Angels, Demons, & Scientists

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Dan Brown writes escapist fiction but I do find it fun to read as he does manage to bring up a few ideas. Angels & Demons was especially interesting to me as it deals with the age old conflict between science and religion. While I have not seen the movie yet, all the publicity from the movie release does seem a good time to mention my thoughts on the book. Caution, there are spoilers here if you plan to read the book and I would assume they also apply to the movie.

The book begins consideration of the fictional work of physicist Leonardo Vetra who used the facilities of CERN to create matter and anti-matter from energy. Vetra was also a priest who saw his work as a means of both advancing science and proving the existence of God. He equated his creation of matter and anti-matter to the moment of creation of the universe. I do not accept the argument that such work would have any bearing on the existence of God as Einstein has already showed the relationship between matter and energy in the opposite direction but for the sake of discussion and enjoyment of the book I am willing to assume that this view  is of significance.

The book begins with the murder of Vetra with the murder attributed to the Illuminati and Robert Langdon is called in to help. My feelings about the book varied as I read it and the view of who the guilty parties were changed as we got more information. When they discussed the history of the Illuminati and the church I naturally supported the scientists who were persecuted for questioning religion. When it appeared that scientists were the ones behind the murders of priests under consideration  to be the next Pope, along with a plot to blow up the Vatican, I could not support the scientists. I was pleased (repeat spoiler warning) to find in the end that the scientists were not the villains and actually it was a misguided conservative at the Vatican who desired to both eliminate more liberal priests in authority as well as to discredit science.

In the end we were to be sympathetic to the scientists and to the liberal members of the church who were the victims and the villain was the opponent of both science and liberalization of the church. I was also pleased to see that it was the religious conservative and not a pro-science Illuminati who had killed Vetra. While Vetra sought to promote religion, he did so by following the scientific method. As is ultimately revealed in the book, it is religious fanatics and not men of science who would be offended by Vetra’s work.

The book was a great page-turner. As it went on some of the suprises became predictable but only as there was some foreshadowing and they were consistent with earlier events in the book. This included the later revelation of who the true villian was, as well as the discovery as to the identigy of his father.

The movie version of Angels & Demons opened one week after Star Trek in a series of late spring blockbusters. Coincidentally there is a connection between the two. I don’t know if any of this made it into the movie, but in the book some of the science is simplified by comparing it to the science of Star Trek. Both anti-matter engines of the Enterprise and photon torpedoes were mentioned.

Dan Brown’s work has been more notable for religious controversy than such consideration of science. Angels & Demons has already come under attack from the Catholic League. Ron Howard, producer of the movie, has found it necessary to write that neither he or the book are anti-Catholic. Brown has antagonized many religious readers with The Da Vinci Code. They are likely to find Angels & Demons far less offensive. While the villain is someone at the Vatican, the book is ultimately sympathetic to liberal views within the church and does deal with attempts to save both priests in danger and the Vatican. The criticism of the church for historical acts against science is hardly unique to Brown’s work and I would assume that discussion of this would not raise the types of objections raised by questioning the divinity of Jesus in The DaVinci Code. While the movie of The Da Vinci Code came out first, the more controversial book was actually the second of the two.Will Brown continue to be as controversial in his next book?

Brown’s follow up novel, The Lost Symbol, is to be released in September. While it has been leaked that it deals with the Masons, little else is known.  Angels & Demons is primarily a thriller which at times felt a little like 24 with most of the action taking place over a four hour period to find a ticking bomb. The book also begins with an attempt at torture but, being more realistic than 24, the torture does not work.  The Lost Symbol reportedly takes place over twelve hours and is rumored to take place in Washington, D.C. and again involves Robert Langdon. I am surprised it is not being released around June to capitalize on the publicity of the movie along with allowing it to dominate lists of books for summer reading. Regardless I’m sure it will be a huge seller.

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