Dominus Iesus

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Menjawab Kerancuan Buku (Film) Angels and Demons

Answering Angels & Demons


33 Questions about the Facts and Fiction of Angels and Demons


By Mark Shea -



1. What is Angels and Demons?


Angels and Demons is a novel by Dan Brown centering on fictional Harvard University symbologist Robert Langdon’s search to unravel the mysteries of the Illuminati and avert a threat to destroy Vatican City using antimatter. The book makes use of various common falsehoods about the supposed conflict between science and religion, with particular emphasis on the Catholic Church’s supposed hatred and fear of science.


The novel is a predecessor to The Da Vinci Code, and it introduces the reader to Robert Langdon, the protagonist of that novel. It shares many similarities with The Da Vinci Code, such as conspiracies, secret societies, and a great deal of malice toward the Catholic Church. Pretensions to extensive knowledge and research of ancient history, architecture, and symbolism also dominate the story. A film adaptation is scheduled for U.S. release on May 15, 2009.


2. What is Angels and Demons about?


It is a murder mystery in which the Catholic Church is framed by Dan Brown for hating science and wanting to murder scientists for researching particle physics. Posing as a novelist who just wants to tell a ripping yarn, Brown instead brings together a preposterous tale about a sinister Catholic prelate with an absurd fear that scientific studies of the origin of the basic building block of matter will somehow disprove the existence of God and make science a substitute for Christian revelation. This prelate, a close aide to the late pope named Carlo Ventresca, stops at nothing to leave a small pile of corpses around Rome (the bodies of four cardinals, the top candidates to succeed the late pope) and pins the whole thing on a non-existent group called the Illuminati—a supposed secret society of scientists, enlightened minds, and rational thinkers—all in order to get himself elected pope and crack down on Catholic involvement in the sciences. Along the way, Angels & Demons discover that he is also the murderer of the previous pope, whom he deemed worthy of death for conceiving a son through artificial insemination—and that this child turns out to be none other than Ventresca himself. He is elected pope by superstitious cardinals who regard his various “visions” and seemingly lucky breaks in preventing the bomb plot he himself engineered as signs of divine approval and guidance but, exposed as a fraud (and horrified to discover that he is the child of the pope), he commits suicide by burning himself alive and another pope is elected.


3. Isn’t the book just fiction? What’s the harm in people reading this as a thrilling novel?


Like The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons exploits people’s lack of knowledge about the Catholic faith and its “facts” mislead them in many harmful ways.


First, it tells flat-out lies, giving ammunition—however ungrounded in reality it may be—to people who already hold a grudge against Christianity. In other words, people who already distrust (and even dislike) the Catholic Church and traditional Christianity are likely to see in books like Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code much “evidence” to help justify their opposition to the Church and to support their own views

about Christ.


Second, Angels and Demons gives Christians who are on the fence about their faith an excuse for not following Jesus Christ unreservedly. Those people, for example, who may have grown up Christian but have not been living out their relationship with Jesus in their personal lives are encouraged by Angels and Demons to continue in their lukewarm lifestyle.


Third, Angels and Demons draws all readers—even devout Christians—emotionally and intellectually into many levels of bogus conspiracy theories in a way that is unhealthy. We must ask ourselves: Do we want this kind of attitude in our hearts? Does Christ want us to have this kind of attitude? Do we want to approach Christ and the Church with a lack of trust? Let’s keep in mind who the very first conspiracy theorist was. The one who, from the very beginning, sowed doubt about God’s goodness in the human heart. The one who still wants us to doubt God’s Scriptures, God’s Church, God’s law, and even God Himself—the devil. It was the devil who led Adam and Eve to doubt God’s love and good intentions: “Did God say, ‘you shall not eat of any tree of the garden’? …You will not die! For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God” (Genesis 3:1, 4-5). So yes, the many conspiracy theories woven in The Da Vinci Code can be very dangerous for the soul.


4. Aren’t Christians scared of Angels and Demons because they know Dan Brown has discovered the truth about the fraudulent nature of their faith? The book seems to be rooted in good research and historical facts.


One of the ironies of Dan Brown’s work is the curious way in which so many of its defenders say, “Lighten up, it’s just a novel! And besides—it’s all true!” We will leave it to you to work out that self-contradiction. In the meantime, we will counter the book’s claims with a straightforward fact: They’re not true.


