Review of The Devil's Delusion by David Berlinski
The pseudo-religion of atheistic scientism that Berlinski exposes in the Devil's Delusion reflects the tendency of scientists to become what Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset called "barbarians of specialization." Knowing much about one thing gives them confidence to pontificate grandly about other subjects on which their expertise is irrelevant, or to inflate their own little patches of expertise into "grand unified theories." Knowing more and more about less and less, they finally rise into the nation's TV airhead empyrean chattering vacuously about anything and everything like George Clooney or Al Gore, Carl Sagan or James Watson, Richard Dreyfuss or Steven Weinberg--actors, politicians, scientists...in the giddy glow of the tube who can tell them apart in their common babble of moral relativism and anti-capitalist eschatology?
The supreme pontiff of the new religion is Richard Dawkins, an Oxford biologist who rode high on the best-seller lists for months with a book entitled The God Delusion. Venerated by the media for his alleged scientific genius, he can say almost anything and no one seems to laugh or scoff. For example, The New York Times Book Review late last year published Dawkins' shockingly inept essay on Michael Behe's new book on the limits of Darwinism, despite Dawkins' undisguised personal bile and his amazing idea that the case for the Darwinian origin of new species is aided by invoking a "baying chorus" of the many diverse breeds of dogs.
Now Dawkins has met his nemesis in Berlinski, a Princeton PhD, secular Jew, and a former fellow at the Institute des Hautes Scientifique in France. Now with the Discovery Institute, Berlinski commands a range of scientific disciplines and philosophical skills that project him well beyond the camp of Ortega's barbarians. The polymathic author of several formidable books on mathematics and logic, he in recent years has written a series of incandescent essays on biology, physics, psychology, and mathematics in Commentary magazine that have subsequently evoked an overflow of dumbfounded responses in its letters pages (Berlinski's replies are feloniously sharp). The Devil's Delusion makes the compelling argument that the anti-God fetish of modern science has driven many scientists into a mad nihilism that has crippled their scientific work as well.
Detailing the horrendous record of massacres and holocausts committed by aggressive atheists during the 20th century, Berlinski observes "what anyone capable of reading the German sources already knew: A sinister current of influence ran from Darwin's theory of evolution to Hitler's policy of extermination." An implicit syllogism underlies all these horrors--A: "If God does not exist, then everything is permitted." B: "If science is true, then God does not exist." C: If science is true, then everything is permitted." As Berlinski shows, these propositions led predictably (Dostoyevski and Nietsche predicted them after all) to the holocaust.
After demonstrating the moral obtuseness of atheist science, The Devil's Delusion goes on to castigate its crippling limitations even as a means of explaining physical reality. Ignoring the hierarchical structure of the universe, with the concept preceding the concrete, the algorithm preceding the computer, the DNA word preceding the flesh, and theory preceding experiment, science has blinded itself to the indispensable role of faith in all forms of knowledge. In Berlinski's view, there is a crucial point of convergence between moral laws and physical laws: "In both cases we do not know why the laws are true but we can sense that the question hides a profound mystery." Science, as Berlinski avers, is "everywhere saturated with faith."
A complacent sciolist atheism, though, distracts science from the reality of its own necessary religious and hierarchical assumptions. Science does not harbor the slightest idea of "how the ordered physical, moral, mental, aesthetic, social world in which [we] live could have ever arisen from the seething anarchy of the world of particle physics." The so-called "standard model" seems to supply "as many elementary particles as there is funding to find them" while offering scant support for the reductionist assumption that the world is best understood by atomization into its smallest possible parts.
Beyond reductionism, science offers at least six mostly incompatible theories of reality: Quantum theory focused on subatomic elements, Relativity Theory spanning the universe, String theory seeking a grand unification in multidimensional infinitesimals, Thermodynamics with its arrow of time and slope of entropic decline, Evolution in its grand bottom-up materialist ascent, molecular biology with its top-down DNA codes, and the macro-quantum concept of Entanglement which links quantum entities across the cosmos beyond conventional time and space. Each theory offers stunning insights into some limited domain but fails to fit with the neighboring regimes.
Eroding the coherence of the entire set is the self-defeating character of the underlying materialism: a theory that denies the significance of theories and theorists and ignores the non-material abstractions on which it relies. All the incompatible physical systems of modern science ultimately repose on a foundation of mathematical logic. Finally making a hash of all atheist materialism, therefore, is the paramount mathematical finding of the 20th century: the inexorable Godelian incompleteness of mathematics. As Kurt Godel, Alan Turing, Alonzo Church, and Gregory Chaitin have proven, mathematical logic, whether expressed in computer algorithms or differential equations, finally relies on premises beyond itself. In other words, faith is critical to mathematics and computer logic, which are themselves abstract conceptual schemes not in any way reducible to materialist dogma.
