Wednesday, March 08, 2006


Berlinski and the Fine Art of Defensive Slumming

Over at Intelligent Design The Future, there is a truly amusing post. It's an interview conducted by an unnamed "Jewish agnostic living in Paris" with the ID polymath David Berlinski. The interview was posted by Jonathan Witt, who notes that Robert Crowther suggested he publish it.

Our carefully labeled but unnamed interviewer starts by asking:

"… Why do you think the debate about Darwin’s theory of evolution has taken on such a nasty turn … "

Berlinski: "Nasty, eh? If so, the nastiness is not entirely ecumenical. As far as I can tell, only one side is now occupying the gutter, even though the gutter is, as gutters generally are, more than spacious enough for two. But you raise a good question. Why are Darwinian biologists so outraged? Like the San Andreas fault, the indignation conspicuous at blogs such as The Panda’s Thumb or Talk Reason is now visible from outer space."

Having now staked out the high road for himself, Belinski goes on to say:

Berlinski: ... The fact that so many Darwinian biologists are utterly tone-deaf when it comes to debate has hardly helped their case. It is no small thing to have appeared before the American public in a way that suggests both illimitable arrogance and scientific insecurity.

… With all due respect, Mr. Berlinski, there are times reading what you have written when it seems that you are right down there in the gutter with the best of them. You did, after all, refer to Richard Dawkins as – and I quote – “a remarkably reptilian character” ….

Did I? Well, mine has been an exercise in defensive slumming.

… I see. What really accounts for your hostility to figures such as Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins?

... Berlinski:
In the case of Daniel Dennett, I think contempt might be a better word than hostility, and indifference a better word still. There are, of course, lots more where he came from – P.Z. Myers, for example, or Eugenie Scott, or Jason Rosenhouse. Throw in Steven Weinberg, just to reach an even number ….

… The Nobel Laureate? …

None other.

… But Dawkins …

An interesting case, very louche – fascinating and repellant. Fascinating because like Noam Chomsky he has the strange power effortlessly to command attention. Just possibly both men are descended from a line of simian carnival barkers, great apes who adventitiously found employment at a circus. I really should look at this more closely. Repellent because Dawkins is that depressingly familiar figure – the intellectual fanatic. What is it that he has said? “It is absolutely safe to say that, if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that)”. Substitute ‘Allah’ for ‘evolution,’ and these words might have been uttered by some fanatical Mullah just itching to get busy with a little head-chopping. If he ever gets tired of Oxford, Dawkins could probably find a home at Finsbury Park.
It's sooo refreshing to see intelligent design activists like Berlinski avoid climbing down into the gutter with us wretched neo-Darwinists. RSR, for one, admires the high standards Belinski brings to the debate.

If any of us could discover what Crowther and Witt found in this interview that they think makes intelligent design look good, perhaps then we could also discover the attraction of intelligent design.

Note: Most of the ellipses in this citation are found in the original post at ID the Future. RSR has shortened Belinski's answers in two spots, both noted by ellipses, in order to keep this post to manageable length. In neither case has Berlinski's meaning been taken out of context, as readers who follow the link (above) to read the original will find for themselves.


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