I’ll get right to the point: there is little to review here. Unlike many boos on the same topics, this is not an argument. Rather, Berlinski has 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 tradition 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.”
If you are expecting a fair and objective treatment you should look elsewhere.
That being said, I like Berlinski’s prose. He has authored other books and he is in well-honed command of the language. He is able to slice-and-dice others 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 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, that they are not. The transformation and routing occurs in Berlinski’s mind. And you local yokels? Give a tug of the hair and be quiet. 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 that Berlinski believes that he is supposed to be the smart guy. He is the gatekeeper. He will hear your argument and determine 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 like to 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 the questions should keep strolling down the aisle. There is nothing of substance here for them.
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).
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 door stop.
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