Stephen Meyer Transcript

Stephen Meyer Interview

Rick: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer. Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of interviews with spiritually awakening people. We’ve done over 600 of them now, and if this is new to you and you’d like to check out previous ones, please go to, B-A-T-G-A-P, and look under the past interviews menu. This program is made possible through the support of appreciative listeners and viewers, so if you appreciate it and would like to support it, please… There’s a PayPal button on every page of the website, and there’s also a page of alternatives to PayPal. My guest today is Stephen C. Meyer, and I’m very excited about this interview. I’ll tell you why in a minute, but let me read his bio first. Stephen received his Ph.D. in the philosophy of science from the University of Cambridge in the U.K. A former geophysicist and college professor, he now directs Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Meyer is the author of the New York Times bestseller “Darwin’s Doubt.” I have a picture of the book cover here. “Darwin’s Doubt,” the explosive origin of animal life and the case for intelligent design, and “Signature in the Cell.” It’s hard for me to go through my software in this paper. “Signature in the Cell,” a London Times literary supplement book of the year. In 2004, Meyer ignited a firestorm of media and scientific controversy when a biology journal at the Smithsonian Institution published his peer-reviewed scientific article, “Advancing Intelligent Design.” Meyer has been featured on national television and radio programs, including the Jim Lehrer NewsHour, CBS Sunday Morning, let’s see, Fox News Live, Nightline, Good Morning America, ABC News, NBC Nightly News, Paul Azan on CNN, and the Tavis Smiley Show on PBS. He has also been featured in two New York Times front page stories and has garnered attention in other top national media. So you’ve probably picked up two things from that. One is that Stephen Meyer has done a lot of media interviews, and two, that he’s somewhat controversial. And the reason he’s controversial is that intelligent design is kind of a live wire in intellectual circles, and it happens to be the way I view the world. We might see slight differences in the way Stephen and I understand it, and he’s much more of an expert at explaining it scientifically than I could ever be. But if you’ve been watching this show for years, you’ve heard me make references to the fact that, you know, intelligence must be guiding or orchestrating the universe from the macroscopic to the microscopic, and that the universe would come to a screeching halt if it weren’t doing so. And it’s funny, despite the fact that that’s been my attitude for decades, whenever I heard the term “intelligent design,” I somehow felt like maybe that’s something that people who think the Earth is flat are using to try to get religion into the schools or something. But as soon as I got exposed to Stephen’s work and read his latest book, which I haven’t mentioned yet, it’s “Return of the God Hypothesis”— let me read the subtitle as well— “Three Scientific Discoveries That Reveal the Mind Behind the Universe,” I read the entire book or listened to it over the past couple of weeks. I was just really delighted to hear the sophistication and depth and scientific rigor with which he explained all this. And of course he has his critics, and maybe as we have our conversation here, he will mention some of what the critics say to various points he makes. And anybody listening to this, if you have a question, even if it’s critical, send it in and he’ll answer it. Believe me, he can handle it. And finally, you might be listening to this a year later or something, we’ll have a Facebook group page, as we always do for each interview, and discuss your issues or concerns there, and I’ll keep track of them. And maybe we’ll be able to have a second interview with Stephen later on and bring up some of those points. So here we go. I think maybe Stephen, just give us a little bit of your background to begin with, and I’ll have plenty of questions, and I know there’s a lot you’re going to want to bring out.

Stephen: Yeah, right. I was raised in the Northwest here. I’m in Seattle now. And I went to college in Washington State at a liberal arts college called Whitworth, then called Whitworth College. It’s since upgraded itself to Whitworth University.

Rick: Is that a Christian school or secular?

Stephen: It is, yeah. It’s definitely a Christian school. It was founded by a Presbyterian, fairly diverse in the student body it attracts. Then I went to work as a geophysicist, an exploration geophysicist for four years, and went to England to do my first master’s work, and then ended up staying on to do the PhD in the philosophy of science. I was very interested in the question of the origin of life and my thesis on origin of life biology. The last year I was working in the oil industry, I attended a conference. It was just an absolutely fascinating conference. It was called… It convened materialist atheists, agnostics on one side of the panels, and theists of various stripes on the other to discuss the origin of the universe, the origin of life, and the origin and nature of human consciousness. It was basically the ancient debate going all the way back to the Greeks. Is it mind first or is it matter first? Does matter produce mind or does mind shape and create matter? I was really struck by these discussions. The first was about the origin of the universe. The great cosmologist Allan Sandage spoke and announced that– first of all, he shocked everyone at the conference by sitting down on the theistic side of the panel rather than with the materialists. He was a long-time outspoken agnostic materialist, and he had had a religious conversion. And In his talk, he explained that the scientific evidence from his own field of cosmology had contributed to that conversion to the awareness of some kind of– he described the Big Bang as a creation event and described the need for an external creator of the universe of some kind. And in the discussion about the origin of life, there was a similar scientific conversion reported where one of the leading origin of life researchers announced that he had come to accept the idea of– it wasn’t called intelligent design then. It was his idea–he called it an intelligent cause of some kind must be responsible for the digital information that’s stored in the DNA molecule. And this was the key evidence that was bringing origin of life research to an impasse, which was the chemistry– simple chemical reactions between non-living chemicals don’t produce code. And yet, to get life going, you need the code. You need the genetic code. You need the information that’s stored in DNA and RNA and those sort of molecules. This scientist’s name is Dean Kenyon, a very prominent origin of life researcher. So I was 27 years old at the time, practicing scientist at the bachelor’s level of education, and I was just blown away by these discussions and thought, “I want to get into the middle of this. This is really interesting.” I’d done physics and geology as an undergraduate, but I took as much philosophy as I could on the side, and so I was always interested in those big subjects, big topics in science that were at the intersection between science and philosophy. And so I ended up a year later going off to grad school. I found this great program at Cambridge that was the history and the philosophy of science, and then they allowed you to specialize in a scientific topic of your greatest interest, and mine was precisely this question of how did life first arise, not the Darwinian question of the origin of new forms of life from preexisting forms, but the origin of the very first life from simple non-living chemicals. How did we get from nonlife to life? And when I was working in seismic digital processing in geophysics, that was an early form of information technology, and I think I was just seized with the concept or the realization that the big mystery associated with the question of the origin of life was the origin of the information you would need to construct a cell. Where does that information come from? And so that’s what caught my fancy, and off I went to grad school. So that’s kind of my story.

Rick: Yeah, that’s a good story in a nutshell. I have a quote here from Carl Sagan someplace, but you can probably actually quote it from memory. But just, yeah, here we go. I mean, Sagan says, “A single cell contains the equivalent information content of over 10 million volumes,” and that’s the end of the quote. But there’s supposed to be something like 40 to 100 trillion cells in the human body and probably billions of them in your finger alone. So there’s this incredible complexity in that area. We’ll talk about other areas. And to me the thought that something like that could come into being through some sort of chance or randomness or accident or something just seems so completely improbable, and it really begs the question, like, why do these things exist? How could it function? How can you say it’s random or accident? It’s not little billiard balls creating something.

Stephen: Well, and not just–I mean, there are a number of different types of purely naturalistic, that is to say mindless, processes we could invoke. We could invoke what scientists call stochastic processes, random interactions of molecules. But we could also try to invoke law-like processes, the laws of nature or what are sometimes called self-organizational processes. And they are real, they’re laws of nature. They’re processes that cause order to arise in a purely natural way. You could think of dropping a pebble in a pond and thinking of that nice concentric rings of waves moving outward from the place you dropped the pebble. You could think of a vortex as you drain the bathtub or something. But the kind of order you have in life is not simple symmetric order. It’s highly complex and yet specified order. If you think of a key, you look at the notches on a key, they’re highly irregular, but they’re highly specified to open the lock. Or if you think of language, you think of the arrangement of the letters in a sequence of–I always use the example of a line of poetry, “Tide and time wait for no man.” Those letters don’t rigidly repeat like a mantra, “AT, AT, AT, AT, AT.” No, they’re highly irregular and unpredictable, and yet they’re very specified. The sequential arrangement is specified in order to perform a communication function. And so when we find those two things together, what we call specification or specificity and complexity, that’s a type of information that always arises from a mind, and that’s what we have inside living cells. We don’t just have repetitive order. We don’t have random processes, things that are highly complex in the sense of being random, but we have an irregularity or a complexity that’s also highly specified, and that is an indicator of intelligence, and that’s what we find in the DNA and the RNA as well as in computer code and human language. Those are the three things in the universe that have this property, this special property of specified complexity– language, computer code, and the information in DNA and RNA.

Rick: Yeah, I have this friend in Australia that got in touch through this show, and I’ve been going back and forth with him a little bit on this topic, and he’s said various things, but one is here. He said, “The only place I could see an argument for intelligent design is in the physical constants of the universe. We don’t know where those came from. Once you grant that miracle, everything else is understandable by the laws of physics and evolution by natural selection.” And I’ll just show a little cartoon here. A couple of scientists are sitting in front of a blackboard, and it’s all these formulas on both sides, and right in the middle it says, “Then a miracle happens,” and one of the scientists says, “I think it should be more–”

Stephen: Just going to give it a little more detail?

Rick: I think it should be a little bit more explicit here in step two. So, I mean, I don’t even agree with him that, you know, once we have the laws of nature, everything is understandable. I think those need to have a mind maintaining their function, but it’s a big leap even to suggest that they came into being in the first place through any kind of random– Yeah, go ahead.

Stephen: A really interesting comment from your Aussie friend. And one of the three big discoveries that I address in the book is precisely the fine-tuning of the laws and constants of physics, the fundamental parameters of physics, and the initial conditions, the arrangement of matter and energy at the universe. All of the physicists tell us that these parameters fall within very narrow ranges or tolerances that allow for life to exist in the universe, even for basic chemistry to get going. These parameters have to be exquisitely, finely tuned.

Rick: How many of them are there? A couple hundred of them, aren’t there?

Stephen: Well, the estimates vary, but there’s at least a dozen really, really tightly, finely tuned parameters. It may be as many as three dozen at the fundamental physical level, so there’s a little bit of a debate about that.

Rick: And give us a name of a few of them.

Stephen: Yeah, absolutely. One of them is what’s called the cosmological constant. It’s the parameter that governs the strength of the force that is causing the universe to expand. And so, we know about the Big Bang Theory, and we talk about that’s another one of the big discoveries. The universe had a beginning. The physical universe of matter, space, time, and energy had a beginning. But one way we know about that is that we’ve discovered that the universe is expanding outward in a spherically symmetric way from that beginning point. And physicists tell us that that force of it that’s causing the expansion, which Einstein called the cosmological constant, is extremely finely tuned. If it were a little bit stronger, if the push outward against gravity were a little stronger, we’d get what’s called the heat death of the universe, where matter and energy would dissipate so widely that you couldn’t sustain life. The universe would be too cold. You wouldn’t get stable galaxies and things like that. On the other hand, if that force were a little bit weaker, then gravity would overcome the force of expansion, and we’d get a big crunch, and the universe would be a very compact black hole. And the fine-tuning associated with that one parameter, it has been estimated at about one part in 10 to the 90th power. Some scientists think it’s even more. Some physicists think it’s even more finely tuned than that. But to get a sense of the degree of precision and improbability associated with that one parameter, consider that there are only 10 to the 80th elementary particles in the entire universe. So to get this right by chance would be something like a blind– the equivalent problem would be like a blindfolded man floating out in free space somewhere in the universe looking for one elementary particle, but not just in our universe, but in 10 billion universes our size. That’s the size of the search that would have to be made randomly. And this is just one of the parameters. There’s also the fundamental forces of physics, the gravitational force, electromagnetism, the strong and weak nuclear forces, also not too strong, not too weak. The masses of the elementary particles, not too heavy, not too light. And right on down the line, multiple parameters. And the arrangement of matter and energy at the very beginning of the universe is also exquisitely finely tuned. It’s in fact the most finely tuned of all the parameters. It’s called the initial entropy. It’s a hyper-exponential fine-tuning. One part in 10 to the 10 to the 123 is the estimate that Sir Roger Penrose has given. So the physicists have been very impressed with what they sometimes call the Goldilocks universe. It’s all these parameters just right. And so your Aussie friend’s exactly right. That’s a very powerful and compelling evidence for intelligent design. But I’d part company with him on the question of life because just getting the fine-tuning right is a necessary but not a sufficient condition of a universe where you have life. You also have to have an exquisitely finely tuned planetary system. And then you’ve got to have information in a digital form stored in macromolecules to build cells. And the laws of physics describe highly orderly patterns. We think of the sun rising every morning, sun up, sun down, or every time I drop a ball, it falls. We use the laws of physics to describe repetitive patterns. But information, especially the kind of digital or alphabetic information that we use in computer code or written languages or in the genetic text, is not highly regular. It’s the same thing like T-H-E, T-H-E, T-H-E, repeating over and over again. It’s, again, that highly irregular, complex, but also specified sequences. And so, the laws of nature don’t explain that sort of thing because they, by definition, describe highly orderly repetitive patterns. In information sciences, we call that redundancy. And the genetic text is not–it has a little bit of a built-in redundancy, but it’s mainly specified complexity. And that’s something that is just by definition not explainable by the laws of nature. In our experience, it only arises from the mind.

