The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensionsby David Berlinski Published 01 Apr 2008
|The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions.pdf|
Download The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions (2014) PDF ePub eBook
- 1. Register a free 1 month Trial Account.
- 2. Download as many books as you like.
- 3. Cancel the membership at any time if not satisfied.
Militant atheism is on the rise. Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens have dominated bestseller lists with books denigrating religious belief as dangerous foolishness. And these authors are merely the leading edge of a far larger movement–one that now includes much of the scientific community.
“The attack on traditional religious thought,” writes David Berlinski in The Devil’s Delusion, “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.”
A secular Jew, Berlinski nonetheless delivers a biting defense of religious thought. An acclaimed author who has spent his career writing about mathematics and the sciences, he turns the scientific community’s cherished skepticism back on itself, daring to ask and answer some rather embarrassing questions:
Has anyone provided a proof of God’s inexistence?
Not even close.
Has quantum cosmology explained the emergence of the universe or why it is here?
Not even close.
Have the sciences explained why our universe seems to be fine-tuned to allow for the existence of life?
Not even close.
Are physicists and biologists willing to believe in anything so long as it is not religious thought?
Has rationalism in moral thought provided us with an understanding of what is good, what is right, and what is moral?
Not close enough.
Has secularism in the terrible twentieth century been a force for good?
Not even close to being close.
Is there a narrow and oppressive orthodoxy of thought and opinion within the sciences?
Does anything in the sciences or in their philosophy justify the claim that religious belief is irrational?
Not even ballpark.
Is scientific atheism a frivolous exercise in intellectual contempt?
Berlinski does not dismiss the achievements of western science. The great physical theories, he observes, are among the treasures of the human race. But they do nothing to answer the questions that religion asks, and they fail to offer a coherent description of the cosmos or the methods by which it might be investigated.
This brilliant, incisive, and funny book explores the limits of science and the pretensions of those who insist it can be–indeed must be–the ultimate touchstone for understanding our world and ourselves.
From the Hardcover edition.
"The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions" Reviews
Criticizing books on Intelligent Design is usually as interesting as shooting fish in a barrel, but there are exceptions to every rule. Given its title and cover, one would be forgiven for expecting The Devil's Delusion to be a collection of trivial fallacies, unified by a complete ignorance of modern science and a general inability to write. I was surprised to find that it is no such thing. I do not agree with many of the arguments that Berlinski proposes, but it is obvious, after just a few pages, that he is a well-read, highly intelligent person who knows how to produce excellent prose. He is also very funny.
I am not quite sure why Berlinski has chosen to defend ID. I think part of his reason is sincere; my impression is that he genuinely does believe in a personal God who, among other things, created the universe and in some way has steered evolution. I also think he is angry with what he sees as the slackness, complacency and hypocrisy of modern science and the New Atheist movement. Having just read Stenger's God: The Failed Hypothesis and its ridiculous foreword by Christopher Hitchens (one of Berlinski's main targets), I can sympathize. I love good science. The most significant chapter of Stenger's book seems to be rather poor science, and it is distasteful seeing Hitchens, who doesn't even understand the argument, picking it up and attempting to use it as a weapon in his fight against religion.
Berlinski doesn't convince me either when he tries to show that modern cosmology's account of the beginning of the universe is incoherent, but his version is more interesting and carefully thought-out than Stenger's, and raises sensible concerns. He is also much better when he talks about theodicy and the problem of evil. Stenger wheels out the usual nonsense about how a loving God could not have allowed the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps; one would think he had never read Job. Berlinski, a European Jew whose grandfather died at Auschwitz, is both moving and insightful when he writes about this difficult subject. The parts of the book which impressed me least are those where he discusses evolution, but even here he manages to come up with ideas which are not entirely silly.
What a pity that more ID people aren't like this! A vocal, well-informed opposition is essential to any functioning democracy, and it would force mainstream scientists working in speculative areas like cosmology and evolutionary psychology to raise their game; right now, they evidently feel they can get away with anything. Maybe Berlinski's real purpose in writing the book was to remind the ID crowd that they don't have to be a laughingstock, and that people might actually take them seriously if they were prepared to do the necessary work. Most likely impossible, but it's a noble goal.
