A review of Stephen C Meyer’s The Return of the God Hypothesis

Watch the video: https://youtu.be/ovMMkAofBis

Stephen Meyer is the author of Signature in the Cell, Darwin’s Doubt, and his latest “The Return of the God Hypothesis: three scientific discoveries that reveal the Mind behind the Universe” in which he adds additional layers of evidence to his hypothesis that a God, or intelligent Mind, is responsible for the Universe and life within it. The book discusses three key findings in science that are best explained by the postulation of an Intelligence. Those findings are:

  1. The universe has a beginning, which of course begs the question – How did it begin? Could the universe really be responsible for its own beginning?
  2. The constants of physics are finely tuned to allow for a universe in which stable galaxies, planets, and ultimately life can evolve.
  3. DNA is an information rich molecule, and the information it contains resembles that of a computer code or written text.

So, let’s get into these one by one starting with the beginning of the universe. Edwin Hubble was an astronomer who provided evidence that the universe was expanding as his observations showed that other galaxies were getting further and further away from our own. Furthermore, he found that the rate at which other galaxies retreat from ours is correlated with their distance from us – the further away the faster they are retreating as if the universe is being blown up like a balloon.

It follows then that as you trace time back, all the galaxies would get closer and closer together and eventually converge, marking the beginning of the universe.

Later on, working with Einstein’s field equations, the Belgian priest and physicist Georges Lemaître proposed a cosmological model which showed that the galaxies were not receding into preexisting space, but in fact, space itself was expanding, again, implying that if you rewound time, you would see the universe getting smaller and smaller, until, as Stephen Hawking stated: “at some time in the past….the distance between neighboring galaxies must have been zero. In other words, the entire universe was squashed into a single point with zero size, like a sphere of radius zero.”

Wait a minute, zero size? That’s right, in a singularity both spatial and temporal dimensions cease to exist. When you rewind time (t) back far enough, you eventually get to t=0, and since time and space are intricately linked – space collapses to zero as well. So, as Stephen Meyer used to ask his students, “How much stuff can you put in no space?” It seems like neither matter nor energy could exist in the absence of space. Where would it be? But that is the big bang theory–that the universe arose from nothing.

And the big bang theory is supported by evidence such as the Cosmic Background Radiation, a residual radiation of light left over from the early stages of the universe’s expansion.

Meyer points out the implications of the theory when he states:

“If sometime in the finite past, either the curvature of space reached an infinite and/or the radius and spatial volume of the universe collapsed to zero units, then at that point there would be no space and no place for matter and energy to reside. Consequently, the possibility of a materialistic explanation would also evaporate, since at that point neither material particles nor energy fields would exist. Indeed, since matter and energy cannot exist until space (and probably time) begins to exist, a materialistic explanation involving either material particles or energy fields —before space and time existed—makes no sense. As I used to tell my students, “If you extrapolate back all the way to a singularity, you eventually reach a point where there is no matter left to do the causing.”1

Indeed. To clarify that point, the big bang theory implies that time and space started, or came into existence, at some finite time in the past. Space and time begin when the universe begins at the beginning of the big bang. Before space, time and energy popped into existence, there could be nothing “material” which existed because matter and energy are space-bound. So, there could be no material cause to the universe.

Therefore any entity capable of causing the universe to come into existence must transcend the space, time, matter and energy of the universe itself which is what Theism theorizes—that there is a transcendent God beyond the universe.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. There’s a way around this problem of a beginning to space, time, and matter. Yeah, Yeah…we can figure this out. Ok, so what if the universe didn’t spring from a truly dimensionless, spaceless, timeless point, but instead just from a really tiny ball of space time and energy, which I think is how most of us envision it anyway—as all the matter and energy in the universe compacted down into this super hot, compressed, tight ball of energy. Well, the problem is: What caused it to explode and create our universe 13.8 billion years ago? If that tiny ball of compressed energy has existed for an infinite amount of time, why did it suddenly erupt 13.8 billion years ago? It doesn’t make sense considering there was an infinite amount of time before that for it to erupt and create our universe, yet our best evidence shows that the universe has only been expanding for 13.8 billion years.