Rick: So materialists, as I understand it, get around the extraordinary fine-tuning of the universe by insisting that it could still be random, but there could be sort of almost an infinite number of other universes in which things didn’t work out, and we somehow lucked out and exist in the one universe out of zillions in which things did work out. Did I state that properly?

Stephen: That’s very well explained. That’s sometimes called the multiverse. It kind of makes your head hurt.

Rick: They’re grasping at straws, it seems to me.

Stephen: Many physicists take this very seriously, and some will acknowledge that part of the motivation for that is that–Leonard Susskind, a great Stanford physicist, said, “Well,” he says, “I admit the multiverse is counterintuitive, but if we don’t hold to it, we’ll be at a loss to respond to the”–he calls them the ID critics, the intelligent design proponents. So there is a little bit of an awareness that if you don’t go with the multiverse, then the fine-tuning points to a fine-tuner. And many physicists will say, “Well, look, it’s either one god or many universes. They’re both equally metaphysical hypotheses. We can’t really decide the question.” And I know you’ve had a look at my book, and so you know that I actually disagree with that. I think both are metaphysical hypotheses. The god hypothesis, the hypothesis of a mind that transcends the universe is a metaphysical hypothesis, but so is the multiverse. But I think there are reasons to prefer the theistic design hypothesis over the multiverse, and here’s why. Just having a number–just positing a gabillion other universes out there that are causally disconnected from our own means that whatever happens in this universe is unaffected by those other universes, including whatever process it was that set the fine-tuning at the beginning of the universe. So just having other universes doesn’t explain the improbability of life in this universe, or the improbability associated with the fine-tuning parameters that allow for there to be life in the universe. And in virtue of that, many multiverse proponents have proposed what they call “universe-generating mechanisms,” whereby they can say that there’s some underlying mechanisms that’s producing, spitting out these universes, like the different spins of a dial on a roulette wheel or a gambling machine, so that they can portray our universe as sort of the lucky winner of a giant lottery, a giant cosmic lottery. But here’s where the rub comes in. There have been two different universe-generating mechanisms proposed, one based on “string theory” and one based on what’s called “inflationary cosmology.” And even in theory, these universe-generating mechanisms require prior, exquisite, that is, highly improbable fine-tuning in order to produce new universes. So even if you posit the multiverse, you still have prior, unexplained fine-tuning in your system. You’ve not explained the ultimate origin of the fine-tuning, you’ve just pushed it back out of view. And since in our experience, finely-tuned systems, whether we’re talking about a French recipe, an exquisite French recipe, or an internal combustion engine, or an electronic set of electronic components, fine-tuning is associated with intelligent agency. So even since the multiverse doesn’t ultimately explain the fine-tuning, the best explanation remains, I think, a fine-tuner, that is to say intelligent design.

Rick: Yeah, I think so too. Why do you think materialists– You know a lot about the history of science and religion, and perhaps we can even discuss a little bit how science evolved. I mean, one thing– You know, you can’t blame people for giving religion a bit of a hard time because of the crazy things it used to promulgate about astronomy and various other topics, and the severe treatment it gave to those who disagreed with those things. I mean, people were burned at the stake for suggesting that the stars might be other suns like our own, and they might have planets around them and stuff. So you can understand why science wanted to divorce itself from religion perhaps at the outset, although many early scientists, as well as current ones, are very religious people. But why do you think that there’s such a strong reaction, strong resistance to acknowledging that you may be right, that there may be intelligence at the foundation of everything and orchestrating everything?

Stephen: It’s always hard to say, and it’s probably different with every person, but I think it’s fair to acknowledge that pretty much all of us have a motivation to want there to be some transcendent purpose of creator behind things because we’re aware of the human condition and we know that we only live for a finite amount of time and then we die, and our hope of an afterlife depends upon there being a transcendent creator who could reconstitute us, if you will. On the other hand, we have a motivation not to believe in a creator because none of us really like the idea of being morally accountable to a supreme being or something like that, so there’s this push-pull inside each of us. And so for that reason, I’ve really tried to stay away from making the argument based on any kind of assessment of motivations of people who disagree. But I would say that there is an interesting historical background to this, as you allude to. Some of it’s been mistold. In the 19th century, there was this form of what’s called historiography, this way of telling the history of science that portrayed science and religion as always at each other’s throat, and there was this kind of warfare model that developed. If you go back to the period of the scientific revolution, when the first really systematic methods of studying nature were being developed, they were being developed by devoutly religious people. And the big names are people like Kepler and Newton. Even Galileo was very much– despite his troubles with the Catholic Church, he was still very much a believer in God. But you’ve got Newton, Galileo, Boyle, Christian Huygens. Even going back further into the late Middle Ages, a lot of the philosophers who were developing the scientific method, like Robert Grosseteste, for example, who was a particular intellectual hero of mine, these were devoutly religious people who believed in God and believed that by studying nature, they were revealing the handiwork of a great mind or creator behind the universe. We kind of lost that perspective in the late 19th century where there was an intellectual shift. It was presaged by developments in philosophy in the 18th century in the period that we call the Enlightenment, especially the secular Enlightenment philosophers who are more continental. But then in the 19th century, you have a series of theories and ideas about origins, the origin of the solar system, the origin of the geological features on planet Earth, Darwin’s theory of the origin of species, other people who extended his ideas to try to explain the origin of the first life. And so, by the end of the 19th century, you had this kind of seamless materialistic account of where everything had come from. And the so-called God hypothesis or the design hypothesis seemed increasingly unnecessary. And I think that kind of became the default way of thinking in the 20th century among many scientists. They thought, if we’re going to be really good scientists, we need to get rid of any reference to creative intelligence as an explanation and just explain things by reference to the laws of nature or other physical processes. And so, I think that kind of became a default way of thinking. It became kind of habitual among scientists. And now here at the end of the 20th century, the beginning of the 21st, we’re discovering things that I think really point to mind and intelligence. And so I’ll stop there for now, but there’s a lot more to say.

Rick: Oh, yeah, sure. Incidentally, just for the record, I actually have bachelor’s and master’s degrees in something called the science of creative intelligence.

Stephen: No kidding. Okay, that’s–

Rick: Which is very intelligent design-ish in its nature.

Stephen: Of course, yeah. And what was I going to say? So the return of the God hypothesis, so that implies that it had been around but had kind of faded and it’s starting to return. And let’s pick apart some of the terms in that title. I mean, first of all, God, everybody– different people have different concepts of what God is, but why don’t you try to define it the way you understand it.

Stephen: Yeah, right. Well, one of the things I do in the book is look at different concepts. If we look at the–go back to that ancient debate, all the way back to the Greeks, is it mind first and then matter, and matter gets shaped by mind? Or is it matter first and mind emerges from matter? And so, there’s kind of two great philosophical systems, and philosophers refer to one as materialism and the other as idealism. And within the idealist framework, there’s a number of different perspectives about the nature of the mind that would be the ultimate entity responsible for things. One is the classical theistic view that the mind is the mind of God, and by God we mean a transcendent intelligence, an intelligence that is separate, that resides separate from the universe, but also acts within the universe in time. Another closely related idea is the idea of deism, which is the idea that God is transcendent and separate from the universe, but God only acts at the beginning and not after the universe. He sets the universe in motion, or it sets the universe in motion and then lets things run on its own. Then there are other views like panentheism, which is a view that says, yes, there is a God, and the universe is dependent upon God, but panentheism says that God is dependent on the universe for its existence. So there’s a kind of mutual dependency between God and the universe. Then there’s another idea called panpsychism, which is the idea that there is a universal mind or consciousness, and there’s a little bit of that consciousness in all of matter, but the universal conscious mind is not in any way separate from the universe itself. It’s coextensive with the physical universe. The universe is in the mind and the mind is in the universe. Then there’s yet a fifth idea, which is not really either materialistic or idealistic. It’s the idea of pantheism, which says there is a God, but God is not a conscious agent. It’s kind of a mystical oneness or unity that binds all matter together. It’s a kind of an impersonal force that binds matter together, and there’s a little bit of God in that sense in all of matter, and matter is God as well. So it’s also the idea of God and matter being coextensive, but God not as a mind. So you’ve got pantheism, panentheism, panpsychism, deism, and classical theism. You’ve got sort of five choices in the non-materialistic side of the philosophical ledger. So I’ve got a new good friend that I’ve made at Rice University, wrote the book, The Flip. It’s a critique of materialism.

Rick: Jeffrey Kripal! Yeah, I’ve interviewed Jeffrey. He’s terrific.

Stephen: He’s decidedly not a materialist, and he’s sort of thinking through, “Well, I’m not a materialist, but I’m not sure which of those”– I don’t think he’s a pantheist either, but is he a theist or a panentheist? I think he’s kind of oscillating between theism and panentheism.

Rick: Where are you on that? What’s your preference?

Stephen: I’m a classical theist, and that’s part of what was the argument of the book, is that when we look at these three big discoveries about biological and cosmological origins, materialism actually does a lousy job of explaining all three of them. It doesn’t explain the origin of the material universe, because prior to the origin of matter, space, time, and energy, you can’t invoke matter as a cause. So our new cosmology, the evidence from physics and astronomy and astrophysics is, I think, strongly pointing to the idea that the physical universe of matter, space, time, and energy had a beginning, and I think that requires an external cause beyond the universe to bring the universe into existence. So you can’t invoke matter to explain the origin of the universe when it’s matter and energy that are precisely the things that are coming into existence at the beginning. On the other hand, but then deism would do a pretty good job of explaining the origin of the universe, because there is a transcendent intelligence separate from the universe that could act to bring the material universe into existence. I’ve got troubles with panentheism on that score, because panentheism says that God is dependent upon the existence of the universe, just as the universe is dependent on the existence of God. And in that philosophical framework, then there’s nothing separate from the universe that could act to cause it to begin. In other words, before the universe begins to exist, the panentheistic creator or God would not exist, because the panentheistic God depends on the existence of the universe for its own existence. So it can’t exist separately to cause it to come into existence. And panpsychism and pantheism have a similar problem. So I’ve come down, as far as the question of the origin of the universe, I think it’s either deism or theism. But then when you also see that there’s evidence of design that arises long after the beginning of the universe, and for example, the digital code present in the DNA molecule or those complex information storage, transmission, and processing systems that you’re finding in cells, then I think you’ve got evidence for a designing mind that acts at the beginning, but also long after the beginning. And so I think when you’re kind of– I’m playing a game of philosophical survivor, putting all the different ideas on the table and saying, “Okay, here’s the key facts that need to be explained. Which best explains the whole ensemble?” And some of the philosophical systems, I think, do a good job of explaining some of the key facts, others different key facts, but I think theism does the best job of explaining the whole range. So thus, the return of the God hypothesis, where by God, I’m electing for a theistic conception.

