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Derbyshire reviews (and seems to have read) Berlinski

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Derbyshire continues to embarrass himself — it’s as though on the topic of ID and God his emotions take over and he can’t think straight. I’ll spare you his review and simply quote Berlinski’s response, which skillfully shuts him down with very few words:

[From] David Berlinski:

1 If I remark that no sane man would hesitate to choose between A and B, it hardly follows that either A or B is insane. This is a point of logic. It is obvious.

2 To suggest that Mbombo or Unkulunkulu have an enduring claim on our attention is to ignore the striking insight achieved by the ancient Hebrews: That various scattered deities are nothing more than local manifestations of a single God. “As all suns smolder in a single sun,” Chesterton observed, “the word is many but the Word is one.”

3 There is nothing wrong in saying that one has no idea how the universe arose. I say it regularly. What Mr. Derbyshire might mean by “OH MY GOD, I HAVE RIPPED OPEN THE FABRIC OF SPACETIME! … AAAAAARRRRRRRGGHHHHHHH!” is anyone’s guess.

4 A movie is not required to make Richard Dawkins look foolish.

5 I would be happy to join John Derbyshire in a debate about the origins of species.

6 Both consideration in the law of contracts and manifolds in differential topology are “invisible, inaudible, intangible, nonaromatic, flavorless, and undetectable by any known instrument.” What of it?

DB | Apr 29, 2008 – 7:18 am

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33 Replies to “Derbyshire reviews (and seems to have read) Berlinski

  1. 1
    PannenbergOmega says:

    Intresting. Maybe they should debate.

    PS. I think Mbombo is the Kongolese name for the Creator God. Unkulunkulu is term for the Creator in Zulu.

  2. 2
    Upright BiPed says:

    I read Derbershyre’s “review” of Expelled, and now have just read his review of The Devil’s Delusion.

    I am currently unable to form a complete sentence.

  3. 3
    ungtss says:

    I’m with him with all his responses excepting response 1. In context, the “sane” comment immediately followed a characterization of “A brief History of Time’s” account as incoherent. The clear implication is not a statement of “logical necessity,” but that one would be crazy to choose the incoherent option.

    Berlinski’s “logical necessity” response strikes me as evasive. In fact, he was using hyperbole — saying you’d have to be crazy to choose the alternative. Nothing wrong with hyperbole — just own it when you use it.

  4. 4
    Upright BiPed says:

    ungtss,

    Respectfully I disagree. The incoherent nature of a Brief History is a hallmark that Hawkings himself addresses. On Berlinskli’s part it was just a comment of the obvious, and a brief one at that.

  5. 5
    jerry says:

    Both Derbyshire and Berlinski have written books on mathematics and the history of mathematics. So they have something in common.

  6. 6
    ungtss says:

    UB — thanks for the reponse — I’m curious about how you’re reading the comment. Here’s how I’m reading it:

    Here’s the quote at issue:

    There is quantum cosmology, I suppose, a discipline in which the mysteries of quantum mechanics are devoted to the question of how the universe arose or whether it arose at all. This is the subject made popular in Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. It is an undertaking radiant in its incoherence. Given the account of creation offered in Genesis and the account offered in A Brief History of Time, I know of no sane man who would hesitate between the two.

    At least in my reading, it’s saying “You’d have to be crazy to buy into such an incoherent idea.” While I agree that you’d have to be crazy to believe it, I think that’s in fact what he was saying.

    But then the mental midget Derbyshire jumps upon the comment and said, “He’s calling everybody who buys this theory crazy!”

    If I were Berlinski, I would have responded, “Fine, I used sloppy language and hyperbole. What I really meant was, ‘That model is incoherent, acknowledged as such by its author, and I personally think that the Genesis account is significantly more coherent.’

    But instead he hid behind a silly rationalization:

    “If I remark that no sane man would hesitate to choose between A and B, it hardly follows that either A or B is insane. This is a point of logic. It is obvious.

    That seems to me to be evasive. There is no “point of logic” requiring one to accept either A or B. There are many other potential options, including multiverses, etc.

    Seems to me what he really meant was “Given the choice between coherent and incoherent, it’s crazy to choose incoherent.”

    No need to hide from that, if he really meant it. And if he didn’t mean it, heck, he should just take it back. Why pretend you didn’t mean what you said?

  7. 7
    StuartHarris says:

    Just yesterday Derbyshire claimed to be defending Western Civilization in his NRO column. Today he is putting Mbombo and Unkulunkulu on par with Judaeo-Christian belief. Where does he think Western Civ came from?

    Ditto the comments I made about his rant yesterday. The guy must have voices in his head telling him to write these paranoid pieces. Get him on some lithium meds before he completely breaks down.

  8. 8
    jerry says:

    Two things,

    Berlinski said he would debate Derbyshire but in his reply Derbyshire did not acknowledge it. Maybe there is a private conversation going on.

