Saturday, August 13, 2016


     Smith’s first rather casual reference to DuQuesne, destined to play such a gigantic role in the unfolding story, is found in the very first chapter, as Seaton is leaving the laboratory for the night. “Going down the long corridor, he noticed a brightly-lighted laboratory and observed that Dr. Marc DuQuesne was also working late.” We never do learn anything near to the detail provided for our two heroes about the background and early life of Skylark’s chief antagonist, other than the fact that he is widely considered to be one of the most competent and knowledgeable chemical engineers in the world. Not so widely known is that DuQuesne is a criminal, in close collaboration with the gangsters that control “the great World Steel Corporation”. Totally amoral, DuQuesne has no qualms about partnering with murderers and racketeers, as long as he sees something in it for him.

     DuQuesne’s very existence provides a dilemma for those who believe that “Science!” holds, in and of itself, the promise of a Bright New Future for humanity. Ever since H.G. Wells, we’ve been assured that the advance of science would inevitably transform the world into a Paradise on Earth - that our children, or at the latest, our childrens’ children, would grow up as enlightened members of a gloriously triumphant society in which all problems would be solved through reason, education, and research.

     Never in history has an idea been so decisively, so definitively, disproven as this naïve faith in “Science!”. One need look no further than the Catalog of Horrors that was the Twentieth Century to see the awful consequences of blind faith in the power of science to transform humanity for the good. Oh, but transform him it did! Just not at all in the way anticipated. Instead of a generation of clear-headed, rational, optimistic Builders of Tomorrow, we got instead the Komsomol and the Hitler Youth. Instead of the clean, shiny utopian cities foreseen by Wells and the other Prophets of Eternal Progress, we got eugenics, Homo Sovieticus, and the Killing Fields of Cambodia. We got two world wars and totalitarianism. We got Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot. And the amazing, simply incredible thing about these human catastrophes is that we cannot dismiss them as simply the deeds of Evil Men. We must face up to them as the ironically but seemingly inevitable consequences of Mankind’s highest aspirations when untethered from our spiritual selves. Allow me to repeat (slightly edited) what I posted to this site back on the 30th of June:  

Science and religion are like the right and left wheels on a cart. Lose either one, and you’ll run straight into a ditch. Religion without science runs the risk of being mere superstition, while science without religion can all too easily lead to Auschwitz, Hiroshima, and the Gulag. We desperately need both.

     And evidence for this is not confined to the previous century. Allow me to take you back in time… way back… to the Second Century B.C. The civilized world at that time was dominated by the great Successor Kingdoms to Alexander the Great’s (356-323 B.C.) empire. These superstates of the Ancient World were the most enlightened governments ever seen by anyone, anywhere, to that time. They were the embodiment of all that was best, all that was most beautiful, all that was most admired in Classical Greek culture. And their reach was universal – beyond their borders lay only the barbarians. Gone were the despotic, Asiatic regimes of Persia and Mesopotamia. Swept away were the sclerotic, pharaonic dynasties of Egypt. In their place, Glorious Humanism reigned supreme. Philosophy, rhetoric, and the gymnasium had conquered over despotism and despair. 

     Nowhere was that truer than in the Kingdom of Antiochus Epiphanes. Determined to “civilize” the non-Hellenic provinces of his realm and anxious to spread the indisputable benefits of Greek civilization to his least subject, Antiochus compelled all within his Seleucid Empire to conform with his “enlightened” restructuring of society. And for the most part, the benefits of his policy were evident to and recognized by all. Cities were cleaner, crime was down, the roads cleared of highwaymen, the economy was flourishing, enemies defeated, great public buildings and unprecedented works of engineering constructed, and the populace was healthier and happier than ever before. It wasn’t long before the people began regarding Antiochus as a God, and even less time elapsed before Antiochus thought of himself as such. His statues and images replaced those of Zeus and Apollo in the temples. It was the world’s first “Cult of Personality”. In time, literal worship of Antiochus Epiphanes was the Law of the Land, and refusal to do so was treason.

     As you might expect, such developments were not exactly welcome in Antiochus’ province of Judea. His policy of enforced Hellenization met with fierce resistance from the Jews, which in turn was countered with even fiercer repression. The horrors that followed would be all too familiar to those later finding themselves under Nazi or Soviet occupation. Arrest, torture, and judicial murder were commonplace. (For a good idea of just how awful things were, read Chapter Seven of Second Maccabees in the Old Testament.) This eventually led to the Maccabean Revolt (from which we have today’s Jewish holiday of Hanukkah).

     How can this be possible? How could the most enlightened regime ever seen (to that time) become the world’s first taste of totalitarianism? Ironically, E.E. Smith provides a clue to the answer. I say “ironically” because we are, after all, dealing with the man almost universally acclaimed to be the greatest “Super Science” writer ever. Yet Smith’s creation of Dr. Marc DuQuesne indicates that, consciously or not (and I believe it to be unconsciously), he was aware that expertise in science does not improve a man’s character. Seaton and DuQuesne are described as being roughly equal, in terms of scientific education, knowledge, and ability. Yet, as Solzhenitsyn wrote, “The battle line between good and evil runs through the heart of every man,” and the truth of this aphorism will be more than amply demonstrated by these two characters, as events will so shortly prove.

Footnote:  Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not in the least “anti-science” – I love modern medicine, indoor plumbing, and my 102mm apochromatic triplet refracting telescope! But I do recognize its limitations.


  1. Hello Bob,

    & thanks for the article.
    One thing confuses me: I read you as saying Antiochus Epiphanes empire was Seleucus (his seleucid empire) but the map shows Judea to be part of Antigonus?

  2. Rasmus,

    Sorry for the confusion. The boundaries between the various Alexandrine successor states were constantly shifting over the years for as long as they lasted, with border regions (of which Judea was one) belonging first to one, then to another. I just chose one map at random for the blog, just to show the overall extent of post-Alexandria Greek influence. See here for a map of the kingdoms at the time of Antiochus Epiphanes.