The best-selling author of the purely fictional books The Da Vinci Code and Inferno is not known for letting facts get in the way of his stories. The problem isn’t so much Dan Brown, though. It’s the legions of readers who believe that the drivel he spills onto the paper is true. There are reasons why I used the qualifier “purely fictional”: many people believe that the history and theology in Dan Brown’s books are correct. They’re not.
Hopefully, the smackdown that physicist Jeremy England gave Dan Brown in a Wall Street Journal article titled “Dan Brown Can’t Cite Me to Disprove God” will help people realize that Brown is pretty much making all of his anti-God nonsense up.
In his new novel Origin, Brown includes a character named Jeremy England who is a physics professor. This fictional character based on the real-life Jeremy England has “identified the underlying physical principle driving the origin and evolution of life.” Furthermore, according to the book, Professor England has disproven all other theories of creation, including the Biblical account recorded in Genesis.
The real Jeremy England scoffs at Dan Brown’s fictional creation that hijacks England’s actual research. England takes umbrage at Brown’s use of his name and research to suggest that the Book of Genesis has been refuted. England points out that his namesake in Dan Brown’s book offers no real science to interact with. Then, England writes:
My true concern is my double’s attitude in the book. He is a prop for a billionaire futurist whose mission is to demonstrate that science has made God irrelevant.
The real Jeremy England offers this advice for interacting with his research:
Two years ago I wrote in Commentary magazine that it is impossible simply to describe “the way things are” without first making the significant choice of what language to speak in. The language of physics can be extremely useful in talking about the world, but it can never address everything that needs to be said about human life.
Equations can elegantly explain how an airplane stays in the air, but they cannot convey the awe someone feels when flying above the clouds. I’m disappointed in my fictional self for being so blithely uninterested in what lies beyond the narrow confines of his technical field.
I’m a scientist, but I also study and live by the Hebrew Bible. To me, the idea that physics could prove that the God of Abraham is not the creator and ruler of the world reflects a serious misunderstanding — of both the scientific method and the function of the biblical text.
Science is an approach to common experience. It addresses what is objectively measurable by inventing models that summarize the world’s partial predictability. In contrast, the biblical God tells Moses at the burning bush: “I will be what I will be.” He is addressing the uncertainty the future brings for all. No prediction can ever fully answer the question of what will happen next.
Consider someone who assumes that all existence is the work of a creator who speaks through the events of the world. He can follow that assumption down the road and decide whether God seems to be keeping his side of the bargain. Many of us live like this and feel that with time our trust in him has been affirmed. There’s no scientific argument for this way of drawing meaning from experience. But there’s no way science could disprove it either, because it is outside the scope of scientific inquiry.
Do we need to keep learning about God?
For my part, in light of everything I know, I am certain that we do.
Let’s hope Dan Brown’s book garners fewer eyeballs than Jeremy England’s essay.