Where Science Meets Faith to Find a Creator by Lee Strobel
All the passages below are taken from Lee Strobel’s book, “The Case for a Creator,” which was published in 2004 by Zondervan.
I am all in favor of a dialogue between science and religion, but not a constructive dialogue. One of the great achievements of science has been, if not to make it impossible for an intelligent person to be religious, then at least to make it possible for them not to be religious. We should not retreat from this accomplishment.
Physicist Steven Weinberg1
Science and religion … are friends, not foes, in the common quest for knowledge. Some people may find this surprising, for there’s a feeling throughout our society that religious belief is outmoded, or downright impossible, in a scientific age. I don’t agree. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if people in this so-called “scientific age” knew a bit more about science than many of them actually do, they’d find it easier to share my view.
Physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne2
Allan Rex Sandage, the greatest observational cosmologist in the world—who has deciphered the secrets of the stars, plumbed the mysteries of quasars, revealed the age of globular clusters, pinpointed the distances of remote galaxies, and quantified the universe’s expansion through his work at the Mount Wilson and Palomar observatories—prepared to step onto the platform at a conference in Dallas.
Few scientists are as widely respected as this one-time protege to legendary astronomer Edwin Hubble. Sandage has been showered with prestigious honors from the American Astronomical Society, the Swiss Physical Society, the Royal Astronomical Society, and the Swedish Academy of Sciences, receiving astronomy’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize. The New York Times dubbed him the “Grand Old Man of Cosmology.”
As he approached the stage at this 1985 conference on science and religion, there seemed to be little doubt where he would sit. The discussion would be about the origin of the universe, and the panel would be divided among those scientists who believed in God and those who didn’t, with each viewpoint having its own side of the stage.
Many of the attendees probably knew that the ethnically Jewish Sandage had been a virtual atheist even as a child. Many others undoubtedly believed that a scientist of his stature must surely be skeptical about God. As Newsweek put it, “The more deeply scientists see into the secrets of the universe, you’d expect, the more God would fade away from their hearts and minds.”3 So Sandage’s seat among the doubters was a given.
Then the unexpected happened. Sandage set the room abuzz by turning and taking a chair among the theists. Even more dazzling, in the context of a talk about the Big Bang and its philosophical implications, he disclosed publicly that he had decided to become a Christian at age fifty.
The Big Bang, he told the rapt audience, was a supernatural event that cannot be explained within the realm of physics as we know it. Science had taken us to the First Event, but it can’t take us further to the First Cause. The sudden emergence of matter, space, time, and energy pointed to the need for some kind of transcendence.
“It was my science that drove me to the conclusion that the world is much more complicated than can be explained by science,” he would later tell a reporter. “It was only through the supernatural that I can understand the mystery of existence.”4
Sitting among the Dallas crowd that day, astounded by what he was hearing from Sandage, was a young geophysicist who had dropped by the conference almost by accident. Stephen Meyer had become a Christian through a philosophical quest for the meaning of life, but he hadn’t really explored the issue of whether science could provide evidential support for his faith.
Now here was not only Sandage but also prominent Harvard astrophysicist Owen Gingerich concluding that the Big Bang seemed to fit best into a theistic worldview. Later came a session on the origin of life, featuring Dean Kenyon, a biophysicist from San Francisco State University, who had co-authored an influential book asserting that the emergence of life might have been “biochemically predestined,” because of an inherent attraction between amino acids.5 This seemed to be the most promising explanation for the conundrum of how the first living cell could somehow self-assemble from nonliving matter.
To Meyer’s surprise, Kenyon stepped to the podium and actually repudiated the conclusions of his own book, declaring that he had come to the point where he was critical of all naturalistic theories of origins. Due to the immense molecular complexity of the cell and the information-bearing properties of DNA, Kenyon now believed that the best evidence pointed toward a designer of life.
Instead of science and religion being at odds, Meyer heard specialists at the highest levels of achievement who said they were theists—not in spite of the scientific evidence but because of it. As Sandage would say, “Many scientists are now driven to faith by their very work.”6
Meyer was intrigued. It seemed to him that the theists had the intellectual initiative in each of the three issues discussed at the conference—the origin of the universe, the origin of life, and the nature of human consciousness. Even skeptics on the panels conceded the shortcomings of naturalistic explanations. Their main response was only to challenge the theists to provide “scientific answers” instead of merely invoking the idea of intelligent design.
That objection didn’t make much sense to Meyer. “Maybe the world looks designed,” he mused, “because it really is designed!”
As he walked away from the conference, Meyer was brimming with excitement over what he had experienced. Despite his background in science, he simply had been unaware of the powerful scientific findings that were supporting belief in God. All of this, he decided, was worth a much more thorough investigation.
He didn’t know it at the time, but his life’s mission had just crystallized.
INTERVIEW #2: STEPHEN C. MEYER, PHD
Already having earned degrees in physics and geology, Meyer went on to receive his master’s degree in the history and philosophy of science at prestigious Cambridge University in England, where he focused on the history of molecular biology, the history of physics, and evolutionary theory. He then obtained his doctorate from Cambridge, where his dissertation analyzed the scientific and methodological issues in origin-of-life biology—a field he first got excited about when he heard Kenyon speak at the Dallas conference.
In the past fifteen years, Meyer has become one of the most knowledgeable and compelling voices in the burgeoning Intelligent Design movement. He has contributed to numerous books—including Darwinism, Design and Public Education; Mere Creation: Science, Faith and Intelligent Design; Signs of Intelligence: Understanding Intelligent Design; Science and Christianity: Four Views; The Creation Hypothesis: Scientific Evidence for an Intelligent Creator; Science and Evidence for Design in the Universe; The History of Science and Religion in the Western Tradition; Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins; Darwinism: Science or Philosophy; and Facets of Faith and Science, and is currently finishing books on DNA and the Cambrian explosion.
