The Devil’s Delusion

I recently finished David Berlinski’s The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions. This is not your typical evangelical Christian response to the new atheism.  David Berlinski is a secular Jew who writes as a scientist.  His purpose is not to prove evangelical Christianity or even Judaism as the correct religion.  His purpose is to look at the claims that science supports atheism and has completely dismantled belief in God.  The insider perspective is very enlightening.  Berlinski puts out for examination the presuppositions of science, demonstrating that science neither proves nor disproves God.  Science has become just another tool of atheists and in some ways a certain interpretation of science has become the foundation for the atheistic belief system.  Berlinski interacts with major atheist authors such as Sam harris, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins.  He deals with such issues as the origin of the universe (including a look at if there was a beginning) and evolution.  Berlinski makes it clear that certain atheistic scientists have begun with the assumption that there is no God and have attempted to force science to comply.  For example, if the universe had a beginning, the door is open for there to be a Creator.  Since there is no God, then the universe must not have had a beginning.  Berlinski has an incredible wit and I often found myself laughing out loud and reading passages to my wife.  If you are interested in the relationship between faith and science or are concerned about the new atheism, I strongly encourage The Devil’s Delusion.

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22 thoughts on “The Devil’s Delusion”

  1. Berlinski’s entire thesis is nothing but a giant straw man…

    Please allow me to quote your own post…

    “Berlinski puts out for examination the presuppositions of science, demonstrating that science neither proves nor disproves God. ”

    First off, no published or notable atheist (Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, etc.) have EVER made the argument that science has disproved the existence of God. In fact, they have ALL gone to great lengths to point out that science will NEVER be able to affirmatively disprove the existence of God because proving something’s NONexistence is a near impossibility. This is where the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” argument usually gets dusted off and brought out of the closet for a moment on stage. So, Berlinski’s assertion that science doesn’t disprove God is an argument that nobody is disputing.

    As far as the presuppositions of science, Berlinski is, again, creating a dispute that doesn’t really exist. Science (and by extension, scientists) presupposes that the universe is, by its nature, consistent with the evidence that we have gathered about it until that point. As new evidence arises, those presuppositions change to fit our new, more informed, understanding of the universe. Scientists presuppose that God doesn’t exist because no one has ever supplied any verifiable evidence that he does. I can’t speak for all atheists–or any scientists–but I can tell you that as I live my life from day to day, I operate under the presupposition that God does not exist because I have never encountered any evidence that would cause me to believe that he does. I also will tell you that if anyone were to supply such evidence, I would be happy to change my point of view–and my presuppositions.

  2. Thanks for your comments. Out of curiosity, have you read Berlinski’s book. You are correct that most people would not say that science disproves God but many would say our advancements in science have given good reasons to jettison a belief in God.

    I do not know about Dawkins or Harris (I do not have their books handy) but I checked out Hitchens. Hitchens in his chapter “Metaphysical Claims of Religion” talks about how scientists before Darwin and Einstein often took a default position of deism but with more modern advancements, science has moved on.

    As for evidence that there is a God, I will not pretend to have the ability to convince you. I can only tell you why I believe in God:
    1) The fact that the universe exists.
    2) The fact that life on earth and humanity exists.
    3) The fact that there is a measure of right and wrong.
    4) The resurrection of Jesus.
    5) Personal experience of putting my faith in God and witnessing his involvement in my life.
    Do you have response to these? I am sure you do. But these are why I believe in God.

  3. I have not had a chance to read Devil’s Delusion yet, but I did read Berlinski’s “Deniable Darwin”, which–if your synopsis of Devil’s Delusion is any indication–treads much of the same ground.

    I do believe that as science has advanced, God (and especially the bible’s version of God) has become more and more incompatible with what we know of the universe. That doesn’t mean that God is disproven, it simply means that he has become less and less LIKELY.

    I will only spend a small amount of space on the specific items of evidence which, you said, have anchored your faith in God because I don’t want to attack your reasons–they are your own and I’m not here to try and convert you to atheism. I will simply tell you why those same things have been insufficient for me.

    1. Lack of evidence for one theory does not constitute positive evidence of another, competing theory. Just because science can’t explain how the universe came into being (or if it did) does not support the existence of a God. It is simply a blank spot in human knowledge that needs to be filled. Without affirmative evidence of God’s existence, that gap could just as reasonably be filled with unicorns, “dark matter”, string theory, or cheese toast. With a lack of any empirical data, they are all equally supported.