Rick: So as a theist, God is transcendent, right? And gives rise to the universe, but somehow still– he doesn’t just go on vacation after that. He’s still involved in– I shouldn’t say “he.” I get actually flack from people for saying “he.” “They,” let’s say “they.” They are still involved in orchestrating it, at least periodically when it needs orchestration, or perhaps moment to moment. What do you say about that?

Stephen: Right, right. Well, the classical theistic conception is that God has multiple powers of agency that are expressed in his or its interaction with the physical universe. That God acts as a creator in the beginning. God acts to sustain what we call the laws of nature. In fact, the whole idea of the laws of nature was, as one historian of science put it, a juridical metaphor of theological origin. Nature has law-like order because there is a lawgiver and sustainer. There’s someone who’s sustaining the orderly concept of nature. This was a very strong element in, for example, Sir Isaac Newton’s thought. So that’s another mode of divine agency, if you will. Then a third power of God is the power to act as an agent within the creation that God otherwise sustains and upholds. So you can have instances of divine action after the beginning on an ongoing basis but also at discrete moments in time, such as, for example, in the origin of life or the origin of human conscious awareness or whatever. So, whereas the theistic concept of God affirms one power of divine action or divine agency, and that’s the power to create in the beginning but not after the beginning. Then there’s also sometimes hybrid models where God creates at the beginning, He sustains the laws of nature, but doesn’t do anything specific at discrete moments of time. And many what are called theistic evolutionists hold to that kind of a concept.

Rick: Let me tell you what I think.

Stephen: So there’s a kind of a philosophical menu here.

Rick: Menu?

Stephen: Options. Yeah. Menu of options.

Rick: You can either order on a cart or–

Stephen: Yes, right.

Rick: Let me tell you what I think, and you can tell me what ism you think I am. It might take me a minute to explain this, but I resonate with the notion that God is omnipresent, and there are biblical references for that, both Old and New Testament. Here’s a 19th-century Hasidic master, Menachem Nahum, who said, “The Creator’s glory fills the whole earth. There is no place devoid of Him, but His glory takes the form of garb. God is garbed in all things.” End of quote. This aspect of divinity is called shekinah, indwelling, since it dwells in everything. So my sense is that there are no holes in God. There’s no place, no thing, where if you looked closely enough or deeply enough, you wouldn’t find God. You could go out to the middle of intergalactic space, and there God would be if you knew how to look. And in a sense, God is hiding in plain sight because all these laws of nature are evidence of that infinite intelligence. Even in the middle of intergalactic space, there would be gamma rays and photons and whatnot going through, and those are adhering to laws of nature, which I think everything would come to a screeching halt if that intelligence were not all pervading and indwelling in all these phenomena.

Stephen: Newton had that exact same concept, that in him all things are held together.

Rick: There’s even a verse on this from the Bhagavad Gita, speaking as God. It says, “What if I did not continue unwearyingly in activity? If I did not engage in action, these worlds would perish.” But that doesn’t mean that God is not transcendent. God is transcendent, but God is also imminent. So in other words, let’s put it this way. Intelligence has its sort of quiescent or resting phase, like an ocean that isn’t whipped up by the wind, and it also has its active phase, like an ocean that is whipped up by the wind. And since creation is multidimensional in many ways of understanding it, even in physics we have obvious levels, we have molecular and atomic and subatomic, and then perhaps just some level which is not physical at all, a unified field or vacuum state or something. We have this wholeness which is, we could say, everything is contained within, everything is contained within God, and God is at the same time in everything. And if you speak that way, you could end up saying, “Well, there really is nothing but God, and that which appears to be something other than God is just sort of “God in garb,” as this Hasidic master said. Saints and sages in every religion who claim to have attained what we might call God-consciousness, an experiential apprehension or oneness with God. I mean, Jesus said, “I and my Father are one,” and many great saints and sages have said similar things. So what I’m suggesting here, and I’ll try to wrap it up, is that the human nervous system is an instrument which, well, here’s another one quote. This is from a Sufi saint, Ibn Arabi. “God sleeps in the rock, dreams in the plant, stirs in the animal, and awakens in man.” So God is in all those things, pervades all those things, and in terms of a living experience, the rock is, you know, it contains God, but it as a rock is not conscious or conscious of God. But human beings are conscious, and they’re conscious that they’re conscious, and ultimately they can–consciousness or divinity can wake up within a human being such that one knows oneself as that, and that’s what all the great mystics throughout history have attested to. So what am I? What kind of “ism” am I?

Stephen: Well, a lot of it sounds very, very classically theistic, God being imminent, present in all things. The way you described it, it first reminded me of the psalm from the Hebrew Bible. You know, if I go to the depths, you are there. If I go out into the reaches of space, you are there. And in describing God as also transcendent in some ways, separate from the creation, that’s all the big word “transcendent” really means. That’s very classically theistic. It sounds like you conceive of God as a conscious mind, therefore personal, not an impersonal force as pantheists would do.

Rick: Maybe both. Maybe God has an impersonal level, like Brahman, and then a personal level, which they would call Ishwara, or Saguna Brahman, Brahman with qualities, if you use that Eastern terminology. And I think that we also, since we are permeated with God, we’re like the wave on the ocean, which, yeah, I’m a wave, but then we’re also the ocean. Oh, I’m not a wave. I contain all waves. I’m oceanic.

Stephen: Yeah, and there are both theistic and pantheistic versions of Eastern religions. For example, there’s a theistic version of Hinduism as well as a pantheistic version.

Rick: There are numerous flavors there. They’ve been debating each other for thousands of years.

Stephen: Yeah, yeah, exactly. But the metaphor you used of quiescent and an active phase can be applied, in a sense it can map to some scientific reality, and I think of the laws of nature as an expression of God’s effort to maintain an order in the universe. They’re an expression of God’s – one of my Cambridge supervisors summarized Newton’s view of the laws of nature. He said that Newton believed that what we call the laws of nature are an expression of constant spirit action, and that’s sort of the quiescent phase. God is constantly active in that, but we don’t really detect God’s action in that because we’re still used to the orderly concourse of nature, sun up, sun down. I drop the ball, it falls. The electricity produces the light, etc. But then there’s also an active phase where God does things discreetly that become detectable to us. His actions become detectable to us against the backdrop of that orderly concourse of nature. And so in medieval theology, this distinction was captured with two Latin terms. One was the potencia ordinata, the ordinary power of God, which we describe as the laws of nature. And then the other was called the potencia absoluta, the fiat or absolute power of God in which God acts as an agent within the creation that God is otherwise sustaining and upholding. And so, you see these two powers of God at work. And in our modern time, under the influence of materialism, even many theists have wanted to disavow the potencia absoluta and say that God never acts in a discreet way. God can only act through the laws of nature. But one of the key arguments of my books, in particular Signature in the Cell, and I reprise this a bit in Return of the God hypothesis, is that information is by definition not the kind of thing that can be reduced to this sort of regularity, regular order that the laws of nature describe. So, the laws of nature do a great job of describing, even with mathematical precision, regularity in nature. But complexity, irregularity that is specified to perform a function, that’s another way of thinking of the concept of information, is not reducible to those laws because it’s a different kind of beast. It’s not repetitive information the way you and I are speaking with each other. We are using some of the same words but never in the same arrangement because we want to convey very specific thoughts and ideas. So, the transmission of information is not reducible to the underlying laws of physics and chemistry. It’s an entirely different something and something that we really only associate with mind.

Rick: If I understand what you just said, let’s say I might say, well, I can’t pick up my pen. My hand, my arm can pick up my pen. But, you know, my arm and hand are my organs of action. They’re part of me.

Stephen: They’re under your control, you as an agent, something different than the laws of physics.

Rick: Right. So I would say that anything we see, gravity or photosynthesis or anything else that’s going on, those are just sort of God’s organs of action doing their thing. And they’re really not separate from God, just as my arm is not separate from me or from my mind. They’re just kind of a more manifest or expressed aspect of that transcendent intelligence. So, you know, the transcendent intelligence is the ocean and then the gravity or photosynthesis or whatever are just waves on that ocean. But it’s really all one entire ocean. If we can distinguish between waves and the rest of the ocean or we cannot and just accept the whole thing as one giant wholeness. You mentioned Plato. Plato described the universe as a single living creature that encompasses all living creatures within it. And if we think of it that way, then the laws of nature are like specific currents of intelligence flowing within the ocean of intelligence, performing various functions.

Stephen: Yeah, I mean, many of those metaphors are very helpful. The thing that fascinated the early founders of modern science, in particular Kepler and Newton, was that these regular patterns that we observe in nature can be described with mathematics in a very precise way. And so far as mathematics is conceptual and mental, we don’t see mathematical equations floating around. We don’t point to them. They exist in our minds and we might write down an expression of these mathematical relationships, but they are mental in character and conceptual. And so both Kepler, who was a Christian neo-Platonist, and Newton believed that what they were revealing as they described these regularities with mathematical precision was something of the mind of God. And I would say the way you’re– you sound very classically theistic with a little bit of an Eastern flavor to it. So that might be the way I describe it.

Rick: I’ll cop to that.

Stephen: And you know, there’s very fine, subtle distinctions that we can chop the bologna really finely. Are the laws of nature an expression of God or are they a result of God’s action in a material realm which is in some way separate from him, but in which he also inhabits? The more Eastern take would say, well, they’re an expression of God, God is expressing himself in nature and he’s connected to nature perhaps more intimately. The Western take would be a bit more God created nature separate from himself, but then he inhabits it and acts within it. So there’s a maybe slight difference, but I think the idea that there is a transcendent mind who is also active in the creation is basically theistic. And then there’s different ways we could kind of fine-tune that understanding and we might fall on different sides of philosophical distinctions. But it’s really striking to me that we live in a time after maybe 150 years or more of dominance of the materialistic worldview, the worldview of scientific materialism, that you have figures like Jeffrey Kripal who are saying, “Eh, don’t think that works.” I think there’s something, well, even our very interesting scientific atheist, Thomas Nagel, who put his neck on the line to write a very favorable review and assessment of my book for, you mentioned at the beginning, the Times Literary Supplement in London. And he was then attacked by fellow atheist philosophers. He’s a philosopher of science at NYU, now I think emeritus, but a great eminence in the American academy. I’ve read his article, What is it like to be a bat? Exactly, exactly. He’s a deep thinker. And Nagel was viciously attacked for saying nice things about my book, Advancing the Theory of Intelligent Design, though he made it clear he wasn’t a theist, he wasn’t really willing to go all the way to intelligent design, but he thought my critique of origin of life research, of chemical evolutionary theory was very substantive and he appreciated it.

Rick: I think it’s sad that he was viciously attacked. I mean, you know, these ideas that I’m discussing, I’m not invested in them in the sense that I’m going to viciously attack somebody who disagrees with them. I’m just doing my best to understand this stuff.

Stephen: This is a great conversation. We’re having it right here.

Rick: We’re not going to go to war over these things.

