Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THE DEVIL’S DELUSION by David Berlinski


Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions


Pub Date: April 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-307-39626-6
Publisher: Crown Forum

An overwrought retort to Hitchens, Harris, Dawkins and company.

Discovery Institute senior fellow and science writer Berlinski (Infinite Ascent: A Short History of Mathematics, 2005, etc.) has a big job on his hands: convincing atheists that science doesn’t back their lack of belief. He names names (“I count myself among Harris’s warmest detractors”; “Richard Dawkins has nothing but contempt for theology, often glorifying in his impressive ignorance”) and protests that while there has never been a worthy proof against the existence of God, there are numerous scientists saying that God is at the very least improbable, at the most a delusion. His counterargument is scattershot, however. There’s nothing so elegant as Pascal’s theorem to be found in these pages, but instead a lot of rhetoric by sly suggestion: If Noam Chomsky is a child of the Enlightenment, and since the Enlightenment produced the French Revolution, it follows logically that Noam Chomsky is responsible for guillotining the innocent. Since Hitler and Stalin were atheists, it follows that all atheists are mass murderers in fact or potentiality. And so forth. In calmer moments, Berlinski offers a nice tour through modern cosmology, pointing out some of the theoretical weaknesses and built-in conundrums of quantum mechanics, even if it seems to be stretching to claim that Max Born was guilty of “legerdemain.” The author seems more comfortable with Einstein’s more nondogmatic views, to say nothing of Einstein’s willingness, at least publicly, to accept the possibility of God. As for the militant new atheists who deny divine agency in creation, he sometimes gets choked up in his furious rejections: “Scientific atheists should at least be open to the possibility that scientific explanations by their very nature come to an end well before they have done all the work that an explanation can do.”

By which, one supposes, he means that a leap of faith is needed in the whole question of whether God exists, which should come as no news to anyone on either side of the question. Those concerned with that question will find better grist elsewhere.