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Interview: James Morrow

The Washington Post calls James Morrow the “Most provocative satiric voice in science fiction,” and The Denver Post has hailed him as “Christianity’s Salman Rushdie, only funnier and more sacrilegious.” His books include Towing Jehovah, Only Begotten Daughter, and Bible Stories for Adults. His latest book is called Galápagos Regained.

This interview first appeared on Wired.com’s The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast, which is hosted by David Barr Kirtley and produced by John Joseph Adams. Visit geeksguideshow.com to listen to the entire interview and the rest of the show, in which the host and his guests discuss various geeky topics.

Your new book is called Galapágos Regained, and you’ve said that the book was inspired by your wife asking you, “Isn’t it time you wrote your novel about Charles Darwin?” Why was it inevitable that you would write a book about Charles Darwin?

You should always do what your wife tells you to do. I’m known, primarily, as a novelist of ideas, the domain in which we science fiction guys operate, as opposed to being a creator of realistic psychological fiction. Going back to 2006, I published a historical novel called The Last Witchfinder, which was about the coming of the scientific worldview, a celebration of the enlightenment, and I managed to shoehorn some intellectual content into just about every scene. This was a book, after all, in which the minor characters include the likes of Isaac Newton, Robert Hook, the Baron de Montesquieu, and Benjamin Franklin. It had some success, so I wanted to try another historical epic that would also be a dance of ideas and I just couldn’t think of anything.

Months went by, and finally my wife Kathy noticed my distress and said, “But Jim, ever since I’ve known you, you’ve been hectoring me about Charles Darwin; why don’t you write a novel about him?” This was a revelation; I think of that scene in the movie Young Frankenstein: Gene Wilder, as Doctor Frankenstein, says to the hunchback, “You know, I happen to be a very talented surgeon, I could do something about that hump,” and Marty Feldman famously says, “What hump?” This was a “What hump?” experience for me. I’ve been obsessed with Darwin ever since college. An interesting dimension of the Scopes Trial is a point that Steven J. Gould makes in one of his essays, which is that it was not a great victory for the theory of evolution by natural selection. It did not bring the yahoos and the William Jennings Bryan species of fundamentalism to its knees. Au contraire, fundamentalism enjoyed a resurgence and the text books scoured Darwin from their pages. When I was studying biology as a high school student, the text does not mention evolutionary theory at all, and I came out of that course thinking biology was all about taxonomy, nothing but the Linnaeus system of classification; you sit down, you memorize the phyla. The grand unifying idea was missing.

In college, I happened to pick up a book by Robert Ardrey called African Genesis, which is rooted in Darwinian theory and an argument about the descent of man; he’s grinding a particular axe vis-à-vis the problem of aggression, and he’s very fond of the “killer ape” theory, that we can account for the fact that human history is written in blood relative to our descent from Australopithecines. If I were to read African Genesis today, I would probably dissent pretty vociferously from that idea, but I owe a great debt to Robert Ardrey because I had never thought of what Dennett calls “Darwin’s dangerous idea.” It had never been clearer to me before, the idea of thinking of ourselves, as Ardrey puts it, as “risen apes” rather than fallen angels; the notion that everything that is alive right now and that has ever lived and ever will live is meshed in this fantastical tapestry, that we’re all embedded in this magnificent mosaic of life. That idea so exhilarated me that I started reading a lot about Darwin, most of it more serious and less polemical than Ardrey.

You mentioned that you started doing all this research on Darwin, and there’s this passage in the book that gives a very different image of Darwin than people typically have. You say, “In his youth he’d been quite the adventurer, galloping with gauchos across the pampas, hacking his way through a Patagonian jungle seething with hostile Indians and traversing the Andes on a mule. He’d survived a volcano in Chile, an earthquake in Concepción, and the mountainous seas off Cape Horn, which had nearly capsized his ship.” What you found out about Darwin — did it differ from the image you had of him?

We have this default portrait in our brains of the bearded, patriarchal Darwin; he actually doesn’t make a bad stand-in for God, come to think of it, which is rather ironic. Yet the young Darwin was this Indiana Jones figure.

