Scientific Pretensions: David Berlinski on Apologetics

This blog is deliberately mis-titled, in that pretensions cannot be scientific because science is a mere method to understand our environment and make predictions useful to engineering design. Yet scientists can be woefully pretentious; indeed many are, particularly those who see humanity – and all of life – as a cosmic accident. This is the theme of David Berlinski’s book, The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and its scientific pretensions. Berlinski is a philosopher and mathematician, has taught and published widely, and at the time of this book’s publication (2009), was a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute in Seattle – the home base for Intelligent Design scholars in recent years.

David Berlinski

David Berlinski (DB) notes in his preface that, “A man asking why his days are short and full of suffering is not disposed to turn to quantum field theory for the answer.” The scientific method and its resulting quantitative data, equations, models, and engineering applications have nothing to say about the big issues of life . . . hope for an afterlife, meaning in this one, love, justice, etc. Why should we listen to a biologist or a physicist on the existence of God or man’s spirit anymore than we should listen to a Hollywood diva on economic or foreign policy? In attaining professional repute, the scientist has invested a lifetime in instrument design or in the skill of manipulating equations, has learned much about fundraising and publishing for the peers in her specialty, and has probed deeply into an especially narrow niche in order to do something novel. Why should we believe she has anything useful to say about the philosophical and theological questions of the ages? We shouldn’t. In my personal experience, the young gang-banger on the street has more sense about moral issues than does the materialist with a PhD.

The book was written for the “great many men and women (who) have a dull, hurt, angry sense of being oppressed by the sciences. They are frustrated by endless scientific boasting. They suspect that as an institution, the scientific community holds them in contempt. They feel no little distaste for those speaking in its name. They are right to feel this way. I have written this book for them.”

I’m completely in sync with DB on this. As a scientist and an educator myself, but first and foremost a born again, Bible-believing Christian, I plead with fellow disciples to be bold in standing against the secular heresies of this age. The materialist heretics have nothing to stand on. Call them out on it. Teach your children to contend. Atheistic arguments contain neither logic nor evidence, despite credentials that should have sensitized them to their own fallacies. But these are heart issues – the mind rationalizes to follow whatever the heart desires.

So let’s pull a few nuggets from The Devil’s Delusion. Reading this book is a pleasure, in large part because Berlinski knows how to turn a phrase to punch a point.

DB quotes 19th century mathematician W. K. Clifford who wrote that it is wrong “always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.” DB: “I am guessing that Clifford believed what he wrote, but what evidence he had for his belief, he did not say . . . There remains the obvious question: By what means might we determine that faith in science is reasonable, but that faith in God is not?”

How does one ever know whether evidence is sufficient? DB observes that this depends on context – the standards of evidence vary for public opinion, a court of law, and for the reviewers of physics journals. In all areas, “taste plays a role, and so does intuition, intellectual sensibility, a kind of feel for the shape of the subject, experience,” and so on. Evidence in engineering feels different from that of archeology or art history.

In our own lives we make life and death decisions regularly on the basis of limited evidence. As pedestrians we cross the street when the light is green, on our experience that the vast majority of motorists obey the traffic laws. We drive cars, fly in planes, and ride in elevators without detailed knowledge of the electro-mechanics or, at least, the relevant maintenance records and material failure rates. In the most vital area of our spiritual destiny, I submit that we have available to us a wealth of evidence to decide for salvation, for repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus, for directing our lives along the Biblical road. (For a summary of such evidence, see my essay, “How do I know the Bible is true?”)

Atheist Sam Harris argues that “to believe that God exists is to believe that I stand in some relation to his existence such that his existence is itself the reason for my belief.” Berlinski considers this “principle” absurd, “as if belief in God could only be justified if God were to call attention conspicuously to Himself, say by a dramatic wiggling of the divine fingers.”

