Book Review: The Devil’s Delusion, David Berlinski, Basic Books, 2009

Book Review, Devil's Delusion

The Devil’s Delusion

I’ll get to the point: there is little to review here. This is putatively an apologetic, and, unlike many books on the same topic, there is no argument. Instead, Berlinski penned, and found a publisher for, a petulant rant by a well-educated highbrow who is angry that someone else gets to be the smart guy in the room. There is no attempt at a step-wise presentation of objective evidence to show why new atheism, old atheism (what he pejoratively calls ‘rural atheism’), or agnosticism is wrong-headed. It’s a verbose, albeit well-written, entirely subjective, a priori polemic. You very well might like the book if you agree with him. You won’t if you disagree. Maybe that’s why he wrote it?

Note this statement from the preface:

“No scientific theory touches on the mysteries that the religious traditions addresses…While science has nothing of value to say on the great and aching question of life, death, love, and meaning, what the religious traditions of mankind have said forms a coherent body of thought.”

You are looking for fair and objective treatment of the ideas? Go elsewhere.

David_Berlinski
David Berlinski, credit WSJ

Fair Treatment? Nah. But Well Written.

That being said, I like Berlinski’s prose. He’s authored other books and is in well-honed command of the language. He slices and dices with cutting sarcasm before the recipient has time to catch their breath. For example, when Sam Harris remarks that not assimilating into a culture can be limiting for immigrants, referring, in this context, to Jews, Berlinski, almost in passing, writes that Harris‘ approaches anti-Semitism and finds it surprisingly to his (Harris’) taste. Apparently, for Berlinski, simply asking questions is tantamount to donning the Nazi cross.

He attempts to dispel other religious doubters with the same wave of the hand. Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, even old Chuck Darwin himself are reduced to sand with a puff of hot air from Berlinski. Except, of course, they’re not. The transformation and routing  occurs only in Berlinski’s mind. And you local yokels? Give a tug of the forelock and hush. The great man speaks and shuttles you off with the village idiot. Careful lest the burning stake is next:

“If rural atheism is familiar, it is also irrelevant. Religious men and women, having long accommodated the village idiot, have long accommodated the village atheist. It should be clear that this is not an examination of questions about faith and evidence.”

Berlinski has previously written on math and philosophy to mixed reviews. But the breadth of his interests shows in this book. That he is no fan of evolution is well-known. He works for the anti-evolution Discovery Institute, though, at least publicly, has never fully embraced their pet of Intelligent Design. (I am not sure if Berlinski is still at DI – his last work on their website is from 2013 and indications are that they are collapsing due to a lack of interest.)

There is a tacit and droning tone throughout the book indicating to me that Berlinski believes he is the smart gu, the gatekeeper. He deigns to hear your argument and determines yea or nay. That an upstart Brit like Christopher Hitchens steals that mantle from him simply will not do. Berlinski seems genuinely confused and irritated by this.

Choir members who stick their tongues out at onlookers will find much pleasure here. Atheists will find plenty of rotten tomatoes to toss back. This is exactly the kind of book that feeds these fires. Honest folk inquiring into questions of faith should keep strolling down the bookstore aisle. There is nothing of substance here for them.

A Useful Doorstop

I close with this note from Wiki (which I have not tried to substantiate):

Berlinski, along with fellow Discovery Institute associates Michael Behe and William A. Dembski, tutored Ann Coulter on science and evolution for her book Godless: The Church of Liberalism (2006).

Ouch!

Oh. And he blames the Nazis on evolution, too.

Two Stars. I give him kudos for taking the time to write the thing. Even if it’s most useful as a doorstop.

Cheers!


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