Part of the reason I find this image of Darwin as Indiana Jones so striking is because, to a large extent, my image of him was shaped by that movie Creation that came out a few years ago, where you see him as this sickly moping guy trying all these odd therapies. What did you think of how he was portrayed in that movie?

The movie left a lot to be desired. It was a good performance by Paul Bettany as Darwin, and Jennifer Connelly makes an appealing Emma Darwin. It’s based on a nonfiction book by Randal Keynes called Darwin, His Daughter, and Human Evolution. The book is much better, and one liberty that the film takes — you might remember the final beats — has Darwin presenting the manuscript to Emma and leaving the fate of the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection in her hands. That he’s going to let her religious sensibilities determine whether or not the world at large finds out about this idea. In the scene, Emma is raking through some smoldering ashes and we’re led to believe that she has incinerated the manuscript.

Darwin would never have empowered his wife to do that, at that point in his career. He already realized that his scientific colleague, Alfred Russel Wallace, was on the point of scooping him; that Wallace had come up with a notion of descent with modification that mapped, so precisely, onto the Origin of Species that Darwin’s natural scientific rivalry bone began to sing and from then on, there was no stopping him and he rushed the book into print.

Of course, it turns out that Emma has not burned the book, and hands the manuscript to him to give to the mail carrier, but I thought that was a needless piece of melodrama, because the facts of Darwin’s life are quite suspenseful and dramatically satisfying.

I don’t know if you followed all the distribution problems that movie had; I think it had a really hard time getting distributed in the United States. I don’t know if that made you at all leery about writing a Darwin book yourself. What do you think about that phenomenon?

It wasn’t the easiest job in the world to find a publisher for this book. I didn’t follow that story; are you saying that because of the subject, and because of the way Darwin ruffles peoples’ feathers, they didn’t want to exhibit it?

Absolutely. I don’t remember the details, but I don’t think it ever got wide release in the US. They struggled for years to try and get a distributor for it.

Yeah; I only have it in the form of DVD, I didn’t go to any theatrical exhibition of it. There’s not a whole lot of Darwin in the history of cinema; from the golden age of Hollywood biopics, there was never “Fredric March as Charles Darwin.” Probably just as well, because I think they would have bowdlerized the theory and its implications. That’s a sad commentary, that there’s still a kind of censorship operating, not unlike the textbook censorship that is very much with us, that I talked about earlier.

But you do think the publishers were leery about your book, because of that same animus towards Darwin?

I wouldn’t want to speculate. The publishers that turned it down came up with other reasons.

One thing that’s interesting, given that the inception of this book was to write a book about Darwin, is that Darwin is actually a fairly minor character. Talk about that decision and the actual protagonist of this novel.

Darwin’s the major-minor character; I think of the way I used Isaac Newton in The Last Witchfinder, where his spirit suffuses the entire story of Jennet Stearne and her attempt to bring down the Parliamentary witchcraft statutes in 1604. In the case of Galápagos Regained, Darwin’s spirit suffuses all of the text, but he’s not on stage that much. It’s the story of Chloe Bathurst, a Victorian actress, who’s rather successful but loses her job, owing to her outspoken political views. She gets a new job on Darwin’s estate as his governess; not a governess who’s going to mind his children, but one who’s going to attend to his menagerie: the creatures he brought back from the Galápagos archipelago.

Darwin did not bring back a private zoo, but the fine print on my poetic license allows me to imagine this vivarium; this zoological dome. The plot turns on “The Great God Contest.” While Chloe is performing her zoo-keeping duties, she gets wind not only of Darwin’s theory, but of this bizarre competition that’s being staged in Oxford by a hypothetical society called the Percy Bysshe Shelley Society. It didn’t really exist, but for the purposes of my novel, it was essential to the plot. The Percy Bysshe Shelley Society is floating a huge cash award of 10,000 pounds to anybody — scholar, theologian, philosopher — who can prove or disprove the existence of God. Chloe, who’s anxious to pay off her father’s debt — and also to get back into the theater game and give a grand performance — decides that she’s going to enter the contest and win it, and all that she needs is to be able to exhibit the live specimens — the giant tortoises, and these exotic and rare marine iguanas and the striped birds — while explaining the tree of life, the whole argument about the interconnectedness of all species on our planet.