DB suggests applying Harris’ rule to the currently accepted belief that neutrinos have mass, “as if I stand in some relationship to their mass such that their mass is itself the reason for my belief. Just how are those neutrinos waggling their fingers? A neutrino by itself cannot function as a reason for my belief. It is a subatomic particle, for heaven’s sake.”

Sam Harris

The author notes that the mass, and even the existence of the hard-to-detect neutrino, “lies at the end of an immense inferential trail,” including the equations underlying the fundamental laws of physics, computational schemes and numerical integration algorithms, huge canned programs and the underlying machine languages, and patterns deduced by physicists to reveal various symmetries. “The neutrino has nothing to do with it.”

Nothing of science has to do with the existence of God who, as Creator, is outside of this universe, within which we struggle to discern patterns and reduce said patterns to mathematics. When equations result we think we understand something.

Consider Maxwell’s equations, relating electric and magnetic fields to each other and to charge and current distributions. The equations are beautiful (to a physicist) and compact, and useful in designing antennas, radios, and cell phones. But just what is an electric or a magnetic field? Just what is a single electron and why does each one have identical charge, not to mention an intrinsic quantum mechanical spin? How can a dimensionless point particle have a spin as if it’s a ball – a ball with a radius of zero? And if it’s so infinitesimally small, just how is it that the electric field isn’t infinite ‘within’ the electron and thereby blow it to smithereens? No one knows. Richard Feynman invented (or discovered) quantum electrodynamics (QED) to go further than Maxwell could, but the truly fundamental questions are still unanswerable. But we’ve got some cool equations and we can build tech so you can keep tweeting. Nevertheless, just because a guy is facile with QED says nothing about his ability to tell you about love, joy, sorrow, beauty, integrity, salvation, and God . . . not to mention how best to employ the drop shot on red clay.

Yet the academic establishment, the atheists with the PhDs who are teaching your kids, is committed to its prime directive, as spewed by Hector Avalos: “Methodological naturalism, the view that natural phenomena can be explained without reference to supernatural beings or events, is the foundation of the natural sciences.” In contrast, Isaac Newton, when writing his Principia Mathematica, wrote, “The most beautiful system of the sun, planets and comets could only proceed from the counsel and domination of an intelligent and powerful Being.” Avalos’ view is mere assertion, a trivial definition to exclude any consideration of a Designer. Newton’s conclusion is based on observations that defy naturalistic explanation. (See my two tracts on astronomy in my Tracts essay.)

Richard Feynman

The conceit of atheism “is the thesis that the sciences are true – who would doubt it? – and that only the sciences are true. The philosopher Michael Devitt thus argues that ‘there is only one way of knowing, the empirical way that is the basis of science.’” If so, you can throw into the trash heap mathematics, law, morality, and indeed anything that requires abstract thinking – including rational thought itself! David Hume famously espoused this empirical fallacy centuries ago, yelping that anything of divinity or metaphysics or abstract reasoning should be committed to the flames! Berlinski observes that this is a curious position to be embraced by a philosopher like Hume . . . or any ‘philosophical’ atheist since, who thereby argue themselves out of their jobs.

DB’s excellent chapter, “A Put-up Job,” assesses the reaction of physicists to the fine tuning of the universe, enabling the very existence of stars, galaxies, and the chemistry of life. String theory has captured the imagination of those in the long search for a ‘theory of everything,’ a hoped for set of equations that would underlie all of known physics, all of the particles and forces filling creation.

A hypothesized ‘string’ is a vibrating one-dimensional object that can be straight or curved or looped and would be the foundational element of all electrons, quarks, etc. One particular hope is that quantum theory can be unified with gravitation, two theories that are entirely different, and to date perfectly resistant to unification. But there are lots of versions of string theory. Some come with 26 dimensions, others 10 or 11, as opposed to the three spatial and one temporal that we are familiar with. A multitude of physicists and mathematicians have invested careers in string theory, to no avail yet. “It was an idea that possessed every advantage except clarity, elegance, and a demonstrated connection to reality.” Yep, that nasty fellow ‘reality’ keeps getting in the way of beautiful theories.