True, Angels and Demons is just a novel, but it gives the impression that its contents are based on serious research. This is the first trick of the propaganda artist, and it usually works when the issue is anti-Catholic propaganda. The average person (i.e., someone who does not know much about the Bible, Christian history, or religious symbolism) might buy into the bizarre ideas in Angels and Demons because he or she does not have the background to separate the truth from the many falsehoods found in its pages.


After all, how many people are experts in secret societies, papal elections, the art of Rome, the history of the relationship between the Catholic Church and the sciences, the distinction between infallibility and impeccability and numerous other details necessary to tell the difference between truth and falsehood as it is presented in this story? So when a professional “expert” character in Angels and Demons starts begins spouting off “scholarly” theories or some sinister curtain-gliding plotter in the Vatican starts telling you that “Catholic teaching” forbids research into the physical origins of matter and energy, the reaction of the intimidated reader is “What do I know? Maybe Angels and Demons is right!” This process is easily assisted by the fact that, of course, the Church, including clergy at the highest levels, has its share of grave sinners—including popes who have sired children (albeit without the help of artificial insemination) and even committed murder.


So many readers who are not well-educated in these areas are easily taken for a ride and figure they are getting an “insider’s view” of what the Church really thinks about science and what really goes on in Rome.


They begin to wonder whether maybe, just maybe, some of the points Brown makes in Angels and Demons could be true after all. Especially when Brown habitually backs up his claims by asserting that “scholars,” “historians,” and “educated Christians” all know this stuff. The average lay person does not feel informed enough to make an intelligent rebuttal. So many believe Angels and Demons’ nasty agit-prop.


5. Isn’t the fact that the book sold millions of copies a testament to its truth and credibility?


Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf sold millons, too. So what? The popularity of a book—or movie or Tv show or anything, for that matter—says nothing about its value or its truth.


6. Who is Dan Brown?


Dan Brown is the author of several detective thrillers that generally involve the untangling of an elaborate web of lies and intrigue in the quest for what film director Alfred Hitchcock called the maguffin: the object that is the goal of the pursuit throughout the story. In The Da Vinci Code, the maguffin is the Secret of the Grail and the identity of the killer and his boss. In Angels and Demons, it is the stolen antimatter and the identity of the killer and his boss.


A 1986 graduate of Amherst College, Brown taught English at Phillips Exeter Academy (of which he is alumnus and where his father taught math). Upon reading a pulp fiction novel one day, Brown reportedly said, “I could do that.” So he embarked on a career as a full-time writer, cranking out a number of novels that would recycle his interest in and ideas about codes, keys, and secret information. Despite the fact that Brown has no training in history, art, theology, philosophy, or even cryptography, he makes a special claim to meticulously research his work: a claim that has been repeatedly challenged and found wanting.


For instance, his novel Digital Fortress earned scorn from experts for its erroneous depiction of cryptography— a rather crucial fault since the book is about cryptography. Similarly, Brown has been criticized for his confident (and wholly invented) claims in Digital Fortress that, in Spain, the “hospitals smell of urine,” the police “can be easily bribed,” and “making an international call depends on how lucky you are.” He writes of one of his wounded characters that “such a lung injury could be easily treated in any medically advanced nation, but this was Spain.” Consequently, the mayor of Seville (the Spanish city where the novel is partially set) invited Brown to visit the city so that he might know what he’s talking about.


Similarly, Brown’s tendency to make extremely dubious claims with great confidence is on particular display in The Da Vinci Code. In a whole host of areas, from art to history to theology to architecture, Brown makes a number of highly questionable assertions concerning not only the “fraudulent origins” of the Christian faith, but about art and history as well. These claims are thoroughly debunked in The Da Vinci Deception

(Ascension, 2006).


7. So what is the core problem with Angels and Demons?


The central problem with Angels and Demons is its portrayal of the Church’s teaching on the relationship between faith and science.


8. What? I thought you were going to say the book’s main problem was asserting that a pope could be sexually active or a high-ranking Church official could murder a pope! Isn’t the real sin in Catholic eyes that Dan Brown dares to suggest the “infallible” pope is a sinner?