Apparently to distract attention from this baffling paradox of atheism, scientists have clutched at a set of laughable chimeras. Dawkins, for example, accepts the idea of a "megaverse," a stupendous "Landscape" of infinitely parallel universes that explain away the absurd improbabilities of Darwinian materialism by the assumption that our own universe is only one of an infinite array. As Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg sums up the argument in a transparent tautology preening as science, "Any scientist must live in a part of the megaverse where physical parameters take values suitable for the appearance of life and its evolution into scientists." Other physical parameters are presumed to hold in other universes that don't harbor life.
This stupendous circularity is called the Anthropic Principle and is touted as an explanation of the universe superior to the idea of God. As Dawkins puts it, "Better many worlds than one god." Berlinski concludes, Dawkins' favored "Landscape and the Anthropic principle represent the moral relativism of physical thought." Since moral relativism is the goal of nearly all academic ethical and political philosophizing, this outcome is entirely predictable despite its devastating impact on the truth claims of science.
Berlinski concludes that "the willingness of physical scientists to explore such strategies in thought might suggest to a perceptive psychoanalyst a desire not so much to discover a new idea as to avoid an old one." But the idea of a God in a hierarchichal universe is essential to coherent thought or uplifting culture of any kind.
A culture that does not aspire to the divine becomes obsessed with the fascination of evil, reveling in the frivolous, the depraved, and the bestial, from the fetishes of pornstars to Hollywood's Hitman of the Month. Without a sense of the transcendent, science ends up pursuing reductionist trivia, from the next particle or dimension of string to ever more abstruse arguments for the animality of man and the pointlessness of the Universe.
The scientific community remains oblivious to its own philosophical inanity chiefly because of its insularity and defensiveness, protected by a trumpery of "peer review" and immunity to outside criticism. The public has tended to go along with the scam because of modern science's alleged relation to engineering and technology. Dawkins and his ally Daniel Dennett both declare, in the spirit of the common claim of "no atheists in foxholes," that there are no devout believers on airplanes. Anyone undertaking a journey by air, they say, is staking his life on the validity and reliability of modern science. Few travelers indeed would find solace if glancing into the cockpit as they boarded their plane they saw the pilot praying, rather than scrutinizing his instruments.
Based on top-down engineering and intelligent design, however, the sciences that enable modern flight have nothing in common with the pastiche of atheist materialism and moral relativism that Dawkins and Dennett uphold. Navier-Stokes flow equations, advanced materials science, solid state physics, molecular chemistry, and computer design, among a host of real scientific disciplines, are expressions not of bottom-up random processes but of hierarchical planning in which the ideas and schematics precede their physical embodiment. Through most of the history of science, from Michael Faraday to Enrico Fermi, its protagonists were masters of the technology of their day. They built the apparatus that tested their concepts and embodied their theories. Science and engineering were cognate disciplines.
Beginning with Einstein, however, scientists reached for a new role as free-floating philosophical gurus and theological prophets. Only Einstein himself and Richard Feynman were capable of fulfilling this mission at all. Seeking grand theories, essentially theologies, that could unify all the conflicting schemes of physical science, even Einstein and Feynman came to recognize the futility of their quest. But their Lilliputian followers continued the search in ever diminishing circles of tautological nonsense, arriving at the end at Darwinian loops of survival of the fittest as an explanation for all that exists.
In the end turning against real science itself, the pages of Scientific American succumbed to what Berlinski terms a "simian gabble of academic life," full of theological speculations, infiniverses, and political campaigns such as "climate change" paranoia that are hostile to the advance of technology and engineering science.
Berlinski's Devil's Delusion is a promethean work that clears away this debris. It is the definitive book of the new millennium, when science is widely learning that the opaque materialist dogmas of the Twentieth Century are irrelevant to true science, where each new discovery opens new horizons of theory and new degrees of freedom and challenges of faith.
18 of 25 people found the following review helpful: 5.0 out of 5 stars Exposing unreason in the Church of Atheism, October 31, 2008 By Pieter "Toypom" (Johannesburg) - See all my reviews (TOP 50 REVIEWER)
In this entertaining & thought-provoking work, Berlinski exposes the limitations of science and the pretensions of those who insist that it must be the ultimate basis for understanding the universe. As a secular scientist, he argues from a scientific perspective. Being intellectually honest, he admits ignorance as to the big questions but he does reach conclusions from the available information. With acuity and acerbic wit, he reveals flaws in the scientific theories from the scientific point of view.