He has spoken at symposia at Cambridge, Oxford, Yale, Baylor, the University of Texas, and elsewhere; debated skeptics, including Michael Shermer, editor of The Skeptical Inquirer; written for magazines ranging from Origins and Design (where he’s an associate editor) to The Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies to National Review; appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Times, Chicago Tribune, and a host of other newspapers; and faced off with Darwinists on National Public Radio, PBS, and network television.
When I flew into snowy Spokane, Washington, to interview Meyer at Whitworth College, where he was an associate professor of philosophy, I wasn’t aware that he was in the midst of telling his colleagues that he would be leaving soon to become director and senior fellow at the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute in Seattle. His impending departure was a poignant time for Meyer, since he had spent more than a decade as one of the most popular professors at the school.
To steal some time alone, we commandeered a nondescript off-campus office, where decorating was an apparent afterthought, and sat down in facing chairs for what would turn out to be virtually an entire day of animated, rapid-fire conversation. In fact, the full transcript of our discussion would top a whopping thirty thousand words—a small book in itself!
At one point, Meyer said, “I was once tested for hyperactivity as a kid. Can you imagine?” Yes, I could. Dressed in a dark blue suit, patterned tie, woolly gray socks, and brown Doe Martin shoes, the lanky Meyer was crackling with energy, speaking enthusiastically in quick bursts of words. His wispy brown hair spilled down onto his forehead, giving him a youthful appearance, but his eyebrows were furrowed in intensity.
His students sometimes faulted him for an absentminded professor’s lack of classroom organization, but he made up for it with his infectious passion and disarming sincerity. When he answered my questions, it was in a thorough, systematic, and structured way, almost as if he were reading off invisible note cards. He came off as being brilliant, articulate, and driven.
After swapping some personal stories, we zeroed in on the issue of science and faith. His perspective, not surprisingly, was vastly different from the one I had when I began studying Darwinism in school.
“A ROBUST CASE FOR THEISM”
“We live in a technological culture where many people believe science trumps all other forms of knowledge,” I said to Meyer. “For example, philosopher J. P. Moreland described meeting an engineer who was completing his doctorate in physics. `According to him,’ Moreland said, `only science is rational; only science achieves truth. Everything else is mere belief and opinion. He went on to say that if something cannot be quantified or tested by the scientific method … it cannot be true or rational.’7 Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin claimed science is `the only begetter of truth.’8 Do you agree with those perspectives?”
“No, I don’t,” came Meyer’s reply. “Ironically, to say that science is the only begetter of truth is self-contradicting, because that statement in itself cannot be tested by the scientific method. It’s a self-defeating philosophical assumption.
“Beyond that,” he continued, “while I certainly respect science, I don’t believe scientific knowledge necessarily takes precedence over other things that we know. For instance, Moreland has argued that there are some things we know more certainly through introspection than we know from the sciences. I know I have free will on the basis of my introspection, and no studies in the social sciences will convince me otherwise.”
He motioned toward a light switch on the wall. “I know I can turn that switch on, and I refute those who say I was determined thus,” he said, leaning over to turn on the light. “In addition, history can tell us much, even though we can’t test it by repeated experiment.
“Now, there’s no question that science does teach us many important things about the natural world. But the real question is, `Do these things point to anything beyond themselves?’ I think the answer is yes. Science teaches us many true things, and some of those true things point toward God.”
I quickly interrupted. “On the contrary,” I said, “when I learned about Darwinism as a student, I was convinced that science and faith were at odds—and that science definitely had the edge in the credibility department. What would you say to someone who believes that science and Christianity are destined to be at war?”
“Well, that’s certainly one way that people have conceptualized the relationship between science and faith,” he said. “Some claim science and faith are fundamentally at odds. Others have said science and faith represent two separate and distinct realms that don’t and can’t interact with each other.
“However, I personally take a third approach, which is that scientific evidence actually supports theistic belief. In fact, across a wide range of the sciences, evidence has come to light in the last fifty years which, taken together, provides a robust case for theism. Only theism can provide an intellectually satisfying causal explanation for all of this evidence.”
“For instance,” he continued, “if it’s true there’s a beginning to the universe, as modern cosmologists now agree, then this implies a cause that transcends the universe. If the laws of physics are fine-tuned to permit life, as contemporary physicists are discovering, then perhaps there’s a designer who fine-tuned them. If there’s information in the cell, as molecular biology shows, then this suggests intelligent design. To get life going in the first place would have required biological information; the implications point beyond the material realm to a prior intelligent cause.
“Those are just three examples,” he concluded. “And that’s just the beginning.”
THE PROBLEM WITH NOMA
“Isn’t it dangerous to mix science and faith that way?” I asked. “A lot of scientists follow the lead of the late Stephen Jay Gould in saying that science and faith occupy distinctly different ‘magisteria’ or domains.
“He called this philosophy NOMA, which is short for ‘non-overlapping magisteria.’ He said: `The net of science covers the empirical universe … [while] the net of religion extends over questions of moral meaning and value.’9 What’s wrong with having that kind of strong dividing line between the hard facts of science and the soft faith of religion?”
“I think NOMA is partially true,” Meyer said—a concession that surprised me a bit. “There are domains of science that are metaphysically neutral. They answer questions like: `How many elements are in the periodic table?’ Or `What is the mathematical equation that describes gravitational attraction?’ Or `How does nature ordinarily behave under a given set of conditions?’ Questions of this sort don’t affect big worldview issues one way or the other. Some people use Galileo’s old aphorism—‘Science tells you how the heavens go, and the Bible tells you how to go to heaven.”‘
I jumped in. “That sounds trite, but it does make some sense.”
