I’ve Always Enjoyed David Berlinski

I’ve Always Enjoyed David Berlinski November 1, 2013

He’s a cranky mathematician, a secular Jewish atheist who serves the invaluable function that Jewish intellectuals have served so often throughout the ages: not letting popular and easily accepted Things That Everybody Knows be accepted without challenge.  In his case, he provides delightful sand in the gears of the smoothly running atheist materialist agitprop machine and thoroughly enjoys being a pain in the ass.

His main drawback, of course, is that he has nothing to offer in place of the evolutionary narrative that acts as a figleaf for the atheist materialist agenda, but then it’s not really necessary that he do so since the problem is not the figleaf but what is hiding behind it, which is the dogmatic naturalism of crappy philosophers in lab coats.  I particularly enjoy this:

But why should we take seriously religious beliefs that are lacking in evidence?

DB: We shouldn’t. But asking someone like Richard Dawkins about the evidence for God’s existence is a little like asking a quadruple amputee to run the marathon.
The interesting point is elsewhere. There is no argument against religion that is not also an argument against mathematics. Mathematicians are capable of grasping a world of objects that lies beyond space and time ….

… Come again …

DB: No need to come again: I got to where I was going the first time. The number four, after all, did not come into existence at a particular time, and it is not going to go out of existence at another time. It is neither here nor there. Nonetheless we are in some sense able to grasp the number by a faculty of our minds. Mathematical intuition is utterly mysterious. So for that matter is the fact that mathematical objects such as a Lie Group or a differentiable manifold have the power to interact with elementary particles or accelerating forces. But these are precisely the claims that theologians have always made as well – that human beings are capable by an exercise of their devotional abilities to come to some understanding of the deity; and the deity, although beyond space and time, is capable of interacting with material objects.

… And this is something that you, a secular Jew, believe? …

DB: What a question! I feel like I’m being interviewed by the Dean at some horrible community college. Do you believe in the university’s mission – that sort of thing. Look, I have no religious convictions and no religious beliefs. What I do believe is that theology is no more an impossible achievement than mathematics. The same rational standards apply. Does the system make sense; does it explain something? Are there deep principles at work. Is it productive?

What he does here is nail the “You can’t say that!” mentality of the PC academy.  What he does not do, of course, is ever tell us what he does, in fact, believe–either because he won’t or can’t say.  I sometimes suspect he is flirting with becoming a Catholic and is too cagey to admit it.  Or he may genuinely be one of those people who just does not believe it cricket to make ultimate claims of knowledge or belief about You Know Who.  But he has an excellent BS detector for the pieties of the Materialists.  Speaking of which…

… You know, Dawkins, at least, is quite clear that insofar as religion is expressed as a sense of wonder, he counts himself a religious man ….

DB: … Sure. But that’s because he has found it remarkably convenient to associate his views with those of Albert Einstein – you know, the standard starry sky at night, my goodness the universe is wonderful routine. Why should Dawkins, of all people, find the universe wonderful if he also believes it is largely a self-sustaining material object, something bigger than a head of cabbage but not appreciably different in kind? The whole place supposedly has no meaning, no point, no purpose, and no reason for its existence beyond itself. Sounds horrible to me. Wonder is the last reaction I’d expect. It’s like being thrilled by Newark, New Jersey. A universe that is nothing more than a collection of atoms whizzing around in the void is a material slum …

…How would you react to the argument that Dawkins has made that any form of religion that goes beyond the scientific facts about the universe really represents a form of brainwashing …

DB: He’s probably right. Most education is a form of brainwashing – so much better in French, by the way, lavage de cerveau. Give a child to the Jesuits, they say, and ten years later the man will cringe when he spots the Cross. But look, ten years or so spent studying physics is a pretty effective form of brainwashing as well. You emerge into the daylight blinking weakly and talking about an endless number of universes stacked on top of one another like an old-fashioned Maine pancake breakfast. Or you start babbling inanely about how meaningless the universe is. But if you ask me just who is the more credulous, the more suggestible, the dopier, the more perfectly prepared to convey absurdity to an almost inconceivable pitch of personal enthusiasm – a well-trained Jesuit or a Ph.D. in quantum physics, I’ll go with the physicist every time. There is nothing these people won’t believe. No wonder used-car salesmen love them. Biologists are, of course, worse. Tell them that in the future Richard Dawkins is going to conduct a personal invasion of Hell in order to roust the creationists, and The Panda’s Thumb will at once start vibrating with ticket sales.

Some people just know how to put words together.