No, not at all. The infallible pope is a sinner. That is why he needs to go to confession like everybody else. Some popes have been very bad sinners indeed, fathering several children out of wedlock and even commissioning murder. A novel built around the tale of a murderous, philandering pope, or a scheming prelate, or even a sort of science fiction tale involving an anti-matter-stealing heirarch is not, in itself, anything that a Catholic has to object to per se—as long as it doesn’t tell lies in order to make its plot points. Angels and Demons does, and that is the real issue.


9. Wait a minute. “The infallible pope is a sinner”? How can you believe the pope is both infallible and a sinner?


Infallibility has nothing to do with the moral character, intelligence, or virtue of a particular pope. The word for “being unable to sin” is not infallibility but impeccability. The Church emphatically denies that the pope has any such gift. If any Catholic were foolish enough to think that the pope cannot sin, the history of the Church affords voluminous evidence to the contrary. That is why Paul could rebuke the first pope, Peter, for being a coward and a snob. It is why anyone familiar with Church history can point to any number of popes did things like wimp out under persecution, or plot to murder their predecessor, or make stupid political decisions, or have children by their concubines, or do any number of other wicked and dumb things.


10. So if infallibility doesn’t mean “sinlessness,” then what does it mean?


Here is the scoop on what the Church means when it talks about infallibility (from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 889–892):


In order to preserve the Church in the purity of the faith handed on by the apostles, Christ who is the Truth willed to confer on her a share in his own infallibility. By a “supernatural sense of faith” the People of God, under the guidance of the Church’s living Magisterium, “unfailingly adheres to this faith.”


The mission of the Magisterium is linked to the definitive nature of the covenant established by God with his people in Christ. It is this Magisterium’s task to preserve God’s people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error. Thus, the pastoral duty of the Magisterium is aimed at seeing to it that the People of God abides in the truth that

liberates. To fulfill this service, Christ endowed the Church’s shepherds with the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals. The exercise of this charism takes several forms:


“The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful—who confirms his brethren in the faith he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals. . . . The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter’s successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium,” above all in an Ecumenical Council. When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine “for belief as being divinely revealed,” and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions “must be adhered to with the obedience of faith.” This infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself.


Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a “definitive manner,” they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful “are to adhere to it with religious assent” which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it.


11. OK, but could you translate that into plain English?


In plain English, this means that the Church does not think her bishops or the pope are superheroes, incapable of sin or error. The only reason the Church didn’t immediately lose track of the Gospel of Christ ten minutes after His ascension into heaven is because, as Christ promised (Matthew 28:20), He has remained with the Church by His Holy Spirit who guides the Church into all truth (John 16:13). Indeed, infallibility is a special gift given by God to the Church in her weakness, not bestowed on her for being especially clever or strong. That is how the Church sees her gift of infallibility. For she holds with gratitude to the promise which Christ gave her, that He would lead her (often by the nose) into all truth; not that she would figure truth out because of her brilliance.


12. I still don’t get it. If the Church or the pope is infallible, how can they have done such obviously stupid things as teaching that the earth was flat back in the Middle Ages?


Actually, the Church never taught that the earth was flat. Indeed, all educated people during the medieval period knew as well as we do that the earth is round. If you need proof, look no further than the poem that is hailed as arguably the greatest work of literature of the Middle Ages: the Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri.


The entire poem is built on the awareness that the earth is a gigantic ball. In the course of the poem, Dante travels through the earth (via an imaginative journey through hell) and then emerges on the other side and climbs his imaginary Mt. Purgatory.


13. OK. The Church didn’t teach that the earth was flat. But popes have taught things that were just wrong, like the idea that sun goes around the earth.


Yes. It is quite true that individuals in the Church—including some popes—have had various ideas and opinions on all sorts of matters that turned out to be erroneous or only partially accurate. However, this has nothing to do with infallibility. Infallibility is actually an extraordinarily limited claim. What it basically boils down to is this: when the pope teaches on a matter of faith and morals that a particular doctrine is essential to the Faith, he will be protected by a special charism from teaching error. So, for instance, when the Church dogmatically defines that Jesus Christ is the second person the Godhead, it is speaking infallibly. If, however, the pope remarks that it looks like rain today or offers his opinion on the advisability of some farm subsidy bill or comments on the music of Bob Dylan, these ideas and opinions are obviously not protected by infallibility.


