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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  November 27, 2017 4:30am-5:01am GMT

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on the island of bali is close to a full scale eruption. the island's airport is closed and many flights have been cancelled or diverted. the volcano has been spewing out ash and steam for the second time in a week. the united nations says the first ship carrying aid has arrived in rebel—held northern yemen after the saudi—led coalition partially eased a blockade that's lasted for nearly three weeks. the vessel docked at the small port of saleef carrying thousands of tons of desperately needed wheat. more details have been emerging about friday's gun and bomb attack on a mosque in egypt in which more than 300 people were killed. officials believe up to 30 gunmen were involved in the attack. the targeting of the mosque during friday prayers has shocked egyptians. now on bbc news it's time for hardtalk. welcome to hardtalk. i'm stephen sackur.
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my guest today is one of the biggest selling fiction writers of all time, dan brown. his 2003 novel, the da vinci code, sparked outrage in the vatican. and now, another epic tale. a quest for the origins of life. is there still a public appetite for dan brown's high—fibre blockbusters? dan brown, welcome to hardtalk. thank you very much. usually the phrase that always follows your name is "bestselling author." but actually, in reviews
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of the latest novel you've written, 0rigin, one critic came up with a new sort of moniker or phrase for you, and that is "a novelist of ideas." i like that. does it appeal to you? i have heard many things, but i've never heard that. i like that one. i thought "i have never heard that about dan brown before," but it is sort of what you are about. i love to write about the grey area between right and wrong, about big ethical questions like will god survive science, like i wrote about in 0rigin. it was a lot of fun to write about. well, it's one of the biggest questions and ideas of all. in some ways it would seem hard to package that into a genre that, perhaps you do not like this word, a thriller. i love thrillers. i love to learn and i love to read. thrillers are fun to read. what i try to do is create a book that is a lot of fun to read but you also learn something along the way. which is more important,
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the entertainment or the learning? they go hand in hand. they have to be intertwined or else the style doesn't work. it will read like a traveljournal or a very empty thriller. i need something that tastes like ice cream but you get your vegetables. most kids would say their mums or dads force them to eat too many vegetables. do you ever think you are putting too much into it? are you trying to be too didactic? i'm making it too dense? yes. all the time. that's where editing comes in. for every page i wrote for 0rigin, there were ten that fell to the floor. really? let's think about the substance of this, a very big idea at the heart of the latest book, the balance, when it comes to us human beings trying to explain where we have come from, what life is, the balance between religious takes and explanations and scientific ones. you are struggling with this central
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idea that perhaps science has replaced god. historically, science has replaced god. if you look back at the ancients had a whole pantheon of gods and ancients, everything they did not understand, from the rising tides and love. they used to say the tide was influenced by poseidon, his moods are shifting. then it was gravity and he fell as a god. the question now is are we naive to think this will not happen again? historically, gods do not survive. am i right in thinking this is quite personal to you? your background is interesting in that your family life involved a mother who was quite religious. she was involved in the church. you had a father who was a rationalist and maths teacher. i grew up with one foot in each world. exactly.
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and i was comfortable with the paradox of my existence until i was nine years old and learned about adam and eve and genesis. i went to a museum in boston and found out about evolution. i went to my priest and said which story is true? he said "nice boys don't ask that question." that was the moment for me that i realised i would ask many questions. is that the moment that began your journey away from religion? absolutely. i moved away from religion to the solid foundations of science. i found the further i went away from religion, the softer the ground became in terms of concrete science. physics turns into metaphysics and the ground gets soft again and you make that circle back again. are you against religion? religion does a lot of good in the world. that moment with the priest is symbolic, perhaps. he made you feel uncomfortable. he said nice boys don't ask that sort of question. surely the extension of that is that religion became something that made you feel uncomfortable. that is absolutely true.