Alright, Alright, Alright we got this. What if it just does this in cycles. The universe expands, then it contracts back into that tight ball of energy, then BOOM!, It does it again, over and over and over ad infinitum. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha…we got this. There’s no need for God. It’s just energy, boom expands, contracts, boom – expands, contracts, over and over. There’s nothing outside of the universe. No need for God. See ya later Stephen. Don’t let the door hit ya on the way out. Team Atheist 1, Stephen Meyer 0.

Wait! Stephen Meyer has an answer. As he explains in the book, MIT physicist Alan Guth demonstrated that the model we just described of an oscillating universe that continually expands and contracts runs into a problem with the second law of thermodynamics which states that the disorder, or entropy, of an isolated system of matter and energy will increase over time. So each time the Universe went through one of these cycles it would increase its overall entropy. And I’ll just quote from Meyer’s book to make it easier. He says,

“…such increases in entropy (or the disorderly distribution of mass-energy) would result in less energy available to do work in each cycle. That would cause progressively longer and longer cycles of expansion and contraction, since increasing inhomogeneities in the mass-energy density throughout space would decrease the efficiency of gravitational contraction. Yet if the duration of each cycle necessarily increases as the universe moves forward in time, then it follows that each cycle in the past would have been progressively shorter. Since the periods of each cycle cannot decrease indefinitely, the universe—even in an oscillating model—would have had to have a beginning.”2

And furthermore, he points out that recent astronomical observations suggest that the universe will most likely never re-collapse because its mass-density is less than the critical-density necessary to stop the expansion.

So, we’re back to Theism. Now that brings up a whole bunch of unanswered questions about the nature of God –If God created the universe, what is God “made of” and how does God create the universe—where did the energy come from? It came from God, well, how does God make energy? Or is the energy of the universe a part of God. Maybe god is energy, albeit sentient, intelligent, conscious energy–mind…and we should probably postulate that God is multi-dimensional sentient energy, meaning God transcends the three (four if you include time) dimensions of our reality.

But those questions aside, we know from our experience as minds inhabiting human bodies that we can freely choose to create new things that didn’t exist before. Of course, our creations are confined to this physical world, but nonetheless, God, as an agent with free will could presumably create something new-like the universe.

Now, before we end this section about a beginning of the universe, it must be said that there are other theories, including steady-state theory, inflationary cosmology and quantum cosmology, all of which are critiqued by Meyer in his massive nearly 600 page book.

I don’t have time, nor the expertise to go through all that. So, if you’re interested in the full discussion of that topic, read the book, and you’ll find out why Meyer thinks all cosmological theories to date have theistic implications whether or not they postulate a beginning to the universe.

So, moving on to postulate 2 of why there must be a God: The universe is finely tuned to create a life-friendly universe.

First, there’s the gravitational force constant (G), which could have a number of different values, but is finely tuned to 1 part in one hundred billion trillion trillion (that’s 1 in 1035) to allow for the existence of stable stars in the universe. If the gravitational force was weaker, then stars wouldn’t get hot enough nor develop the thermal layering essential for the creation of many elements necessary for life, such as carbon and oxygen. If the force were much stronger, then stars would get too hot, which would only allow the creation of heavy elements, and stars would burn up much faster, i.e. not last as long.

And there are many values and constants of physics which need to have a specific value to create a life-friendly universe where you can have stable stars and planets and all the elements needed to create life. In Meyer’s book, he says the electromagnetic force constant exhibits fine tuning for a life friendly universe of 1 part in 25.  The strong nuclear force 1 part in 200, and I could go on. Moreover, the ratios of the values of the different force constants require a high level of fine tuning. Meyer points out that the ratio of the weak nuclear force constant to the strong nuclear force constant had to have been set with a precision of 1 part in 10,000. Otherwise hydrogen fusion powered stars necessary for life could not exist. And the ratio of the electromagnetic force to gravity must be accurate to 1 part in 1040, again, in order for a life-friendly, life-sustaining universe to have been created.

Moreover, the initial configuration of mass-energy at the beginning of the universe had to have finely tuned entropy, or order, in order to create a life-friendly universe. Specifically, it had to be a low entropy (highly ordered) configuration because if not, you get either an extreme clumping of matter in the universe resulting in only black holes existing, or a highly diffuse arrangement of matter without any large-scale structures such as galaxies at all.

