Jewish Intellectuals Challenge Tyranny of Darwinism

Christopher A. Ferrara

From the film Expelled: Dr. David Berlinski (r)

speaks with Ben Stein (center) and Dr. Gerald

Schroeder in front of a remnant of the Berlin Wall.

An Afternoon with Dr. David Berlinski

(Posted June 2, 2008 www.RemnantNewspaper.com) When I went to a local movie theatre to see “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” during its short run, I went with very low expectations, and more out of a sense of duty than anything else. The critics had uniformly savaged this documentary exposé of the academic tyranny of the Darwinian establishment, and even allowing for their liberal bias I had expected to encounter a schlock production along the lines of other such films produced with the backing of evangelicals and fundamentalists.

Imagine my surprise and delight when I realized that the critical savaging of this film was probably motivated primarily by fear—fear that “Expelled” might actually succeed in tearing down what the film, in a thematic allegory, likens to a Berlin Wall in academia, behind which are confined in lonely exile the hardy few who have dared to challenge the teaching of Saint Darwin by stating the obvious: that the emergence of life in all its unimaginable and irreducible complexity can only have been the result of creation according to an intelligent design. With Ben Stein, the lawyer, former presidential speechwriter and Hollywood celebrity as its front man and narrator, “Expelled” is a lavishly mounted and brilliantly executed piece of anti-Darwinian propaganda, in the best sense of the word.

First of all, Stein and his director (Nathan Frankowski) deftly allow the paladins of Darwin in today’s academy to make fools of themselves by putting on display their own comical pomposity, bigotry and lack of credible answers to the most basic questions. One by one, pop culture’s leading lights of Darwinism and scientific atheism, so accustomed to being carried hither and yon on the cushy sedan chair of media adulation, are seen ranting, smugly pontificating, or stumbling and bumbling in Stein’s hot seat. Richard Dawkins of Oxford, Daniel Dennett of Tufts, William Provine of Cornell, an almost self-parodically school marmish Eugenie Scott at the “National Center for Science Education” (a think tank that oversees Darwinian orthodoxy in the public schools), Michael Ruse of Florida State, P. Z. Myers of the University of Minnesota—all of them cooperate handily in making the case against themselves by simply speaking unguardedly to the camera.  The last few minutes of the film are worth the price of admission: Stein makes an absolute ass of Dawkins, the reigning pope of the Church of Darwin, with nothing more than a few simple questions and a well-timed incredulous grin. Without the cover usually provided by a deferential interviewer, the upper hierarchy of the Darwinian establishment comes off as a rather sad and clownish lot.

But there is much more to the film than a demonstration that the “Darwiniacs,” as Joe Sobran calls them, are empty suits who rely on bluster, intimidation, censorship of opposing views, pseudo-scientific razzle-dazzle, and the fawning media to maintain their dominance.  Ben Stein, a Jew, dares to present the evidence,  so abundantly present in the historical record, that Darwin’s theory of natural selection producing man and all other species through “survival of the fittest” inspired the early 20th century eugenics movement, the medical experiments of Nazi doctors on living human subjects, and ultimately the Holocaust itself.  In a major segment of the film Stein interviews—on the very grounds of Dachau, no less—the author of From Darwin to Hitler, Cal State historian Richard Weikart, and Stein journeys to Darwin’s home, now a veritable shrine, to stare down a marble statue of the great man, as if to ask: “Who are you, and what have you done to this world?”

The film concludes with a tableau of three Jewish intellectuals: Stein (valedictorian of his class at Yale Law School), nuclear physicist Dr. Gerald Schroeder (formerly of MIT and now a professor at Hebrew University), and mathematician and philosopher Dr. David Berlinski. The three men are standing next to a remnant of the Berlin Wall, lamenting the tyranny of Darwinism and calling for an academic resistance movement to breach the wall of Darwinian intolerance.

It hardly needs to be explained how stunning a breakthrough this film is, even despite its flaws (including a rather painful-to-watch appeal to Jeffersonian liberalism as the antidote to Darwinism). I paid three times to see “Expelled,” for the sheer pleasure of watching over and over again such an unexpected bombshell of a movie, hardly believing that Stein would have lent his name to the production, since it surely means the end of his Hollywood career.

On each viewing, I was particularly impressed by the segment involving Stein’s interview of Dr. Berlinski, an American expatriate, in his rather splendid Paris apartment. Berlinski seemed to transcend what one would expect from a typically brilliant product of Columbia and Princeton in the 1960s. There was something Catholic about the precision and the respect for categories and distinctions with which he critiqued Darwinian thought—almost as if he had been given a Jesuit formation back when the Jesuits were still Catholic.

