The Case for Intelligent Design, With Stephen Meyer

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Science and the theory of intelligent design go hand in hand, says Stephen Meyer, author of the book “Return of the God Hypothesis.”

The “God hypothesis,” Meyer says, is the “idea that the postulation of a transcendent intelligence, who is also active in the creation, provides a better explanation, causal explanation, for the origin of the big things we’ve discovered about biological and cosmological origins.”

Meyer, who also directs the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, has dedicated his career to proving that our world wasn’t created by accident but by the hand of God through intelligent design. He uses philosophy and science to make his case.

Meyer joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss his journey into investigating the origins of the universe.

Listen to the podcast below or ready the lightly edited transcript:

Virginia Allen: It is my pleasure today to be joined by Stephen Meyer. Dr. Meyer has his doctorate in both philosophy of science and history. Dr. Meyer has written multiple books, including “Return of the God Hypothesis” and New York Times bestseller “Darwin’s Doubt.” He is also a director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute.

Dr. Meyer, thank you so much for your time today.

Stephen Meyer: I’m delighted to be here for a great couple days at Heritage.

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Allen: Well, I’m calling today’s interview a teaser trailer for your interview with Joe Rogan. We have about 20 minutes today. I think you had about three hours and 20 minutes with Joe Rogan.

Meyer: Right. Right.

Allen: But loved and really enjoyed your conversation with him, and definitely encourage our listeners to check that out. But I want to begin today by asking you just to share a little bit of your own background and how you personally got so fascinated in just this question of, how did the world come to be? And was that something that you started asking at a young age?

Meyer: Well, that’s kind of you to ask. Yeah. I was kind of a nerdy little kid. At 4, I was fascinated with dinosaurs and remember burying chicken bones in the backyard so I could dig them up and pretend that I had made a major paleontological find. My sister, who’s a nurse, just always cracks up laughing at the silly things her nerdy older brother did.

But I was very interested in big philosophical questions, but I majored in physics and geology, so I took a minor in philosophy in college. So I was always interested in the intersection of science and philosophy, the questions that science raised that were philosophical in nature. Like, for example, the origin of the universe or the origin of life.

And early in my scientific career, I attended a conference that was showcasing top scientists who had competing worldviews—those who were materialists or atheists on one side and those who were theists, God believers of some kind on the other.

And they were discussing at this conference three great, big philosophical questions at the intersection of science and philosophy. They were the origin of the universe, the origin of life, and the nature and origin of human consciousness.

I found out about this conference kind of late in the game, attended it on a bit of a whim, and ended up meeting some people that became mentors for me. And a year later, I was off to grad school in England to pursue work on the question of the origin of life, origin of life biology. And I did that within an interdisciplinary history and philosophy of science program. And the deeper I got into it, the more I liked it, the more I was hooked.

So many people I knew that were doing Ph.D.s were, within a year or two, really bored with their subjects, because the nature of Ph.D. work is you have to go very deep on a very narrow subject, and I just never got bored with what I was doing. And spent a lot of years post-Ph.D. writing about the different facets of that debate.

Allen: When you first heard the argument for intelligent design, what were your thoughts? What was your reaction? Were you hooked right away and thought, “Oh, yes, this is the truth”? Or did it take quite a bit of time?

Meyer: I was super intrigued. And I was working as an oil company geophysicist when I heard this panel discussion about the origin of life problem.

And what fascinated me, which I had not known, was that the whole discipline of what’s called origin of life biology, or the theory of chemical evolution, or sometimes called evolutionary abiogenesis. How you get from the chemicals in the supposed prebiotic soup or environment to the first living cell, the theories about that transition were not working.

And people, on both sides of this worldview divide, accepted that we do not have an adequate theory of the origin of life. We do not have an adequate evolutionary theory.

And one of the scientists that I heard at the conference that I first attended about this, at that conference, repudiated his own work on chemical evolution. [He] explained that his own theory didn’t work, even though it was the bestselling advanced college-level textbook on the idea of on how science could explain the origin of life.

And at that time, [he] talked about the possibility that what we were actually looking at in life is evidence of some kind of intelligent cause, as he put it. Because what we’re finding inside living cells is not just chemistry but code.

We find digital code in the DNA molecule and that code is providing the instruction set for building the proteins and protein machines that keep living cells alive. So you have digital information directing the construction of, literally, molecular machines.

So it’s a lot like our CAD/CAM technology that we use in modern factories, where digital information directs the construction of, say, an airplane wing or something.