Darwin has let Chloe know that he does regard the theory of natural selection as a big problem for God, as a potential corroboration of atheism. He regards the contest as lurid and tawdry, and he wants no traffic with it. Chloe decides — and here the reader has to suspend his or her disbelief, perhaps — that her only alternative is to go Galápagos herself and collect the very same illustrative live specimens. Hence the title, Galápagos Regained, an allusion to John Milton’s Paradise Regained, the sequel to Paradise Lost.

For its final two-thirds, the book becomes a crazy Jules Verne, Indiana Jones sort of adventure. I talked about the Indiana Jones connection to Darwin before, and I very much had that in mind when I conceived of Chloe’s escapades.

I think we should explain, for listeners who may not know, that Percy Shelley was expelled from school for writing a paper called “On the Necessity of Atheism,” and that’s where this Percy Bysshe Shelley Society comes from.

Yes. The Percy Bysshe Shelley Society are a bunch of rakehells, philanderers, and sybarites who take as their hero Shelley, who was booted out of university college at Oxford for writing the essay. It was probably influenced by his reading of Lucretius who, in his famous poem De Rerum Natura, was in turn celebrating the anti-religious philosophy of Epicurus.

As an atheist, you present this Percy Bysshe Shelley Society, as you say, as a bunch of hedonists. What do you think about that connection that exists in the popular imagination between atheism and hedonism?

I think I’m just having fun with that cliché, because it’s certainly not a legitimate critique of atheism. I just thought it would be fun to have these decadent young men with their tawdry girlfriends on their knees, believing that a good evening’s entertainment consists of hearing believers and non-believers go at each other, hammer and tongs, trying to prove or disprove the existence of God.

In this meeting we see of the Shelley Society, one of the panelists makes the point that God doesn’t heal amputees; this reminds me of the website, whywontgodhealamputees.com.

I definitely had that in mind; it’s almost a deliberate anachronism.

I was wondering how far back the formulation of that argument went.

Whoever mounted that website is someone I would credit with originality. I don’t know its origin; I doubt it goes back to the nineteenth century.

You say in the afterword to the book that you spent six years writing it; could you talk about that writing process and what happened over that time period?

I’m an awfully slow writer, and I always surprise myself by how damn long it takes me before I’m satisfied. I see my novels as thought experiments, and if I set up experimental conditions that are fecund, I’ll keep discovering new possibilities as I engage in the composition process. I’ll be surprised by this or that plot twist that I didn’t see coming until it sort of asked to happen. The truism, for me, is you should write the book, and then do the research. It was a continual back and forth between having to write the next scene and then read yet another book about Darwin, about natural philosophy, or biology.

For example, you mention that Chloe sets off for the Galápagos, but before she even gets there she spends quite a bit of time in South America. Why did you decide to include that section in the book?

I just wanted the book to be entertaining. I’ve always liked the truism that all art is entertainment, all drama is melodrama; not all melodrama is drama, and not all entertainment is art. But I love epics; I love Jules Verne. A lot of the South American material is an homage to Voltaire’s Candide. And I said, “Okay; I just want to see what happens when I put my characters down in that zone.”

In the South American section — I’ve never even heard of the Great Rubber War, so I wasn’t sure how much of that was your invention and how much was based in historical fact.

I had read several books about Amazonia as part of the research, because Chloe has to find her way across the continent of South America after she’s shipwrecked off the coast of Brazil. When she gets to Peru, she gets caught up in the Great Rubber War.

The research I’d done had given me a lot of information about the rubber industry and how horribly exploitive it was of the natives; the mistreatment that’s documented maps onto the historical facts, sad to say. There was not actually an event that was called “The Great Rubber War;” that’s a poetic conceit on my part. But a generation or so after the events in Galápagos Regained, there is a terrible conflict in the country of Columbia that does correspond to what’s going on in the middle of my book.

