Monday, October 4, 2010

The Devil's Delusion by David Berlinski

The prevailing view today is that science stands opposed to science. Berlinski (a secular Jew) notes that great scientific theories do not mention a word about God. “Confident assertions by scientists … that God does not exist have nothing to do with science, and even less to do with God’s existence.” (xii) Until recent rise of “militant atheism,” science and religion were seen as two fine things. Scientists now attack religious belief.
Berlinksi takes them on. To those who note the suffering caused by religious fanaticism, he draws attention to this last century. Certainly not an era of faith, it was full of horror. To those who criticize faith because it is belief in something unseen, he draws attention to the neutrino. No one has seen a neutrino, only it’s trail. So why is belief in the neutrino reasonable but belief in God is not? To those who criticize belief in a triune God as irrational he draws attention to light, which is both particle and wave (depending on how one looks at it).
Berlinski addresses the theoretical constructs created by scientists to explain the universe and notes how remarkable easy it is for physicists to pass from “speculation about” the construct to the conviction it exists. (100) His case in point is quantum cosmology. It is elegant in its mathematics but does it actually represent reality? “Quantum cosmology is a branch of mathematical metaphysics,” he claims. (107) It proves no cause, answers no questions about nor offers a reason for the existence of the universe.
Nothing is off limits for Berlinski. Richard Dawkins, he writes, “has nothing but contempt for theology, often glorying in his impressive ignorance…” (150) He criticizes the thesis that “the sciences are true … and that only the sciences are true.” (56-7) Scientists see their institution as uniquely self-critical. No outside critics are needed.
Berlinski takes an honest look at Darwinism. “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.” (186) The reasons are two. “The first: the theory makes little sense. The second: it is supported by little evidence.” (187)
He notes that most of the fossil evidence does not support a gradual account of evolution. There is no laboratory demonstration of speciation. Efforts to measure natural selection have failed. (189) “Computer simulations of Darwinian evolution fail when they are honest…” (190)
But, Berlinski affirms, Darwin’s theory of evolution does have a place in modern science. “It serves as the creation myth of our time…” (190-1) He suggests that in faculty lounges biologists sigh with relief. “…[I]t is a very good thing the public has no idea what the research literature really suggests.” (192) There is a “serious pattern on intellectual discontent with Darwinian doctrine.” (194)
Berlinski ends his book by reminder the reader of the crisis in scientific thought four hundred years ago. Then, the Church held on to the convoluted celestial spheres of the Ptolemaic system refusing to accept the scientific evidence of a sun-centered solar system. Galileo, in 1613, pled for tolerance and freedom of inquiry. The same kind of drama is being played out now. Perhaps it is time release the tight hold on the convoluted theory of evolution. Perhaps it is time to quit silencing the scientists who questions the “evidence” for evolution. Perhaps it is time for scientists to admit that they may have misunderstood their “religion” (evolution) just as the Church ultimately did four hundred years ago.
Berlinski writes with wit, humor and knowledge. He was a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia in mathematics and molecular biology. He knows whereof he writes.
My one criticism of the book is that there are no footnotes and no bibliography. As a reader who likes to “check the facts,” I am unable to make sure Berlinski has quoted scientists accurately. Other than that, this book is a great objective look at science today and its limits as to what can be known scientifically.
Crown Publishing Group, 225 pages.
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