Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Devil's Delusion

David Berlinski's The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions (NY: Basic Books, 2009) is a delightful piece of polemical writing: witty, concise, clear, funny and devastating. It is a relatively easy book to read, considering the amount of highly technical and abstract theoretical physics and advanced mathematics it treats.

Berlinski takes no prisoners and pulls no punches; he dares to call the bluff of leading scientists as to why, given that science seems more and more to point to a Creator, they insist that this must not be allowed to be admitted. As a secular Jew, Berlinski himself is not actually arguing for theism. Instead he is arguing that it is abuse of science to claim that science either disproves God's existence or renders God's existence irrelevant to cosmology. It is the pretentiousness of turning science into a faith system - which is really little more than old-fashioned village atheism - that offends Berlinski's sensibilities. Why should such a grand and glorious human achievement as modern experimental science be degraded in this way? His answer is that it ought not to be so.

Berlinski's explanation of the Big Bang theory of the beginning of the universe is perspicuous and suggestive (pp. 69-78). But what is utterly fascinating is the discussion of the reaction of physicists to the obvious fact that what science has discovered about the beginning of the universe looks exactly like what the Book of Genesis says about the beginning of the universe, or, as Berlinski carefully phrases it: "The hypothesis of God's existence and the facts of contemporary cosmology are consistent."

The response of scientists was to assume that there had to be a way to explain the beginning of the universe without resorting to that hypothesis. The Church of Atheism needed to do apologetics against the believers' inferences from the facts of science. Berlinski stresses something that anyone who believes in original sin would never think to deny: that personal motivations function in the directions of theoretical thought chosen by individuals. Yes, there are facts; but there are many ways to explain those facts.

Berlinski discusses the Anthropic Principle and the theory of multiple universes (the Landscape) in order to show the degree to which some scientists are willing to go to avoid "You Know Who." One of the most interesting questions discussed in the book is the one posed to Neil Turok by Joel Primack: "What is it that makes the electrons continue to follow the laws?" (p. 132) Obviously, something seems to compel physical objects to obey the laws of nature. But, as Berlinski notes, "neither compulsion nor obedience are physical ideas."

Anyone familiar with St. Augustine's Christianized Neoplatonism would not only know the answer, but also would recognize that a science which purports to be hot on the trail of the unified "theory of everything" should not omit a search for the answer to this question. It is time for Christian theology to move from the defensive to the offensive in the war between naturalism and theism. Science is on our side; scientism is not science. And if scientific fact is best explained with reference both to physical and theological ideas, well, what else would a Christian expect?

The Devil's Delusion is a terrific book and I highly recommend it.

4 comments:

michaeldefazio said...

Sounds very good. Thanks for the recommendation!

Joseph Sunde said...

I've been wanting to read this for some time but had no idea that it took some of these tacts. I am now more intrigued. Thanks.

***DRAMA*** said...

Excellent summary! I'm looking forward to reading this book. Thanks for the review.

ostmannen said...

Thanks for the tip! I have to recommend William Lane Craig writings about the kalam cosmological argument!

God Bless you!