Stephen: Yeah, this is what makes it great to be a human being. We’re thinking about the human condition and how we got here and what the ultimate reality is. Anyway, just one part of the story I wanted to tell was that I ended up having lunch with Nagel in New York. And I was coming to New York and I emailed him in advance. And I thought I told him I perfectly understand if you’ve had enough of having interacted with us, it’s brought you only grief. But he said, no, I’d love to get together. We had this great conversation. And he was either he either had just written or was in the process of writing his book Mind and Cosmos. Why the neo-Darwinian materialist understanding of reality is almost certainly false was his long subtitle. So here’s an atheist philosopher who has become completely disaffected with materialism and the Darwinian form of that. Because he says there are two things in the universe. There’s matter, but there’s also mind. There’s a physical cosmos, but there’s also minds. And if we can’t give an account of what mind is or if our account of reality excludes the recognition of the reality of conscious awareness and mind, then we’re missing something really big. And I think that’s one of Jeffrey Kripal’s big points as well.

Rick: Yeah. You know, a lot of things don’t become obvious to the general public until they have almost become the norm. And I think that there is a shift taking place, a paradigm shift taking place from materialism to something along the lines of intelligent design. And I think it’s quite well underway. And I think that it’s extremely important. And I could give you reasons why I think it’s extremely important. I mean, one of the most important things we could possibly consider. But let’s hear why you think it’s important.

Stephen: Well, nothing can mean anything to an atom or a molecule or a rock or a planet or even a solar system or a galaxy. Meaning is conferred. Things mean things to persons. Meaning is conferred by persons and is found, I would argue, in relationship between persons, best found in relationship between persons. And if we live in a universe where there is no purposeful intelligence and therefore personhood behind the universe. And if we live in a universe where ultimately there will be a heat death and nothing will be left but very cold elementary particles. Then there is no possibility of there having been a purpose to our creation or a purpose to our ultimate end. And I think many people in our culture sense that. The scientific materialist worldview has given rise to a form of nihilism where we think, yeah, you know, eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. But ultimately when we die, we rot and that’s it. And there is no hope of an ultimate significance to anything we achieve. We have a short time on earth. Yes, we can create some temporary sense of purpose and meaning to our existence. But we have to face facts and recognize as the atheistic existentialist Sartre, Camus, Nietzsche did. That ultimately if the materialist worldview is true, what we’re left with is anguish, forlornness and despair. There is no hope of ultimate significance. And I think instead if there is a purposeful creator behind the universe and if our existence depends on the activity of that creator, then it’s perfectly possible that this life may not be the whole of life and that things that we do in this life may have ultimate significance beyond the short time we’re here on earth. And so, I think these seem big, heavy metaphysical considerations, things maybe we only think about at four o’clock in the morning. But I think they affect our daily lives in a really significant way. We have an epidemic of teen suicide in the country. And I had an experience as a 14-year-old of a deep form of anxiety, which I only later learned was a kind of metaphysical anxiety. I was asking questions of myself or rather I wasn’t really asking them. They were spontaneously popping into my head. What is anything that I do going to matter in 100 years? What does any of this matter? And I found it very difficult to answer within the kind of secular framework in which I was surrounded. And for me, finding God was also finding a sense of significance and purpose in my life that transcended the daily routines of life and finding the possibility of relationship between persons that is quite possibly lasting. So I think a lot of young people – and I had a sense of despair about my inability to answer these questions. And as I’ve encountered young – I was a college professor for 12 years and somehow kids that had that turn of mind would find me. And so I would tell them, OK, we’ll discuss those questions, but first go register for the philosophy major and then we’ll have longer – more chances to talk about it. But I think a lot of young people are wondering, is it just about going out and making money? If so, what am I doing that for? Affluence by itself is not completely satisfying. I wonder if there’s a deeper meaning to my existence. So I think the materialism really robs us of any sense of that and leads to nihilism. Whereas the alternative view of a purposeful creator, I think, opens up. The last line in my book was – I was quoting the great Jewish psychologist, Viktor Frankl, with his title, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” And I said, if the evidence of intelligent design, of a transcendent intelligence behind the universe is true, it means that our search for meaning need not end in vain.

Rick: Yeah. Here’s what I think. I think the universe is one big evolution machine, and its whole thrust, its whole trajectory, is to evolve more and more complex structures, which can more and more fully reflect the divinity that is inherent within creation and at its foundation. And that quote I said earlier about the rock, the plant, the animal, the human being, there’s an evolution in terms of becoming better and better reflectors of that divine intelligence, or whatever we want to call it. And I happen to believe in reincarnation. I know that as a Christian you probably don’t, although there are some evidences for it in Christianity. Some say it was edited out at the Council of Nicaea. But in terms of our just rotting when we die, I think that nobody dies, and that the soul, whatever that may be exactly, continues to sort of – each life is like a class you might take in school, or a grade you might take in grammar school, and then you go on to the next one, and the next one, and you accumulate sort of wisdom and spiritual evolution as you go along. So I think the reason that materialism is so destructive, if anything I’m saying is true, is that it completely shatters any notion like that.

Stephen: Any hope of life after death.

Rick: Yeah, of anything, right. We’re just biological robots in a meaningless universe, and when you die, you’re dead. Whereas these other ways of looking at it, and the one I expressed is obviously not the only one, but they offer a much bigger picture, and they imbue life with a lot more meaning and significance than it otherwise has. And you mentioned suicide, opioid epidemic is another example of despair.

Stephen: Yeah, exactly. I agree, I agree. Let me give you two cuts on what we were talking about, you know, with the life after death issue. I think many people, anyone who’s ever stood at the bedside of a dying person realizes, has a very strange experience at the moment of death. Because the body is still there, but something has left. And I think all of us have an intuitive sense that our personhood, sometimes called the soul by, you know, theologians or philosophers, but our self is more than our bodies. And so that gives, I think, throughout human history, there’s been an intuition that therefore there’s something about our self which doesn’t die just because our bodies die. And I think that’s been a persistent human intuition about the nature of our own natures, of our own self. That’s just an observation, it’s whatever it’s worth. I don’t base anything on, my argument in the book isn’t based on that intuition, but it’s something that I’ve noticed. And I think many medical people have that, who attend many dying people, have the very strong sense of that. You know, the mass of the body is still the same at the moment of death as it was the moment before, but something has left. But another, and just another cut on this, is kind of interesting. I got to hear a talk several years ago at a sort of small scientific conference by a great scientist named James Tour. He’s a nanotechnologist and organic chemist at Rice University, same university as Jeffrey Kripal. And Dr. Tour has written a number of articles, very critical of these chemical evolutionary theories of the origin of life and the simulation experiments that the origin of life researchers do to try to simulate how life would have arisen spontaneously from non-living chemicals. And what Tour points out is, number one, the chemists are always manipulating with their own intelligence the molecules to move the molecules in a life-friendly direction. They never have built an actual living cell, but they can build biomolecules that are at least kind of relevant.

Rick: They play intelligent designer, in other words.

Stephen: They’re simulating intelligent design, exactly. But the second thing he points out is that life depends on information. This is the big, big insight of the 20th century biology. Francis Crick, 1953, with Watson, discovers the structure of the DNA molecule. ’57 and ’58, he proposes what’s called the sequence hypothesis, which tells us that along the spine of the DNA, the chemical subunits are actually functioning like alphabetic characters in a written language or digital characters in machine code. These are a set of instructions. This suggests the mind. But if life—and this is now to Tour’s point — he says if life depends upon intelligence, and we have perfected ways of storing information — or if life depends on information, and we have perfected ways of storing information in all kinds of different media — you know, I can transmit it over a wire, I can put it through a fax machine, I can speak something into a receiver at one end and it comes out a receiver on the other, or we now even can store information literally on the cloud, the computer cloud. So, if information can be stored and then expressed in some other place, in another medium, what would keep the—if there’s a—and if that information is pointing to a mind as our creator, what would keep that creator from storing the information for reconstituting us?

Rick: You mean as we are or in some other body?

Stephen: As we are, maybe in an enhanced or better form.

Rick: Yeah.

Stephen: Right? Jews and Christians believe in a spiritual body, the resurrection.

Rick: I once had a spiritual teacher who at one point said—he was talking about immortality, and he said, “You know, if we want to be immortal, there must be some better bodies than these in which to do it.”

Stephen: Well, this is—you know, you find this in the biblical text, you know, the teaching. St. Paul talked about this, a spiritual and incorruptible body that would be glorified by not being subject to the kind of decay that we experience in this life. But I thought that was a really interesting talk from Professor Tour about information, that information is the key to constructing a body. And if information can be stored in many different media and indeed in other minds, then if there is a mind of God who created the information for building us in the first place, when we die, it’s entirely possible that he could be storing that information to reconstitute us in the same or even in an improved form. And at this conference, was another computer scientist, or it was a computer scientist, David Gelernter from Yale University. He’s the chairman of the computer science department there. Gelernter actually is the inventor. He did some of the key work conceptually on developing the cloud concept in computer science. He’s an Orthodox Jew, and he and Tour were just jabbering away afterwards, you know, about the religious, potential religious significance of developments in computer science and our understanding of what information is and how it can be stored in different minds or on different media.

Rick: Some people, some neuroscientists think that our memories and all aren’t necessarily even stored in the physical brain, but that the brain is kind of like the way our computer is, where it can pull things off the cloud and store things back to the cloud, you know. So who knows, you know, that might be.

Stephen: Well, that’s an interesting concept too, Rick. It’s called mind-body dualism, and I’m increasingly persuaded of that. And for reasons that have come out of neuroscience, that increasingly there’s evidence that the brain is an organ of thought that is being used by the mind. And so that computer analogy kind of works with software and hardware, and software is sort of like the mind, the hardware is like the brain. Only, you know, the mind uses software as well, so there’s a higher level. But it’s one of the greatest brain physiologists of the 20th century, Sir John Eccles, was his position he called mind-body dualism. He was a mind-body dualist interactionist. He wasn’t an old-fashioned Cartesian dualist, but I had a chance to interview him when I was a very young scientist, and it’s a fascinating discussion. And he cited a number of experiments that seem to suggest that what’s going on in the brain is being controlled by the mind and not the reverse. I mean, the brain affects the mind, but the mind is also controlling the brain. So that’s a—one of our research scientists and fellows, Michael Egnor, is a neuroscientist, a neurosurgeon at the State University of New York. And he writes on our website, Mind Matters, about some of this evidence. We even have a video out that we did in our Science Uprising series about the evidence for the mind controlling the brain. So that’s another challenge to materialism, I think.

Rick: Yeah, a couple of points on that. I’ve interviewed a lot of people who have had near-death experiences, and they might be under heavy anaesthesia during an operation. And they’re able to sort of watch the operation from the ceiling or something and say afterwards what the surgeons had been talking about. And there was one lady who saw a red sneaker on the roof of the hospital, but somebody went up there later and found it. And—or they’ll go somewhere down the hall or even farther away and see things happening and report them later. So that would suggest that the mind or whatever it is, is independent of the body, even if the body is not at all functioning. And then another thing is in a couple of weeks I’m going to interview a guy named Jim Tucker, Dr. Jim Tucker at the University of Virginia. And he is the successor to another fellow named Dr. Ian Stevenson. And they’ve specialized in interviewing young kids who remember past lives. And the kid will—you know, some kid will start talking about some ship and some plane that he went down in and the names of his friends and all. And then his parents will do research and find that there was such an aircraft carrier, there was such a plane, this guy crashed, he was with these other guys with those names when he was on that carrier. You know, all kinds of—they have a couple of thousand accounts like that. So, it’s just interesting because it just sort of—it’s a way of evidentially suggesting that, obviously there is more to us than our physical body. And there’s something which survives its demise.