Intrigued, I bought a copy of Berlinski's latest book, The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions. I was amazed to read, from this professed agnostic Jew who “cannot pray,” one of the best defenses of religious faith against scientism that has ever been written. George Gilder of National Review rightly calls it “a promethean work” and “the definitive book of the new millennium.”  Confirming my intuition about the catholicity of his thought, Berlinski cites Saint Thomas and the Summa Theologica extensively (praising the “faith and genius” of the Angelic Doctor), depicts Saint Robert Bellarmine's handling of the Galileo affair as an exemplar of the correct relation between faith and reason, and offers this defense of the Church against the feckless accusation that Christianity, not atheism, is the cause of war and suffering in the world:

"Just who has imposed on the suffering human race poison gas, barbed wire, high explosives, experiments in eugenics, the formula for Zyklon B, heavy artillery, pseudo-scientific justifications for mass murder, cluster bombs, attack submarines, napalm, intercontinental ballistic missiles, military space platforms, and nuclear weapons?  If memory serves, it was not the Vatican."

The book is filled with such delightful gems. Two weeks after reading The Devil’s Delusion I found myself walking up the steps to the same Paris apartment seen in the film, located in the shadow of Notre Dame Cathedral. There, accompanied by my friends and colleagues Dr. John Rao and Andrew Bellon, I conducted my own interview of Berlinski for The Remnant, the day before the start of the annual 72-mile pilgrimage from that very cathedral to Notre Dame in Chartres. What follows is a partial transcript of my encounter with a man whose conversion to the Faith would be a worthy Rosary intention for every reader of this newspaper. 

Meanwhile, I heartily recommend that Remnant readers rent “Expelled” when it comes out on DVD and buy multiple copies of The Devil’s Delusion for themselves and others (it appears to be available only at amazon.com). As the interview makes clear, people like Stein and Berlinski are saying things, at great cost to themselves, that too many Catholic churchmen no longer dare to say in their craving for respectability in the eyes of the world. This embarrassing truth is just one of the many symptoms of what Paul VI, that supremely tragic figure, all too belatedly decried as “the invasion of the Church by worldly thinking.”

The Interview

Christopher Ferrara (CF): We’re interviewing Dr. David Berlinski in his apartment in Paris on May 9, 2008.  Thank you for having us here.

David Berlinski (DB):  It’s my pleasure.

CF:  And we’re here to talk about your book, first of all, The Devil’s Delusion.

DB:  Nothing I’d rather talk about.

CF:…. So the title, first of all…. How would you explain it?

DB:  The title came to me.  Everybody always says, “Well, you were just reacting to Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion.”  In fact, it never occurred to me.  I was reacting to the line from Shakespeare:  “He must have a long spoon that must eat with the devil.” And I thought that was a perfect image for the book: a long spoon dining with the devil. And when I presented The Devil’s Delusion, of course my editor at Crown Forum said: “Well, what does the book mean?” So I said, “Atheism and its scientific pretensions.” I thought that would be a sufficiently lucid explanation of what I was after.  It’s not just atheism.  It’s not just religious belief, but it’s the particular nature of the debate as it’s taking place in the United States, and to a certain extent in Europe right now.  It’s always in the name of science.  It’s being promoted in the name of a very wicked, very orthodox, secular ideology….

Stigmatizing the Opposition to Darwinism

CF: Do you think that these scientific pretensions of atheism have been ramped up recently?

DB:  No question about it.

CF:  What’s going on?

DB: It’s really hard to say.  I think September 11 scared the living daylights out of a lot of people… they saw a specter.  It’s like the famous line from the Communist Manifesto [speaking German] “Specters Haunting Europe.” All of a sudden they said to themselves, there’s a specter haunting the world, Islamic radicalism, and it was very easy to generalize from Islamic radicalism to religious intolerance. The step was easy to take, and it was taken easily.

CF:  So then, the idea is that to question Darwinism is to engage in a sort of dangerous—

DB: —to be an ally of forces that are dark and noxious in the modern world, that is, fundamentalist intolerance, religious fanaticism.

CF: Of course we’re dealing with fundamentalist intolerance on the other side of the equation.

DB:  Of course we are, but the point is, of course, all these animadversions directed toward the Moslem world are based on complete and perfect ignorance of the Moslem world too. And that’s not an impediment to polemics.

