The Devil’s Delusion

DevilsDelusionThumbSuggested by Deana Chadwell • Leading atheists have produced a steady stream of best-selling books denigrating religious belief. In response, mathematician David Berlinski, himself a secular Jew, delivers a biting defense of religious thought.
Buy at Amazon.com
Suggest a book • (2901 views)

Share
This entry was posted in Bookshelf. Bookmark the permalink.

75 Responses to The Devil’s Delusion

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Glenn, I watched the first 35 minutes of this speech by David Berlinski at Socrates in the City. He’s a bit slow to make his points. I’m used to your writing which has no “junk DNA” in it (and perhaps should at times). Every word codes for something.

    But I liked what he had to say. I liked the part where he related the fellow who asked a “stupid question,” something like, “What compels the electron to continue in its orbit?” This is a thought that has often crossed my mind. And if Thomas Aquinas had known about electrons, he would have wondered the same thing.

    The standard answer is a bit of a linguistic trick. We are told that a “law of nature” is responsible for it. But who’s law? Why this law and not another? “Law of nature” is certainly a useful convention, and not at all a particularly egregious one. But current Fundamentalist Scientists use all kinds of these tricks.

    I also read the sample portion of the Kindle book of “The Devil’s Delusion.” The book has much less “junk DNA” in it than his speeches which tend to crawl along. I was somewhat aware of the hostility of science toward religion. You’d have to be living under a rock not to be. Still, this passage caught me a bit by surprise:

    Neither scientific credibility nor sound good sense is at issue in any of these declarations. They are absurd; they are understood to be absurd; and what is more, assent is demanded just because they are absurd. “We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs,” the geneticists Richard Lewontin remarked equably in The New York Review of Books, “in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories.”

    Why should any discerning man or woman take the side of science, or anything else, under these circumstances? It is because, Lewontin explains, “we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”

    Berlinski (like Stephen Meyer in this other video you suggested) shows the religious-like aspect of the materialists. This isn’t science they are engaging in. They are the new priesthood trying to enforce the orthodoxy of their cosmic vision.

    I’ve often noted how this condescension has dripped down from above and coated the rank-and-file college graduate with this patented sense of better-than-thou. The default position in our culture is increasingly the idea that if you are religious, you are an idiot and an enemy of science which, we all know, has all the answers for a better life.

    My relationship with God is complicated. But I assure you it is not based on being afraid of being called an idiot. As far as I’m concerned, My God is an Awesome God. The universe and life are evidence of this. It’s just that my god is a rather uncommunicative one and there are a lot of blanks that need filling in.

    I may or may not buy “The Devil’s Delusion.” Berlinski is a particularly good writer, and he’s skewering all the right people with his insights. It’s just that I don’t know if I need to read an entire book of that. I sort of get it already.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      It’s my opinion that the militant atheists like Dawkins have tried to use science to destroy religion. In Europe, where the goodthinkful well-doers have more influence because the people believe deep down that the elites must be right (and the exceptions tend to be Muslim immigrants), this works. But on this side of the pond, the argument is counter-productive for them. If people are forced to choose between science and religion, most Americans will choose religion. (Many of us who don’t make that choice are well aware that such a choice isn’t really needed.)

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        It’s my opinion that the militant atheists like Dawkins have tried to use science to destroy religion

        And hasn’t the Left (let’s never forget their underlying political ideology) done a grand job of destroying religion in Europe?

        One can understand the European impulse to transcend national boundaries after two devastating world wars. And they still could have perhaps made that work. But they chucked Judeo-Christianity (are there any Jews left in Europe?) for the Religion of Leftism. This also required chucking the free market and instituting socialism, for they were not just trying to transcend national boundaries but the boundaries of human nature itself.

        Churches sit mostly empty in Europe and those (such as in the Anglican Church) that do have a few warm bodies are almost completely libtard organizations. But it was absolutely necessary to chuck the traditional (reality-based) morality of Judeo-Christianity if one was to adopt the utopian Religion of Leftism. The two are simply not compatible, and shame, shame, shame on those useful idiot “Christians” who believe that “diversity” and “multiculturalism” are the preferred and real moral underpinning of Judeo-Christianity. I despise Leftists, but at least they believe in a cause. But these pseudo-Christians — oh, my — to be a part of a useful-idiot movement that is the equivalent of knocking down one’s house around one’s head (in ultimate service of those hostile to Christainity) is a true abomination.

        How ironic, then, that the anti-religious elements in Europe have poisoned their culture by importing the poisonous “religion” (it is a totalitarian system, not just a religion) of Islam. Jews are apparently leaving now. Homosexuals might not be far behind. Others who have money will likely leave. And those left at home haven’t the stomach or ideological backing to defend their countries from the barbarians. They have been all taught they *they* are the barbarians.

        Europe is sick. They’ll be lucky if all that they get is another Hitler.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          One point worth making about Europe: most of the countries still have established churches (your mention of the Anglicans reminded me). I suspect that churches that rely on the state to maintain them (one way or another) are less likely to attract membership because they don’t really need to do so. Hence the greater success of non-established religions (not just Muslims; I once read that there are more genuinely active Catholics than Anglicans in Britain). The Jews would be doing well if it weren’t for the anti-Semites.

  2. glenn fairman says:

    Berlinski’s analogy using Galileo was striking. Although he may move a bit slow for your tastes, he moves methodically and devastatingly. I hope you will make time to read it as your busy schedule allows. I have sat in on more forums and seminars than I care to admit, and if all of them were as witty and engaging as his, I might have finished that Doctorate.

    As for those curious laws of nature, if we can postulate a coherent physical law that is binding and universal, then why is it so outlandish to infer a law giver?

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Okay, Glenn. I may put down the ten bucks and buy the book. I have to admit, he is a very good writer. And it is a good exercise just to read good writing. He and I are also fairly like-minded on these subjects. It’s odd to see a non-religious man like him be a hearty and effective Defender of the Faith, especially considering (in my humble opinion) that most Christians are complete wet noodles when it comes to this. But someone’s gotta do it.

      There is nothing at all outlandish about a law-giver, especially given the “fine tuning” aspects that apparently wrap our universe in a certain mold. Of course, it’s impossible for us to step outside our universe and experience other possibilities, buy as Meyer or Berlinski said, we can certainly imagine such a thing.

      The intriguing thing to me (and Berlinski touches on this adroitly), for all our scientific knowledge, we’re as clueless as ever on the Big Picture. Berlinksi writes:

      These splendid artifacts [the four major discoveries of science: Newtonian mechanics, Maxwell’s theory of the electromagnetic field, special and general relativity, and quantum mechanics] of the human imagination have made the world more mysterious than it ever was. We know better than we did what we do not know and have not grasped. We do not know how the universe began. We do not know why it is there. Charles Darwin talked speculatively of life emerging from a “warm little pond.” The pond is gone. We have little idea how life emerged, and cannot with assurance say that it did. We cannot reconcile our understanding of the human mind with any trivial theory about the manner in which the brain functions. Beyond the trivial, we have no other theories. We can say nothing of interest about the human soul. We do not know what impels us to right conduct or where the form of the good is found.

      On these and many other points as well, the great scientific theories have lapsed. The more sophisticated the theories, the more inadequate they are. This is a reason to cherish them. They have enlarged and no diminished our sense of the sublime.

      But it’s not likely the Big Picture that interests people these days. That’s not the draw of science for most.

      One should note that in this secular “scientific” culture, such philosophy as articulated by Berlinski is as relevant to a person’s life as what is happening in Israel with Hamas. “Science” is so easily revered because it offers us the promise of utopia. And at the very least, the products of science extend our lives, give us all kinds of cool gadgets, and otherwise propel us forward toward technological “progress.” This is why all religion can be expelled. There is faith left only in the material. And that faith is by no means irrational given just how much science, technology, and industry have affected our lives, and often for the better.

      When some new Dick-Tracy-like piece of gadgetry can be had for mere pennies, only Troglodytes and old prunes bother with questions of philosophy (as least questions that are longer than will fit on some hip libtard bumper sticker such as “Coexist”). I understand the religion of the Secular Left. I simply reject it as I would a Cracker-Jacks plastic gold-painted ring in place of the real thing. Truly, what we can value is a muscle that has been atrophied because of the relative abundance produced by science, technology, and political and economic freedom. It all seems to come so easy. Why should it not be like this forever? Who needs to bother with morals and philosophy? Just keep the spigot flowing.

