An annoying interview with David Berlinski

I don’t often strive to be snarky, but I can’t resist saying this: if you look up “pomposity” in the dictionary, you’ll find it illustrated with a picture of David Berlinski. Trained in philosophy, biology, and mathematics, Berlinski has debased his formidable mind and uncommon eloquence by putting them into the service of creationism. For Berlinski is a Senior Fellow of the creationist Discovery Institute, which is touting this 41-minute interview by Peter Robinson (sponsored by the conservative Hoover Institution) as some kind of intellectual tour de force.

Discovery Institute flack David Klinghoffer jumped the shark by asserting that “it would be hard to think of a living person more interesting than our Discovery Institute colleague David Berlinski.” That merely shows the limitation of Klinghoffer’s imagination—or perhaps the narrow scope of his knowledge.

But this interview isn’t a tour de force. It is a rehash, in fancy language, of all the talking points of intelligent design as well as the usual atheist-bashing tropes. Here you’ll find questioning of evolution because we don’t know how life began, the supposed problem of “irreducible complexity,” the claim that the episodic and jerky fossil record somehow disproves evolutionary theory, and the Stephen Meyer-ian argument that the Cambrian explosion disproves evolution.  The last contention—as well as Berlinski’s assertion that “human powers and capacities” are so unique, and so “one-off,” that they must be explained by something other than natural selection—puzzles me, for the usual alternative explanation is God. Yet Berlinski says he’s a nonbeliever—a “secular Jew” like me. I read his 2008 book The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions, and found it infuriatingly assertive yet shallow.

One wonders why, if he’s a “secular Jew” yet doesn’t like atheism, what on Earth made Berlinski, the son of Jews, into a secular Jew.  When I give talks that connect religion with creationism (a no-brainer except to rarified theologians), I often say that I know of only one evolution denialist who isn’t religious: David Berlinski.  You can see Berlinski discuss atheism and his own agnosticism in the last five minutes of this interview.

Berlinski won’t assume the mantle of “atheist,” for he dislikes atheism, but his whole schtick is to cast doubt on everything (even intelligent design) while not proposing any theories of his own. Thus he says he’s an “agnostic”: the coward’s way out of the question of faith. (Is Berlinski an agnostic about leprechauns as well?) This modus operandus gives him a leg up on almost everybody, for he gets to pick holes in arguments—in the case of evolution, nonexistent holes—without floating any positive assertions about why life is here and why it’s like it is.  Combine that with a William Buckley-an tendency to pontificate, snoot in the air, using fancy phrases and intellectual language, and you get a guy who’s managed to bamboozle a lot of people without making a positive contribution to intellectual discourse.

I was told that this wasn’t always the case. Before he jumped the rails, Berlinski wrote at least four books on science and math, including A Tour of the Calculus, which many regard highly (I haven’t read it). What a comedown that he’s spending his dotage throwing mud on one of the best-established theories in science. As H. L. Mencken wrote in his brilliant obituary of William Jennings Bryan, “He came into life a hero, a Galahad, in bright and shining armor. He was passing out a poor mountebank.”

83 Comments

  1. Randall Schenck
    Posted July 21, 2019 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    If this guy is an agnostic I must be SDA. I cannot listen to that for long, could not get through the fossil record even. The panderer interviewing him was mostly sickening. I might even say, if this guy is not religious I suppose I would believe Trump is not racist.

  2. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 21, 2019 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    A sesquipedalian vocabulary, shallow erudition, and a contrarian nature’ll take a fella only so far.

    Hell, I oughta know. 🙂

    • Saul Sorrell-Till
      Posted July 21, 2019 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

      His vocabulary is decidedly quotidian, agreed. Another pellucid observation there Kenneth. Most perspicuous.
      Like you, I have no time – simply no time I say – for pretentious types.

      • Pelmon
        Posted July 21, 2019 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

        You keep using that word quotidian. I do not think it means what you think it means.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted July 21, 2019 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

          Seems a reasonable use to me. It started life meaning “daily,” evolved into a synonym for “commonplace.” Or at least that’s how I’ve always used it (not that I’ve ever used it all that much).

          • Pelmon
            Posted July 21, 2019 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

            He was agreeing with you that Berlinski’s vocabulary was ordinary, daily, and mundane? Okay then.

