Last evening I had the joy of meeting David Berlinski at Biola University during his tour of the U.S. to promote his new book, The Devil’s Delusion — Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions.
I was hanging out on the front steps of the lecture hall when David appeared, and we chatted in both French and English. (As bizarre as it might seem, although I earn my living as a software engineer in aerospace R&D, my three college degrees are in French language and literature, and classical piano.) I was wearing my Harley Davidson windbreaker, and David asked if I was a Harley rider, to which I replied yes. He asked about what model Harley I rode, and expressed his passion for motorcycles.
David is one of the most eloquent, insightful, clever, iconoclastic, and irreverently humorous speakers I have ever had the pleasure to encounter. During his lecture he talked about the great successes of the scientific enterprise — especially in the 20th century with the discoveries of modern mathematics and physics — but how the dreams of this enterprise to explain everything have dissolved into fantastic and unsupported speculation (e.g., multiverses), in the name of the rational and objective science on which it is supposed to be based.
If the dreams of 20th century mathematics and physics have dissolved into fantastic and unsupported speculation concerning the big questions, then surely naive 19th century Darwinian speculation about the origins and diversification of living systems must be in even deeper trouble. But Darwinian “theory” seems to enjoy an extraordinary resistance to being falsified or even challenged. All evidence, however contradictory, supports it.
During the Q&A session I commented about how, historically, erroneous scientific theories are eventually overthrown when the evidence becomes irrefutable. David seems somewhat pessimistic about the imminent overthrow of Darwinism, because of the heavy investment in it on the part of the scientific community. I would suggest that this investment is multifaceted: philosophical, economic, and cultural (in academia, at least). And, of course, ridicule and persecution await any legitimate challenger, no matter the evidence.
But David quipped that if Darwinism is ever overthrown, it will be seen as a triumph of Darwinian theory — a theory so robust that it even predicted that the theory would be proven to be false.
After the event, I chatted further with David, and mentioned that I was a classical concert pianist. It turns out that David’s parents were classical concert pianists who studied with Nadia Boulanger and Alfred Cortot. It’s a small world.
I purchased a copy of The Devil’s Delusion last evening but have not had the time to read it. I will write a review at a later date. However, I found the following comments in the preface to be of interest:
I am a secular Jew. My religious education did not take… I cannot pray. I have spent more years than I care to remember in studying mathematics and writing about the sciences. Yet the book that follows is in some sense a defense of religious thought and sentiment.
While science has nothing of value to say on the great and aching questions of life, death, love, and meaning, what the religious traditions of mankind have said forms a coherent body of thought. The yearnings of the human soul are not in vain. There is a system of belief adequate to the complexity of experience. There is recompense for suffering. A principle beyond selfishness is at work in the cosmos. All will be well.
I do not know whether any of this is true. I am certain that the scientific community does not know that it is false.
Occupied by their own concerns, a great many men and women have a dull, hurt, angry sense of being oppressed by the sciences. They are frustrated by endless scientific boasting. They suspect that as an institution, the scientific community holds them in contempt. They feel no little distaste for those speaking in its name.
They are right to feel this way. I have written this book for them.
I sense in David Berlinski a great Renaissance man, with a keen mind and a searching, warm soul. I pray that this soul will find that for which it yearns.