    In the Horgan thread, in the video of Horgan with George Johnson, Johnson says the way to combat ID is to mock it. Derbyshire’s review was a mocking of David Berlinski. What we are seeing is how the whole anti-ID debate plays out. It invariably ends up in mocking ID.

  9. 9
    toc says:

    Berlinski and Derbyshire:
    Two entirely different planets and intellectual spheres. Not even close.

  10. 10
    russ says:

    In the Horgan thread, in the video of Horgan with George Johnson, Johnson says the way to combat ID is to mock it. Derbyshire’s review was a mocking of David Berlinski. What we are seeing is how the whole anti-ID debate plays out. It invariably ends up in mocking ID.

    You’re not saying that if IDers refrained from mocking Darwinism, that ID would be treated more respectfully, are you?

  11. 11
    PannenbergOmega says:

    It is heartbeaking that ID is being laughed at like this.

  12. 12
    PannenbergOmega says:

    In 20 years time what will they say about the ID movement?

  13. 13
    ungtss says:

    which “they?” id + naturalism have been at war for 3k years. Unlikely to be fully resolved anytime soon.

  14. 14
    jerry says:

    “You’re not saying that if IDers refrained from mocking Darwinism, that ID would be treated more respectfully, are you?”

    No, I am just pointing out the weakness of the arguments of those who object to ID. If they had strong arguments, there would be no need to mock.

    But I do believe mocking may not be effective by whoever does it. I am frequently guilty of sarcasm, maybe that is a form of mockery.

  15. 15
    Upright BiPed says:

    I appreciate the point you make, but I still read it differently. I read it to say “any sane person can happily choose either.” Both have their intellectual substance. Again, I think the “incoherent” remark is one of historical recognition. Perhaps I am wrong, but I hardly think it matters.

    The comments by Derbyshire on ID speak for themselves; he is clearly irrational and intends to remain so. Whatever convincing he wanted to offer his readers would have been more convincing if he had at least taken the time to attack ID on its actual merits. Paraphrasing Berlinski “unable to fight the battle at hand, they chose to fight the battles they’ve already won.”

    To your other comment: Things have changed and are only going to speed up in that change. (What was the recent remark, it took 75 years for 50% of the US households to get a telephone, but only 7 years for 50% to get an iPod). We had a battle for thousands of years between what were (basically in a modern scientific sense) blind men. Then we had a new (reformed) argument for 150 years by the slightly less blind. Then for the past 50 years by people who are trying to get the new evidence to fit the old paradigm. The next twenty years is likely to be significant.

    Pannen, by 2030 design in biology may be as the Big Bang is today; generally accepted but not without dissent. Perhaps I cling to the idea because I might have a chance to see it happen in my lifetime.

  16. 16
    Upright BiPed says:

    ungtss,

    I finally had the chance to go back and re-read the quote. I now agree with you, but still think it hardly matters.

  17. 17
    ungtss says:

    UBP — I agree with you that Berlinski’s comment was not of particular significance. Just something I noticed.

    As to the pace of change, I guess I put technology and human prejudice in different categories. The increased exchange of ideas will doubtless increase the rate of development of the arguments by both sides, but I don’t think it will do anything to change the fundamental character in men’s souls that causes them to choose one side or the other. It is not reason alone that causes this debate. It is something deeper, more primal. It is the battle between viewing ourselves as contingent and viewing ourselves as self-existent. That ties into a lot of human emotion that isn’t likely to go away anytime soon.

  18. 18
    thogan says:

    If I were to sketch a battleplan against the evolutionists for ID, I would show videos of the animated cell, the design of the eye, design of the knee, design of the ankle, etc. and conclude with a scene with a class full of people where one of the evolutionists is shown mocking design on video. The instructor would then comment ironically that obviously the evidence doesn’t point towards design, and the class laughs uproariously! The evolutionists end up looking like fools. It’s not a hard sell and there’s nothing the evolutionists could really do to soften the blow except give way, even when they knew about it.

  19. 19
    ungtss says:

    Thogan: I like the battleplan. But consider: most science students have the video and the mockery today, but go evo anyway. Maybe the trouble lies elsewhere?

  20. 20
    Praxiteles says:

    thogan,

    Design isn’t the issue; evolutionists agree that there is design.

    What is at issue is the mechanism for the design. The evolutionist claim is that there are natural explanations/mechanisms that result in design.

  21. 21
    gpuccio says:

    Praxiteles:

    I am sorry, but I think you have it wrong. Evolutionists (in the traditional sense) definitely don’t agree that there is design, at least in biological beings (may be they agree there is some in human artifacts). They just admit that there is the “appearance” of design (see Dawkins).

    As far as language goes, design is the product of a designer, be it “natural” or “supernatural” (as anybody here probably knows, I don’t love those two words, which have no definite and universal meaning). A designer, be it Dawkins or God, is supposed to be a conscious and maybe intelligent being (for Dawkins, I am not sure…).