        • Saul Sorrell-Till
          Posted July 22, 2019 at 8:21 am | Permalink

          I was dismissing Berlinski’s vocab as drearily workaday, which is what someone who is even more snidely pompous than Berlinski himself would do. I was playing a character who was even more pretentious than Berlinski, for humorous effect.

          As you can see, the more I explain this the funnier it gets.

          • Michael Fisher
            Posted July 22, 2019 at 8:33 am | Permalink

            I got it! 🙂

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted July 22, 2019 at 9:09 am | Permalink

            Dissection’s never any fun — especially for the frog.

  3. Posted July 21, 2019 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    There must be some sort of law. Whenever I see a place described as a “think tank”, there is usually more ideology than thinking going on there.

    • Posted July 21, 2019 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

      Sorry, I forgot context. In the Wikipedia article on Berlinski, the Discovery Institute is described as a think tank.

      • Steve Pollard
        Posted July 21, 2019 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

        Wank tank more like.

    • Jim Swetnam
      Posted July 21, 2019 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

      Pelmon, You’re opinion of “think tanks” is spot on, I think. There seems to be an uneven plethora of right leaning think tanks in proportion to left leaning. They seemed to have come into fashion among the deep movers and shakers, the intellectual elite, of the Republican party during the Reagan years. This was to provide an alternative intellectual scaffolding for Reagan Republicanism, in opposition to academia, which was becoming increasingly critical of the GOP agenda. Privatizing the free exchange of ideas, if you will. Think tanks live on grants and good will.

      So do universities for that matter. The difference, however, between academia and think tanks is of a transcendent order of magnitude. Universities are founded and funded by common consent, for the common good. I, as an atheist, hold universities as sacred, and their centuries old traditions and standards still have great value today. Now that’s a conservative position!

      I’ve wandered far astray from the original post, but to sum up, when I see a think tank on a person’s resume I always google them. As for Berlinski, it is unfathomable that an atheist of his intellect and education would consent to be associated with the Discovery Institute. One hypothesis is that he’s just contrarian. Another might be that he’s playing a long con the Discovery Institute. I have no data for either hypothesis.

  4. Posted July 21, 2019 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Sadly, pomposity and intellectual dishonesty will secure Berlinski a fat pension for life.

  5. A C Harper
    Posted July 21, 2019 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Just as the Flying Spaghetti Monster is used to debunk special status for religion perhaps we ought to argue for the Fairy Design Monster.

    If you want to debunk evolution, and want to avoid invoking god, then you need some magical agent to bridge the gap between what you can see and your ignorance about explaining it.

    Who could possibly deny the effect of magical pink glitter?

  6. jgkess@cfl.rr.com
    Posted July 21, 2019 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    In 1996, Berlinski had a longish anti-Darwinian piece in,”Commentary”, magazine. To my amazement, a huge number of prominent biologists and philosophers responded with indignant,”Letters to the Editors”—just as Berlinski could have wished. Naturally, “Commentary”, provided him with ample space to “rebut” these letters, and a more arrogant concoction of maliciousness and disingenuousness one cannot imagine.

    • Posted July 23, 2019 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

      Unfortunately this is a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation, I guess.

  7. Ken Pidcock
    Posted July 21, 2019 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    Thus he says he’s an “agnostic”: the coward’s way out of the question of faith.

    Bertrand Russell:

    As a philosopher, if I were speaking to a purely philosophic audience I should say that I ought to describe myself as an Agnostic, because I do not think that there is a conclusive argument by which one can prove that there is not a God. On the other hand, if I am to convey the right impression to the ordinary man in the street I think I ought to say that I am an Atheist, because when I say that I cannot prove that there is not a God, I ought to add equally that I cannot prove that there are not the Homeric gods.

    I’ll concede that Berlinski knows better what the ordinary man in the street wants to hear.

  8. Steve Pollard
    Posted July 21, 2019 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    This man knows not of what he speaks. He needs to be ignored. Failing that, he just needs to be laughed at.

  9. Saul Sorrell-Till
    Posted July 21, 2019 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    I don’t really see how, technically speaking, you can be an agnostic. Either you believe in a god or you don’t. If you ‘don’t know’ whether you do, then I’d argue that that means you don’t believe.
    Unless you say definitively ‘I believe in a god’ then you’re an atheist. It’s a binary thing.