“Of course,” he said. “There is a sense in which science and religion do have different objects of interest and focus, like the nature of the Trinity on one hand, and what are the elementary particles present at the Big Bang on the other hand.
“However, there are other scientific questions that bear directly on the great worldview issues. For instance, the question of origins. If fully naturalistic models are correct, then theism becomes an unnecessary hypothesis. It’s in these instances where science and metaphysics intersect—where worldview questions are at stake—that it’s impossible to impose the NOMA principle. That’s because what science discovers will inevitably have implications for these larger worldview questions. The only real way to keep the two separate is to subtract from the claims of one or the other.
“You see, NOMA says science is the realm of facts, and religion is the realm of morality and faith. The essential problem is that biblical religion makes very specific claims about facts. It makes claims about the universe having a beginning, about God playing a role in creation, about humans having a certain kind of nature, and about historical events that are purported to have happened in time and space.
“Let’s just take the historic Christian creed: `I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth: And in Jesus Christ his only son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; the third day he rose again from the dead.’
“Well, Pontius Pilate is situated historically in Palestine in the first century. A claim is made that Jesus of Nazareth lived at the same time. An assertion is made that he rose from the dead. God is called the Creator of heaven and earth. You see, it’s inherent to the Christian faith to make claims about the real world. According to the Bible, God has revealed himself in time and space, and so Christianity—for good or ill—is going to intersect some of the factual claims of history and science. There’s either going to be conflict or agreement.
“To make NOMA work, its advocates have to water down science or faith, or both. Certainly Gould did—he said religion is just a matter of ethical teaching, comfort, or metaphysical beliefs about meaning. But Christianity certainly claims to be more than that.”
This particular statement about Gould seemed vague. I wanted to pin him down by demanding specifics. “Could you give me one concrete example of how Gould watered down Christianity to make NOMA work?” I asked.
“Sure,” he said. “In his book Rocks of Ages, Gould reduces the appearance of the resurrected Jesus to doubting Thomas to being merely `a moral tale.’10 This was necessary for Gould to do under the rules of NOMA because all of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances come from a religious document—the Bible—and NOMA says religion must confine its claims to matters of morality and values. But the Bible clearly portrays Jesus’ appearances as being actual historical events. Christianity hinges on the conviction that they really occurred.
“NOMA may try to exclude this possibility by restricting religion to mere matters of morality, but the writers of the Bible did not see fit to limit their claims about God to the nonfactual domain that NOMA has allocated to religion. Now, there might be some religions that can fit comfortably with NOMA. But biblical Christianity—because it’s built not just on faith, but on facts—simply cannot.”
Law professor Phillip Johnson also has been strongly critical of the NOMA concept. “Stephen Jay Gould condescendingly offers to allow religious people to express their subjective opinions about morals, provided they don’t interfere with the authority of scientists to determine the ‘facts’—one of the facts being that God is merely a comforting myth,” he said.11
“So,” I said to Meyer in summing up, “while much of science and biblical religion are concerned with different things, they clearly do have some overlapping territory.”
“Precisely. And when that happens, either they agree or disagree. The judgment of nineteenth-century historians, who were writing mainly out of an Enlightenment framework, was that where they did overlap, they invariably disagreed—and of the two domains, science was a more warranted system of belief. They believed conflict would continually grow between science and biblical religion.”
“What do you believe?” I asked.
“My judgment is quite different,” he said. “I believe that the testimony of science supports theism. While there will always be points of tension or unresolved conflict, the major developments in science in the past five decades have been running in a strongly theistic direction.”
He paused momentarily, then punched his conclusion: “Science, done right, points toward God.”
CREATIO EX NIHILO
Meyer’s perspective couldn’t be more different from the one
I had when I was studying evolution in school. I had concluded that the persuasive naturalistic theories of Darwin eliminated any need for God. Meyer, however, was convinced that science and faith are pointing toward the same truth. I decided to press him for more details.
“Could you list, say, half a dozen examples of how you believe science points toward theism?” I asked.
Meyer settled deeper into his chair. “I would start,” he said, “with the new cosmology—the Big Bang theory and its accompanying theoretical underpinning in general relativity. These two theories now point to a definite beginning of the universe. The fact that most scientists now believe that energy, matter, space, and time had a beginning is profoundly antimaterialistic.
“You can invoke neither time nor space nor matter nor energy nor the laws of nature to explain the origin of the universe. General relativity points to the need for a cause that transcends those domains. And theism affirms the existence of such an entity—namely, God.
“In short,” he added, “naturalism is on hard times in cosmology; the deeper you get into it, the harder it is to get rid of the God hypothesis. Taken together, the Big Bang and general relativity provide a scientific description of what Christians call creatio ex nihilo-–creation out of nothing. As Nobel Prize-winner Arno Penzias said about the Big Bang, ‘The best data we have are exactly what I would have predicted had I nothing to go on but the first five books of Moses, the Psalms and the Bible as a whole.’”12
Meyer waited, apparently to see if I had any further questions, but I motioned for him to continue with his examples.
“The second category of evidence would be for ‘anthropic fine-tuning.’ This means the fundamental laws and parameters of physics have precise numerical values that could have been otherwise. That is, there’s no fundamental reason why these values have to be the way they are. Yet all of these laws and constants conspire in a mathematically incredible way to make life in the universe possible.”
I asked him for an example. “Take the expansion rate of the universe, which is fine-tuned to one part in a trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion,” he said. “That is, if it were changed by one part in either direction—a little faster, a little slower—we could not have a universe that would be capable of supporting life.