In this section, they also run into Alfred Russel Wallace, who also seems to be an Indiana Jones type character. How much historical truth is there to that?

That’s quite accurate; there’s a sense in which the calendar of the whole novel turns on the fact that Wallace was in Manaus, on the Rio Negro in Brazil, in 1850. I thought it would be a lot of fun if Chloe ran into him. And Wallace, as I said, was an evolutionary thinker, and was developing a theory very close to Darwin’s idea. He didn’t nail it until he got to Indonesia, but he’s playing around with it. So I had fun with the idea that Chloe, who wants to win the Great God Contest with an evolutionary argument, is very nervous that Wallace may have heard of the contest, or that he may be about to enter it, or that he might regard his own notion of evolution as tantamount to atheism. She’s relieved when Wallace presents a theistic version of evolution. And that, in fact, was the case with Wallace: He did have his notion of descent with modification; he did see species as transmuting in accordance with natural laws, with no supernatural intervention; entirely materialist. But he did give God a role; he did imagine the insertion of a divine soul into the human species.

This approach that you talk about, saying that evolution happened but it was the tool that God used to create humanity; you labeled that in the book “evangelical deism.” What do you make of that, where you have extremely learned people, like Francis Collins, who understand evolution through and through but still see some teleological purpose to it?

I find it a frustrating and disingenuous argument. It’s a pleasurable opinion, but it’s simply an opinion. The whole point of Darwinism, the whole breakthrough, was that we don’t need to appeal to any force on high, to use the imagery that Daniel Dennett evokes in his wonderful book, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. We don’t need a crane or a gantry reaching down and pulling us up out of the mire. It happened from below.

And I think Collins and company trivialize Darwin’s breakthrough; they’re not friends of the theory of evolution. I can appreciate why many people regard Darwin’s theory as bad news, but for me the story doesn’t end there. Darwin’s “sin,” the reason he makes people nervous, is not that he killed God, but that he replaced God. He didn’t just make a case for atheism, he also made a case for something that’s equivalent to God — it just happens to be materialist. He replaced God with something that, for me, is far more magnificent than anything found in scripture; far more magnificent, complex, detailed, and transcendent. He pushed the reset button on the whole of the Western psyche. The Christian narrative that Collins is so fond of is beautiful, it’s coherent, it’s very satisfactory — but it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the world that we’re actually in. It’s about another world, for which there is no evidence.

And this book does feature characters having religious experiences, and gaining faith, and turning away from faith. It seems, in the book, that people become more religious as the result of feelings and experiences and lose their religion as the result of analytical thinking. Is that how you see the dynamics of those kinds of changes of opinion?

The one thing that is factual about religious revelation on this planet is that people think that it’s happened to them. There’s no question that people find themselves in zones that they come back and report as being mystical. I would argue, as a secular humanist, that it’s always worth noting that we’re never out of the human in such cases; you go down the hallway and open each door that’s labeled “revelation” and, every time you open a new door, you don’t find an angel writing in a book of gold; you don’t find a cherub blowing on a trumpet. You find a human being, telling you how the world works.

I wanted to give the numinous its due, though, as an experience not as a fact, because it is human and I wanted to challenge myself. Can I communicate what I think it would be like to think you’ve touched the divine? And that happens to my heroine, Chloe: She’s not a secularist throughout the entire story.

She also, though, is suffering from malaria at the time, and so it could be that the experience is entirely physiological. No one will be surprised to hear that that’s how I regard near-death experiences, these narratives of people going to heaven and getting a t-shirt from Jesus and coming back. They are better explained by recourse to the neurology of near death. So Chloe gradually returns to reality; I imagine that some readers will take those scenes at face value and say Chloe had it right when she thinks she’s having an encounter with the divine.

I think it’s interesting when she turns away from religion; she describes the experience as “exhilaration mixed with bereavement.” Could you talk about what you mean by that?

