This week, traditional Jews and Christians celebrate special acts of God in human history. Yet, polling data now show that an increasing number of young people, including those from religious homes, doubt even the existence of God.
Moreover, polls probing such young “religiously unaffiliated agnostics and atheists” have found that science — or at least the claims of putative spokesmen for science — have played an outsized sole in cementing disaffection with religious belief. In one, more than two-thirds of self-described atheists, and one-third of agnostics, affirm “the findings of science make the existence of God less probable.”
It’s not hard to see how many people might have acquired this impression. Since 2006 popular “new atheist” writers — Richard Dawkins, Victor Stenger, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Stephen Hawking, Bill Nye, and Lawrence Krauss — have published a series of best-selling books arguing that science renders religious belief implausible. According to Dawkins and others, Darwinian evolution, in particular, establishes that “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose … nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”
But does science actually support this strictly materialistic vision of reality? In fact, three major scientific discoveries during the last century contradict the expectations of scientific atheists (or materialists) and point instead in a distinctly theistic direction.
First, cosmologists have discovered that the physical universe likely had a beginning, contrary to the expectations of scientific materialists who had long portrayed the material universe as eternal and self-existent (and, therefore, in no need of an external creator).
The first evidence of a cosmic beginning came in the 1920s when astronomers discovered that light coming from distant galaxies was being stretched out or “red-shifted” as if the galaxies were moving away from us. Soon after, Belgian priest and physicist Georges Lemaître and Caltech astronomer Edwin Hubble independently showed that galaxies farther away from Earth were receding faster than those close at hand. That suggested a spherical expansion of the universe (and space) like a balloon inflating from a singular explosive beginning — from a “big bang.”
Lemaître also showed that Einstein’s equations describing gravity most naturally implied a dynamic, evolving universe, despite Einstein’s initial attempt to gerrymander his own equations to depict the universe as eternally existing and static — i.e., neither contracting nor expanding. In 1931, Einstein visited Hubble at the Mt. Wilson observatory in California to view the red-shift evidence for himself. He later announced that denying the evidence of a beginning was “the greatest blunder” of his scientific career.
This evidence of a beginning, later reinforced by other developments in observational astronomy and theoretical physics, not only contradicted the expectations of scientific materialists, it confirmed those of traditional theists. As physicist and Nobel Laureate Arno Penzias observed, “The best data we have [concerning a beginning] 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.”
Second, physicists have discovered that we live in a kind of “Goldilocks universe.” Indeed, since the 1960s, physicists have determined that the fundamental physical laws and parameters of our universe have been finely tuned, against all odds, to make our universe capable of hosting life. Even slight alterations in the values of many independent factors — such as the strength of gravitational and electromagnetic attraction, the masses of elementary particles, and the initial arrangement of matter and energy in the universe — would have rendered life impossible.
Not surprisingly many physicists have concluded that this improbable fine-tuning for life points to a cosmic “fine-tuner.” As former Cambridge astrophysicist, Sir Fred Hoyle argued: “A common-sense interpretation of the data suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics” to make life possible.
To avoid this conclusion, some physicists have postulated a vast number of other universes. This “multiverse” idea portrays our universe as the outcome of a grand lottery in which some universe-generating mechanism spits out billions and billions of universes — so many that our universe with its improbable combination of life-conducive factors would eventually have to arise.
Yet, advocates of the multiverse overlook an obvious problem. All such proposals — whether based on “inflationary cosmology” or “string theory” — postulate universe generating mechanisms that themselves require prior unexplained fine-tuning — thus, taking us back to where we started and the need for an ultimate fine-tuner.
Third, discoveries in molecular biology have revealed the presence of digital code at the foundation of life, suggesting the work of a master programmer. After James Watson and Francis Crick elucidated the structure of the DNA molecule in 1953, Crick developed his famed “sequence hypothesis.” In it, Crick proposed that the chemical constituents in DNA function like letters in a written language or digital symbols in a computer code.
Functioning computer code depends upon a precise sequence of zeros and ones. Similarly, the DNA molecule’s ability to direct the assembly of crucial protein molecules in cells depends upon specific arrangements of chemical constituents called “bases” along the spine of its double helix structure. Thus, even Richard Dawkins has acknowledged, “the machine code of the genes is uncannily computer-like.” Or as Bill Gates explains, “DNA is like a computer program, but far, far more advanced than any software we’ve ever created.”
No theory of undirected chemical evolution has explained the origin of the information in DNA (or RNA) needed to build the first living cell from simpler non-living chemicals. Instead, our uniform and repeated experience — the basis of all scientific reasoning — shows that systems possessing functional or digital information invariably arise from intelligent causes.
We know from experience that software comes from programmers. We know generally that information — whether inscribed in hieroglyphics, written in a book, or encoded in radio signals — always arises from an intelligent source.
So the discovery of information — and a complex information transmission and processing system — in every living cell, provides strong grounds for inferring that intelligence played a role in life’s origin. As information theorist Henry Quastler observed, “information habitually arises from conscious activity.”
Historian of science Fredrick Burnham notes: “the idea that God created the universe [is] a more respectable hypothesis today than at any time in the last 100 years.”
In the book Return of the God Hypothesis, Stephen C Mayer concurs, and argues that recent scientific discoveries about biological and cosmological origins have decidedly theistic implications, suggesting that popular scientific reports of the death of God may have been greatly exaggerated. [The Federalist]
Stephen C. Meyer directs Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture in Seattle. His new book, Return of the God Hypothesis: Three Discoveries that Reveal the Mind Behind the Universe, is now available from HarperOne.
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