“As Sir Fred Hoyle commented, `A commonsense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.’13
“Well, maybe this looks fine-tuned because there actually is a fine-tuner. In the opinion of physicist Paul Davies, `The impression of design is overwhelming.‘14 And I thoroughly agree. This is powerful evidence for intelligent design.
“The third example of science pointing toward God is the origin of life and the origin of information necessary to bring life into existence,” he continued. “Life at its root requires information, which is stored in DNA and protein molecules.
“Richard Dawkins of Oxford said that `the machine code of the genes is uncannily computer-like.’15 If you reflect on that, you realize that computers run on software programs that are produced by intelligent engineers. Every experience we have about information—whether it’s a computer code, hieroglyphic inscription, a book, or a cave painting—points toward intelligence. The same is true about the information inside every cell in every living creature.”
“Isn’t that just an argument from ignorance?” I asked. “Scientists may not currently be able to find any explanation for how life began, but that doesn’t necessarily point toward a supernatural conclusion.”
“This is not an argument from ignorance,” Meyer insisted. “We’re not inferring design just because the naturalistic evolutionary theories all fail to explain information. We infer design because all those theories fail and we know of another causal entity that is capable of producing information—namely, intelligence. Personally, I find this to be a very strong argument indeed.”
AN ENSEMBLE OF EVIDENCE
Continuing on to the fourth example, Meyer said, “Then there’s the evidence for design in molecular machines that defy explanation by Darwinian natural selection. These integrative, complex systems in biological organisms—which microbiologist Michael Belie calls `irreducibly complex’—include signal transduction circuits, sophisticated motors, and all kinds of biological circuitry.”
“What’s the argument based on this?” I asked.
“You see, these biological machines need all of their various parts in order to function. But how could you ever build such a system by a Darwinian process of natural selection acting on random variations? Natural selection only preserves things that perform a function—in other words, which help the organism survive to the next generation. That’s survival of the fittest.
“The problem with irreducibly complex systems is that they perform no function until all the parts are present and working together in close coordination with one another. So natural selection cannot help you build such systems; it can only preserve them once they’ve been built. And it’s virtually impossible for evolution to take such a huge leap by mere chance to create the whole system at once.
“Of course, this forces the question: how did the biochemical machine arise? Belie says maybe these biological systems look designed because they really were designed. After all, whenever we see irreducibly complex systems and we know how they arose, invariably a designer was the cause.”
“How strong of an argument do you think that is?” I asked.
“I think it’s very strong,” he replied with a smile. “And you see that in the weak objections that are proposed by Darwinists. And again, that’s just one more example. The next one would be the Cambrian explosion, which is yet another striking piece of evidence for design in the history of life.”
I told him that in a previous interview Jonathan Wells had already explained the basics of Biology’s Big Bang. “He talked about it primarily in terms of being an argument against Darwinism,” I said.
“Indeed, it is,” Meyer replied. “You have between twenty and thirty-five completely novel body plans that come online in the Cambrian. You have a huge jump in complexity, it’s sudden, and you have no transitional intermediates.
“But this is also affirmative evidence for design, because in our experience information invariably is the result of conscious activity. Here we have the geologically sudden infusion of a massive amount of new biological information needed to create these body plans, far beyond what any Darwinian mechanism can produce. Darwinism simply can’t account for it; design is a better explanation.
“Think about how suddenly these new body plans emerged. As one paleontologist said, `What I want to know from my biology friends is just how fast does this evolution have to happen before they stop calling it evolution?’ Darwin said nature takes no sudden leaps. Yet here’s a huge leap—which is what intelligent agents cause. Consequently, the Cambrian explosion provides not just a negative case against Darwinian evolution, but also a compelling positive argument for design.”
“All right,” I said, “I asked for half a dozen examples. What would be the sixth?”
Meyer thought for a moment. “I’d say human consciousness certainly supports a theistic view of human nature,” he said. “Judaism and Christianity clearly teach that we are more than just matter—we’re not a `computer made of meat,’ in the words of Marvin Minsky, but we’re made in God’s image.
“We have the capacity for self-reflection, for representational art, for language, for creativity. Science can’t account for this kind of consciousness merely from the interaction of physical matter in the brain. Where did it come from? Again, I think theism provides the best explanation.”
Meyer scooted to the edge of his chair. “So what we have here,” he said, wrapping up his impromptu presentation in a tone of urgency, “is an ensemble of half a dozen evidences that point to a transcendent, intelligent cause. This is mind-boggling stuff! Scientists in the nineteenth century weren’t aware of these things when they said naturalism accounts for everything. Thanks to the discoveries of the last five decades, we know a lot more today.”
“Based on the evidence you’ve mentioned,” I said, “how do you complete the case for God?”
“First, theism, with its concept of a transcendent Creator, provides a more causally adequate explanation of the Big Bang than a naturalistic explanation can offer,” he said. “The cause of the universe must transcend matter, space, and time, which were brought into existence with the Big Bang. The Judeo-Christian God has precisely this attribute of transcendence. Yet naturalism, by definition, denies the existence of any entity beyond the closed system of nature.
“The fine-tuning of the physical laws and constants of the universe and the precise configuration of its initial conditions, dating back to the very origin of the universe itself, suggest the need for a cause that’s intelligent. Theism affirms the existence of an entity that’s not only transcendent but intelligent as well—namely, God. Thus, theism can explain both Big Bang cosmology and the anthropic fine-tuning.
“Pantheism can’t explain the origin of the universe, because pantheists believe in an impersonal god that’s coextensive with the physical universe. Such a god can’t bring the universe into being from nothing, since such a god doesn’t exist independently of the physical universe. If initially the physical universe didn’t exist, then the pantheistic god wouldn’t have existed either. If it didn’t exist, it couldn’t cause the universe to exist.”
“What about deism?” I interjected, referring to the belief that God created the world but has since let it run on its own. “Can’t deism account for the origin of the universe too?”
