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 bat gap comm bat gap 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 we’d 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 PhD in the Philosophy of Science from the University of Cambridge in the UK, a former geophysicist and college professor. He now directs Discovery Institute center for science and culture. myRA is the author of The New York Times bestseller, Darwin’s doubt, 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 to say good dream by software in this paper senior journalists sell 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, Paula Zahn 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 probably picked up two things from that. One is that Stephen Meyer has done a lot of media interviews. And to that he’s somewhat controversial. And the reason he’s controversial, is that intelligent design is kind of a live wire and intellectual circles. And it happens to be the way I view the world are that 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. When I whenever I heard the term intelligent design, I somehow felt like maybe that’s something that people who think the earth is flat or using to try to get to try to get religion into the schools or something. But as soon as I got exposed to Stephens work and read his latest book, which I haven’t mentioned, yet, it’s Return of the god hypothesis. What let me read the subtitle as well. Three scientific discoveries that reveal the mind behind the universe. I read the entire book or listen 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 the what the critics say to various points he makes. And, you know, 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 know, 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 Steven later on and bring up some of those points. So here we go. I think maybe Steven, just give us a little bit of your background to begin with. And then 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 and a Christian school I were second it is. Yeah, it’s it’s definitely a Christian school. It’s a Presbyterian founded and fairly, fairly diverse in the student body and attracts. Then I went to work for as a geophysicist and 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 philosophy of science. I was very interested in the question of the origin of life and ended up doing my thesis on Origin of Life biology. The last year I was working in the oil industry, I attended a conference. It was just absolutely fascinating conference on the it was called, it was 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 nature of human consciousness. And 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 create matter? And I was really struck by this discussion, these discussions, the first was about the origin of the universe. The great cosmologists, Allan Sandage, spoke and announced that it 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 a 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 study, 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 nonliving chemicals don’t produce code. And yet to get life going, you need the code, you need the genetic code, you need the information stored in DNA and RNA and those sort of molecules. This scientists name is Dean Kenyon, and very prominent origin of life researcher. So I was 27 years old at the time, practicing scientists that that gives them bachelor’s level 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. And but I took as much philosophy as I could on the side. And so I was always interested in those, 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 in the philosophy of science. And then they allowed you to specialize in a scientific topic of your of your greatest interest in mind was precisely this question of How did life first arise? Not, not the Darwinian question of the origin of new forms of life from pre existing forms, but the origin of the very first life from simple nonliving chemicals? How do we get from non life to life? And when I was 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 the concept or the the realization, that the big mystery associated to the with the question, 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 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 here we go. I mean, Sagan says, a single cell contains 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, Well, why do these things exist? How could it function? You know, 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 can invoke what scientists called stochastic processes, random interactions of molecules, but we could also try to invoke law like processes, you know, the laws of nature, or what are sometimes called self organizational processes. And they, they, they are real, you know, they’re laws of nature, they’re processes that cause order to arise, you know, net purely natural way, you can think of dropping a pebble in a pond and thinking that nice concentric rings of, of waves moving outward from the place, you drop 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, that 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 you know, I always use the example of a line of poetry tied in time wait for no man, those letters don’t rigidly repeat like a mantra 80 8080 8080 No, they, they, 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, 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 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, and the, and 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 said various things, but one is here. So 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, that a couple of scientists are sitting in front of a blackboard. It’s always formulas on both sides. And right in the middle, it says, then a miracle happens. And the other one of the scientist says, I think it should be more,
STEPHEN: can you give 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 can, you know, maintaining their function. But you know, it’s a big leap, even to suggest that, you know, they came into being in the first place through any random
STEPHEN: really interesting comment from your, your Ozzy friend. And one of 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 physicists tell us that these parameters are 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, how
RICK: many of them are some couple 100 of them, aren’t there? Well,
STEPHEN: the estimates vary, but there’s, 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: to name a few of them. Yeah, absolutely.
STEPHEN: One of them is the what’s called the cosmological constant. It’s the it’s the parameter that that governs the strength of the force that is causing the universe to expand. And so we know about the Big Bang theory we talked 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 spiritually symmetric way from that beginning point. And physicists tell us that that that force of this 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 would be what’s called a heat death of the universe where matter and energy would dissipate so widely, that we couldn’t, you couldn’t sustain life, the universe wouldn’t 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 we gravity would overcome the force of expansion, and we get a big crunch. And the universe would be a giant blob, 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 19th power, some scientists think it’s even more some physicists think is even more finely tuned than that. But to get an A sense of the degree of precision in probability associated with that one parameter, consider that there are only 10 to the 18th elementary particles in the entire universe. So this would be to get this right by chance would be something like a blind 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, but randomly so and this is just one of the parameters. There’s also the fundamental forces of physics, the gravitational force, electromagnet magnetism, the strong and weak nuclear forces, also not too strong, not too weak, the masses of the elementary particles, not too heavy, not too 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, 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 a 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 your Ozzie friends exactly right. That’s a very powerful and compelling evidence for intelligent design. But I 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 are described, or highly orderly patterns, we think of the sun rising every morning, sun up some down, or every time I drop a ball, it falls, what we, 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 not just the same thing like th, E, th, E, th, 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 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 a 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 in the one universe out of zillions in which things did work out is that I state that properly.
STEPHEN: That’s very well explained. Yeah, that’s, that’s sometimes called the multiverse. It kind of makes your head.