In fact, the Church’s exercise of infallibility is quite rare. For instance, the pope at the time of Galileo was quite an astronomy buff, and he had his own theories about the movements of heavenly bodies, which he shared with Galileo in private correspondence. It turns out that pope’s astronomical theories were wrong. But he was speaking, not as pope, but as simply as a guy who happened to enjoy astronomy as a hobby.


14. Huh? I thought the Church in the Dark Ages was afraid of science and that is why they persecuted Galileo. How could the pope have been interested in astronomy?


Another aside. If we are going to talk about history, it is good to learn some actual terms used by historians. “The Dark Ages” is a meaningless term that real historians reject. The period in which Galileo lived (1564-1642) is generally referred to as the Late Renaissance. It was characterized by a renewed interest in the sciences and art, and its great patron was the Catholic Church. Indeed, as Dr. Thomas Woods notes in How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization: “For the last fifty years, virtually all historians of science— including A. C. Crombie, David Lindberg, Edward Grant, Stanley Jaki, Thomas Goldstein, and J. L. Heilbron —have concluded that the Scientific Revolution was indebted to the Catholic Church.”


15. But I thought the Church was always persecuting scientists and rational thinkers. Angels and Demons says that Copernicus was murdered for teaching that the earth goes around the sun.


Yes, it does. And that should be your first clue that Angels and Demons is written by a man who either cannot or will not speak the truth about historical fact.


In reality, Copernicus (1473-1543) was a Polish Catholic priest whose heliocentric theory provoked no particular reaction at all from Church authorities during his lifetime and who died of a stroke at age seventy. There is absolutely no evidence at all for Brown’s claim that he was persecuted and murdered for his heliocentric views.


16. OK, maybe Copernicus wasn’t murdered. But wasn’t he still on the outs with Church authorities for belonging to the Illuminati with their free-thinking idea about science and rationality?


Sorry, but no. While the Illuminati were a real secret society devoted to Enlightenment principles, the problem is that the Enlightenment was an eighteenth century movement and the Illuminati were founded in 1776, centuries after people like Copernicus, Galileo, and Bernini (whom Brown claims to have been members) were all in their graves due to natural causes, not murdered.


17. But I thought Brown carefully researched his novel?


Learn to live with disappointment. Brown’s rubbish-filled claims to “careful research” are on particular display when he holds forth on how the supposed “history of the Illuminati” motivated him to write Angels and Demons:


I was beneath Vatican City touring a tunnel called il passetto—a concealed passageway used by the early Popes to escape in event of enemy attack. According to the scholar giving the tour, one of the Vatican’s most feared ancient enemies was a secret brotherhood known as the Illuminati—the “enlightened ones” —a cult of early scientists who had vowed revenge against the Vatican for crimes against scientists like Galileo and Copernicus. I was fascinated by images of this cloaked, anti-religious brotherhood lurking in the catacombs of Rome. Then, when the scholar added that many modern historians believe the Illuminati is still active today and is one of most powerful unseen forces in global politics, I knew I was hooked … I had to write an Illuminati thriller.


Well, here’s the thing: the Passetto di Borgo is actually an elevated passageway, not a “tunnel” burrowing “beneath Vatican City.” This and numerous other claims, such as the notion that every Church in Rome is a cathedral (not true, only the bishop’s church is a cathedral); misnaming the Musei Vaticani; fumbling the history of various tombs; and so forth, give away the fact that Dan Brown doesn’t really know what he is talking about. It is something like an Italian writing, “There I was in the Washington Monument, gazing out over the city of Philadelphia, when I was inspired to write about Lincoln’s struggle to write the Declaration of Independence.”


Brown obviously doesn’t know what he is talking about as he holds forth with faux expertise on the art, history, and architecture of Rome (and especially about the history of the Church’s relationship with science), but is skilled at making you feel like an unlettered buffoon if you dare to question him. This effect is only redoubled (for somebody who actually knows history) when he speaks of an unnamed “scholar” who describes the Illuminati as “vowing revenge” for crimes against scientists like Galileo and Copernicus.


Since Copernicus was, in fact, quite well-regarded in his lifetime by Church authorities (his work was actually cited by (Pope Leo X in deliberations on reforming the calendar), one wonders what exactly was being avenged?


18. OK. Forget Copernicus, but still you have to admit that Galileo got bad treatment at the hands of the Church because he stood for science and reason.


