Science and religion have been at odds since back in Galileo’s day and maybe even before. The battle rages on even today with debates on cloning and stem cell research. These issues can be seen not only today’s literary works but also in the works from the years past. Two great examples of the past and present are: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons.
Both deal with the issue of the roles that science and religion play. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a horror story written in 1831. It tells a tale of Victor Frankenstein’s obsession with playing God and creating a man and the consequences that come with it. Not only does the book reflect on Victor’s life and but also on the monster’s life and how it deals with the situations at hand. Angels and Demons is a suspense thriller written in 2000.
Robert Langdon has been asked to help solve a murder mystery because it is believed that a secret society that he has studied called the illuminati are behind it. The story takes a ton of twist and turns that involve a container of antimatter, the Catholic Church and a dead priest’s secret. Even though both of these books were written in different times and with totally different plots they still both bring to light the battle between science and religion that may never diminish. Victor Frankenstein is obsessed with his to attempt to create a human. He works on it constantly alienating friends and loved ones.
His obsession is finally rewarded with success; he manages to create a monster. This is where Mary Shelley starts to bring in the lesson of playing God. When Victor looks at his creation, he sees what a horror he has created and how hideous a creature it is. “No mortal could support the horror of that countenance. A mummy again endued with animation could not be so hideous as that wretch” (Shelley 44). Shelley shows that man cannot create things without messing it up.
This is would not be the last time that scientist went to far to attempt to create perfection. In 1991 Michael Stewart wrote a story called Prodigy in which a man messes with his daughter’s DNA to make her smarter. However, she becomes a child that has evil genes. (Nelkin 35). This is another way authors show that man is not capable of imitating God. Even though Victor’s description of his monster should be enough to make most scientists put away their lab coat, Mary Shelley went on to show the consequences of playing God.
After Victor abandons his monster the monster starts to take away Victor’s loved ones. “Have a care; I will work at your destruction, nor finish until I desolate your heart, so that you shall curse the hour of your birth” (Shelley 135). Here is another area that Shelley gives a lesson on life. She shows that when man attempts to play God that he ultimately destroys himself. Professor Silver of Princeton University states that “they argue further that any attempt by “man” to cross into God’s domainwith the use of unnatural technology – will be repelled with dire consequences” (Silver 1).
Professor Silver also states that, “In the public mind, Frankenstein represents what WILL go wrong if man’ (meaning the community of scientist) goes too far'” (Silver 2). This is exactly what happens to Victor Frankenstein. After he creates and destroys the monster, the monster finds him and demands that Victor makes another one like him so that he may have company. Victor attempts but then refuses fearing what would occur if the two were to produce offspring.
The monster then keeps his promise destroying all those dear to Victor. Victor and the monster eventually perish but not without a lesson learned. Angels and Demons also bring about the idea of science versus religion but in a more direct way. Where as Shelley did not point out or blame any specific religion but spirituality in general, Dan Brown uses the Catholic Church as his main source of religion.
The Catholic Church specifically has had a long battle with science. One of the reasons is because “religion is based n received truths’ that are thought to be handed down directly from God. When novel scientific concepts or technological capabilities challenge the truths’ associated with a particular religion, they challenge the foundation of the religion itself; they challenge the leaders who have preached the truths’; and they challenge the entire world view of those who are true believers.” (Silver 1) It is easy to see why the church would have a conflict with any scientific discoveries that would lead people to believe something other than what the church preached. The novel by Brown also deals with how man can misuse technology, not so much from playing God but what may be done to protect beliefs that are shaken from science. The story actually starts with a physist that is also a priest being murdered. Robert Langdon comes to investigate because symbols that he has studied were burned into the body.
The plot has many twists but in the end the mystery brings them to the Vatican where a container of missing antimatter has been seen on a security camera. The suspense plays out on many different fronts. One twist is with the Carmerlengo himself. He finds out that the technology that he is battling against is the same science that allowed his father, the pope, to have a son without breaking his vows.
Here the Carmerlengo is fighting against this science but yet it is what allowed him to be born. Another twist in the story was with the church itself. It was the church that was blaming science for the antimatter being produced when in actuality it was the corruption in the church that caused the antimatter to get into the wrong hands. So where does the war between science and religion stop? Does it at all? Is anyone winning this eternal fight? Allan Mazur seems to think that science has the upper hand.
He believes that science has won three wars with religion. That these wars have been slowly won over time. One of these wars was the war of the words in which science disproved or questioned words from the bible. Once questions about the authority of the bible started than other questions about different religious scripts, such as the Torah, began (Mazur 25). This is not to say that people have given up on religion and follow only science and it does not mean that there will never be a question over the ethics of scientific accomplishments.
However, science has poked enough holes to make religion provide proof to stand behind its preachings and to check facts before committing them to complete believe. These two books show very well what can happen when religion and science try to battle with each other. There are two types of extremes. Those that want to use advanced technology to expand into the realms of God and those that want to use their religious stance to stop technology from advancing.
Frankenstein is blinded by his obsession to create life and the Carmerlengo Carlo Ventresca went to the extreme to punish those that he thought had disobeyed his religion even if it was his own father. Neither extreme is completely right and yet both sides tend to think that they have all the answers. It is a battle that has been going on for centuries and one that is not soon to be done.
- Brown, Dan. Angels and Demons. Pocket Star Books.New York, 2000.
- Mazur, Allan. Science three, religion zero. Society.May June 1996 V 33 No.4. P 20-28.
- Nelkin, Dorothy. Genetics, God and sacred DNA. Society.May/June. 1196 V33 no.4 pg 29-43.
- Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein.Bantam Classics. New York, 1818. Silver, Lee. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. www.princeton.edu/wws320/films/Frankenstein/Frankenstein%20essay.htm