The author considers the onslaught on religious belief as an attempt to establish science as the single secular religion in which rational people ought to place their faith. Science has made the world more mysterious than ever before, argues Berlinski, since we now know more about what we do not know & have never understood. As science progressed, so did the mysteries that it cannot explain. To mention a few, the following questions have no naturalistic answers: (a) Where existence came from; (b) The origin of life, consciousness & morality; (c) The fine-tuning of the universe that makes human life possible. No convincing answers exist among the plethora of speculation.
Berlinski values the great physical theories as treasures of knowledge while emphasizing that they cannot answer the questions raised by theology and do not offer a coherent view of the universe. By raising apposite issues, he turns the scientific community's skepticism on itself. Does a rigid and oppressive orthodoxy of thought dominate the sciences? Are scientists prepared to believe in anything as long as religious thought is avoided? Did the secular ideologies of the terrible 20th century have an overall beneficial or evil effect? The religion of atheism and its detrimental influence in the scientific community are thoroughly dissected.
The scientist must be open-minded and receptive. Doctrinaire atheists with their closed minds do not necessarily make the best scientists since their preconceptions limit all those ideas not fitting their worldview. Their arguments are often contradictory and hypocritical. For example, they would impetuously demand to know who created God while at the same time insisting that the cosmos manifested itself - never mind their belief in a chain of cause & effect. It is therefore intellectually dishonest of them to ridicule believers for viewing God as existing outside of time. Berlinski succeeds spectacularly in mocking the mockers.
He observes that the common denominator of the most murderous regimes in history was the belief that no Higher Power existed that would hold them to account. Claiming that the oppression & mass murders of the 20th century were overwhelmingly committed by atheists, he carefully connects the dots from Darwin to the Shoah/Holocaust. In this regard, I highly recommend Alain Besançon's A Century of Horrors and Chantal Delsol's Icarus Fallen: The Search for Meaning in an Uncertain World.
Being an expert in one field gives certain people the notion that they're qualified to hold forth about subjects far removed from their expertise or to try to extend their own little dung-heaps into all kinds of "unified theories." They know much about little and aspire to become "spokespersons" in the media where they babble fatuously and are treated with deference by the equally vacuous media morons. That is how the Reverend Al Gore's First Church of the Boiling Globe achieved such undeserved prominence.
The author convincingly demonstrates the limitations of science as a method of describing physical reality; when theory goes before experiment, science blinds itself to the important role of faith in all fields of knowledge. An excellent book that investigates this matter in great detail is Science, Faith, and Society by Michael Polanyi. Universally accepted theories have often been proved wrong and there is no divorcing science from society.
Science currently holds the following incompatible doctrines: Quantum theory on the micro level, Relativity theory on the macro, String theory that attempts unification through multidimensionality, Thermodynamics with its process of entropy, Evolution, Molecular Biology & its DNA codes plus the concept of Entanglement that connects quantum entities beyond time and space throughout the universe. Each one offers some insight into some limited area but they do not gel with one another.
A circular argument like the "Anthropic Principle" is proclaimed as an idea superior to that of the Eternal Divine. As explained with admirably empathy & understanding by Delsol in The Unlearned Lessons of the Twentieth Century, cultures that do not aspire to the divine become seduced by the banal, the depraved & the frivolous, ultimately submitting to the attraction of evil. When lacking a sense of the eternal, science gravitates towards the pursuit of reductionist drivel.
The Devil's Delusion is not always the easiest of reads but Berlinski's sense of humor, his directness and the many appropriate bons mots make it accessible to those with no background in the natural sciences. The book is a most welcome addition to an argument mostly waged by the disciples of atheism on the one hand and the apostles of traditional religion on the other. As such, this work offers a refreshing perspective with arguments firmly rooted in science.
Turning to economics in researching my 1981 book Wealth & Poverty, I incurred new disappointments in Darwin and materialism. Forget God — economic science largely denies intelligent design or creation even by human beings. Depicting the entrepreneur as a mere opportunity scout, arbitrageur, or assembler of available chemical elements, economic theory left no room for the invention of radically new goods and services, and little room for economic expansion except by material “capital accumulation” or population growth. Accepted widely were Darwinian visions of capitalism as a dog-eat-dog zero-sum struggle impelled by greed, where the winners consume the losers and the best that can be expected for the poor is some trickle down of crumbs from the jaws (or tax tables) of the rich.