“Yes, I’ll provide that caveat—deism can do the same,” he acknowledged. “But I believe the existence of design subsequent to the Big Bang undermines deism as an adequate explanation.
“You see, deism can’t explain the evidence of discrete acts of design or creation after the universe was created. The deistic god never intervenes in nature, yet we’re seeing evidence of intelligent design in the history of life. For example, the high information content in the cell provides compelling evidence for an act of intelligent design of the first life, long after the beginning of the universe.
“Taken together, what we know today gives us heightened confidence—from science—that God exists. The weight of the evidence is very, very impressive—in fact, in my opinion it’s sufficiently conclusive to say that theism provides the best explanation for the ensemble of scientific evidence we’ve been discussing.
“Science and faith are not at war. When scientific evidence and biblical teaching are correctly interpreted, they can and do support each other. I’d say to anyone who doubts that: investigate the evidence yourself.”
Meyer’s whirlwind tour was exhilarating. At first blush, the cumulative case for God, built point by point from the discoveries of science, seemed staggering. Of course, I had a whole slew of follow-up questions, some of which I intended to pose to Meyer, and others I would save for the experts I planned to interview in each of the categories of evidence Meyer had mentioned. I decided to begin with the issue of just how much evidence for God is needed to establish the case for a Creator.
THE GOD HYPOTHESIS
In the legal arena, different courtrooms have different standards of proof. In criminal cases, the prosecutor must prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In most civil cases, the plaintiff must prevail by a considerably lesser standard, called a preponderance of the evidence. In some civil cases, there’s even a third level of proof situated between the other two: clear and convincing evidence.16
When I asked Meyer what standard of proof he considered appropriate in the theological realm, he gave me an interesting history lesson on the topic of evidence for God. I decided to sit back and let him talk, reserving my follow-up questions for the end. “One extreme is to deny that there is any evidential basis for Christian belief and instead to say that all we need is faith,” Meyer began. “That’s known as ‘fideism.’ This came out of the Enlightenment, with the perceived failure of certain theistic proofs for the existence of God.
“In particular, French philosopher Rene Descartes offered some pretty sloppy proofs to try to establish with absolute certainty that God exists. He used what are called `deductive proofs,’ where you have major and minor premises, and if these premises can be shown to be true and the logic of the argument is correct, then the conclusion follows with certainty. For example, `All men are mortal, Socrates is a man, therefore Socrates is mortal.’ Descartes set the bar unrealistically high—that is, using his proofs to try to create ironclad certainty that God exists—and he couldn’t clear it. You can’t absolutely prove—or disprove—the existence of God.
“As a result, the opinion developed that arguments for God’s existence don’t work and that therefore there’s no rational basis for faith. Then Darwin, by showing that the appearance of design could be explained through natural mechanisms without an actual designer, contributed to the conviction that there was no rational or evidential basis for believing in God.
“In light of that, religious believers had a choice: reject faith, because it has no rational foundation, or reject the idea that you need a rational foundation for faith. The ones who remained believers took the latter, by saying, `I believe, I just don’t have or need a rational basis for doing so.’ They would then adopt strategies that would compartmentalize faith and reason, which led to the conclusion that faith and science occupy two different realms.
“But there’s a third option, which involves making a persuasive case for faith without using deductive proofs. Mathematician William Dembski and I wrote an article in 1998, articulating a model of reasoning that we think can be used to support theistic belief. It’s called `inference to the best explanation.’
“This is a form of practical reasoning that we use in life all the time. It says if we want to explain a phenomenon or event, we consider a whole range of hypotheses and infer to the one which, if true, would provide the best explanation. In other words, we do an exhaustive analysis of the possible explanations and keep adding information until only one explanation is left that can explain the whole range of data.
“The way you discriminate between the competing hypotheses is to look at their explanatory power. Often, more than one hypothesis can explain the same piece of evidence. For instance, as we just agreed, deism and theism can both explain the beginning of the universe. Okay, fine. But if you keep looking at the data, you find that only theism can explain the evidence for design in biology after the origin of the universe. And so theism has superior explanatory power.
“We reach conclusions with a high degree of confidence using this form of reasoning in our everyday life. This is what detectives do. This is what lawyers do in courts of law. Scientists use this approach. This model can enable us to achieve a high degree of practical certainty.
“And when we look at the evidence I’ve mentioned from cosmology, physics, biology, and human consciousness, we find that theism has amazing explanatory scope and power. The existence of God explains this broad range of evidence more simply, adequately, and comprehensively than any other worldview, including its main competitors, naturalism or pantheism. And the discovery of corroborating or supportive evidence is accelerating.
“In 1992, the historian of science Frederic Burnham said the God hypothesis `is now a more respectable hypothesis than at any time in the last one hundred years.’17 I’d go even further. More than just being `respectable,’ I’d say that the God hypothesis is forceful enough to warrant a verdict that he’s alive and well.”
THE MOTIVES OF SCIENTISTS
Several questions popped into my mind as I listened to Meyer’s analysis. “I gave you the opportunity to offer six strands of scientific evidence for theism, and I’ll be following up with specific objections when I explore them in-depth with other experts,” I said. “But I don’t want to leave without posing at least four overall challenges to you.”
As he listened, Meyer removed his gold-rimmed glasses and started cleaning them with a handkerchief. He looked up at me and said, “That sounds fair. Go ahead. What’s your first question?”
I glanced down at my notes before speaking. “If the scientific evidence for theism is so compelling,” I began, “then why don’t more scientists believe in God? A study in 1966 showed that sixty percent of scientists either disbelieve or were doubtful about God, and the percentage goes up if you look at the most elite scientists.”18
Meyer pursed his lips as he reflected on the question. “Initially, I’d say that it takes time for new discoveries to percolate and for their implications to be fully considered, and some of the best evidence for theism is very new,” he said. “Scientists who are focused on one particular field may not be aware of discoveries in other fields that point toward theism.