Stephen: Yes, I understand it. And I don’t know a lot about this. Many of the near-death experiences involve subjective experiences that can’t really be evaluated one way or another. But there’s a small portion of them that do admit critical scrutiny and involve people seeing things that they could not have possibly seen in a horizontal position on an operating theater. And which were accurate to things that were going on in the room while the operation was taking place. And this professor, med school professor that I was mentioning, Michael Egnor, had a colleague who had done some very systematic study of some of those things. So I don’t know a lot about them, but I don’t discount them offhand. You know, I think there would be something there.

Rick: Yeah, and they’re becoming more common because our ability to resuscitate people is so vastly improved. There’s a Dutch cardiologist named Pim van Lommel who ended up really writing books and all about near-death experiences because he started encountering so many of them in people he had resuscitated who were in cardiac arrest. But anyway, it’s just part of the puzzle.

Stephen: Part of the puzzle, yeah. What’s the Shakespeare quote? More things under heaven and earth than…

Rick: Than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio.

Stephen: Horatio, whoever he was. I can’t remember my Shakespeare. I don’t know whether that was King Lear or what that was.

Rick: Yeah, exactly. Another implication I think… Oh, Irene’s going to hand me another. I’m talking too much. No, we’re doing okay. Another implication I think of materialism and the reason that a shift to intelligent design or something along those lines will be transformative is not only the sort of the individual nihilism and drug addiction and suicide and all that, but I think that everything we see in the world is an expression of the collective mindset of humanity. And we see the sixth great mass extinction, we see environmental destruction, we see pollution, we see huge economic and social inequities and so on. And I think that if we really, not just by believing it, but with some deep intuitive experience, knew that God is present in all things and orchestrating the universe, we wouldn’t treat the world the way we do because we would actually be treating God that way. That would be our experience and we wouldn’t be able to do that.

Stephen: Well, it’s interesting. I just read an article today about some leading intellectuals who are, have grown disaffected with secularism and materialism, atheism, agnosticism, and who are themselves still agnostic. They’re not believers in God, but they’re talking about this idea, and this is more pertains to how we treat each other, but that in the West we’ve had this very deep concept of the intrinsic value of the individual, that each person being made in the image of God has a value that transcends his or her material worth. You know, it’s not just, you can chop us up and the chemistry of the body isn’t worth a whole lot, but the person is infinitely, of infinite value. And several intellectuals were mentioned, Douglas Murray, a British writer, Tom Holland, this interesting British historian, and both Doug Murray and Tom Holland are kind of calling themselves Christian atheists. You know, they’re atheists by belief, they’re agnostic, they can’t really believe, but they see the benefit of what, you know, in the West, Judeo-Christian religion brought to us with that deep sense that each person has that intrinsic dignity. And they don’t see anything that can really replace that, and that we can try to invent it if we’re atheists or say, well, we’re valuable because of some other reason. But nothing has really replaced that sense of intrinsic dignity and the sense of human rights that flow from that. And so I do think that’s another reason that belief in God, what I call the return of the God hypothesis, could be very significant to us because absent that sense of moral accountability to a creator and also the sense that, as our founders put it, we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. And that concept of rights in Western political philosophy came out of the notion of an intrinsic dignity that was conferred on us by virtue of our creation, not something that governments could give or take away, not something that corporations could give or take away. It’s not a matter of our economic value in dollars and cents. We have that dignity intrinsically in our personhood. And with the increasing secularization of our culture, that’s something that even secular intellectuals are starting to mourn and wish we could somehow bring back.

Rick: Well, you know, your book is entitled The Return of the God Hypothesis. It’s not entitled The Return of the God Belief. And as I understand it, a hypothesis is something that you can actually investigate. You don’t just have to sort of believe it and hope for the best. You can investigate it in various ways, right?

Stephen: Exactly. And I don’t claim to prove the existence of God with absolute certainty. That’s something you can really only do in mathematics. In science, we propose theories or explanations and then evaluate them based on their explanatory power. We propose hypotheses and assess their explanatory power. And it turns out that the God hypothesis, which I’m quite happy to call a metaphysical rather than a scientific hypothesis, nevertheless has great explanatory power with respect to these great discoveries that have been made about biological, physical, and cosmological origins. The universe, as best we can tell, had a beginning. It’s been finely tuned in its basic parameters from the beginning. And there have been big infusions of information into the biosphere since the beginning. And indeed, we find information and information technology in even the very simplest living cells on earth, suggesting, as I’ve argued in my books, A Master Programmer for Life. So these are three huge discoveries that I think have implications that point to a transcendent intelligence, to what I call the God hypothesis. I’m not, by the way, saying that God left and has now come back. I think God has always been there, but our thinking is coming back around to recognizing the evidence for the reality of God.

Rick: Yeah, if God had left, we’d be in trouble. We wouldn’t be here.

Stephen: Absolutely.

Rick: A question came in from Elizabeth in Colorado, which I think pertains to this. She said, “Is your belief in God based on logical reasoning, or have you also experienced God directly and intimately the way that mystics such as Thomas Merton and Hildegard of Bingen have?” There’s three parts to her question, but let me give you that one first.

Stephen: Oh, yeah. Well, I would say both, although with the caveat that I don’t consider myself a great or unusual saint or anything like that.

Rick: You’re just a usual saint, right?

Stephen: Well, in the sense that Christianity teaches that anyone who comes to believe in God and Christ as Savior has access to what Jews and Christians call the Holy Spirit, that God dwells within us in a personal way. I would affirm that I’ve experienced that and have an awareness of God’s presence in my life, and sometimes on occasion, a kind of guidance that I would characterize as very direct communication. Sometimes just by reading the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament, sometimes also in experiences of prayer, getting a very definite sense of leading or guidance about a key decision or an awareness of something that I need to be an insight. So, I do have subjective experiences of God that are important to me and part of my experience as a human being. I also have a firm and have written some books arguing that there’s objective, that is, evidence that’s not dependent on my personal experience that is available to all, objective evidence of the reality of God in nature. And I also think, I was a longtime philosophy and philosophy of science professor. I think there are very good philosophical reasons to consider the God hypothesis. One big thing I address at the very end of the new book, Return to the God Hypothesis, is the whole question of knowledge and the reliability of the human mind. This has been a big problem for philosophers since the Enlightenment, trying to justify the reliability of the human mind. But if we have reasons to think that God exists, it’s not very hard to justify the reliability of the mind because we can think that the human mind was created by a superior mind who made our mind in some way in the image of that creator. And therefore, the design, the rationality, the lawful order we perceive in nature that has come from that rational creator is something that we can understand because that same rationality was built into us. So, the reliability of the mind is in a sense certified by the reality and benevolence of the creator who made our minds to know the world. Whereas on a purely secular, agnostic, atheistic, materialistic worldview, it’s been very difficult to justify the reliability of the human mind. Especially, I’d put it more specifically, on a Darwinian account of reality. It’s hard to justify the mind. Darwinism teaches that whatever we think, our belief system and our cognitive equipment would have evolved to maximize survival. But there are many sort of scenarios where we could believe the wrong thing but stumble onto something that confers survival advantage on us. And just to give one example, which Richard Dawkins himself points out, religious belief has been shown in many studies to promote mental and physical well-being. And Dawkins acknowledges this and says, yeah, it was selected for, evolution selected for religious belief because it confers a survival advantage on human beings. But he also thinks that religious beliefs are completely false. So that means that an evolutionary account of the origin of the human mind involves the origin of beliefs and cognitive tendencies that are also false. And so, on an evolutionary account, there’s no guarantee that things that will confer survival will also be truth-tropic, that will lead us to true beliefs. Including about abstract things, especially about abstract things like our ideas about where life came from or the origin of the universe. These have no direct survival advantage one way or another. And so, we could be in a situation where evolution has programmed us to think completely false things. And we would rather think that our minds are reliable instruments, that good reasoning leads to truthful beliefs. And theism gives a reason to believe that our minds are reliable and therefore provides a ground for believing in our ability to know the world, which is the basis of all science, by the way. So, science is … theism is really a friend to science, whereas I think materialism undermines our confidence in our ability to know the world, which is what science is all about.

Rick: I think that there are degrees of reliability and that the mind can be extremely confused and unreliable, but it can be …

Stephen: Absolutely, absolutely.

Rick: It can be refined to be more reliable.

Stephen: Well, and this was actually another really … the founders of modern science had kind of two key ideas about the mind that they held together. One was that the mind is basically reliable because it had been made in the image of God who had made our minds to know the order and the design and the rationality that God had put into the world. But they also, being mostly of a Judeo-Christian mindset, believed in this idea of original sin or a problem with the human will, that we could be wilful, we could jump to conclusions. We could be biased, we could be prejudiced. And so there was also a problem with our thinking that had to be taken into account. And that was one of the reasons for what we call the scientific method. I think there are several scientific methods, but the idea that you had to test your ideas against nature. It wasn’t good enough just to think of what you thought was the most pleasing idea about how nature works. You have to go out and you have to test it against actual observations to see if that’s actually how nature works. And this was a problem that the Greek philosophers had. They were interested in nature as well as abstract ideas, but they had a belief that nature had an intrinsic order that was self-evident to us, that could be perceived by pure reason without observation. And so they did very little careful empirical investigation of nature, whereas the Judeo-Christian framework said, yes, nature is intelligible to us. We can understand it, but we better look at it carefully so we don’t jump to conclusions or deceive ourselves or act on prejudice. So, it combined the rational and the empirical in a way that’s been incredibly fruitful for science going forward.

Rick: William Blake’s famous quote, “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern.” And then of course there’s, you know, in the Bible, seeing through a glass darkly and then eventually clearly. So it’s a matter of kind of refining the senses and the perceptual faculties to the point where you can see things as they are, which is infinite.

Stephen: Yeah, the historian of science, Steve Fuller, who’s at Warwick University in the UK, an American guy that I know quite well, but a quite fantastic historian and philosopher of science, pointed out to me in correspondence as I was writing the book that this doctrine of original sin, which seems so kind of prejudicial or unflattering to human beings, a lot of people don’t like it, he said, but it actually had a powerful positive effect on science because it said, “We can’t trust the first thought that comes into our mind. We might be deceiving ourselves. We got to check our theories and our hypotheses against the way the world really works.” And there’s a great quote from Robert Boyle, the great chemist, who said, his famous book was called “The Sceptical Chymist,1” but he said, “It’s not the job of the natural philosopher to see what God must have done, or to say what God must have done, but rather it’s to go and look and to see what he actually did do. We have to ground our scientific ideas on actual observation of nature, not just philosophizing in an armchair way.”

Rick: Yeah, there’s a saying somewhere in the Vedic tradition, it’s “ritambhara prajna,” which means that level of intellect which knows only truth, and the understanding is that we can sort of bring the mind to such a level of refinement that anything you put your attention on or want to know, you know it truthfully, without any distortion. And that’s… go ahead.

Stephen: That’s interesting because that says that the goal of human science is to know the world as it really is, and there’s now a profound relativism that’s crept into literary theory and philosophy, and the study of it, the sub-discipline of philosophy known as epistemology, but even in science as well, it’s a philosophy of science known as the sociology of knowledge, which says there really isn’t an objective truth out there, that truth is created by the groups of people working together, and so, whoever gets the grant makes the theory, and whoever has more grant money gets to predominate in the contest between theories, but it’s all relative, we don’t really know an objective reality. And I think a pervasive human intuition across different cultures has been that, no, there is an objective reality there, and truth with a capital T is found when our ideas about reality match reality as it really is.

Rick: Yeah, they align.

Stephen: That’s a common and pervasive human intuition that I think is being lost because of what’s called this post-modernist trend in epistemology that says it’s not just morals are relative, it’s not just political ideas are relative, but even our scientific ideas are relative to persons or groups, there’s no objective truth that can be even in principle ascertained.

Rick: Yeah, I mean, you know, I think the world is round and you think it’s flat, and who’s to say who’s right? You can’t trust NASA, of course, they’re all…

Stephen: You have your science and I have mine, you know.

