Stephen Meyer is an intelligent-design creationist who has spent his career trying to squelch the teaching of evolution in the U.S. and advancing the big mission of his employer, the Discovery Institute (he’s director of the Center for Science and Culture): debunking naturalism and materialism in favor of religion, preferably Christianity.
Meyer has managed to con the right-wingnuts at Newsweek into publishing the article below, which list three scientific discoveries that, says Meyer, point directly to God. They’re apparently the subject of his new book (published by HarperOne, the religious wing of Harper), Return of the God Hypothesis: Three Discoveries that Reveal the MInd Behind the Universe. If you go to its Amazon site, you find it highly lauded by those looking for any reason to believe in God. Since that is most Americans, these books usually get high ratings and sell respectably.
But,in truth, Meyer’s “Discoveries” have been long known, and have been debunked insofar as there are more plausible, naturalistic, and non-Goddy explanations for all of them.
Moreover, before we start accepting the God hypothesis—note that Meyer explicitly calls the Intelligent Designer “God”—he has (as Hitchens used to say) “all his work before him.” For even if the three examples pointed to an intelligence operating in the Universe, that doesn’t mean it’s God, much less the Christian God. As the Discovery Institute used to say before its mask slipped, the Designer could be any form of unknown cosmic intelligence, including space aliens. Before you decide that an observation confirms the God Hypothesis instead of the Science (naturalistic) Hypothesis, you better show us that there’s a God that conforms to traditional belief. Otherwise it could confirm yet another supposition: the Xenu Hypothesis.
I’ll deal below with the features of the Universe, not mentioned by Meyer, that show how the Universe fails to conform to what we’d expect if there were a God.
Click to read.
Meyer begins by bemoaning the well-known decline in belief in God in America, which, as I noted recently, has fallen to 81% from 92% just 11 years ago. Meyer blames this on atheistic scientists:
Perhaps surprisingly, our survey discovered that the perceived message of science has played a leading role in the loss of faith. We found that scientific theories about the unguided evolution of life have, in particular, led more people to reject belief in God than worries about suffering, disease, or death. It also showed that 65 percent of self-described atheists and 43 percent of agnostics believe “the findings of science [generally] make the existence of God less probable.”
It’s easy to see why this perception has proliferated. In recent years, many scientists have emerged as celebrity spokesmen for atheism. Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, Bill Nye, Michael Shermer, the late Stephen Hawking, and others have published popular books arguing that science renders belief in God unnecessary or implausible. “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if, at bottom, there is no purpose, no design… nothing but blind, pitiless indifference,” Dawkins famously wrote.
This cannot be allowed to stand, and so Meyer goes back and recycles three old chestnuts that, he argues, points to a designer who just happens to be God. They tell, Meyer says, “a decidedly God-friendly story”. (He’s totally unbiased here!)
I’ll give alternative naturalistic explanations for each of the three “proofs of God”. We don’t know the materialistic answers for sure, but at least the scientific explanations are in principle testable, and there is some evidence behind them.
Meyer’s words are indented.
1.) The Big Bang.
First, scientists have discovered that the physical universe had a beginning. This finding, supported by observational astronomy and theoretical physics, contradicts the expectations of scientific atheists, who long portrayed the universe as eternal and self-existent—and, therefore, in no need of an external creator.
Evidence for what scientists call the Big Bang has instead confirmed the expectations of traditional theists. Nobel laureate Arno Penzias, who helped make a key discovery supporting the Big Bang theory, has noted the obvious connection between its affirmation of a cosmic beginning and the concept of divine creation. “The best data we have are exactly what I would have predicted, had I nothing to go on but the five books of Moses…[and] the Bible as a whole,” writes Penzias.
Before we get to the alternate explanations, let’s look at what Genesis I says about the creation (King James version):
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
6 And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters
7 And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
8 And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.
It’s a stretch to harmonize this with what we know of the Big Bang, since there appears to have been water, Earth was created before light, and light was created before the “firmament” (presumably stars like the sun), and, importantly, before the Night and the Day, which are caused by the rotation of the earth. And that water deeply disturbs me. Is it metaphorical water or real water? The only thing that harmonizes with the Big Bang here is light (presumably accompanying the Big Bang) followed by the firmament. (And yet earth was created before the light and the Big Bang!) And later on, we see that the plants are created before the stars and the Sun. It’s a big mess. There are actually several sequences of creation here, and they don’t harmonize.
As for Penzias, he apparently never read the “five books of Moses”, because the creation story is absolutely contradicted by evolution, for which we have tons of evidence. (I wrote a book about that.). That’s why creationists and their subspecies Intelligent Design advocates fight against evolution. If Penzias’s statement is correct, he was a theological ignoramus.
