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Briefly Reviewed: October 2021

Return of the God Hypothesis: Three Scientific Discoveries That Reveal the Mind Behind the Universe

By Stephen C. Meyer

Publisher: HarperOne

Pages: 576

Price: $29.99

Review Author: Terry Scambray

Fred Hoyle, an astrophysicist and atheist-materialist, coined the phrase Big Bang to ridicule the idea that the universe had a beginning. But he changed his mind when evidence indicated that the universe had a beginning and was as finely tuned as a concert-ready grand piano, though with millions more inextricably interwoven variables. He described the properties of the universe as falling “within narrow and improbable ranges that are absolutely necessary for any complex life forms to exist.”

In Return of the God Hypothesis, Stephen C. Meyer presents a variety of scientists who might not have agreed with Hoyle but in one way or another contribute to Meyer’s thesis that science points to the existence of a personal God. He highlights three mutually supporting 20th-century scientific discoveries that provide strong evidence for belief in the God of Judaism and Christianity. The first is evidence that the material world had an opening day of stupendous fecundity, now routinely called the Big Bang. The second is our “just right” Goldilocks universe, the features of which have been dished out in astonishingly providential proportions. Meyer’s final evidence for his thesis is the fact that “since the beginning large amounts of new functional genetic information have arisen to make new forms of life possible.” An example of this is the Cambrian explosion, sometimes called “biology’s Big Bang,” wherein new body plans appear in a relatively short geological time period.

Meyer operates in the long tradition of bringing scientific findings to bear on theology and vice versa. Science developed uniquely from the Judeo-Christian worldview; it developed as both logical and contingent, which is to say that it strives for internal consistency and empirical validation. Meyer fills all this in with an explanation of the Hebrew contribution to the development of science. He cites Edgar Zilsel, a lesser-known Jewish historian whose noted thesis claims that the rise of capitalism led to the interaction of craftsmen with scholars, which led to the birth of experimental science.

Meyer continues with an enlightening section on the deep Christian belief of many early scientists, especially Isaac Newton, whose theological writings are invariably presented as an eccentric avocation distinct from his rigorous science. Not so, says Meyer, for Newton’s theology and science are merely another reflection of the indispensable unity of Judeo-Christianity and science. Of course, this unity is largely unknown and openly resisted in our educational citadels and in the editorial offices of influential journals, the bastions of which defend a materialist cult they call “science.” The story of this stance and Meyer’s response to it occupies hundreds of pages.

Many know that Albert Einstein found repugnant the proposition that the universe had a beginning. He, like others, including Aristotle, thought the universe had always existed in “a steady state.” As Carl Sagan said, “The cosmos was all there ever was and ever will be.” But observations and evidence contradicted the equations and mathematical formulae Einstein had relied on for his certitude.

Alexander Friedmann, a Russian physicist, solved Einstein’s gravitational equations by allowing for the possibility of a dynamic universe while simultaneously relying on Einstein’s theory of gravitation that massive bodies cause space to curve or contract. Though Friedmann did not refute Einstein, he did show the need for an “implausible degree of fine tuning” to maintain the tension between the drag of gravity and the pull of expansion, akin to the centripetal force that pulls us in as we round a curve and the opposing centrifugal force that pushes us out.

This tension was resolved by Georges Lemaître, a Belgian priest and physicist who agreed with Friedmann. Lemaître ventured further into metaphoric space by relying on observations of light from distant galaxies, as well as data from Edwin Hubble’s telescope, both of which showed the distances to other galaxies. Taken together, these findings demonstrated that galaxies are speeding away from one another. Though Friedmann had shown that the universe could change, Lemaître showed that it had changed by arguing that galaxies were not merely speeding away into pre-existing space but that space itself was expanding. Einstein contemptuously dismissed Lemaître’s idea as “inspired by the Christian dogma of creation, and totally unjustified from the physical point of view.”

Meyer explains “abduction” as his method of drawing inferences from these scientific findings. Charles Lyell, “the father of modern geology,” used abduction when he observed the present and then extrapolated backwards in time to discover what happened in the distant past. “The present is the key to the past,” Lyell posited, meaning geological forces working relentlessly across time carved up the earth’s surface to its present state. Meyer recognizes multiple causes in the past, including evidence for the trinity of “singularities” upon which he bases his argument. Though abduction fails to offer the air-tight assurance of a logically deductive argument, Meyer, with the humility of a seeker of truth, writes, “abductive reasoning represents an inference to the best explanation.”

Meyer confronts formidable materialist opponents like Stephen Hawking, who argued that since gravity at the subatomic level might have worked differently during the earliest stages of the universe, it could be the source of the origin of the universe. However, in making his mathematical calculations about the early universe, Hawking needed to introduce the concept of “imaginary time.” But this way of eliminating the need for a temporal beginning of the universe “did not correspond to anything in the real physical universe,” Meyer emphatically writes, echoing the objection of other physicists and philosophers. Besides, as Hawking admitted, “imaginary time” was merely an expedient way to support his claim.

