Hazel McHaffie

Intelligent Design

Absolute Proof

It was an article in the daily newspaper that first alerted me to the publication of this unusual book:  Absolute Proof by internationally bestselling crime writer, Peter James. It’s noteworthy that, back in 1989, James was not the success he is today, neither had he shown any great interest in religion, when, out of the blue, he received a phone call from an elderly gentleman claiming to have been given irrefutable evidence of God’s existence, and saying that Peter James was the man to help him get it taken seriously. That call was the start of a 29 year exploration into exactly what the consequences of such proof might be. It fed into James’ personal obsession with why we’re here, what happens after death, what is good/evil, and his innate passion for the subject drove him to pursue the idea. The end result is a 560 page novel which challenges and informs, troubles and intrigues, in equal measure. And I was delighted to receive a hot-off-the-press hardback copy from DJ as an unexpected gift!

Theologian and philosopher, Thomas Aquinas, who died in 1274, said that ‘To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible,’ and I suspect the beliefs and opinions of each reader will influence how they approach and interpret this tale, but knowing its origins does give it some added mystery and appeal. And the author himself declares that writing the book left him believing in an ‘informed intelligent design’ of some kind.

So, to the story-line. Ross Hunter is no stranger to weird or terrifying experiences. He’s an investigative journalist who likes to push his own limits, dig deep in the murk. But even he is taken aback when Dr Harry Cook – former RAF officer and retired professor of history of art – contacts him, saying he’s recently been given absolute proof of God’s existence. He’s been advised that Ross is the man to get it taken seriously. Ringing bells so far?

Intrigued, Ross meets the man. Dr Cook seems utterly and touchingly sincere; he really believes that together they can save the world. What’s more he brings with him three persuasive inducements: a written text from God, running to 1,247 pages; messages from Nicky, Ross’ dead twin brother, that not another living soul could possibly know; and three compass coordinates. These coordinates are the locations for three lost religious treasures: the Holy Grail; the DNA of the Lord Jesus Christ; and something related to the Second Coming … So far, so Dan Brown, huh? But religious advisors tell Ross that it would take more than three compass coordinates to prove God exists. What would it take? A miracle which defies the laws of physics, beyond human replication, seen by all the world. Furthermore the advice comes with a dire warning: anyone finding such proof would be in grave danger of being assassinated so high are the stakes for both religious and political leaders.

Naturally enough, given that this is a Peter James’ creation, there are several unscrupulous groups of people who will stop at nothing to get their hands on these invaluable objects. And also as you’d expect, all the ingredients of a crime thriller are there …
– a vast cast of characters – aesthetes and penitents, ruthless businessmen and serious scientists, atheists and devout believers
– complicated backstories which gradually unravel
– dark secrets, disturbances or psychological damage in the past histories
– a secret people will kill for
– mortal danger, chases, threats, murders
– all the unprovability of faith and religion pitted against science and medicine, economics and mathematics
– a smattering of drug dealing, sexual depravity, extortion, blackmail, addiction, greed.

The long list of acknowledgements pays tribute to the thoroughness of almost three decades of research, and the detailed insights into the Bible as well as scientific thought and understanding are indeed impressive. And yet, James leaves room for something in between – ?coincidences – ? ‘God’s calling cards‘ as Einstein put it. And when you’re hunting down the Son of God, anticipating his impact on the world today, that seems entirely feasible and appropriate!

The caller who planted the seeds of an idea in Peter James’ mind back in the 1980s said that God was very concerned about the state of the world, and mankind needed to have its faith in him reaffirmed. Plenty of people today would agree. Whether this book would contribute to that high aim is more debatable.

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Festivals, faith and poppies

The great Edinburgh International Festival is almost upon us again. Time to pour over those brochures and raid the piggy bank.

Being within hailing distance of everything, we natives can get a bit blasé about events that other folk travel half way round the world to attend, but this year I booked a few performances early on to make sure I didn’t backslide. As you might expect it’s the Book Festival that gets the bulk of my patronage and I’ve learned to be quick off the starting blocks for the ones I really really want. Only one disappointment: Hilary Mantel of 2010 Man-Booker fame has withdrawn. Hope she’s not ill again.

On the theatre front, no prizes for guessing why I’ve elected to go to a one-man play, An Evening with Dementia. Intriguing. It’ll be interesting to see how this ex-RSC actor combines humour with sensitivity in such a delicate area – an abiding concern of mine while writing Remember Remember.

And when it comes to lectures, I’ve plumped for a one-off: Why a scientist believes in God. I got advance warning of that one because the lecturer is actually someone I know. With that topic in my mind I just had to get stuck into The Language of GodThe Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, which I read between trips to hospital (ferrying and visiting, I hasten to add, not being ill myself). The author is Dr Francis Collins, a prominent American geneticist, and head of the now famous Human Genome Project, so someone who commands huge respect from a scientific point of view. From a religious angle he appealed to me too – going from agnostic through atheist to ‘a believer who stands in awe of the almost unimaginable intelligence and creative genius of God’. Wow! How come?

It’s a very clearly laid out book – lots of headings and numbered options and arguments and counter arguments. All very orderly as befits an evidence-based scientist. Nor does he shirk the less hard-nosed tricky questions and thorny issues – the harm done in the name of religion; the dangers of a God-of-the-gaps theory; the relative merits of different possibilities – young earth creationism, intelligent design, theistic evolution …

One straight read isn’t enough for my little grey cells; I’ll need to study it slowly to have any chance of assimilating his arguments properly and deciding how far I go with his reasoning. But it certainly underlined for me my own limited knowledge of science, and the truth of that proverb: ‘It is not good to have zeal without knowledge.’ [Proverbs 19:2]

After all that brain-bombardment and challenge I slunk into the garden for a little light relief. But the questions continued. How did we get such a huge range and diversity? ‘Creative genius’ rang in my head. Could it all be slow evolution? Is it the direct hands-on work of God? Or is it a combination? At least I know better than to talk loosely and superficially about ‘intelligent design’ now! And just wallowing in that glorious profusion of colour, and admiring the intricacy of each flower, lifted my spirits. I guess for me, none of it makes sense without God. We shall see what that lecturer says on 18 August.

Oh, before I forget, all you book bloggers out there, there’s to be another meet-up of like-minded souls on Saturday September 25th in Oxford. If you’re interested and want to be kept informed, contact simondavidthomas@yahoo.co.uk. Merely contacting him doesn’t commit you to anything.

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