Posted by jlwile on May 18, 2012
Dr. David Berlinski holds an earned Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University. He has been on the faculty of many universities, including Stanford and the Université de Paris. He has written on a wide variety of topics, including mathematics, philosophy, and Intelligent Design. The last topic is probably the one for which he is most famous. He is an agnostic but a champion of Intelligent Design. He is often used as an example of how one can be a proponent of Intelligent Design without believing in God. Daniel Engber of Slate magazine calls him a “maverick intellectual,” and that’s a succinct and accurate description of the man.
One of his latest books is The Devil’s Delusion, in which he makes the strong case that science does not support atheism. Why would an agnostic write such a book? He tells you himself in the first chapter:
If nothing else, the attack on traditional religious thought marks the consolidation in our time of science as the single system of belief in which rational men and women might place their faith, and if not their faith, then certainly their devotion…And like any militant church, this one places a familiar demand before all others: Thou shalt have no other gods before me. It is this that is new; it is this that is important. (p. 10)
So he wrote this book not to attack atheism. Instead, he wrote it to attack the kind of atheism that acts like a church – proposing science as the only god that can be followed.
Berlinski succeeds admirably in his goal. Throughout the pages of the book, he writes with flair and stinging humor about what he sees as the discord between the “science” promoted by militant atheism and the actual facts and logic upon which science should be based.
Because he is dealing with militant atheists, one of the aspects of science upon which he concentrates is the hypothesis of large-scale evolution. On this subject, he provides probably one of the most insightful comments I have ever read:
Within the English-speaking world, Darwin’s theory of evolution remains the only scientific theory to be widely championed by the scientific community and widely disbelieved by everyone else. No matter the effort made by biologists, the thing continues to elicit the same reaction it has always elicited; You’ve got to be kidding, right?…Suspicions about Darwin’s theory arise for two reasons. The first: the theory makes little sense. The second: it is supported by little evidence. (pp. 186-187)
This really hits the nail on the head. When I talk to nonscientists about Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity and how it tells us that time passes differently depending on where you are in the universe, I often get the reaction, “You’ve got to be kidding, right?” However, people are willing to believe it when when I discuss the evidence that backs up the theory, such as the fact that the Global Positioning System (GPS) would not work unless we used Einstein’s equations to correct for the fact that time passes more quickly on the GPS satellites than it does here on the surface of the earth. While there are some cranks who oppose relativity, most people are willing to believe it, despite its absurd statements, because the data support it. For evolution, there is very little support found in the data. Thus, there is no real reason to believe its absurd-sounding pronouncements.
Of course, Berlinski also spends time discussing the anti-science views of many who support evolution. For example, he writes about how many evolutionists do not want any debate on the issue of origins and how this view goes against the very nature of science. While discussing Eugenie Scott, the executive director of the National Center for
Indoctrination Science Education, he says that she wants people to oppose anti-evolutionists in every way except:
Her advice to her colleagues was considerably more to the point: “Avoid debates.” There is nothing surprising in any of this. I myself believe that the world would be suitably improved if those with whom I disagree were to lapse into silence. (p. 220)
What I enjoyed most about the book, however, were the instances in which Berlinski showed how some militant atheists can’t even hold to a consistent worldview. He seems to take great pleasure in quoting atheists and then showing how their quotes don’t stand up to basic logic. For example, he writes:
It is wrong, the nineteenth-century British mathematician W.K. Clifford affirmed, “always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.” I am guessing that Clifford believed what we wrote, but what evidence he had for his belief, he did not say. (p. 47)
This is the kind of analysis you would expect from a philosopher/mathematician, and throughout the book, Berlinski doesn’t disappoint.
Overall, this book is a hard-hitting and often humorous analysis which clearly demonstrates that despite their rhetorical swagger, militant atheists do not have science (or reason) on their side. Refreshingly, it also never hides the biases of the author, which are most apparent in the acknowledgments section:
It is a pleasure to record my indebtedness to the Discovery Institute for loyal support over many years. That the institute has been vilified by all the right people is a special sort of satisfaction. (p. 227)