Origin: A Review of Dan Brown's Latest Novel

   Dan Brown usually deserves at least three stars just for the quality of his writing, and his latest page-turner is true to form. But the premise of discovering the origins of space, time and life is a tough one to work from.
   The fictional discovery around which the plot develops turns out to be not even a good hypothesis. It's more like a bad guess by an adherent of the religion of scientism. Nothing of substance is offered, and no answer is attempted to what is widely referred to as the "hard question" of consciousness. In fact, in the book, that is barely alluded to at all.
   Are consciousness and spirit just illusions, so-called "epiphenomena," or are they the ground of being and the matrix of physical reality? Now that we've gained all that scientific knowledge, we should be examining how the data fit each of the two possibilities, instead of blindly and tenaciously trying to force the facts into the popular, nihilistic worldview. Contemporary science should try changing its approach for a while, from a bias toward randomness, chaos, meaninglessness, entropy and despair back to an assumption of meaning, direction, purpose, fulfillment and life. What we already know, and what we keep learning every day, continues to make more sense in the latter context.
   The reader must have a good imagination to accept that the "discovery" around which the plot turns would have such a significant impact on either science or theology, but it is unlikely that any contemporary science-fiction writer would have done much better, unless he or she has learned to truly think outside the box of scientism which has been constructed around global society's worldview over the past few hundred years.
   Science has learned a lot over the past few centuries, but it hasn't yet learned to escape its own hubris. Scientific method is arguably the most important tool in our quest for knowledge, but certainly not the only one, and not the only necessary one. Science can only operate within space and time, so it can only guess at the big picture. It can sometimes prove those guesses wrong, but it can never prove them to be correct. Answers to the ultimate questions of reality, existence and consciousness will always be a matter of subjective experience and faith, whether that faith is in a religious or spiritual explanation or in the basic assumptions of contemporary, materialistic science.
   Origins falls short of contributing any new ideas to the discussion of our origins, but the book is, true to form, an engrossing thriller which is hard to put down. As well, the musings in its  final pages amount to a foot in the door of open-mindedness which most religions, including and notably scientism, are fearfully trying to slam shut. That in itself would have been worth an extra star - if it hadn't taken almost 500 pages to get there.


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