      Until, as Mark Steyn says, what can’t go on forever ceases to do so.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I finally finished the Berlinski speech. Overall, it was a good speech. But what a couple of douche-bags at the start of the Q&A. Berlinski dealt with one of them by giving a two-word answer.

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Here’s another test for Intelligent Design:

    • Do the mechanisms in the cell look like the work of a genius? Are the functions minimalistic? Does Occam’s Razor seem to apply? Is the machinery elegant?

    Or, conversely, do there appear to be vestiges of parts of machines that are left over from Darwinian trial-and-error processes? Is the cell a jumble of unneeded parts? Given the task at hand, and the parts and physics at one’s disposal, could one find a better way of running a cell?

    If the cell machinery evolved, you would expect to see a certain amount of Rube Goldbergism in it. Perhaps lots of it. If not, you would expect to see a very elegant, robust, minimalist, and clever design. That is, was Darwin right when he said “What a book a Devil’s chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering low & horridly cruel works of nature!”

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Of course, intelligent design covers a lot of possibilities. Consider the Mallard Fillmore cartoon in which the good duck suggested asking the teacher if it’s possible that God created evolution.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Meyer wasn’t hot on that idea of “God created evolution.” He seemed to suggest that people not promote that notion.

        But, really, who knows?

  5. Glenn Fairman says:

    I taught an 8th grade class today how to write a compare and contrast essay. Some had a better handle on it than others, but I have little doubt that one day they will be able to put cogent thoughts down on paper that are persuasive. Some may even divine the mysterious nuances of being in lyric ballads.

    Why do we value writing? Why do we philosophize? It certainly is not something that a nature “red in tooth and claw” would select for. Yet it makes life valuable and gives it meaning: which are themselves dubious materialist virtues. It would seem that much of what we consider as the higher aesthetic contemplations of life transcend the mundane hungers of reproduction and consumption– the motivations of bacteria and wolverines.

    Consciousness is a beautiful enigma, and mind belongs to the category of essence which transcends brain. One might think, if they did not think too deeply, that what we hold as sublime intellect was as ubiquitous in the Universe as dark matter. It is not. How can we account for Shakespeare? For the fantastic imagination of authors whose ideas transcend history, culture, and tongue?

    It occurred to me today that other than giving these kids a template and some structural guidelines on how to frame their message, they are going to be pretty much on their own. Frankly, I have no idea how I manage to write. I sit down at a keyboard and words pop out of my fingers that seconds before were resting in some opaque area of consciousness like Athena springing forth from the head of Zeus. It is a mystery to me how words touch people in their innermost parts. How we can make them cry with a memory or laugh with a ribald pun. We may be flesh in the way that animals are, but we are a helluva lot more, and the ways in which we communicate ideas that are nothing less than celestial cannot be reduced to a furtive game of chance or random chemical associations. To hold that we are the product of design is not some cosmic arrogance, but the only answer that makes sense. The blind and stupid universe could not yield what we are without the prime mover of Mind—-Magnificent Mind. When we come to understand this in its fullness, we will find that it is not hubris that reveals this dense mystery, but an abject humility that stands with mouth agape.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I read once that efforts to teach chimpanzees language lead almost entirely to mundane requests, usually for food. Somewhere along the line, humans developed a capacity for abstract thought, for general curiosity separated from mundane needs. (Ironically, perhaps, the song played by the hippies in the Star Trek episode “The Way to Eden” brought this up, pointing out that man “found he had to eat and he found he had to drink” — and then later “found he had to think.”)

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Frankly, I have no idea how I manage to write.

      Because you have something to say. That’s where it all starts. And it helps that you’re not shy. Most people have a venue that they are comfortable in. Some can dance on as a ballerina on a stage (I can’t picture you in tights) and yet are frozen at the thought of having to put two words together.

      Writing is an art form and some have a natural talent for it. But like any talent, it must be nurtured. And philosophy (at least good philosophy and commentary) requires the most painful kind of self-searching — an act that does not come natural to most. It is important to break out of the clouds of our own delusions, so to speak. If we don’t, then our philosophy is little more than our psychology and hang-ups writ large. Truth never gains that capital-T.

      Some say there is an inherent anti-social aspect to good philosophy, commentary, and that sort of writing. Anyone can lie out their ass and be an Obama. Anyone can write what they know others will reflexively soak up. It’s arguably at least a slightly anti-social act (remembering that society itself is often mentally ill) to state the truth, to counter prevailing views, to prick the bubble of popular myths.

      Those who do so in order to get their jollies are a lesser sort of being. Those who do so to release grand truths are the prophets, mystics, and curmudgeons who are somewhat comfortable shouting “The end is near” from their stone porch in the desert.

  6. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    This is going to be a good news/bad news post, so keep that in mind.

    I’m 44% into “The Devil’s Delusion” and I’m far from impressed now with both the content and Berlinksi’s writing. It’s a little slipshod, as if the book is written in a one-take recitation before an open mike. His thoughts often lack clarity and the organization of the book (thus far) is a true hodgepodge. Yes, he’s poking holes in all the right atheists, but not much more than that. He does have some good sections as well though.

    That’s the bad news. The good news is that this got me to thinking about how Glenn should consider writing a book. And I’d be glad to offer myself as editor. I’m not talking about just a collection of his essays, although he would necessarily draw from many of those ideas. But first you need to have a theme for a book. And this occurs to me because Berlinski fails in this regard (at least 44% into it).

    “How God Meant America to Be” or something like that, with the book divided into discreet topics (family, religion, the Constitution, culture, education, etc.). Glenn’s writing, with a touch of un-compacting, is far more relevant and accessible than Berlinski. Yes, Berlinksi skewers the atheists, but a man not of God, so to speak, can’t take the conversation any further. It is certainly the kind of stuff Christians will eat up. But as a book, I find it to be very weak, badly organized, and somewhat lacking in nutritious calories.

    Glenn, on the other hand, is more than capable of writing The Love Letter to America that is so badly needed (with a bit of clever scolding as well). Just a thought as I read second-best and know that first-rate has yet to get into the batter’s box.

    • Glenn Fairman says:

      I shall call it “The Book of Footnotes.” That’s all it could ever be…..

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Works for me. Let me know when you want to get started. 🙂

        There’s also the possibility of putting together some kind of “StubbornAmerica” collection of essays from this site into an eBook (all rights reserved by the respective authors). All proceeds going to some charity that we would name beforehand or something like that. Something to think about.

        • Glenn Fairman says:

          Now that is something I could get behind. My share goes to CodePink.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          One good possibility would be a political organization with a good record for contributing money to candidates (or other such causes) rather than overhead or salaries. I wonder how well True the Vote would qualify on such a test.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            Not to put the cart too far ahead of the horse, but we could also set up a StubbornScholarship, humble though it might be. And then I’ll go to Sweden and interview all the blond-haired students. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.

            • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

              I’ll volunteer to interview the Asian students. And I will need more time as I’ll have to cover Japan, Korea, China, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia just to start. This could take years. A much more difficult task than simply Sweden.

  7. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Here’s a good section of the book:

    A Catechism of Quantum Cosmology

    Q: From what did our universe evolve?
    A: Our universe evolved from a much smaller, much emptier mini-universe. You may think of it as an egg.

    Q: What was the smaller, emptier universe like?
    A: It was a four-dimensional sphere with nothing much inside it. You may think of that as weird.

    Q: How can a sphere have four dimensions?
    A: A sphere may have four dimensions if it has one more dimension than a three-dimensional sphere. You may think of that as obvious.

    Q: Does the smaller, emptier universe have a name?
    A: The smaller, emptier universe is called a de Sitter universe. You may think of that as about time someone paid attention to de Sitter.

    Q: Is there anything else I should know about the smaller, emptier universe?
    A: Yes. It represents a solution to Einstein’s field equations. You may think of that as a good thing.

    Q: Where was that smaller, emptier universe or egg?
    A: It was in the place where space as we know it did not exist. You may think of it as a sac.

    Q: When was it there?
    A: It was there at the time when time as we know it did not exist. You may think of it as a mystery.

    Q: Where did the egg come from?
    A: The egg did not actually come from anywhere. You may think of this as astonishing.

    Q: If the egg did not come from anywhere, how did it get there?
    A: The egg got there because the wave function of the universe said it was probable. You may think of this as a done deal.

    Q: How did our universe evolve from the egg?
    A: It evolved by inflating itself up from its sac to become the universe in which we now find ourselves. You may think of that as just one of those things.