    I know there are ‘agnostic atheists’ and ‘gnostic atheists’, like there are ‘agnostic theists’ and ‘gnostic theists’, but that’s a question of the degree of certainty with which a person holds their belief/disbelief.
    To just call yourself an agnostic – not an agnostic atheist or an agnostic theist but simply an agnostic – doesn’t really make much sense in my opinion.

    And I suppose you can waver back and forth between believing and not believing(although I don’t know how many people actually do this), and you could thus say that the average of your beliefs is uncertainty, and in that sense you’re agnostic…
    …But at any one point in time I don’t see how you can avoid either believing in god or not believing in him. There is no in-between state.

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted July 21, 2019 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

      The other interpretation of ‘agnostic’ is that one cannot know either way. That’s just a cop out: it involves sticking fingers in ears and wilfully ignoring the evidence there may be for either hypothesis.

      I agree that most soi-disant agnostics would really be atheists if they stopped to think about it. But they don’t. I guess they don’t because it is really hard for many people to contemplate their own eventual annihilation. Much more comforting to leave open a little gap into which to insert the possibility of their personal immortality.

      • Pelmon
        Posted July 21, 2019 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

        I don’t know if there is life on other planets, or if Shakespeare gave his wife hickies. “I don’t know” is not a cop-out, it is an under-used phrase.

        • Saul Sorrell-Till
          Posted July 22, 2019 at 8:36 am | Permalink

          That’s simply a question of the level of certainty with which you hold a belief. As I said, you can be an agnostic atheist and an agnostic theist.
          Most atheists are agnostic atheists: they’re not certain there’s no god, but they’re still atheists.
          OTOH, most theists seem to be ‘gnostic’ theists: they are certain there is a god.

          …But that’s not relevant to my central point: I don’t see how you can both believe and not-believe that god exists.
          And if you can’t believe both those things at the same time, then you necessarily believe one or the other. Which forces you into the class of either atheist or theist.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted July 21, 2019 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

        Of course there’s an in-between state. “I don’t know.” As Pelmon says, it’s a perfectly respectable statement.

        If I said I was agnostic about cold fusion, or string theory, would you call that intellectual cowardice? I’m probably not qualified to be anything but agnostic about string theory, since I’m certainly not qualified to follow the technical arguments.

        In everyday language, ‘agnostic’ is often used as a euphemism for ‘atheist’, to avoid awkwardness. I call myself an atheist but I’d probably say ‘agnostic’ in a church, just to avoid confrontation. I can’t see anything wrong with that, any more than saying ‘passed away’ instead of ‘dead’.

        “That’s just a cop out: it involves sticking fingers in ears and wilfully ignoring the evidence there may be for either hypothesis.” Or maybe one just doesn’t give a monkey’s. As I don’t for 99% of the ‘gods’ that (n)ever existed. Is there any evidence for Huitzilipochtli, or Xenu? Don’t know, don’t care, doubt it, I’ve got more interesting things to waste my time on. 🙂

        cr

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted July 21, 2019 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

          Btw, I should emphasise this is not an endorsement of Berlinski. His claim to be agnostic is no more an invalidation of agnosticism, than tRump’s claim to be democratically elected is an invalidation of the concept of democracy.

          cr

        • Saul Sorrell-Till
          Posted July 22, 2019 at 8:39 am | Permalink

          I hope you don’t think I was calling agnosticism cowardly. My argument was a purely technical one – I honestly couldn’t give a tinker’s cuss what people label themselves.

        • Posted July 22, 2019 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

          “I don’t know” might be a perfectly respectable statement, but it indicates a lack of self-awareness.

          You don’t know whether or not you believe in something?

          That’s different from being on the fence about any of those other topics you mentioned.

          🐜

          • Saul Sorrell-Till
            Posted July 22, 2019 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

            +1

    • Michael Waterhouse
      Posted July 21, 2019 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

      Sounds very, Quantum.

      Else, I agree. You do or you don’t.

  10. Posted July 21, 2019 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    “his whole schtick is to cast doubt on everything (even intelligent design) while not proposing any theories of his own.”

