An accidental blog

"If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit." Abraham Kuyper Common Grace 1.1.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Angels and Demons: revisited

Dan Brown's Angels and Demons has recently been released as a film.

Thomas Hibbs provides a helpful review here.

The release of the film gives me the opportunity to recycle this post on the book:

Dan Brown is a publishing phenomenon. At present he has four books in the bestsellers list, including The Da Vinci Code at number one.

He has hit on a winning formula: short chapters that end with a hook, a conspiracy theory and an international media event such as the election of a US president, or the election of a new pope.

The Da Vinci Code has caused much stir among Christians. Though many seem to forget that Brown – despite what he says in the ‘FACT’ section at the front of the book – is writing fiction. It’s easy to confuse genres, something that postmodernism seems to encourage. Much less has been written about his other books.

What concerns me most about his Angels and Demons is his view of science and religion and how they relate – not least in one of the characters: Maximillian Kohler, the ‘director general of CERN’. Kohler has a totally out-dated positivistic view of science. It is a view not unlike that of the two evangelistic atheists Richard Dawkins and Peter Atkins. For Kohler science is the angel and religion the demon.

Brown’s Kohler talks with the 'hero' Robert Langdon:
'The men and women of CERN are here to find answers to the same
questions man has been asking since the beginning of time. Where did we
come from? What are we made of?’

‘And these answers are in a physics lab?’

‘You sound surprised’

‘I am. The questions seem spiritual.’

‘Mr Langdon, all questions were once spiritual. Since the beginning of time spirituality and religion have been called on to fill in the gaps that science did not understand. The rising and setting of the sun was once attributed to Helios and a flaming chariot. Earthquakes and tidal waves were the wrath of Poseidon. Science has now proven those gods to be false idols. Soon all Gods will be proven to be false idols. Science has now provided answers to almost every question man [sic] can ask. There are only a few questions left, and they are the esoteric ones. Where do we come from? What are we doing here? What is the meaning of life and the universe?’

Langdon was amazed. ‘And these are questions CERN is trying to answer?’

‘Correction. These are questions we are answering.’

Demons and Angels Corgi edition, 2001 p. 43

…Langdon added, ‘the unification of science and religion was not what the church wanted.’
‘Of course not,’ Kohler interrupted. ‘The union would have nullified the church’s claim to be the sole vessel through which man [sic] could understand God. So the church tried Galileo as a heretic, found him guilty, and put him under house arrest. …

Demons and Angels Corgi edition, 2001 p. 51-2

As well as repeating the god-of-the gaps fallacy and the Galileo myth, Brown’s Kohler is advocating a conflict model of science and religion. This idea that science conflicts with religion and thus makes religion redundant has its historical roots, at least in a popular form, in the writings of John Draper and subsequently by Andrew Dickson White's (1832-1918) two volumed book A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1897)Historians of science, such as Lindberg and Numbers, John Hedley Brooke, and Colin Russell have shown that the main thesis of White’s and Draper’s work was based on misinformation and half-truths, and have exposed the naivety of the conflict category. Nevertheless, the conflict metaphor is still prevalent. It provides a pertinent example of how worldview colours perception of reality. The combatants in the conflicts that did exist were not science and Christianity; rather the combatants were, as Brooke notes, the adherents of the new science and the adherents of the
sanctified science of the previous generation. Science and religion are not in conflict, neither are they totally independent.

The fallacious view of science as objective and value-free, and faith as subjective and value-laden, has long been demolished by philosophers of science. Unfortunately, these views are still propounded by the popular media. Faith is integral to the scientific enterprise. It is this that Brown’s Kohler misses.

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