    This catechism, I should add, is not a parody of quantum cosmology. It is quantum cosmology.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth. But the Earth was without form, and void.” One interesting aspect of the Jewish creation story (as I noted in an article here a year ago) is that (if you interpret it properly) it actually follows the scientific creation story very well — better than any other religious creation story as far as I know.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Certainly the Bible gets the gist of it right (as far as we know). But, honestly, I get a little confused trying to follow what God is doing on those six working days. It’s not crystal-clear to me what some of those ideas mean.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        One interesting aspect of the Jewish creation story (as I noted in an article here a year ago) is that (if you interpret it properly) it actually follows the scientific creation story very well — better than any other religious creation story as far as I know.

        I just started a book which deals with this to a certain degree. I will see how far the author takes it.

        “The Science of God” by Gerald Schroeder

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      Which brings to mind the old saw, “which came first, the chicken or the egg?”

      The above catechism appears to be on a similar level.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        LOL. I believe the quantum-foam egg came first. Just an FYI, this is the other video of Berlinski that Glenn had posted elsewhere. I’m watching it now. It’s an interesting interview with Peter Robinson: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions.

        As for the “scientific” attempt to get around a beginning, they are funny to watch. It’s funny to watch these people who purport to the be the height of “reason” act in a manner that is little more than trying to protect their own myths. As Berlinski presents in his book:

        “Perhaps the best argument in favor of the thesis that the Big Bang supports theism,” the astrophysicist Christopher Isham has observed, “is the obvious unease with which it is greeted by some atheist physicists. At times this has led to scientific ideas, such as continuous creation or an oscillating universe, being advanced with a tenacity which so exceeds their intrinsic worth that one can only suspect the operation of psychological forces lying very much deeper than the usual academic desire of a theorist to support his or her theory.”

        • Timothy Lane says:

          I wonder how many people know that the Big Bang theory was originated by a scientist who happened to be a Belgian priest, Georges Lemaitre. And I wonder how many people know that one reason why plate tectonics was treated so skeptically by geologists (until they finally were more or less obligated to accept it by the evidence, which is at least better than the way politicized climatologists react to the evidence against CAGW) is that it suited catastrophism (which they saw as too congenial for Biblical views) rather than their own dogmatic uniformitarianism.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            I believe a bit of the controversy surrounding the theory of plate tectonics was delved into in Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded.

            It certainly makes sense that the theory would be objected to by some because it was tacit support for catastrophism.

            The Bible has gotten a bad rap for the last couple hundred years. The Utopian mindset (understandable considering the wonders that science was showing us) just couldn’t wait to dump it completely. It also helped that dumping moral guidance is always a proclivity of mankind. We so want to prance in the unburdened flower garden of paganism. Libertarians seem to have this propensity as well.

            But — gosh — what if religion got THE most important scientific question right, and was right about it several thousand years ago? Berlinksi is so right when he talks about atheists being just another priesthood that wishes to assert itself and hold power — not to mention the ego satisfaction of anointing themselves as the Knowers and everyone else as the has-beens.

            It makes sense to say that perhaps only in Judeo-Christianity has humility been understood as a worthy moral value.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          It’s funny to watch these people who purport to the be the height of “reason” act in a manner that is little more than trying to protect their own myths

          I sometimes wonder if it is that these people can not abide the idea of anything greater than themselves.

          They already know that there are a lot of things inferior to themselves. They merely look out at the great unwashed and have all the proof they need.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            Oh, surely it’s all about worshipping their own sense of being the superior self-annointed — inflated egos. What Berlinski gets very right at the start of the book is that scientists did not start out with this attitude, nor is there anything inherent in science that requires it.

            That is, Richard Dawkins is simply a self-righteous prick.

  8. Glenn Fairman says:

    It’s amazing that Aristotle’s Steady State Universe —from everlasting to everlasting- survived as long as it did. If the 1st and 2nd laws of Thermodynamics are uniformly true throughout the universe, and we know nothing that tells us they are not, then the universe would have undergone heat death at some point in primordial history, even though how we obtained energy in the first place would have posed an obvious paradox. Nevertheless, entropy would have swallowed energy’s bounty and left the whole bloody thing a moot point…..if there could have been anyone around to take in the irony of mootness.

    Perhaps we shall talk about the logical fallacy of an “infinite regress” on another day…..

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Berlinski does talk about infinite regress in the book, but it’s more of a “drive-by” opinion. He declares Aquinas’ argument to be weak and that’s that.

      Personally, I wonder how far we can go with pure logic regarding things that are so beyond our ability to know. But certainly the idea of infinite regress sounds like an emotional dodge from those who (for whatever reason) hate the idea of a beginning — including Einstein.

      And I hate to pull the Colonel Klink rule out too often (which states, “I may not know what the right answer is, but I’m sure these other guys will pick the wrong one”), but it’s clear that Dawkins and Company have the wrong one.

      For whatever reason (and religious people are by no means immune from it, nor need they necessarily be), there is a very strong emotional appeal for many to the idea of “no God, no beginning.” I’ve run into this on Facebook where otherwise conservative friends differed on this point. They love the idea of the multiverse, for example, where for me it is so obviously an idea dredged up to counter the Big Bang by people whose purpose is not truth but protecting their own myths.

  9. Glenn Fairman says:

    Robert Jastrow (self-proclaimed agnostic): “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Zenna Henderson once wrote a story (it appears in the collection Holding Wonder, but unfortunately I don’t know where my copy is, and I don’t remember the story’s name) that might be considered appropriate here.

      In it, there is an epidemic going on, and a researcher investigating it to see what he can learn. He discovers an interesting fact: those who are treated by receiving a transfusion from a particular religious group recover; those who don’t get a transfusion or get it from someone else die. He finds nothing distinctive about the group (which accepts converts and is thus not some separate genetic group) — except that they always pray for the recipient of the transfusion.

      When he (unsurprisingly) comes down with the disease, he arranges for a transfusion from them, but orders them not to pray. When he recovers, he decides to look further for what the natural explanation must be — until a woman visits him. Her husband had previously investigated the disease, noticed the same pattern he did, come down with the disease, made the same arrangements he had — and then died. So she broke his order and prayed over the transfusion anyway. The researcher concludes by trying to figure out how to analyze prayer. This is a work of fiction, but it’s hard to imagine very many scientists being willing to make such a decision.

  10. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    More from “The Devil’s Delusion” as I make my way through.

    The quality of writing (and thinking) has picked up from the earlier going. Still, the book is more of a recorded speech than organized into any thematic whole. Whatever.

    Berlinksi delves into what I think is solid philosophy and a solid reason to believe in a designed universe:

    Why do the constants and parameters of theoretical physics obey such tight constraints?

    If this is one question, it leads at once to another. The laws of nature are what they are. They are fundamental. But why are they true? Why do material objects attract one another throughout the universe with a kind of brute and aching inevitability? Why is space-and-time curved by the presence of matter? Why is the electron charged?

    Why? Yes, why?

    An appeal to still further physical laws is, of course, ruled out on the grounds that the fundamental laws of nature are fundamental. An appeal to logic is unavailing. The laws of nature do not seem to be logical truths. The laws of nature must be intrinsically rich enough to specify the panorama of the universe, and the universe is anything but simple. As Newton remarks, “Blind metaphysical necessity, which is certainly the same always and everywhere, could produce no variety of things.”

    Not having the IQ that Berlinski obviously has, some of his statements may need a little unpacking or decrypting.

    As Berlinski points out, even our best theories of matter and energy (the Standard Model) require a whole host of “givens” (or what are called “constants”):

    The Standard Model is not only incomplete but arbitrary. Like an physical theory, it contains a good many numerical parameters—at least twenty-one. These designate specific numerical properties of the model. These cannot be derived from the theory.

    One thus gets into the heady idea that physics “just works” but it might not actually describe the universe in a fundamental way. And we likely see in string theory that such “science” is just a trick of mathematics and little more. In fact, this is perhaps the best chapter in the book thus far as Berlinski shows just that. There are so many possible solutions to the mathematics of string theory that scientists (who will not let go of this theory easily) have simply declare that therefore all of the solutions are achieved — but in different universes (universes that are merely proposed by the stroke of a pen and that we have no way of interacting with).

    Berlinski explains string theory as simply as I’ve ever read and then skewers it, including such obviously lame theories as the “many worlds” one. And you’re left with the distinct impression that science is not so much motivated by the truth but by a desire to disprove God, quite frankly. At least that energizes a great number of scientists and their theories.

