Dan Brown Pits Creationism Against Science In His Latest Novel, 'Origin' | KERA News

Dan Brown Pits Creationism Against Science In His Latest Novel, 'Origin'

Oct 22, 2017

Author Dan Brown has used his books to challenge people with questions of God and faith, all while sending readers on globe-trotting adventures that leave you both dizzy and satisfied. And on those fronts, his latest book, Origin, does not disappoint.

But while readers of his bestselling books The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons will once again follow Professor Robert Langdon, Origin covers new ground for Brown. "The novel opens with a futurist," Brown says, "who has made a scientific discovery that he believes will destroy the foundations of world religion. And of course, Robert Langdon, because he has terribly bad luck, is in the wrong place at the wrong time and gets tangled up in that. And the novel also features a character that is artificial intelligence, which I've never written before, and that was a lot of fun to do."


Interview Highlights

On deciding to explore the big questions

Where are we going, where do we come from, these are issues that are at the core of what is to be human. Every religion on earth tries to answer these questions, and in recent centuries, science has tried very hard to answer these questions. It used to be, we had a huge pantheon of gods and goddesses to describe the natural world, and bit by bit, science began picking away at that ... so the book really asks, what happens when science starts answering the final few questions. Will the gods of today survive?

On his own take on God vs. science

It's interesting, a lot of people think I'm anti-religious. I'm actually quite the opposite. I am not an atheist — I think I'm happily confused and a work in progress; I'm sort of more agnostic. I do think that science has become the lens through which we see the world, more and more. It used to be that the recent earthquakes in Mexico would be seen as punishment by an angry god, and now even the most religious among us would see that as a geologic event, we wouldn't see it as a religious event.

On what dialogue he hopes will spring from this book

Dialogue always takes two points of view, and I'm trying to create characters who argue two points of view. There are religious people in these books, there are scientists in these books. I don't think anyone who reads this book will think that I have a soft spot for creationism. I personally believe that it's shocking in the year 2017 that we can have American congressmen who openly proclaim the earth is 6,000 years old and that the fossil record was put there to test our faith. And because it's a religious idea, not only are we not allowed to question or ridicule it, we are debating whether or not to teach it in our schools. And that's upsetting to me. I really feel that religion does itself no favors by declaring itself immune to rational scrutiny.

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LAKSHMI SINGH, HOST:

And now from the big screen to the page. Author Dan Brown has used his books to challenge people with questions of God and faith all while sending readers on globe-trotting adventures that leave you feeling both dizzy and satisfied. And on those fronts, his latest book "Origin" does not disappoint. But while readers of his bestselling works, "The Da Vinci Code" and "Angels And Demons" will once again follow Professor Robert Langdon, "Origin" covers new ground for Brown. He joined us while on a book tour in Barcelona, Spain. And first, I asked him to set the stage for his new novel.

DAN BROWN: The novel opens with a futurist who has made a scientific discovery that he believes will destroy the foundations of world religion. And, of course, Robert Langdon - because he has terribly bad luck - is in the wrong place at the wrong time and gets tangled up in that. And the novel also features a character that is artificial intelligence, which I've never written before, and it was a lot of fun to do.

SINGH: In this novel, you address two mysteries of life. Where do we come from? And where are we going? And you do so with technology, as it seems the central character in this novel. Dan, what led you to explore these sort of explosive topics?

BROWN: You know, I've always been fascinated with big ethical questions. And, you know, where are we going? Where do we come from? These are issues that are at the core of what it is to be human. Every religion on earth tries to answer these questions. And, you know, in recent centuries, science has tried very hard to answer these questions.

It used to be we had a huge pantheon of gods and goddesses to describe the natural world. And bit by bit, science began picking away at that. You know, it used to be that the tides were the moods of Poseidon moving the tides. And eventually, we learned about the moon and gravity, and Poseidon disappeared. So the book really asks, what happens when science starts answering the final few questions? Will the gods of today survive?

SINGH: Have you arrived at a personal answer about God versus science?

BROWN: You know, it's interesting. A lot of people think I'm anti-religious. I'm actually quite the opposite. I am not an atheist. I think I'm happily confused and a work in progress. I'm sort of more agnostic. I do think that science has become the lens through which we see the world more and more. You know, it used to be the recent earthquakes in Mexico would be seen as a punishment by an angry God. And now, even the most religious among us would see that as a geologic event. We wouldn't see it as a religious event. And I see that progressing. We seem to be becoming much more secular in the face of increased technology.

SINGH: Dan, one of the things that I found fascinating about this latest book, "Origin," is how prominently social media was featured in this book. There was a particular reference to teenagers coming upon a corpse. They have discovered this corpse. And one would think their initial reaction would be horrified and shocked by what they found. But you write that they immediately took out their phones and started snapping photos so they could text to their friends. What were you thinking in that moment as you were writing that?

BROWN: Well, actually, you're the first person even to mention it, which actually makes me happy because it's a shocking moment, but it is so real in today's society that nobody else even tripped over it. It is what we do. We share absolutely everything now. And there's a moment in the book when a priest is noting that children are now staring down into their devices, rather than up into the heavens. And, you know, you can see it in any doctor's office, on any bus, walking down the street. We are so connected with our technology that many of us are having trouble connecting with each other and with the natural world.

SINGH: It is sparking interesting dialogue online. Ironically, as we're speaking about this, quite a bit of debate not only, you know, over whether God could survive science, as one headline read, but just creationism versus evolution. And like your other books, the debate is fiery. What are you hoping the dialogue will sound like from this particular book?

BROWN: Well, you know, dialogue always takes two points of view. And I'm trying to create characters who argue both points of view. There are religious people in this book. There are scientists in these books. You know, I don't think anybody who reads this book will think that I have a soft spot in my heart for creationism.

I personally believe that it's shocking in the year 2017 that we can have American congressmen who openly proclaim the earth is 6,000 years old and that the fossil record was put there to test our faith. And because it's a religious idea, not only are we not allowed to question or ridicule it, we are debating whether or not to teach it in our schools, and that's upsetting to me. I really feel that religion does itself no favors by declaring itself immune from rational scrutiny.

SINGH: What's your next project?

BROWN: Well, I often joke that there's an appropriate amount of time before one can ask that question just because I've got so many ideas. And I think I'll just probably take some time before I figure out what it will be.

SINGH: Well, I suppose it's because it's a little tougher to try to top your last work. Your books have been best-selling works. And it gets to be - I've been told by other authors - very difficult to try to set your latest work apart from your previous work. Tell me about what it's been like to make this, "Origin," stand completely apart from your other books.

BROWN: The other authors are correct. It's always very, very difficult, especially if you're writing a recurring character. The character has to mature. I just tried to tackle bigger and bigger questions. And this idea of will, you know - whether or not God will survive science is something that I find fascinating. I think it's one of the biggest and most important questions of our time. And I've been fascinated by the debate.

And, you know, I've talked to plenty of atheists who said, hey, there are about a billion atheists on the planet who are perfectly happy. And I've talked to a lot of religious people who make wonderful arguments for all the good religion has done in the world. So to set this book apart really was the decision to write about something that I found the biggest question I could possibly write about.

SINGH: That's Dan Brown, author of "Origin." He joined us from Barcelona, Spain. Dan, thank you.

BROWN: Thank you very much.

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