    Yes, this is an irritating trait, one that I found equally annoying in the brilliant social critic, Chrisopher Lasch. Lasch was such a master at picking holes in other people’s arguments, one couldn’t help feeling that if he were to turn his intellectual powers on his own critiques he could demolish them as well.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted July 21, 2019 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

      Ever watch the evolution debate on Firing Line, Gary? When the question was put to him directly, Berlinski flat refused to endorse any position on origins, other than to denigrate evolutionary theory. His whole argument seemed based on his bogus contention that the fossil record is “vexed.”

      Sad to say, ol’ WFB argued the anti-evolution side of the debate, too. (Goes to show the depths to which right-wing, anti-Vatican II Catholicism will lead an otherwise bright fellow. 🙂 )

      • Posted July 21, 2019 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

        “Sad to say, ol’ WFB argued the anti-evolution side of the debate, too.”

        The thing about ol’ WFB was that you didn’t have to agree with him to enjoy watching him. I loved the way he would reduce an opponent’s argument to shreds and then flash that boyish, disarming smile–as if to say “But it’s all in good fun, eh?” He was one of a kind; I miss him.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted July 21, 2019 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

          Yeah, he was a hoot to watch. I started watching him as a kid with my dad, who was an old union guy (and to my left on some issues, as though that’s even possible 🙂 ), back when Firing Line was on PBS. We’d watch him on our old black & white tv, the kind with the round, brushed-aluminum antenna on the back, which was the only way you could pick up the show in those days, since PBS was broadcast on the UHV band. (sometimes the reception was so poor, we had to make my kid brother stand behind the set with a wad of aluminum foil, just so we could make out what was on the screen.)

          My dad and I both disagreed with Buckley on almost everything, but we got a kick out of watching him. Seemed like a good three or four times a show, the old man would send me running to the bookshelf to pull down the dictionary to look up one of those five-dollars words Buckley was so famous for dropping.

          But it was an hour of intellectually stimulating, commercial-free teevee, which was otherwise unheard of in those days. And Buckley would invite pretty much anyone, from anywhere on the political spectrum, on as a guest (save Gore Vidal), be it a Stokely Carmichael, or a a John Bircher, or a Noam Chomsky. I especially got a kick out of watching him spar with Norman Mailer in those days.

          Buckley always had actually read whatever his guest had written, and he was always prepared with probing questions, clipboard and pen in hand. I’ll give the devil his due on that.

          • Diane G.
            Posted July 22, 2019 at 1:54 am | Permalink

            IIRC, Pat Schroeder was on Firing Line a few times–great fun watching two such intellectual opposites deftly scoring points against each other while having such a great time doing so, judging by the wicked smiles.

            • Ken Kukec
              Posted July 22, 2019 at 6:10 am | Permalink

              Hey, I miss not having you around as much anymore, DG!

              • darrelle
                Posted July 22, 2019 at 7:16 am | Permalink

                Indeed!

              • Saul Sorrell-Till
                Posted July 22, 2019 at 8:41 am | Permalink

                Me too…

            • darrelle
              Posted July 22, 2019 at 7:16 am | Permalink

              🙂

  11. rickflick
    Posted July 21, 2019 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    I watched a few minutes of the film and he seemed to say next to nothing except that the evidence for (macro)evolution is not there. Then he says one mystery that directs his skepticism is that humans are the only animal with sophisticated skills, like speech. Why are we so isolated as the only species, he asks. But he seems absurdly unaware that there were many other hominins over millions of years of prehistory, some our ancestors, who very likely could speak in some fashion, but who have become extinct. His arrogant manner suggests to me he’s aiming his persuasive skills at an uneducated demographic who can’t tell wheat from chaff.

