Human Origins Icon Human Origins
Physics, Earth & Space Icon Physics, Earth & Space

Dan Brown Thriller Has MIT’s Jeremy England in It; Brian Miller Puts the Science in Perspective

I’m reading Dan Brown’s new Robert Langdon thriller, Origin. There’s a decent chance you are too, since the book, published last week, is Amazon’s current #5 bestseller. When we first heard about it, the initial response around the office was that it sounded like a rip-off of Bruce Buff’s novel The Soul of the Matter, with the latter’s exploration of design and the origin of life, but turned upside down.

It couldn’t be a rip-off, of course, because Buff’s novel came out last year when you can be sure Brown was already done with his own book, or nearly so.

I’ll withhold comment till I finish Origin — but a friend sends along this from the New York Times. It seems that Origin has MIT physicist Jeremy England in it! Dr. England is a hero of popular science media. We’ve written about him before, including some strenuous efforts to cast Dr. England as the “next Darwin,” illuminating the mystery of life’s origins but with no need for a transcendent or other designer.

From Sarah Lyall’s profile of Brown:

As the story begins, Edmond Kirsch — “billionaire computer scientist, futurist, inventor and entrepreneur” — is preparing to present a new discovery to an eager crowd (and to the world, via the internet) at the Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain. He has promised that this announcement, the details of which are enticingly withheld until the very end of the book, will upend people’s view of religion by proving irrefutably that life can be created using the laws of science, thus excising God from the equation. (The theory is real, borrowed from the M.I.T. physicist Jeremy England.)

Right, so the big reveal is saved for the conclusion, and a Google search gives the precise passage where England’s theory descends in deus ex machina style. But I’m not going to spoil it for myself by reading further before I get there.

Meanwhile, with impeccable timing, our colleague Brian Miller, himself an MIT-trained physicist, offers a new ID the Future episode with interviewer Sarah Chaffee. They discuss England’s work and the hype around it. Has Dr. England solved the problem of abiogenesis? Listen to the podcast here and find out.

 And if you enjoy the genre, as I do, check out Buff as a fitting chaser for Brown. Besides being a fun read, The Soul of the Matter includes a visit to Discovery Institute and some quite insightful discussion of intelligent design.

Image: Jeremy England lectures in Stockholm, via YouTube.