13 Brown is not a con­spir­acy the­o­rist

Books Ori­gin asks if God will sur­vive sci­ence Thurs­day, October 5, 2017

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The lat­est in Dan Brown’s se­ries of high-fly­ing air­port con­spir­acy thrillers star­ring tweedy Har­vard sym­bol­ogy prof Robert Lang­don was born the first time he heard Missa Charles Dar­win, a piece of mu­sic coin­ci­den­tally com­posed by his brother, Gre­gory W. Brown, that com­bined Dar­win’s writ­ing with a standard litur­gi­cal mass.

As soon as he heard it, Brown was brought back to child­hood, when he first learned sto­ries of cre­ation, and Adam and Eve, and “won­dered which story was true.” For the au­thor of the The Da Vinci Code, who ob­vi­ously favours the his­tor­i­cal and per­haps hereti­cal, the chance to ex­plore hu­man ori­gins, re­li­gion and Dar­win seemed, well, a nat­u­ral choice.

But Brown had more in mind for the fifth in­stal­ment in his block­buster se­ries.

“That was on the ta­ble, but I didn’t re­ally want to write about it,” Brown re­called this week. “My editor said, ‘I’d love you to write about Dar­win. Evo­lu­tion could be in­ter­est­ing.’ I said, ‘What I re­ally want to write about is where we’re go­ing. I want to write about the fu­ture.’ He asked, ‘Could you do both?’ I said, ‘No, that’s not pos­si­ble.’

“And he said, ‘Oh, I’m sure you’ll fig­ure it out.’”

Of course, Brown was never one to shy away from un­tan­gling a Byzan­tine puzzle and Ori­gin be­came a years-long ob­ses­sion for the 53-year-old, and what re­sulted is a typ­i­cally fleet-footed tale about re­li­gion, tech­nol­ogy, art, ar­chi­tec­ture, sci­ence, and the be­gin­ning and end of the world. Well, it’s all around us. It af­fected the elec­tion in my coun­try. It af­fects all of us. What has hap­pened is that news is en­ter­tain­ment be­cause now ev­ery sin­gle per­son with a cell­phone is a broad­cast news sta­tion. You can video­tape any­thing and can dis­trib­ute it to the world. There is no cu­ra­tor for the World Wide Web. Peo­ple say what­ever they want. Oh yeah, def­i­nitely. I spent plenty of time look­ing at their lan­guage, look­ing at the kind of sto­ries they run, look­ing at the re­ac­tions. It’s as­ton­ish­ing be­cause there are plenty of in­tel­li­gent peo­ple who buy into con­spir­a­cies. A lot of peo­ple say: “Oh Dan, you’re a con­spir­acy the­o­rist.” I do not be­lieve that aliens have vis­ited the planet or that they’re on ice in Area 51. I’m pretty sure we did land on the moon, OK? No, I’m a skep­tic.

The rea­son I’m very ex­cited about this book is that we’re liv­ing in a time when our species is let­ting go of its su­per­sti­tions and re­li­gion is a su­per­sti­tion. Theirs are claims that are not quan­tifi­able. It doesn’t make them un­true .... It’s hard to keep faith and a ra­tio­nal mind si­mul­ta­ne­ously. We’re all strug­gling with it. Lang­don chooses top­ics, not by co­in­ci­dence, that fas­ci­nate me. He and I share a fas­ci­na­tion in his­tory and the power of re­li­gion and in art. How does tech­nol­ogy fit in? As far as Lang­don knows, it doesn’t, then he falls into this world and he re­al­izes it ab­so­lutely does.

Tech­nol­ogy is chang­ing the face of our philoso­phies at a very fast pace. It is chal­leng­ing the world’s re­li­gions in a way that is now strik­ing at the very core of re­li­gious be­lief. And I have sensed a chasm open­ing up across many cul­tures be­tween the be­liev­ers and the non-be­liev­ers. You know, I don’t. This will sound naive, but I was shocked The Da Vinci Code caused con­tro­versy. I grew up in a house where I was en­cour­aged to ask dif­fi­cult ques­tions with­out reper­cus­sions. And I wrote a book that said, “What does it mean for Chris­tian­ity if Je­sus isn’t the son of God, if he’s a nor­mal prophet?” It seemed like a per­fectly rea­son­able ques­tion to ask, but not every­body agreed. This time, I’ve asked: “Will God sur­vive sci­ence?” I guess we’ll just see what hap­pens.


Amer­i­can writer Dan Brown is back with Ori­gin, the lat­est novel about sym­bol­ogy pro­fes­sor Robert Lang­don’s ad­ven­tures.

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