  12. Posted July 21, 2019 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    Oy, such snooty, dismissive pretensions that make him sound conclusive to the ignorant or to the creationist choir.
    But to any basic biologist, nothing he says is correct. For example, they go into a criticism of Dawkins example of how a kind of natural selection can arrive at the phrase ‘methinks it is a weasel’. Berlinski claims that this sentence (or a particular amino acid sequence in a protein by comparison) is not something that can be fairly found by natural selection b/c natural selection is blind to the future. It cannot see ahead over many future steps to a particular goal like a particular sentence or amino acid sequence. It all sounds very profound and ominous to the theory, but you know what? It’s total bullshit.
    1. For one thing, each incremental step (mutation + selection) can produce a slight and actionable increase in fitness in its own right. Natural selection does not work to a particular end or goal any more than feathered dinosaurs were trying to evolve to make mallard ducks. Natural selection just works toward finding some individuals who are a teeny bit more fit than others in the population, and arranging to make more of them. In this analogy, if the parents have the sequence “mxxxxxxx-xx-ix-x-wxxxxx”, and they have an offspring with “mxxxxxkx-xx-ix-x-wxxxxx”, then that is a small increase in fitness. Descendants with that new mutation can take over and we continue. He does not understand that simple thing, I guess.
    2. There really is no particular goal (!). That’s right. For every sentence that would be a highly fit sentence, or any amino acid sequence that would make a damn good enzyme, there are LOTS of other sentences and amino acid sequences that would be just a good at the same task. There is no particular target. All we ask is that natural selection find any one of them. In the end, what we see is the result.
    My undergraduate biology students in a mid-sized university are made to understand this. So that does not reflect well on Dr. Berlinski.

    • Posted July 21, 2019 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

      I agree with you, but I do think that Dawkins’s example wasn’t very good because it DID imply that there was a goal towards which evolution was directed: the “Methinks it is very like a weasel” sentence. That was a mistake, I think, because it gave creationists a big opening, and it’s not the kind of example I would have used.

    • Jon Gallant
      Posted July 21, 2019 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

      Your points apply to natural selection, but not to Dawkins’ computer game, which he presented in The Blind Watchmaker as a model of selection. His Weasel program was wholly goal-directed, in that variants were selected in each “generation” for their resemblance to the target sequence of “methinks it is like a weasel”. In short, Dawkins’ Weasel game was an inadequate model of natural selection, something he in fact conceded in the book.

      As for David Berlinski, his “Tour of the Calculus” is clever, but nothing great. I think our host sums him up sufficiently by noting his obsession with “picking holes” in any subject—it is a method that uncreative individuals use to display their cleverness.
      The Discovery Institute has given a home to this professional hole-picker—as long, of course, as he doesn’t pick at their own hobby horses, such as ID.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted July 22, 2019 at 1:27 am | Permalink

        I think Dawkins’ ‘weasel’ analogy was an illustration of how great a change could occur in a surprisingly small number of increments, if all the selection pressures were consistently pushing in the same direction.

        It would be more applicable to, for example, modern breeds of dogs (artificial selection).

        Agreed that natural selection is usually very loosely directed and diffuse in its effects, so takes a much longer time.

        cr

        • Posted July 22, 2019 at 2:13 am | Permalink

          Dawkins’ Weasel was a teaching example showing how false is the standard statement by creationist debaters when they say that evolutionary biologists are telling us that evolution of adaptations is simply random change. Dawkins compares it with random wandering among phrases, and is easily able to show how vastly different is the time taken to reach the goal.

          The standard response by creationists is to say that it is intended as a general model of evolution (false) and therefore shows that natural selection cannot do anything unless it somehow knows in advance what the goal is. This is a huge Straw Man.

          • darrelle
            Posted July 22, 2019 at 7:33 am | Permalink

            From my non-biologist perspective this seems like the same adamant incredulity expressed by opponents of Darwin’s ideas since he first published him. Darwin showed a plausible way in which complexity could arise from simpler beginnings by natural processes while in most places and times in history it was taken as gospel that complexity could only occur via intention of an intelligent agent. Berlinski is still hung up on that. Or at least pretends to be.

  13. Posted July 21, 2019 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    Intelligent Design is explained by Impossible Design?

    rz

  14. Eduardo
    Posted July 21, 2019 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    I listened to his first sentence. It didn’t make any sense. I turned it off.

  15. Posted July 21, 2019 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    It is sad when a polymath like Berlinski results in using the typical tropes promoting “intelligent design” since he finds no perfect record to fit his theories. Perhaps he should read Eldridge and Gould on Punctuated Equilibria.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted July 21, 2019 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

      Gould was a gasbag wordsmith who repeatedly tried to stuff “punc eke” into corners where it didn’t fit – he pushed too far repeatedly & he got coolered by Dawkins & others a few times on the facts as known & on definitional grounds [what constitutes sudden?].

      It’s a dollar shop idea in a fancy suit. Most of what appears to be sudden transitions in the fossil record can be explained well by catastrophe & by the movement of the biosphere back & forth across the Earth as climate [& other factors] come into play.

