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#10 of Our Top Stories of 2018: How Meyer Turned Prager Around on Evolution

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The following article was originally published here on October 19, 2018.

This is pretty remarkable. Our colleague Stephen Meyer was on Dennis Prager’s radio show earlier this week to talk about the recent volume Steve co-edited, Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique. Dennis described how, on the theory of evolution — “the creative power of mutation and natural selection,” as Dr. Meyer summarizes the issue — Steve turned him around.

To hear the whole show you’ll need to join Pragertopia, the program’s subscription service. I recommend that you do that. But I can tell you a bit of what they talked about. 

Prager’s Journey

On his own intellectual journey, here’s what Prager told Meyer:

Until I met you, to be honest, my view was, I didn’t really care about evolution. It didn’t bother me if it was true, and it didn’t bother me if it wasn’t true. I believe in God as the creator of the heavens and the earth, the God of Genesis 1, and if God used evolution, what do I care? It’s all a miracle, anyway. Then I read you and talked to you, and my wife, frankly, who as you know, knows a fair amount about evolution, and it has become less and less tenable, not for religious reasons, but for scientific reasons, to endorse evolution as it is generally taught.

They discuss the 2016 Royal Society meeting, and Prager reiterates:

I was agnostic on evolution much of my life. I didn’t really care. I believe in God as the creator, and the methodology did not interest me. But I don’t want to believe, or even be agnostic about something that just isn’t upheld by scientists.

That’s a key point. It was the science not the religion that moved him. What impressed Dennis was not theological objections. It was the fact that the field of evolution is in turmoil, a reality that the media largely conceal from the public, as Meyer has made clear in his books. “This is what you opened my mind to,” Prager said. “Scientists are having trouble with evolution!”

Groupthink and Prior Commitment

For the thoughtful layman, this raises an obvious question. Prager asked, “When I hear you say this, I think of all the preeminent scientists of the last hundred years who have believed what you now say is not tenable. If you’re right, what does that say about scientists?”

Meyer explained that scientists are humans after all. It tells us, he says:

That science like every other form of human endeavor can be subject to groupthink, or it can be influenced by prior ideological commitments. In particular, in the debate about biological origins, there is a prior commitment to a materialistic approach to the question. It’s codified in a principle known as methodological naturalism, and it says that if you’re going to be a true scientist, you have to limit yourself to strictly materialistic explanations for everything, not just how nature ordinarily operates, which would be quite sensible, but where nature itself came from.

Theistic evolution, in particular, is a troubled thesis not for scientific reasons alone, but also for reasons of basic incoherence. Meyer: “There’s a logical problem for theistic evolution: Can God direct an undirected process? Well, no, even God can’t direct an undirected process. If he does, it’s no longer undirected.” 

Do consider subscribing to Dennis’s service to hear this for yourself. Steve is as clear as crystal. As Dennis points out, “He writes as clearly as he speaks.” Of Meyer’s previous books, Signature in the Celland Darwin’s Doubt, Dennis says, “They’re very, very important works.” Regarding the Theistic Evolutionbook itself, says Prager, “Don’t let the title in any way intimidate you. Any of you interested in theology or science will find this immensely interesting.” And that is all true.

Challenge from an Atheist

Prager recounts a challenge from an atheist friend: “You want to believe in God, go right ahead, that’s fine. But you can’t use science to argue for God because science can only talk about that which is material.” Yes, that’s an objection you hear all the time. Well, the agent behind the design in nature may be God, or it may not, as far as the theory of ID can tell us. But the agent is certainly a mind. So are we saying that science can’t detect minds?

Meyer nails it: 

Actually, that’s an artificial restriction on the scientific method. Point one. Point two is that we infer the activity of mind all the time. We do it in our ordinary experience. If you’re an insurance fraud detector, and you determine that somebody was manipulating circumstances, you’d infer the activity of mind. If you’re an archaeologist, and you look at the Rosetta Stone, you don’t say, ‘Gee, isn’t it wonderful what wind and erosion did to produce those information-rich inscriptions?’ You recognize that there was a mind behind it.

Prager is rightly taken with the last point. “DNA is a Rosetta Stone,” as he puts it.

Something from Nothing

I think a lesson here may be that reasonable people, without a dog in the fight, but when exposed to powerful ideas clearly expressed, are able to tell sense from nonsense. Prager describes having atheist cosmologist Lawrence Krauss on his show to talk about Krauss’s most recent book, A Universe from Nothing. Lawrence argues for quantum cosmology, Meyer explains, “in which the universe is thought to emerge out of the law of quantum physics.” The only problem? “Laws of physics do not produce matter. They describe the interactions between matter.”

Prager questioned Krauss about the fundamental logic of getting something from nothing, as Krauss asserts about the origin of the cosmos. As Prager recalls it, Professor Krauss responded to the challenge with a comment along the lines of, “It depends on your definition of nothing.” 

“And,” Dennis recalls, “that’s when I gave up.”

The interaction with Dennis reminds me of journalist John Zmirak, the editor of our friend Fr. Michael Chaberek’s book Aquinas and Evolution, who similarly had his mind changed by the power of ideas. Zmirak, like Prager, is a shrewd critic of bad ideas. Zmirak was a theistic evolutionist to begin with. He later recalled:

I started out working on the book quite hostile to its premise. And then something very strange happened. I’ve only experienced it maybe five or six times in my life. (And never while editing some book I disagreed with.) I changed my mind.

Oh, it’s very difficult to concede that you were mistaken about something. Especially, I would say, for males. A changed mind is an impressive testament. An unwillingly changed mind, in Dennis Prager’s case or in John Zmirak’s, is even more impressive.

Photo: Dennis Prager and Stephen Meyer.