NEW YORK: Dan Brown is once again taking on the big questions.
"Will God survive science?" asks the author of the blockbuster "The Da Vinci Code" and other philosophical-religious thrillers during a recent interview. "All the gods of our past have fallen. So the question now is: Are we naive to think the gods of today won't suffer the same fate?"
His new novel is "Origin," already a chart-topper on Amazon.com, and for Brown fans a familiar blend of travelogue, history, conspiracies and whodunit, with asides on everything from the poetry of William Blake to the rise and fall of fascism in Spain.
Brown protagonist Robert Langdon, a Harvard symbologist, is in Spain and back in danger. A former student, Edmond Kirsch, has been assassinated just as he's ready to unveil a scientific-technological breakthrough that he promises will bring about the downfall of Western religion and revolutionize how people think of life and death. Langdon, with the help of a prince's wayward lover and a voice of artificial intelligence named Winston, attempts to find out what Kirsch had planned.
"The Da Vinci Code" outraged church officials and scholars with such suggestions as Jesus and Mary married and had children. Brown acknowledged that the controversy led him to avoid larger religious questions in his follow-up novel, "The Lost Symbol," but his skepticism remains. A native and longtime resident of New Hampshire, he remembered visiting Boston's Museum of Science as a boy and being confused by the theory of evolution and how it contradicted the story of Adam and Eve. Back home, Brown asked a priest about the differences.
"This guy said, 'Nice boys don't ask that question.' I did what every little boy does, I started asking the questions," he says. "I gravitated towards science. Faith became difficult for me."
Brown has the time and money to research his settings firsthand and spent extensive time in Spain over the past few years. The country appeals to him, he said, because of its blend of old and new, of supercomputers and deep roots in Western religion. The violent police actions against Catalans voting on independence were "heartbreaking" but didn't shock him; the "fault lines" of Spanish culture were the reason he wanted to write about it.
Speaking from a sky-high floor of a midtown Manhattan hotel, looking out on the city on a sunny fall afternoon, the 53-year-old Brown also discussed his feelings about technology, the response to his books and the future of Robert Langdon.
On kids and their digital devices
"The miracles for kids today — they have nothing to do with Noah's Ark. They have to do with an operating system. When I was a kid, the miracles of my life were the resurrection, a candlelight service on New Year's Eve, the virgin birth and the three wise men. Things have changed a lot and it takes numerous amounts of magic to impress on a child that something is special — because they have something special every day of their lives."
On what his friends in the clergy think of his book
"(They) would fall into three categories: Those that essentially say, 'We're going to have to agree to disagree.' Those who would say, 'Hey, this is actually a really interesting dialogue. It's making me think about religion in a new and exciting way. Thank you.' And those who essentially say, 'We can't be friends anymore.' You know what — those are outliers. The primary reaction I get, from atheists to the deeply devout, is that the dialogue is critical."
On why he's never written about eastern religion
"I spent some time in India and thought I might write about Hinduism. But it's so far removed from my experience I couldn't even get my mind around it to write about it. Christianity, Judaism and Islam share a gospel, and it's the one I grew up with. ... Hinduism is not monotheistic; that's my tradition. And this is a religion of many gods. I can't decide whether it feels more advanced or less advanced. It's just so different."
On why he may write a book that doesn't include Langdon
"I think Langdon wouldn't mind a vacation. He's had a tough few years. He's the man I wish I could be, clearly. He has a knack for falling into fascinating situations. He's far more daring than I am. I probably would run away from most of those adventures."
On why he's an optimist
"We have plenty of technologies we could use to destroy the planet and we don't. There's more love on this planet than hate, there's more creativity than destructive power. I know it's a strange day to be saying that, but there is more love than hate by exponential factors and we'll find a way to express that."