“Also, the materialistic worldview has exercised dominance on intellectual life in western culture for a hundred and fifty years. It has become the default worldview in science, philosophy, and academia in general. It’s presupposed. Some people who dissent from it have experienced intense hostility and sometimes persecution. That could discourage others from exploring this area or speaking out favorably toward it.”
This point reminded me of a quote by Sandage, who once told a reporter that the scientific community is so scornful of faith that “there is a reluctance to reveal yourself as a believer, the opprobrium is so severe.”19
“Finally,” continued Meyer, “within the scientific culture there are belief systems that are philosophically very questionable. For instance, many believe that science must only allow naturalistic explanations, which excludes from consideration the design hypothesis. Many scientists put blinders on, refusing to acknowledge that evidence, and a kind of ‘group think’ develops.”
His answer sounded plausible, but it prompted a second line of inquiry. “There’s a flip side to that issue,” I said. “Skeptic Michael Shermer said almost all the people he sees in the Intelligent Design movement are Christians.20‘ Doesn’t that undermine the legitimacy of their science? Maybe they’re only looking for what they want to find and aren’t open to naturalistic explanations that might be sufficient.”
This challenge seemed to push a button with Meyer. “Every scientist has a motive,” he said firmly, “but motives are irrelevant to assessing the validity of scientific theories, a case in court, or an argument in philosophy. You have to respond to the evidence or argument that’s being offered, regardless of who offers it or why. If every person in the Intelligent Design movement were a fundamentalist who attends Baptist Bible Church, it wouldn’t matter. Their arguments have to be weighed on their own merits.”
“But is this an exclusively Christian movement?” I asked.
“No, it’s not,” he replied. “There are scientists who are proponents of intelligent design who are agnostic or Jewish, but I still don’t think that’s relevant. The vast majority of people who advocate Darwinism are naturalists or materialists, so you could play the motive-mongering game either way.
“Besides, look at it this way: if a scientist becomes persuaded by the evidence that theism is true and thus becomes a follower of God, should he or she then be disqualified from doing science in that area? Of course not. I say let’s get beyond this side issue and let the evidence speak for itself. Is design the best explanation or not?”
“That leads to the third question,” I said. “If scientists do allow the possibility of the miraculous as an explanation, then doesn’t that foreclose further investigation? Biologist Kenneth Miller has suggested that inferring the existence of an intelligent designer would result in a scientific dead-end.21 Why continue to explore an area scientifically once you’ve thrown up your hands and said, `God did this’?”
Meyer immediately fired back. “I think the shoe is exactly on the other foot,” he said.
“Let’s take the issue of origins, for example,” he said. “The question that’s asked is, `How did the cell arise on earth?’ If you say, `We’re only going to let you consider answers that involve materialistic processes,’ then that shuts down inquiry, because one of the possible causal explanations for the origin of life is that intelligence could have played a role.”
“So,” I said, “you believe that ruling out the possibility of intelligent design stifles intellectual and scientific inquiry.”
“That’s exactly right,” he replied. “And I’ve seen it happen far too often.”
I pointed at him. “You want to change the rules of the game, don’t you?” I said, my tone suggesting I had just caught him with his hand in the cookie jar.
“In a sense, yes,” he conceded. “I don’t think it’s right to invoke a self-serving rule that says only naturalistic explanations can be considered by science. Let’s have a new period in the history of science where we have methodological rules that actually foster the unfettered seeking of truth. Scientists should be allowed to follow the evidence wherever it leads—even if it leads to a conclusion that makes some people uncomfortable.”
SEEING EYE TO EYE
My fourth objection concerned a topic called “disteleology,” which refers to apparent poor design in the biological and physical world. “To adopt the explanation of design, we are forced to attribute a host of flaws and imperfections to the Designer,” Miller wrote.22 The implication is that an imperfect design disproves the existence of a perfect God.
One example Miller cited is the vertebrate eye. “We would have to wonder why an intelligent designer placed the neural wiring of the retina on the side facing the incoming light,” he wrote. “This arrangement scatters the light, making our vision less detailed than it might be, and even produces a blind spot at the point that the wiring is pulled through the light-sensitive retina to produce the optic nerve that carries visual images to the brain.”23
Other Darwinists, including Oxford’s Richard Dawkins, also have decried the eye’s poor structure, with George Williams going so far as to declare it “stupidly” designed because “the retina is upside down.”24
This seemed to be a compelling counter-argument to intelligent design. “If there is a designer,” I said to Meyer, “doesn’t the botched eye design prove he’s not really intelligent?”
He pounced on the issue. “There’s an important physiological reason as to why the retina has to be inverted in the eye,” he said. “Within the overall design of the system, it’s a tradeoff that allows the eye to process the vast amount of oxygen it needs in vertebrates. Yes, this creates a slight blind spot, but that’s not a problem because people have two eyes and the two blind spots don’t overlap. Actually, the eye is an incredible design.”
With that, Meyer stood and walked to the other side of the room, where his briefcase was leaning against a desk. He rifled through some papers and finally withdrew a photocopy of an article.
“In fact,” he said as he handed it to me, “biologist George Ayoub wrote this piece to refute the claim that the eye was badly created.” I glanced at the technical article, in which Ayoub, a professor whose expertise is the cellular physiology of the retina, concludes:
The vertebrate retina provides an excellent example of functional–though non-intuitive—design. The design of the retina is responsible for its high acuity and sensitivity. It is simply untrue that the retina is demonstrably suboptimal, nor is it easy to conceive how it might be modified without significantly decreasing its function.25
Feeling a little chagrined, I put down the article. “Okay,” I conceded, “maybe that’s not a good example of disteleology, but there are a lot of others.”