    But back to that original quote. To state that there is a “law of nature” can very easily become a linguistic trick, presenting a deep understanding of reality that doesn’t actually exist in science. Science may explain that space and time is curved, but not why. And then you come to that stunning insight by Berlinski that “An appeal to logic is unavailing. The laws of nature do not seem to be logical truths.” In other words, science cannot say why the laws of nature are the way they are. There seems absolutely no necessity for things to be this way rather than that way. As Berinski says:

    Questions about the parameters and laws of physics form a single insistent question in thought: Why are things as they are when what they are seems anything but arbitrary? One answer is obvious. It is the one that theologians have always offered: The universe looks like a put-up job because it is a put-up job. That this answer is obvious is no reason to think it false.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      O ne argument I’ve seen raised is that the various constants and parameters had to be what they are for our universe to develop life. Even slight changes, and there would be no life (maybe no universe at all). So who or what caused them to be exactly right? One “scientific” answer is the multiverse, which means that every possible universe actually exists in some alternate space — but which is completely unprovable. But it doesn’t involve a Designer likely to be considered God, so that makes it superior from many scientists’ viewpoint. This may be why physicists are more likely to be religious than biologists.

  11. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    And I just remembered the great book on string theory that I read from this passage in “The Devil’s Delusion”:

    The reaction, although slow in coming, was also inevitable. String theory was criticized in the popular press by a distinguished theoretical physicist and a mathematician. In The Trouble with Physics, written by Lee Smolin, and Not Even Wrong, by Peter Woit, string theory was examined with some sympathy and found wanting.

    Several years ago I did indeed read the terrific The Trouble with Physics by Lee Smolin who presents a very good case (similar to global warming and the multiverse theories) that scientists are plunging down a pointless and profitless rabbit hole.

    I don’t believe that he does quite the robust and frank cultural critique that Berlinski does. But it’s been a while since I’ve read this. He may indeed skewer some of the string theory advocates in a Berlinskiesque way.

    I have not yet read Peter Woit’s Not Even Wrong. I’m not sure how far I want to plunge down that rabbit hole myself.

  12. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    More from my reading of “The Devil’s Delusion.”

    I admit that much of the fun of this book is watching Dawkins, Hitchens, and others be suitably clobbered and called out by Berlinski. Both Dawkins and Hitchens are religious bigots — Hitchens hiding it under a pseudo-intellectualism and Dawkins under the label of “science.”

    Hitchens, who I will concede was a fine writer, is extremely over-rated as a thinker. And all that Dawkins has is the motivation of his grievance — a grievance we have no clue from whence it stems. Therefore much of his content is, in effect, a sort of primal scream therapy about issues we can only wonder about. (Did a vicar or priest run over his puppy when Dawkins was a child? One wonders.)

    As for Berlinski, it would also only be fair to point out that his speeches could be motivated by some grievance against the radical materialist mob that inhabits (and inhibits) science. Maybe his grudge is justified. And it’s worth noting that for a man who himself admits he doesn’t actually believe in god, his message seems a bit too self-consciously marketed to those who do.

    Okay, away with the preamble. I’m 71% into this book — and could be further because I don’t know what percentage of the 100% includes the appendix, notes, and etcetera at the end. And the Kindle reader on the Android having no obvious means that I can find to view chapters, I have no idea how many chapters are remaining. This is my ongoing grievance.

    Here’s an interesting quote from Berlinski:

    Joel Primack, a cosmologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, once posed an interesting question to the physicist Neil Turok: “What is it that makes the electrons continue to follow the laws.” Turok was surprised by the question; he recognized its force. Something seems to compel physical objects to obey the laws of nature, and what makes this observation odd is just that neither compulsion nor obedience are physical ideas. Medieval theologians understood the question, and they appreciated its power. They offered in response the answer that to their way of thinking made intuitive sense: Deus est ubique conservans mumdum. God is everywhere conserving the world . . .

    Albert Einstein understood the question as well. His deepest intellectual urge, he remarked, was to know whether God had any choice in the creation of the universe. If He did, then the laws of nature are as they are in virtue of His choice. If He did not, then the laws of nature must be necessary, their binding sense of obligation imposed on the cosmos in virtue of their form. The electron thus follows the laws of nature because it cannot do anything else.

    This is a somewhat complex philosophical thought well-made by Berlinski. He has made the complex simple without muddling the point with linguistic tricks or logical half-truths. Indeed, if this concept is good enough for Einstein, it’s good enough for me. Either the laws of nature are arbitrary (subject to the design aesthetic of a creator) or they couldn’t have been any other way. As Berlinski notes about Newton:

    All attempts to see the laws of nature as statements that are true in virtue of their form have been unavailing. The laws of nature, as Isaac Newton foresaw, are not laws of logic, nor are they like the laws of logic.

    As Berlinski notes, the “megaverse” theory (quickly rebranded as the “Landscape” for marketing purposes) is an attempt to do away with necessity — particularly because science has not in any way shown why the laws should be this way and not another. And at the same time, they want to do away with any concept of the laws being at the whim of a designer. Therefore they have latched onto the idea of “nothing is necessary, anything is possible.” In the Landscape/Anthropic Principle model, necessity and arbitrariness (design) are done away with because it is claimed that an infinite number of universes exist, all with various “random” laws of nature occurring. It is a brazen attempt to deflate our universe (the opposite of inflation theory, I guess) by saying that we are just one of many random possibilities. As Berlinski notes:

    And Brandon Carter, Leonard Susskind, and Steven Weinberg understand the question as well. Their answer is the Landscape and the Anthropic Principle. There are universes in which the electron continues to follow some law, and those in which it does not. In a Landscape in which anything is possible, nothing is necessary. In a universe in which nothing is necessary, anything is possible.

    In effect, in order to get around any possibility of our universe not being pointless and random (although what higher organizing principle could be spitting out these “random” universe is not rationally dealt with) they substitute an infinity of universes, none of which are subject to scientific observation. As Berlinki notes, this “relativist” view (anything is possible becomes “anything is permissible”) has had real-world consequences in the culture:

    While better logic than nothing [it helps to read the idea of “nothing” in context] is still on the menu, it is no longer on the table. There remains better nothing than God as the living preference among physicists and moral philosophers. It is a remarkably serviceable philosophy. In moral thought, nothing comes to moral relativism; and philosophers who can see no reason whatsoever that they should accept any very onerous moral constraints have found themselves gratified to discover that there are no such constraints they need accept. The Landscape and the Anthropic Principle represent the ascendance of moral relativism in physical thought. They work to cancel the suggestion that the universe—our own, the one we inhabit—is any kind of put-up job. This is their emotional content, the place where they serve prejudice. These ideas have an important role to play in the economy of the sciences, and for this reason, they have been welcomed by the community of scientific atheists with something akin to a cool murmur of relief. They have, for example, worked entirely to Richard Dawkins’s satisfaction. He believes them superior to the obvious theological alternatives on the grounds that it is better to have many worlds than one God.

    It could (I suppose) prove out (somehow) that the multiverse conception of reality is true (which still does not address the higher system or organizing principle that would need to be in place that spits out these random universes, but leave that aside for now). But if the multiverse (megaverse or “Landscape”) idea doesn’t pan out, that leaves radical materialist sciences in an “awkward” position, by their own words. Berlinski notes:

    If the double ideas of the Landscape and the Anthropic Principle do not suffice to answer the question why we live in a universe that seems perfectly designed for human life, a great many men and women will conclude that it is perfectly designed for human life, and they will draw the appropriate consequences from this conjecture. What is awkward is just that at a moment when the community of scientists had hoped that they had put all that behind them so as to enjoy a universe that was safe, sane, secular, and sanitized, somehow the thing they had been so long avoiding has managed to clamber back into contention as a living possibility in thought.

    That is, as these radical materialist scientists clarify the issue by putting all their eggs in the basket of this “megaverse,” it becomes realized that if they fail, there is only one viable option left, and one in which their failure adds further credence: that the universe is designed. And even if somehow the “megaverse” gained experimental support, Berlinski quotes Wittgenstein:

    “We feel,” Wittgenstein wrote, “that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched.” Those who do feel this way will see, following Aquinas, that the only inference calculated to overcome the way things are is one directed toward the way things must be.

