the universe generating mechanisms based on string theory and inflationary cosmology, there has to be prior fine-tuning for them to generate a multiplicity of universes. And yet there is no explanation for that prior fine-tuning. In other words, these mechanisms invoke prior unexplained fine-tuning and so the multiverse doesn't ultimately explain the fine-tuning at all.
But instead we do know of a cause that is sufficient to explain to what we call finely tuned systems. Finely tuned systems are... We use that term to refer to systems that have a multiplicity of improbable factors or parameters that jointly work together to perform some functional outcome or to exemplify some set of functional requirements. In our experience, we have lots of examples of finely tuned systems. French recipes, internal combustion engines, finely tuned Swiss watches, and the universe. All the systems that we know of where we can trace things back to their source always involve a intelligent cause, so the explanation of the multiverse, I argue, is still best explained... or even if there is a multiverse, intelligent design is still the best explanation for the fine-tuning in the universe.
Sean McDowell: That theme just runs through your book like a drumbeat, so to speak. Whether it's cosmology, physics, or biology, these naturalistic explanations account for some data but they can't get rid of the need for a mind and intelligence and information and design in the universe. It just is so fascinating for me to read this. It's encouraging. But my last question for you is how has your personal life and faith been affected by studying this scientific data in such depth over the past few decades?
Stephen Meyer: Well, I think we all walk around in our daily lives somewhat inured to the extraordinary... as you put it, the specificity that's required for the things that we take for granted. From the beautiful patterns, the orderly concourse of nature, in the solar system, if you're watching this, the movement of planets night by night, the intricacies of biological systems... we have all these flowering plants in bloom right now in Seattle where I am... the inner workings of the cell. I think there is a natural tendency in the human mind to lose our awareness... First, our awe, and our awareness of design and our awareness of God. I think there's a natural tendency towards disbelief. For me, the study of these different evidences and different biological systems, it realigns my thinking on a day-to-day basis. Because even though I have this natural drift towards agnosticism... We're used to seeing everything around us. What's the big deal? It forces me to think about what the best explanation of these realities really are. And so it has the effect of realigning my thinking and I think bringing it into align with reality.
That's part of what I hope to convey in the book. The evidence for the existence of God is no further away from us than one of those little points in the night sky. We can't quite see it with the naked eye, but we now know with the telescope. You can see that that's a galaxy. That galaxy is providing a clue to what's happening in the universe. It is expanding outward from a creation event. I can go and look at the night sky tonight and identify a point of light that, with a better telescope, I could see was such a galaxy. If I look in a microscope and look into the inner workings of the cell... I see life forms all the time around me. Ho-hum, there's a bunny rabbit passing by. There's a wonderful flowering tree. But I know now that the angiosperm big bloom was an extraordinarily discontinuous event in the history of life. It's explained by Darwinian processes nor is animal development. With all the circuitry that's required to put all the cells in the right place at the right time. I think when you get into the details of biological, astronomical, physical evidences, it enhances your wonder but also your awareness of the need for a great mind the universe to explain what we're seeing.
Sean McDowell: Steve, your book is just fantastic. I really hope that our listeners will pick it up. I want folks to know. This is not written for beginners, but it's also not written just for people with a scientific background. Dr. Meyer tells a story. He gives illustrations. Now, you'll have to put some effort in to understand it, but to me, the effort is worth it. Because there were so many eye-opening, brain-expanding moments where I paused and I was like, oh my goodness, this is just so helpful. So, Dr. Meyer, we at Biola, we love you. We're grateful for your ministry. Thanks for writing a great book, The Return of the God Hypothesis, and thanks for taking your time to come on the show.
Stephen Meyer: Thank you and thanks for the wonderfully studied and astute questions. It made for a really good conversation.
Sean McDowell: We'll do it again.
This has been an episode of the podcast, Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith and Culture. The Think Biblically podcast is brought to you by Talbot School of Theology at Biola University, offering programs in Southern California and online, including our Master's in Christian Apologetics, now offered fully online. Visit biola.edu/talbot to learn more. If you enjoyed today's conversation, give us a rating on your podcast app and share it with a friend. Thanks for listening and remember. Think biblically about everything.