Meyer interrupted. “Don’t move on too quickly,” he said. “There’s a good lesson here. People make a lot of claims about bad biological design, but sometimes the entire picture is changed when you hear the rest of the story. For instance, people claim a design is bad because they look at only one parameter and claim it could have been better designed. However, engineers know all designs require optimizing a whole suite of parameters, and so tradeoffs are inevitable to create the best overall result.”
That was a mouthful that demanded elaboration. “Give me an example,” I said.
He gestured toward the Apple computer in the open briefcase at my feet. “One illustration that’s sometimes given is a laptop,” he said. “You could look at the screen and say, `Bad design; it should have been bigger.’ You could look at the memory and say, `Bad design; should have had a larger capacity.’ You could look at the keyboard and say, `Bad design; should have been easier to use.’
“But the engineer isn’t supposed to be creating the best screen, the best memory, and the best keyboard—he’s supposed to be producing the best computer he can given certain size, weight, price, and portability requirements. Could the screen be bigger? Yes, but then portability suffers. Could the computer have more memory? Sure, but then the cost goes too high.
“So there are inevitable tradeoffs and compromises. Each individual part might be criticized for being suboptimal, but that’s not the issue. The real issue is how well the overall laptop functions. That’s how good engineering works—and that explains some of the examples of supposed disteleology that are raised.”
While that made sense, it didn’t answer everything. “You’ll have to admit that there are other illustrations of disteleology that are more difficult to explain away,” I said.
“I don’t deny that,” he relied. “Some are just silly. Others are more thoughtful and serious, and they require effort to think through. For instance, Gould claimed the panda’s thumb looks jerry-rigged and not designed. Well, experts on the panda say it’s a pretty efficient way of scraping the bark off bamboo. In the absence of a standard of good design, which Gould can’t provide, it’s really hard to say whether it’s good or bad. It seems to perform its function exceedingly well.
“Other illustrations of disteleology get into issues of theodicy, or reconciling belief in God and natural evil. For example, what about viruses and bacteria that harm people? Did God create those? Natural theologians in the nineteenth century believed that if a perfect God created the world, then it would be perfect, so they were ill-equipped to deal with Darwin’s disteleological arguments.
“However, from a biblical point of view, there isn’t an expectation that nature would be perfect. The Bible says there has been decay or deterioration because evil entered the world and disrupted the original design. We’re not given all of the specifics on how this happened, but the biblical book of Romans affirms the natural world is groaning for its redemption, because something has gone wrong with the original creation.26 Based on the biblical account, we would expect to see both evidence of design in nature as well as evidence of deterioration or decay—which we do.”
It was time to move on, but I glanced down at the laptop computer in my briefcase. I had to admit that Meyer’s basic explanations about disteleology did make a lot of sense.
ROADMAP TO THE FUTURE
As we wrapped up our conversation, I felt a little like Meyer did when he attended the Dallas conference in 1985: enthused about the affirmative scientific case for God. So far, the evidence from the telescope to the microscope was pointing powerfully in the direction of a Creator—a circumstance I never would have dreamed possible back in my days as a student. I was left with an urgent desire to continue my investigation.
Still, I also was experiencing an underlying skepticism. Would the case for a Creator hold up when it was scrutinized more carefully and when I could cross-examine experts with all of the questions that plagued me? What fascinating new details would be supplied by those who have spent years studying the various categories of evidence that Meyer had described? Would his case emerge strengthened, weakened, or destroyed?
As a legal affairs journalist, I had seen a lot of trials where the prosecutor provided a persuasive overview of the evidence during his opening statement to the jury. But the judge always instructs the jury that the prosecutor’s words aren’t evidence. They’re merely a road map to help them process the subsequent testimony by witnesses.
In a sense, this is what Meyer had provided for me: an outline of the scientific evidence for theism. Now was the time for me to put experts in cosmology, physics, astronomy, microbiology, biological information, and consciousness to the test and see whether the case is as strong as Meyer claimed. My plan was to start at the literal beginning—the origin of the universe, which occurred in an explosion of energy so incomprehensibly powerful that its echo, in effect, is still being heard billions of years later.
I couldn’t wait to get started!
THE WRY SMILE OF GOD
I didn’t want to leave, however, without taking a few moments to ponder my impressions of Meyer. I especially liked his endearing blend of a professor’s academic depth combined with an advocate’s savvy and an enthusiast’s winsome earnestness. But while we had talked a lot about science, a bit about philosophy, and a little about theology, I realized we hadn’t delved into Meyer’s personal reflections. His journey from scientist to intelligent design advocate was fascinating to me, and I was curious about the state of Stephen Meyer’s spiritual life.
“Over the years as you’ve studied the scientific evidence that supports theism, how has this affected your faith?” I asked.
“It has strengthened it, no question,” he replied. “The trend is definitely toward more discoveries that point toward God, and that excites me. More and more people are going to find themselves open to God as a result of new findings that make theistic belief the best explanation for the evidence of nature.”
He stopped at that. It was a safe answer, but I could tell he was weighing whether he should risk more. I sensed he was the kind of person who would be more comfortable extolling the virtues of microbiology than opening up about something as personal as his own relationship with God. But as I sat quietly and listened, he was about to prove me wrong.
“One thing I haven’t told you about my spiritual journey,” he continued, “is that for a two-year period in my life, I was very attracted to Nietzsche’s version of existentialism. Nietzsche had a different objection than the ones we’ve been talking about. He asked, Why should God rule and I serve? This resonated with me. Why should a condition of my happiness be submission to the will of God? I sensed I couldn’t be happy without him; I knew my bad lifestyle only brought misery. So I ended up literally shaking my fist at God in a wheat field in Washington state.
