We Are Not in Control

Michael Crichton wrote a lot of books. Prey, which first came out in 2002, is not among his most famous works. All the same, it still makes fascinating reading.

What would happen if nanotechnology were used to create a kind of artificial life that could learn and change and remember, that would have artificial intelligence–and that would soon evolve an agenda of its own? What if it quickly passed beyond our control?

“Science” as an ideology, and more than an ideology– a belief system, a species of religion, a way of relating to the world–and technology, which is the instrumentality of Science: hey, everybody, these things can be dangerous. Michael Crichton, a close student of many sciences, and a close companion to many scientists, sounded this warning all his life. Even the scientists themselves oversimplify incredibly complicated things, leading them into a false sense of security and finally into a delusion that “we are in control, nothing can go wrong.”

And we all know what happens when you think that.

So Prey is another one of these stories about what happens to those who succumb to that delusion. Folly can be fatal. It’s a thriller, it’s a page-turner… and something more than that.

Michael Crichton wanted to believe in Science. In the end, he couldn’t: his integrity would not let him blind himself to its false claims and pretensions.

But he also most emphatically did not want to believe in God, nor did he accept the salvation held out to him by Jesus Christ. I don’t know why.

Instead, he sought for some other myth that would turn out to be true, something with which to bind together the sheaves of reality. We see him groping for this in Prey, with the notion that nature somehow “organizes itself” without conscious direction by God. But again Crichton is tripped up by his own honesty. As he writes about scientists and profit-seekers trying to imitate the self-organizing dynamic that they think they find in nature, he can’t help writing it up as a disaster. “Nothing can go wrong” just never comes out right.

I’m not much interested in the science behind Prey, but I am intrigued by the author’s inner struggle. I wish it had turned out better for him.

Michael Crichton never found God. But there is always hope that somehow God found him.

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