It is quite true that Galileo was treated unjustly by Church authorities—though not because he stood for science. The Galileo Controversy is a rather complex affair: much more complex than the cartoonish “freethinker vs. evil obscurantist Church” narrative that was concocted long after his death. If you want to get the full details of the story, go here. Beyond this, there was the execution of Giordano Bruno (by civil authorities), not for his work in the sciences, but because of his heretical opinions about such matters as the doctrine of the Trinity. Wrong and unjust it was, but not really evidence of a centuries-long “war on science” by the Catholic Church, particularly since, as these isolated acts of injustice were going on, the sciences were proceeding apace with the enthusiastic support of the Church all over Europe. Those Catholic inventions called “universities” were supporting Catholic scientists doing research in a dozen budding fields of science while Rome herself was busy supporting the creation of scientific research facilities such as observatories.


19. Then how come I have heard of Galileo’s persecution so often as an example of Catholic hostility to science?


The real question to ask yourself is, “If Galileo is such a typical example of supposed Catholic hatred of science and reason, how come I can only think of Galileo as an example?” The reason is simple: Galileo is an exception who was elevated to a symbol by people living centuries after the controversy, so that they could claim the Church hated science and reason. Meanwhile, Catholic scientists such as Louis Pasteur, Gregor Mendel, Pierre and Marie Curie, and Fr. Georges Lemaitre went on doing science with the support and approval of the Church and made colossal contributions to genetics, medicine, physics, cosmology, and other fields. Science, reason, and the Faith are old friends.


One of the Church’s greatest saints was a man who did virtually nothing but think all day in ways that would intimidate most moderns with his luminous rationality. His name was St. Thomas Aquinas, and he is hailed as one of the greatest philosophers who ever lived, even by non-Catholics. His teacher, St. Albert the Great, was the author of numerous scientific treaties and he too was acclaimed as a saint by the Church.


20. I don’t know anything about those guys. But I do know that, in 1668, the Church undertook a great slaughter of some of the best scientific minds of the day in a crime known to history as La Purga. Angels and Demons says that the Church kidnapped four Illuminati scientists and branded each one of them on the chest with a cross to purge them from their sins. Then the Church executed them and threw their bodies in the street as a warning to others to stop questioning Church teachings on scientific matters.


As we have seen, you would be well advised not to get your factual information from Dan Brown; you are liable to repeat libel, as you just did. In actual fact, there is no crime known to history as La Purga. Nobody was kidnapped, branded, murdered for being a scientist, nor were they thrown into the street dead as a warning to others. Indeed, as we have already noted, the Illuminati would not exist for more than another century, so it would be rather hard to have been persecuting them in 1668. That’s the danger of this sort of literature.


People become very confused about where the fiction ends and the supposed “impeccable research” begins and often wind up believing outright lies to be serious history.


21. Let’s get back to the story. Whatever you might say about anything else, you don’t deny that the Illuminati existed and that they were opposed to the Church, do you?


No, not at all. But so what? The real Illuminati were an Enlightenment-era secret society that was primarily political in their aims. They were hostile to the Church (as were a number of eighteenth-century secret societies) not because they particularly cared about Copernicus, Galileo, or Bernini, nor because of some bogus 1668 slaughter of scientists, but because they were full of the revolutionary spirit of the European intellectual classes of the time. Their views were part of the general stew of ideas what would eventually find expression, not in the rise of science, but in the French Revolution and similar political movements of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Indeed, the Illuminati were not the creators of the scientific revolution but were a political movement inspired by it. The success of the scientific method gave rise to the belief among some shallow people that science could be an “All-Explaining Theory of Everything.” It is a common human foible to elevate the works of our hands to idols. But this doesn’t mean the works are bad. It just means they make lousy gods. Science is among the things that makes an excellent tool, but a very bad god.


Meanwhile, the creators of the Scientific Revolution were, by and large, Catholics. Because it was the Christian worldview that made the Scientific Revolution possible in a way that no other culture in the history of the world had.