Rick: That’s creating so much confusion in the world these days.

Stephen: But I think it’s actually one of the things that the God hypothesis has done historically, and I think can help to restore that sense of there being an objective truth, is that it’s given us reason to trust in the basic reliability of the human mind, our tendencies towards flights of fancy and prejudicial reasoning notwithstanding. And so it is, at least in principle, possible to know things as they really are, which is a presupposition of all of science. And the early founders of modern science, being God believers, had a confidence that they could know and discover, that as one historian of science put it, that nature had a secret to reveal and that careful study would reveal it. And if we lose that confidence, if we lose the confidence in our basic ability to know the world, then we really won’t have science anymore. Science, after all, in the ancient Greek sense of “scientia” just means knowledge.

Rick: This is why I find the whole science-religion or science-spirituality interface fascinating. I think that science lacks the tools to explore certain realities that spirituality can explore, so spirituality can help science in that respect. But also spirituality can be very woo-woo and loopy and imprecise and imaginative and fanciful, and I think if a scientific attitude is brought to the spiritual endeavor, it can kind of keep you on track.

Stephen: Yeah, it’s important to have evidence for what you believe. Yeah, yeah. And that’s, of course, the approach I’ve taken in the new book. There’s been this long divide. It’s kind of almost a cultural trope that science is the facts and religion is all about faith. Maybe it might be about values, but it’s about subjective or abstract things that can’t be in any way tested or evaluated. The argument of my new book is that the facts of science support faith or belief in God, and that the two can be brought together, and that that is actually the classical understanding of the relationship between science and faith going back to the period of the scientific revolution, and we now have evidence that says it’s time to return to that.

Rick: Yeah, and another question that Elizabeth asked is, “Is logical reasoning or direct experience the more convincing proof for the existence of God?” I would say both should be brought to bear. What would you say about that?

Stephen: I think it’s a both/and, not an either/or. I don’t think, if you’re speaking with a friend who’s a materialist and wants to know, “Is there any reason to believe in God?” It’s not usually that persuasive to someone else to talk about your own personal and subjective experience. It can be. Some people, if they trust you and they trust your integrity, may say, “Oh, that’s interesting. There may be more things under heaven and earth that have occurred to me in my philosophy.” But I think generally, as a way of introducing people to the reality of God, it’s more helpful to point to objective evidences that don’t depend on one’s own personal experience. I used to tell my students, “The heart cannot exalt in what the mind rejects.” Many students that I used to teach had had individual experiences of God, subjective experiences, but then would get talked out of their faith by atheistic professors, because the professors would say, “Well, look, the evidence of science is against that. You can’t believe that.” So I think it’s important to have that grounding in evidence and reason. I used to teach a course when I was a college professor called “Reasons for Faith” with that idea that reason can be an aid to faith, but that doesn’t mean that it exhausts the grounds for faith, that one’s own personal experience can be very important and shouldn’t be discounted out of hand, especially if you have good objective reasons for believing there may be a realm beyond the material.

Rick: Yeah. And as I said earlier, I personally feel that God is a reality that can be experienced, and with greater and greater degrees of clarity, and eventually crystal clarity. And since we have that, if that’s true, since we have that capability, we won’t be satisfied until we have that experience. So I think it’s great to engage in intellectual understanding of the whole thing. Your book does that brilliantly. I loved listening to the whole book. But if that’s all I had to go on, I would be frustrated, because I also want the personal experience.

Stephen: I think that’s right. And what we’re talking about, if we’re talking about a personal God, we’re talking about the possibility of having communication between persons, between ourselves and God, which is another way of talking about having a relationship. And I think the two comments you’ve just made bring to mind the St. Augustine. He had this concept of a God-shaped vacuum, that people are restless until we find our home, as he put it, in Thee, in God, using the archaic English construction of the capital, TH. And then the other thing, talking about epistemology, our ability to know the world, Augustine also had this idea in Latin, it had various constructions, but one was credo ut intellegam, believe in order to know. If you believe first in God, then that grounds our belief in the reliability of the mind, and it makes it possible to know the world around us. And in a secular age, which has rejected belief in God, the consequences of that start to percolate into our philosophy, our philosophy of knowledge, and the philosophers have been famously distressed about this whole question of epistemology. How can we justify the possibility of human knowledge? And there’s been more and more different flavors of scepticism about our ability to know that have arisen since the Enlightenment, and the idea that we could reason without any framework, any theistic framework. So Augustine, I think, was sort of prescient in both regards. We’re looking for a relationship with God, and we need to believe in God to be confident that our minds are reliable instruments that allow us to know the world, believe in order to know.

Rick: I mean, a scientist has to have enough faith that if he pursues a particular line of experimentation, it might produce a result, to actually start pursuing it. And if he thinks it’s hopeless and there’s no chance I’m going to discover anything, then he won’t even start.

Stephen: He or she won’t do that. And your comment reminds me of the great Hungarian physical chemist and philosopher of science, Michael Polanyi, and his book, Personal Knowledge. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that, Rick, but you might enjoy that. It expresses some of those same kind of ideas. There’s an element of faith in the practice of science. And we presuppose certain things about the structures and reliability of the mind. We presuppose that our efforts will result in some insight because there’s an underlying order in nature. None of these things can be proven. They have to be presupposed in order to do science at all.

Rick: Yeah, that’s true of so many things in life. I mean, you sort of wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning unless you felt like the floor was there, or you know, varying other things we do, we just sort of assume that…

Stephen: Every time we get on an airplane, we trust that the laws of nature will continue to function in the way they have in the past, that that air-flow trick will work again.

Rick: I think what we’re kicking around here is just the notion that the pursuit of God or knowing God can be a scientific enterprise. And could the laws of science that a scientist adheres to in doing his work, a seeker of God could apply those same methods in a way. I mean, obviously there might be some different techniques and practices involved, but with the same rigor of forming a hypothesis and then verifying it, and maybe forming another one and verifying that step by step.

Stephen: Right, and I use a specific method of reasoning to make my case for the existence of God in the book. It’s called “inference to the best explanation”, and it’s used by scientists, but it’s also used by philosophers as well. And so there’s a rigorous form of reasoning that underwrites the argument that I’m using, and I go into that in some detail so people kind of pull the curtain back and see how I’m getting to the conclusion that I’m getting to. There’s also in philosophy a definition of knowledge, which is the idea of knowledge is justified true belief. And the question arises, can you have knowledge of God the same way you can have knowledge of the world? And I and now an increasing number of other philosophers of science would argue, yes, you can. You can have justified true beliefs about the reality of the deity. And what I attempt to do in the book is to show, is to provide first some evidence, and then a chain of reasoning that shows why the inference to the reality of God is a justified belief, and therefore, that we can have knowledge of God in the same way that we do have knowledge of the world.

Rick: Yeah, but I wouldn’t use the word belief there. I think that we can have experience of God that is actually more concrete than our current experience of the world. And I think people have had it, it’s rare, but I think we might be entering an age in which it’s becoming more common.

Stephen: I think that might well be true. To philosophers, the belief doesn’t have the stigma that it has. The word doesn’t have the stigma that it has to scientists. Scientists think of belief as a kind of nebulous, purely subjective.

Rick: That’s the way I was interpreting it. Yeah, yeah, no, exactly.

Stephen: Whereas to a philosopher, a belief simply means a proposition that one holds and accepts is true. So can you know things about God? Can you believe things about God that are justified and that are true? And just as we think we have knowledge of the world, can we have knowledge of God in that sense? And I and other philosophers of science would say, yeah, you can. God isn’t in a separate category. Obviously, we can’t see God, but we believe, we give intellectual assent and affirm the existence of many things in physics, for example, that we can’t see. Quarks and electrons and elementary particles and fundamental forces and laws of nature. We see the effects of those things.

Rick: We find evidence of them.

Stephen: Yeah, but we don’t see them directly. Much of the things, our knowledge of the DNA molecule is inferred from things we can see. We don’t see the double helix strand directly, but we infer its structure. And much of science has that character of affirming things that we know indirectly, but from other evidence.

Rick: Yeah.

Stephen: Science is indirectly inferential oftentimes, and our knowledge of God can be indirectly inferential. We learn about God from other evidence of his reality.

Rick: Or it can be more direct. I know there’s an apple in the refrigerator. I believe that. I saw it earlier. I could go and actually eat it, and then it would really confirm my belief. Meister Eckhart said, “The eye through which I see God is the eye through which God sees me.” And I think he was referring to a level of attainment or realization in which, you know, he’s eating the apple, so to speak. That God, the whole relationship to God moves beyond any kind of belief or conjecture or abstraction to, you know, the most concrete.

Stephen: A direct personal encounter.

Rick: Like Jesus must have had in saying, “I and my Father are one.”

Stephen: Yeah, I agree with that. I think that one does not preclude the other, and they’re not mutually exclusive. You can have both subjective and very direct personal knowledge of God, and you can have objective knowledge based on evidence and inference and reasoning.

Rick: Yeah. And speaking of Jesus… I; I checked. There’s no apples in the fridge.

Rick: Uh-oh, Irene said there’s no apples. No, there’s one in the drawer. I saw it there. She’s kidding. I; There isn’t.

Rick: All right. We’ll see about that. Speaking of Jesus, I have no problem believing that he walked on water or did the other things he was said to have done. And there are other instances in other traditions of people doing similar things. And some people call those miracles. I think it’s actually an example of a being, a person, who had such a profound experiential immersion in the ground of being in which all the laws of nature reside, that he acquired the ability to utilize those laws of nature in ways which most people can’t.

Stephen: That’s an interesting way of putting it. Let me give you my take on miracles. There’s a longstanding argument against their possibility that was formulated by the philosopher David Hume. And the argument was pretty straightforward and went like this. Miracles violate the laws of nature. The laws of nature cannot be violated. Therefore, miracles are impossible.

Rick: Yeah.

Stephen: But Hume’s argument has a number of problems. One is that he also thought the laws of nature, because he did not believe in God, were nothing more than habits of our mind. There wasn’t a universal mind behind nature ensuring that nature would continue to act in the regular way, in the orderly way that it has acted to this point out into the future. So, the way philosophers talk about that is to say that according to Hume, the laws of nature had no ontological status. There weren’t things out there. There were not entities that prevent things from happening or ensure that some things do happen. They’re just habits of our mind. They’re ways that we describe things that have happened to this point. And we have no reason to believe that the patterns that we’ve seen in nature will continue into the future. Well, if the laws of nature aren’t things that either prevent or cause things to happen, as Hume argued in other parts of his work, then they can’t stop what we call miracles from happening either. In fact, his account of the laws of nature, saying that how do we know that what has always happened will continue to happen in the future, maybe they won’t, left the door wide open to unusual events that were contrary to what we’d always observed in the past. In addition, I don’t think the laws of nature violate – I don’t think miracles violate the laws of nature. The laws of nature tell us what ordinarily happens given certain conditions. If I, for example, am playing a game of pool and I go to hit one ball with a precise trajectory and I can calculate that, then I can make a prediction about where the other ball will end up. But if right as I make my shot, someone shakes the table, all bets are off. The ball will end up in a very different place than predicted by my knowledge of the laws of nature, but not because the laws of nature, in this case the law of momentum exchange, was violated, but because there was an interfering condition, an interfering action of an agent.

Rick: Involving other laws of nature.

