Friday, June 1, 2012

Richard Dawkins on David Berlinski

I may have more to say on the strange case of David Berlinski and his religious beliefs or lack thereof in the future, not just because he is a fascinating character but also because such cases – highly intelligent people who seem to espouse a heterodox religious outlook – can sometimes challenge those of us who see ourselves as physicalists in a way more mundane believers cannot.

By way of background, this piece includes some interesting quotes from Berlinski and from Richard Dawkins.

Dawkins had asserted that anyone who claims not to believe in evolution is ignorant, stupid, insane – or wicked.

'Are there, then, any examples of anti-evolution poseurs who are not ignorant, stupid or insane, and who might be genuine candidates for the wicked category? I once shared a platform with someone called David Berlinski, who is certainly not ignorant, stupid or insane. He denies that he is a creationist, but claims strong scientific arguments against evolution (which disappointingly turn out to be the same old creationist arguments).'

Dawkins then proceeds to tell of a curious – and amusing – incident which made him 'wonder about Berlinski's motives.'

Dawkins, Berlinski, John Maynard Smith (the highly respected evolutionary biologist) and others were guest speakers at a debate. Maynard Smith spoke after Berlinski and made fun of his arguments. As the audience laughed, Berlinski stood up and raised a hand and reproached the audience, saying something like (Dawkins couldn't remember the exact words): "No, no! Don't laugh. Let Maynard Smith have his say! It's only fair!"

I love Berlinski's writings on the history of mathematics and logic; I have not yet had a close look at his comments or claims about evolution. Of course, Dawkins's talk of wickedness is silly, but I must admit that I share some of his uneasiness about the man. What does Berlinski believe?

He calls himself an agnostic but his antipathy to evolutionary theory as well as his very high regard for the Jewish scriptures and the strange presence (as imaginary characters) of cardinals and Jesuits in his historical works suggests to me that he is a believer of sorts, though a self-consciously enigmatic one.