CF:  Well, what do you mean by that?

DB: You get somebody like Christopher Hitchens, or Martin Amis for that matter, the novelist, who are extremely eager to offer their own anathemas, vigorous objurgations, that the most radical force for evil in the modern world is Islamic fundamentalism. And you ask them whether they can read a word of Arabic or paid any attention to the literature, which is now extensive and vast—complicated in many respects, extremely interesting—and the answer is no.  We have no idea what these people actually think or write.  Why should we?

CF: So then the tactic would be to conflate with Islamic radicals anybody who stands up to the Darwinian establishment.

DB:  It’s not a tactic, it’s more a strategy.  It works to perfection.

A Jesuit Formation?

CF: Let’s talk about the book…. [W]hat comes off the pages for me is a kind of a rigor and a respect for categories, and the ability to make distinctions, and an insistence upon distinctions which, for a Catholic, would suggest a Jesuit formation….

DB: I’m more than happy to take that as a compliment…  But my own background is so strongly influenced by logic.  I went to Princeton in 1965. I studied with Alonzo Church, the great logician, and then for ten years thereafter I really worked in mathematical logic, not alone, but with friends, and I think that kind of education makes an indelible mark…. And Jesuits say exactly the same thing about their education. Of course they do….

Evolution as Tautology

CF:  Well, applying logic to evolutionary theory, and particularly the mechanism that it holds forth as the explanation for everything, natural selection, where do we encounter a logical problem? Is natural selection a tautology?

DB: You know, nothing is so apt to provoke the indignation of Darwinian biologists as to remark that the centerpiece of their theory is perfectly empty because it is, in fact, a trivial truth: whatever survives, survives. And Darwinian theory does not really get beyond que sera, sera. And there are all sorts of elaborate strategies designed to circumvent that objection, but whenever they’re investigated seriously, they always return to the same point of triviality.  Darwinian biologists simply have nothing much better than what survives, survives. They’ll call it differential reproduction—namely, what survives, survives.  This may be just a fact of life.

It is not necessarily an annihilating point of criticism.  After all, you can go back to Newton’s Principia and say force equals mass times acceleration.  What is force?  Well, it’s mass times acceleration…. But on the other hand, when you look at Newtonian mechanics, there is a wealth of detail, predictions that flow from the theory. The remarkable coverage it offers of phenomena is completely unlike Darwin’s theory, which really has very few predictions.

CF: Can you give some examples of why Darwinism fails as a predictive science? 

DB:  What has it ever told us beyond what survives, survives? We have no independent assessment in any respect—and this is a point of difference in physics—as to what qualities in a living system will establish its survivability.  That is to say, we cannot look at an organism and say: “These are the qualities from a theoretical point of view, a general theoretical point of view, that we would predict would be favored under certain environments.”  There is no mapping from an environment of such-and-such a nature and an organism of such-and-such a nature to a prediction about which organism is possessing which qualitative – forget about quantitative, they’re nowhere near that – will survive and which won’t.  We can’t say that.  All we can do is look at what happens in the evolutionary record, but that’s not scientific.  We could have done that before Darwin.

CF:  Or an attempt to reconstruct history?

DB: You’ve got one eel that has to travel across the Atlantic to the Sargasso Sea to reproduce and another eel that doesn’t. Can we say in advance, looking at the eels, given the saltwater environment, this is what we will predict?  No, we can’t, we just have to look and see.  There’s nothing wrong with looking and seeing, but, you know, we don’t need a theory for that.

CF: So not only do they say whatever will be, will be, they say whatever was, was.

DB:  Yes, and I have no objection to all of that.

CF: But that’s not science, that’s history—or an attempt to write history.

DB: I don’t think it makes much difference whether we say it’s science or history. It’s certainly interesting, but we haven’t reached any deep level of explanation as we have in physics…. I don’t need a school of biology to tell me that things that have survived, have survived.  I know that.  We’re here.

CF: Is there any aspect of the theory that is legitimately testable?

DB:  No.


DB: No, there’s no part of it that’s really rigorously tested.

CF:  Do they even claim that there is some—

DB: — Oh sure—

CF: What’s their chief example of a testable application of the theory?

DB:  You mean in terms of—

CF: —I think Miller mentioned that they had deleted a gene in the gene sequence and that within seven generations, the missing gene reappeared.