Stephen: Well, initiating new lines of cause and effect and maybe involving other laws of nature, but the ultimate disruption came from the action of an agent, the choice of a free agent. But if a free agent can change the outcome of a physical system without violating the law of nature – the law of momentum exchange wasn’t changed. Rather, the initial condition of the system was altered in a way that made the prediction false. But if an agent can change the outcome of a system without violating the laws of nature in an unexpected way, so could God Almighty who established the laws. God isn’t violating the laws of nature when he acts within the natural realm that he otherwise sustains and upholds any more than we’re violating the law of momentum exchange when we shake the table. When I was a physics student, we did an experiment called Milliken’s oil drop, where you put an electrostatic charge on a drop of oil in an electric field and you can cause the oil drop to levitate. Now, if you were looking at that not knowing about the electrostatic forces in play, you could say, “Whoa, it’s miraculous. The oil drop is levitating, violating the law of gravity.” No, the law of gravity isn’t violated. There was a countervening force applied as a result of the design of the experiment by the physics students. Well, if a physics student can cause something unexpected to occur without violating the law of gravity, then God could cause something unexpected to occur without violating the laws of nature. I don’t think the laws of nature are violated by miracles. I think they’re unexpected acts of an agent. Or another really simple way to put it is that miracles are acts of God. If God doesn’t exist, then miracles are impossible because there’s no God to act. But if there is a God to act, then there can be acts of God. It’s as simple as that. And such acts don’t violate the laws of nature, they represent the actions of an agent within a matrix of natural regularities that God is otherwise upholding.

Rick: There have been all sorts of stories like a Connecticut Yankee and King Arthur’s Court, and various science fiction stories in which people are transplanted from either the future to the past or the past to the future. And, you know, if someone from the 17th century to come here now and walk around and see everything we’re doing, they would be… Their minds would be blown because they just don’t understand the laws of nature that all the technologies that we now use, such as jet planes and computers and everything else, utilize. Those laws of nature weren’t known then, or weren’t known how to be applied. So it’s really a matter of what’s…

Stephen: And that’s very insightful. Yeah, what we’re doing with technology is harnessing the laws of nature to produce unexpected outcomes. So I have, if I, ordinarily, if I drop an apple, it will fall. And one way of expressing Newton’s law of gravity is to say that all unsuspended bodies will fall, unless there’s a countervening force applied. And what we do with rocket ships is we configure matter in very specific ways. We put some fuel in, we ignite the fuel, and we produce a machine that can… It’s taking advantage of the law of gravity. It’s not violating the law of gravity, but it’s producing an unexpected event because of our ingenuity and our action within the matrix of natural law. And again, if we can do that, then certainly the deity could do that as well.

Rick: And I would suggest that theoretically there could be a society, maybe there is on some planet, where it’s kind of the norm for people to be able to do the kinds of things that Jesus did, or… Jesus himself said, “All these great things I do, you shall do even greater things.” Or St. Joseph of Cupertino, he used to levitate all the time, or St. Teresa of Avila and others. It’s just that such people are outliers now, and have been for a long time. But theoretically, either on this planet or some other, they could be the norm. And, you know, it’s like… I guess I made the point.

Stephen: Yeah, well, and I’ve only levitated oil drops in physics, as I said. Yeah. I’m no great saint.

Rick: There’s a couple of thoughts kicking around in my head throughout this interview that I wanted to have you address. And there’s a few questions that have come in that I want to get to. One is, you know, you wrote a whole book called “Darwin’s Doubt,” all about Darwin. And I was wondering whether… you know how with Einstein’s theories, Newton wasn’t invalidated. He just kind of became a special case that applied to a more restricted realm of our experience.

Stephen: Yeah, absolutely.

Rick: He still used Newtonian physics to get to the moon or whatever, Mars, to build a bridge or an airplane. So, like that, is Darwin still valid within his own realm, but perhaps just relegated to a smaller domain by intelligent design?

Stephen: That’s a very good way to describe it and to explain what we think as proponents of intelligent design. The mutation selection mechanism is a real process. Things do change over time. But the mutation selection process seems to have limited creative power. And many, even evolutionary biologists, are now recognizing this. I attended a conference at the Royal Society, of the Royal Society, in London in 2016. It was convened by a group of evolutionary biologists who were calling for a new theory of evolution because they recognized that the mutation selection mechanism does a great job of explaining small-scale variations. Peppered moths changing their coloration patterns from dark to light to dark again. Or the Galapagos finches in response to differing weather patterns getting slightly different shapes or lengths of beaks and beak sizes, that sort of thing. What’s sometimes called microevolution. That the mutation selection mechanism does a great job of explaining those sorts of phenomena. But it doesn’t do a good job of explaining the origin of birds or insects or animals or mammals in the first place. The major innovations in the history of life, the major what are called morphological innovations, the abrupt appearance of new forms in the fossil record, animal, or plant forms. These are not well explained by the mutation selection mechanism. In part because mutations degrade pre-existing genetic information. And to build new forms of life, you need new information. So that’s where we think intelligent design comes in. The major innovations in the history of life, and especially the origin of life in the first place, require big jumps in the, require a lot of new genetic and other forms of information. And that’s something, information is in our experience always the product of mind. Whether we’re talking about a computer program or a paragraph in a book. Or we think the information necessary to build new forms of proteins and new anatomical structures in the history of life.

Rick: Okay, an unrelated question that I’ve been wondering.

Stephen: So Darwin’s good for the microevolutionary phenomena we observe. But the Darwinian mechanism seems to lack creative power for the big changes. And so yes, it’s valid within a realm of experience. But the doubt that I spoke of in Darwin’s doubt was precisely about one of those big events in the history of life. The origin, the abrupt origin and sudden appearance of the first animals in a period of geologic history called the Cambrian explosion. So, and Darwin was already, in 1859, wondering, “Hmm, have I really explained this?” You know, this doesn’t quite fit with my theory. What are we going to do to account for the abrupt appearance of all these new forms of animal life?

Rick: Okay, another, earlier you referred to mathematics. I’ve heard people speak about the uncanny correlation or, what’s the word, kind of connection between the way nature functions and mathematics. For instance, why should E equal MC squared (E=mc2)? You know, or various other things that nature conforms to beautifully, various other mathematical formulas that nature conforms to beautifully. Some people sometimes refer to mathematics as the language of nature for that reason. And it’s something that human beings have learned to speak. So, I don’t know, I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on that.

Stephen: It’s a fantastically deep insight about the, as Eugene Wigner, great Nobel laureate in physics, used to put it, “the uncanny applicability of mathematics to physics”. Why is it that mathematics, which is a mental, which is conceptual and mental, something that we either discover or invent in our minds, but it’s in our minds, why is our, why does, do mathematical concepts and relationships that we can discern or invent, why do they apply so beautifully to the way the world functions? And many scientists have seen in that uncanny applicability of mathematics to the physical world an argument for a prior intelligence, for a great mind that is the source of that mathematical reality. And that argument is strengthened if you happen to believe, as I think many mathematicians do, that mathematical objects or mathematical concepts are not purely subjective. They’re not just things that are, you know, the concept of three is real, whether or not I am aware of three of anything. It doesn’t depend on my mind. There are mathematical ideas and concepts that are true or false, independent of my knowing them. And so, if they don’t, if these mathematical concepts are mental realities, but they don’t exist solely in my mind, if they have an objective truth that’s independent of my affirmation or rejection of them, then there must be a transcendent mind in which the mathematical concepts reside. That’s a form of mathematical Platonism. My colleague David Berlinski, who’s written a number of really important books about the history of mathematics, has unpacked that argument. And his book Advent of the Algorithm, another one he wrote, One, Two, Three, the History of Mathematics. It’s not uncommon to find among mathematicians a tendency towards this philosophical position known as mathematical Platonism, and it often comes with a theistic twist. And certainly many physicists have been deeply impressed at the almost shocking way that mathematics applies to the physical world. And many times, mathematicians will come up with mathematical concepts and ideas that only much later are discovered to be important for describing the physical world. And that’s kind of uncanny too. It’s something that we dreamed up in our mental realm.

Rick: It turns out to correspond or apply.

Stephen: To correspond to the way the universe was designed.

Rick: That’s fascinating. It’s almost like a kind of a cognition or something of a law of nature within the physicist or within the mathematician himself, which then …

Stephen: Yeah, it’s a resonant …

Rick: Yeah.

Stephen: Well, and many physicists have had the sense that there’s a kind of resonance with a transcendent mind that they are discovering when they see this applicability of mathematics to the physical world.

Rick: Yeah. You get that sense with some of the great scientists like Einstein and others who were so deeply intuitive that they just kind of cognized the thing and just knew it in their hearts to be true, and then later on somebody proved it, you know.

Stephen: Yeah. Yeah, there’s a great quote from Einstein that I wanted to use in the book, but I just had to quote cut some things because it was getting too long. But where he likens the universe to a great library where the books have all been clearly arranged in some very specific order. But the scientist, like the child walking into the library, doesn’t immediately perceive the order. And it’s only upon deep study that that order is revealed. And this is, in Einstein, you know, it’s a modern reformulation of the ancient two books metaphor that God speaks through the book of scripture, but he also speaks through the book of nature. And Einstein, of course, in addition to thinking of nature as a book, thought of nature as a lawful and orderly mathematical realm. And he believed that that orderly mathematics that was, that the orderly processes that were so precisely described then could be described so mathematically, with such mathematical precision, sorry, revealed a great mind behind the universe, which is one of the reasons I chose that phrase in the subtitle.

Rick: I might as well show my Einstein quote here that I have cued up, “Contemplate the mystery of conscious life perpetuating itself through all eternity to reflect upon the marvellous structure of the universe, which we can dimly perceive and try humbly to comprehend even an infinitesimal part of the intelligence manifested in nature.”

Stephen: There you go, absolutely.

Rick: Okay, I’m running short on time, but let me get to a few more questions that came in. There’s a few here. This is another one from Elizabeth in Colorado. She asks, “You seem to structure your work largely around contrasting materialist and theist points of view. Have you considered, as a third option, the view of non-dual spiritual traditions such as Advaita Vedanta? If so, what are your thoughts, feelings about the non-dual approach?”

Stephen: Non-dualistic in the sense of matter versus mind?

Rick: Advaita means not two, and it’s a theory in – in other words, everything is ultimately one.

Stephen: One, yeah, classical monism.

Rick: And thou art that, tat tvam asi.

Stephen: In fact, I do address that because the philosophical system known as pantheism is also a monistic system. It says that the presentation of distinctions that we encounter in our sensory experience are effectively illusions. The maxim, all dualisms or distinctions are illusions. The physical world of Maya is illusory because there’s an underlying reality that’s more real than the distinction that I perceive between you and me or me and the wall or me and the tree outside through the window. And so, pantheism is that system which affirms that underlying unity of all things to an ultimate degree such that the perception that we have of distinctions between things is ultimately Maya or illusion. And so, yes, I definitely look at pantheism as one of the four great systems of thought. There are permutations and variations on these, but there’s classical theism, deism, pantheism, and materialism. I write long footnotes about other permutations like panentheism or panpsychism, but, yeah, I look at pantheism. I am not – I’m not a pantheist. I argue for theism, but obviously it’s one of the great systems of thought that you need to engage. My project was to look at these big discoveries about biological and cosmological origins and to evaluate which of the great systems of thought best explain those discoveries. Pantheism, insofar as it denies the reality, the fundamental reality of mind, but rather that there’s an underlying force that binds everything together that’s mystical but yet not a conscious reality. If you’re a pantheist in the East, if you’re a theistic Hindu, you pray, but if you’re a pantheistic Hindu, you don’t because there’s no mind to whom you are communicating or with whom you can communicate. So, insofar as we have evidence that on the basis of our uniform and repeated experience always arises from minds in life or in the universe, like the digital code in the DNA or the fine-tuning of the universe, I think those evidences require, as a best explanation, the action of a prior intelligent mind or agent. I think, insofar as pantheism denies the existence of such agency, I would say it provides a less good explanation than does classical theism or deism. Similarly, the pantheistic God is coextensive with matter in the same way that panentheism makes God and matter coextensive, but pantheism does that as well. And if you go back in time, you back extrapolate, and you have evidence that the physical universe of matter, space, time, and energy came into existence before which it did not exist, then on a pantheistic account, you would have to say that the pantheistic God does not exist until the universe comes into existence, and therefore, the pantheistic God doesn’t exist separately from the universe, and therefore, is not in a position to cause the universe to come into existence, and therefore, does not provide a causally adequate explanation for the origin of the universe. So, I, in evaluating pantheism, I argue that it lacks explanatory power. It doesn’t provide as causally adequate an explanation for the origin of the universe, its fine-tuning, and the informational properties of life as does, for example, classical theism.