And by the way, for those about to wet themselves in fear that I have failed to believe and confess that there is no god but Evolution and Darwin is its Prophet, please be aware that I have no particular issues with the theory of evolution per se.  I simply don’t buy it as a figleaf for the crude stupidities of atheist materialism hawked by dunces like Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens and think, rather, that if Thomas were around today, he would regard evolution as a minor tributary of evidence in favor of the existence of God.  Mike Flynn ably explains, far better than I can, why this is so.  And please, if you are one of the cultists from WWJTD, stampeding over here as the Herd of Independent Thinkers all about to shout the same slogans and feeling the words “Intelligent Design” welling up in your throat like a loogie you want to hock, be aware that us Thomists reject ID just like you do.  Really, go read the Flynn link.  Attempt, for once, to use and not merely worship that three pound piece of meat you accidently grew behind your forehead.

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  • James H, London

    [kowtows] We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!

    Verily, these two, nay, three people, rocketh!

  • Brennan

    Yes, David Berlinski is great, although technically, from what I have read or watched of him, he would probably more properly be classed as an agnostic rather than an atheist.

  • Steve

    I was recently talking to a skeptical youth about the existence of God and actually started with the question, “What is math?” From there, we explored how math is basically the source-code of the universe, physics is the executable program, and God is both the computer and the programmer.


    • orual’s kindred

      I wish I was good at math. Perhaps then I could talk about God better to my very math-minded friend.

      • Ronald King

        Ask her to teach you, she may love you even more

        • orual’s kindred

          I’m afraid it’s been established that teaching me would require an majorly intensive course 😀 No time for it, alas. Not right now anyway. But he did appreciate me asking 🙂

  • “There is no argument against religion that is not also an argument against mathematics.”

    Every time I’ve encountered someone who proudly says “I only believe in things that can be proven empirically!” I want to ask, “So, you don’t believe in math?”

    • Chesire11

      I’m embarrassed to say that in years of discussing the existence of God with atheists, I have never thought of this rebuttal. I love it, and plan to plagiarize it shamelessly.

      • You could also ask them to empirically prove what art is. :>

        • Noah Doyle

          They’ve sort of tried. Which is how we ended up with ‘everything is art’.

    • JM1001

      There is no argument against religion that is not also an argument against mathematics.

      Yeah, see, I have a small problem with this. Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say, “There is no argument from materialism against religion that is not also an argument against mathematics”?

      To incorporate abstract objects like numbers into their ontology, an atheist could still opt for Platonism or Conceptualism, or even Aristotelianism, where universals exist only where they are instantiated in the physical world.

      The atheist need only abandon their materialism, but that’s all.

      • Well, sure. That’s how I interpreted it, hence my qualification that I was referring to atheists who get hung up on empirical proof for everything.

        I assume Berlinski is also referring to that form of atheism, from the context of the discussion, but of course I could be wrong.

  • ivan_the_mad

    I read this a couple of days ago and enjoyed it immensely. Berlinski references a few concepts I haven’t thought much about since university, and stoked enough interest to read about them again. Anyone who can induce a desire to (re)learn has a talent indeed! I see from the image that this is from a DVD, I shall try to obtain a copy.

  • Dave P.

    “It’s like being thrilled by Newark, New Jersey.”

    Well done, that.

    • I’m waiting for NJ folk to storm the comboxes. They can be very touchy. :>

    • Chesire11

      I audibly chortled at that one. 🙂

  • Martha O’Keeffe

    Reading this reminds me of Matthew 12:42 ” The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.”
    He’s perfectly right; confining ‘science’ to mean “things what you can cut bits off and weigh” falls down for many useful disciplines such as mathematics, because you can’t cut off a lump of ‘fourness’ and stick it through a gas chromatograph to analyse it, but that does not make numbers non-existent.

  • Thomas J. Ryan

    He’s a fan of Bellarmine and a good buddy of Christopher Ferrara who prays for his conversion.

  • JM1001

    The number four, after all, did not come into existence at a particular time, andit is not going to go out of existence at another time. It is neither here nor there.

    Does this imply Platonism?

    Numbers are a kind of universal. But to say that they have a separate, independent existence from their instantiations is just Platonism, right? Or am I wrong?

  • Chesire11

    He tosses out a few good lines (REALLY good line), but the more of the interview that I read, and the more I looked into him, the less impressed I became. By the end of the interview, it became more and more clear that he didn’t really have much point, other than to pose as more clever than his interviewer, and his audience. Maybe I’m reading him wrong, but he strikes me as a sum that is less than its parts. Stll, I AM planning on using some of his lines ;?)

  • Bret Zeller

    Berlinski is not an Atheist, worth noting. He claims Agnosticism, and some would argue he leans more toward Deism of some variety.