In his post on Michael Crichton, Joseph asked, “Was there ever a popular writer more in love with the gadgets of science—and more suspicious of science itself, or, at least, of scientists?” Crichton’s complicated feelings about science reminded of Francis Bacon’s claim that “Man by the Fall fell at the same time from his state of innocence and from his dominion over nature. Both of these losses, however, even in this life, can in some part be repaired; the former by religion and faith, the latter by the arts and sciences.”
Crichton may not have believed in the Fall but he would likely have agreed with Bacon. He seemed to believe that when it comes to science and the arts of science (technology) man errs in two primary ways: believing that man’s dominion over nature can be restored in full by science and believing that science can recover man’s lost state of innocence.
His early novels often explored the first theme but the second was often the topic of his later work. For example, in his 2003 speech “Environmentalism as Religion” Crichton argued that “environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths.”
There’s an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there’s a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all. We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability. Sustainability is salvation in the church of the environment. Just as organic food is its communion, that pesticide-free wafer that the right people with the right beliefs, imbibe.
Eden, the fall of man, the loss of grace, the coming doomsday—these are deeply held mythic structures. They are profoundly conservative beliefs. They may even be hard-wired in the brain, for all I know. I certainly don’t want to talk anybody out of them, as I don’t want to talk anybody out of a belief that Jesus Christ is the son of God who rose from the dead. But the reason I don’t want to talk anybody out of these beliefs is that I know that I can’t talk anybody out of them. These are not facts that can be argued. These are issues of faith.
[. . .]
Religions think they know it all, but the unhappy truth of the environment is that we are dealing with incredibly complex, evolving systems, and we usually are not certain how best to proceed. Those who are certain are demonstrating their personality type, or their belief system, not the state of their knowledge.
Crichton’s critics often focus on his animus against environmentalism. But he seemed to hold the same disdain for all faith-based programs masquerading as science (he also claimed that “SETI [the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence] is unquestionably a religion.”) He seems to have had little use for religion but also no illusions that science would lead to salvation. That might have accounted for his uneasiness: Without an Eden in our past or future, where is science leading us?