God in the Details

For a quarter-century Roy Abraham Varghese has been assembling God proofs. Along the way he won over the world's most influential atheist.

Varghese says the foundation of the matrix is the God equation: God must exist and cannot not exist. In other words, for anything to exist at all, something must have always existed. This primal essence cannot possess any limitation because then it would necessarily require a source that transcends such limitation. And so on, without end, back to God.

"It was a triumph of human thought to come up with these things," says Varghese. "Why look for laws when you say laws are not possible?"

Varghese calls the matrix the womb of science, the beginning of basic assumptions at the heart of scientific logic and inquiry. Matter can't generate concepts, patterns or mathematical constants. Fields don't plan, think or calculate. But something does.

One prominent psychologist suggests atheism is a neurotic delusion. Atheist Victor Stenger loves psychologists: "They're so full of shit."
One prominent psychologist suggests atheism is a neurotic delusion. Atheist Victor Stenger loves psychologists: "They're so full of shit."

These are strange times for Varghese and his God proofs. Since the publication of Wonder and his pivotal summit with Anthony Flew, evangelical godlessness has become a craze. For the past several months, a number of books assaulting religious belief and castigating the faithful have been crusading through The New York Times best-seller lists. University of Oxford evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins' acerbic but eminently readable The God Delusion has nested on the list for more than 31 weeks as of this writing. Neuroscientist Sam Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation catapulted to the top of the list almost immediately after it was published last September. Though not necessarily a raging best-seller, Tufts University professor Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon has had pounding impact as well.

The in-your-face atheism of Dennett, Dawkins and Harris and the New Atheism movement it has spawned was recently splattered over the pages of Wired magazine. In "The Church of the Non-Believers," journalist Gary Wolf chronicles how these writers condemn not only belief in God, but respect for belief in God. The probability that God exists is near zero, Dawkins says. Violence inspired by religious faith will soon bring civilization to an end, Harris says. Faith that requires adults to blindfold their children to scientifically sound education ought to go extinct, Dennett says.

As secular investigations take the lead, sacred doctrines collapse, Wolf writes. "There's barely a field of modern research—cosmology, biology, archaeology, anthropology, psychology—in which competing religious explanations have survived unscathed," he adds. Example: creation. Evolutionary theory has stubbornly survived 150 years of rigorous scientific testing.

The power of evolutionary theory to repeatedly predict the unexpected is nothing short of astonishing. In September 2005, following the mapping of the exact sequence of chimpanzee genetic code, The Washington Post reported that scientists from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard University deployed a mathematical formula that emerges from evolutionary theory to see if they could predict the number of harmful mutations in chimp DNA using the number of known harmful mutations in another species and the population sizes of each. Bingo! Researchers predicted the number almost exactly, reinforcing evolution as a formidable, predictive system based on ever-mounting scientific fact. Charles Darwin didn't even know what DNA was when On the Origin of Species was published in 1859.

This is not to deny evolutionary theory is fraught with unexplained puzzles. Oddly, Varghese doesn't dwell much on evolution. He says the discussion has gotten so muddled with its sticky web of catchphrases and buzzwords and the shifting meanings of "evolution" and "creationism" that he prefers to step back. He doesn't quibble with Big Bang cosmology, the theory that the universe emerged some 13.7 billion years ago from the rapid expansion of a tremendously dense hot speck. He doesn't contest that the solution to the origins of biological structures is embedded in molecular biology and the fossil record. Nor does he argue that the genetic interrelatedness of species and the phenomenon of evolution in certain populations via natural selection is anything other than established fact. But he insists the theory in sum relies heavily on inference—as all historical scientific theories must—as it courses from the Big Bang, through the formation of the chemical precursors of life on to the first life forms, and through the bloom of species culminating in self-conscious human beings. Varghese points out scientists have no explanation for the origins of life itself.

"We don't have a theory of the origin of life. We don't know how it happened," says professor of philosophy Keith Parsons of the University of Houston, Clear Lake. "But with the rise of modern science, we find that increasingly science can explain things that previously had been thought to be explicable only in terms of the direct action of deities...That's just been the story of the history of science; it's the steady retreat of the supernatural in the face of naturalistic explanations."

Yet biblical faiths endure. Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson, once a born-again Christian before undergoing what he describes as an epiphany inspired by his discovery of the richness of evolutionary theory, says humans innately hunger for something larger than themselves. Our conscious minds desperately crave permanent existence—everlasting life—and belief in eternal life helps ensure the survival of civilizations. Faith has an evolutionary function. "There is a hereditary selective advantage to membership in a powerful group united by devout belief and purpose," he writes in his book Consilience. "Even when individuals subordinate themselves and risk death in common cause, their genes are more likely to be transmitted to the next generation than those of competing groups who lack equivalent resolve."

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