The Cultural Relevance of Intelligent Design

Intelligent Design proponents such as Stephen C. Meyer have been able to enter into a wider cultural conversation about our purpose and the meaning of life.

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On Saturday, May 4, 2024, devout Christian, noted philosopher of science, and prominent proponent of Intelligent Design (ID) Dr. Stephen C. Meyer appeared on Piers Morgan Uncensored, in an episode titled “Can This Man PROVE That God Exists? Piers Morgan vs Stephen Meyer” (more about this interview below). In July of 2023, Meyer also appeared on arguably the most popular podcast in the world, The Joe Rogan Experience. Before that, about five years ago, he appeared on The Ben Shapiro Show: Sunday Special. 

These rather recent inroads are significant because they bring the thought of intellectuals like Meyer to a younger and even more widespread audience. The lengthy podcasts allow for a long and robust discussion, helping minimize the potential for misrepresentations.

That being said, nonexperts like Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro, and Douglas Murray, or scientific materialists without philosophical training like Bill Nye, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Richard Dawkins tend to dominate popular discussions about God. However, the appearance of Dr. Meyer on these popular platforms and his interviews with well-known figures like Piers Morgan are encouraging. In our times of uncertainty and ever more apparent malevolence and tendencies toward nihilism—such as gender ideology, anti-natalism, radical feminism, and the “Men Going Their Own Way” movement—spreading throughout the world, Meyer’s work is highly relevant and can act as a first-step antidote.

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Dr. Meyer is one of the four “horsemen” of ID; the others include biochemist Michael J. Behe, mathematician and philosopher William A. Dembski, and molecular biologist Johnathan Wells. The ID research program was originally spearheaded by the late UC Berkeley Law Professor Phillip E. Johnson. To be sure, there are many other significant thinkers in the ID camp, as well as others who support the relationship between faith and reason. In recent years, however, Meyer has been the most prominent figure in the ID movement. 

Meyer is the director of the Center for Science and Culture at the “Intelligent Design” think tank The Discovery Institute. He holds an MPhil and Ph.D. in philosophy of science from the University of Cambridge. He worked as a geophysicist for several years, and he was also a tenured professor at Whitworth College. He has authored several New York Times best sellers, such as Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence from Intelligent Design, Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design, and, most recently, Return of the God Hypothesis

Over the years, he has debated prominent atheists like physicist Lawrence Krauss, chemist Peter Atkins, Skeptic magazine founder Michael Shermer, and paleontologist Peter Ward. He has been featured in some important documentaries, including Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (2008), which was narrated by Ben Stein. In this documentary, the controversy over the publication of Meyer’s 2004 article “The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories,” published in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, is discussed, as is how the editor, Richard Sternberg, was targeted by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., for daring to publish an article about ID that passed the peer-reviewed process.

Meyer has appeared in other important science-based documentaries, including Icons of EvolutionThe Case for a Creator, Darwin’s Dilemma, and Unlocking the Mystery of Life. These books and documentaries are beneficial to those interested in understanding Intelligent Design, the limitations of Neo-Darwinism, the philosophy of science, the philosophy of religion, and the relationship between science and theology. Given his background, I would argue that Meyer is one of the most articulate intellectuals on the subject of origins and how science strongly supports the existence of a mind behind the cosmos.

What is Intelligent Design? ID is a minimalist research program that argues that an intelligent cause best explains the universe itself, certain features of the universe such as the laws of physics and initial conditions, and biological organisms and their various structures, as opposed to purely undirected natural causes. Contrary to popular belief, ID does not rely on a god-of-the-gaps explanation but rather on our informed and repeated experience of intelligent causation.

For instance, Meyer, in his seminal book on the origin of life, Signature in the Cell (SITC), builds a case for agent causation using standard scientific modes of reasoning. He uses abductive reasoning, also known as inference to the best explanation (IBE), which is standard in the historical sciences. This is the same method Charles Darwin used in On the Origin of Species, as well as that of geologist-lawyer Charles Lyell, who expounded his doctrine of uniformitarianism in Principles of Geology, which deeply influenced Darwin in his formulation of his theory of evolution by natural selection. Meyer employs precisely this method to explain the origin of the first self-replicating system, as he states in SITC:

The inability of genetic algorithms, ribozyme engineering, and prebiotic simulations to generate information without intelligence reinforced what I had discovered in my study of other origin-of-life theories. Undirected materialistic causes have not demonstrated the capacity to generate significant amounts of specified information. At the same time, conscious intelligence has repeatedly shown itself capable of producing such information. It follows that the mind—conscious, rational intelligent agency—what philosophers call “agent causation” now stands as the only cause known to be capable of generating large amounts of specified information starting from a nonliving state… If there are no other known causes—if there is only one known cause—of a given effect, then the presence of the effect points unambiguously back to the (uniquely adequate) cause. 