It’s so hard to be a human being; I don’t know anybody who gets it completely right. So part of me doesn’t want to begrudge people their belief in the supernatural. The problem, and this is a whole other day’s discussion, is that faith so quickly becomes political and suddenly your loyalties are divided; things that God tells you to do are not necessarily the things that your obligations to your fellow human beings would tell you to do.

Chloe sets out on this mission under the assumption that Darwin’s theory is what’s going to kill God, but the book suggests that the “killer” arguments come from Greek philosophers like Lucretius, Epicurus, and Democritus. Do you need Darwin at all? Or would rational people conclude there is no God even absent an explanation of the apparent design in nature?

You could certainly make a case that Lucretius did precisely that; that he ended up taking an atheist’s view, or certainly an anti-religious view, of the universe without having heard of Darwin, who lies many generations in the future. And the whole idea of proof — that’s a mischievous term. It’s useful in mathematics, but I don’t think science is about proof, per se. It’s about making predictions, coming up with explanatory models of nature. That said, if there could be such a thing as a dis-proof of God, it would look a lot like Darwinian materialism, coupled to the argument from evil. That one-two punch, for me, causes God to go belly up.

In the book, you have Schopenhauer show up and list three of the most persuasive arguments in favor of God: Thomas Aquinas’ “First Cause,” Paley’s “Watchmaker Analogy,” and this idea that morality does not admit of a secular explanation. Do you want to comment on any of those?

There have been impressive proofs of God floated throughout human intellectual history, and we get to experience some of them quite early in the book, even before Schopenhauer comes on stage: We witness the goings-on at Alistair Hall, where the Shelley Society convenes every fortnight. We get to see the believers attempting to corroborate God through the four big proofs: the ontological, cosmological, teleological, and the moral — the ontological being Saint Anselm’s notion that because we can conceive of a perfect being, such an entity necessarily exists because actualities are, ipso facto, superior to mere ideas. This was once a very satisfying proof; it doesn’t work for us today, out of a medieval mindset.

I want to talk about the ontological proof, because you have something in the book I thought was pretty funny, which you called the “non-tological” proof. Do you want to tell people about that?

That’s a dis-proof that’s paraded before the rakehells at Oxford. The non-tological proof says that the only thing more astonishing than a universe created by an actual supreme being would be a universe created by a non-existent supreme being. Therefore, God does not exist. It’s a playful dis-proof; I think I got it out of Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion.

There’s this philosopher, Stephen Law, who has something called “The Evil God Challenge,” and he’s written this article about how you can use the ontological proof to prove that there is an evil God and that the argument is equally consistent as that there’s a good God.

I think I remember talking to my son Christopher about this. And he said that, of course, you then encounter the problem of good. Theists have to come to terms with the problem of evil. It’s very clever; I salute it.

There’s a little animated cartoon that explains it, which is really good, so that’s the first stop if you’re interested in that. I want to ask about these three things, though; I’ll say what I would think, that the argument that there must be a first cause — I just don’t find persuasive at all. It seems completely logically coherent that a chain of causality could stretch infinitely into the past and we have trouble imagining that because of the limited abilities of our brain.

The problem with the cosmological proof is that it begs the question of why this regression should terminate in a supreme being or the God of revelation. And it also begs the question that, if God is the cause of all things, where does God come from? It’s a solution that solves nothing.

And then this idea that morality does not admit of a secular explanation: People will say that the problem with atheism is that there’s no objective morality, and it seems to me that Plato, in “The Euthyphro Dilemma,” shows that there is no such thing as objective morality with a God, either. It seems that to divide up morality that’s 100% subjective versus morality that’s 100% objective is a false dichotomy. Neither of those is coherent and it seems that the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

I don’t think it’s a matter of opinion. Again, as with the so-called cosmological proof, it’s important to not let the promoters of the idea slip past our guard. I don’t believe in original sin; I don’t think the default is that we are depraved and that therefore morality can only be imposed through revelation. While it’s true that Darwin understood the cruelty of nature, he also took note of the extreme amount of cooperation and nurturing that occurs, so we shouldn’t privilege depravity.