    2. I (and despite the “teach the controversy” hoopla, most scientists) am perfectly satisfied with the explanations that Darwins theory of evolution have given us for how the life we see around us came into existence.

    3. I believe that morality is much more subjective than most Christians would like to believe and that what little OBJECTIVE morality there is in the world is simply an evolutionary construct of the human mind that allows us to function together as social beings.

    4. Until someone can provide proof that the resurrection of Jesus Christ actually occurred, I see no reason to consider it evidence for or against anything at all.

    5. I have had no personal experiences with God and can not accept the unverified word of other people’s personal experiences as evidence.

  4. As I said, I gave the reasons why I believe in God. As a former atheist, I find them compelling. I well aware that there are response that you can give to each one just as there are responses that I can give to each reason you have for being an atheist. I can only present what I believe and I do not think debate will be productive.

    Regarding Berlinski’s book, I do think he makes some interesting points. He notes that we all look back in embarrassment at the days when one was not allowed to question the flat earth. Such questions were heresy and bad science. Yet, today we are not allowed to question Darwinism. Darwinism has been “proved” and therefore any questions can only be responded by plugged ears and loud humming. Instead of dialoguing with intelligent design scientists, Darwinists respond usually with name calling. Is that good science? Are we really at a point that one theory explains it all and there is no more room for questions? Good thing Einstein did not feel those limitations when it came to physics.

  5. I can only speak for myself, but I think that questioning Darwinism–or any other scientific theory for that matter–is a good thing. The problem comes in to play with the question “what” are you questioning and “what” alternative are you offering. ID is not science. I don’t say this because it is related to religion. This is not “scientific presuppositionalism”. This is simply a statement of fact based on the very definition of science. Science uses the “scientific method” of hypothesis->experiment->conclusion to repeatedly test the validity of any theory. This can not be done with ID because the existence of a supernatural creator is, by its very nature, untestable, unverifiable, unfalsifiable, and unparsiminous. That disqualifies it as science. Question Darwinism all you want, just leave ID in church where it belongs because it does not belong in the same conversation.

  6. Let me get this straight. Would you say the forms of physics that attempt to explain the origin of the universe by positing parallel universes as real science? These parallel universes are untestable, unverifiable and unfalsifiable. It seems more like science fiction and yet as a theory it seems to explain a possible reason for our universe. What is the difference between parallel universes and a possible intelligent being that is responsible for life?

  7. The problem with your statement is that it simply isn’t true. There is favorable evidence for ALL of the origin theories–multiverse, brane universes, Big Bang, Big Crunch, etc. That evidence comes in the form of mathematics. You should read some of what Michiu Kaku has to say about multiverses. Not only does the derivative math from Einsteins theory of relativity hold that multiverses are possible, but that they are likely. And…if they are real, they CAN be observed, tested, and falsified–only with the use of energy that we don’t currently have the means to generate. Just because we don’t have the ability to test or verify something doesn’t mean we shouldn’t theorize about it–as long as a test is conceivable. ID could NEVER be tested with any technology, real or imagined. It’s very nature precludes it from scientific verification of any kind.

  8. John Gault,

    Quick question: Can other universes be observed to exist right now and not just theoretically?

  9. DM,

    No. Other universes can not be observed right now. Neither could quarks 50 years ago…Or black holes before that. My point is that even when we could not observe these phenomena with current technology, there was mathematical, inferential evidence that they could exist–along with an understanding of the theoretical procedures that would, one day, make observation possible. Multiverses can’t be observed or tested for now, but we know HOW we COULD observe them once the technology catches up to the theory. ID is different. Even if you assume that every tennet of ID is absolutely true, and you further assume that there are NO limits to the technology available to human beings for the purpose of experimentation and observation, the very nature of God makes him unreachable by human means. He is unfalsifiable under any set of theoretical circumstances. That makes the existence of God inherently incompatible with science.