DB: “This was widely considered monstrously unjust.” And so some physicists conclude that it’s our universe that’s at fault! “It was not man enough to handle so promiscuous a theory.” But if we supposed that there were gobs and gobs of separate universes . . . Wow! Maybe string theory would explain a megaverse, as physicist Leonard Susskind suggested: “Theoretical physicists are proposing theories which demote our ordinary laws of nature to a tiny corner of a gigantic landscape of mathematical possibilities.”

This Landscape of possible universes is now a key part of Big Bang mythology, a variant called ‘eternal chaotic inflation,’ in which universes are blowing up all over the place, continually creating new ones. “They cannot stop themselves . . . given sufficiently many universes, what is true here need not be true there, and vice versa.”

Leonard Susskind

Hmm. Sounds like the Big Bang has gone postmodern! Whatever you need to believe to avoid the Creator God you can now find a physicist who will affirm you. No matter how ridiculously improbable biological evolution, if you’ve got an infinite megaverse, it’s bound to happen somewhere! Physicists seem to have forgotten Hilbert’s Hotel (you’ll have to look that one up, but see my essay on William Lane Craig’s books) and a well-established consensus that logic forbids the existence of a truly infinite number of real things, including real universes. So just who is it that subscribes to blind illogical faith? The ‘megaverse’ is not observable and, in principle, never will be. That isn’t science, buddy.

DB: “The willingness of physical scientists to explore such strategies in thought might suggest to a perceptive psychoanalyst a desire not so much to discover a new idea as to avoid an old one.”

Cosmologist Joel Primack once asked physicist Neil Turok: “What is it that makes the electrons continue to follow the laws?” The question surprised Turok. “Neither compulsion nor obedience are physical ideas.” Medieval theologians had already plowed this ground, however. “God is everywhere conserving the world. It is God that makes the electron follow His laws.”

Einstein wondered whether God had any choice in creation, whether the laws of nature must be necessary. Einstein supposed that logic makes the electron follow its laws.

The metaphysicians promoting the megaverse guess that the electron follows some laws in some universes, but doesn’t have to in others. In the Landscape anything is possible. And so nothing is necessary. Their conclusion: “It is nothing that makes the electron follow any laws.”

DB: “Which, then, is it to be: God, logic, or nothing? . . . For scientific atheists, the question answers itself: Better logic than nothing, and better nothing than God.” At its root, then, the heart creates the cosmology, the will promotes the myth.

one possible wacky multiverse

As many apologists do, Berlinski goes after an easy target, Richard Dawkins, in the chapter, “A Curious Proof That God Does Not Exist.” Dawkins calls his argument the Ultimate Boeing 747 gambit, spinning off Fred Hoyle’s conclusion that the spontaneous emergence of life on Earth is as likely as a tornado sweeping through a junkyard and assembling a Boeing 747.

Dawkins insists that if a tornado cannot create life because this is so improbable, then God cannot create a universe. If the tornado is inadequate because life is improbable, then God is inadequate too. Dawkins preens that his Ultimate 747 gambit “comes close to proving that God does not exist.”

OK, so let’s pause a moment, reader, while you consider whether Dawkins has crushed all of us pesky theists.

Pause . . . pause . . . pause . . .

What’s amazing is that this fellow, Richard Dawkins, has a PhD (a doctor of philosophy should know something of logic), is a tenured professor, and sells gazillions of books. Ok, specifically . . . how tight is his reasoning, his simplistic analogy? Although a 747 is reasonably analogous to a single-celled creature (although the microbe is actually far more complex – that’s the point of Hoyle’s idea), how much like a tornado is the Biblically described God?

More basically, we could apply Dawkins’ logic to any number of other scenarios. For example: The painting of Mona Lisa is improbable, but to postulate an artist like DaVinci is no solution because DaVinci would also be improbable. Therefore, the Mona Lisa must exist by chance.