DB:  Yes, the literature is full of stuff like this where something is observed, and biologists say: “Well, my goodness, by golly, that’s just what Darwin’s theory predicted.”  The fact of the matter is, they never go back and show us, the rest of us, that is, how Darwin’s theory actually predicted it.  That’s the crucial test.  Almost anything can be brought into alignment with Darwin’s theory.  That’s pretty easy. But why did human beings develop an astonishingly large brain over what is a geological blink of the eye? Well, it was advantageous.  How does that follow from Darwin’s theory?  I mean, what are the principles that specify large brains better, small brains, no good?

CF:  And, of course, if you’re dealing with a process of mutation that’s random, how do you account for the conservation of the different mutations required for the ensemble of the new organism?  How does the organism “know” what to conserve?

DB: Don’t forget, it’s not only the process of mutation that’s random. And contrary to what people like Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins claim, natural selection is also random….  The best that we can do is say, over geological time, that environments change randomly, because we don’t know why environments change. So you have environments that change randomly, natural selection is random, and mutations are random. So, you’ve got what statisticians would call two random variables, and the product of two random variables is again a random variable, which means the entire theory is essentially stochastic [random] in nature…. It is science with a category of chance and accident—all the structures of living systems.

CF:  Which is why it can’t predict anything.

DB:  Which is why it can’t predict anything.

On “Catholic Evolutionists”

CF:  Let’s turn to the Catholic Church, which is our focus here.  Let’s talk in particular about somebody like Ken Miller who piously assures us that “as a Catholic, I have no problem reconciling the theory of evolution with my faith.”  But then he’ll turn around and deny intelligent design. Now my question would be, isn’t that a disingenuous position? 

DB: Well, I hesitate to talk about Ken Miller’s Catholic faith because I regard him as being disingenuous across the board…. As I understand Miller, he’s not denying intelligent design. He’s simply pushing it to a level such that it will never be an impediment to any particular dogma in the here and now. And he’s perfectly prepared to say that the cosmos is in some sense intelligently designed.  He’s prepared to say that because the evidence is overwhelming that it is.  He’s just determined not to see evidence of intelligent design in any process of living systems.

CF:  And why?

DB: Because that would put him squarely in conflict with prevailing orthodoxy…. Like so many other people, Ken Miller wants to serve as many gods as he can.

CF:  …. So that’s the issue.  Where is there a place for God in the system of someone who says, at one and the same time, I am a Catholic, but life arose through a stochastic process?  Where is there room for God in that system?  A verbal affirmation?

DB: He [God] is very far away where he can do no trouble and interfere with no human activities, and that is exactly the point of the exercise: to retain the piety of devotion without any inconvenience of faith.

From Land Mammal to Whale?

CF: … [O]ne of the more ludicrous claims of Darwinism is the transition from a land mammal to a whale… I’m reminded of something Miller did during a debate in 1996 in which you participated—you were one of the panelists—and he came in with placards… which purported to show what he called three “transitional” forms [between land mammals and whales]…. and your comment on that was interesting. 

DB:  Well, it is interesting that there have been at least seven or eight hypothetical intermediate forms. And what Ken Miller had was an elaborate arrangement where one intermediate form led by an arrow to another intermediate form. And he was very, very lucid in explaining where the structures themselves were discovered and how they were reconstructed. But the question he could never answer was: where were the arrows discovered?  And the fact is that these arrows were placed there by Ken Miller and the rest of the evolutionary community. That represented a completely gratuitous intrusion of a theoretical perspective…

CF:  Now you said you did some algorithmic …

DB: No, just some back of the envelope calculations; nothing serious about it… All I said was that it’s remarkably easy if you’re trying to understand how many changes a land-based mammal required to become an ocean-going mammal, and restricting yourself just to morphological changes—skin, teeth, dentition, lactation, every system, digestion, feeding mechanism, behavior—I sat down, and I said I can come up with fifty thousand required changes.  I don’t know. Maybe that’s off by an order of magnitude, maybe it’s five hundred thousand changes, or maybe it’s fifty thousand changes or maybe it’s five changes.  I don’t know.  The point is, no one else knows either, and the question is not being raised in literature because once it were raised in literature… then somebody could ask: Let’s compare the number of required changes with the number of intermediate organisms actually found in the fossil record. And that could be a very disconcerting discovery, if you say fifty thousand changes.  If you say of those fifty thousand changes, there should be fifty thousand intermediates—because, after all, changes occur in very small steps—and we only have five, or we have six, what conclusions might be drawn?... If we’ve only got five, some people—not a Darwinian biologist—but some people might scratch their head and say: Well, that sounds like the theory is false.  I mean, I’m not saying that, of course—God forbid! [laughter]—but some skeptics perversely might conclude from that that the theory is false.  The point is, it’s never put to that kind of test.