    What is the issue is the mechanism of generation of biological information, which could be design by a designer (as we, here at ID. believe), or just some mixture of deterministic laws (necessity) plus some randomness. Darwinist evolution theory has really no space for design of any kind.

  22. 22
    duncan says:

    Erm, so all religions are exactly the same, are they? (Berlinski’s point 2). Heck, one might as well embrace a different one every day of the month – it wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference!

    I’m not religious, but I wonder if anyone who is adopts this strategy?

  23. 23
    vjtorley says:

    On the subject of mockery: people in the ID movement should not be surprised when defenders of neo-Darwinian evolution sneer at a movie like “Expelled.” They know that ridicule is a powerful weapon, and they obviously can’t take what they dish.

    What ID proponents will have to do over the next 20 year is keep dishing it out, relentlessly. Throw enough mud and it will stick. The difficult part will be keeping it funny for 20 years, but after watching the “Dick to the Dawk” video, I’m not too worried. Someone obviously has a lot of talent in the satire department.

    The other thing ID proponents will have to do is keep writing good-quality biology textbooks – ones with stunning pictures, effortlessly lucid prose, and lots of educational entertainment, at a level that the “chattering classes” can appreciate. One of the reasons why Dawkins has such a following is that he writes so well, and can churn out one stimulating book after another. “The Design of Life” is a good start. Let’s see some more books like it. If ID advocates manages to out-write their opponents, they will define the terms of the debate in the public consciousness.

  24. 24
    bFast says:

    Praxiteles:

    Design isn’t the issue; evolutionists agree that there is design.

    What is at issue is the mechanism for the design.

    Praxiteles, you are correct. I rememember a long while back that we had a debate on here as to whether the term “intelligent” was required. But it is. If non-intelligence (lacking foresight), a simple filter, can account for the design that exists in nature, then there is no need for an intelligent (foresighted) agent.

  25. 25
    Rude says:

    Yes, intelligence is necessary for the origin of design (of species and of life and of technology) and unexplained by mere mechanism (chance and necessity) at any level, i.e., it’s a “sky hook” and not a “crane” (a la Daniel Dennett) as Angus Menuge shows.

  26. 26
    scordova says:

    Derbyshire is from the John Kwok/PT-mafia school of review writing.

  27. 27
    interested says:

    i think my fantasy debate would be between Richard Dawkins and David Berlinski…..but i feel confident that Dawkins is far too much of a coward to attend that debate. i bet Hitchens would take him up on it…..he is too arrogant to know he would get schooled. for all of Dawkin’s arrogance, he is still smart enough to know he is not as smart as Berlinski….

    at least that’s my take…..

  28. 28
    thogan says:

    ungtss @ 19

    1. The churches need to quit being cowardly about the origins issue and confront it. We need a major world-wide conference about it like the other church councils.

    2. Churches need to encourage young people to enter science.

    3. Scientists/professors need a legal organization like the Home School Legal Defense Organization to support them.

    4. Churches need to abandon intellectual laziness and cowardice and educate people in proper epistemology and philosophy of science. This means that pastors need to know something about these things which means that seminaries/colleges will need to teach them.

    Basically, the anti-evolution community needs to make this an issue in the churches and provide support for seminaries and pastors.

    I have been working on a sound epistemology and philosophy of science for some time now in order to help accomplish this. I need people to critique it, but so far I haven’t gotten much feedback on UD when I have presented it. I have blogged about it elsewhere and have gotten feedback there. I don’t think that it has any obvious holes, but it needs more testing. Currently, it’s two pairs of two serialized papers and is a bare skeleton of what it could be. I believe I have an answer to the demarcation question.

  29. 29
    russ says:

    Alternative explanation to #1:

    Berlinski is using hyperbole in the first piece. In #1 above, he’s making a tongue-in-cheek technical argument to ridicule Derbyshire’s hysterical objections.

  30. 30
    gpuccio says:

    russ:

    “Alternative explanation to #1:”

    I would agree with you. I admire Berlinski immensely, but probably his only “flaw” is that sometimes he is too smart for “normal people” like us…

  31. 31
    gpuccio says:

    But, paraphrasing the same Berlinski:

    “A a tongue-in-cheek technical argument is not required to make Derbyshire look foolish.”

  32. 32
    ungtss says:

    thogan @ 28:

    I love that battleplan. That’s the real dela. I would also love to take a look at your epistemology materials for purposes of critique anytime you’re interested in passing it my way.

  33. 33
    ungtss says:

    Alternative explanation to #1:

    Berlinski is using hyperbole in the first piece. In #1 above, he’s making a tongue-in-cheek technical argument to ridicule Derbyshire’s hysterical objections.

    Maybe — but if so, the ridicule is too tongue in cheek to be picked up on by us ordinary folks. Instead, it comes off like quibbling.

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