With a title like that, you’d expect this book to appear straight out of a Christian publishing house located in the basement of a fundamentalist church. The cover does nothing to dissuade you – it’s black with big red letters with a couple of devil horns sticking out of the title. Frankly, add a couple of cartoons & a paranoid suspicion of the Vatican and the outside would look like it came from of the pen of Jack Chick. (If you’re curious, I don’t think that is a good thing!)
But once you open the book, you find that the author, [David Berlinski:], is a secular Jew with a PhD from Princeton & a scathing wit… and absolutely no tolerance for philosophical or scientific nonsense. Published by Crown Forum (not a Christian publishing house), this is a surprisingly erudite & weighty text on the foibles & failures of scientific atheism.
Do I agree with the author? Well, it’s no surprise that I find atheism lacking as an adequate belief system to explain the universe. (To my atheist friends: sorry about using the words “belief system” to describe what you, well, believe. I just can’t come up with a better way of saying it.) At the same time, I’m not sure I ever want to be as snarky as Berlinski, who’s given to making statements like:
“He is a member in good standing of the worldwide fraternity of academics who are professionally involved in sniffing the underwear of their colleagues for signs of ideological deviance.”
Funny stuff… if not entirely constructive.
Berlinski is more impressive in his examination of the philosophical underpinnings of scientific atheism, particularly the more militant strain that has become popular in the last few years. He engages the subject not on the basis of religious belief (which he claims not to have) but on the actual intellectual merits of their claims & assertions. It’s pretty heavy reading sometimes… but very interesting & thought provoking.
He does not come to a "Christian" conclusion - this is not an attempt to write a work of apologetics or to defend creationism. Berlinski is attempting (and, to my very limited knowledge of the issues being discussed, succeeds) in showing that the certainity of science about naturalistic explanations for a wide variety of things (the Big Bang, string theory, evolutionary biology) is misplaced.
I don't pretend to understand everything I'm reading in this book - I was an English Lit major in college who dabbles in scientific reading from time to time. Still, what convinces me of Berlinski's critique is not my own status as a pastor & a follower of Christ but the painful admissions from various scientists that their research doesn't necessarily support the theories... and where they go from there.
Whatever the degree to which Darwin may have "misled science into a dead end," the biologist Shi V. observed in commenting on Koonin's paper, "we may still appreciate the role of Darwin in helping scientists [win an:] upper hand in fighting against the creationists.”
My take on the book is similar to these one-star reviews on Amazon:
A few things that stood out to me were (in no particular order):
1. It's noteworthy that the author claims, in the book, to be agnostic, yet the whole book is a case for some sort of creator-god and intelligent design. By claiming to be agnostic, Berlinski panders to the skeptical reader in an attempt to appear objective, while not going all-out atheist, which would turn off is more credulous readers. The review  points out an example of the kind of contradiction that ensues:
He had me when he told us all in the preface that he himself was an agnostic. That is comforting because it indicates to me that he has no vested interest to prove or disprove god. This was an odd confession for him to make, as it were, because in the very next chapter, Berlinski begins talking about how immorality will invariably ensue if there is no creator to give us objective moral fiats. He makes much of the famous "quote" from Ivan Kerimozov: "If god does not exist, then everything is permitted." So where, asks Berlinski, shall we get our morals from if not from a creator? An odd question for him to ask if he is agnostic, isn't it?! My question to him would be, "For someone who is not sure whether god exists, where do you get your morals from?" I trust that Berlinski is not the kind that steasl money on a regular basis, or kills for pleasure. (Surely we don't need a fiat from god to know that killing others is wrong!)
Agnosticism, on the part of the author would have no bearing at all on his arguments, if he hadn't made his agnosticism part of his argument.
2. Very early in the book, the broad position is put forth, that it is not possible to disprove a god's existence (certainly that science has not disproven all gods' existence) pp xiv-xvii. I expected a subsequent refutation or Russell's Teapot (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell&...) but none was forthcoming. For a book that claims that atheist authors have failed to read deeply, the great works of philosophy, I am left to assume that the author believes Russell does not fall into that category. Or, more likely, the Teapot was omitted because there is no good refutation of it. The burden remains upon the one asserting gods existence, to prove that existence. Word games like Aquinas' argument from first cause are fun for rhetoricians, but they don't carry any water in the real world. Berlinski's "domino" rebuttal of Dawkins on p. 68-69 doesn't help. Similarly, definitional games, like William Lane Craig's (http://www.rfmedia.org/RF_audio_video...) witness of the holy spirit as indubitability and belief in god as basic belief and intrinsic defeater-defeater (http://www.rfmedia.org/RF_audio_video...) don't provide the heavy lifting either.