CF: Well, even the forms that they posit as “transitional” are actually discrete and morphologically non-transitional. So for example, if you’re talking about a whale fin, the transitional form would be some sort of appendage that is neither hoof nor fin, but something in between.  They have never produced anything like that as far as I know. 

DB: All the fossils that we know represent completely coherent organisms.

CF: The idea of a mammalian snout migrating to the top of the head and becoming a blowhole presents some interesting questions on transitional forms.

DB: Given the sheer promiscuity of blowhards, I don’t know why blowholes should be an especial difficulty for Darwinian evolution. I just prefer to regard that as one of the mysteries that biologists are not prepared to investigate too closely, for obvious reasons.

The Problems with Evolutionary Cosmology

CF:  Let’s talk about evolutionary cosmology. In the book you talk about how at first the Big Bang was greeted with great enthusiasm by the scientific community, until they figured out—just a moment!—this means the universe began, which suggests causation for the universe.  What happened with that?

DB: They got rid of that real quick.  God forbid there should be a beginning to the universe as Genesis might suggest…. You know, the first generation of cosmologists who looked at this sort of said: My God, we’ve seen this story before in Bible class when we were six. How very odd that we should be seeing it all over again. 

Of course, the smarter cosmologists figured that’s just not going to do. Where would we cosmologists be if we had to cede authority to someone else?... So they immediately enlisted the philosophers, and told them: “We’ve got a job for you philosophers…. Let’s show how a universe finite in temporal extent did not really have a beginning.” At least two dozen philosophers who have been working just on that say it’s not a particularly challenging Jesuitical problem for anybody who has a minimum degree of mathematics, because it’s always possible to say: beginning, beginning, what does that mean?  Is this space open?  Is this space closed?  Maybe there’s a finite and temporal extent as far as we can see, but if we get into it, it converges, and the convergences—all sorts of elaborate and logical postures and hypotheses are offered. And by now the subject is so thickly covered in a cloud of confusion that it resembles me during allergy season.

CF: You talk in the book about this concept of the Landscape as a way to avoid a beginning to the universe and the problem of causation.

DB: Have you read Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion?  Talk about first love.  Dawkins is just bright enough to figure out that contemporary cosmology, as it’s interpreted and talked about this way, leads to a lot of uncomfortable questions about atheism. And so he’s discovered the secondary—certainly not the primary—literature about… string theory, which is an attempt to unify the four fundamental forces of nature, bring gravitation within the fold of quantum theory—actually not quantum theory, but quantum field theory. 

And string theory was a darling thing in the 1970’s, 80’s, and 90’s.  Certainly the smartest guys in the world were avidly pursuing it.  And what they discovered, somewhat to their embarrassment, was that given the most reasonable way of interpreting the theory, the damn thing had 10500 solutions, which is 10500 minus one too many solutions. So they developed the interesting notion that these solutions corresponded, each of them, to a different universe, a different organization of material objects—different laws of nature, different fundamental constants. And the ensemble of those universes was dubbed “the Landscape,” the Landscape of the universes.  And of course, once the Landscape is in place a great many embarrassing questions immediately disappear.

CF: Like how did this universe begin?

DB: You can answer every question of philosophical or theological significance by just saying the perspective was infinitely pullulating [teeming, swarming] group of universes. Well, it [this universe] is just one of those things.  Why does the fine structure constant[1] have the value it does?  Well, in some universe it doesn’t have that value.  Why are things so admirably set for human life? Well, in some other universe, it’s pretty crummy over there.

CF: … [A]s you say in the book, if there were only one universe, then this universe is obviously “a put-up job” in which the fine structure constant and all the —

DB: —all the fundamentals—

CF: suit one thing only—us. Then they’d have to admit to a problem.

DB:  Forget about what they would have to admit in a logical or a rational sense, they would at least [have to acknowledge] that there is a kind of an intellectual problem that needs respectful attention. And Dawkins, to his credit, does recognize this, and that’s why he has embraced the Landscape and the “multiverse” [multiple universes] hypothesis with such voluptuous abandon. But you have to say, with respect to Dawkins, it’s not an embrace based on any knowledge of the primary literature; it’s just based on what his buddies at Oxford have told him:  Not to worry, Richie, we’ve got the solution here.

CF: And what is the empirical, verifiable, testable basis for the Landscape hypothesis?