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 is Leonard Susskind great Stanford businesses said well, he says I you know, I admit that multiverse is counterintuitive, but if we don’t hold to it, we’ll be at a loss to respond to the he calls him the ID critics, the Intelligent Design proponents. So there 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. But 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 you’ve, 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 number just positing gazillion 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 the 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 hypothesis, our proponents have proposed what they call universe generating mechanisms where they can whereby they can say that there’s some underlying mechanisms that producing spitting out these universes, like you know, the, 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 and your system, you’ve not explained the ultimate origin of the fine tuning, you’ve just pushed it back out of you. 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 the 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. Yeah,
RICK: I think so too. Why do you think materialists, but 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 that 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, you know, 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, a strong resistance to acknowledging that you may be right that, 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, you know, we only lived 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 who could reconstitute us if you will. On the other hand, we haven’t 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, you know, 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, you know, there is an interesting historical background to this as you allude to Some of its been mis told, I mean, there was a 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 is always, you know, at each other’s throat, there was this kind of warfare model that developed, 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, you know, people like Kepler and Newton, even Galileo was very much real. Despite his troubles with the Catholic Church, he was still very much a believer in God and and but you got Newton, Galileo, Boyle, Christian Huygens, even going back further into the late Middle Ages, a lot of the philosophers who are developing the scientific method, like Robert gross test, for example, is a particularly intellectual hero of mine. These were devoutly religious people who believe in God and believe that by studying nature, they were revealing the handiwork of a great have a great mind or creator behind the universe. We kind of lost that perspective in the late 19th century, and there were 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, in the, in the 19th century had this theory, this theory, a series of, 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’d be kind of became the default way of thinking in the 20th century among many scientists, they thought, we’re going to be really good scientists, we need to get rid of any reference to creative intelligence as as an explanation and just explain things by reference to the laws of nature or other physical processes. And, and so I think that kind of became a, you know, a default way of thinking became kind of habitual among scientists. And now here, we’re 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 I’ll stop there for now. But there’s a lot more to so yeah, sure.
RICK: Incidentally, just for the record, I actually have bastard bachelor’s and master’s degrees in something called the science of creative intelligence.
STEPHEN: No, good. Okay. That’s which is, which is very intelligent
RICK: design ish in its in its nature. Yeah,
RICK: And what was I going to say? That, so the return of the god hypothesis, so that implies that it had been around but had gone have faded, and it’s starting to return? And let’s let’s pick out let’s pick apart some of the terms in that title. I mean, first of all, God bless. Everybody, different people have different concepts of what God is. But let’s Why don’t you try to define it? The way you understand? Yeah,
STEPHEN: 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, set mind first, and then matter and matter get shaped by mind, or is it matter first, and mind emerges from matter. So there’s kind of two great philosophical systems. And philosophers refer to one as materialism, and the other is 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 God that the mind is, is the mind of God. And by God, we mean a transcendent intelligence, an intelligence that is separate, that that resides separate from the universe, but also acts within the universe in time. Another closely related ideas, the idea of deism which is the idea that God is transcendent and separate from the universe, but God, only X at the beginning and not after the universe, He sets the universe in motion or it sucks. That’s the universe emotion, and then lets things run on its own. And then there are other views like the well, panic, a pantheism, which is a view that says yes, there is a god but God, and the universe is dependent upon God. But panentheism says that God is also 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 pan psychism, 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 the universal conscious mind is not in any way separate from the universe itself it’s quote, coextensive with the physical universe, the universe is in the mind and the mind is in the universe. And then there’s 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 God. It’s kind of a mystical oneness or unity that binds all matter together. It’s a kind of impersonal force that binds matter together, and there’s a little bit of God and that sense in all matter, and matter is, is God as well. So there’s also the idea of God and matter being coextensive, but not God, not as a minder. So you’ve got pant pantheism panentheism of Pan psychism, deism and classical theism you got five, 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 it a Rice University, wrote the book, the flip, it’s a critique of materialism. Jeffrey crack. Yeah. Yeah. He’s terrific guy. And, you know, he’s, he’s, he’s decided decidedly not a materialist. And he’s sort of thinking through Well, I not I’m not a materialist, but I’m not sure which of those I don’t think he’s a pantheist, either. But, you know, is he a theist? Or a pantheist? I think he’s kind of oscillating pennants.
RICK: Where are you? What’s your
STEPHEN: class, I’m a classic theist. And that’s part of was the, you know, 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. So you know that 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, our evidence, 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. I think that requires an external cause beyond the universe to bring bring the existing universe into existence, 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, you know, 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 pantheism on that score, because pantheism 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. Another is before the universe begins to exist. The pennant is the creator, or God would not exist, because the pantheistic and the disguise 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 pan psychism and pantheism have a similar problem. So I’ve come down. As far as the question the origin, 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, we’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 sort of playing a game of philosophical survivor, you know, 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 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, so as
RICK: 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 some he’s still involved in I shouldn’t say he, I mean, 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, okay? 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. The nature has law like order, because there is a law Giver and Sustainer. There’s a someone who’s sustaining the orderly concept of nature. And this was a very strong element in in, for example, Sir Isaac Newton’s thought. So that’s another of the cons, another mode of divine agency, if you will. And then a third power of God has the power to act as an agent within the creation that God otherwise sustains enough holds. So you, 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 so that the whereas the deistic 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. And then there are kind of there’s also sometimes there’s hybrid models where God created the beginning, he sustains the laws of nature, but doesn’t do anything specific at discrete moments of time. In many, what are called theistic evolution is hold to that kind of a concept.
