posted by on May 14th, 2009Angels and Ignorance

I won’t be seeing the movie Angels and Demons when it is released. I plan to avoid it, as I did The DaVinci Code a few years ago.

This is not a boycott based on religious sentiment. I happily explore controversies of all types, and if your story is good you can use the Pope, the President, the Dalai Lama or Betty Crocker as your bad guy and I’ll keep reading. No, my reason for avoiding Angels and Demons is that even I have a limited tolerance for bad storytelling.

I slogged through the novel The DaVinci Code, but quit reading Angels and Demons after a few chapters. Putting aside the mediocre writing,* I just could not stand to continue a book that revels in ignorance.

Here’s the line that finally got me to put the book down:

Langdon had spent his career studying religious history, and if there was one recurring theme, it was that science and religion had been oil and water since day one…archenemies…unmixable.

I don’t recall where Robert Langdon is supposed to have studied, but wherever it was he got ripped off. An expert in religious history, but he knows nothing of the history of scientists in religious life? Does not know that the Vatican has maintained an astronomical observatory for centuries? Never heard of Jesuit priest George Coyne or scores of other scientist-priests? Never heard of Gregor frikkin’ Mendel and the dawn of genetic science?

There is plenty of room and reason for discussion about the positive or negative effects that religion has had on scientific progress. But for Dan Brown or his hero to suggest that religion and science are always and utterly “unmixable” is absurd.

It would be interesting to think that Brown has intended a farce, a story about a supposed expert who really knows very little about his subject. Inspector Clouseau Meets the Illuminati might be a fun movie. Sadly, I understand from reading The DaVinci Code that this is not the author’s aim. Brown seems to portray Langdon as a genuine expert.

This leaves us with two possible explanations:

1) Dan Brown is writing on a subject about which he knows very little and which he has not bothered to learn, or
2) Dan Brown thinks so little of his audience that he believes he can put howlers like “religion and science never mix” into the mind of his religion expert and no one will notice the error.

Sadly, if option 2 is correct then the success of his books suggests that Brown is justified in his low opinion of his potential readership. But either way, for me, this kind of sloppiness or cynicism means that a writer is not worth my time.

*Two novels, and each one introduces the same main character by having him examine his own reflection? Really?

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