We can summarize Meyer’s findings with the following argument:

The origin of the information needed to build the first replicating system is due either to natural law, chance, a combination of chance and natural law, or design.

It is neither natural law, nor chance, nor a combination of the two.

Therefore, it is due to design.

Despite this, critics of ID raise the demarcation problem, which refers to how science is defined and what makes a claim scientific or not. This leads to the frequent branding of ID as unscientific or even pseudoscientific. If we artificially exclude intelligent causation from the tool kit of science, then by definition ID is not scientific; but if we allow intelligent causation within the realm of science, as we do in forensics and the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI), then ID is a proper scientific explanation. In any case, what matters is not whether ID can come under a strict definition of science or whether it intertwines philosophy, but whether it is true or not. 

Furthermore, ID should be distinguished from Creationism, which starts with a scriptural understanding of creation and then seeks to find how it corresponds with the natural world. ID does not require a reference to Scripture, although it is supportive of the Holy Scriptures and theism in general. Furthermore, the program does not determine the designer’s identity; this necessitates additional philosophical and theological reasoning. Unfortunately, ID and its theorists are typically treated unfairly, misunderstood, and misrepresented, so much so that well-known atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel, in his book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False, goes on to state the following: 

Even if one is not drawn to the alternative of an explanation by the actions of a designer, the problems that these iconoclasts pose for the orthodox scientific consensus should be taken seriously. They do not deserve the scorn with which they are commonly met. It is manifestly unfair.

Without a doubt, there has been a resurgent interest in questions pertaining to God’s existence and nature, as well as the relationship between science and faith. These questions are closely related to questions about the meaning and value of life, the problem of evil and suffering, and the reality of the afterlife. Once we remove the intellectual stumbling blocks of the former, we can often form a coherent picture of the world for the latter through the lens of the Christian faith. After all, without the existence of good, there cannot be evil, as Dawkins recognizes that in the absence of a benevolent God, there is “nothing but pitiless indifference.” 

However, some come to believe in Christianity after experiencing and witnessing the rampant malevolence permeating the world. Recently, public figures like the former neo-atheist Ayaan Hirsi Ali and neo-pagan Russell Brand have made it known that their conversion to Christianity was attributable to this awareness, which has been evident due to our troubled times. This past Easter Vigil witnessed the baptism and confirmation of Jordan Peterson’s wife, Tammy Peterson, into the Catholic Church, largely due to the transformative power of prayer, which lifted her from a challenging period marked by life-threatening illness and hardship. (Ironically, or perhaps tragically, although many have attributed Peterson’s influence to their conversion or return to Christianity, he himself is still resistant, despite provoking others to rethink their thoughts about God.) 

Even the atheist James Lindsay, although not a convert, recognizes that traditional Christianity is the most efficacious way to combat the evils of woke ideology and communism. Richard Dawkins, despite being a vocal critic of belief in God, has admitted to being a cultural Christian and recognizes the West’s indebtedness to Christianity, seeing it as a necessary line of cultural defense against Islamism, postmodernism, woke ideology, and the general malevolence permeating the world. 

Alongside Dawkins, other nonbelievers like Jordan Peterson, Skeptic magazine founder Michael Shermer, psychologist Steven Pinker, marketing professor Gad Saad, physicist Lawrence Krauss, journalist Douglas Murray, and many others recognize the perils of wokeism and rightfully reject it, albeit inconsistently by resisting the antidote, i.e., the existence of a benevolent God. It is as if they do not realize that wokeism is a logical consequence of their scientific materialism and naturalistic evolutionary worldview. As philosopher William Dembski explained in a recent piece:

The woke ideology that Dawkins [and others detest] did not arise in a vacuum but is the logical outworking of the scientific materialism that he has championed. Woke ideology embraces two plus two equaling five, freedom of speech being an outdated relic, reason being a tool of oppression, and merit being a conceit of the privileged. Dawkins opposes this nonsense. But it is nonsense that his scientific materialism has invited.