Then there’s the fine tuning of the rate of expansion of the Universe. As Meyer explains,

“if the universe were initially expanding even a smidgeon faster or slower, either stable galaxies would not have formed in the universe because matter would have dissipated too quickly for galaxies to congeal or else the universe would have quickly collapsed in on itself.”3

Now, we know that minds, such as ours, are capable of fine-tuning a system to produce a certain outcome. We need precisely manufactured parts and precise arrangement of those parts to create our wonderful machinery – our cars, our computers, our beloved smart phones. So, our repeated and uniform experience tells us that Mind is capable of this kind of precision fine-tuning to create a desired outcome – a machine with a desired function, a computer program, what have you.

Ok, it’s objection time. Here we go. Atheists to the rescue. Let’s see, let’s see. Yes, multiverse – eat it Stephen Meyer – there’s an infinite number of universes, so surely a few of them are going to be life friendly and we just happen to live in one of those life friendly universes. But it’s not because God made it. It’s because there’s an infinite number. The Law of Stastistics tells us there’s gonna be a life friendly one.

Of course, Myer offers a rebuttal.

First of all, with Multi-universe theories there’s Ockham’s razor to deal with, which states that you should avoid multiplying theoretical entities when trying to explain phenomenon. A simpler explanation is better—the simpler explanation being theism. Then there’s the problem of the fine-tuning of the universe generating mechanism, the need to affirm purely hypothetical entities, abstract postulates, and unobservable processes – the details of which I’ll let you read about in the book.

But the biggest objection I think is the absurdities which an infinite multiverse theory postulates. I’ll quote again from the book:

“According to quantum mechanics, there is a finite, if extremely tiny, probability of random fluctuations at a subatomic level occasionally generating unexpected macroscopic outcomes such as, for example, the Statue of Liberty waving at you as you fly by it in an airplane. Though such events will in all probability never happen in our solitary universe, any event with a finite probability of occurrence, however small, will inevitably happen in an infinite multiverse. Indeed, it will do so an infinite number of times. One such incredibly improbable event would be the production of a Boltzmann brain. In an infinite number of universes, an infinite number of such brains would exist.”4

So, what is a Boltzmann brain, you might ask? Well, it would be a brain that spontaneously appears due to random quantum fluctuations, complete with a false set of memories and perceptions. You could be a Boltzmann brain.

And in fact, in these infinite multiverse theories, every possibility exists somewhere in some universe. And I think we can appeal to Ockham’s razor, and as the philosopher Richard Swinburne put it, “It is the height of irrationality to postulate an infinite number of universes never causally connected with each other, merely to avoid the hypothesis of theism.”

Now, moving on to the third piece of evidence pointing to the existence of an intelligent Mind behind the universe–we have the genetic code of life in DNA.

This, to me, is the most compelling and most obvious example of intelligence in the Cosmos. He first laid this theory out in Signature in the Cell, and I remember having an epiphany when reading it. It just made so much sense. I combined that theory with the evidence from Near-Death Experiences to propose a Source Consciousness from which the universe and all beings originate in my book Enter the Light, written many years ago.

At the heart of all life, in the simplest cell we find DNA. Now, what most people don’t know is how DNA is like a digital code, similar to a computer program or a written text.

You see, DNA provides the instructions for building proteins which are the building blocks of life. Now, DNA has four chemical bases which are arranged along the sugar-phosphate backbone of the DNA molecule. But there are no chemical bonds between the bases running down the spine of the backbone, which means there’s no chemical affinity which bonds them together or determines their arrangement. Any of the bases can attach to any of the sites along the backbone. This makes the DNA molecule ideal for carrying specified information.

DNA carries specified information: This means that it is complex, as the information does not follow a repeating pattern, and specified, meaning that a specific arrangement of bases performs a specific function—that function in many cases being the production of a protein.

As I explained in my article, “A New View of Consciousness and Reality”5 :

There are four DNA bases, represented by the letters A, C, T, and G, which are arranged into 3-letter combinations (essentially 3-letter words), called codons. Each codon, or 3-letter word, represents one of twenty different amino acids that link up in specified sequences to build proteins. Also, there are codons that specify when to start or stop the building of a protein. Amino acids form proteins by linking together one at a time, based on the DNA instructions, and then folding into 3-dimensional structures. The specific 3-dimensional structure of the protein determines its precise function

If the amino acids are not arranged in the proper order, a functional protein will not be produced. Therefore, if the bases in DNA are not arranged properly to code for the right amino acids, then the amino acids will not link up properly, and a functional protein will never be made.