RICK: Let me tell you what I think and
STEPHEN: so there’s a kind of a philosophical menu here of menu options. Yeah, menu.
RICK: You can you can either try to consider the ala carte or Yes, right. I 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 um, I resonate with the notion that God is omnipresent. And there are biblical references for that both Old and New Testament. Here’s a, here’s a 19th century Hasidic master manakin Nahoon, who said, the creator’s glory fills the whole earth, there is no place devoid of him. But its glory takes the form of garb, guard, God is garbed in all things. And of quote, this aspect of divinity is called checking not 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 in the middle of intergalactic space and, 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, gamma rays, photons and whatnot going through. And those are adhering to the 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 had
STEPHEN: that exact same concept or concept that in him all things are held together. You know, there’s a Yeah.
RICK: There’s, there’s even a verse on this from the Bhagavad Gita. Speaking as God, it says, What if I did not continue unwittingly inactivity if I did not engage in action, these worlds would perish. So but that doesn’t mean that God is not transcendent, God is transcendent, but God is also imminent. So there, in other words, let’s put it this way. Intelligence has its sort of quiescent or resting phase, like an ocean that is whipped up by the wind. And it also has its active phase, like an ocean that is whipped up by the wind. And and since creation is multi dimensional, in many ways of understanding it, even in you know, physics, we have obvious levels, and we have molecular and atomic and subatomic and, and then perhaps just some level, which is not physical at all, unified field or vacuum state or something. You know, 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 it’s 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 and garb as this Hasidic master said, saints and sages in every religion who claim to have attained what we might call a god consciousness or an experiential apprehension or love 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, Gods. This is from Sufi saint Eben a Robbie, God sleeps in the rock dreams and the plant stirs in the animal, and awakens in man. So God is in all those things pervades all the things but 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 the 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? Yeah, kind of is.
STEPHEN: Well, a lot of it sounds very, very classically theistic God being imminent, present in all things. Your, the way you described it, at 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 you know, the reaches of space, you’re there. And then in describing God is also transcendent, in some ways, separate from the creation. That’s all the the big word transcendent really means. That’s very classically theistic. It sounds like you conceive of God as as a conscious mind, therefore personal, not an impersonal force as pants, maybe
RICK: both do, maybe, maybe God has an impersonal level, and like Brahman, and then a personal level that which they would call Ishwara, or saguna. Brahman Brahman with qualities of us that Eastern terminology. And I think that we also since we are permeated with God, we were 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, I’m oceanic.
STEPHEN: Yeah. And there are both theistic and pan theistic versions of Eastern religions. For example, there’s a theistic version of Hinduism as well as a pantheist. There are
RICK: numerous flavors there, they’ve been debating each other for 1000s of years.
STEPHEN: But the metaphor you used a quiescent and an inactive phase, can be applied. In essence, it can map to some scientific reality that if we think of the laws of nature, as an expression of God’s effort to maintain an order in the universe, or is there an expression of God’s con, one of my Cambridge supervisors summarize Newton’s view of the laws of nature. He said that they were that Newton believe 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 at constantly active in that but we don’t really detect God’s action in that because we’re so used to the orderly concourse of nature sunup sundown, I dropped the ball at 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, in medieval theology, this distinction was captured with two Latin terms, one was the potensi ordinato, the ordinary power of God, which we describe as the laws of nature, and then was and then they called the other was called the potensi absoluter, the theater 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 with under the influence of materialism. Even many theists have wanted to disavow the potensi absolute and say that God never acts in a discreet way, God can only act to 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 and return to 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, that the laws of nature describe. So the laws of nature do a great job of describing, even met 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. It’s because it’s a different kind of beast. It’s not repetitive information that the way you and I are speaking with each other. We are using some of the same words but never the same arrangement. And 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, it’s an entirely different something, and something that we really only associate with mine.
RICK: If I understand what you said, let’s say, I might say, well, I can’t pick up my pen, my my hand, my arm can pick up my pen. But no, you know, I, my arm and hand are there, my organs have actually heard of them, you know,
STEPHEN: they’re under your control you as an agent, something different than the laws of physics, right?
RICK: So I mean, I would say that anything, we see gravity or photosynthesis, or anything else that’s going on, you know, 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 they’re, they’re, 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, we, if we can distinguish between waves and the rest of the ocean, or we can not 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, like specific currents of intelligence flowing within the ocean of intelligence, performing various functions.
STEPHEN: Yeah, I mean, any of those metaphors are very helpful. The, the thing that fascinated the early founders of modern science, in particular Kepler and Newton was that these, these regular patterns that we observe in nature, can be described with mathematics to a very precise in a very precise way. And so they seem to insofar as mathematics is conceptual, and mental, we hoped we wouldn’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’re, they they are mental in character and conceptual. And so both Kepler, who was a Christian, Neil Platanus, and Newton believe that what they were revealing as they describe these regularities with mathematical precision, was something of the mind of God. And so that’s it, you know, and so and I would say that the way you’re, you sound, very classically theistic, with a little bit of an Eastern flavor to it. Yeah. So that’s might be the way I just I’ll cop to that. And, you know, there’s very, there’s very fine, subtle distinctions that, you know, we can chop the Bologna really finely and, you know, are the laws of nature, an expression of God? Or are they 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, that the 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, you know, 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 cripple who are saying that I don’t think that works. I think the 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 of 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 America, but a great eminence and in the American Academy
RICK: read his article. What is it like to be a bat?
