The Return of the God Hypothesis

Claremont Review of Books

Friedrich Nietzsche was among the first philosophers to wrestle seriously with the implications of Charles Darwin’s theories. In Daybreak (1881), Nietzsche considered the metaphysical consequences of Darwinian evolution:

Formerly one sought the feeling of the grandeur of man by pointing to his divine origin: this has now become a forbidden way, for at its portal stands the ape, together with other dreadful beasts, grinning knowingly as if to say: no further in this direction! One therefore now tries the opposite direction: the way mankind is going shall serve as proof of his grandeur and kinship with God. But this too is in vain!

Unlike modern atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, Nietzsche did not believe science could ever provide salvation or meaning. On the contrary, he prophesied in The Birth of Tragedy (1872) that scientists would eventually collide with undecidable questions, raising perplexities that the scientific method itself was unequipped to address.

Nietzsche’s prophesy is now coming true. The Atlantic published an article last year titled “Life as We Know It Hinges on One Very Small Decimal.” The article concerned a number called the fine-structure constant, which quantifies the strength of electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles. The constant’s value is close to 1/137. If it were slightly different—closer to, say, 1/138—elemental carbon could not form in our universe. Life as we know it could not exist. But no theory predicts the value of the fine-structure constant. It doesn’t have to be what it is: it just happens to be precisely situated in the narrow sliver of values amenable to life. And the fine-structure constant is only one of many constants which appear minutely tuned to support life. A more accurate title for the article in the Atlantic might have been, “Life Hinges on Twelve Different Constants, All of Which Appear Precisely Calibrated to Allow Life as We Know It.” But such a title would have invited the question: why? The likelihood of so many different constants being delicately balanced to allow our form of life—by random chance alone—is infinitesimal. How can we explain the fine tuning?

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These questions are raised by philosopher of science Stephen Meyer in Return of the God Hypothesis: Three Scientific Discoveries That Reveal the Mind Behind the Universe. The director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, Meyer argues that the science itself now compels us to consider the God hypothesis, which, as its name suggests, is the hypothesis that an agent characterized by “transcendence, omnipotence, creative power, free will, and intelligence” established the laws of physics, created the universe, and assembled the elements of life. The materialist’s usual explanation for our universe’s 12 perfectly tuned constants is that there exists an infinite or nearly-infinite number of universes, each one exhibiting a different combination of values for these constants. We happen to find ourselves in a universe where the constants just happen to allow the existence of our sort of life—not because of any Grand Designer, but merely because life as we know it could evolve only in a universe where the values of the constants just happen to be so aligned. We cannot observe other universes. So no experiment—even in principle—can provide evidence to refute or confirm the multiple-universe hypothesis.

Click here to read the rest of Dr. Sax’s review of Return of the God Hypothesis, in The Claremont Review of Books.