WHEN I WAS A LITTLE KID, I imagined that God looked like Dick Tracy, my favorite comic-strip character. I saw the Almighty in a snap-brim hat and trench coat, carrying a snub-nosed .38 that blasted large holes in evildoers with names like Prune Face. I don’t remember if it was my parents or my beloved granny who first told me about God, but I understood him to be an all-powerful, all-knowing Super Dad who was invisible but always present and who loved us dearly but was not opposed to cleaning our clocks when we didn’t mind the rules. That’s as far as it went with God and me in my pre-school days.
By the time I was in college, God’s existence had become an existential question, “existential” being a word I’d learned from a friend in philosophy class at the University of Texas. My friend, who claimed to be an atheist, was smart, hip, and well read, and I’d seen him with the girl whose spectacularly tight sweater I’d admired all semester, lying on the grass in front of Garrison Hall, reading aloud from Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness. While I wasn’t ready to declare myself an atheist, I agreed with him that it was cool to question God’s existence. Of course, a few months later I was on my knees, asking God to alleviate some crisis or other that had momentarily darkened my path, a habit I’ve followed to this day.
My epochal showdown with God happened in the fall of 1996, when my oldest son, Mark, was dying of leukemia. In the small chapel at M. D. Anderson, in Houston, I prayed for hours, asking God to spare my son and offering to strike any bargain he might find attractive. God wasn’t interested. In my grief and despair, I concluded that he had no time for individual lives. It was a dismal thought, but it vanished along with the despair in an amazingly short time. I thank God for that.
As I grow older, it seems to me that faith is almost irrepressible, which makes me wonder if some of us aren’t hardwired to believe in God. I suspect there are people who mistrust the notion of a supreme being because of the randomness of life and because they think it’s unscientific. Such doubters will be interested to know about a symposium on science and religion at New York University in May 2004 that posed the question “Has science discovered God?”—and answered in the affirmative. The symposium was organized by Roy Abraham Varghese, a writer-philosopher and the founder of the Institute of Metascientific Research, in Garland. Varghese started the discussion by suggesting that we live in a world of intelligent systems that can be explained only by the existence of an infinite intelligence. “The universe’s history,” he explained, “is a story of quantum leaps of intelligence, the sudden yet systematic appearance of intrinsically intelligent systems arranged in ascending order.”
At the close of the discussion, Antony Flew—the octogenarian British professor of philosophy who set the agenda for modern atheism half a century ago in a debate with the Christian philosopher C. S. Lewis—startled both the atheist and theist worlds by announcing that he now believed the universe to be the creation of a superior intelligence. After considering the arguments of such world-class scientists as Israeli physicist and molecular biologist Gerald Schroeder, Flew admitted that DNA shows that “intelligence must have been involved in getting these extraordinarily diverse elements together” and that he was now persuaded that “it is simply out of the question that the first living matter evolved out of dead matter and then developed into an extraordinary, complicated creature.” The famous atheist also credited his change of heart to the influence of Varghese’s book The Wonder of the World: A Journey From Modern Science to the Mind of God. He said the book provided “an argument which becomes progressively more powerful with each advance in mankind’s knowledge of the integrated complexity of what used to be called the system of nature.” These revelations, however, did not prompt Flew to run out and join a church. He continues to believe that God has no interest in our lives.
“I hope and pray that Professor Flew will find the real and true glory of God,” Varghese tells me over lunch at a Dallas restaurant in March. Meeting him for the first time, I had expected to be intimidated. His work has been praised by some of the great minds of our time. The Wonder of the World is not an easy read. It asks a staggering number of intriguing and convoluted questions—how do proteins and nucleic acids like DNA communicate and construct, repair and replicate?—but always gives the same answer: It’s the work of a superior intelligence. To my surprise, I find him exceptionally approachable, articulate on matters of science, philosophy, religion, and history and yet almost apologetic in his demeanor. Whereas Flew takes no pleasure in his grudging admission that the universe is the work of a superbrain, Varghese gets giddy just thinking about it: God is his tonic of life. A native of India, Varghese was born into a family whose Christian sect traces itself back to the Apostle Thomas (he is now an Eastern Rite Catholic). He studied literature at the University of Madras and for a time professed to be an atheist before “finally recovering my senses.” In 1980, when he was 23, he came to Texas to do graduate work in international journalism at Baylor University. Soon he was coediting a book with the eminent former Yale physicist Henry Margenau.
“I had always heard that science was hostile to religion,” Varghese says, “but Margenau opened my eyes to the fact that many of our great scientists, like Einstein and Heisenberg, were deeply religious men.” In the years after Darwin published On the Origin of Species, scientists generally believed that life originated by chance. By the early twentieth century, however, many of them had recognized