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A delusional devil
on 24 August 2008
The author of "The Devil's Delusion", David Berlinski, is a secular Jew and agnostic who co-operates with conservative Christians. Indeed, he is a member of the Discovery Institute, the Intelligent Design (or creationist) think tank in Seattle. Berlinski's book comes with positive blurbs written by Michael Behe and William Buckley. Inside the book, the author thanks Ann Coulter (!) for inspiration.
One wonders why a secular Jew who apparently doesn't believe in God, would ally himself with what many people would consider Christian fundamentalists. Perhaps Berlinski is a "Straussian" cynic who believes that religion, although probably false, is nevertheless necessary. Otherwise the common people might get into their heads that anything goes, and moral breakdown (or revolution?) follows. Berlinski certainly suggests this at one point in the book, where he says that brute force is necessary to tame the evil impulses in man, but since brute force cannot reach everyone everywhere, people need to control themselves with a bit of divine morality. Why the author himself doesn't need to be restrained in this way, we are never told.
I admit that I didn't like this book. It's confused, delusional and quite simply bad. What struck me most, were the constant contradictions. Berlinski seems to have an extreme anti-realist attitude towards scientific theories...except sometimes. When it suits his purposes, he switches to a de facto realist position. Thus, he treats the Big Bang theory as proven, beyond reproach and quite true. Why? Because it suggests that the universe had a beginning, and therefore... (Clue: God may have done it after all.) He also loves the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics, which is perhaps understandable from an anti-realist standpoint, but Berlinski seems to love it for very different reasons. Since the Copenhagen interpretation is ontologically weird, the Trinity and Incarnation might be true as well!
In one chapter, Berlinski points out that there is a qualitative difference between humans and animals. But if there is, why does he want the state to treat people as irrational cattle? His friend Buckley, notoriously, wanted a totalitarian bureaucracy to win the Cold War!
Berlinski has crucified his reason, and in return gotten what amounts to a bizarre mixture of anti-realism, al-Ghazali and Intelligent Design creationism. Sounds like a bad trade-off! And what's all this stuff about being an agnostic? Frankly, the guy would be more honest if he simply converted, say to Conservative Judaism.
The best diagnosis I can offer of this strange author is that he is a very consistent methodological agnostic. If scientific theories are strongly anti-realist, if the universe is irrational and incomprehensible, then there is nothing left for us to do, except to survive, and keep law and order in the meantime. Hence the need for pretending that God exists.
If, on the other hand, realism is true, and if our brains can formulate even a "theory of everything", we are at bottom rational creatures, and might one day really start to understand both the universe and ourselves...
But according to Berlinski, we are all doomed to remain delusional devils.