Thus, the atheist has no way of consistently combating these nonsensical ideologies that are an affront to reason. Essentially, if there is no ultimate meaning, as is the case under metaphysical materialism and metaphysical naturalism, then we are all free to create our own meaning as we see fit, regardless of how such views contradict one another and reason itself. Given their worldview, any complaint from the aforementioned atheists is not only inconsistent but also unwarranted. 

Even worse, they lack the foundation to question these sinister developments in our culture, let alone the ability to recognize this evil in the absence of a grounding for objective morality—as the very intelligibility of the world hinges on the existence of God. God is the grounding for existence, truth, coherence, and intelligibility, all of which are foundational to reason and science. Under their current worldview, there is no possible solution to this predicament.

Meyer, having been highly attuned since his teenage years to the absurdity of life in the absence of a benevolent God while struggling to find meaning in the seemingly meaninglessness of life (something which he recounts in The Return of the God Hypothesis), has provided us with a first-step antidote to the crisis of existence, one that aided him in his own quest for meaning. In this book, Meyer presents ample scientific evidence to back his philosophical claims about the existence of God. He provides a robust case that will undoubtedly challenge intellectually honest atheists. 

Meyer now takes his ID arguments a step further by naming the designer, the God of traditional theism (leaving aside arguments for Christian theism in particular). Carrying forward with his defense of a standard line of scientific reasoning, such as inference to the best explanation, he now directly applies this to the metaphysical question of God’s existence—something that he argues best explains the findings of modern scientific discoveries such as the finitude of the past (the creation of the universe at t = 0), the fine-tuned universe, the origin of life, and sudden explosions of information found in the history of life, such as the Cambrian explosion. 

The only criticism I would have of Meyer’s book is that although he addresses the issue of the reliability of knowledge of the world and of the correspondence of human minds to reality, which gives us the capacity to reason and do science, he could have devoted an entire section to the origin of human consciousness, which provides a fourth prong that only strengthens the God hypothesis, something for which I have argued. Nevertheless, I am grateful for his endorsement of my 2018 book, On the Origin of Consciousness, which argues for this.

In his interview with Piers Morgan, he discusses all these issues in a clear, concise, forceful, and insightful manner. At one point in the interview, Piers Morgan asks Meyer, 

If you could get the answer to any of life’s great mysteries, if I said to you, come on, the two or three things you’d most like to know the answer to that no one’s ever worked out, what would they be? 

Meyer responds by discussing the grief he felt upon the recent passing of his mother (around the 19-minute mark). Meyer’s response brings to light why these metaphysical questions matter when considering poignant experiences, suffering, and the ultimate meaning and purpose of life:

Well, I just lost my mother, and I think the deepest and hardest questions in life are not actually these big metaphysical questions. I think if you think carefully about them, there’s a pretty clear answer; but I think it’s the questions that come up because of the events in your own life and sometimes suffering sometimes joys… Sometimes those are the questions I think are the hardest ones, the existential questions of one’s own personal experience…I think the experience of grief was something that was unexpected and how intense it was. She had dementia and had been in decline for several years. You think you’re prepared when you’re losing someone by degrees, but there’s a finality of death that I think overtakes all of us in that moment of grief, and there’s something about the grief experience that it seems to make everything else pale to insignificance in that moment, and I think it’s kind of my own view of it is just kind of a signal. Like your conscience tells you what’s right and wrong, I think grief is telling you about what’s really important and that in that instance what was important is that we had lost a person of eternal value…you’re never really prepared for the loss of a parent, and I thought I was, but I wasn’t.

This is why Meyer’s work on ID and the question of God remains so relevant. He invites everyone, especially the skeptics, to think deeply about the nature of reality. His work provides a framework that can help people discover that life indeed has meaning, hope, and purpose. God’s existence provides the best explanation for understanding the world within (mental and spiritual realities) and the world without (physical-material reality). Meyer, through finding objective meaning in his life through his subjective experience, has been able to assist and provoke others to struggle, think more deeply, and potentially come to a similar conclusion by providing objective philosophical and scientific arguments.

[Photo Credit: Stephen C. Meyer website]

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