  10. Good dialogue gentlemen. I found it intriguing. I will look ino Berlinski’s book. I share the same reason for belief in God:
    1-origin of the universe
    2-design of everything
    3-existence of morality
    4-person of Jesus
    5-spiritual instinct of mankind

    With appreciation,
    Pastor Adam Barton
    Akron, Ohio

  11. John, what you say does not make sense. You say that we do not have the ability to test multiverses now but we may one day. You also say that we do not have the ability to test God and you know that we never will be. As you say “the very nature of God makes him unreachable by human means.” This is the problem of presuppositions. You presuppose multiverses are possible and so therefore they should be testable. You presuppose God does not exist and that if he did exist, you are presupposing a nature that is not testable. How do you know that there will never be technology to see evidence of God? Suppose for a moment there was some eternal creator (not necessarily the Christian God), if such a being existed, would it not be possible that eventually technology would allow us to discover such a being? If that is a possibility, should not that theory remain on the table and be open to research?

    1. It is NOT a presupposition…My contention that God can never be tested for is inherent in the THEIST’S definition of God itself. Intelligent design rests upon the idea of an “intelligent” (ala’ the “I” in ID) being with the power to create an entire universe. Such a being has an agenda (a product of his intelligence) and the power (demonstrated by his creation of the universe) to advance that agenda. The inevitable conclusion to this line of logic is that if God doesn’t WANT us to see him through scientific tests, then we won’t (untestable). If he DOES want us to see him, no scientific tests are necessary. Looking for God through a telescope is like looking for hot snowflakes or government-loving anarchists. It is a violation of the very definition of the thing being tested for.

    2. I think Stephen has a point, which is that ID could be subjected to scientific inquiry just as much as any hypothesis.

      Why not try to prove it scientifically? Identify the intelligent designer. Explain in scientific terms what sort of entity it is that could exist before the universe and all life was created. If the designer is indeed intelligent, does the entity have the equivalent of a brain? How does its ‘brain’ function? Does the designer still exist? Still create universes? Still create species? Using what resources? etc

      Using the scientific method, develop a theory that explains all these things and collect evidence.

      Of course, no one wants to do this. ID exists because you have people who would like to fit a mythological, literary conception of the universe into a scientific one.

      the last thing anyone wants is a scientific portrait of mythological beliefs — the big bang might ‘leave the door open’ to the existence of god, but what went on during the eons between the bang and the appearance of man on earth doesn’t resemble anything that is described in the Bible. If you were able to locate and quantify God and able to show exactly how he created the big bang, it would be a fantastic revelation. but you’d just wind up with another bunch of religious people pissed off at science for trying to re-write their creation story.

      Clearly the answer is to distinguish between myth/legend and science. Otherwise you’ll be forever trying to apply natural standards on things that are imaginary, literary, metaphorical — i mean, hey, how about we pay NASA to locate heaven and take pictures of it with a satellite probe?

  12. Going to the Bible for a moment, the assumption is that creation provides evidence for God, therefore God does want to be found. There are scientists that have looked into the origins of the universe and have found it to strongly suggest a creator. This is the point that Berlinski is trying to make. Some scientists are trying hard to come up with a theory that avoids a beginning to the universe because a beginning is to compatible with there being a creator. They look for alternative theories, not because the evidence demands it but because they do not want physics to be used as evidence by theists.

    1. Stephen,

      Quite right. We are thus presented with the rather unedifying sight of scientists applying their philosophy to their science. We have philosophical assumptions being made before we even get into the laboratory! And the ‘sacred’ realm of empiricism can go hang when the scientist doesn’t quite like where the science takes him. Interesting …

  13. John Gault,

    I’m afraid you possess no argument whatsoever. Are you an empiricist? You are criticising ID yet are cliniging to something you ‘think’ might one day become a provosional theory – this is cracking stuff. With respect, you appear to be trying to fill a gap with this ludicrous position you are taking. How do you feel about Christians who employ a the god-of-the-gaps?

    The multiverse ‘theory’ can not be verified. There are no observable consequences upon our own universe. We thus invoke the principle of economy and cut it out of the equation.

    1. DM,

      Unfortunately, it is you who are mistaken–both on your understanding of current scientific knowledge and on your comparison to a valid, theological analysis.

      First, I am not endorsing the multiverse theory as the true nature of the universe. I am simply pointing out that IF the multiverse theory were true, it COULD be tested. I already directed all involved in this conversation to check out Michiu Kaku’s writings on the subject–where he explains how the derivative math that springs forth from Einstein’s theory of relativity demonstrates that parallel universes could be directly observed through the release of massive energy over an extremely small area. We don’t have the capability to produce that energy, we don’t have the ability to concentrate it, and even if we did, it might turn out that there are no multiverses. The point is, however, that a test COULD be performed to verify the theory.