22. What do you mean?


Among other things, Catholic culture was founded on the belief that the universe, despite its apparently chaos, makes sense. The fact that we take this for granted only demonstrates how much we mistake the Catholic capital bequeathed to us by centuries of ancestors for something automatically and obviously true to everybody at all times. In fact, faith in an intelligible universe was not at all evident to, say, ancient Sumerians (and to many other forms of pagan culture). For pre-Christian pagan culture, it was not at all obvious that the universe had to make sense. In a religious worldview that tells you that the gods are capricious, willful, and contradictory—or even themselves subject to forces such as blind chance, fate, or luck—there is no particular basis for supposing you can understand why the world works the way it works.


Therefore, there is no metaphysical basis for attempting to try to understand it via science. And so, whole pagan civilizations could rise and fall without ever attempting anything like science, except for inventing say, the rudimentary mathematics necessary to build the pyramids, or calculate the next eclipse or flood of the Nile. In the words of science historian, Fr. Stanley Jaki, “The Scientific Revolution was stillborn in every other civilization.”


23. What about the Roman Empire? It was scientifically advanced for its time, wasn’t it?


Not really. Rome excelled in certain aspects of practical engineering and applied mathematics. But it was hampered, as was the whole of the pre-Christian world, by the fact that it had no notion of the inherent dignity of the human person, which meant that it was built on the backs of slaves like every other human civilization since the dawn of time. The practical result of this was that the average Roman, like the rest of pre-Christian pagan civilization, felt no particular push to research technological advances whereby, among other things, machines could replace human labor.


24. So what difference did Christianity make?


Christian civilization, by virtue of its different understanding of God and of the human person, slowly began to exert pressure on the culture, a pressure which gave rise to the Scientific Revolution. For example, the Christian conviction is that God is not arbitrary, capricious, and irrational but is rather, in some sense, knowable (since He reveals himself to us through the person of Jesus Christ). Therefore, it follows that, as with the Creator, so with His creation: the universe must be intelligible, and the human mind is, in fact, glorifying God when it sets about the business of trying to understand how the universe works. As the psalmist sang, “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1).


Along with the notion of reason as a gift of God given by him precisely so that we could see and praise the work of God in creation was a second Christian conviction which the Church inherited from Judaism: the conviction that man and woman are made in the image and likeness of God. Alloyed with this was the conviction (articulated from the beginning of the Church) that, as St. Paul said, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). This belief of the Church acted a slow poison in the body of pagan slave civilization, inexorably eating away at it (although, as the sad history of Christian participation in the slave trade shows, not without setbacks). But the fact remains that with the advance of Christian civilization we see, for the first time in the history of the human race, the retreat of slavery. And as slavery goes, there is more and more impetus to attend to science as a way of finding other means to do the work once performed by slaves. Indeed, the centuries before the Renaissance saw a beehive of interest in science and the exercise of reason all over medieval Europe, as is demonstrated by this fun essay (written in the form of a medieval dialectic such as St. Thomas Aquinas might have written).


By the way, since so many people enjoy receiving their historical information via fiction, permit us to also recommend some good fiction by the author of the essay above (science fiction writer Michael F. Flynn) that really is well-researched, in which we get an actual taste of the incredible intellectual ferment of Catholic Europe during the medieval period. Obviously, the tale is a yarn. But the point of the story (which, unlike Angels and Demons, is based on historical fact) is that Catholic Europe was absolutely fascinated with the sciences and that this was a result of the Catholicism of Catholic Europe.


25. Well, this may have been true several centuries ago, but isn’t the attitude of the modern Church very different? There seems to be a fear that if man develops the technology to stand on his own two feet (such as the antimatter energy in Angels and Demons) then he will become a self-sufficient adult and not need childish fantasies like God anymore.


Speaking of childish fantasies, it’s worth noting that Dan Brown doesn’t just get facts about the Catholic Church howlingly wrong—he also drives real physicists crazy with his quack claims that are believed by people with a childish faith in his powers as a “careful researcher.” For instance, in a Q-and-A on his website (written to give the “facts behind the fiction”), Brown dons his guise as well-read teacher and answers the question “Is antimatter for real?” Absolutely.