Meyer takes on ideas that seek to explain away the uniqueness of our universe, concluding with 19th-century physicist Ludwig Boltzmann’s many-worlds cosmology, in which so-called Boltzmann brains could self-assemble as the result of chance arrangements of atoms due to random quantum fluctuations. Accordingly, such fluctuations at the subatomic level may cause bizarre outcomes, like the Statue of Liberty waving at passersby. Though such events may not happen in our universe, given enough universes and time, such things will happen and happen endlessly! But, as Meyer points out, each of these rationales involves monumental question begging, that is, each assumes the prior existence of features of our universe, such as gravity, matter, time, reliable mathematics, and so on, which themselves demand explanations.

In his first book, Signature in the Cell (2009), Meyer showed that the instructions in each DNA molecule resemble the language of computer code, the only known source of such specified information being a mind. His second book, Darwin’s Doubt (2013), revealed that the fossil record relentlessly demonstrates that the bodily architecture of all major animals arose relatively dramatically, in direct contradiction to Darwin’s theory that such body plans developed in tiny, incremental steps.

With Return of the God Hypothesis, Meyer has once again written a book hefty in size and subject. Nonetheless, it is a joy to read because his inviting voice brings light to complicated and profoundly influential topics. Though a brief review cannot do justice to most books, this limitation applies five-fold to this rich book. Meyer refutes the prevailing materialism of the Western intelligentsia while completing his one long argument that, in the words of Solomon, “From the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator” (Wisd. 13:5).

Pope Peter: Defending the Church’s Most Distinctive Doctrine in a Time of Crisis

By Joe Heschmeyer

Publisher: Catholic Answers Press

Pages: 280

Price: $16.95

Review Author: W. Patrick Cunningham

Joe Heschmeyer has been taken aback on more than one occasion by Pope Francis’s impromptu comments to the media. Theological clarity seems to submerge beneath the Pope’s pastoral concern, and his comments in 2016 on the Zika virus and the natural-law prohibition on contraception triggered Heschmeyer’s Pope Peter. Catholic Answers is one of the oldest and most successful modern Catholic apologetics organizations, and most of its publications are designed to defend the Catholic faith. In this case, Heschmeyer voices the sentiment of many Catholics who find the Pope’s words counterproductive to evangelization, and he helps us answer the question “Why are you still Catholic?” in the wake of the sometimes turbid papal leadership and ongoing clerical-abuse headlines.

I grew up in a parish called St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles, and an ultramontanist attitude toward the ministry and writings of the bishop of Rome was part of my upbringing. But Pope Peter challenged my lazy use of “proof texts” from Scripture to justify distinctive Catholic doctrines. Heschmeyer demonstrates that many of us Catholics are closet sola scripturists. We believe it is “the duty of every Christian to solve every theological issue to his own satisfaction.” That, of course, is the Protestant’s conundrum, which leads to answers that bounce the seeker from denomination to denomination. This habit prompts Heschmeyer to note “how unbiblical this all is.” The author of the Letter to the Hebrews counsels the reader to “obey your leaders and submit to them” (13:17). That is, we follow our God-ordained shepherds and expect that they will show us the right way. The author seems to say this is the only valid way concerning doctrines authoritatively taught by Church leaders.

Among the most striking points Heschmeyer makes in Pope Peter is that the founding of the Church by Christ as a visible earthly entity was held by all Christians until Martin Luther’s imagining of an “invisible Church” made up of only the faithful. Heschmeyer shows the illogic of the Reformed position and the clear scriptural evidence for the opposite. He defends the unique scriptural position of Peter as the ultimate Church authority and apostolic leader, using the two appearances of the “charcoal fire” and the three incidents of Peter’s acting as fisherman. Heschmeyer’s examination of the well-known passage in John 21:6-11 is particularly effective.

Luke 5:1-11, the first of Peter’s three “fishing episodes,” is ordinarily considered a call to all fisherman-disciples. “But Jesus speaks directly to Simon Peter,” writes Heschmeyer, and He tells him to put out to sea and let down the nets for a catch. The school of fish is so large that the nets begin to break, and the miracle causes Peter alone to fall down and cry out, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Peter is singularly summoned, then, to fish men.

Matthew 17:24-27 describes how tax collectors approached Peter, demanding the half-drachma Temple tax. Peter and Jesus alone are involved. Jesus tells Peter to go fishing and there will be a full drachma in the fish’s mouth, just enough to pay the tax for Peter and Jesus. But Jesus tells him to pay the tax even though the two of them — and only these two — are exempt from the taxation as “sons” of the Temple. That means they are priests of the New Covenant. We easily affirm this of Jesus, the “great high priest,” but we are forced to see that Peter is in the same class. Thus, Peter shares in the priesthood of Jesus, as His vicar on earth after the Ascension.

Heschmeyer carefully treats all the standard objections to the primacy and infallibility of the pope, using the very words of Protestant scholars, pastors, and exegetes. He is also wise not to set them up as “straw men” to be easily knocked down. His exposition of both sides inspires thought and meditation. There is no more distinctive Roman Catholic doctrine than the respect and disciplined attention we owe to the Holy Father. Heschmeyer provides a valuable tool to help us understand them.

 

©2021 New Oxford Review. All Rights Reserved.

 

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