Even a simple protein requires a chain of 100+ amino acids. Again, these amino acids must be arranged in a specific order to produce a functional protein because most combinations of amino acids will not fold into a stable functional protein at all. Remember that DNA encodes for one amino acid at a time with 3-letter “words”, or specific sequences of bases. Therefore, to encode for a simple protein requires that 300+ DNA bases be arranged in a specific order so that the amino acids link up in a proper sequence to produce a functional protein. Then, add to this the correct words, or codons, for starting and stopping the protein making sequence. These codes must be at the beginning and end of the coding region to initiate and end protein production respectively. This is akin to producing a 100 word paragraph of coherent text with a capital letter to start the paragraph and a period at the end. To produce such a paragraph by random processes is highly unlikely.

In fact, in Signature in the Cell, Meyer says that the chances of producing any functional protein of 150-amino-acids by combining those amino acids by chance is 1 in 1074. And there are many hundreds of specialized proteins in a single cell. Random mutation of the DNA digital code is much more likely to degrade function, i.e. lead to the coding of non-functional proteins, than it is to stumble upon a new functional protein. It would be like randomly changing the letters in paragraph of written text. The more you do that, the more you make the text incomprehensible. Or if you randomly changed the 1’s and 0’s of a computer code, you are much more likely to break the computer program than to enhance its function.

So, although random mutation and natural selection sounds plausible, once you understand the complex digital code imbedded in DNA, you start to understand that it is entirely implausible to suggest that a random process created the new genes and proteins for all the new forms of life that have emerged on Earth. There is no known natural process that can produce this type of information. But we know that minds are capable of producing this kind of information—Highly specific information that confers a function.  

Richard Dawkins tried to show how evolution could work by programming a computer program to produce the sequence: “Methinks it is like a Weasel”. The computer program randomly changes letters until it hits upon the sequence. The only problem with that analogy is that Dawkins had to first give the program the target sequence in order for it to have selection criteria. Therefore, if a random letter change fit with the phrase, it was selected and preserved. However, this implies that natural selection selects for future function. However, in the real world, natural selection has no future goal in sight. It can only select for current function, or survivability. So natural selection would not have any reason to preserve any of the intermediate steps along the way to the fully functional sequence of “Methinks it is like a Weasel”, and in fact, without knowing to select letters within that sequence to preserve, that sequence of letters would have never, within reasonable amounts of time, come about through purely random mutation without selection criteria along the way.

And this is the problem we have with life. We have thousands of different proteins, each with a specialized function. The information to create these proteins is encoded in DNA in a digital format.

We only know of one source that can create this kind of specified information – human minds. We create written texts, which are very improbably and highly specific arrangements of letters which confer meaning, or function, to the reader.

So basically, evolutionary theory has an information problem. Where does the information come from to create life and evolve it into the many different creatures we have today?

In my opinion, this universe is a part of God. It exists within God. Indeed, if God is all that exists, fundamentally, then everything that exists, exists within God. This universe is a small part of God. The mind, the energy of God, is in every being, every particle of the universe because every being, every particle is God. God is the Mind behind the universe, in the universe, and he/she/it..I can’t come up with any pronouns for God, but anyway, God guides the evolution of the universe and life intelligently.

Finally, let’s talk about why Stephen Meyer called his book “The Return of the God Hypothesis”. What do you mean return? Well, interestingly, early scientists–most prominently Newton–had strong faith in God. You see, early scientists believed in an orderly cosmos governed by God. They sought to discover the laws by which God governed the universe. Thus, Newton stated in the General Scholium of the Principia : “In him [God] are all things contained and moved.” It was God who created this orderly universe, and we, created in his image, may discover the thoughts or the ideas or the mathematics by which God created and sustains the cosmos.

  1. Meyer, Stephen C. The Return of the God Hypothesis: three scientific discoveries that reveal the Mind behind the Universe. HarperOne, 2021.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. https://blog.world-mysteries.com/science/a-new-view-of-consciousness-and-reality/

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