      “Evolution by Jerks” or “Evolution by Creeps”? I’m with the creeps such as Dawkins, Dennett & John Maynard Smith. 🙂

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted July 21, 2019 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

        I’m in no position to judge Gould’s scientific work, but the people who are that I respect seem to agree with you. He was, nonetheless, a damn fine wordsmith, especially as regards his essays, as long as one had a healthy appetite for divagations on baseball (which I do). 🙂

        • rickflick
          Posted July 21, 2019 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

          I was stuck in a high school library for an hour or two every so often and would read Gould’s essays in Natural History. I read nearly all of them and was thoroughly entertained.

          • Michael Fisher
            Posted July 21, 2019 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

            But was he entertaining at some cost to the truth?

            • rickflick
              Posted July 21, 2019 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

              I will admit, I probably accepted his authority more than was wise. I have read criticisms of some of his ideas since then and I can see that he probably was biased in some ways. I think his Marxism showed through from time to time. But, entertaining he was and I enjoyed having to check the dictionary from time to time.

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted July 21, 2019 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

          Yeah, but he’s a showy wordsmith who liked to Gould the Lily – I prefer the subtle wordsmith who isn’t overtly displaying his erudition. Dawkins is tops at using the precisely correct, measured word or expression that doesn’t stretch the layman.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted July 21, 2019 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

            Props on “Gould the Lily.”

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted July 21, 2019 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

        Creeps become jerks when you speed the recording up enough. 😉

        cr

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted July 21, 2019 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

          Exactement bowcoup Rodders!

  16. Posted July 21, 2019 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    It is sad when a polymath like Berlinski results in using the typical tropes promoting “intelligent design” since he finds no perfect record to fit his theories. Perhaps he should read Eldridge and Gould on Punctuated Equilibria.

  17. phoffman56
    Posted July 21, 2019 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    “…David Berlinski. Trained in philosophy, biology, and mathematics,..”
    There’s one BerlinskY in math genealogy, and different first name, so perhaps David’s mathematics education is not at such a high level, barring self-education of course.
    Putting “The” in front of “calculus” is one way to stick one’s math snout in the air a la Buckley.
    So my library is digging out that book for me. I interacted a wee bit with Gouvea, a top notch mathematician, way back, and his MAA review is okay. I’ll be interested to see how Berlinski’s historical/philosophical assertions there relate to my own.

  18. phoffman56
    Posted July 21, 2019 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    I took a brief listen to the attached video after the above.

    It starts with a ‘learned’ quote from the infamous Gelerntner. Tenure in CS at Yale sounds pretty good. However it seems a textbook case of tenure followed by absolutely nothing in the way of papers in any refereed publications in any discipline, including of course in CS; and a near 40 year career in which Gelerntner successfully supervised a grand total of exactly one successful PhD, about 25 years ago. I doubt Yale has much trouble attracting plenty of very good doctoral students in most of its departments.

    That interviewer should take the trouble to check the intellectual status before gushing about a Yale embarrassment in their CS department.

    • rickflick
      Posted July 21, 2019 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for checking Gelerntner. I was skeptical and now I’m glad to see he’s nobody special. As a mater of fact (correct me if I’m wrong) I don’t think there are any first rate scientists in ID.

  19. Michael Fisher
    Posted July 21, 2019 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    From RationalWiki: In his appearance in Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed he told Ben Stein that “Darwinism is not a sufficient condition for a phenomenon like Nazism but I think it’s certainly a necessary one”

    He’s a complete tool. His barber obviously doesn’t like him neither.

    • Michael Waterhouse
      Posted July 21, 2019 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

      So there were no authoritarian, dictatorial, militaristic, hierarchical, structured, ordered, societies that promoted physical prowess and regarded themselves as the ideal over all others and went marching around to conquer those others, before Darwin eh?

      Hmm, none at all?

  20. Steve Gerrard
    Posted July 21, 2019 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    A senior fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture.

    That’s really all you need to know about him. He is safely tucked away in an intellectual backwater and can be ignored.

    • phoffman56
      Posted July 21, 2019 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

      “backwater” at best; perhaps ‘cesspool’ hits the spot even better.

