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CHAPTER 92

AMBRA VIDAL SAT mesmerized, imagining the millions of people around the globe who, right now, just like her, were fully engrossed in Edmond’s presentation.

“So, what ingredient was I missing?” Edmond asked. “Why did my primordial soup refuse to produce life? I had no idea—so I did what all successful scientists do. I asked somebody smarter than I am!”

A scholarly bespectacled woman appeared: Dr. Constance Gerhard, biochemist, Stanford University. “How can we create life?” The scientist laughed, shaking her head. “We can’t! That’s the point. When it comes to the process of creation—crossing that threshold where inanimate chemicals form living things—all of our science goes out the window. There is no mechanism in chemistry to explain how that happens. In fact, the very notion of cells organizing themselves into life-forms seems to be in direct conflict with the law of entropy!”

Entropy,” Edmond repeated, now appearing on a beautiful beach. “Entropy is just a fancy way of saying: things fall apart. In scientific language, we say ‘an organized system inevitably deteriorates.’” He snapped his fingers and an intricate sand castle appeared at his feet. “I’ve just organized millions of sand grains into a castle. Let’s see how the universe feels about that.” Seconds later, a wave came in and washed away the castle. “Yup, the universe located my organized grains of sand and disorganized them, spreading them over the beach. This is entropy at work. Waves never crash onto beaches and deposit sand in the shape of a sand castle. Entropy dissolves structure. Sand castles never spontaneously appear in the universe, they only disappear.”

Edmond snapped his fingers again and reappeared in an elegant kitchen. “When you heat coffee,” he said, pulling a steaming cup from a microwave, “you focus heat energy into a mug. If you leave that mug on the counter for an hour, the heat dissipates into the room and spreads itself out evenly, like grains of sand on a beach. Entropy again. And the process is irreversible. No matter how long you wait, the universe will never magically reheat your coffee.” Edmond smiled. “Nor will it unscramble a broken egg or rebuild an eroded sand castle.”

Ambra recalled once seeing an art installation called Entropy—a line of old cement blocks, each more crumbled than the last, slowly disintegrating into a pile of rubble.

Dr. Gerhard, the spectacled scientist, reappeared. “We live in an entropic universe,” she said, “a world whose physical laws randomize, not organize. So the question is this: How can lifeless chemicals magically organize themselves into complex life-forms? I’ve never been a religious person, but I have to admit, the existence of life is the only scientific mystery that has ever persuaded me to consider the idea of a Creator.”

Edmond materialized, shaking his head. “I find it unnerving when smart people use the word ‘Creator’ …” He gave a good-natured shrug. “They do it, I know, because science simply has no good explanation for the beginnings of life. But trust me, if you’re looking for some kind of invisible force that creates order in a chaotic universe, there are far simpler answers than God.

Edmond held out a paper plate on which splinters of iron filings had been scattered. He then produced a large magnet and held it beneath the plate. Instantly, the filings leaped into an organized arc, aligning perfectly with one another. “An invisible force just organized these filings. Was it God? No … it was electromagnetism.”

Edmond now appeared beside a large trampoline. On its taut surface were scattered hundreds of marbles. “A random mess of marbles,” he stated, “but if I do this …” He hoisted a bowling ball onto the trampoline’s rim and rolled it onto the elastic fabric. Its weight created a deep indentation, and immediately the scattered marbles raced into the depression, forming a circle around the bowling ball. “The organizing hand of God?” Edmond paused. “No, again … it was just gravity.”

He now appeared in close-up. “As it turns out, life is not the only example of the universe creating order. Nonliving molecules organize themselves all the time into complex structures.”

A montage of images materialized—a tornado vortex, a snowflake, a rippled riverbed, a quartz crystal, the rings of Saturn.

“As you can see, sometimes the universe does organize matter—which seems to be the exact opposite of entropy.” Edmond sighed. “So which is it? Does the universe prefer order? Or chaos?”

Edmond reappeared, now walking down a pathway toward the famed dome of Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “According to most physicists, the answer is chaos. Entropy is indeed king, and the universe is constantly disintegrating toward disorder. Kind of a depressing message.” Edmond paused and turned with a grin. “But today I’ve come to meet the bright young physicist who believes there is a twist … a twist that may hold the key to how life began.”

 

Jeremy England?

Langdon was startled to recognize the name of the physicist Edmond was now describing. The thirtysomething MIT professor was currently the toast of Boston academia, having caused a global stir in a new field called quantum biology.

Coincidentally, Jeremy England and Robert Langdon shared the same prep school alma mater—Phillips Exeter Academy—and Langdon had first learned of the young physicist in the school’s alumni magazine, in an article titled “Dissipation-Driven Adaptive Organization.” Although Langdon had only skimmed the story and barely understood it, he recalled being intrigued to learn that his fellow “Exie” was both a brilliant physicist and also deeply religious—an Orthodox Jew.

Langdon began to understand why Edmond had been so interested in England’s work.

On-screen, another man appeared, identified as NYU physicist Alexander Grosberg. “Our big hope,” Grosberg said, “is that Jeremy England has identified the underlying physical principle driving the origin and evolution of life.”

Langdon sat up a bit straighter upon hearing that, as did Ambra.

Another face appeared. “If England can demonstrate his theory to be true,” said Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Edward J. Larson, “his name would be remembered forever. He could be the next Darwin.”

My God. Langdon had known Jeremy England was making waves, but this sounded more like tsunamis.

Carl Franck, a physicist from Cornell, added, “Every thirty years or so we experience these gigantic steps forward … and this might be it.”

A series of headlines flashed across the screen in rapid succession:

MEET THE SCIENTIST WHO COULD DISPROVE GOD

CRUSHING CREATIONISM

THANKS, GOD—BUT WE DON’T NEED YOUR HELP ANYMORE

The list of headlines continued, joined now by snippets from major scientific journals, all of which seemed to proclaim the same message: if Jeremy England could prove his new theory, the implications would be earth-shattering—not just for science but for religion as well.

Langdon eyed the final headline on the wall—from the online magazine Salon, January 3, 2015.

GOD IS ON THE ROPES: THE BRILLIANT NEW SCIENCE THAT HAS CREATIONISTS AND THE CHRISTIAN RIGHT TERRIFIED.

A Young MIT Professor Is Finishing Darwin’s Task—and Threatening to Undo Everything the Wacky Right Holds Dear.

The screen refreshed, and Edmond reappeared, striding purposefully along the hallway of a university science facility. “So what is this gigantic step forward that has so terrified Creationists?”

Edmond beamed as he paused outside a door marked: ENGLAND LAB@MITPHYSICS.

“Let’s go inside—and ask the man himself.”

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