Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Emperor Has No Clothes

Berlinski’s book is a masterful romp through the pretentions of modern secular atheism and scientism. It is surprising on many levels. First of all, though Berlinski claims no religious affiliation, he is no water-boy for scientific naturalism or Darwinism. Then his broad grasp of the science involved is impressive. Someone who clearly keeps up with the literature (knows several Nobel laureates in the sciences) and who understands it all, Berlinski has a useful perspective as he critiques everything from gradual Darwinian processes to string theory to molecular biology. And on top of it all, his dry and cutting sense of humor adds to instead of detracts from his philosophical acumen.

As I progressed deeper into the book, I was reminded of the boy who famously cried out that the emperor had no clothes. Not only does Berlinski deny the general, and often unsupported, claims of the secular Darwinian project, he skewers it. He deals with the usual suspects – Dawkins, Harris, Dennett (he reserves special distaste for Dennett), and Hitchens – and he deals with the real mathematicians, biologists, physicists and so forth. Sometimes critiques of the New Atheists suffer from the vapidity of their subject matter. If the book you are critiquing is without real substance, what else can be said? But Berlinski has the capacity to discuss and analyze on every level.

As an interested follower of the subjects Berlinski covers, I appreciated his ability to make the complex understandable without making it sound simplistic. His firm grasp of the details enables him to talk of the grand scheme with authority and insight. If you are interested in the issues raised by the New Atheists or the Darwinian project, this is a wonderful and insightful read. If you would like to have a fresh perspective on the place of science in our culture from someone who considers himself “part of the church” of science, Berlinski’s book will not disappoint.

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