My uncle Denis was interviewed by his local parish. I can’t link to the pdf, but I have permission from the parish priest to reproduce the article. It is long, but worth reading. Here it is:
It has become almost commonplace lately to read of scientists denying — most often whilst promoting a new book or television programme — the existence of God. But Denis Morgan is a scientist who cannot see the logic in this viewpoint.
“Nothing just happens,” he says. “There’s areason for everything. I’ve spoken to a few atheists and asked ‘What is your plausible explanation for how we got here?’ ‘I haven’t got one’, they say.”
For Denis Morgan the only plausible explanation for how we got here, and for the scale, the beauty and the astonishing complexity of the universe and the life within it, is the existence of God. Of an intelligence beyond our comprehension but whose power and beauty we can sense in the wonders of the universe.
“We have not yet learned to understand even the human mind,” Denis says. “Therefore how can we expect to understand the intelligence of someone who is billions of times more intelligent than we are?”
That makes sense. At least to us as believers. But what about all those unbelievers? How, they ask, can a God whose reputed handiwork is on a scale and of an intricacy to dumbfound the human mind be reasonably expected to know and love every creature in our universe? “Yes, it’s inconceivable that any one of us could relate to every one of the six billion people on the planet,’ says Denis. “But when you consider his other achievements, you readily accept that God can.”
Denis Morgan and his wife Isobel have been parishioners at Sacred Heart for the best part of 30 years. Denis was born and raised in Hobart, the sixth child in a staunchly Catholic family of nine. He studied pharmacy on leaving school and at 21 moved to Sydney where he gained, first a masters degree and then a doctorate in pharmacology. It was in Sydney also that Denis met Isobel and it was after their marriage and Denis’s appointment as a lecturer at Monash University that they moved to Melbourne and Sandringham.
Fast forward to 1996 when Denis was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a progressive disease of the central nervous system leading to speech and visual disorders and partial paralysis. “I soldiered on at Monash for a while,” Denis says, “so I wouldn’t die wondering if I should or could have stayed on longer. But by 1997 I had acquired a walking stick and in 1998 I made the decision.” What was the decision? “I retired hurt,” he says with a smile.
What were his reactions to this devastating turn in his life? “Philosophical, I suppose. I certainly didn’t think of fighting it. That would have been a waste of energy. I was interested in doing what I was still able to do rather than fighting it.”
Not everyone shared this attitude. “I remember in the early days a woman phoned wanting me to join an MS support group. No doubt with the best of intentions she exclaimed ‘You can do anything you want to do’.” But Denis knew he couldn’t. That’s rubbish, he thought. Clearly many things would no longer be possible. Best to concentrate on what he knew he could still achieve.
So what did the achievable include? “Initially I took up oil painting. After five years that got beyond me so I took up assembling plastic models. (Of ships, planes, etc.) When that also got beyond me I was fortunate enough to meet a neighbour, and fellow parishioner, who was interested in bird-watching. Sadly he is now deceased but I learned a lot about birds and about life from him.”
These days Denis is confined to a motorised wheel chair. While he can manoeuvre the chair expertly, weakness in an arm means that while a newspaper is still manageable he can no longer read a book unaided. For a retired academic this restriction must be a major trial but Denis accepts it calmly.
“While it’s been a nuisance it has given me a lot of time to think and that’s been very productive. The meaning of life and that sort of thing. It gives you a different perspective.”
How different a perspective? “Well it seems to me that most people live their lives in denial. Most people expect their lives to be healthy and safe and to live for ever. But I think our sojourn on this planet is very transitory. Disease, accidents, etc. are very common. The elephant in our room is death.
“So many people think that life is a game. They want to get the most out of it, which is understandable, but they don’t want to think about it ending.
“We’ve got it around the wrong way. We come into the world with nothing, we leave it with nothing. So accumulating things doesn’t make sense. At the end what matters is not what we have got but what we have learned and how much we have loved.”
But on this matter of love, how does Denis explain a God who can seem so loving at one moment yet dispassionate, even to the point of apparent injustice, the next? Why, for example, should one man be confined to a wheelchair while his neighbour, who is morally no more or less deserving, enjoys good health?
“People say this isn’t fair,” Denis replies. “But why do things have to be fair? It says a lot about the nature of life that things won’t always be fair. It goes back to the idea that life must be perfect. The reality is it isn’t, so that’s obviously the way life is meant to be.”
In that case what does all this say about God’s idea of justice? “It’s obviously something we don’t comprehend. We’re very primitive compared to God. Maybe it’s beyond our understanding. You’ve got to work backwards and think ‘Life is what it is — not what we think it ought to be’ and take it from there.