STEPHEN: Exactly, exactly. You know, he’s a deep thinker. And Nagel, was 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 chemical evolutionary theory was was very substantive and he appreciated it.
RICK: I think it’s sad anyways, 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
STEPHEN: conversation. Yeah, I mean, we’re having it right here. I mean, this is
RICK: not gonna go over these things. Yeah, yeah, no, this, what makes
STEPHEN: makes makes it great to be a human being, you know, we’re thinking about the human condition and how we got here and what the ultimate reality isn’t. Anyway, just one part of the story I wanted to tell was that I ended up having lunch with with Nagel in New York, and I was coming to New York, and I emailed him in advance. And I thought, I told you I perfectly understand if you’ve had enough of having interacted with us, it’s brought you only grief. But he’s now I’d love to get together and we had this great conversation. And he was either either a 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 a, an atheist philosopher, who has become completely disaffected with materialism and the Darwinian form of that, because there he says, There are two things in the universe, there’s my there’s matter. But there’s also mine, there’s a physical cosmos, but there’s also minds. And if we can’t give an account of what mind is, or we are, if our account of reality excludes the recognition of the reality of conscious awareness and mind, then we’re missing something really big. And that’s I think, that’s when Jeffrey cripples big, big, big points as well.
RICK: 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 in a paradigm shift taking place from materialism to something along the lines of Intelligent Design. And I think it’s, 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 are 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 person, hood 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 there is no possibility of there having been a purpose to our creation, or a purpose to our, our, 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, lived, eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die but tomorrow but 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 we can Yes, we can create some temporary sense of, of purpose and meaning to our existence, but we have to face facts and recognize as the atheistic existentialist Sartre and Camus, Nietzsche did that. That ultimately, if this, the materialist worldview is true, what we’re left with is anguish, forlorn, pneus, 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, I mean, these are these seem big, heavy metaphysical considerations, things maybe we only think about it 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, have a deep form of anxiety, which I only later learned was the 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. You know, what is anything that I do going to matter in 100 years, what does any of this matter? And I found Very difficult to answer it within the kind of secular framework in which I was surrounded. And for me finding God was also a finding a sense of significance and purpose in my life that transcended the daily return routines of life and finding the possibility of, of relationship between persons that is quite possibly lasting. So, I think I think a lot of young people and I, I had a sense of despair about my inability to answer these questions. And as I’ve, 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, Okay, well, we’ll discuss those questions, but first, go register for the philosophy major, and then we’ll, we’ll have longer chat, 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, you know, affluence by itself is not completely satisfied. 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 alternate the alternative view that there have a purposeful creator, I think opens up is the last line in my book was, was I was quoting the great Jewish psychologist, Viktor Frankl with his title, Man’s Search for Meaning. And, you know, that if, if the evidence of intelligent design of a transcendent intelligence behind the universe is true, that means that our search for meaning need not end in vain. Yeah,
RICK: 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 then at its foundation, and you know, that quote I said earlier with the rock the plant the animal the human being there’s 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 know that as a Christian, you probably don’t, although there are some evidences for in Christianity, suppose some say it was edited out at the Council of Nicea. 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, you know, 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, you know, spiritual evolution as you go along. So, I think the reason that, you know, materialism is so destructive, is that it can, if the, if anything I’m saying is true, is that it completely shatters any notion like that, you know, you’re just by any any hope of life. Yeah. Of anything, right? We’re just biological robots in a meaningless universe. Right? And when you die, you’re dead. Yeah. Whereas the these other ways of looking at it, and the one I express is obviously not the only one. But they, they offer a much bigger picture. And they they do life with a lot more meaning and significance than otherwise have. And you mentioned suicide opioid epidemic is another example. Yes,
STEPHEN: 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, if anyone has 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 in 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, that throughout human history, there’s been an intuition that therefore, there’s something about ourselves, which doesn’t die just because our bodies die. And I think that’s been a persistent human intuition about about the nature of their, of our own natures of our own, our own our own self. That’s just 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 many I think many medical people have that who 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 is left. But another 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 nano technologist and organic chemist at Rice University, same universities as Jeffrey cripple. And Dr. Toure has written a number of articles very critical of these chemical evolutionary theories of the origin of life and the simulation experiments that, that the origin of life researchers do to try to simulate how life would have arisen spontaneously from nonliving chemicals. And what what tour points out is number one, that 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 get built biomolecules that are at least kind of relatively Intelligent
RICK: Designer. In other words, they play they’re, they’re simulating
STEPHEN: 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, this chemical subunits are actually functioning like alphabetic characters in a written language or digital digital characters, the machine code, this is these are set of instructions, this suggests the mind. But if life and this now two tours 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, 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 of receiver on the other, or we now even can store information literally on the cloud, the computer cloud sort of information can be stored and then and then expressed in some some other place on an 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: II mean as we are or in some other body as
STEPHEN: char maybe in an enhanced or better Jews, Christians believe in a spiritual body the resurrect,
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 in the, 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 subjected 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 informed information is the key to constructing a body. And if if information can be stored in many different media and in deed and other minds than 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 an in an improved form. And at this conference, was another computer scientist, or was a computer scientist David Gelernter, from Yale University’s chairman of the computer science department there. Glenn Ritter, actually is the inventor, or he did, he did some of the key work conceptually on, on developing the cloud concept in computer, computer science. He’s an Orthodox Jew, and he in tour, we’re just jabbering away afterwards, you know about the religious potential religious significance of developments in computer science in our understanding what information is now can be stored in different minds or on different media.