Boeing 747

Berlinski assesses Dawkins’ argument, along with other similar attacks on Intelligent Design: “On the one hand, there is the claim that the universe is improbable; on the other, the claim that God made the universe. Considered jointly, these form an unnatural union. Probabilities belong to the world in which things happen because they might, creation to the world in which things happen because they must. We explain creation by appealing to creators (Doc: art by artists, etc.) . . . We explain what is chancy by appealing to chance. We cannot do both. If God did make the world, it is not improbable.” Similarly, if you find a cell phone lying on the sidewalk, you won’t conclude that engineers don’t exist because tornadoes are unlikely to create sophisticated electronics.

I actually do get it when atheists react viscerally to the outrageous idea that God created everything and owns it. The trouble is that given our existence, conscious, rational, moral human beings in a fantastically complex ecosystem atop a gorgeous planet within a finely tuned solar system, galaxy, and universe, whatever we believe about it is going to be outrageous! You have to choose. It’s outrageous to imagine that nothing created everything and here we are, thinking about it! It’s also outrageous that an eternal God, independent of space and time (which answers the silly objection, “Who made God?”), created space, time, and us. Our minds can’t grapple with the infinities and incomprehensibilities associated with an infinite God or a beginning in space and time or what’s outside the universe or what was there before the universe. Not to mention what there even means.

So which outrageous belief will you embrace? It should be easy. I see a painting, I infer a painter. I see overwhelming evidence of design everywhere, I infer a Designer. I intuit morality, purpose, meaning, and hope; I infer a moral God with purpose for His creation which gives me hope. I look for His revelation to provide me with meaning for what it’s all about. I find it in the Bible . . . and nowhere else. Only the Biblical worldview is consistent with reality. I choose and act based on what I do know. My choice is affirmed day by day and so my trust grows . . . my faith grows, a faith grounded in reality and buttressed by evidence and experience.

DB notes that “what a man rejects as distasteful must always be measured against what he is prepared eagerly to swallow.” Like the Landscape. What caused the Landscape to exist? What causes and maintains the diversity of laws and types of universes within the megaverse? Dawkins writes without discernment, “The key difference between the radically extravagant God hypothesis and the apparently extravagant multiverse hypothesis, is one of statistical improbability.” And yet Dawkins claims the multiverse “is simple in its fundamental laws.”

But statistical improbability? Come on, show me the statistics! Give me an example or two or ten. Statistical methods are for making sense of patterns of things that can be observed inside the existing universe. You can’t talk about statistics unless you’ve got data to analyze! Where’s the data on the multiverse? This is sheer posturing, baloney to be consumed by the ill-educated, unthinking products of public school evolutionist educators.

Matthew Maury

In 1869, ten years after Darwin published his Origin, Alfred Wallace (the co-creator of the fantasy of ‘Darwinian’ evolution) admitted that certain of our “physical characteristics are not explicable on the theory of variation and survival of the fittest.” These would include the human brain, speech organs, hands, and upright body structure. Even apart from the enormous intellectual disparities, humans can do many things mechanically impossible for animals, including apes.

DB: “Only humans can rotate their thumb and ring finger in what is called ulnar opposition in order to achieve a grip, a grasp, and a degree of torque denied any of the great apes.” With respect to the mind, only humans on this Earth have sophisticated language, a moral system, art, architecture, literature, music, dance, and mathematics.

What Wallace realized is that the incredible differences in peformance and capacity that humans enjoy cannot be explained by differential reproduction under environmental influences. Hey, doesn’t everyone know that simple creatures reproduce quite well? In fact, human complexity includes a severe disadvantage in reproduction – the years required to raise an infant and child to some degree of self-sufficiency.

Yet evolutionists continually search for ways to relate human behavior to that of apes, desperately trying to minimize the supernaturally large differences. Why do they do this? Anything but God. Similarly, materialists insist that the mind is the brain and the brain is a computer, which is just a thing, nothing special. So why should we pay attention to the ravings of the brains of materialists?

animal phyla

Honest experience teaches that no chain of physical causes can explain how the human mind “imposes itself on matter . . . The human mind registers, reacts, and responds; it forms intentions, conceives problems, and then, as Aristotle dryly noted, it acts.” No conceivable mechanical artifice, including a mere brain, suffices as the cause for abstract and creative thought.