      Incidentally, this is the same scientific methodology that was used to confirm the existence of supermassive black holes. First came the math, then the theory, then, much later, the observations–and those observations are still only indirect in nature. Only AFTER the observations does the theory become a tested conclusion.

      I am criticizing ID because one could never test for the existence of a creator God that does not wish to be revealed through said tests.

      I would love to hear how this rationale is “ludicrous” in any way or how it equates with the “God-of-the-gaps” position of placing conclusions BEFORE observation.

      1. John Gault,

        You’re invoking lots of ifs and maybes here. If my Aunty had testicles we could observe them for testicular cancer. The fact that she does not yet have testicles renders the theoretical obsevation null and void: your speculation amounts to precisely nothing!

        <>

        What is ludicrous is you even offering this up as any kind of argument. You’re effectively offering us a maybe-in-the-not-too-distant-future-provided-the-conditions-are-met theory of the gaps; this is very poor stuff I must say.

  14. I think you’re being deliberately obtuse here because you know that what I’m saying makes sense. Let me try to simplify this through the use of analogy:

    The following is an analogy of testing for the multiverse:

    “Hey, Bob. There may be a bird at the top of that really tall tree.”

    “Really? Did you see a bird?”

    “No, but birds do like trees. You should take a look.”

    “But the tree doesn’t have any branches I can reach to climb”

    “Then we’ll build a ladder”

    “Great. I don’t know how to build a ladder. Do you?”

    “Nope. Let’s read this book on ladder-making and THEN we’ll climb up and see IF there’s a bird.”

    “O.k…I sure hope there’s a bird up there or this was one huge waste of time.”

    Now, the following is analagous to “testing” for the validity of ID:

    “Hey Bob…I think there may be a gremlin under my bed.”

    “Really? Did you see a gremlin?”

    “Nope, but there COULD be a gremlin. I can’t prove there isn’t”

    “O.k…fair enough. Why don’t we just look under the bed?”

    “Gremlins are invisible”

    “O.k…well, let’s poke under the bed with a broom stick and see if it touches the gremlin.”

    “Gremlins have no mass”

    “Really? Weird…O.k…Voltage meter?”

    “Gremlins neither use or expel energy of any kind.”

    “Will it talk to us?”

    “Gremlins can’t talk”

    “Well, what the hell am I supposed to do to see if there either IS or IS NOT a gremlin under there?”

    “You can’t. Gremlins are immune to all methods of human detection, they shun interaction with the physical world, and they have the ability to anticipate your efforts to expose them through exceptional mental telepathy. In fact, if you were able to see the gremlin, it would cease to be a gremlin because gremlins are, by definition, beyond the reach of human beings.”

    “You want to go play Nintendo?”

  15. John Gault,

    Good analogy!

    What I’m doing is exposing this nonsense. If the M-Theory were true, then it could be tested…Well, I’m just completely overwhelmed here! I could fill much of my time kicking around the theoretically plausible. You’re using speculation in order to rubbish some other postulation; but speculation based on a theoretically plausible yet unobservable, untestable, unverifiable, unprovable ‘theory’ is simply not the way to go. Non-testable assumptions do not help us move forward in the slightest. M-Theory is thus relegated to the box marked ‘irrelevant’. It’s certainly a useless deployment for your intended purpose.

  16. My point is that scientists claimed to be rational and reasonable. They look down on Christians who ignore science and hold to 6 day creation or 6000 year old universe. But then turnaround and refuse to dialogue with scientists who see evidence of ID. Scientists will serious consider multiverses or alien life, but refuse to even consider God, avoiding any evidence that points to God. Is it really rational to rely on name calling and boycotting rather than rational conversation?

  17. I find it interesting when I read in the Bible, God stating that “Seek and you will find Me..” so then it will be possible in the future to verify if God exist scientifically, in fact the Bible thus states that it is possible to find God without the use of science as well, and it even comes with a promise that we WILL find God if we look for Him. I believe it is mere stubborness that governs the majority of scientists who refuse to investigate the other side of the argument. Perhaps it is like this.. few really want to find God and would rather produce a number of theories and base their entire paradigm on maybe and if, not that there is anything wrong in it but it begs the question, why argue against people who want to build their lives on a relationship with the Savior and not wait for empirical evidence given by natural science.

    God bless.

    Ron

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