RICK: Some people some neuroscientists think that our memories and 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 to record. 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 Oregon a thought that is being used by the mind and and so that that that computer analogy kind of works or software and hardware and software, so Unlike 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 physiologist of the 20th century. So John Eccles was by his position he called Mind Body dualism, he was a mind body duelist interactionist. He wasn’t a an old fashioned Cartesian duelist. But I had a chance to interview him when I was a very young scientist and fascinating discussion. And he cited a number of experiments that seem to suggest that what 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 but the the mind is also controlling the brain. So that’s a, there’s the, one of our research scientists and fellows. Michael Egner, is a neuroscientist and neuro surgeon at the State University of New York and he writes on our website, mind matters about some of this evidence, 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. Yeah,
RICK: a couple of points on that I’ve interviewed a lot of people who’ve had near death experiences. And they might be under heavy anesthesia during an operation. And they’re, 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 with somebody went up there later and found it. And you know, or they’ll, they’ll go somewhere down the hall or even farther away and see things happening and report them later. So so that was just 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 fella 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 they went down in and the names of his friends at all. And then his parents will do research and find that there was such an aircraft carrier, there was such a plane, this guy crash, he was with these other guys with those names when he was on that carrier, all kinds of they’ve a couple of 1000 accounts like that. So it’s just interesting, because that 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 its demise.
STEPHEN: Yeah, as I understand it, 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, and involve people seeing things that they could not have possibly seen in a horizontal position on an operating theatre, and which were accurate to things that were going on the room while the operation was taking place. And this professor med school professor that I was mentioning, Michael Agner, 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 that it’d be something there.
RICK: Yeah. And they’re becoming more common because our ability to resuscitate people is so vastly improved that there’s a Dutch cardiologist named Pim, Van Lommel, who ended up really writing books on 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, yep. Was it what’s the Shakespeare quote, more things there is in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy or your ratio, whoever he was, I can’t remember my shakes.
RICK: Yeah. Well, I don’t know whether that was kinky or what that was. Yeah, exactly. Another implication, I think memory is gonna hit me. No, I’m talking too much. Now 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 grade mass extinction we see environmental destruction, we see pollution we see huge economic and social and equities, and so on. And I think that if we really not just by believing it, but what some deep intuitive experience, believe, knew that God is present in all things and orchestrating the universe, we wouldn’t treat the the world the way we do because we would actually be treating God that way. That would be our experience. And we wouldn’t, 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 are talking about this idea. And this is more pertains to how we treat each other. But 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 going to chop this 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, in both Doug Murray and Tom Hollander, kind of calling themselves Christian atheists, you know, they’re atheists, by belief, they’re agnostic, they can’t really believe but they, 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 had 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 in 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 to the god hypothesis, could be very significant to us. Because, absent that sense of, 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 secular secularization of our culture. That’s something that even secular intellectuals are starting to mourn and wish we could somehow bring back.
RICK: We know your book is entitled return to 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 how to beginning it’s been finely tuned. And it’s 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 a God hypothesis. I’m not by the way, saying that God left and has now come back. I think I did. God has always been there. But our in 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. The 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 of your question. But let me give you that one first.
STEPHEN: Oh, yeah. Well, I would say both, although I, with the caveat that I don’t consider myself a greater unusual saint or anything like that. But
RICK: I’m saying, right, I’ve
STEPHEN: Well, in the sense that, you know, Christianity teaches that anyone who comes to believe in God and Christ as Savior is is has access to what Jews and Christians call the Holy Spirit that God dwells within us in a personal way that, and I do, 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 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, you know, 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 I’ve written some books, arguing that there’s a objective, that is evidence that’s not dependent on my personal experience, that that is available to all objective evidence of the reality of, of, of God in nature. And I also think I was a longtime philosophy and philosophy of science professor, I think they’re very good philosophical reasons to consider the god hypothesis. One big thing I address at the very end of the new book, return the god hypothesis is the whole question of knowledge and the reliability of the human mind 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, of that creator. And therefore the design the rationality, that were out lawful order, we perceive a 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 the mind is certified by the reality and benevolence of the Creator who made our minds to know the world. Whereas on a, on a purely secular, agnostic, atheistic, materialistic worldview, it’s been very difficult to justify the reliability of the human mind. Especially I put it more specifically on a Darwinian account of reality. It’s hard to justify them the mind, Darwinism teaches that whatever we think our belief system and our cognitive equipment would have been maxima would have evolved to maximize survival. But there are many sort of scenarios where, 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 confirm 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 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 you know that the mind can be extremely confused and unreliable, but it can be No, yeah, absolutely can be refined any more reliable.
STEPHEN: Well, and this was actually another really the The founders of modern science had to 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 were being mostly a Judeo Christian mindset believed in this idea of original sin or a problem with the human will, that we could be willful, 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 out 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 in the valley, 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, the 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. So, yeah, and then of course, there’s the, you know, in the Bible seeing through a glass darkly, and then eventually, clearly, yeah, yeah. 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, the historian of science, Steve Fuller, who’s at Warwick University in the UK, and an American guy that I know quite well but have a quite a fantastic historian of philosophy, science, pointed out to me in correspondence, as I was writing the book, that this this doctrine of original sin, which seems so you know, 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 have 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 skeptical chemist. 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 are in an armchair way.