  21. Hrafn
    Posted July 21, 2019 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

    Berlinski has no “train[ing] in … biology”, the closest he has is a few months spent working as a research assistant at a university Biology Department (which he later inflated to being “something of a postdoctoral fellow[ship]”).

  22. Vaal
    Posted July 21, 2019 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

    I became unable to watch Berlinski hold court long ago. The bile rises to quickly in my throat.

  23. Posted July 22, 2019 at 2:25 am | Permalink

    Back about 1975 I actually attended a talk that David Berlinski gave at a small college where he briefly taught, near here. That brief job seems to have vanished — it is not in the list of prestigious universities he mentions in his biography. In those days he was not yet attacking evolution. He did a lot of sneering at “systems analysis”, which it probably deserved. He wrote a book on that too.

    In his arguments about evolution, he comes up with nothing new, just recycles standard creationist tropes elegantly and arrogantly. So when evolutionary biologists rebut creationist arguments, there is no real reason to spend extra time rebutting his arguments, as they are just repeats of the arguments of others.

  24. Hunt
    Posted July 22, 2019 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    Berlinski is a mathematician like John Derbyshire is one, i.e. he isn’t.

  25. Roo
    Posted July 22, 2019 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    I don’t fault Berlinski for picking holes in arguments – this is what happens during peer review, after all, and atheists certainly pick holes in the arguments of theists. To some extent I think looking for weaknesses in arguments, from politics to science, is healthy skepticism.

    That said, I did find it frustrating that, in this interview at least, he largely dismisses but doesn’t really give his own impressions, even if his “answer is to say there is no answer”. For example, his answer to evolution is simply “nah, not convinced”, for the most part, but he doesn’t elaborate on whether this leads him to believe in intelligent design; if he’s still waiting for another, different scientific discovery other than evolution to explain the complexity of life; if he thinks this is largely unknowable, etc. Or if he doesn’t know at all, maybe just a moment of reflection on how it feels to be surrounded with complex life with no theories at all about how it got here, which I imagine would be quite an experience in and of itself, if that is genuinely his perception of the world.

  26. Posted August 13, 2019 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    What is frustrating about the responses here is that most are (or tend towards) basically just ad-hominem. None address the core of his, Gelernter and for that matter, Mayer’s assertion that the maths doesn’t work on evolution. If they are wrong (ie the maths works), then it should be shown. But none of the critics that I’ve seen do that. Which seems to me to indicate that they hate what these guys are saying, don’t know how to answer them, so they proceed to slag them. instead of answering them the way real academics would. Am I wrong? After all, Darwin was just a man with an idea based on what he noticed, which seems correct, but what if it isn’t.

    • Posted August 13, 2019 at 9:28 am | Permalink

      There is not space in this website to refute all the claims of Gelernter or his ID colleagues. If you haven’t seen the refutations, you haven’t looked hard enough at anti-ID articles, of which there are many. Start with Ken Miller’s books, okay?

      As for your claim that “Darwin might be wrong”, I take it you’re referring to his views that evolution occurred, did so gradually rather than instantly, that adaptation results from natural selection, and that species share common ancestry and lineages split, well, there is a ton of evidence about that. In fact, I wrote a book about it: Why Evolution is True, which gave the name to this website. You apparently haven’t read that book, or know anything about the mountains of evidence for Darwinian evolution; otherwise you’d never be able to make such an ignorant statement.

      • Posted August 14, 2019 at 7:00 am | Permalink

        Thanks for your response. I can assure you that I support the concepts of evolution and have come to this point by reading and hopefully understanding the concepts. I did grow up as a “fundamentalist christian”, so it’s not something that came easy, but I will never again knowingly fall into the trap of simply believing something because someone says I should, ie. “it is so, because I say so.”

        I’ll find the material you have referenced, starting with your book and if I still have questions I hope I can raise then here 🙂

    • Roger
      Posted August 14, 2019 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

      Which seems to me to indicate that they hate what these guys are saying, don’t know how to answer them, so they proceed to slag them. instead of answering them the way real academics would. Am I wrong?

      Well do you realize you’re wrong yet? What could you possibly have been thinking. 😀

      After all, Darwin was just a man with an idea based on what he noticed, which seems correct, but what if it isn’t.

      Darwin is irrelevant at his point other than for historical interest. Evidence doesn’t disappear because one person was “wrong” about something. That only works for religious type stuff.


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