And so, this particular scientist, his name was Dean Kenyon, had been a leader in the field of chemical evolutionary studies, and he repudiated his own theory and suggested that it was time, as he put it, “for the question of design to be reopened.” I think he called it the question of natural theology, to be reopened. What can we tell about the reality of God from nature?

And so, I thought that was pretty fascinating. And there were other scientists who were defending that same point of view.

I wasn’t convinced yet, but I was intrigued. Because I was working in a field, it was seismic digital processing for an oil company, but it was an early form of information technology. And so, I was really fascinated with the idea, that the fundamental reason for the impasse in this field was that people couldn’t explain the origin of information. And that’s what I got interested in.

Allen: Have you found that more and more scientists are holding space or asking that question of, “Do we need to consider intelligent design?” Has there been more openness, you think, maybe within the past decade in the scientific community to actually say, “OK, there might be an intelligent designer”?

Meyer: Absolutely. Yeah. There was a famous court trial in 2005, and there was a ill-formed public school board policy that was trying to insert intelligent design into the curricular discussion. And we advised the school board against the policy. But they didn’t listen to us and it was sort of a train wreck.

And so, there was a kind of a post-Dover, Pennsylvania—that’s where the trial was held—the staunch Darwinians were saying, “It’s over after Dover. Intelligent design has been refuted, etc.”

In the last decade, I would say that the momentum is almost entirely on our side in this argument. And there have been very high-level scientific conversions to our point of view.

For example, a German paleontologist, named Gunter Bechly, reached out to us. He was the curator in 2009 of the bicentennial exhibition celebrating Darwin’s life and work at the largest natural history museum in Europe. And he had made a display to kind of mock the idea of intelligent design.

He had a scale of justice. And on one side he had the book “[On] the Origin of Species.” On the other side, he had a stack of books advocating intelligent design. And he had the scale go down on the Darwin side, and with a caption that said, “The one book that outweighs them all.”

And his colleagues challenged him. They said, “Gunter, if you’re going to mock the ID people, you better read their books, because you’re our spokesman and you might get asked about it by the media.”

So he did and he said that was his mistake. And he’s now a staunch proponent of intelligent design. He’s a first-rate paleontologist. And there have been many other leading scientists of that rank who are either publicly or quietly expressing their support.

And I think on the flip side, the publishing genre known as the New Atheism that was so popular in 2007, maybe up until about 2015, is really kind of a spent force. And I think they overplayed their hand.

They did a beautiful job of framing the issue. Richard Dawkins says—who was the most famous of the New Atheists—said that, “The universe we observe has exactly the properties we should expect, if at bottom, there’s no purpose, no design, nothing but blind, pitless indifference.”

But then, two summers ago, when he encountered an animation of the DNA replication system, the way in which the DNA copies itself—it’s part of the larger information processing system in the cell—he said he was knocked sideways with wonder at the sophistication of this digital information processing system.

Nobody from a materialistic perspective expected evidence for that level of sophisticated information processing in the so-called simple cell. Nor did they expect, in physics, the evidence of what’s called the fine-tuning, the exquisite and highly improbable fine-tuning of all the different physical parameters that make life in the universe possible.

And none of the scientific materialists coming out of the late 19th century expected there to be evidence for the universe itself, the physical universe of matter, space, time, and energy itself having a beginning.

And these are three huge discoveries in cosmology, physics, and biology that, I think, challenge the materialistic consensus and have implications that support not only intelligent design, but I would also argue, and have argued in my latest book, a theistic version of the intelligent design hypothesis, what I call the God Hypothesis.

So, I think, theism has a tremendous explanatory power, with respect to what we’ve learned in physics, cosmology, and biology about these big origins questions. And I think a lot of scientists are seeing that and a lot of people are communicating with us about their interest in this, and people at a very high level.

Allen: You mentioned your latest book, “Return of the God Hypothesis.” What is the God Hypothesis?

Meyer: Well, the God Hypothesis, in the way I framed it, is simply the idea that the postulation of a transcendent intelligence, who is also active in the creation, provides a better explanation, causal explanation, for the origin of the big things we’ve discovered about biological and cosmological origins.

If we think about the evidence that we have in cosmology, that points to a beginning for the universe. If matter, space, time, and energy have a beginning, then before that, whatever that means, there was no matter to do the causing.

So if you think of competing worldviews, we’re now talking more about competing metaphysical or worldview hypotheses. Theism provides a better explanation for the origin of the physical universe at a finite point in time because before that point of time, there was no physical universe and, therefore, no matter to do the causing.

And so, materialism as a worldview is causally inadequate. It’s not capable of providing an explanation. It doesn’t cite a cause that could explain the origin of the universe.

