The Devil's Delusion

About September 2009

This page contains all entries posted to News and Events - David Berlinski in September 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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September 2009 Archives

September 22, 2009

The Making of a Skeptic: David Berlinski's Childhood

ENV: Were you always subversive? Tell us about the childhood David Berlinski.

DB:I am not sure that I would care to think of myself as subversive. It is a mole-and-badger kind of word, isn't it? So long as we are searching for similes, I would prefer lion-like. Regal is another fine word.

I was from an early age indisposed to accept what I had been told. Having been urged not to insert a fork into an electrical outlet, I stuck one in anyway; I was shocked to discover that it was a poor idea, just as my mother had maintained. An impatient child, I became a school yard terror, and a high-school bully. At the Bronx High School of Science I was a part of the clique -- Moose Moscowitz, Steven Parker, Arthur Klein, June Tauber, Alan Abramson -- that inflicted a life-long feeling of inadequacy on everyone else. I am often astonished that we got out of high school alive.

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September 23, 2009

How David Berlinski Came to Doubt Darwin

ENV: When did you start thinking, as a critic, about Darwinian evolution? Did anything in your biography incline you to freethinking in that area?

DB: It was the fall of 1965. My graduate school roommate Daniel Messenger and I were ambling along Nassau Street in Princeton. We were munching the kind of wonderful Winesap apples that seem to have disappeared as a variety. I wonder why that is? Daniel's girlfriend, Sandra Petersen, was there too. Daniel was a fine philosopher and Sandra was doing a degree in classical philosophy. We walked over to Darwin's theory of evolution, living at the time in one of Princeton's back alleys.

A back alley was the right place to look for Darwin. No one in the philosophy department at Princeton had ever introduced his name into a seminar, or thought to argue that his theory was relevant to our concerns.

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ID The Future Interview with David Berlinski

David Berlinski has been accused of being many things, but speechless is not one of them. Here is is a short interview clip from ID The Future where he addresses a range of scientific and philosophical issues that he expanded on his book The Devil's Delusion, which has just this week been released in paperback from Basic Books.

September 24, 2009

Who Influenced David Berlinski?

ENV: Did anyone in particular, a colleague or friend, influence the conclusions you reach in these essays?

DB: No, I don't think so. Daniel Gallin has been an influence on my thinking, but our friendship ended more almost thirty years ago, and so his influence is no longer of this time or place. Daniel introduced me to model theory. That was his gift to me. After studying with Church at Princeton, I regarded model theory as an immersion into cool water. Such ease, such elegance, such freedom! Had I stayed in mathematics as a research mathematician, I would have stayed in model theory. In the 1980s, I wrote a monograph for the Princeton University Press in which I reached the conclusion that mathematics has no applications beyond finger counting. I stopped for fear that I would find myself affirming that it has no applications at all, circumstances that would have made it difficult for me to justify my work. I never published the thing. It is still sitting in my drawer together with my short stories and poems. But in writing it, I found myself using model theoretic methods over and over again. I've not gone back to the subject. Just a few years ago, I tried to catch up, reading Wilfred Hodges' Shorter Model Theory. Anyone who writes the shorter anything gets my vote.

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September 25, 2009

David Berlinski on the Darwinian Guild

ENV: Darwinism is fiercely guarded by a scientific guild. What does the guild have at stake in this? Prestige? Money? To some observers, the defense seems impermeable. Do you see cracks in the fortress wall opening up?

DB: Fiercely guarded, but not, mind you, effectively guarded. If the Darwinian Guild, to adapt your phrase (since science has nothing to do with it), was interested in rational self promotion, the Guild would have never allowed its members to display in public their characteristic attitude of invincible arrogance and sheep-like stupidity. Just listen to them as they limber up in the insult room: Dumbski, Little Mikey Behe, Stevie Meyer (a regression to school yard taunts irresistible at both the Panda's Thumb and Talk Reason), the creationist playbook, creationist pablum, creationism in a cheap tuxedo, tired creationist canards, creationist cranks, ID'iots, creotards, creos, sky fairies, liars for Jesus. I've even seen Disco'Tute, this the invention of an elderly fellow at the Panda's Thumb who, like Polonius, imagines that he is the soul of wit. One lunatic named Quick or Quack -- or is that simply the sound of his posts? -- has become fond of the phrase mendacious intellectual pornography and has so overused it that his fellow bloggers have taken to attacking him. When they do, Quick as a Quack responds that they are guilty of mendacious intellectual pornography. The gabble is as unedifying as it is unending.

What is wonderful, I think, is the way in which membership in the Guild so runs to type, P.Z. Myers, to take the loudest case, reveling in his role as the hearty American rustic, a man prepared as circumstances demand either to desecrate the Catholic wafer or at dinner to immerse his feet in a platter of boeuf bourguignon. If in public he now refrains from withdrawing long spools of lint from his navel and examining them studiously that is because Richard Dawkins has advised him that at Oxford, it is no longer done.

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September 28, 2009

David Berlinski on Religion, His Teaching, and His Life in Paris

ENV: You describe yourself as a "secular Jew" and "remarkably indifferent to the religious life." Yet so much of your writing bears directly on whether religion has been intellectually defeated by secular, science-flavored ideologies. You can't have given no thought to religious questions. Would you share with us your hunches and suspicions about spiritual reality, the trend in your thinking, if not your firm beliefs?

DB: No. Either I cannot or I will not. I do not know whether I am unable or unwilling. The question elicits in me a stubborn refusal. Please understand. It is not an issue of privacy. I have, after all, blabbed my life away: Why should I call a halt here? I suppose that I am by nature a counter-puncher. What I am able to discern of the religious experience often comes about reactively. V.S. Naipaul remarked recently that he found the religious life unthinkable.

He does, I was prompted to wonder? Why does he?

His attitude gives rise to mine. That is the way in which I wrote The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions.

Is there anything authentic in my religious nature?

Beats me.

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September 29, 2009

David Berlinski: Does Darwin Matter?

ENV: How do the scientific issues you write about affect the way we live? Why should the Darwin question matter to people who don't normally concern themselves with scientific theories?

DB: I think of the Darwinian debate in the way that Dickens thought of Jardynce v Jarndyce in Bleak House. It is awfully easy to be sucked into it, and once suckered, awfully difficult to get out. I have seen it so often. A man wakes and because has read a book or scanned an essay, he is persuaded that he can make a contribution. He is eager to make it. He offers his opinion on the Internet and is gratified by the prospect of the congratulations that he is shortly to receive. No one pays the slightest attention. He then discovers that to be heard, it is necessary that he amplifies his level of abuse. He does that, referring to the Discovery Institute as the Dishonesty Institute. Repeating the phrase as he moves his bowels affords him an unexpected pleasure. As his influence remains insignificant, his indignation mounts. In the morning, he scuttles to his computer to check his own postings; satisfied when he finds them, and beside himself when he fails. His appetite for conflict sharpens. He becomes determined to exaggerate every issue; and to magnify trivialities. Sooner or later, his Internet presence seems real, and his real life unreal. He ends in the state achieved by almost every Internet blogger: He commences to gibber repetitively. Glen Davidson, who posts to David Klinghoffer's blog, has recently entered the gibbering state.

It is all very sad. I have warned about the phenomenon many times.

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