by Denyse O'Leary
Berlinski makes clear that, like Ben Stein, he knows how great a role Darwin played in Nazi theories:
A sinister current of influence ran from Darwin's theory of evolution to Hitler's policy of extermination. A generation of German biologists had read Darwin and concluded that competition between species was reflected in human affairs by competition between races." (p. 27)
That the Nazis may have misunderstood or misused Darwin is hardly the point. They could not have been what they were without him. Indeed, no understanding of the Nazis is even possible apart from their conviction that their ethnic group had evolved Darwin-wise into a master race that would - with the inevitability of the outworking of a law of nature - cause the extinction of less evolved races.
The fact that other ethnic groups have had different sham reasons for pretended superiority and mass murder is irrelevant: As the tableau of the three Jewish thinkers at the Wall in Expelled mutely testifies, the Holocaust was driven in part by the Nazis' partiality to Darwin's theory, not to some other theory.
Indeed, at this point it is safe to say that one way of professing allegiance to the new religion of scientism is to act offended by any assertion of this simple and obvious fact. Hardly the best beginning to a faith journey - but perhaps a beginning well suited to the faith of scientism.
But more generally, what can Berlinski affirm to be true? At the heart of his agnosticism is a conviction that the level of certainty required for belief - in God, atheism, Darwinism, et cetera, is simply lacking.
To the question what makes the laws of moral life true, there are three answers: God, logic, and nothing. Each is inadequate. (P. 37)We know that there is an intellectual and moral life but, in his view, we do not know why.
Nonetheless, materialism is even less convincing. "Every scientist since Newton has placed his allegiance in the world beyond the world."
In his remarkable treatise, The Road to Reality, Roger Penrose quotes a letter from the mathematician Richard Thomas of the Imperial College in London. What is one to make, Penrose asks, of the remarkable strange, and baffling mathematical results that have appeared in theoretical physics over the past twenty years or so? Thomas's reply is instructive and it is quite moving. "To a mathematician," he writes, these things cannot be coincidence, they must come from a higher reason. And that reason is the assumption that this big mathematical theory describes nature" (italics added). (P. 46)
And, while materialism makes the argument for atheism easy, it is not workable in the world we know:
... the world of matter revealed by the physical sciences does not serve to endow materialism with a familiar face. The universe in its largest aspect is the expression of curved space and time. Four fundamental forces hold sway. There are black holes and various infernal singularities. Popping out of quantum fields, the elementary particles appear as bosons or fermions. The fermions are divided into quarks and leptons. Quarks come in six varieties, but they are never seen, confined as they are within hadrons by a force that perversely grows weaker at short distances and stronger at distances that are long. There are six leptons in four varieties. Depending on just how things are counted, matter has as its fundamental constituents twenty-four elementary particles, together with a great many fields, symmetries, strange geometrical spaces, and forces that are disconnected at one level of energy and fused at another, together with at least a dozen different forms of energy, all of them active.
This is not an ontology that puts one in mind of a longshoreman's view of the material world. It is remarkably baroque. And it is promiscuously catholic. ... If tomorrow, physicists determine that particle physics requires access to the ubiquity of the body of Christ, that doctrine would at once be declared a physical principle and treated accordingly. (pp 53-54)
Well, I don't know about that. They might be just as inclined to build a three-billion dollar device on the French-Swiss border to prove it wasn't true after all. Oh heck, why not a thirty-billion dollar device? Can't be too careful these days.
Next: Part Three: Evolutionary psychology - the saints' legends of scientism
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