3. I must admit I mostly skimmed the cosmology part in the second half pp 83-108. I saw some of the stuff on relativistic time and how the author tried to connect some of those ideas to bolster the plausibility of the Genesis account of the universe's creation in 6 days. So the book uses some pieces of science to try to support the biblical account. And then it turns around and points out that science doesn't know everything (e.g. string theory is just crazy!) and employs a God of the Gaps (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_of_t...) argument at that point pp 109-136. More god of the gaps: 183-185, 197-199.
4. The book derides as "childish" pp. 140-141 the question of "God's" existence (when posed by skeptics) but then of course waves it's hands without any answer to that very question. I find this tactic particularly bankrupt. I just watched the excellent debate (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yqaHXK...) between William Lane Craig (mentioned above) and Sam Harris and then listened to Craig and friends' analysis of the debate (http://www.rfmedia.org/RF_audio_video...) in which they deride Harris' position as consisting of "a litany of red herrings…as if Sam went to a junior high campus…gathered up all the objections to Christianity and then read them out". This rebuttal would be stronger if theists had viable answers to these "trivial" questions, like theodicy for instance.
5. The book sets up a false choice between god (the god of Abraham?) on the one hand and moral relativism on the other (pp 39). This is a common slander against liberal intellectual "elites". Anything goes. In fact, I don't think Dawkins ever argues for moral relativism. And I can tell you for sure that Sam Harris is no moral relativist. Nor does Harris sweep anything under the rug—his latest book, The Moral Landscape, is all about (the opposite of moral relativism). One of the big complaints, in fact, leveled against the New Atheists is that they argue against moral relativism.
6. The book raises the spectre of fascism and socialism (pp 25-32, 38), claiming that because supposedly the Nazi and Soviet platforms were godless that somehow atheism leads to Naziism and Socialism. One could as easily claim that the real common threat was populism leveraged to produce anti-intellectualism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-int...) and a failure (by the masses) to question authority. Furthermore, to suggest that the Nazi's ability (or desire) to exterminate 6MM Jews was more the result of Nazi's godlessness (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolf_Hi...) than of centuries-old religious prejudices, is to fail to understand history. One of the best reasons to exterminate people has always been because of their (different) religious views (examples too numerous to require citation here.)
Point (3) and (1) are connected. When I said "some sort of" creator-god I wasn't being arbitrary. The book fails to actually characterize the god or gods it is actually arguing for. The impression I get is that it is either the god of Judaism or the god of Evangelical Christianity (but not the god of Muhammad). But that's only a guess. And that's the key problem with the God of the Gaps: you can stick whatever god you want in there. And it's no fair picking Yahweh unless you have other arguments in His favor. But the book doesn't really present any. It's just assumed that Yahweh's the right one. If the author had been born in India he'd be arguing for Vishnu instead I suppose. But then he wouldn't be employable by the Discovery Institute alas (https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedi...).
I realize of course that to even suggest that someone could present a coherent argument for either the god of Judaism or the god of Evangelical Christianity is not realistic because there are as many definitions of those as there are believers in them. Is the author arguing for a barbarous (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?..., http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?...), Old Testament god. Or is the author arguing for a more enlightened god, say of the New Testament (never mind that the case for Jesus as christ (in the New Testament) is made, albeit inconsistently (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_Se..., http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genealog...), by his supposed fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies)? Perhaps the author is arguing for the full Deepak Chopra: god as quantum entanglement or something — who knows.