On that subject, there’s a part in the book where one of the characters has this fear about the implications of natural selection, where she says, “His theory now repels me for I apprehend it to authorize the masters of the world to further exploit the downtrodden. ‘Don’t feed the starving multitudes,’ the Darwinists will say, ‘For such misguided charity encourages them to produce descendants doomed to compete for increasingly scarce resources.”

That’s the famous disaster of social Darwinism, although it’s important to realize that social Darwinism was not the construction of Darwin, and is actually on stage in human history before anybody heard of Darwin. We’re talking about the ideas of the Reverend Thomas Malthus, who thought that it would be a mistake to nurture the poor because they would just go ahead and make more poor people.

Darwinism is entirely about saying that nature can act as a breeder in the same way that humans can act as a breeder. It was well understood that if you starve someone or kill someone they’ll have fewer descendants; you don’t need Darwin to tell you that. It would be a naturalistic fallacy to say that, because that’s what happens in nature, that’s something we should try to emulate.

Exactly.

In the book, you include some other scientists: Gregor Mendel, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Rosalind Franklin. Could you talk about why you chose to include those characters?

The novel does have an element of the speculative or the fantastical; my roots are science fiction, after all. And I thought it would be dramatically, emotionally satisfying if, on his deathbed, Darwin could learn that the pieces of the theory of natural selection that were, for him, missing — that he correctly identified as gaps in the theory — were going to be discovered by subsequent generations. So I’ve got an alternative expedition, trying to discover Noah’s Ark as a corroboration of scriptural revelation, and they’re headed to Turkey at the same time that Chloe Bathurst and company are trying to get to the Galápagos. One member of the expedition has to stay behind in Constantinople, and enters a hookah den where hallucinogenic hashish is being served. This has the effect of him being visited by travelers from the future, getting to blow hash with these three figures, and they provide the three missing pieces.

In the case of Mendel: his tremendous, almost counter-intuitive insight into genetics; the fact that our somatic cells lead lives independent of our germ cells and there would be such a thing as hereditary units that can dominate other hereditary units. And suddenly, the mystery of why you’re as likely to have your aunt’s eyes as your mother’s eyes was revealed.

Teilhard de Chardin, while he carried evolution into teleological realms — where he anticipates Francis Collins — was nevertheless an accomplished paleontologist and was part of the expedition which found Peking Man. Darwin’s theory predicts fossil hominids, that we would discover the skulls of our ancestors. Not our Neanderthal ancestors, people knew about Neanderthals in the Victorian era, but going back millions of years. So Darwin hears on his deathbed about Teilhard’s skulls.

And finally Rosalind Franklin, whose work was crucial to Watson and Crick unraveling the structure of the DNA molecule; it’s sometimes forgotten that what James Watson pilfered from her files was not simply the pictures, but her understanding that the phosphate chains of the DNA molecule were anti-parallel, and this strongly suggests a double-helix. Rosalind Franklin was famously, and notoriously, ignored and forgotten. Watson, Crick, and Maurice Wilkins shared their Nobel Prize; they did not even mention her from the podium.

And it’s because she was a woman that she was ignored.

No question that she was not taken seriously. If you read James Watson’s book, called The Double Helix, while it offers many fascinating insights into how scientific research actually progresses and what an all-too-human enterprise it is, he takes such a sardonic, childish, and sexist view of Rosalind Franklin that you want to throw the book across the room.

In the section where Teilhard de Chardin is talking, he says in passing, “Under some circumstances the Vatican would again be obliged to exile me.” What is the story behind that?

This was a time when the Catholic Church was not reconciled to Darwin. They’ve done better in recent generations, although there’s still more work to do. He was almost kicked out of the Jesuit Order, given his passion for evolutionary theory. I think the Holy Office, which is the euphemism for the Inquisition, regarded him as a borderline heretic.

Here I’ll give both Teilhard and Collins a lot of credit: They were unequivocal in their belief that evolution had occurred on this planet; that the theory of natural selection accounted for the transmutation of species in a way the book of Genesis never begins to do.

