Throughout history, many prominent scientists have believed in God. Far from seeing their faith in God as incompatible with scientific investigation, most have found the two things complementary.
Seventeenth-century German astronomer Johannes Kepler, for example, believed that science was only possible because God made the world to be “intelligible” to the human mind. In his view, the same God who designed the world in a rational and orderly way also gave human beings rationality so they could understand the world He made. Thus, Kepler described scientists as having the high calling of “thinking God’s thoughts after Him.”
Many early scientists were not only inspired to do science because they believed in God; they also thought that the natural world revealed the attributes and reality of God. The English naturalist John Ray, a founder of modern biology, wrote a book called “The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of the Creation,” in which he affirmed that the power and wisdom of God could be understood “from the things that are made,” as the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 1:20. Sir Isaac Newton argued that the delicate balance of forces at work in our solar system revealed “an intelligent and powerful Being.”
So how did we get from these great founders of modern science—with their conviction that science reveals the handiwork of God—to the modern New Atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Victor Stenger who think that science properly understood renders belief in God untenable?
Answering this question requires understanding the critical issue of design. According to Dawkins and others, the argument for design in the universe long provided the strongest argument for the existence of God because it was based upon publicly accessible evidence. Yet, Dawkins insists that since Darwin, scientists have known that there is no evidence of actual design, only the illusion or “appearance of design” in nature.
But is there really no evidence of actual, intelligent design in the universe?
Hardly. When James Watson and Francis Crick elucidated the structure of the DNA molecule in 1953, they made a startling discovery. The structure of DNA allows it to store information in the form of a four-character digital code. Strings of precisely sequenced chemicals called nucleotide bases store and transmit the assembly instructions—the information—for building the crucial protein molecules and “machines” that cells need to survive.
Crick later developed this idea with his famous “sequence hypothesis” according to which the chemical constituents in DNA function like letters in a written language or digital symbols in a section of computer code. Just as English letters may convey a particular message depending on their arrangement, certain sequences of chemical bases along the spine of a DNA molecule convey precise instructions for building proteins. Thus, the DNA molecule has the same property of “sequence specificity” that characterizes written text and computer code. Dawkins himself has acknowledged, “The machine code of the genes is uncannily computer-like.” And Bill Gates has noted, “DNA is like a computer program, but far, far more advanced than any software we’ve ever created.”
Since the 1960s, further discoveries made clear that the digital information in DNA and its cellular neighbor RNA is only part of a complex information processing system—an advanced form of nanotechnology that both mirrors and exceeds our own in its complexity, design logic and information storage density.
Yet scientists arguing for intelligent design do not do so merely because materialistic evolutionary theories have failed to explain the origin of the information necessary to build new forms of life. Instead, we argue for design because living systems possess features that we know from our experience invariably arise only from intelligent causes.
DNA contains information in a digital form and functions much like a software program. We know from experience that software comes from programmers. We know generally that information—whether stored in a computer program, inscribed in hieroglyphics or written in a book—always arises from an intelligent source. So the discovery of information in the DNA molecule provides strong grounds for inferring that a designing intelligence played a role in the origin and history of life.
But if life in the universe displays evidence of intelligent design, can science tell us anything about the identity of the designing intelligence responsible for life? In my book “Return of the God Hypothesis,” I address this question by showing that there are two basic options. The intelligence responsible for life is an intelligent being either (1) within the cosmos or (2) beyond it. In other words, the designer is either an immanent intelligence or a transcendent one—basically, either an alien or God.
There are good reasons for thinking that the latter option provides a better explanation. First, an intelligence operating merely within the universe does not actually solve the problem of how biological information came to be. Purely undirected chemical processes have not been able to account for the origin of life because they have not been able to explain the functionally specified information in DNA—the key signature of intelligence.
Second, physics has now revealed evidence of design in the very fabric of the universe. Since the 1960s, physicists have recognized that many physical parameters are finely tuned, against all odds, to make life possible. Even very slight alterations in the values of many independent factors such as the expansion rate of the universe, the speed of light, the strength of gravitational or electromagnetic attraction, as well as the masses of elementary particles, would render life impossible.
This fine-tuning, moreover, has been present from the very beginning of the universe itself and, thus, cannot be explained by any agent arising from within the cosmos. Instead, the fine-tuning of the universe is better explained by an intelligent agent that transcends the universe, one that has the attributes that we associate with God.
Of course, many still dismiss evidence of design in life and the universe because it seems to support a belief in God. They attempt to stigmatize the design hypothesis as “religion masquerading as science.”
Yet the distasteful implications of the evidence for intelligent design (from an atheistic point of view) are not grounds for dismissing it.
Many scientists initially rejected the Big Bang theory because it challenged the idea of an eternally self-existent universe and pointed to a beginning. But scientists eventually accepted the theory despite these implications because the evidence strongly supported it. As Antony Flew—the atheistic philosopher who later came to accept the scientific evidence for both intelligent design and God—insisted, we must “follow the evidence wherever it leads.”
That’s good advice for all of us, and perhaps especially good advice for the New Atheists who have prematurely concluded that science has “buried God.” Just the opposite now seems to be the case, just as the founders of modern science believed and the Apostle Paul long ago revealed. ©2021 Stephen C. Meyer
Stephen C. Meyer received his Ph.D. in the philosophy of science from the University of Cambridge. A former geophysicist and college professor, he directs Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. He has authored the New York Times bestseller “Darwin’s Doubt,” as well as “Signature in the Cell.” His new book, “Return of the God Hypothesis: Three Scientific Discoveries that Reveal the Mind behind the Universe,” was published by HarperOne in March.