On the whole, the work did not strike me as intellectually honest (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intellec...). It certainly did not incline me to see gods in gaps. I had hoped for a methodical tearing apart of Dawkins' arguments but instead got more of a rhetorical shotgun blast. David Berlinski strikes me as a mercenary apologist. In The Devil's Delusion he is writing in service of anti-intellectualism and the Wedge Strategy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wedge_st...). But the agnostic author doesn't actually believe any of it. He is equally at home writing in the service of astrology The Secrets of the Vaulted Sky: Astrology and the Art of Prediction (http://www.amazon.com/Secrets-Vaulted...). My general feeling toward Devil's Delusion has many parallels in the Publishers Weekly review of Secrets:
Spanning the development of astrology from Sumerian origins to Nazi court astrologers, Berlinski's ruminative but shallow history seeks to rescue it from what he sees as the misconceived derision of modern science. The author of A Tour of the Calculus remains coyly agnostic about astrology's validity. He calls it a "finely geared tool for the resolution of practical problems" and cites many successful predictions and a statistical study supposedly verifying the "Mars effect" on athletic talent, but when faced with the incoherent, metaphorical techniques by which astrologers interpret their charts, he can only shrug that since smart people used to listen to astrologers, there must be something to it. If not rational, Berlinski argues that astrology is at least "rationalistic," in that "the peculiar nature of astrological thought has returned in all the sciences, in disguised form." Unfortunately, this provocative point is made through facile comparisons-medieval notions of heavenly "influences" anticipate Newtonian mechanics, electromagnetism and sociobiology, for example, while 15th-century medical astrological charts are "the forerunner of such diagnostic devices as CAT scans"-that illuminate neither ancient nor modern thought. Physicists will object to Berlinski's contention that they account for "action at a distance" no better than astrologers do, while philosophers will blanch at his superficial take on the conundrums of causality and determinism. No more edifying are the self-consciously literary vignettes (the dying Copernicus "took his breath in long, slow, wet, ragged gasps, a bubble of pale phlegm forming on his lips") with which Berlinski "humanizes" this intellectual history. Readers looking for real intellectual meat behind the author's ostentatious erudition and metaphysical pseudo-profundities will go hungry.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
As both a scientist and a believer, there are few things that make me squirm with more gusto than hearing other scientists spout dogmatic baloney for one side of an argument and against another. There is no room for dogma in either science or religion, and one would hope that people buried up to their knees in either discipline would be the first to acknowledge such a fact. Sadly, no. As a result, every single page of this book made me want to squeal with glee, but since I'm not a little girl, I suppressed the urge and instead just had another beer.
The idea for this book was born from Mr. Berlinski's listening to the rantings of scientists and atheists and scientific atheists, all declaring in one way or another that science had proven the non-existence of God. The book picks apart these absurd declarations piece by piece and exposes the lack of foundation for each of them. The overall message is that it's fine to be an atheist, but asks them to please not soil science's good name by using it to justify that decision.
There's a lot of science speak in the book, which is necessary and serves to strengthen every argument. Having said that, Berlinski explains the science in ways that would allow anyone to sort of 'get' quantum mechanics. The writer is a mathematician and a philosopher, a lethal combination in every regard, but he's also an excellent writer who's gifted with an ability to combine irony and humor for effect. If you're even slightly interested in the odd relationship between science and religion or just think Christopher Hitchens is a self-righteous windbag, read this book.
Just finished this one. Mostly I got this book because I have read quotations of Berlinski's other works and found them witty and fascinating. This book did not disappoint. This book has received some criticism because of its elaborate language, which I personally very much appreciated, but I can understand that it is not for everyone. It would appeal most to those who appreciate a little philosophical humor, and being well read also helps (he lost me at a few of his allusions, but for the most part he had me chuckling at the many clever metaphors). But, for all of Berlinksi's wit he builds a powerful case and has no shortage of scientific, historical, and philosophical ammunition (discussing mainly physics). Certainly this book is short, and hardly exhaustive, but I think it should give those who would so quickly dismiss theists as mere illogical nut-jobs time to pause, and reflect upon their own beliefs, particularly if they believe them to be supported by the scientific paradigm. Rather than try to defeat atheism, Berlinski's goal would appear to be to encourage dialog among atheists and theists, which can't occur when there is no mutual respect of each others' sanity.
One of the aspects of writers like Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris etal. is that they are fairly good writers and can be pretty witty in skewering Christians. Christians usually argue from strong philosophical positions and reasonable evidence, but most try to be respectful of the opposition while attacking the argument.
Berlinski enters the debate challenging the scientfic claims used by New Athesists. He is not bound by religious restraints on comments, so his rebuttals are much more scathing. Many times, I have heard the arguements of science, but doubted that so call established facts were not exactly facts. Berlinski confirms my skeptisism with his own credible arguments on the limits of science. I especially enjoyed The Quantum Cathechism.
I am a follower of Christ, but instead of reading my usual favorite authors for a response, Berlinski was a breath of fresh air in the debate, coming in at a secular angle, and calling out those who believe in scientism to defend their position. He is a very witty writer as well.
A very worthwhile read.