But Teilhard took it into this mystical, teleological realm, where we are a transitional species, which Darwin would have agreed with, but not in the sense that Teilhard meant it: We are transitional in that we are on our way to rendezvous with the cosmic Christ and all human minds are going to meld and the consciousness that we enjoy will seem feeble compared to the transcendent chorus of our eventual fusion with the divine. It’s very clever and satisfying in a kind of intellectual way, but as I said, it doesn’t seem to describe the world that we’ve actually inherited.

Speaking of this conflict between the Church and reality, there’s this line in the book where you say, “When the Bishop of Panama stumbled upon Galápagos in 1535, he thought he had found the Devil’s pied-à-terre.” Is that a true thing?

Yeah. The Galápagos Islands are an inverse paradise; I’ve never been there, but I’ve seen enough documentary footage, and I’ve read Herman Melville’s long essay called “The Encantadas,” in which he makes it seem like a bleak, lunar, desolate place. Melville said the primary sound you hear is a hiss. It struck people as Hell on earth. There’s a wonderful irony in that; that what seems to be the truth of our origins emerged from a place that could not be more materialist, in a sense; could not be more naturalistic.

How did you go about researching the Galápagos? Did you discover anything in the course of your research that really struck you, or changed the way you thought about it?

One thing that’s true historically is that people were always trying to start utopian communities there. There was some notion that it was a paradise, and then people were subject to rude awakenings when they did attempt to cultivate the soil. But when I have a Mormon colony on Charles Isle, that doesn’t map onto absolute historical reality; there could have been settlers from the Church of Latter Day Saints in that zone.

You have a lot of fun in the book with this idea that the Book of Mormon is a really boring book; I have to believe that was inspired by Mark Twain’s famous line that it’s “chloroform in print.”

I’ve forgotten that; that’s a great line.

Is there anything you want to say about your treatment of Mormonism and this odd idea that the native peoples are descendants of the lost tribe of Israel?

As I understand the Mormon argument, the Americas — both North and South — were populated by Israelites; that there was a migration from the Holy Land to the New World aboard barges. There’s not much archaeological evidence for that, but the other thing I will say about my use of the Mormons is that it does antedate the famous musical The Book of Mormon. People might, in retrospect, think I was plagiarizing that work, but I definitely had written those scenes long before I heard of the musical, which I haven’t seen. But it sounds like a lot of fun.

Unfortunately, we’re getting pretty short on time here and there’s a lot of stuff in this book I’ve tried to cover, but you can just barely scratch the surface. So people should go check out the book if they’re curious about this kind of stuff. There’s this section from Darwin’s writings that you quote throughout this book that I really like; I was wondering if you could read this bit from the end of On The Origin of Species.

“Thus, from the war of nature, from the famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one. And that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been and are being evolved.”

And you said that, in one edition of your books, they added some God stuff into that?

This is probably of a piece with the discussion we were having earlier about how the Scopes Trial was not the beginning of a triumph for Darwinism but really resulted in textbook companies being terribly afraid to bring this incendiary material into the classroom. The edition of The Origin of Species that I first read includes in its final beats, “There is grandeur in this view of life with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one . . .” That’s why it’s been so difficult for this idea to get traction; people always have to drag God back into the argument.

Well, I think that it’s an important argument, and I appreciate you doing your part to stick up for our side here.

You’re very welcome, and I intend to keep fighting the good fight.

We’ve been speaking with James Morrow, and his new book is Galápagos Regained. Thanks so much for joining us.

You’re very welcome, Dave. This was a lot of fun.

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The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Geek's Guide to the Galaxy

The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy is a science fiction/fantasy talk show podcast. It is produced by John Joseph Adams and hosted by: David Barr Kirtley, who is the author of thirty short stories, which have appeared in magazines such as Realms of Fantasy, Weird Tales, and Lightspeed, in books such as Armored, The Living Dead, Other Worlds Than These, and Fantasy: The Best of the Year, and on podcasts such as Escape Pod and Pseudopod. He lives in New York.