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Scientism meets its match

BOOKS | Author holds doctrinaire Darwinism to account

David Berlinski Hoover Institution

Scientism meets its match
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David Berlinski has long been an outspoken critic of Darwinian theory. Many Christians may remember him conversing with Ben Stein in the 2008 documentary Expelled, which explored the sidelining of educators who questioned dogmatic evolution. Berlinski is also a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute, the Seattle-based think tank that (quoting from its website) “investigates the life-changing possibilities of a universe brimming with ­information and intelligent design.” Berlinski is hard to pin down on personal religious beliefs, but he’s taken the role of perennial gadfly to the scientific establishment. In Science After Babel (Discovery Institute Press 2023) he holds that pose with urbane wit.

His introduction explains the title: Until recently, capital-S Science was supremely confident of reaching godlike status with a materialist understanding of Everything. But instead of a unified structure, such developments as algorithms and quantum theory have gone off in divergent directions. “Some parts of the tower are sound and sturdy; but, my goodness, the balustrade devoted to the multiverse—what were they thinking?” Science does a good job of explaining natural phenomena, but scientism is bumping up hard against realities it can’t fully comprehend.

Berlinski employs a series of essays rather than a sustained narrative to make his case. Some of these are quite technical and require a degree in chemistry or microbiology to follow, but the structure of the book makes it possible to skip or skim those chapters and still get the gist. He’s at his best when holding doctrinaire Darwinism to account. Ernst Mayr, for example, argued that the natural selection of traits that have no selective advantage “makes it highly probable that they are the result of selection.” Berlinski rejoins, “If this does not mean simply that those traits that survived, survived, then whatever else it might mean is conceptually ­ellipsoid.” Readers may want to look up “ellipsoid,” but they’ll get the idea.

The surge of scientific confidence that Isaac Newton initiated with his mechanical laws has come, not to a halt, but to a parting of many ways. “In systems comprising two bodies Newton’s equations of motion admit of a complete and closed solution. When three particles interact—only one particle after all—the Newtonian system that results cannot be solved. Three is the number of the Trinity, and the number, too, at which the ­universe ceases to be computable.”

There remains, at the heart of the universe, the profound mystery of life itself: “a kind of intelligence evident nowhere else,” whose “fantastic and controlled complexity, its brilliant inventiveness and diversity, its sheer difference from anything else in this or any other world” is beyond the reach of science to explain.

Janie B. Cheaney

Janie is a senior writer who contributes commentary to WORLD and oversees WORLD’s annual Children’s Books of the Year awards. She also writes novels for young adults and authored the Wordsmith creative writing curriculum. Janie resides in rural Missouri.


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