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.

Scientists, Gilder says, reflexively blur information and the physical structure of DNA molecules, implying life is biochemistry rather than information processing. "[T]he DNA program is discrete and digital, and its information is transferred through chemical carriers—but is not specified by chemical forces," he writes.

Varghese concurs. "Information precedes its manifestation in matter," he writes. Matter and energy are merely vehicles of all information in the known universe. "The next breakthrough is realizing that the foundation of it all is intelligence," writes Varghese. "Implicit in all its phases of discovery is the greatest insight of modern science: Everything is intelligence."

This intelligence is clearly visible, Varghese says, in the phenomenon of protein folding, the process by which proteins self-assemble from different sequences of 20 standard amino acid molecules. These proteins, which assume precise structural or functional roles in the flesh, are assembled at a rate of roughly 2,000 per second in every cell in the body (save for sex and blood cells) from thousands of these acids. The process is so complex, Varghese says, citing Scientific American, that a supercomputer programmed with the precise rules for protein folding would take billions of years to generate one final folded protein from 100 amino acids. Schroeder says chemical laws may explain the sugars, bases and phosphate components of DNA but not its rich information content.

Roy Abraham Varghese, founder of The Institute for Metascientific Research in Garland, Texas
Roy Abraham Varghese, founder of The Institute for Metascientific Research in Garland, Texas
SMU biology chair Larry Ruben: God as an explanation? "You could replace God with aliens. You could replace God with anything."
SMU biology chair Larry Ruben: God as an explanation? "You could replace God with aliens. You could replace God with anything."

Varghese hinges his case on other phenomena. He sites the anthropic principle, or the idea that the universe was precisely fine-tuned from the beginning for life. This "fine-tuning" is expressed in a set of physical laws and mathematical constants. If any single one of these parameters varied by the tiniest fraction, the universe as it exists would never have come into being and life would not be possible.

"Some of the 'remarkable precision' of physical parameters that people talk about is highly misleading because it depends on the choice of units," counters Victor Stenger in God. The flaw in the principle, he says, is that a single parameter is varied while the others remain fixed. But what if you varied each parameter in concert? Stenger says it's plausible to construct a cosmology in which stars, planets and intelligent life arise with different sets of parameters varying from those currently observed.

But perhaps the most confounding puzzle undermining the theory that life and intelligence is fully explainable in material terms is the origin of reproduction. "How did reproduction start?" asks Varghese. "Nobody dares discuss that."

This is where evolutionary materialism backs itself into a wall. Reproduction is the engine driving the whole evolutionary process. "How is it that the first living beings had the power of replication?" he writes. "How is it that life came with this fundamentally purposive capability preinstalled?" Darwin himself admitted in Origin of Species his whole theory rests on the existence of an unexplained being already in possession of reproductive powers "into which life was first breathed."

Scientists admit reproduction is baffling, and they offer a variety of speculative explanations. "It was originally just an accident," says Keith Parsons. Precursors to reproduction are inherent throughout the natural world, he says, citing complex molecules forming other compounds that multiply in chain reactions.

Stenger points out that computer and mathematical models have been composed employing very simple rules from which complex patterns emerge and then reproduce themselves, though he admits such models are just an analogy and still require intelligence to create the programs. Ruben says the puzzle of reproduction may be unraveled through study of self-replicating forms of RNA, the compound that functions in protein synthesis and carries protein codes from the cell's nucleus to sites where proteins are formed. "You can replicate RNA in a test tube," he says. "Making it [self-]replicate, that's the holy grail right now." He has no doubt that the riddle will be solved. "Science can't suddenly say, 'God did this and it happened,'" he says. "You could replace God with aliens. You could replace God with anything else."

Other than the Antony Flew conversion, the most stunning revelation in Varghese's Has Science Discovered God?, the film documenting the pivotal 2004 New York University summit, is the suggestion by New York University psychologist Paul Vitz that atheism is a neurosis stemming from subconscious urges to kill one's father and replace the father with oneself. Such urges are triggered by paternal abandonment. Examples: Friedrich Nietzsche, who famously claimed "God is dead," lost his father when he was 4 years old; Sigmund Freud, an avowed atheist, did not respect his weak father; the Episcopal clergyman father of English philosopher Thomas Hobbs (Leviathan) abandoned his three children when Hobbs was a teen. Vitz suggests atheism is a neurotic illusion spawned from such circumstances. "That's why I love psychologists," says Stenger, who says he had a fine relationship with his father. "They're so full of shit."

Yet it's Flew's rejection of atheism that triggered the ruckus. Varghese's film is interspersed with clips from a debate at the University of North Texas in 1976 between Flew and theologian Thomas B. Warren. Flew's arguments erupt like bullets propelled by bursts of condescension.

"Certainly I am inclined to believe the universe is without beginning, and will be without end," he says. Belief in God is a self-contradiction, Flew insists. Belief in God as all-powerful and all-good is inconsistent with the undenied evils in the world and with the system of salvation and damnation He created. "If after all the things that are said about his proposed being are contradictory, then to say that there is such a being, thus and thus described, is like saying there is a round square or an unmarried husband," he scoffs.

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