    It should also be noted that Berlinski notes that whatever “laws of nature” are uncovered and described, they apparently do not describe what happens at the macro level when atoms and stuff combine into unique and amazing things. No fundamental “law of nature,” for instance, is going to describe, or even predict, the phenomenon of flocking birds, for instance — or birds. So all pretenses of science and scientists to having a monopoly on truth should be taken with a heavy grain of salt. Here’s a final quote by Berlinksi in this regard:

    What Richard Dawkins is prepared to swallow is the Landscape and the Anthropic Principle. The Landscape does not, of course, answer the question what caused the Landscape to exist. How could it? And if nothing caused the Landscape, it does not answer the question why it should be there at all. But having swallowed the Landscape with such inimitable gusto, Dawkins is surely obliged to explain just why he scruples at the Deity. After all, the theologian need only appeal to a single God lording over it all and a single universe—our own. Dawkins must appeal to infinitely many universes crammed into creation, with laws of nature wriggling indiscreetly and fundamental physical parameters changing as one travels from one corner of the cosmos to the next, the whole entire gargantuan structure scientifically unobservable and devoid of any connection to experience.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      “We feel,” Wittgenstein wrote, “that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched.” Those who do feel this way will see, following Aquinas, that the only inference calculated to overcome the way things are is one directed toward the way things must be.

      This is why you have to love Wittgenstein. He knew the most important questions cannot, definitively, be answered and that much of the “sophisticated” discussion touching on the subject was just so much puffery.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        And he has one of those great names that is fun to say with a German accent — or an Austrian one, for those in Rio Linda.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      In fairness to Hitchens, he at least was one atheist whose hostility wasn’t just to Judeo-Christian religion. He was strongly opposed to Islam, and in fact praised Bush as being a better opponent of religious tyranny than his liberal opponents because he realized where modern theocracy resides.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        It’s certainly a step up to not put Islam over Christianity (as is typical these days from the Left) and to be hostile to each. But Hitchens, with his supposed great intellect, could not seem to punch his way out of the wet paper bag of multiculturalism and see the inherent superiority of Christianity over Islam.

      • Glenn Fairman says:

        In all fairness, although Hitchens’ dogmatism placed him beyond the intellectual pale of Christianity’s virtues publicly. In person he was known to be a gentle private soul that had great respect for those he debated. He spent much time with Larry Taunton, Founder of the Fixed Point Foundation, and could quote great reams of John’s Gospel. He understood and admitted that Christianity was the bedrock of Science and Western Culture…..but he claimed that these structures could exist now without metaphysical pillars and believed we could kick the ghostly slats out from underneath Modernity.

        I wouldn’t hazard to speculate on how much of Hitchens personae was Shtick and how much he truly believed. His brother is a famous evangelical apologist. He was an accomplished man of great gifts and learning– a political lion and somewhat of an iconoclast. Such men contain great reservoirs of ego and its attending pride. I pray that his protracted illness softened his views and gave him a perspective beyond the temporal interpretation of life. The idea that a mind with such gifts must empty them unanswered into the freezing cosmos is too much beyond the realm of absurdity for me to ever take seriously.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          In some ways, this actually makes Hitchens guiltier than the likes of Dawkins. However repellent their arguments, most of the militant atheists actually believe what they say. But Hitchens realized that he was, at a minimum, exaggerating the case against God (at least Yahweh and Christ). This speaks better of his intellect than it does of Dawkins’s, but it also speaks worse of his integrity.

  13. Glenn Fairman says:

    Your statement of whether Physical laws either stemmed from an arbitrary whim or from some ontological necessity brought up Plato’s Euthyphro dilemma. Is something Good or True because God deems it such, or is it independent of God? If the former, then God could have pronounced the most horrendous of crimes as virtuous. Allah is said to be capricious, perhaps in the moment, and morality or the Laws of Gravitation could change with the wind. If the latter, then God is not sovereign and is bound by some necessity, and this merely begs the question of what force is superior to God.

    However, there is a 3rd way. Goodness is the way it is because God is Himself Good. The emanation of the universe’s moral and physical structure is intrinsically tied to the warp and weft of his essential being. Nature is orderly and organically integrated because God is ordered and wholly self-sufficient, lacking nothing. The universe is the necessary Creation He set into motion and sustains with His concern hour by hour —This concern is Love in its highest and perhaps most abstract incarnation.

    Aristotle may have had his mechanics wrong, but the origin of the unmoved mover’s “music of the spheres’ is His abiding concern for what He hath wrought—-and it flows undiluted from the matrix of his immutable essence. Changeless, having no beginning or end, wholly rational and integrated, His laws reflect that necessary compulsion because they can be no other way. On might as well imagine a circle that is also a square or a sum where two and two are equal to anything but four. God cannot make a one-ended stick or create a weight that he could not lift because it is an incongruity that disintegrates upon exposure to pure mind — rationality incarnate.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Is something Good or True because God deems it such, or is it independent of God?

      Berlinski brings up that point in the book:

      We do not know why the laws of nature are true, even though we can sense that the question hides some sort of profound mystery.

      A similar discussion has long been current in philosophy and has its source in Plato’s Euthyphro. There Socrates asks whether what is good is good because the gods have declared it so, or whether the gods have declared it so because it is good.

      To the question what makes the laws of moral life true, there are three answers: God, logic, and nothing. Each is inadequate.

      If moral laws reflect the will of God, then He might presumably change his mind, and tomorrow issue a new set of commandments encouraging rape, plunder, murder, or the worship of false idols. Many devoutly religious men and women would say that this is his perfect right. He is God, after all. But if tomorrow God were to encourage rape as a very good thing, would rape become a very good thing, or would we conclude, along with Richard Dawkins, that considering his poor life choices, God is a repellent figure and to hell with Him?

      If, on the other hand, God chooses the right or the good because it is right or good, then the power of his imperative has its source in the law, and not in his will. “Thou shall not kill,” we may imagine God saying to the ancient Hebrews, “because it is wrong. I am here only to convey the message.”

      If this is so, then God must be demoted to what is plainly a constabulary role. Having no hand in creating the moral law, he is occupied in enforcing it. Logic prevails, or if not logic, then something in the laws of right and wrong that enforces their binding sense.

      This is an attractive position, one that philosophers would wish to embrace, since it preserves some sense of a moral order without compromising their consensual position that their chief business is to decline an appeal to a supernatural order. And yet it is very difficult to find a way in which to justify the view that moral principles reflect some underlying cosmic necessity. They are no more like the laws of logic or mathematics than the laws of physics. Although some moral principles do appear universal in every human society, both in Nazi Germany and in Soviet Russia, societies were constructed in which familiar moral principles were inverted or discarded. To the extent that these societies survived, before they were destroyed by war or incompetence, they seemed perfectly able to flourish, their leaders never for a moment troubled by the thought that killing a great many people involved them in some form of intellectual inconsistency.

      There remains nothing as a possibility in thought, if only by a process of elimination, and nothing is the preferred possibility in moral thought for the same reason it is the preferred possibility in physical thought: If logic is unavailing, then better nothing than God. This is just what Simon Blackburn means by refusing appeal to a supernatural order.

      Nothing in moral philosophy has a familiar face. It is the position expounded both by freshmen in philosophy classes and all the enemies of humanity. We do not believe in any absolute moral truths, my students have always told me, although truths about grading seem a remarkably curious exception. Who could fail to hear the inner voice connecting this form of moral relativism to Himmler’s? He, too, was a great believer in nothing, and nothing is just what so many scientific atheists believe as well.

      • Glenn Fairman says:

        And yet, he failed to mention the resolution of the dilemma dealt with by the Christian Fathers.

        You have to admit it. This book has stimulated much thought. And in the end, that is what they are for.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Glenn, here’s the further-stimulating text that immediately follows the above quote. It doesn’t get to the issue of any resolution by Christian fathers, but it is more:

          What else is left?

          Like so many other positions, moral relativism has been promoted from the back of the college classroom to its podium. “The West,” the philosopher Richard Rorty writes, “has cobbled together, in the course of the last two hundred years, a specifically secularist moral tradition—one that regards the free consensus of the citizens of a democratic society, rather than the Divine Will, as the source of moral imperatives.” The words the free consensus, although sonorous, come to nothing more than the declaration that just so long as there is rough agreement within society, what its leaders say goes. This was certainly true of Nazi Germany. Many details of the final solution were kept hidden, but the view that the Jews of Europe were a problem requiring solution was so widespread in German society as to have appeared a commonplace. Die Juden sind unser Unglück, as a thick-fingered German butcher might have said—The Jews are our misfortune. The decision physically to kill them all expressed very nicely “the free consensus” of Germany’s citizens. Had it not, the final solution could never have taken place. It did not reflect the consensus of citizens in Denmark, Italy, or Bulgaria, and in those countries there was no final solution, there was no mass deportation, and there were no extermination camps, and in all three cases, Nazi officials were left muttering in frustration at the fact that curiously enough these were places where people did not sufficiently appreciate the gravity of the Jewish problem.