Antimatter is the ultimate energy source. It releases energy with 100% efficiency (nuclear fission is 1.5% efficient.) Antimatter is 100,000 times more powerful than rocket fuel. A single gram contains the energy of a twenty-kiloton atomic bomb—the size of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. In addition to being highly explosive, antimatter is extremely unstable and ignites when it comes in contact with anything … even air. It can only be stored by suspending it in an electromagnetic field inside a vacuum canister. If the field fails and the antimatter falls, the result is a “perfect” matter/antimatter conversion, which physicists aptly call “annihilation.” CERN is now regularly producing small quantities of antimatter in their research for future energy sources. Antimatter holds tremendous promise; it creates no pollution or radiation, and a single droplet could power New York City for a full day. With fossils fuels dwindling, the promise of harnessing antimatter could be an enormous leap for the future of this planet. Of course, mastering antimatter technology brings with it a chilling dilemma. Will this powerful new technology save the world, or will it be used to create the most deadly weapon ever made?


Only here’s the problem. It’s all rubbish—and rubbish believed by so many people that CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) has actually had to put up a web page to help educate people made stupider by believing Dan Brown. For the reality is that antimatter holds absolutely no promise as an energy source. Why? CERN tells us:


There is no possibility to use antimatter as energy ‘source’. Unlike solar energy, coal or oil, antimatter does not occur in nature; we first have to make every single antiparticle, and we have to invest (much) more energy than we get back during annihilation. You can imagine antimatter as a storage medium for energy, much like you store electricity in rechargeable batteries. The process of charging the battery is reversible with relatively small loss. Still, it takes more energy to charge the battery than you get back.


The inefficiency of antimatter production is enormous: you get only a tenth of a billion (10-10) of the invested energy back. If we could assemble all the antimatter we’ve ever made at CERN and annihilate it with matter, we would have enough energy to light a single electric light bulb for a few minutes.


26. OK, so Brown doesn’t really know his science. But still he has got a point about how modern science is constantly showing that the Church’s beliefs are superstition, doesn’t he?


What is your evidence for this claim? This woolly claim lies at the back of much of the action of Angels and Demons. The villain is afraid that physics experiments will somehow supplant faith in God. But this is simply not possible. Science is an instrument for asking questions pertaining to time, space, matter and energy. It is absolutely powerless to prove or disprove anything beyond the realm of time, space, matter and energy, such as the non-existence of a transcendent God who dwells beyond all these things and who is the Creator of these things. There is no conceivable scientific discovery that could disprove the existence of God, or give us personal knowledge of God such that the revelation of Christ is superseded by science. Brown is as ignorant of basic theology as he is of basic science.


27. What about Darwin? Didn’t he disprove that God created man?


Not at all. Darwin’s theory of natural selection has tremendous explanatory power for a number of aspects of biological development. At the end of the day, though, what Darwin, like all scientists, is saying is, “Given the properties inherent in time, space, matter, and energy, we can construct a reasonable account of how the physical world works.” In Darwin’s case, the aspect of the physical world under consideration is how living organisms have changed over long periods of time and, possibly, how the human organism may have come into existence. But what Darwin, like all science, cannot account for is “Why do time, space, matter, and energy have the properties they have?” or, more basically, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”


Sooner or later, science’s powerlessness to answer that question forces us back to philosophy and, finally, to theology for an answer. The Christian revelation is in no danger from the sciences, properly understood.


28. But doesn’t science contradict Genesis?


No more than an apple contradicts an orange. Genesis is not written as a biology textbook. It is written in order to teach a spiritual truth: that human beings are rational animals—“part angel and party alley cat,” as one wag has put it, who owe their being and their worship to their Creator. We are animals, but animals “made in the image and likeness of God.” Scripture gets at this point with an image: God makes a body out of the dust of the earth (Hebrew: adamah) and then breathes into it the breath of life to create the first man (Adam). So in his very name, man is reminded that he is the product of secondary stuff such as soil. All the theory of evolution really tells us is that God used a great many secondary causes and took a very long time to fashion man from the dust of the earth. It tells us nothing about the origins of man’s soul. That’s where we need revelation from God. And that revelation tells us that the soul is created directly by God.


The interesting thing about all this is that Augustine basically mapped out the healthy way to read Genesis back in the fourth century, and the Church still takes his attitude: It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are. In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis

1:19–20 [A.D. 408]).


With the Scriptures it is a matter of treating about the faith. For that reason, as I have noted repeatedly, if anyone, not understanding the mode of divine eloquence, should find something about these matters [about the physical universe] in our books, or hear of the same from those books, of such a kind that it seems to be at variance with the perceptions of his own rational faculties, let him believe that these other things are in no way necessary to the admonitions or accounts or predictions of the scriptures.