The naturalistic alternatives to the Big Bang for the origin of the Universe involve a number of theories that you can find here, here, here, and in other places. Now there’s little doubt that the Big Bang occurred; the question is whether this is how our present Universe began, and whether there are other universes originating in similar (or other) ways. The alternatives include a pure quantum fluctuation (“nothing is unstable” as Krauss noted), Brane models, and eternal inflation, in which different universes are created at intervals (the “multiverse”). If you ask most cosmologists, they’d sign on to the Big Bang, but whether that completely describes the origin of our universe, or is an incomplete description of our universe (and there could be other universes), is something we don’t know. If the Big Bang did occur, which seems likely since we have tons of evidence for it, then that shows only that the Universe began, not how it began. If you say, “God did it,” that stops all research on how the Universe began, and it’s not an answer, just a fill in for “we don’t know” based on people who want to believe in God. Finally, the Bible is a really lousy description of how the Universe, the Earth, and then life on Earth came to be.
2.) Fine tuning:
Second, discoveries from physics about the structure of the universe reinforce this theistic conclusion. Since the 1960s, physicists have determined that the fundamental physical laws and parameters of our universe are finely tuned, against all odds, to make our universe capable of hosting life. Even slight alterations of many independent factors—such as the strength of gravitational or electromagnetic attraction, or the initial arrangement of matter and energy in the universe—would have rendered life impossible. Scientists have discovered that we live in a kind of “Goldilocks Universe,” or what Australian physicist Luke Barnes calls an extremely “Fortunate Universe.”
Not surprisingly, many physicists have concluded that this improbable fine-tuning points to a cosmic “fine-tuner.” As former Cambridge astrophysicist Sir Fred Hoyle argued, “A common-sense interpretation of the data suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics” to make life possible.
First, we do not know how “fine-tuned” the Universe is, and whether other parameters might also allow a kind if life to exist. Second, if there is a multiverse, alternative universes may have different physical properties, and we happen to live in one that permits life.
In the 8.5-minute debate video below, Sean Carroll gives five arguments in favor of naturalism and against the theistic argument for God from fine-tuning (the latter he calls a “terrible argument”). In fact, he shows that only naturalism supports the idea that life is permitted by certain physical parameters, for God could have done anything that he wanted regardless of the laws of physics. Finally, Carroll argues that the physical properties of the Universe are not those predicted by an a priori theistic theory, but comport better with the predictions of naturalism. (One of these is that theism predicts that “God should be easy to find.”) That is an important argument against Meyer’s thesis!
3.) Intelligently designed features of organisms. This is just the same old ID argument reprised:
Third, molecular biology has revealed the presence in living cells of an exquisite world of informational nanotechnology. These include digital code in DNA and RNA—tiny, intricately constructed molecular machines which vastly exceed our own digital high technology in their storage and transmission capabilities. And even Richard Dawkins has acknowledged that “the machine code of the genes is uncannily computer-like” — implying, it would seem, the activity of a master programmer at work the origin of life. At the very least, the discoveries of modern biology are not what anyone would have expected from blind materialistic processes.
Saying that the “machine code of genes” has features of computer code is not, as Meyer argues, evidence for a designer, and Dawkins would be the last to argue that. In fact, the discoveries of modern biology, in particular the jury-rigged features of life (just taking humans, the recurrent laryngeal nerve, the swelling of the male prostate, and so on), show that the designer was not intelligent. But features like the recurrent laryngeal nerve, which in giraffes is about 15 feet longer than it should be if it were intelligently designed, support the evolutionary origin of these features, for they make sense under the theory of evolution. I cannot think of a single feature of organisms, nor can other non-ID biologists, that could not in any way have evolved by naturalistic processes. Behe and his DI friends have suggested several in the past, like blood-clotting and the bacterial flagellum, but all of these have been shown to have possible origins through naturalistic processes including natural selection. True, we don’t understand the origin of some features, but the most parsimonious explanation for these is that we don’t have the historical evidence (we weren’t there when they evolved), not that we should give up trying to explain them scientifically, go to church, and thank the Lord God for his Intelligent Design.
I reiterate Carroll’s thesis that there are many aspects of the Universe that testify against the existence of a Biblical God, including His absence when we should have been able to detect his presence (Stenger’s argument), the unexplained existence of physical evil—evidence for naturalism and against theism—and the arrogant view that the whole universe was created as a stage for the dramas one of millions of species on one of a gazillion planets in our Universe.
Wail about the secularism of America as he does, Meyer is not going to stop the relentless rise of unbelief in the West. And he doesn’t mention that one reason people are leaving churches and giving up God is simply what I said in the above paragraph: there are many more ways that the God hypothesis doesn’t make sense than that it does make sense. People simply have grown up and stopped believing fairy tales. Science is one reason for this, but there are also others, like the fact that people in the world are generally better off, both morally and materially, than they were in the past, and religion depends on people’s lack of well-being, the sense that no human or human state cares about them.
The unresolved question that I have is why Newsweek purveys this palaver to its audience. It is scientifically irresponsible to mislead readers this way without giving the naturalistic counterarguments.