          Curiously enough. Richard Rorty was to his great credit honest in facing the consequences of his own moral posture. He had no criticism to offer Nazi Germany beyond a personal sense of revulsion.

          If moral imperatives are not commanded by God’s will, and if they are not in some sense absolute, then what ought to be is a matter simply of what men and women decide should be. There is no other source of judgment.

          What is this if not another way of saying that if God does not exist, everything is permitted?

          • Timothy Lane says:

            I read a few years back that college liberals were dismayed to learn that their students refused to condemn the Holocaust — after all, maybe the Nazis had a reason for their actions (and, if you read Julius Streicher’s comments to Dr. Gilbert in Nuremberg Diary, they did have reasons, however demented). Similarly, they wouldn’t condemn the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War — hey, they were the rebels against the Man, weren’t they?

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              The Jews just can’t seem to catch a break, coming or going. Jesus. (No pun intended…I think.)

              • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

                I believe that some people resent the Jews for simply having the temerity to survive, as a people, for about 6,000 years.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          And yet, he failed to mention the resolution of the dilemma dealt with by the Christian Fathers.

          I would think the solution to that dilemma is that if God is good, his laws will be good. Goodness isn’t above god or outside of God but, like his existence, is not subject to infinite regression.

          This idealization is not one I’m particularly inclined to, for in order for God to be a real being and not an idealization or mere abstraction, I would assume he could be naughty or petulant if he wanted to be. What else could one call the story of The Flood if it is true?

          • Glenn Fairman says:

            What you call petulance another might call care. If you grew a vine that despite all of your care produced only the sourest vinegary grapes, do you continue on in nurturing it in perpetuity, or do you pull it out by the root so that it will no longer propagate?

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              Well, I don’t believe the Flood literally took place. But had I the power of God, I would insert some good genes into the grapes rather than destroying them. A little gene therapy.

              And if I did grow grapes and they came out bad, isn’t the definition of insanity doing the same thing and expecting different results? God drowned his Creation (all but a few) like rats and then drops the same seed into the ground (and more or less getting the same results).

              I don’t think that’s the way it works. That said, my older brother grows wine-quality grapes. I’ll ask him!

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        If moral laws reflect the will of God, then He might presumably change his mind

        I have never understood this argument. If God is God, he is perfect thus why would he need or wish to change his mind?

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      However, there is a 3rd way. Goodness is the way it is because God is Himself Good. The emanation of the universe’s moral and physical structure is intrinsically tied to the warp and weft of his essential being. Nature is orderly and organically integrated because God is ordered and wholly self-sufficient, lacking nothing.

      I think the characterization of God as male is wholly correct…or at least understandable. As I’ve said, given the often difficult nature of this world, the idea of a completely benevolent and Good god are ideas that I don’t think capture the essence of a Creator-cause. And in the word, “Creator,” we perhaps capture a better understanding. God is just Tim Allen with cooler tools! And, indeed, He (it’s a guy thing, ladies) is a Creator genius. He loves to make stuff. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be splinters and smashed thumbs.

      I can’t relate much to the idealized god who is always perfect, noble, good, etc., etc., etc. This puts him into such an idealized box that he can’t be anything. But if anyone knows the first thing about true creativity, it’s not something that has to be one way or another. It is an inspiration, a work of art, a choice among choices.

      And God chose to make a universe that could be a tremendous bitch at times to live in. Why? We don’t know. But there is the idea of being a creative type (a Creator) which inherently means a sort of creative destruction. I can respect and believe in God as more of the Creative genius than god the ultimate goody-two-shoes who is said will always and ever do what is perfectly good and true because there is no other way for him to be. I think as soon as you’ve said that, you’ve just turned god from a person into an algorithm.

      • Glenn Fairman says:

        Disobedience and the Fall have allowed things to be thrown askew. But redemption is in the works. That’s the message of the Bible. In His perfection, he saw past our actions and made allowance at the Cross for it….before the foundations of the world were laid. He knew that he could not create a creature that would be free and at the same time always choose the good. And since freedom is expressed in love and creativity, he thought the entire panorama of human history…..horrible warts and all, was worth the creation of free beings he could love as children. God did not create evil, but he allowed it to occur for the sake of a greater good. And that is the crux of freedom rightly understood. We shall see the beautiful fruit of it one day soon.

      • Glenn Fairman says:

        In truth, God contains the idealization of both sexes. In Him are power and Creation, sacrificial love and judgment. God certainly does not wear a cosmic jock strap. He is Father, Son, and Spirit, but I don’t believe we can come close to understanding His appearance. We can, however, comprehend Him in the person of Jesus Christ: who hung out with the wretched of the earth, fed a multitude, healed the afflicted, prayed for the weaknesses of His friends, forgave His enemies, and took a bum rap for the undeserving myriad who number as the sands of the earth. Such is a greater love than any terrestrial father or mother could ever muster.
        If we are to understand his nature as Male, it is a masculinity far beyond our powers of discerning.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          It is interesting that male and female are distinct characters.

          Dennis Prager has an article on why God is known as “He” and not “it” or “Her”:

          Father’s Day provides a fine opportunity to talk about our Father in Heaven. Why do Judeo-Christian religions insist on God being a father and not a mother? Is it still important to use masculine images and vocabulary to describe God? Or is that all a vestige of sexist religion?

          That is the charge of “progressives” within Christianity and Judaism. Because men and women are equal, their argument goes, describing God, the highest being, in male terms is pure sexism. It simply discriminates against women and places men in a superior position. These arguments have great appeal in an age that confuses equality with sameness. So it is worth briefly sketching some of the arguments for preserving male depictions of God.

          To begin with, let us make it clear that nowhere in biblical thought is God a man in the sense of being a larger-than-life male with testes. The Bible that introduced this God to humanity depicts God as sexually neuter. In fact, the God of the Bible is the first god in history entirely devoid of sexual characteristics or sexual behavior. But the neuter pronoun, “it,” cannot be used to describe the intensely personal God of the Bible. Here then are some of the reasons God was, and must continue to be, depicted in male rather than in female, or in male and female, terms.

          First, God is the source of moral rules. As the feminist thinker Carole Gilligan argued years ago, men think more in terms of rules, and women think more in terms of feelings/compassion/ intuition. There is a great human need for both. But, first and foremost, the Judeo-Christian God is a moral ruler (giver of moral rules and moral judge of humanity), and neither men nor women want to be given rules or ruled by a woman. For both men and women, the masculine image carries an authority that the feminine one does not. Almost any mother can testify to the declining moral authority she has over her children as they get older and how much more authority a male has.

          Second, every civilization must check and then channel the male propensity to violence. Men must be taught to embrace the values of compassion and love. By portraying the masculine God as loving and compassionate, love and compassion become masculine traits. Had these traits been identified with a female deity, men would not regard them as masculine.

          Third, God must be completely desexualized. That can more easily be done to a male figure than a female one. For example, Christian depictions of Mary always refer to her as the Virgin Mary — not only to stress the miraculous birth of Jesus but to desexualize her. Because we would hardly call a female god “the Virgin God,” it would be almost impossible to desexualize a female god in the human consciousness. That is why goddess-based religions were also drenched in sacred sex.

          Fourth, humans need to feel that God is their protector. Men instinctively want to protect women, not be protected by them. And women do not regard females as protectors.

          Fifth, it is far more palatable for women to bow down to a male God than for men to bow down to a female god. Healthy men devote great psychic efforts to escape the female authority that accompanies their childhoods. Any image of God has to work for both sexes, and only a male image does that.

          • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

            That was excellent. We forget or, more often, don’t know the reasons why we have certain traditions and mores. It is good to reminded.

  14. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I finished “The Devil’s Delusion” last night, so here’s the final installment of my assessment/review:

    Yes, the Kindle reader continues to be a steaming pile of excrement. It locks up occasionally and I have to restart the entire device. I’m still trying to find a way to remove the DRM stuff so that I can open purchased books in my preferred reader, Moon+ Reader. If I find a way to do so, I will do a tutorial in the tech section.

    How can I not like this guy? He lists Richard Feynman as among the very elite thinkers of our age along with Einstein, Bohr, Newton, Godel, Heisenberg, Maxwell, and Schrodinger. Feynman had the science-based mind without the obnoxious religious fundamentalism of Dawkins, Dennett, Weinberg, Harris, or Hitchens. I can harbor no ill will for someone who doesn’t believe in god simply because he’s not wired that way. Feynman was a good example of a man whose epistemology was direct-evidence-based. He found enough material there to work with to satisfy him.