In short, it must be said that our authors knew the truth about the nature of the skies, but it was not the intention of the Spirit of God, who spoke through them, to teach men anything that would not be of use to them for their salvation (Ibid., 2:9).


29. Speaking of God creating us, Angels and Demons touches on the Church’s weird and irrational views of artificial insemination. If God can use secondary means like natural selection to create the first human (not to mention secondary means like my mother and father to create me), why can’t we use secondary means like artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization to make babies?


One of the curious dichotomies of Angels and Demons is the odd way in which it simultaneously titillates our desire for sexual scandal while trying to pretend to be loftily explaining away Catholic moral teaching as a fossil. So we are treated the extremely peculiar scandal of a pope who conceives a son through artificial insemination, and who is therefore murdered by the anti-science villain. Purely from a narrative perspective, this is what is known as a “reach.” To be sure, there have been popes who have sired children by being good old-fashioned fornicators. A lapse into the sin of lust, even by a pope, is not beyond the reach of human imagination. But a lapse into becoming a sperm donor in a lab lacks a certain plausibility in the romance department. One gets the sense that the whole situation is forced on the narrative solely for the purpose of bashing the Church’s teaching on sexual integrity.


That teaching is based on a rather simple idea: namely, that sex is created by God for two purposes: union with the beloved spouse and fruitfulness in new life. Separate sex from either of those divinely-ordained purposes and you are doing violence to sex, and to our relationship with the beloved and with our children.


Artificial insemination does violence to both relationships, but in particular it does violence to our relationship with children. How can you tell? Note the language of the question proposed above, which spoke of “making” babies. Babies are not “made” by us. Things are made. People are begotten. The fact that this language is now so common that nobody even notices it tells us something: namely, that our culture is well along the way toward thinking of persons as things and of sex as a sort of plumbing problem which can be “fixed” by appropriate applications of technology, rather than as the thing it is: a sacramental participation in the very life of God himself in the sacrament of marriage.


30. Sacramental participation in the life of God? I’ve never heard that. I thought Catholics believe sex is dirty.


No. Catholics believe sex is holy. That is why marriage is one of the seven sacraments of the Church. A sacrament is symbol, established by Christ, which conveys the grace and life of God to the soul by the power of the Holy Spirit. Marriage is one of these and sex is an integral part of marriage. It is because of the holiness of marriage, not the dirtiness of sex, that the Church opposes things like artificial insemination. Indeed, if anything, it could be argued that champions of artificial insemination are the ones who regard sex as dirty, since they prefer that it happen without so much as the partners touching, in a sterile environment far from the joys of the nuptial bed. What the Church aims to defend in its understanding of sex is simply the hearth and home of the ordinary family. What opponents of the Church’s teaching are pleading for, ultimately, is the divorce of sex from love and fruitfulness.


31. At the climax of the story, the villain commits suicide. What does the Church think about suicide?


Some people think of suicide as a way of demonstrating sorrow or repentance for great evil. From Judas Iscariot to Carlo Ventresca, you can often find people talking as though suicide is a sign of repentance. But the God before whom we are called to repent is very clear that he desires life, not death: “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23). God desires that we live, not that we destroy ourselves. Repentance is shown by embracing the life God offers us in Christ Jesus, not by throwing his offer of life away. God can forgive suicide. But suicide remains what it is: a sin, not a gesture of hope in God. Jesus Christ continues to hold out abundant pardon and mercy for all our sins—no matter what we have done.


32. My faith in Dan Brown’s powers as a researcher is certainly shaken. Is there someplace I could go to learn a bit more about the Catholic relationship with science?


I would recommend Fr. Stanley Jaki’s work on the relationship of science to Christianity as a good place to get a feel for the contours of the subject. Also, check out Pope John Paul II’s 1996 Address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences:


33. One last question. What harm is there in seeing the movie of Angels and Demons? It’s just a movie.


You mean besides (a) sending the message to Hollywood: “Anti-Catholic bigotry pays handsomely! Please make more bigoted agitprop that propagates lies about Catholics!”; (b) being sucker enough to pay for the privilege of the insult with our own money; while (c) deliberately suspending reason and allowing the visual impact of all these silly lies to seep into your brain?

Church History Taught from a Truly Catholic Perspective!


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