Terry Scambray has given Uncommon Descent permission to reprint his review of Steve Meyer’s The Return of the God Hypothesis — originally published at New Oxford Review — at Uncommon Descent. So here it is:
The Return of the God Hypothesis: Three Scientific Discoveries Revealing The Mind Behind The Universe, Stephen C. Meyer. Harper One, 2021. 448 pp.
Fred Hoyle, the astrophysicist, coined the phrase, “big bang,” to ridicule the idea that the universe had a beginning, a position which suited him as an atheist, materialist. But he changed his mind when the evidence indicated that the universe did have a beginning and that it was as finely tuned as a concert piano though with millions more interdependent variables that make possible our, Just right, Goldilocks universe. As Hoyle wrote, “the properties of the universe fall within narrow and improbable ranges that are absolutely necessary for any complex life forms to exist.”
In The Return of the God Hypothesis, Stephen Meyer presents a variety of other scientists who may not have agreed with Hoyle but in one way or another contribute to Meyer’s thesis that science points to the existence of the Judeo-Christian God.
Meyer summarizes his thesis early on when he points to three 20th century mutually supporting scientific discoveries that provide strong evidence for belief in the God of Judaism and Christianity. The first is the aforementioned Big Bang which brought the material world into existence with an opening day of stupendous fecundity. Though a seemingly chaotic event, the Big Bang nonetheless gave birth to our Goldilocks universe all of whose elements have been dished out in astonishingly providential proportions. Meyer’s final evidence for his thesis is the fact that “since the beginning large amounts of new functional genetic information have arisen to make new forms of life possible.” An example of this is “the Cambrian Explosion,” sometimes called “biology’s Big Bang” wherein new body plans, phyla, appear within a relatively short geological time period.
In bringing scientific findings to bear on theology and vice versa, Meyer shows that he operates in a long tradition because science developed uniquely from the Judeo-Christian worldview. He admits that this fact first puzzled him since the classical Greek thinkers are thought to be the foundation of the Western intellectual tradition. And, indeed, they did believe that nature had an underlying order, “an intrinsic self-existent logical principle called the logos.”
Nonetheless, just as a picture can be painted in different ways and a building can be constructed likewise, so too God created the world His way, making it the duty of science to find out exactly how He did it. Thus, science developed as both logical and contingent, which is to say that it strives for internal consistency and empirical validation.
Meyer fills all this in with an explanation of the Hebrew contribution to the development of science citing the lesser known historian, Edgar Zilsel. He continues with an enlightening section on the depth of Christian belief of many of the earliest scientists especially Isaac Newton whose theological writings are invariably presented as an eccentric avocation, distinct from his rigorous science. Not so, says Meyer; for Newton’s theology and science are merely another reflection of the indispensable unity between Judaism and Christianity, on the one hand, and science on the other.
Of course, this unity is largely unknown when it is not openly resisted by the great unwashed in our educational citadels and in the editorial offices of influential journals, whose bastions defend a materialist cult which they call “science.” The story of this resistance and Meyer’s response to it is taken up in the ensuing 400 pages of his exhaustively superlative book.
Many know that the most famous modern scientist, Albert Einstein, found the proposition that the universe had a beginning repugnant. He, like others including Aristotle, thought that the universe had always existed in “a steady state.” In the words of Carl Sagan, “The cosmos was all there ever was and ever will be.” But observations, evidence, contradicted the equations, the mathematical formulae that Einstein had relied on for his certitude.
First a Russian physicist, Alexander Friedmann, solved Einstein’s gravitational equations by allowing for the possibility of a dynamic universe while simultaneously relying on Einstein’s theory of gravitation which stipulated that massive bodies cause space to curve or contract. Though Friedman did not refute Einstein, he did show the need for an “implausible degree of fine tuning” in order to maintain the tension between the drag of gravity and the pull of expansion, akin to the centripetal force that pulls us in as we round a curve and the opposing centrifugal force that pushes us out.
This tension was resolved by a Belgian priest and physicist, Georges Lemaitre, who agreed with Friedman. Then Lemaitre ventured further into metaphoric space by relying on observations showing light from distant galaxies as well as data from Edwin Hubble’s telescope both of which showed the distances to other galaxies. Taken together these findings demonstrated that galaxies are speeding away from one another. And while Friedmann had shown that the universe could change, Lemaitre showed that it had changed by arguing that galaxies were not merely speeding away into preexisting space but that space itself was expanding.
“Not so fast!” Einstein, in effect, said of Lemaitre‘s idea which Einstein contemptuously dismissed by saying it was, “inspired by the Christian dogma of creation, and totally unjustified from the physical point of view.”
Moving from this opening part of his book, Meyer next explains “abduction” as his method of drawing inferences from these scientific findings. For example, Charles Lyell, “the father of modern geology,” used abduction when he observed the present and then extrapolated backwards in time in order to discover what happened in the distant past. Thus, Lyell posited, “The present is the key to the past,” meaning that present geological forces working relentlessly in the deep past carved up the earth’s surface to its present state.
Meyer qualifies this process by saying that it must also recognize multiple causes in the past, including evidence for the trinity of “singularities” upon which he bases his argument. Abduction also fails to offer the air tight assurance of a logically deductive argument. Instead, Meyer writes, “abductive reasoning represents an inference to the best explanation.”
Meyer concludes his treatise by mixing it up with formidable materialist opponents like Stephen Hawking. Hawking argued that since gravity at the subatomic level might have worked differently during the earliest stages of the universe, it could be the source of the origin of the universe; however, in making his mathematical calculations about the early universe, he needed to introduce the concept of “imaginary time.” But this way of eliminating the need for a temporal beginning of the universe “did not correspond to anything in the real physical universe,” Meyer emphatically writes, echoing the objection of other physicists and philosophers. Besides as Hawking admitted, “imaginary time” was merely an expedient to support his claim.
Meyer takes on other materialist theories like the “Wheeler-DeWitt equation” and “The Mathematical Universe Hypothesis” which seek to explain away the uniqueness of our universe. He concludes with the 19 th century physicist, Ludwig Boltzmann’s postmodernist, many worlds’ cosmology in which “Boltzmann Brains” could self-assemble as the result of chance arrangements of atoms due to random quantum fluctuations. Accordingly such fluctuations at the subatomic level may cause bizarre outcomes like the Statue of Liberty waving at passers-by and, though such events may not happen in our universe, given enough universes and time, such things will happen and happen endlessly!
But, as Meyer points out, each of these rationales involves monumental question begging; that is, each assumes the prior existence of features of our universe like gravity, matter, time, reliable mathematics and so on which themselves demand explanations.
In Meyer’s first book, Signature in the Cell, he showed that the bio-chemical instructions in each DNA molecule resemble the language of computer code, the only known source of such specified information being a mind. His second also widely praised book, Darwin’s Doubt, revealed that the fossil record relentlessly demonstrates that the body plans, the architecture, of all the major animals arose relatively dramatically in direct contradiction to Darwin’s theory that such body plans developed in tiny, incremental steps.
With The Return of the God Hypothesis, Meyer has once again written a hefty book in size and subject. Nonetheless, it is a pleasure to read because of the way that his inviting voice brings light to bear on complicated and profoundly influential subjects. And while a short review cannot do justice to most books, this limitation applies five-fold to this abundantly rich book. Indeed, with this book, Meyer completes a compelling trilogy which refutes the prevailing materialism of the intelligentsia while also completing his one long argument that, in the words of Solomon, “from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator.”
Terry Scambray writes from the Great Central Valley of California