The Good News

Discussion of the Best News in the World, the Gospel of Jesus, and related topics

The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism…

The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions
(Paperback edition, Basic Books, September 2009)

“Berlinski’s book is everything desirable: it is idiomatic, profound, brilliantly polemical, amusing, and of course vastly learned. I congratulate him.” —William F. Buckley Jr.

Militant atheism is on the rise. Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens have dominated bestseller lists with books denigrating religious belief as dangerous foolishness. And these authors are merely the leading edge of a far larger movement–one that now includes much of the scientific community.

“The attack on traditional religious thought,” writes David Berlinski in The Devil’s Delusion, “marks the consolidation in our time of science as the single system of belief in which rational men and women might place their faith, and if not their faith, then certainly their devotion.”

A secular Jew, Berlinski nonetheless delivers a biting defense of religious thought. An acclaimed author who has spent his career writing about mathematics and the sciences, he turns the scientific community’s cherished skepticism back on itself, daring to ask and answer some rather embarrassing questions:

  • Has anyone provided a proof of God’s inexistence? Not even close.
  • Has quantum cosmology explained the emergence of the universe or why it is here? Not even close.
  • Have the sciences explained why our universe seems to be fine-tuned to allow for the existence of life? Not even close.
  • Are physicists and biologists willing to believe in anything so long as it is not religious thought? Close enough.
  • Has rationalism in moral thought provided us with an understanding of what is good, what is right, and what is moral? Not even close.
  • Has secularism in the terrible twentieth century been a force for good? Not even close to being close.
  • Is there a narrow and oppressive orthodoxy of thought and opinion within the sciences? Close enough.
  • Does anything in the sciences or in their philosophy justify the claim that religious belief is irrational? Not even ballpark.
  • Is scientific atheism a frivolous exercise in intellectual contempt? Dead on.

Berlinski does not dismiss the achievements of western science. The great physical theories, he observes, are among the treasures of the human race. But… they… do… nothing… to… answer… the… questions… that… religion… asks…, and they… fail… to… offer… a… coherent… description… of… the… cosmos… or the methods by which it might be investigated.

From David Berlinski’s web site about the book.

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25 responses to “The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism…

  1. Allallt 06/01/2016 at 12:47 pm

    Lets have a quick look at Berlinksi’s questions:

    Has anyone provided a proof of God’s inexistence? Irrelevant. There is no other domain where intellectual conversation allows “you haven’t disproven it, so I’ll accept it”.
    Has quantum cosmology explained the emergence of the universe or why it is here? Irrelevant. Unless, of course, you want to take the lack of answer to mean ‘therefore God’. But, there is no other domain of reasoned thinking in which that ‘argument from ignorance’ would be permitted.
    Have the sciences explained why our universe seems to be fine-tuned to allow for the existence of life? It’s not. Even if it was, it’s irrelevant. (See above.)
    Are physicists and biologists willing to believe in anything so long as it is not religious thought? No. There isn’t some conspiracy; biologists and physicists don’t have an overseeing authority that could orchestrate a conspiracy. It’s not a coincidence that following the scientific method eschews superfluous ideas, like God.
    Has rationalism in moral thought provided us with an understanding of what is good, what is right, and what is moral? Profoundly, yes. It is moral thought that has subdued barbaric religious “morality”.
    Has secularism in the terrible twentieth century been a force for good? There’s a much bigger political discussion to be had. WWI was a collision of different Christendoms, it left a vacuum, and bad people took power in that vacuum.
    Is there a narrow and oppressive orthodoxy of thought and opinion within the sciences? Not that anyone has ever been able to demonstrate.
    Does anything in the sciences or in their philosophy justify the claim that religious belief is irrational? Yet. It’s called ‘evidence based reasoning’.
    Is scientific atheism a frivolous exercise in intellectual contempt? I don’t even know what ‘scientific atheism’ is meant to be.

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    • papapound 06/01/2016 at 2:55 pm

      Thanks for your reply allalit. Science is great and has it’s place. I love it–I use it every day. It does not answer the burning questions of life for me however.

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      • Allallt 06/01/2016 at 3:05 pm

        What does? And what the method by which you know the answers it gives you?

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        • papapound 06/02/2016 at 11:16 am

          ‘What does?’ Science cannot fulfill the deep longings of the human heart. With those longings are questions? Some questions, even burning questions, are never answered in this life. As we mature, we learn to live with mystery and unanswered questions.

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          • Allallt 06/02/2016 at 5:18 pm

            And therefore atheism is the devil’s delusion?

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            • papapound 06/03/2016 at 9:41 pm

              That term is Berlinski’s from his book. This summary caught my eye because he addresses it to militant atheism. I don’t believe the world needs militant Christianity, nor militant Islam, nor militant atheism Allalit.

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              • Allallt 06/04/2016 at 5:37 am

                Okay, but my initial comment is basically this: Berlinski is talking absolute nonsense.
                Maybe you have a problem with the target audience Berlinski is aiming at. But, that doesn’t really justify bad argument. And Berlinski’s is, as it fails to map on to a position that is actually articulated.

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                • papapound 06/04/2016 at 11:01 am

                  I can see “absolute nonsense” yes, if the book has not been read. Sorry, I have not read the book either. I just picked up this summary off his web site and it is really not a summary, it is more a “carrot”, that is an enticement to read if one should choose. I confess again, I have not. I am curious why this peaks your interest. You must have found meaning in atheism or agnosticism or some other ism of your choosing. What is your meaning?

