Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Book Review: The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions (2008) by David Berlinski.

"I don't have enough faith to be an atheist."
--Norm Geisler and Frank Turek (from the title of their 2004 book).

In The Devil's Delusion, David Berlinski explains why those who rely on scientific naturalism are stepping out in faith. According to Dr. Berlinski, it's a faith because science has failed to answer the most basic of inquiries: the origins of the universe and life (among other things).

Due to these limitations, Dr. Berlinski chastises those who oversell their worldviews. For example, "The answers that prominent scientific figures have offered are remarkable in their shallowness. The hypothesis that we are nothing more than cosmic accidents has been widely accepted by the scientific community.... It is an article of their faith, one advanced with the confidence of men convinced that nature has equipped them to face realities the rest of us cannot bear to contemplate. There is not the slightest reason to think this is so." (p. xiv; emphasis in original.)

Dr. Berlinski continues: "Daniel Dennett's assertion that natural selection has been demonstrated 'beyond all reasonable doubt' must be judged for what it is: It is the ecclesiastical bull of a most peculiar church, a cousin in kind to an ecclesiastical bluff. When Steven Pinker affirm that 'natural section is the only explanation we have of how complex life can evolve,' he is very much in the inadvertent position of the apostles. Much against his will, he is bearing witness." (196; emphasis in original.)

Berlinski's approach is somewhat unique for a couple of reasons. First, he comes at the issue not as one seeking to establish theism (or even as an adherent of any religion [p. xi]), but instead to undermine this kind of faith propagated by the "scientific community." Moreover, he does so from the inside, as he has taught and written on mathematics and science, after earning a Ph.D. from Princeton.

Second, Berlinski does so with the same searing smugness that came across when he was interviewed in Ben Stein's clever movie, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, in which he insulted Richard Dawkins for his intellectual limitations. In this vein, the book is full of personal attacks, which while amusing, aren't necessary to build the case (and as in law actually undercut it). For example, Berlinski writes: "I count myself among [Sam] Harris's warmest detractors. When he remarks that he has been dumbstruck by Christian...intellectual commitments, I believe the word has met the man." (p. xi; emphasis in original.)

Setting aside the personal attacks, the book's unusual approach to the material gives it currency in today's economy of debate on these issues.

Recommended to those interested in the field.

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