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what i became uncomfortable with later is not religion, i realised later, it is the banner of religion being waved as some kind of immunity from rational scrutiny. don't tell me i cannot ask a question. religion is doing no favours to young people by saying to participate you need to turn off that rational part of the brain that wants to ask these questions. the story of adam and eve, i will add, i can read as a beautiful morality tale and a fable to understand where we came from. but it is amazing to me in 2017 we have congressman in my country who will stand up and say the world is 2000 years old and the fossil record was put there by god to test our faith. it is inevitable that people,
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when they listen to this sort of conversation, they are mindful that you are the dan brown of the da vinci code. sure. in 2003 after you wrote it, the catholic church in particular piled onto you, accused you, of egregious falseness and undermining the key tenets of the faith in a way which they said was purely false. now, has that, in the last 14 years, encouraged you to want to take on religion more? well, perhaps. it is kind of interesting. and this will sound naive but when the da vinci code came out, i had no idea it would be controversial. really? i was asking a hypothetical question... for those who have not read it, we will remind them, there aren't many,
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it is an extremely complex story. at the heart of it was the notion that there was and is a conspiracy at the heart of christianity to hide the true story ofjesus christ. there was a mortal prophet, not literally the son of god. and you tell me you did not realise it would be controversial? it is a thriller! if your faith is shaken to the core by a thriller, i think you need to look at your faith. and what happened with the book the reason it was so... controversial, i guess, is the only word, is that for a lot of people, the story i told him that novel made more rational sense than the story they heard at sunday school. it did for me. it made more sense to me, and that is what is so dangerous. it sold hundreds of millions in the end and has been translated all over the world. but one of the problems that those defending the christian story had with the book is that they felt you melded fact and fiction in a way that was really unreasonable and lead readers to be deeply
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confused about where the line is. that is what i do. i do something interesting with these books, i mix fact and fiction. i try hard to take real documents and real art and history and interweave fictional characters so they have there own ideas and debate these topics. your authorial voice is telling us, i think, perhaps you can correct me, if i am wrong, in the da vinci code, you are telling me you believe in certain things like this secretive movement, the priory of scion in france, in the book, they are trying to deliver into power descendants ofjesus christ in a very secretive way. you... the feeling one gets in the book is you actually believe that is true. i personally do
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believe that is true. i have spent a long time researching it. you know that it has been thoroughly debunked. here is the thing, any time you write a book challenging historical... well, challenging religion,... the issue is history is not accurate. this is so germane to the times we live in today. you are suggesting what's true and what's not is not always, or perhaps even ever, truly decipherable. but it is beyond that, is it not, that this idea of this secretive priory of scion, it was a hoax developed by a frenchman in the 19505. the research is in and you were hoaxed by it, but is it not time to say you are wrong? i am talking aboutjesus christ. how i decide to tell the story is, it is creative art, i can pull what i want from history,
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some is real and some is not. i don't know enough about the priory of scion at this point to say if it is true or not. i actually have no idea. at the time i wrote the book, i truly believed it was true. have your ideas about it and further research changed your mind in any way since you wrote the da vinci code? i have moved on from that story. it has not. i left it behind. it is important to remember that these books... i am not trying to convince anyone of an idea. i am trying to write an enjoyable book that gets people talking. and so, if people decide to believe it, great, if they say it is a thriller, that's fine too. it is just intended to get people thinking about why they believe what they believe. and this idea of fake news now is absolutely germane to the conversation. how do you know what is true and what is false? do you or not believe there is truth and falsehood and that we human beings have a duty to
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differentiate between the two? we do have a duty to differentiate as historians. as creative novelists, we have the duty to get people to go and ask questions and find their own sources. hmm, see, that brings me back to the latest work, to 0rigin, because, at its heart is this figure who is perhaps analogous to some of the great tech gurus of our time, the elon musks, thejeff bezos, whatever, this man, edmond kirsch, he believes he has unlocked the secret to how life began in. it is sort of the essence of what we are. sure. and in the end, if i am reading the book correctly, your conclusion seems to be that there is a truly scientific explanation for life. it's out there. sure.
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somebody has got the secret. umm, so science wins, really, in your view. yeah, well, it's funny. every religion has a creation story that involves a supernatural power of some sort. so, to basically say, hey, what if life just happens? that has enormous implications for human. if we don't need god... if we don't need a creator. what i am asking is what do you believe? are you able to tell me what you believe about, for example, where life begins? sure. going through the process of writing this book, talking to physicists and microbiologists, and listening to what has happened in the last two years in this field, i personally believe the laws of physics are enough to create life. there is no god? i did not say that. i said the laws of physics alone
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are enough to create life. i do not know if there is no god. i no longer believe in the god of my childhood, a deity who sends his son down to crucify for my sins. i feel like there is something a lot bigger than us. i don't know what it is. i don't have a word for it. i will not presume to describe it. it is ineffable. it is very hard for me to take that step into atheism. i certainly am moving in that direction, but for me, in my life, it is still hard to say there is nothing. is it not hard for you partly because you live in a society in the united states of america where it is quite difficult to be a very public figure who says, i am an atheist? you are right, but it is getting easier to step out and say that. in america today?