RICK: Yeah. There’s a saying somewhere in the Vedic tradition, it’s written by a Praga which means that level of intellect which all 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 it without any distortion. And that that’s,
STEPHEN: that’s interesting, because that says that the goal of human science is to know the world as it really is. And there now there’s now a profound relativism that’s crept into literary theory and philosophy, and the study of 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 that truth is created by by by the the groups of people working together, you know, and so whoever gets the grant makes the theory and, and whoever has more money, more grant money gets to predominate in the contest between theories, but it’s all relative, we don’t really know and objective reality. And I think the pervasive human intuition across different cultures has been that No, there isn’t objective reality there. And truth with a capital T is found when our ideas about reality match as real reality as it really that’s, that’s a common and pervasive human intuition that I think it’s being lost because of what’s called this this postmodernist trend. epistemology that that says every. It’s not just morals or relative, it’s not just political ideas or relative, but even our scientific ideas or relative to persons or groups, there’s no objective truth that can be that can be even in principle, ascertain. Yeah, I
RICK: mean, you know, I think the world is round and you think it’s flat, and you know, who’s to say who’s right? It’s just, you can’t can’t trust NASA, of course, they’re all you have
STEPHEN: your science and I have mine.
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 knew and discover that is one historian of science, but the nature had a secret to reveal, and the 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, the ancient Greek sense of ski uncia just means knowledge.
RICK: This is why I find the whole science religion or science spirituality, interface. Fascinating. I think that, you know, science has 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 woowoo and loopy, and in precise, and imaginative and, you know, fanciful, and I think if if a scientific attitude is brought to the spiritual endeavor, it can keep you on track.
STEPHEN: Yeah, it’s important to have evidence for what I believe Yeah, yeah, yeah. And that’s, of course, the, the approach I taken in the new book, there’s been this long divide. It’s a kind of an 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 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. Yeah.
RICK: And another question that Elizabeth asked is, oops, is his logical reasoning or direct experience, the more convincing proof for the existence of God? I would say, say both should be brought to bear. What would you say about that?
STEPHEN: I think, I think it’s a both hands 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, can be some people or if they trust you, and they trust your integrity, they say, Oh, that’s interesting, that 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 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. And I used to tell my students the heart cannot exalt and what the mind rejects many students that I used to teach had had individual experiences of God, subjective experiences, but then we 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. And so I think it’s important to have that grounding in evidence and reason. And I used to teach a course when I was a college professor called Reasons for faith with that idea that reasons 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, 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 I personally feel that God is a reality that can be experienced and with, you know, 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 tune in 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, you know, 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 a another way of talking about having a relationship. So that and I think the, I think the two comments you’ve just made, bring to mind the sin Augustine, he had this concept of a God shaped vacuum that people are restless and fill until we find our, our home as he put it into the in God using the archaic English construction of the capital th and then the other thing talking about epistemology, epistemology or our ability to know the world, Augustine also had this idea. In a Latin it was very had various constructions, but one was Kratos, and telecom, 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 makes it possible to know the world around us. And in in a secular age, which is rejected belief in God, the input, the consequences of that start to percolate into percolate into our, our philosophy, our philosophy of knowledge. And philosophers have been famously distressed about this whole question of epistemology, how do how can we justify the possibility of human knowledge, and there’s been more and more different flavors of skepticism about our ability to know that have arisen since the enlightenment and the the idea that we could reason without any, any framework, any theistic framework? So, so Augustine, I think, was sort of prescient, and on 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 real, reliable instruments that allow us to know the world believe in order to know
RICK: and then 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, then there’s no chance I’m gonna discover anything, then he won’t even start when
STEPHEN: you want it. Yeah, he or she won’t do that. And your comment reminds me of the great Hungarian physical chemist and philosopher of science, Michael Polanyi. In his book, personal knowledge, I don’t know if you’re familiar with that, Rick, but you might enjoy that it’s a, it expresses some of those same kind of ideas. It’s not that there’s an element of faith in the practice of science. Yeah. And we believe that 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, at all.
RICK: Yeah, that’s true. So many things in life, I mean, you, you sort of, wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning, unless you felt like the floor was there. Or, you know, various other things we do, you know, 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 error trick will work again, you know,
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 it hears doing doing his work, you know, a seeker of God could apply that those same methods in a way. I mean, obviously, there might be some different techniques and practices involved, but with the same rigor of impair, you know, forming a hypothesis, and then seeing, verifying it and maybe forming another one and verifying that step by step.
STEPHEN: Right I and I use his specific method of reasoning to make my case for the existence of God. And the book is 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. Yeah.
RICK: 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 had the word doesn’t have the stigma that it has the scientist, scientist think of belief as a kind of nebulous, purely subjective, that’s the way I was interpreting Yeah, yeah, no, exactly. Whereas to a philosopher, a belief simply means a proposition that one holds and, and accepts as true. So can you have can you know things about God? Can you believe things about God that are justified? And, 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 an AI and other philosophers of science would say, yeah, you can. That’s God isn’t in a separate category. Obviously, we can’t see God. But we, 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. 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 for its structure, and much of science has that. That character of affirming things that we know indirectly, but from other evidence. Science is indirectly inferential oftentimes, in our knowledge of God can be indirectly inferential, we learn about God from other evidence of his reality, or it
RICK: can be more direct. I know there’s an apple in the refrigerator, I believe that I saw earlier, I could go and actually eat it. And then it would really confirm my belief. Meister Eckhart said, the AI through which I see God as the AI 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, that God, the whole relationship to God moves beyond any kind of belief or conjecture or abstraction to, you know, the most concrete a direct emotional encounter, like Jesus must and saying, I my father 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. Yeah.