    Berlinski makes a remark that sets him above the cranky, fundamentalist, radical materialist scientists of our age. It’s shows an awareness for reality and human nature without necessary praising or condemning:

    A religious instinct is universal: It arises in every human being—hence the popular observation that there are no atheists in foxholes. But whether an instinct is allowed to progress toward frank affirmation, or whether it is denied and then discarded—these are not issues that answer to any obvious claims of argument.

    Berlinski has an interesting section about the Left’s attempt to knock man off his pedestal:

    It is for this reason—no science, little evidence—that the kinship between human beings and the apes has been promoted in contemporary culture as a moral virtue as well as a zoological fact. It functions as a hedge against religious belief, and so it is eagerly advanced. The affirmation that human beings are fundamentally unlike the apes is widely considered a defect of prejudice or a celebration of trivialities. “Chimps and gorillas have long been the battleground of our search of uniqueness,” Stephen Jay Gould remarked, “for if we could establish an unambiguous distinction—of kind rather than degree—between ourselves and our closest relatives, we might gain the justification long sought for our cosmic arrogance.”

    Berlinski engages in some wonderful philosophy on this subject which I’ll leave for the reader of the book to discover.

    Surprisingly, Berlinski not only is a critic of Darwinism, he seems to dismiss it outright. And he has no time for the other branches of the theory including evolutionary psychology:

    The most unwelcome conclusion of evolutionary psychology is also the most obvious: If evolutionary psychology is true, some form of genetic determinism must be true as well. Genetic determinism is simply the thesis that the human mind is the expression of its human genes. No slippage is rationally possible . . . When Steven Pinker writes that “nature does not dictate what we should accept or how we should live our lives,” he is expressing a belief—one obviously true—entirely at odds with his professional commitments. If ordinary men and women are, like Pinker himself, perfectly free to tell their genes “to go jump in the lake,” why pay the slightest attention to evolutionary psychology? Why pay the slightest attention to Pinker?

    This section of the book is more of a battering polemic. But he does make some subtle points. He does, as in the above excerpt, point out the fact that these radical materialist atheists do not believe their own press clippings. The theory of Darwinism is heavily deterministic but, of course, that does not apply to them, for they are all independent and free thinkers. Yadda yadda yadda. Conceit piled upon conceit (if not, as Berlinski typically points out, baloney piled upon baloney).

    What I’ve gauged from this book is how much of science is often little more than a wall of public relations. It is difficult for the layman to understand these subjects thus making it relatively easy for a “narrative” to be forwarded and to make it stick. But it will be some comfort to know that even many of the experts know little about the theory. As Berlinksi points out, it has become little more than a working faith, the central tenet being that “slow, gradual change” can account for all of life’s complexities. And scientists will, no matter the results of their experiments (shades of global warming), announce that Darwinism, of course, has been proven once again — even if the results of their experiments suggest the exact opposite.

    So Darwinism has proven to be a corrupting influence in science because it represents a world view that a certain type of person or personality wants to be true. There is little objectivity toward the subject. Religious bigotry abounds. If you don’t believe every word out of their evolutionary mouths, you are belittled as a religious kook.

    Linguistic tricks that do an end-run around thinking are typical of the Left. One of these linguistic tricks is to declare that “we are the product of our genes.” This is absolute nonsense, according to Berlinski, who states:

    If the concept of a gene is given any content at all—not a certainty by any means—it is entirely with the context of molecular biology and biochemistry. The gene is a chemical, a part of the molecule deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA. Its function is straightforward: It specifies the proteins needed by a living organism, and it species them by means of a remarkably complicated system of translation and transcription. To speak clearly of the genetic endowment of an organism is to speak only of the passage from one chemical structure to another—that and nothing more.

    But to speak of the genetic endowment of an organism in terms that answer any interesting question about the organism is to go quite beyond the coordination of chemicals. It is to speak of what an organism does, how it reacts, what plans it makes, and how it executes them; it is to assign to a biological creature precisely the properties always assigned to such creatures: intention, desire, volition, need, passion, curiosity, despair, boredom, and rage.

    These are not properties of a living system that can be easily seen as the consequences of any chemical reaction. It would be like suggesting that a tendency toward kleptomania follows the dissociation of water into hydrogen and oxygen. This may well be so. Research is required. But if it is so, it represents a connection that we do not understand and cannot grasp. The gap is too great. When Richard Dawkins observes that genes “created us, body and mind” (emphasis added), he is appealing essentially to a magical connection. There is nothing in any precise concept of the gene that allows a set of biochemicals to create anything at all. If no precise concept of the gene is at issue, the idea that we are created by our genes, body and mind, represents a far less plausible thesis than the correlative doctrine that we are created by our Maker, body and mind.

    That’s an excellent point. The gene-centric view is fatally flawed. If you’d like to read more on this subject, I’d suggest Frank Vertosick’s The Genius Within which posits that the driving force of life is intelligence via neural networks.

    Whatever the case may be, there is more than one way of looking at life. And what can easily happen is that we can become trapped in a paradigm if for no other reason than mere conceit, or fear of looking stupid should you question established theory. And our paradigms can tend to blind us. One of the positive views of Verstosick’s book, for example, concludes with this revealing comment:

    Although “networking” is arguably a characteristic of all living systems, it seems somewhat disingenuous to define intelligence as the ability to solve problems regardless of the time frame involved. Given enough time and numbers, “dumb luck” will achieve results that appear intelligent, and so will tempt teleological interpretations. Mainstream evolutionists have long had to contend with our compulsion to put a “forger” between the hammers of chance and the anvil of necessity. Like them, I suspect the author’s hypothesis, however plausible, is just another in a series of attempts to inject Vitalism into biology, “networks” here replacing the less than scientific musings of an earlier age.

    Notice that is has not in the least been proven that “dumb luck” can create the information in DNA. But it’s an operating paradigm which ranges far beyond the merely scientific and becomes a social and psychological world view. It is, in large respects, the foundation of secularism and the atheistic world view. And like fish in a fishbowl, people who have grown up on this world view fail to notice it as anything specific or arbitrary at all. That is the danger of this radical materialist worldview, at least to science and public policy making. It blinds us to the larger elements of life, including the moral elements. We become but deterministic creatures without free will. Much like libertarianism, it becomes a system of thought the unnecessarily constrains us and makes us stupid.

    And inherently there is a type of “vitalism” that is a part of life. As Meyer notes in “Signature in the Cell,” life cannot be understood simply as a machine running according to the laws of physics. That is because the very machine itself runs according to the information in DNA which itself is not a law of physics but a higher domain altogether. Life is not simply the playing out of chemical reactions and cannot be understood in that context, even if the machinery itself runs via chemical reactions and the laws of physics. Imagine relating to one’s son or daughter as “bags of chemicals.” Intuitively we understand that such an explanation is inadequate to understanding them. And there is nothing “spooky” or “superstitious” about this intuition. Again, radical materialism tends to make people stupid.

    I can’t remember if it was in Vertosick’s book (I think it was), but he puts forward the idea that there is an impetus that life has (we see it in the machinery of the cell…this is hardly a dumb salt crystal) that is not explained by static genes. Why should anyone think that all of life serves genes? Why couldn’t it be the other way around (as I believe it is) that the genes work simply as a storehouse of information at the service of other forces, realities, and motivations? It’s a library, and an important one, but there is no reason to believe that everything else is a function of serving the library. If life can be understood as anything it is as “a motive force.” This need not be seen as some magic hidden ingredient of “vitalism” but the common-sense view that things can indeed be more than the sum of their parts.

    Darwinists, on the other hand, see the only real truth in reductionism. It’s a philosophical view that undercuts the idea of philosophy (and reasoning) itself, for to try to evaluate life in some larger context is automatically dismissed as “an illegitimate religious inclination.” To the Darwinists, the only things that are real are the basic laws of nature, including those of chemistry. It is a dis-enchanted mindset that tries to justify its specific, limited, and arbitrary world view via “science.” The real fuel, however, is antipathy to religion and to, actually, any sort of philosophical thought that ranges beyond radical materialism and the world view that nothing means nothing and that the supposed real truth of the universe is that it is completely pointless.

    Berlinski does an excellent job in this book showing how the blind are leading the blind and that this whole Darwinian pursuit could indeed be leading down a blind alley. Time will tell.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I have a few observations here. For one thing, the black-or-white Darwinist take on evolution is something I’ve noticed from comments in FOSFAX. Because of my own mild skepticism about certain aspects of the Darwinian orthodoxy, some dedicated (and liberal) Darwinists have seemed to consider me a creationist. They can let themselves recognize nothing between the two extremes.

