Catherine Pomiecko | Staff Writer
Megan Tan | Staff Photographer
Best-selling author Dan Brown holds up his father’s license plate, which reads “Metric,” during his evening lecture Monday in the Amphitheater.
The last time Dan Brown spoke in the state of New York, he fell under scrutiny for the controversial topics that he explores in his novel The Da Vinci Code. Seven years later, Brown was the one leading the scrutiny.
Just as his novels investigate the contradictions between science and religion, Brown posed the same debate to Chautauquans at 8:15 p.m. Monday in the Amphitheater.
A red Volvo turbo station wagon, a white minivan and a blue Schwinn
Growing up, Brown had much exposure to both schools of thought. His mother, Connie, was a church organist and choir director “not shy” about her religion, Brown said. Needless to say, Brown regularly attended Sunday church services. While Brown may have enjoyed the free doughnuts more than the Scripture, he said he grew up never questioning religion, accepting it as fact.
“This reassuring and joyful world became my reality as a child,” Brown said. “It never dawned on me to question any of it. It was all fact. It had to be. All of the adults at church agreed, including my own mother.”
When Brown wasn’t attending church services, he was perfecting the art of dinnertime carrot cuts with his father, Dick, a mathematics teacher and textbook author. Math, too, was integrated into much of Brown’s life, whether it was at the dinner table through demonstrations of conic sections with baby carrots or stargazing and pondering the concept of infinity and the questions that went with it.
Consequently, the paradox of science and religion surrounded Brown from an early age. In the Brown family car garage, his mother’s red Volvo turbo station wagon with the license plate “KYRIE,” the Latin transliteration for the Greek word meaning “Lord,” was parked next to his father’s white minivan with the license plate “METRIC.”
“This age-old battle of science and religion squaring off right there next to my little blue Schwinn,” Brown said.
Yet, it wasn’t until age 13 that Brown realized the contradictions between science and religion. He began to notice that what he read in the Bible didn’t match up with what he learned in school. While science offered proof of its claims, religion demanded acceptance on faith alone.
“Since the days of Galileo and the Vatican, science and religion have been doing battle, both vying to be that infallible source from which we draw our truth, and that battle still rages today,” he said.
But with these contradictions came a commonality, Brown said. In his studies, he noticed that when science tackles more complex questions, it uses phrases like “uncertainty principle” and “theory of relativity,” and numbers become imaginary. At the same time, Buddhist monks read physics books that quantify the beliefs they have held for centuries. What Brown came to realize is the interconnectivity of science and religion, especially in today’s advancing world.
“Science and religion are simply two different languages trying to tell the same story,” he said. “Both are manifestations of man’s quest to understand the divine, and while science dwells on answers, religion savors the questions.”
Evolution of religion
Thousands of years ago, there was a god or goddess to explain every gap of understanding about human nature, from infertility to thunder. Overtime, science discredited Juno and Thor as false gods, but the need for a higher being did not diminish. In a way, we still worship a “god of the gaps,” Brown said.
“Religion at its core is the quest to decipher life’s big mysteries: Where did we come from? Why are we here? And what happens when we die?” he said.
Whether it is a god of the gaps or observation of biblical stories uncannily similar to the ones scribed into earlier Sumerian tablets, today’s religions seem to borrow aspects from the beliefs that came before them — an exciting discovery for Brown. The difference is that in today’s modern world, we are no longer able to blindly accept ancient beliefs without questioning them. The challenge becomes balancing modern knowledge with our faith.
Effects of the novels
The basis for Brown’s work is rooted in these unending debates. Brown’s characters explore the leaps of faith and alternative histories that Brown first questioned in his youth.
The responses to Brown’s novels have varied about as much as the opposing arguments he deliberates. He was criticized almost daily during the height of The Da Vinci Code. Surprisingly, though, one priest approached Brown with a compliment of sorts. The priest told Brown that his weekly Bible study that advertised discussion of The Da Vinci Code drew hundreds of participants compared to the usual handful. Although he did not agree with the book, he was grateful for the dialogue.
In letters, several Catholic nuns wrote Brown to thank him for discussing the Sacred Feminine, saying his novel gave them the strength to speak out about what they saw as discriminatory traditions in the church — namely, that nuns devote their lives to God but are seen unfit to be priests because they are women.
The demand for the story extended even into the world of film. After some initial hesitancy, Brown ultimately decided making a movie would extend the message of his novels to those who can’t or don’t read. Angels & Demons, The Da Vinci Code and soon The Lost Symbol will make the transition from page to big screen.
Finding a balance
Brown’s novels bring up several other long-accepted topics that hold taboo incongruities as well. For instance, science explains life on earth through a series of chances, a cosmic accident. Yet for many, it is impossible to accept that explanation. Quoting his novel, Angels & Demons, Brown said:
“Is it really so much easier to believe that we simply chose the right card from a deck of billions? Have we become so spiritually bankrupt that we would rather believe in mathematical impossibility than in a power greater than us?”
While he might not have the answers, Brown advocates the importance of asking these questions through his novels. Like Leonardo da Vinci, Brown sees in today’s evolving world the promise of a place where science and religion can live in harmony.
“We live in a very exciting era,” he said. “For the first time in history, the line between science and religion is starting to blur.”