Evolutionists delight in accusing creationists of subscribing to a ‘God of the gaps,’ claiming that we truncate scientific exploration by blurting out, “God did it,” rather than persistently seeking naturalistic explanations. That this accusation is false is readily seen by noting how all of the modern sciences were founded by creationists, including Isaac Newton, James Clerk Maxwell, Matthew Maury, and scores of others.

In truth, guilt should certainly be attached to the accusers. In denying forensic evidence of design from biology to astronomy, the continual appeal is to “evolution of the gaps,” from the mystery of first protein or DNA formation to the improbability of star or galaxy formation. Furthermore, scientific progress continually creates deeper gaps. Einstein’s special relativity was derived from incongruities in interpreting Maxwell’s electrodynamics, and general relativity followed. But to this day general relativity is fundamentally inconsistent with quantum mechanics which, in turn, produces lots of rules to describe what happens at the subatomic level . . . but genuine understanding is completely absent.

There are at least twelve different philosophical interpretations of quantum theory, none of which tells us why or even how things work. Just because some bright fellows become skilled in manipulating quantum rules does not justify arrogance in opining that the human mind is an illusion and God is a fiction.

DB: “Anomalies have grown great because understanding has improved.” Evolutionist Eugene Koonin admits that Darwinian ‘theory’ has no explanations for “the origin of complex RNA molecules and protein folds; major groups of viruses; archaea and bacteria, and the principal lineages within each of these prokaryotic domains; eukaryotic supergroups; and animal phyla.” Berlinski notes, “That is, pretty much everything.”

Koonin goes on to admit that life’s principal types “seem to appear rapidly and fully equipped with the signature features of the respective new level of biological organization. No intermediate ‘grades’ or intermediate forms between different types are detectable.” Berlinski suggests that when ID folks (or creationists) simply conclude that such transitionary forms are therefore imaginary, such a conclusion “evokes a frenzy of fearful contempt so considerable as to make civilized discourse impossible.” That’s my personal experience. It’s difficult to get into a simple discussion, not to mention a debate, with an evolutionist, because anger and name-calling are their default tactics.

I enjoy Berlinski’s concluding perspective that the physical world of particles and forces, which to the materialist is everything, is in truth sterile and insensate and in stark contrast to the “garrulous, never-ending, infinitely varied, boisterous human world. The more the physical world is studied, and the richer our grasp of its principles, the greater the gap between what it represents and what we embody . . . The world of the physical sciences is not our world, and if our world has things that cannot be explained in their terms, then we must search elsewhere for their explanation.”

Amen. The theist Berlinski points to God, but falls short of proclaiming the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, the only hope for every man, woman, and child who walk this Earth, the only foundation for a worldview that embraces reality. What hope for the materialist, whose molecules clump together for a few years before falling down and falling apart? What hope for any of the false religionists of this world, who trust in rituals and self-righteous performance of duties to supposedly earn an eternal reward? What hope for the hedonist, who “parties on” for quick pleasures in immorality or mood-altering chemistry? What hope for the twittering, Facebooking, hard-rocking, ever-apping youth, who avoids thinking uncomfortable thoughts.

Hey, Christian, we’ve got the TRUTH, the message of forgiveness, comfort, meaning, hope, and purpose, the only rational way through and beyond this utterly brief life. Share it. Don’t even be tempted to think that the phony materialist pseudo-intellectuals know anything important about what’s important. Want to hit some of them between the eyes with some TRUTH? Check out some of the tracts in my Tracts essay. Print them out and give them away, or write to me and I’ll send you a sample pack to get started. And do the work, the Lord’s wonderful work of evangelism, with a confidence tied to reality.


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