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ok, so, today, we have strange things going on in america. i considered writing the trump code, but it is too unbelievable, even for me. it is easy to smile, but it is also easy perhaps for an american to be alarmed at the state of your nation today. are you? of course i am. one of the challenges with religion is reading metaphor as fact. that is one of the big dangers of religion, to take metaphors, a story like adam and eve, for example, and say that is absolute fact. and not only are you not allowed to ridicule it, we are going to debate whether or not to teach our children. that is the danger. another element of the public debate i am thinking of, people have questioned the validity of quote unquote expert opinion. climate change might be an example. and in donald trump's america, the heart and top of government has people sceptical about climate change. do you see that is a trend that
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could take us human beings to a dangerous place? i do, and i think that it has more to do with politics, and that if politics favoured global warming taking place, suddenly it would be. global warming a major issue for all of humanity. it is astonishing to me taht there is a question mark next to it in the upper levels of government. another theme in this book, artificial intelligence. in some ways, you appear to be close to believing that the next phase of evolution will involve human beings somehow transforming with the help of machines.
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iam not i am not closer to believing it, i believe it. we all carry little computers with us. it won't be long before they are part of us. we can't function without our little machines. hearing aids will be implanted. scientists really disagree as to whether this is a good or bad thing. some believe the power of ai will solve global issues of scarcity and over population. 0thers believe it will kill us, that we as a species have never created a weapon, rather, a technology that we haven't weaponised — fire that cooked our food eventually went on and burnt villages. nuclear power was turned into weapons. we would be naive to believe there won't be a dark side. i am an optimist and i think there is more love and hate and more creativity than destructive power
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and that we will learn to use ai for good. let me ask you about the way you write. you, unlike some extraordinary successful thriller writers, do not churn out novel after novel after novel. we know some writers who have sort of writing factories, they have assistants who help them develop plot lines and the novel and then the master craftsman polishes it up and every year there is a new one. you are not like that at all. no. between 4—6 years, there is a pause between the release of the next epic tale. there is no pause, i'm working the whole time. i went researching into tokyo abouti.5 years ago, read everything i could about al, creationism, darwinism, spain, modern art. enough that i could then go to this areas and have intelligent conversations and educate myself enough so i knew what i could ask.
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these books are intricate and i want to make sure they are done right. and itjust and it just takes and itjust takes me for ever. i'm a slow writer. i write scenes from many points of view and figure out how the scene is affecting each character. it is a pretty lonely life. it is. it is kind of funny. we were joking that i spend four years alone in the dark and then suddenly you are out and there is a spotlight in your face and they say, "go, be fascinating!" this is your moment in the daylight. exactly. in a funny sort of way, that makes you public property and a very public figure but someone who is hardly ever around. even in this conversation, you have said really fascinating things about science, about your concerns about your own country, about your concerns about where humanity is taking itself, and yet, for years on end, you are entirely silent. i am putting it all into a novel
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to share with the world. that's the only way i can write. i don't want to be influenced to formulate my ideas in public before they are really formed. writing these books is a way of figuring out what it is i believe. i am not assuming anything about your politics but given what we see in american politics today, don't you everfeel like playing a more prominent role in being a public voice? maybe some sort of conscience. using your platform to talk openly about what you see in front of you? you know, ifeel like i do that through these books, they reach an enormous part of the population. i don't presume i have the answers. if i have created even dinnertime conversations about important
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topics, i have done myjob. i am not looking to influence the way people think but at least get them to start thinking. the real danger is where people believe something without really asking ourselves why they believe it. the second we ask, "why do we believe this?" and you have to qualify and really articulate what it is you believe, you realise you don't believe it at all and that is the process that is most gratifying for me. do you have a lot of strong core beliefs yourself? it is hard to read these books and know where you stand. i try to be fair and argue both sides of the question. the fun thing about writing 0rigin, ifeel like langdon had thrown off the shackles and through the character of edmund kirsch, he was able to say, we are at a dangerous time in human evolution and religion is playing a dangerous role. a positive role, also, but a dangerous role. this idea of having to shut down rational thought in order to be
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religious is extremely dangerous, and i was able to just come out and articulate that. interesting that you are so fascinated by the role of religion and you can see its dangers and yet you always, one has to say, in the books, from da vinci code to 0rigin, you focus on christianity. why are you not, given the way the world works today and some of the other dangers we see arising out of some forms of religious belief, why are you not addressing other religions? this book does address, i mean, certainly islam, judaism and christianity share a gospel. that's talked about in the novel and there are characters from all of those faiths. i just wonder if lent the same critical eye that you've lent to christianity, to islam, for example, whether you are fearful of what's happened to other writers like salman rushdie, you wouldn't... it hasn't occurred to me because it is something that i wouldn't do. christianity is my... i write these books to ask myself these questions.