And so, as you look at the origin of the universe, it’s fine-tuning, and the origin of the information needed to build life. In each case, you have strong evidence for the activity of a mind, or something at least immaterial, that’s at work in the origin of those different physical or biological systems. And so, the God Hypothesis is simply the affirmation that theism has unique explanatory power, with respect to the big things we’ve discovered about biological and cosmological origins.

Allen: Fascinating. Why do you think that for so long the scientific community has been resistant to belief in God and to that theory of intelligent design?

Meyer: Well, this is part of the narrative arc of the book, if you will, and I think the story of science since its modern inception.

Historians of science talk about the Scientific Revolution, period of time in which science in its modern form, with its very systematic methods of investigating nature, gets going. And that’s in, roughly, the 16th and 17th century. I think it, probably, the revolution stretches back a bit further.

But it’s a period of time when science gets going, but it arises in a Judeo-Christian milieu in Western Europe. And interestingly, when you study the history of science, it’s clear, when you study what people are thinking, when you talk about Newton or Boyle or Kepler, the great scientists of that period were thinking within a Judeo-Christian framework of thought. And so, it wasn’t just that science started incidentally in a Judeo-Christian worldview, it started for Judeo-Christian reasons.

One of those was the idea of intelligibility, that nature could be understood by human beings if we studied it carefully, because our minds were made in the image of the rational creator who built the universe in a rational way.

So there was a principle of correspondence. We have rationality that’s been given to us, so we can understand the rational structure of the universe, with its laws and its evident design, and so forth.

And that gave scientists confidence to study nature, to think that there was a secret there that could be revealed by careful study. And it was one of many Judeo or even Christian or biblical assumptions that informed the scientific enterprise that’s lost in the late 19th century largely.

By the end of the 19th century, you have a whole series of theories about origins that suggests that undirected natural processes can explain everything, from the origin of the solar system, to the origin of new forms of life, to the origin of the first life, to even the origin of human beings.

And so, by the end of the 19th century, there’s a kind of new worldview consensus emerging out of science among a lot of elite scientists and that scholars call scientific materialism. And that’s the default worldview that most scientists inherit at the beginning of the 20th century.

And the story of my book is the story of three great discoveries that challenge that scientific materialist consensus on scientific grounds. And so, that’s the reversal.

So, I think the reason that so many scientists have been resistant, that scientific materialism was a kind of default way of thinking that scientists inherited coming out of the late 19th century with figures like Darwin, Marx, Freud, Laplace, Huxley, most of the great figures of the late 19th century were, in early 20th, were scientific materialists. In addition to their scientific studies, they had a worldview framework in which they understood those studies and that was very much materialistic or naturalistic.

Allen: When you’re speaking to, let’s say, a college student, someone that is not a scientist or a philosopher, but they’re an atheist, what do you ask them to consider as you talk to them about the origins of the universe?

Meyer: Well, I think worldview is really a critical concept here because we all have kind of a default philosophy that we carry around in our heads. And sometimes those philosophies are coherent, sometimes they’re a mishmash of different ideas. We might be a little bit New Age, we might be a little bit woke. We might be a little bit deistic. We might have some combination of Eastern and Western thought. Or we might have a very coherent materialistic, or theistic, or deistic worldview.

And so typically, I like to know, if I’m trying to persuade someone to think the way I think, or persuade someone to think that maybe there might be a God or a creator, first thing I want to know is what they’re thinking. What is their perspective on all that? And what are their reasons for rejecting such belief, if they do?

And oftentimes, what we found in probing with young people, including with some formal surveys that we’ve done, is that science, or the perceived message of science, is still playing an outsized role in causing younger people to reject belief in God.

One survey we commissioned found that 65% of young atheists believe that science renders belief in God less probable. And so, if that’s one of the reasons that people have for resisting belief in God, or rejecting it, then often, I like to offer some of the evidence that I present in the book itself because I think the evidence is actually very strong.

Allen: Excellent. Now, for those listening, how can they keep up with your work? Because I know that you are constantly doing more research and just putting out amazing material. How can we keep up with what you’re doing?

Meyer: Well, our staff at Discovery Institute has created a really nice website for me that’s just loaded with content. It’s called

Allen: Really appreciate your time, Dr. Meyer.

Meyer: Well, thank you very much, Virginia. I really enjoyed being here at Heritage for a couple days. It’s such an impressive place.

Allen: Oh, it’s been a pleasure to have you.

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The post The Case for Intelligent Design, With Stephen Meyer appeared first on The Daily Signal.

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