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CHAPTER 42

AS THE GULFSTREAM G550 jet climbed to cruising altitude, Robert Langdon stared blankly out the oval window and tried to gather his thoughts. The past two hours had been a whirlwind of emotions—from the thrill of watching Edmond’s presentation begin to unfold to the gut-wrenching horror of seeing his grisly murder. And the mystery of Edmond’s presentation seemed only to deepen the more Langdon considered it.

What secret had Edmond unveiled?

Where do we come from? Where are we going?

Edmond’s words in the spiral sculpture earlier tonight replayed in Langdon’s mind: Robert, the discovery I’ve made … it very clearly answers both of these questions.

Edmond had claimed to have solved two of life’s greatest mysteries, and yet, Langdon wondered, how could Edmond’s news have been so dangerously disruptive that someone would have murdered him to keep it silent?

All Langdon knew for sure was that Edmond was referring to human origin and human destiny.

What shocking origin did Edmond uncover?

What mysterious destiny?

Edmond had appeared optimistic and upbeat about the future, so it seemed unlikely that his prediction was something apocalyptic. Then what could Edmond possibly have predicted that would concern the clerics so deeply?

“Robert?” Ambra materialized next to him with a hot cup of coffee. “You said black?”

“Perfect, yes, thank you.” Langdon gratefully accepted the mug, hoping some caffeine might help unknot his tangled thoughts.

Ambra took a seat opposite him and poured herself a glass of red wine from an elegantly embossed bottle. “Edmond carries a stash of Château Montrose aboard. Seems a pity to waste it.”

Langdon had tasted Montrose only once, in an ancient secret wine cellar beneath Trinity College Dublin, while he was there researching the illuminated manuscript known as The Book of Kells.

Ambra cradled her wine goblet in two hands, and as she brought it to her lips, she gazed up at Langdon over the rim. Once again, he found himself strangely disarmed by the woman’s natural elegance.

“I’ve been thinking,” she said. “You mentioned earlier that Edmond was in Boston and asked you about various Creation stories?”

“Yes, about a year ago. He was interested in the different ways that major religions answered the question ‘Where do we come from?’”

“So, maybe that’s a good place for us to start?” she said. “Maybe we can unravel what he was working on?”

“I’m all for starting at the beginning,” Langdon replied, “but I’m not sure what there is to unravel. There are only two schools of thought on where we came from—the religious notion that God created humans fully formed, and the Darwinian model in which we crawled out of the primordial ooze and eventually evolved into humans.”

“So what if Edmond discovered a third possibility?” Ambra asked, her brown eyes flashing. “What if that’s part of his discovery? What if he has proven that the human species came neither from Adam and Eve nor from Darwinian evolution?”

Langdon had to admit that such a discovery—an alternative story of human origin—would be earth-shattering, but he simply could not imagine what it might be. “Darwin’s theory of evolution is extremely well established,” he said, “because it is based on scientifically observable fact, and clearly illustrates how organisms evolve and adapt to their environments over time. The theory of evolution is universally accepted by the sharpest minds in science.”

“Is it?” Ambra said. “I’ve seen books that argue Darwin was entirely wrong.”

“What she says is true,” Winston chimed in from the phone, which was recharging on the table between them. “More than fifty titles were published over the past two decades alone.”

Langdon had forgotten Winston was still with them.

“Some of these books were bestsellers,” Winston added. “What Darwin Got Wrong … Defeating Darwinism … Darwin’s Black Box … Darwin on Trial … The Dark Side of Charles Dar—

“Yes,” Langdon interrupted, fully aware of the substantial collection of books claiming to disprove Darwin. “I actually read two of them a while back.”

“And?” Ambra pressed.

Langdon smiled politely. “Well, I can’t speak for all of them, but the two I read argued from a fundamentally Christian viewpoint. One went so far as to suggest that the earth’s fossil record was placed there by God ‘in order to test our faith.’”

Ambra frowned. “Okay, so they didn’t sway your thinking.”

“No, but they made me curious, and so I asked a Harvard biology professor for his opinion of the books.” Langdon smiled. “The professor, by the way, happened to be the late Stephen J. Gould.”

“Why do I know that name?” Ambra asked.

“Stephen J. Gould,” Winston said at once. “Renowned evolutionary biologist and paleontologist. His theory of ‘punctuated equilibrium’ explained some of the gaps in the fossil record and helped support Darwin’s model of evolution.”