RICK: And speaking of Jesus, there’s no apples in the fridge. Oh, Irene said there’s no apples. I know there’s one of the drawers.
RICK: She’s kidding. 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 experiencial 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 on miracles, there’s a long standing argument against their possibility that was formulated by the philosopher David Hume. And the argument was pretty straightforward. It went like this. Miracles violate the laws of nature, the laws of nature cannot be violated. Therefore, miracles are impossible. Yeah. But Humes 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 and 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. They’re 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 no reason to believe that though that the patterns that we’ve seen in nature We’ll 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 or I don’t think miracles violate the laws of nature. Let the laws of nature tell us what ordinarily happens, given certain conditions, if I, for example, in playing a game of pool, and I go to hit one ball, it within a precise trajectory. And I can calculate that and 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 violating other laws of nature, 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 of the choice of a free agent. But 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 law that made the prediction. False. But if an agent can change the outcome of the 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. There was when I was a physics student, we did an experiment called Millikan 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 countervailing force applied as the result of the design of the experiment by the the physics students. Well, the 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 there’s no if God doesn’t exist, then miracles are impossible, because there’s no God to act. But if there isn’t a god to act, then then there can be acts of God, it’s as simple as that. Yeah. And 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 in King Arthur’s Court, and various science fiction stories in which people are transplanted from either the future to the past or past to the future. And, you know, if 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, and that’s very insight, a matter of, really, I
STEPHEN: mean, yeah, what we’re doing with technology is harnessing the laws of nature to produce unexpected outcomes. So I have, if I are narrowly 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 countervailing 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 deity could do that as well.
RICK: And I will 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 if Jesus Himself said, all these great things I do, you should do even greater things. Or St. Joseph of Cupertino, he used to levitate all the time, or St. Teresa of Avila, and others, is 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 elevate or levitated oil drops in physics, except that I’m no great saint. But there’s a couple
RICK: 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 have 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, of our, our experience. Yeah. We still use Newtonian physics to get to the moon or whatever, Mars to build a bridge or an aeroplane. So like that, is Darwin’s still valid within his own realm, but perhaps just relegated to a smaller domain bounded by
STEPHEN: very, very good way to describe it. And to explain what we think is 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 are calling for a new theory of evolution because they recognize 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 big sizes, that sort of thing, what sometimes called micro evolution, 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 more 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 and 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 or big, 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 paragraph in a book, or we think the information necessary to build new forms of proteins and new new anatomical structures in the history of life.
RICK: Okay, an unrelated question that, why so Darwin’s
STEPHEN: good for the micro evolutionary phenomena we observe. But the Darwinian mechanism seems to lack creative power for the big changes. And so yes, it’s, it’s valid within a realm of experience. But the Darwin, 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 man and animals in the cave, in a period of geologic geologic history called the Cambrian explosion. So in Darwin was already in 1859, wondering hmm, have I really explained this, you know, this, 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 and I’ve heard people speak about the uncanny correlation or what’s the word kind of connection between the way nature functions and and mathematics? For instance, why should equal MC squared, you know, or very Other things that nature conforms to beautifully and various other mathematical formula 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 want to if you have any thoughts on that,
STEPHEN: it’s a it’s a fantastically deep insight about that. As Eugene Wagner, great Nobel Laureate in physics, used to put it the the uncanny, applicable 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 what 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 suggests 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, it’s independent of my affirmation or rejection of them, then there must be a transcendent mind, in which the mathematical concepts reside, as a form of, of mathematical Platonism. My colleague, David Berlinski, has, has written a number of really important books about the history of mathematics has unpack that argument. And his book advented, the algorithm, another one he wrote, 123, the history of mathematics, there’s, it’s not uncommon to find among mathematicians, a tendency towards this, 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 to something that we dreamed up in our mental realm turns out to apply or correspond to the way the universe was designed. That’s fascinating.
RICK: It’s almost like a kind of a cognition or something of a law of nature within the physicist or within the map mathematician himself. Which then
STEPHEN: it’s a resume. Yeah, it will, in many physicists have had the sense that there’s a kind of resonance with a transcendent mind that they are discovering when they, they see this app applicability of mathematics to the physical world,
RICK: you get that sense, with some of the great scientists like Einstein and others who were so deeply intuitive that they just kind of cognize the thing, and just knew it in their heart of hearts to be true. And then later on, somebody proved it, you know, but,
STEPHEN: yeah, yeah, there’s a great quote from Einstein that I wanted to use in the book, but I just had to 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 scientists like the child walking into the library doesn’t immediately perceive the order. And it’s the only upon deep study that that order is revealed. And this is an Einstein you know, it’s a modern refree 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 mathematic, 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 queued up. contemplate the mystery of conscious life perpetuating itself through all eternity, to reflect upon the marvelous structure of the universe, which we can dimly perceive, and try humbly to comprehend even an infinitesimal part of the intelligence manifested in nature. There you go. Absolutely. Okay, I’m running short on time. But let me get to a few more questions that came in. As a few here. This is another one from Elizabeth in Colorado, she asks, you seem to structure 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: And non non dualistic in the sense of matter versus mine?
RICK: Advaita means not to. And it’s a it’s a theory in Oh, yeah. In other words, everything is ultimately one. That’s one. Yeah. That goes up to Amasian.