Rick: Advaita is actually more radical than that. They say that the universe didn’t come into existence and that the perception that it did is a mistake. And the classic example used is that of a rope which is perceived to be a snake, and you react because you think it’s a snake and so on and so forth. And the question might be, well, how do you get rid of the snake? You get rid of it by recognizing that it never existed. It’s always been a rope.

Stephen: And if you work solely within that philosophical system, that’s entirely sort of your right to do so. What I was doing in my project was looking at the scientific evidence that we have and saying, okay, if we take these as facts, what is the best explanation of those presumed facts? And if we have evidence, and I think we do have very strong evidence, I describe it in several chapters in the book, 4, 5, and 6 in particular, from both theoretical physics and observational astronomy that the universe had a beginning, then any system of thought that denies that the universe had a beginning and instead affirms that the universe is eternal and self-existent, as does classical materialism and some forms of Eastern philosophy, then I would say that the scientific evidence presents a challenge to those philosophical systems, at least insofar as they could provide good explanations for those pieces of evidence. Now I understand an Eastern philosopher could say, well, all the evidence that we’re deriving from the empirical world is Maya, its illusion, because it implies a distinction between different entities within the physical world and the ultimate reality and the only true reality is that the monistic, the reality affirmed by monism of an unbroken unity of all things. And so if you make that move, then you would be operating, you would have a coherent system, and you’d be operating within a strictly monistic philosophical system, but you would also have cut yourself off from scientific evidence informing your worldview. And so that’s a choice you can make as a philosopher to say, well, I’m going to regard evidence of my senses as essentially illusory. If you do that, then I really have no grounds for arguing with you because I’m arguing about how can we understand the scientific evidence best, what best explains it. If we take the scientific evidence as a starting point in the discussion, I think monism or pantheism doesn’t do as good a job of explaining that evidence as does theism.

Rick: It’s a big topic. We could go on that one alone for two hours. All right. So let me ask one last question here. This is maybe a good wrap-up question. This is from Pamela Hickine in Granite Falls. I’m not sure where that is. But she asks, “In keeping with the idea of bringing God back into the world of science, I’m curious to know what you think would be a good content to school curricula for young children and teens. Thank you.”

Stephen: Oh, thank you for that question. It’s a question that’s fraught with minefields because we have at least a perception that our constitutional system requires a strict separation of church and state. That phrase doesn’t actually appear in the Constitution, but never mind. We do as a pluralistic culture not want to indoctrinate students in the public school into one worldview or another, one expression of religious faith versus another. But one thing that’s happened as a result of that is we have a kind of default materialism that is now the accepted religion of the state. And that we can use to indoctrinate students. So I think that presents a whole range of challenges, and that’s a big topic. But as for the evidence for intelligent design, we have at this point not been arguing for inclusion of the case for intelligent design in the public school science curriculum in the K through 12 years. We think that it probably ought to be perfectly constitutional for a science teacher to explain the evidence for Darwinian evolution, and then alongside that explain the contrary idea of intelligent design. The problem is if you do that, and just as a practical matter, if you do that in the public schools, it will elicit all sorts of lawsuits and controversy, and it just opens up a big hornet’s nest. And we have, as primary advocates of the theory of intelligent design, really wanted to focus our efforts on developing the scientific case for intelligent design at the highest levels of science and even using the concept of intelligent design to advance scientific knowledge. What we do advocate, though, for public schools is teaching the controversy about Darwinian evolution as you find it in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. Darwinism, classical Darwinism, as opposed to just the concept of evolution, evolution just means change over time in its broadest sense. But Darwinian evolution argues or affirms that there’s an undirected, unguided process, namely natural selection acting on random variation, that can produce the appearance of design without being designed or guided in any way. In other words, Darwinism denies actual design in nature. And that’s a controversial idea, and students ought to be allowed to hear counter-arguments to that. If they’re going to be taught Darwinian evolution, they ought to know some of the scientific arguments that are being made in peer-reviewed scientific journals, questioning the creative power of that Darwinian mechanism of mutation and selection. So we’ve produced a book for a supplementary biology textbook called Explore Evolution, the arguments for and against Neo-Darwinism, that allows students to learn the competing arguments and competing interpretations of the scientific evidence without at this point introducing the alternative theory of intelligent design, which creates the potential for public school controversy and legal battles, all that stuff. So that’s the policy we’ve been advocating, at least for now.

Rick: Are you the kind of preeminent proponent of intelligent design these days?

Stephen: I would say that a network of scientists who are associated with Discovery Institute, either formally or informally, are probably the primary proponents. One of the great things about intelligent design as a research program is that there’s an exploding interest in it worldwide. And so, Discovery Institute played a key role in sponsoring research that was seminal, that got this way of looking at life and the universe off the ground. But I would point to important figures who published well before me, for example, William Dembski and his book The Design Inference, published with Cambridge University Press, which was a very technical explication of the probabilistic and other forms of reasoning we use to detect the activity of intelligent agents. We do it all the time, as it turns out. If you look at a stop sign, you know there was a mind behind that. Well, what is it about the stop sign that makes you realize that that was not produced by wind and erosion? When you look at Mount Rushmore, you know that a mind was involved in carving those faces. What is it about the structure of those faces that allows you to detect design? Dembski came up with a brilliant theory about how we detect design. Michael Behe’s work on the intricate nanomachinery inside cells and the circuitry that we find in cells and organisms that he developed in his 1996 book Darwin’s Black Box, a very, very important contribution, a seminal contribution to the Intelligent Design Research Program. Scientist Douglas Axe’s book Undeniable, which is all about how we can detect design, even using our basic pre-scientific intuitions, is a very important figure in this movement. Jonathan Wells. One of the great things about the ID movement, as it’s sometimes called, is that it involves a lot of teamwork between scientists in different fields, in physics, biology, cosmology, and also philosophers and philosophers of science. So, no, I wouldn’t say I’m the preeminent spokesman or advocate, but I’ve become prominent in advocating for it, as have many of my colleagues.

Rick: Now, are most of these colleagues Christian? Because I don’t see intelligent design as a Christian thing, per se. I just see it as a way of trying to understand the world. And we’ve been citing sources from other traditions in today’s conversation, and we can probably find all sorts of sources from every ancient spiritual tradition, from Confucianism to Taoism to Hinduism, Buddhism, etc., that would support the argument.

Stephen: Yeah, I’m looking at a book on my shelf that I very much admire by Gerald Schroeder, an Israeli physicist called The Science of God, who is an advocate of intelligent design and astrophysics and cosmology. A theist, but a Jewish theist, not a Christian theist. There are many Christians who are in the forefront of the intelligent design movement. There are some agnostics. Michael Denton, who actually wrote one of the first and most important books called Evolution, A Theory and Crisis, where he, at the end of the book, made a very powerful design argument. At the time, he described himself as an agnostic. I think he has more theistic leanings now, but he is not—I don’t think he’s a religious theist. I don’t think he subscribes to Jewish or Christian or Islamic theism. There are a number of Islamic proponents of intelligent design, and there’s even a philosopher named—I think his first name is Bradley Monton. I’ve corresponded with him, but it’s been a while—who describes himself as an atheist/agnostic who is sympathetic to intelligent design. And then there’s a few people who hold to intelligent design who advocate what’s called directed panspermia.

Rick: Oh, yeah, aliens.

Stephen: The idea that life was—alien intelligence was the source. That always, of course, has the weird problem of if you think that life was seeded here by an intelligent agent or alien—

Rick: Who seeded them?

Stephen: Well, and how did—it’s always thought that the alien would have evolved by purely natural processes on some other planet, but that just puts the whole question of the origin of life out into space without explaining where the origin of the information necessary to build the first life that got the evolutionary process going. How did that happen? But anyway, yes, there’s a variety of intelligent design hypotheses. One of the reasons that I wrote Return of the God Hypothesis was to articulate one of those, which was the theistic intelligent design hypothesis.

Rick: Incidentally, I have a good friend named Dana Sawyer who wrote a book on Houston Smith. Right. He said that Houston Smith was very much a believer in intelligent design, but my friend didn’t put that in the book. He felt it was too much of a touchy subject or something.

Stephen: He was a great philosopher and sociologist of religion, and he corresponded with Philip Johnson, who was the law professor at Berkeley who wrote Darwin on Trial and was one of the early leaders in the intelligent design movement and research community. Yeah, Houston Smith’s a very weighty figure in the American academy.

Rick: Anyway, it’s fun. I feel like we’ve just scratched the surface. I often say this, but I really enjoyed preparing for this interview. I must have listened to, between your book and some of your other talks and interviews, maybe 25 hours of stuff over the last couple of weeks. And as I was listening, almost every other point I was thinking, well, that could be a topic for discussion. That could be a topic for discussion. And obviously we can only do a little bit of a sampling of the smorgasbord. But I’ve really enjoyed this particular sampling. And as I said in the beginning, I will set I’ll set up a thread on the BatGap Facebook page, as I always do for each interview. And people can go ahead and discuss it. And if you want to post questions that we might discuss in a future interview with Stephen, please do that. And I’ll keep an eye on it. Maybe tag me when you post the questions so that it’ll come to my attention. And if we do another one, one of these days, Stephen, I’ll have a chance to read another of your books, because I would I wish I had had time to read all three of them.

Stephen: Well, it sounds like you’ve done more than your homework on this. And it certainly showed in the depth of your questions. So this has been a really, really in-depth interview. I mean, we did just scratch the surface, but compared to what we can typically do in an audio or video interview, we really got to cover quite a lot. And some things that I hadn’t really had a chance to talk about in other interviews with talking about some of the different competing ideas about the mind behind the universe.

Rick: Well, if we do another one in a year or two, I’ll carefully review this one. And you can also think about what you want to talk about that we didn’t get to. And we’ll take another shot at it.

Stephen: That’s great. Well, thank you very much for having me on. And thanks to the people in your audience for submitting the thoughtful questions.

Rick: Yeah, there was maybe one or two questions I didn’t get to, but actually we had sort of covered them, so I didn’t bring them up. Okay, we did that one already. Yeah, okay, well thank you so much, Stephen. And again, thank you to those people who have been watching. And I will be posting a page on BatGap about this interview here. Right now I’m showing on the screen Stephen’s website, which is just, is it?

Stephen: Well, it’s An easier one to remember would be Not “the” return, just

Rick: Good, and I’ll have links to all that stuff on Stephen’s BatGap page, and links to his books and everything, so you can follow up. And his books exist on Audible, in addition to print format and Kindle format. And personally I can get through Audible books much easier than I can through printed ones. I can listen to them while I’m walking in the woods and all. But in any case, I hope you all have enjoyed this conversation. I hope it wasn’t too science-y for people, but I just love this stuff. And so, you know, maybe our enthusiasm kind of kept people on the edge of their seats.

Stephen: Carried the day, we hope.

Rick: We hope so.

Stephen: Yeah, that’s good.

Rick: All right, thanks Stephen.

Stephen: Thank you, Rick. I really appreciate being on with you.

Rick: Yeah, and thanks to those who have been listening or watching. See you next time. Bye-bye.