“Gould just chuckled,” Langdon said, “and told me that most of the anti-Darwin books were published by the likes of the Institute for Creation Research—an organization that, according to its own informational materials, views the Bible as an infallible literal account of historical and scientific fact.”

“Meaning,” Winston said, “they believe that Burning Bushes can speak, that Noah fit every living species onto a single boat, and that people turn into pillars of salt. Not the firmest of footings for a scientific research company.”

“True,” Langdon said, “and yet there are some nonreligious books that attempt to discredit Darwin from a historical standpoint—accusing him of stealing his theory from the French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, who first proposed that organisms transformed themselves in response to their environment.”

“That line of thought is irrelevant, Professor,” Winston said. “Whether or not Darwin was guilty of plagiarism has no bearing on the veracity of his evolutionary theory.”

“I can’t argue with that,” Ambra said. “And so, Robert, I assume if you asked Professor Gould, ‘Where do we come from?’ he would reply, without a doubt, that we evolved from apes.”

Langdon nodded. “I’m paraphrasing here, but Gould essentially assured me that there was no question whatsoever among real scientists that evolution is happening. Empirically, we can observe the process. The better questions, he believed, were: Why is evolution happening? And how did it all start?”

“Did he offer any answers?” Ambra said.

“None that I could understand, but he did illustrate his point with a thought experiment. It’s called the Infinite Hallway.” Langdon paused, taking another sip of coffee.

“Yes, a helpful illustration,” Winston chimed in before Langdon could speak. “It goes like this: imagine yourself walking down a long hallway—a corridor so long that it’s impossible to see where you came from or where you’re going.”

Langdon nodded, impressed by the breadth of Winston’s knowledge.

“Then, behind you in the distance,” Winston continued, “you hear the sound of a bouncing ball. Sure enough, when you turn, you see a ball bouncing toward you. It is bouncing closer and closer, until it finally bounces past you, and just keeps going, bouncing into the distance and out of sight.”

“Correct,” Langdon said. “The question is not: Is the ball bouncing? Because clearly, the ball is bouncing. We can observe it. The question is: Why is it bouncing? How did it start bouncing? Did someone kick it? Is it a special ball that simply enjoys bouncing? Are the laws of physics in this hallway such that the ball has no choice but to bounce forever?”

“Gould’s point being,” Winston concluded, “that just as with evolution, we cannot see far enough into the past to know how the process began.”

“Exactly,” Langdon said. “All we can do is observe that it is happening.”

“This was similar, of course,” Winston said, “to the challenge of understanding the Big Bang. Cosmologists have devised elegant formulas to describe the expanding universe for any given Time—‘T’—in the past or future. However, when they try to look back to the instant when the Big Bang occurred—where T equals zero—the mathematics all goes mad, describing what seems to be a mystical speck of infinite heat and infinite density.”

Langdon and Ambra looked at each other, impressed.

“Correct again,” Langdon said. “And because the human mind is not equipped to handle ‘infinity’ very well, most scientists now discuss the universe only in terms of moments after the Big Bang—where T is greater than zero—which ensures that the mathematical does not turn mystical.”

One of Langdon’s Harvard colleagues—a solemn physics professor—had become so fed up with philosophy majors attending his Origins of the Universe seminar that he finally posted a sign on his classroom door.

In my classroom, T > 0.

For all inquiries where T = 0,

please visit the Religion Department.

“How about Panspermia?” Winston asked. “The notion that life on earth was seeded from another planet by a meteor or cosmic dust? Panspermia is considered a scientifically valid possibility to explain the existence of life on earth.”

“Even if it’s true,” Langdon offered, “it doesn’t answer how life first began in the universe. We’re just kicking the can down the road, ignoring the origin of the bouncing ball and postponing the big question: Where does life come from?”

Winston fell silent.

Ambra sipped her wine, looking amused by their interplay.

As the Gulfstream G550 reached altitude and leveled off, Langdon found himself imagining what it would mean to the world if Edmond truly had found the answer to the age-old question: Where do we come from?

And yet, according to Edmond, that answer was only part of the secret.

Whatever the truth might be, Edmond had protected the details of his discovery with a formidable password—a single, forty-seven-letter line of poetry. If all went according to plan, Langdon and Ambra would soon uncover it inside Edmond’s home in Barcelona.

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