“My point is that the intellectual rebellion the apostle Paul talks about is very true in my own life. Even in my Christian thinking today, I find a tendency to slide back into what Paul refers to as the natural mind. And here’s what the scientific evidence for God does for me: it realigns me. It helps me recognize that despite my natural tendency toward self-focus and self-absorption, I can’t ignore what God has accomplished in this world to let everyone know that he is real, that he is the Creator, and that we need to get right with him.
“I see this not only in cosmology and physics and biology, but also in the historical revelation of the Bible, principally in the revelation of Jesus Christ himself. He is so compelling! Einstein thought so. Napoleon thought so. This Nazarene captivated their attention, and he continues to captivate mine.
“I remember thinking at one point that if the Jesus of the Bible weren’t real, I would need to worship the person who created the character. Jesus is so beyond what I can comprehend! And the evidence for God in nature constantly challenges me to a deeper and fuller relationship with him. My study of the scientific evidence isn’t separate from my life as a Christian; it’s marbled throughout that experience.
“I remember when I first began teaching a college course on the evidence for God, I got flack from some people who claimed that these kinds of arguments can produce an idol of the mind or make science a god. I felt a little reticent for a while—but no longer. I’ve come to an even stronger conviction that this is evidence that God has used to reveal himself to us.
“I look at the stars in the night sky or reflect on the structure and information-bearing properties of the DNA molecule, and these are occasions for me to worship the Creator who brought them into existence. I think of the wry smile that might be on the lips of God as in the last few years all sorts of evidence for the reliability of the Bible and for his creation of the universe and life have come to light. I believe he has caused them to be unveiled in his providence and that he delights when we discover his fingerprints in the vastness of the universe, in the dusty relics of paleontology, and in the complexity of the cell.
“So exploring the scientific and historical evidence for God is not only a cognitive exercise, but it’s an act of worship for me. It’s a way of giving the Creator the credit and honor and glory that are due to him. To attribute creation to a mere natural process is a form of idolatry to which we’re all prone. I don’t judge my naturalistic colleagues for being prone to that. That’s how I’m constituted as well. All of us have a tendency to minimize God, to think and behave as if we weren’t really immersed in his creation and that we aren’t ourselves the product of his unimaginable creative power.
“Looking at the evidence—in nature and in Scripture—reminds me over and over again of who he is. And it reminds me of who I am too—someone in need of him.”
FOR FURTHER EVIDENCE
More Resources on This Topic
Dembski, William. The Design Revolution: Answering the Toughest Questions about Intelligent Design. Downer’s Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2004.
McGrath, Alister. Glimpsing the Face of God. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans. 2002.
Meyer, Stephen C. “Evidence for Design in Physics and Biology.” In Science and Evidence for Design in the Universe, eds. Michael J. Behe, William A. Dembski, and Stephen C. Meyer. San Francisco: Ignatius, 1999.
—“Modern Science and the Return of the God Hypothesis.” In Science and Christianity: Four Views, ed. Richard F. Carlson. Downer’s Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2000.
Moreland, J. P. Christianity and the Nature of Science. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1989.
Witham, Larry. By Design: Science and the Search for God. San Francisco: Encounter, 2003. [83-112]
1. Steven Weinberg, “A Designer Universe?” The New York Review of Books (October 21, 1999), adapted from a talk given at the Conference on Cosmic Design of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Washington, D.C., April 1999 (emphasis added).
2. John Polkinghorne, Quarks, Chaos, and Christianity (New York: Crossroad, 1994), xii.
3. Sharon Begley, “Science Finds God,” Newsweek (July 20, 1998).
5. See: Dean H. Kenyon and Gary Steinman, Biochemical Predestination (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1969).
6. Allan Sandage, “A Scientist Reflects on Religious Belief,” available at: http://www.leaderu.com/truth/ltruth15.html (January 7, 2003).
7. J. P. Moreland, Christianity and the Nature of Science, 103.
8. Review of Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (New York: Ballantine, 1997) in the New York Review of Books (January 9, 1997).
9. Stephen Jay Gould, “Nonoverlapping Magisteria,” Natural History 106 (March 1997). See also: Stephen Jay Gould, Rocks of Ages (New York: Ballantine, 1999).
10. Stephen Jay Gould, Rocks of Ages, 14.
11. Phillip E. Johnson, “The Church of Darwin,” Wall Street Journal (August 16, 1999).
12. See: Malcolm W Browne, “Clues to Universe Origin Expected,” New York Times (March 12, 1978).
13. Fred Hoyle, “The Universe: Past and Present Reflections, Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophyics 20 (1982).
14. Paul Davies, The Cosmic Blueprint (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988), 203.
15. Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden (New York: Basic Books, 1995), 10.
16. Steven H. Gifis, Law Dictionary (Woodbury, N.Y.: Barron’s Educational Series, 1975), 33-34.
17. David Briggs, “Science, Religion Are Discovering Commonality in Big Bang Theory,” Los Angeles Times (May 2, 1992).
18. See: Michael Shermer, How We Believe (New York: W. H. Freeman, 2000), 72-73, 251.
19. Sharon Begley, “Science Finds God,” Newsweek (July 20, 1998).
20. Michael Shermer, How We Believe, xxix.
21. Kenneth R. Miller, Finding Darwin’s God (New York: Cliff Street Books, paperback edition, 2000), 28.
22. Ibid., 101.
24. G. C. Williams, Natural Selection: Domains, Levels and Challenges (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 73, 72.
25. George Ayoub, “On the Design of the Vertebrate Retina,” Origins & Design 17:1, Winter, 1996.
26. Romans 8:22: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”