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christianity is my experience, it is the world that affects me most because it's how i grew up, these are my core values so i really write these books for myself, in many ways, to explore these ideas. that is why i continually choose christianity. you mentioned robert langdon and how he is cutting loose, to some extent. would it be right to say that professor robert langdon with his learning and his love of travel and his brilliant code breaking and everything else, is the guy you would love to be? that's the best way to say it. here's more daring, he is a lot more intelligent. somebody said to me, how can he be more intelligent because everything he says you have to think about. i pointed out that when robert langdon sees a painting, he says, let me tell you about this, that took me three days. people around the world
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want to know. langdon is still out there cracking codes and solving mysteries and travelling the world. how long can he go on? i don't know. he has tough luck. he ends up in some pretty bad situations. if i were him, i mightjust go home for a while. i think langdon needs a vacation. he may take a short one. you are now so known for this series. 0bviously da vinci code and all that langdon has gone on to do, but could you see yourself as still a young writer, going into a different genre, writing something so left—field that your staple audience would be surprised by it? i have ideas i can't possibly put out there in public. we have only got millions of viewers, it would just be between you, me and them. i have books that would shock everyone. it is so far out of the realm of what i am known for. it would be fun to write.
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fiction? non—fiction. you will come back. when it is out there? hopefully we will sit in a room this spectacular and talk about it. dan brown, we have to end it there, but thank you for being on hardtalk. hello once again. after a pretty chilly weekend quite widely across the british isles we are goign to see a change of weather tonight, albeit for a little while. it is thanks to an area of low pressure throws a great veil of cloud down across all parts of the british isles. first thing on monday there will be a wet and windy start to be had across the south. but not many of you will be scraping your cars first up. there will be other concerns, i suspect, if you are commuting across the southern counties
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of england and wales. in the first part of monday, simply because it is going to be really quite wet. even that little bit further north will have had rain overnight. quite windy too. so, tricky conditions. a lot of surface water and spray. into the northern half of the british isles, well, persistent rain in the very far north of scotland. elsewhere, a supply of showers from the word go. urged along by a north—north—westerly wind pushing those showers ever further towards the south and east. they replace the rainband which quits the scene on the southern counties of england but will be a bother for the channel islands for a good part of the day. following on behind, not particularly cold air. not at that stage, anyway. that's probably the mildest of the days of the week. tuesday, increasingly cold as we move towards the middle part of the week. the low pressure moves further east. that opens the doors for the isobars
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to run pretty much from north to south across all parts of the british isles. down the spine of the country, a gloriously sunny day. if you are fully exposed to that breeze, mainly from the northern and eastern perspective, you are going to see some showers and i think across the high ground, not just in scotland, they will be wintry. and single figure temperatures abound. wednesday, perhaps a subtle change in wind direction could draw those wintry showers a little further inland and push them further south, down through the lincolnshire wolds, maybe into the north of norfolk as well. down the spine of the country there is still that bright weather to be had. on thursday, we may see an area of low pressure. that puts a squeeze on the isobars. it means more wind. a bitter wind at that. right down the eastern shores, particularly. look at that temperature, four, five, six. it will be cold with a biting wind, especially in the east. this is the briefing. i'm sally bundock. our top story — this is the scene live on the
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indonesian island of bali where authorities are warning that gradgrind —— mount agung can erupt at any moment. turkey's prime minister tells the bbc a new bilateral agreement is needed between turkey and britain to protect trade interests after brexit. and a special report from lake victoria, africa's largest freshwater lake, which scientists say is slowly dying. the uk government plans a major shot in the arm for the pharmaceutical sector and other key industries. but will it be enough to strengthen the economy in the run up to brexit? in business briefing, i'll be speaking to a leading
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