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                • papapound 06/04/2016 at 11:46 am

                  Yes, this is actually a stub, an enticement to read the book. How do you find meaning allalit? What is your meaning?

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                    • papapound 06/06/2016 at 10:40 am

                      I read you were a teacher, what did you teach? You are enrolled now for a MSc I presume that is Science Master’s. Is that correct?

                      Also, from readings I get that “objective morality” provides you meaning. Is there more to meaning for you? I don’t know that I got your def. of obj. morality from what I read.

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                    • Allallt 06/06/2016 at 10:51 am

                      I taught GCSE (pre-16) and A-Level (post-16) Geography, foundation (university preparation) History, ‘British values’ and humanities as well as language support for A-level Physics, Chemistry and Biology. My MSc is in Environmental Management (mostly for using geo-statistical software!)

                      Objective is in contrast to opinions. If, for example, I say my dining room table is 30 inches wide, I can be said to be correct or not. If I say my dining room table is nice, that’s simply a matter of opinion, I cannot be said to be wrong.
                      If I say it’s morally good to kick babies, that would be an objectively wrong statement: kicking babies demonstrably does not safeguard or improve wellbeing. (You may be able to invent a circumstance where that rule of thumb doesn’t apply, but there would likely be a lot of other morally concerning things going in in that circumstance. Try not to confuse ‘complexity’ opinions — that’s been a stumbling block to conversations before.)

                      “Meaning” is a different word. What do you mean, now, my “meaning”?

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                    • papapound 06/06/2016 at 12:30 pm

                      Does Env Management promise good income?

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                    • Allallt 06/06/2016 at 12:32 pm

                      Not really, no.

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                    • papapound 06/06/2016 at 12:45 pm

                      Aah! Does serving in Env Management provide meaning for you?

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                    • Allallt 06/06/2016 at 12:50 pm

                      I don’t really know what you (or anyone else) mean by “meaning” in this context.
                      I think it is morally important. Is that the same thing?

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                    • papapound 06/06/2016 at 1:39 pm

                      dictionary.com noun
                      1. what is intended to be, or actually is, expressed or indicated; signification; import:
                      the three meanings of a word.
                      2. the end, purpose, or significance of something:

                      Since the context is not definition of a word, #2 is applicable and what I intended.

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                    • Allallt 06/06/2016 at 1:49 pm

                      I’m still not really sure what that means in our context here.
                      Help me out, what is the meaning to your life?

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                    • papapound 06/07/2016 at 12:09 pm

                      What gives me meaning? To love, to be loved. To know and be know. To understand and be understood. To hear ‘well done.’ All of these at a deep/non-superficial experience. So, to relate and to pursue relationship, to be in community, especially men, since I am a man. Also, to relate deeply to my wife since I am married. All of the above provide deep meaning.

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                    • papapound 06/07/2016 at 12:37 pm

                      I went back to the dictionary again: here is a definition of morality: a particular system of values and principles of conduct, especially one held by a specified person or society.
                      Yes it is conduct, but I take it further, a person’s morality is reflected in thoughts and motives minimally.
                      Back to my standards point: no one embodied perfect morality more than Jesus, the Nazarene. His teachings provide the standards my heart desires. Am I perfect against those standards? No. Am I good against those standards? No. No one is.
                      Not judging you or others, but I would not know myself as well, if I did not know His teachings. Another merit of a standard.

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                    • papapound 06/06/2016 at 12:43 pm

                      I agree with you that “kicking babies” is bad. It is wrong to inflict pain in that manner.

                      I formerly believed however, that it was not wrong to kill babies. I am telling the truth when I was convinced by a non-theist American physician that killing babies is wrong. That may have been a moral turning point for me because I became aware of many other things in society which are cruel, evil, vain, insidious and more.

                      Baby killing is common in primitive tribes around the world. They made baby killing popular. Baby killing is so popular that it is done throughout the USA, Canada and Europe at least. The West is highly protective of animals and against animal cruelty but not to human babies. It seems we are immune to that pain.

                      I don’t mean to dump but “killing babies” reminded me of all of that.

                      I believe that morality can be very subjective and thus relative to most people. What bases do we have for saying what is right or wrong? Without a standard there is no consensus on morality.

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                    • Allallt 06/06/2016 at 12:50 pm

                      Wellbeing.

                      If you thought kicking babies was wrong, you are objectively wrong. So are those cultures.

                      (I’ve no interest in diverting this conversation into abortion. See the comments here: allallt.wordpress.com/2016/05/25/can-abortion-ever-be-banned-while-maintained-female-rights)

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                    • papapound 06/06/2016 at 1:33 pm

                      Kicking babies and killing babies are moral acts. My thought is who or what decides/determines these acts are good or bad, right or wrong? That is why I ended my comment:
                      I believe that morality can be very subjective and thus relative to most people. What bases do we have for saying what is right or wrong? Without a standard there is no consensus on morality.

                      I will add, without a standard, there is only personal morality.

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                    • Allallt 06/06/2016 at 1:47 pm

                      But I think morality does have a basis in the wellbeing of persons (by which I mean entities that are capable of experiencing wellbeing).

                      How do you define morality? That might be the problem here.

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                    • papapound 06/07/2016 at 12:26 pm

                      I am trying to tie comments together to minimize disjointedness. Live babies may and can experience wellbeing, dead babies cannot experience wellbeing so yes, wellbeing is a monitor of moral decisions made by those to whom care for babies has been entrusted. To my point about personal morality, that care varies to some degree based in part on the morality of the caregiver.
                      Wellbeing is a factor in morality but is subjective still because each person may define well being differently.

                      Like

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