Dan Brown, author of the best-selling Da Vinci Code, has joined philologist Friedrich Nietzsche in announcing the death of God, declaring that “God cannot survive science.”
“Historically, no god has survived science. Gods evolved,” the American writer said last week at the Frankfurt Book Fair, where he launched the German edition of his latest novel, Origin. “All the gods of our past have fallen. So the question now is: Are we naive to think the gods of today won’t suffer the same fate?”
“Our need for the exterior God that sits up there and judges us… will diminish and eventually disappear,” Brown said.
Along with several other modern God-slayers, such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, Brown paints an absolute opposition between God and science, such that only one of the two can survive. Thus, as science advances, it will necessarily take the place of God—a thesis that not all accept.
“It is an extremely simplistic view of history to say that science kills religion,” said astrophysicist Jean-Pierre Luminet, research director of the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), who self-identifies as an atheist materialist.
According to Luminet, the notion of faith in a revealed truth or a personal God escapes the laws of the scientist busy decoding the universe. “From this point of view, each one refers to his own spiritual experience: for some, more science leads to God while others move away from it.”
Brown’s belief in the innate antagonism between religion and science bears out recent studies showing that nonbelievers tend to see the two fields to be irreconcilable.
A 2015 study by the Pew Center found that atheists are far more likely to see a conflict between faith and science than religious believers. While people of faith often see no conflict between science and religion, irreligious people often imagine that the two are completely incompatible.
The Pew report revealed that 73 percent of those who seldom or never attend religious services say that science and religion are often in conflict, while those who attend services at least once a week are 23 percent less likely to say so.
Among the unaffiliated—a group that includes atheists, agnostics, and those who belong to no religion in particular—the numbers are even higher. More than three quarters (76 percent) of the unaffiliated say that science and religion are “often in conflict.”
For many religious believers, however, the two fields are mutually supportive.
“It is absurd that one can still think of the relationship between science and faith in terms of opposition after more than a century of fruitful dialogue,” said Father Thierry Magnin, priest, physicist and rector of the Catholic University of Lyon. “God is not destined to fill the gaping holes left by science. As for the latter, scientists know well that it does not say everything.”
Brown’s knowledge of the Christian faith seems somewhat rudimentary, evidenced by his recent statement that “Christianity, Judaism and Islam share a gospel, and it’s the one I grew up with,” but this hasn’t curbed his enthusiasm for scandalizing believers.
In this fifth installment of the saga begun with the Da Vinci Code, Harvard professor Robert Langdon endeavors to decipher the mysteries of the origin of the world, exploring in particular the struggle between science and religion.
A former student of Langdon’s, Edmond Kirsch, has been assassinated just as he is about to reveal a scientific breakthrough that he says will bring about the downfall of Western religion and revolutionize how people think of life and death.
Brown’s claims that no religion has ever survived science have little backing in the historical record, since the modern natural sciences grew out of Judeo-Christian culture. As sociologist Rodney Stark has so convincingly shown, science was “still-born” in the great civilizations of the ancient world, and only came to fruition in Christian civilization.
Why is it, Stark ponders, that empirical science and the scientific method did not develop in China (with its sophisticated society), in India (with its philosophical schools), in Arabia (with its advanced mathematics), in Japan (with its dedicated craftsmen and technologies), or even in ancient Greece or Rome?
Science flourished in societies where a Judeo-Christian mindset understood nature to be ordered and intelligible, the work of an intelligent Creator, Stark concludes. Science grew and thrived where people assumed that the natural world makes sense and thus can be studied and understood. Far from being an obstacle to science, Christian soil provided the fertile humus where modern science could take root.
Unsurprisingly, some of history’s greatest scientists—Newton, Pasteur, Galilei, Lavoisier, Kepler, Copernicus, Faraday, Maxwell, Bernard, and Heisenberg—were Christians who found that faith was an asset, rather than an obstacle, to science.
Three years ago, Pope Francis asserted his conviction that science and faith are not only compatible, they need one another.
The Big Bang “doesn’t contradict the intervention of a divine Creator, but demands it,” the Pope said, because the origin of the world “is not the work of chaos.”
Addressing the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Francis said that God is not some sort of wizard, but rather “the Creator who brought all things into being.” The origin of the world derives directly “from a supreme Principle of creative love,” he added.
“Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve,” he said.
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