      The key difference between humans and “lower animals” is either tool-making (though there is some of that elsewhere in the animal kingdom) or (much more likely) language. Certainly other primates have a degree of language, in that they can refer to different things of important (threats, food). But they all seem to lack a capacity for abstractions, for past and future tenses (and thus long-term planning), probably even grammar. We can’t be sure about the cetaceans because we can’t translate their calls, but circumstances prevent them from being able to fashion tools. Humans have the minds to do both, and do them well.

      Finally, I will note that Dawkins once tried to use a program randomly changing a string of letters to come up with a message to analogize to how genes might work. It was quite good, if you forget to notice that he had a specific final result he was seeking, and tested each string for how well it matched. He didn’t explain how that compares with the reality of genetic mutation. I have no idea if the lapse resulted from stupidity or dishonesty, but I would suspect the latter.

      • Glenn Fairman says:

        I’m sure the irony that it was mind and intelligence manipulating this random program (also the by product of intelligence) was lost on the poor boy.

        Years back, a noted materialist/naturalist explaining evolution to an audience used a poster showing the evolution of the Corvette from the 50s to what was then contemporary time. The exhibit elicited chuckles from the crowd and only later did he realize the dimensions of his folly. The incident has acquired a name which I cannot now recall. But the unconscious assumptions of Darwinism are a teetering foundation that are of themselves never questioned— for they have themselves become articles of faith. The Corvettes did not assemble themselves in a primordial soup, nor does the immense undirected energy of a tornado assemble a 747. A pocketwatch found on the shoreline is assumed to have been the work of a craftsman and to hold that time and chance led to its formation would get you locked up in cloud cuckoo land.
        However, whenever organic living things are considered, evolution and its attending natural selection are the default explanation, even though the sheer complexity of a sentient replicating life form as simple as an amoeba is orders of magnitude more complex that that jet. And if you doubt this, consider the quantity of aircraft that have been fabricated and compare that to the dearth of life forms that have been birthed in highly controlled laboratories by brilliant scientists…..ex nihilo.

        To hang onto the supposition that life spontaneously generates in molten pools without rhyme or reason from rock and water indeed calls into question the judgment that the quality and quantity of faith, where scientists are concerned, is inferior to that of the Saints. Indeed, such hope is greater than an entire field of mustard seeds.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          I’ve noticed that Dawkins seems to have no idea what ID really is. I wonder if he’s ever heard of Luther Burbank.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Darwinists tend to be bipolar jerks. There’s no use mincing words. And that is what is refreshing about Berlinki’s book. He calls a spade a spade.

        Granted, who really knows how life got started? Who knows how DNA came to include the information that it does? Who knows if aspects of natural selection don’t explain at least some of the micro changes that occur in life forms?

        But it’s clear by now that this isn’t typically science being argued by advocates of Darwinism. It’s religion. And as Dennis Prager might say, that would be fine as well except that these people don’t have the integrity to admit that they are arguing from a religious point of view. They are cheating in this whole argument, because I know of few religious people who try to hide their metaphysical presuppositions.

        Such presuppositions are said to “taint” their thinking. But for me, the greatest taint are these fools and liars on the Darwinist side who will not admit that they are beholden to a certain specific world view that is more tied to social and psychological needs and preferences rather than to scientific data and firm metaphysical/philosophical reasoning.

  15. Glenn Fairman says:

    Articles of faith are what we wrestle with when confronting the neo-Darwinian pseudo-science. In truth, it cannot rise to the level of theory, it is perhaps only useful as a working hypothesis. The conceit that animates it is both philosophical and psychological for if Darwinism falls, the implications are stark : if men are created entities, then perhaps we owe an obligation to this Creator. Thus, ID cannot stand and cannot be allowed to get a foot in the door. The ostrich analogy seems apt, and radical Scientism and its fellow Naturalists seem bound and determined to ride this punctured paradigm down to Davy Jones’ locker.

    And yes, hubris has always been the factor here. The dead carcass of Galileo has been trotted out, ad nauseum, whenever the Priests of Naturalism wish to discuss Metaphysical irrationality; but the poor dears are impervious to the irony that they themselves are on the receiving end of the blow. They are sitting on the laps of those cloistered half-wits impeding progress and their clerisy is in the cross hairs of a more honest approach to Science. One hears the roar of paradigms falling. It will not be all at once, but the true spirit of Science has great patience and its wheels grind exceedingly fine.

    Somehow, the Determinists: whether they be economic, biological, psychological, historical, or political, are themselves unexplainably the most fortunate and favored children of blind Mother Nature. Only they can see the forest from the trees. They alone manage to escape the compelling zeitgeist of the age and can outrun their wretched plebian fates. This opportune blessing allows them to see farther and to look down their noses at the great unwashed. Only they are brilliant enough to wrangle freedom from the stodgy restraints of error. The White City is theirs for the taking, if only they can first ram their dogma into the vampire’s heart — A cross is of no avail. A moral lesson in the folly of hubris and the viciousness of inordinate pride in dulling the intellect is long overdue these thug-acolytes of a mute, stupid and freezing cosmos.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      And yes, hubris has always been the factor here. The dead carcass of Galileo has been trotted out, ad nauseum, whenever the Priests of Naturalism wish to discuss Metaphysical irrationality; but the poor dears are impervious to the irony that they themselves are on the receiving end of the blow.

      Which reminds me, one of the poorer chapters was that on Galileo. Has anyone read Ann Coulter’s chapters on that? I believe she writes about this in one of her books. But, yes, old Galileo gets trotted out every time the scientific Left wishes to paint itself as a victim. And when they do, I will simply trot out old Mr. Kung who reminds us that pure grievance is often a very motivating force in human affairs.

      Somehow, the Determinists: whether they be economic, biological, psychological, historical, or political, are themselves unexplainably the most fortunate and favored children of blind Mother Nature. Only they can see the forest from the trees.

      It’s not popular these days (perhaps relating to Leigh’s recent article), but epistemological and heuristic humility is what is often lacking — inside or outside of science. Much of this is driven by what you infer, that there are a whole lot of people who want to sit at at the top of the pyramid and believe of themselves that they are the most Enlightened, Intelligent, and Compassionate people — and, dog gone it, people just like them (as Stewart Smiley would say).

      The first rule of good science is that you can’t give a squat what people think of you. I think it was Berlinksi (in the book or one of his videos that Glenn has shared) who noted how some people cannot do this. And I would say it’s obvious by now that a scientific clique has developed of in-bred ideologues who have mixed up their secular-materialist religion into their science. And this is an odd thing to happen, for these are the same people who insist that science can advance only if religion is kept in the margins, if not conquered altogether.

      Certainly one thing I learned from the book, “How the West Won,” is that “The Enlightenment” is a big lie. In fact, it is nothing more than another public relations narrative forwarded by the atheistic-bred scientific community — shades of both Darwinism and global warming. There was no big leap past religion that finally unleashed man’s unbound creativity. There was no such occurrence. Ironically (in the face of pervasive Darwinism), science is the product of a truly gradual process. And much of that “unbound creativity” was let loose by a religious impulse.

      Even so, honesty requires that we admit that some of these theories or sub-theories, or specific areas of research, may be true, may be promising, or may already have proven themselves sufficiently. Berlinski certainly sprinkles throughout the book credit where credit is due. The point being, truth, not advancing an ideology, is the point of science (an idea, by the way, whose opposite is specifically taught — as Berlinski notes — that there is supposedly no truth, which itself is a truth proposition. . . . you did hear me say that radical materialism makes people stupid).

      It could be that aspects of natural selection (with or without mutations as a driving force) occur in the micro world. And, who knows, perhaps it works in the macro world to some extent to. I think it’s fair to say that we just don’t know yet. And unlike the fundamentalist kooks such as Richard Dawkins, it shouldn’t be heresy to explore the various options.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Those who trot out Galileo are no doubt unaware (though it must be said that they’d never admit if they do know) that he considered himself a good Catholic (his argument was that his astronomy was not heretical, not that such concerns were irrelevant) whose daughter was a nun (and supported his work).

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          Ah yes, there are many such people whose ignorance is only exceeded by their arrogance. A dangerous combination which our public schools have done their best to foster.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            Well, of course they have. After all, that describes an awful lot of teachers today, so naturally they try to create their students in their own image.

  16. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    By the way, even if you’ve seen that other video or read the book, in this interview with Peter Robinson (which I just finished, and that Glenn had suggested), Berlinski makes some exceptional points. Some of these points are better summations of what he has attempted to say in the book. A few others are completely new points.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *