Friday, April 18, 2014

The Cosmological Argument for a Transcendent Designer of the Universe.

Stephen Meyer is a philosopher of science who earned a Ph.D. from Cambridge University. He is one of the founders of the intelligent design movement which takes a scientific approach to looking for artifacts of intelligent design in nature.

Stephen Meyer appeared in a series of four interviews on the John Ankerberg Show discussing the cosmological argument for the existence of God. In the interviews, Meyer starts with an historical background of the origin of materialism. He goes on to explain how the discovery that the universe is expanding, and the discovery that the universe came from nothing, and the discovery that natural laws are finely tuned to make life possible, all demonstrate that the universe was created and designed by a transcendent intelligence (an intelligence outside the universe). In addition, Meyer explains that the evidence for intelligent design in the origin and evolution of life shows that the designer continued to play a role in the universe long after its creation. Meyer considers four philosophical traditions, Materialism, Pantheism, Deism, and Theism, and he concludes that Theism is the best explanation for the scientific evidence. Meyer also discusses some of the intellectuals who came to believe the universe was designed because of this evidence. These individuals included Allan Sandage, John Polkinghorne, Fred Hoyle, Antony Flew and Fred Burnham.

There are several Nobel Prize winning and other great scientists who were not mentioned in the programs who either believed in the cosmological argument or had similar beliefs. These scientists include Nobel Prize winning physicists Max Planck, Albert Einstein, Eugene Wigner, Arno Penzias, Charles Townes, and non-Nobelists Charles Darwin, and Wernher von Braun. I have explained their beliefs on my web page on Eminent Researchers.

In this post, I have tried to explain the content of the programs as I understand it. However, my own perspective and vocabulary may be different from Stephen Meyer's so do not assume that Meyer has said exactly what I am writing. Additionally, these programs were intended for a general television audience so I think it is safe to assume there is more to be said on both sides of the issue. I am not an expert on philosophy or cosmology but I would suggest these programs be considered a starting point in understanding the cosmological argument. If you find the subject interesting, you may want to look for other, more detailed, sources of information on the subject.

Below, I've also provided links to transcripts of the programs, and embedded the videos if you would prefer to get the information straight from Dr. Meyer.


Program 1

The Rise and Fall of Materialism

The scientists who founded the scientific revolution, such as Newton, Kepler, Boyle, Galileo and Copernicus, thought that the discovery that nature operated according to natural laws was evidence of a designer. They thought that scientists could come to understand nature because nature was designed by a rational intelligence: God.

Kepler said "We, as scientists, have the high calling of thinking God's thoughts after him."

Newton believed that the arrangement of planets in the solar system could not have arisen through natural causes and the best explanation for the arrangement of the planets was the workings of an intelligent being. He wrote:

Though these bodies may indeed continue in their orbits by the mere laws of gravity, yet they could by no means have first derived the regular position of the orbits themselves from those laws. Thus this most beautiful system of the sun, comets, and planets could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.

However, in the 19th century, scientists began to try to explain natural phenomena without God. Laplace wrote a book attempting to explain the arrangement of planets by natural means. Lyell tried to explain geological features as a result of gradual natural processes. Darwin tried to explain how new species arise from preexisting species. Other scientists tried to explain the origin of life. By the end of the 19th century there existed a materialist world view that could explain everything from the origin of the solar system to the evolution of humankind as a result of natural processes. Materialists had no need to explain the origin of the universe because they believed it was infinite in size and infinite in age. But this belief was not based on any scientific evidence, it was a metaphysical belief.

The Discovery that the Universe is Expanding shows the Universe had a Beginning. This Shakes the Foundations of Materialism

The foundations of materialism began to crumble when astronomers determined that the universe had a beginning. Edwin Hubble observed that all the galaxies in the universe were traveling away from each other. This means that they were closer together in the past than they are today. The farther back time, the closer together they were, and if you go back far enough you can find where the expansion began. This implies that the universe had a beginning.

Einstein's theory of general relativity gave theoretical corroboration to Hubble's empirical observations. General relativity explained gravity by theorizing that objects with mass could bend space. One consequence of this theory was that the size of the universe changed over time. However, Einstein was so convinced of the materialist world view that he added a constant to his equation so it would describe a static universe. When he learned of Hubble's observations he revised his theory.

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Program 2

Something from Nothing Requires a Transcendent Creator

The two lines of evidence, Hubble's empirical evidence, and Einstein's theoretical evidence, that the universe had a beginning, upset many scientists who held to the materialist world view. If the universe had a beginning, then the origin of the universe must be explained and materialism could not provide that explanation. A beginning to the universe eliminated the grounds by which God had been excluded from the materialist world view. It required a transcendent cause, something outside the universe, something beyond space and time and matter and energy, to explain the origin of the universe. Allen Sandage who had been a student of Hubble and continued to study the expansion of the universe, described the origin of the universe as supernatural because it could not be explained by any known natural phenomenon. The scientific evidence led Sandage to convert from agnosticism to belief in God. Astronomer Robert Jastrow thought it ironic that this evidence proved theologians were right and the materialists were wrong, the universe did have a beginning, it was not infinitely old.

In the Beginning, the Universe Arose from Nothing. Materialism Cannot Explain This.

Another scientific break through that shook the foundations of materialism came when Stephen Hawking solved Einstein's field equations for general relativity. When Hawking calculated the curvature of space-time at the beginning of the universe, he found that space-time had zero volume and so it could not contain any matter. The problem this created for materialists was that it required that all the matter in the universe arise from nothing. Nineteenth century materialism answered the question of origins by asserting that everything comes from matter which had always existed into the infinite past, but that explanation became unsatisfactory when Hawking showed the need for an explanation of where matter came from.

Some materialists tried to find a natural explanation for the beginning of the universe in quantum mechanics. However, they were unable to do this. According to the standard Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, you need a conscious observer to go from a probability wave to an actual universe. You would need a mind that is separate from the universe to create it. Other interpretations of quantum mechanics lack an explanation of how an actual universe would arise from an atemporal, immaterial state.

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Program 3

The Fine Tuning of the Designed Universe

The physical laws of the universe are finely tuned in ways that make life possible. One example of this is the rate of expansion of the universe. The expansion of the universe is fine tuned to one part in 1060. If the expansion of the universe did not meet this fine tolerance, life could not exist. If the rate of expansion was slightly faster than it is, galaxies would not form and heavy elements generated by stars would not accumulate in sufficient density to form planets that could support life. If the rate of expansion of the universe was slightly slower, the universe would have collapsed too quickly for planets that could support life to form.

The force of gravity is fine tuned to one part in 1040. If the force of gravity was slightly weaker, stars would be too cool to ignite and would not produce the heavy elements needed to support life. If gravity was slightly stronger, the stars would be too hot and burn too quickly to support life on planets.

In the interview Meyer says, "...there are about 25 to 30 of these separate parameters that are each exquisitely finely tuned to allow for the possibility of life in the universe"

This fine tuning is too improbable to have occurred by chance so it is evidence that a transcendent intelligence is responsible for creating the natural laws of the universe. The universe was not just created, it was designed.

John Polkinghorne a physicist at Cambridge University thought the design hypothesis was a better explanation of the fine tuning than materialism. The astronomer Fred Hoyle tried to find alternatives to the Big Bang theory but eventually he came to the conclusion that fine tuning of the universe is compelling evidence that the universe was designed. He said, “A common-sense interpretation of the data suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with Physics and Chemistry, as well as Biology, to make life possible.”

One way materialists try to avoid the implications of the fine tuning of the universe is to suppose that there are a huge number of universes all with different tuning so that there can be some that will be able to support life. However, the theories of how multiple universes might be created do not fully explain the fine tuning of our universe. Such theories result in a highly improbable system which is itself finely tuned so you haven't really explained how the fine tuning arose, you have only pushed it back to a previous step and the need for a designer remains.

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Program 4

The Designer's Continued Involvement: Life and Evolution.

At the beginning of the fourth program, Meyer reviews the previous shows. He reminds the viewer that the universe had a beginning and it was designed. The expanding universe shows that the universe had a starting point in time. The universe is not infinitely old. The solution to the field equations of general relativity show that the universe also started from zero volume so we know space and all matter was created at the instant of the big Bang. The fine tuning of the physical laws of the universe show that the universe was designed by a transcendent intelligence.

The remainder of the program addresses the question of whether this intelligence continued to be involved with the universe after it was created. The evidence that life arose through design and species arose through design suggests that the intelligence does influence events within the universe. This evidence was discussed by Meyer in a previous series of programs on the same television show, so it was only covered superficially in this program. The evidence that life was designed is based on the conclusion that the genetic code could not have arisen naturally. Transcripts of those shows are available. I have explained elsewhere in this blog that materialism cannot explain the origin of the genetic code. There are also various articles on evolution elsewhere in this blog.

Meyer explained that Darwin believed that to understand an event that happened in the remote past you should identify a cause that is known in the present time to be capable of causing the same type of event. By this reasoning, one arrives at the conclusion that the genetic code, genetic information, the control systems that regulate processes in the cell, and cellular machinery are best explained by intelligent design. This is because the only known process by which codes, information, control systems, and machines arise in the present time are through the action of intelligent human beings. Genetic information, in particular, arose when life on earth began about 3.85 billion years ago (long after the big bang which occurred about 14 billion years ago), and during the Cambrian explosion 530 million years ago when many new forms of animal life arose in a brief time and without precursors. This is at variance with Darwinian evolution which predicts slow gradual changes from one species to another. Similarly there were rapid increases in genetic information during the mammalian radiation 50-55 million years ago, the origin of flowering plants in the Cretaceous era, and the origin of marine reptiles. All these increases in genetic information show that the designer is still involved in the universe.

Meyer concludes the program and the series with a discussion of some of the scientists who were convinced by the cosmological argument:

For example, Antony Flew, who was a long-time atheist who came to realize that there was compelling evidence of a creator in the physical world, both in cosmology and biology. The historian Fred Burnham has said that the God hypothesis is now a more persuasive and respectable hypothesis than at any time in the last hundred years. I agree. I think it's not only more respectable, I think it's the best explanation of this ensemble of critical evidence from cosmology, physics, and biology that we've been able to discuss on your program.

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Transcripts are available from

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