Dan Brown’s Origin: No God Required?

By Timothy Fox

“Where do we come from?” and “Where are we going?” These are the two big questions Dan Brown explores in his latest novel, Origin (Doubleday, 2017). (Minor spoilers ahead.) This is the fifth book in the series starring Harvard professor, Robert Langdon, the most famous being The Da Vinci Code. While many of them have explored religion – mostly Christianity – his later books feature science more prominently. A major theme in this book, however, is science versus religion. Can science explain away the superstitions of religion, or even take the place of religion in people’s lives? This is the hope of computer scientist, Edmond Kirsch.

Dan Brwon's Origin God

Kirsch is a vocal, New Atheist-type who would make Richard Dawkins proud. He believes he has made a discovery that will rock the major religions, answering two major questions that humanity has always pondered: “Where do we come from?” and “Where are we going?” Without getting too spoilery, Kirsch “proves” that life arose naturally on Earth without any supernatural intervention. Thus, he has squeezed God out of an explanatory gap, making his existence that much less necessary.

But that got me thinking. Suppose God really was unnecessary for the origin of life. After “Where do we come from?”, are there any other questions that science must answer to eradicate the need for God? I thought of a few:

Why is the universe here?

After Kirsch’s presentation showed that the laws of physics alone are sufficient for creating life, Professor Langdon ponders: “If the laws of physics are so powerful that they can create life… who created the laws?!” (p. 420). This question is huge. It’s one thing to explain where life came from. But what about the universe itself? Why is there something rather than nothing?[1] If life naturally arose from the primordial ooze, where did the ooze come from?

How did consciousness arise?

So Kirsch proved that life can naturally arise from non-life. But at what point in the evolutionary process did life become conscious? How does the mind form from purely naturalistic processes? What are the components of consciousness? Honestly, I think this is a far bigger (and more interesting) problem than the origin of life.

Is morality real?

On the news following Kirsh’s presentation, a viewer response reads “RELIGION CANNOT CLAIM MORALITY AS ITS OWN… I AM A GOOD PERSON BECAUSE I AM A GOOD PERSON! GOD HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH IT!” (p. 418 – emphasis and CAPS original). But if God has nothing to do with morality, then how do we define good and evil? Is there a real and objective moral standard that is binding upon all people across all time or is it merely a social construct?

Did Jesus Christ rise from the dead?

This goes beyond basic theism into Christianity. If Jesus did rise from the dead, we get a two-for-one: Christianity is true, and, thus, God exists. To kill Christianity, you must simply disprove the resurrection of Jesus Christ. So if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then:

  • How did the belief in the resurrection begin in Jerusalem, the same place where Jesus was publicly executed and then buried?
  • Why did many of Christ’s followers – including his disciples and former persecutor of Christians, Saul of Tarsus – claim to have a genuine experience of the risen Christ?
  • Why were these same followers willing to suffer and die for a belief they would have known was false?

Yes, Origin is just a fictional work that cannot possibly explore every question regarding God’s existence. But still, above are just a few that need to be fully explained before we can proclaim “God is dead.” Even if a real-life Edmond Kirsch can someday prove that life originated naturally on Earth, the universe still requires a First Cause that is outside of time and space. I’m highly skeptical that consciousness can arise naturally from matter. A moral law requires a Moral Lawgiver. And if Jesus Christ rose from the dead, it vindicated all of his teachings, including the authority of the Bible, the message of his followers, and, of course, the existence of God.

I’m sorry, Edmond, but God’s death has been greatly exaggerated.


[1] This is briefly addressed by a quote from Stephen Hawking: “It is not necessary to invoke God to set the universe going. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing” (p. 418). But if the universe can spontaneously create itself, why not other things, like food in my refrigerator, money in my pocket, or hair on my head?

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4 replies
  1. jcb says:

    Yes, Origin is just a fictional work that cannot possibly explore every question regarding God’s existence. But still, above are just a few That there are unanswered questions doesn’t do anything to prove that god exists. That life exists doesn’t do anything to prove god exists. That our universe exists and probably was “created” by something doesn’t do anything to prove that god exists. That consciousness “exists” doesn’t prove that god exists. That moral language, and things like suffering exist, does not prove that god exists, but rather makes improbable that a perfect god exists. That people wrongly assert that Jesus rose from the dead as if cremated does not prove that god exists. If Jesus did rise from the dead, it would not prove that everything Jesus asserted is true, nor that all the Bible assertions were true, nor that god exists.

    God is still “dead”: non-existent, as far as we know.

    • BEH says:

      Just so I’m clear before I reply further, could you help me out by defining what you mean when you use the word “prove” in your comment above?

      • jcb says:

        Humans exist. It doesn’t follow that a perfect being exists. That humans exist doesn’t “prove” or make likely that a perfect being exists. Does that help?

  2. Ariel Yahav says:

    Your questions, upon which you place the burden of keeping the entire Christian faith, could quite easily have very simple answers. Especially considering the period in which the alleged events take place, people were very superstitious, religious, and not prone to critical or scientific thinking.
    Seeing someone (a twin? A cousin? Just a look-alike?) claiming to be Jesus resurrected may have been convincing enough for those simpler folk. Remember, in those days, school was not a thing. Magic tricks were much more impressive, I’d imagine. Give the people some smoke, mirrors, and claim you are an undead celebrity, and they’ll buy it. Death was not as well understood at the time as it is today.
    This is, of course, assuming we can trust anything that was written at the time. Myself, I don’t trust yesterday’s newspaper so much, let alone some scrolls written before the camera or the idea of objective reporting were invented. For me, the fact that they have strange stories such as this, which are so far removed from our own experience, only goes to show how little we can trust their grasp of current events or history.
    I’m not saying this proves Christianity is not based on fact, though in most likelihood I believe it is. I’m just saying that, if I were you, I would not hinge my dearest beliefs and values on such an unconvincing claim. The fact that some people thousands of years ago are reported to have believed something, allegedly even when tortured, is not a very solid bedrock for proof.

    Crappy book, though. I wish the science in it was a bit more convincing than the whole “dissipate energy!” bizarreness.


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