STEPHEN: Yeah, well, in fact, in fact, I do address that, because what I call the philosophical system, known as pantheism, is also a monistic system. It says that, that the presentation of distinctions that we encounter in our sensory experience are effectively illusions, the the the the maximum all dualisms are distinctions are illusions that the, 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 in the wall or me in the tree outside the window. And so pantheism is that system which affirms that underlying unity of all things, to a to an ultimate degree such that the perception 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 of their permutations and variations on these, but there’s, there’s three classical theism, deism, pantheism, and materialism. I write long footnotes about other permutations like pantheism, or pan psychism. But yeah, look at pantheism I am not I’m not a pantheist. I argued for theism. But obviously, it’s one of the great systems of thought that you need to engage my my project was to look at these big discoveries about biological and cosmological origins, and to evaluate, evaluate which of the great systems of thought best explained 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 East, if you’re if you’re a theistic, Hindu, you pray, but if you’re a pantheist, it can do 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 and the DNA or the fine tuning of the universe, I think those evidences require as the best explanation, the the action of a of a prior intelligent mind or 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 pan NT ism 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 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 can’t, doesn’t exist separately from the universe and therefore, it’s 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 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, a rope, which is perceived to be a snake and you react because you think it’s a snake, right? And so on and so forth. And the question might be, well, how do you get rid of the snake and you get rid of it by recognizing that it never existed? It’s all it’s all.
STEPHEN: Right. And if you work solely within that philosophical system, that’s entirely sort of your right to do so, you know, what I was doing 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 those presumed facts? And if we have evidence, and I think we do have very strong evidence, I describe it and several chapters in the book four, or five and six, 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. And I would say that the scientific evidence presents a challenge to those, those 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, it’s illusion, because it implies a distinction between different entities within the physical world and the ultimate reality. And the only true reality is that, 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, but you’d be and you’d be operating within a strictly monistic philosophical system. But you would also have cut yourself off from scientific evidence in forming your worldview. And, and so that’s a, you know, it’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, I 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, as a starting point in the discussion, I think Mormonism or pantheism doesn’t do as good a job of explaining that evidence as just theism. Yeah, it’s a big topic.
RICK: We can we could go on that one alone for two hours. All right. So let me ask one last question here. This might be a good wrap up question. This is from Pamela had gotten 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 nevermind. We do 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, religion of the state, and that we can use to indoctrinate. So now I think that that presents a whole range of challenges. And it’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 there it probably ought to be perfectly constitutional for a science or 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, big hornet’s nest. And we have as primary advocates of the theory of intelligent design, really wanted to really want to, we really want at this point 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 needs to 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 it ought to be 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, legal battle, all that stuff and worms. So that’s the policy we’ve been, we’ve been advocating, at least for now. All right,
RICK: are you the kind of preeminent proponent of Intelligent Design these days,
STEPHEN: I would say that the network of scientists who are associated with Discovery Institute, either formally or informally, are probably the primary proponents that one of the great things about intelligent design as a research program is that it’s it’s there’s an exploding interest in it worldwide. And so Discovery Institute played a key role in getting 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 B. He’s work on the intricate nano machinery inside cells, and the circuitry that we find in cells and organisms that he developed in his 1996 book, Darwin’s black box, very, very important contribution, seminal contribution to the Intelligent Design Research Program, a scientist Douglas AX, whose 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. So there we one of the great things about the ID movement, as it’s sometimes called, is that it’s, it’s 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, you know, 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 art
STEPHEN: I’m I. Yeah, looking at a book on my shelf that I very much admire by Gerald Schroeder and Israeli physicist called the science of God, who is an advocate of Intelligent Design and astrophysics and cosmology. 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 was actually one of the first and most important books called evolution a theory in crisis where he, at the end of the book made a very powerful design argument at the time he would, 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’s 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 spent a while, who describes himself as an atheist slash 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, life was alien intelligence was the source that always, of course has the weird problem of, if you think that life is seated here by an intelligent agency to Dalian. 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 were the origin of the information necessary to build the first life they got the evolutionary process going there? How did that happen? So but anyway, yes, there’s a variety of Intelligent Design hypotheses. One of the reasons that I wrote return to 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. And right he’s 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 like 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 the one of the early leaders in the intelligent design, movement and research community. So yeah, Houston Smith have a very weighty figure in the American Academy. Yeah.
RICK: Anyway, I, it’s fun, I feel like we’ve just scratched the surface. And I’ve, I often say this, but I really enjoyed preparing for this interview, I must have listened to your 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 backup Facebook pages 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 Steven, 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, Steven, 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 him the depth of your questions. So this has been a really a really in depth interview. I mean, we did just scratched the surface. But compared to what we can typically do in a 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 some of the different competing ideas about the mind behind the universe. Well,
RICK: if we do another one in a year or two, I’ll carefully review this one and, and you can also think about, you know, what might we 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: 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. So I thought, okay, we did that one already. Yeah. Okay. Well, thank you so much, Steven. And again, and thank you, those people who’ve been watching and I will be posting a page on bat gap about this interview here. Right now. I’m showing on the screen Stephens website, which is just Steven Myers calm is it? Well,
STEPHEN: it’s Steven C. Meyer is an easier one to remember it would be return of the God hypothesis.com Not the return just return of the God hypothesis.com Good.
RICK: And I’ll have links to all that stuff on Stephens Bandcamp page and links to his books and everything so you can follow up in 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 just so I can listen to him 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 sciency for people but I just love this stuff. And so, you know me Soozee Azzam kind of kept people on the edge of their seats
STEPHEN: carry the day.
RICK: Okay, thanks, Steven. Thank you. I really appreciate being Yeah, thanks to those who’ve been listening or watching see you next time. Bye