DB:  Zero.  Zero.  There is none.

CF: …. But then you don’t answer the question how the Landscape itself came into being.

DB: No, of course not, of course not. That’s the characteristic of the discussion: that every time you you’ve solved one set of problems, the same kinds of problems reemerge on the higher level. 

Aquinas and the “probability” of God’s existence

CF:   You explored the aspect of how it isn’t sufficient to cast doubt on the probability of God’s existence, which is not a probability question in the first place…

DB:   …. [D]on’t forget that this [The Devil’s Delusion] is a polemical book. It’s a counterattack, not an attack. Somebody like Dawkins says I’ve come really, remarkably close to proving that God does not exist…. And in the chapter in which I discuss Dawkins, I take that claim as seriously as I can—and see, it’s a pretty silly claim to begin with—but I take it as seriously as I can.

CF:   He posits of God a probability of existence that is—

DB:   —very low, very low.

CF: But what is the problem with conducting a probability analysis as to the existence of God?

DB: Because it’s clear that he [Dawkins] hasn’t read Aquinas for one thing… [E]very point that Dawkins discusses was discussed in the Summa Theologica with far more lucidity than Dawkins can bring to bear.  Aquinas says if we think of God as kind of a clanking material object responsible for the creation of the universe, you immediately encounter the question: Well, who created the clanking material object?  And Aquinas says you can go on forever that way, and that’s not satisfying.  What conclusion does Aquinas draw? Don’t think of God that way, as a clanking material object.  Think of him as a necessarily existing being, not a contingent being. The mind is forced in that direction….

Gravity and the question “Why?”

CF: A basic question for the unlearned: What does science know about the nature of gravity?  What is gravity?

DB: A terrific question. Newton talked about gravitational force as instantaneous action at a distance, and he immediately said that’s nothing we could understand.  It just seems to be a fact, though Einstein improved on that.  Instead of talking about instantaneous forces acting at a distance, he talked about local forces acting in response to the structure of space and time, which when it occurs is not a difficult concept to define.  This pillow is curving right now….

CF: Is it possible that gravity might be, when all is said and done, “the love that moves the sun and the other stars,” as Dante says?  Could it be that mysterious?

DB: I don’t know how it could be any more mysterious than it really is.  You know, physicists, no less than evolutionary biologists, are fully prepared to present what is, while fully denying that what is, is remarkable.  There’s a certain placidity of thought in the idea that a material object like you and me can influence the curvature of space and time. How is that brought about? How is that done? Isn’t that absolutely astonishing that it should be that way? That the curvature of space and time should influence the way objects move within space and time? How does that come about, exactly? There seem to be physical forces at work, there seems to be a recrudescence of action at a distance, which carries throughout the physical sciences, which is never really examined.

CF: So what you’re saying is that—

DB: —it’s a lot of magic.

CF: Yes, a lot of magic. So what you’re saying is that at the end of the day we have observations of what appears to be, but the question “Why?” cannot really be answered… How far can you get with “Why?”

DB: Three great questions: What is? What is what is? And why is what is?

CF: Where do we stand scientifically with “Why?”

DB: We don’t have a clue. Are you surprised?

CF: No, I’m not. That’s a soft ball. [Laughter].  And so when we talk about why, aren’t we necessarily talking about the need for something like God—the minute we begin to ask why?

DB: Well, we are talking about God.

CF: So, what do you say to Dawkins? Has Dawkins told us why at all?

DB: Well, to ask “What would you say to Dawkins?” is to suggest one of those unlikely encounters where Dawkins and I would be talking frankly away from television cameras. And I kind of suspect that under those circumstances, which recreate the atmosphere of a fraternity keg party after midnight, Dawkins and I—newly discovered friends that we are—would reach roughly the same kind of conclusions, but give the conclusions completely different emotional emphasis.  Dawkins would say something to the effect of: “Well, Dave, you’re asking some pretty good questions there, there but let’s face it, we can’t answer them. We do what we can.  We’ve got to go back to science to answer the questions that we can answer.”  And I would say something like: “That’s easy to say, Dick, but you’re evading the difficulties that are inherent in your position.” And then we’d have another round.

CF: Do you think Dawkins, in his heart of hearts, knows that he’s promoting a lie?

DB: No, no—

CF: —that’s he’s persuaded himself there is no God?

DB: Oh, oh, I certainly do. And he’s also persuaded himself, as he said in his book, that he’s a deeply religious man.

CF: What does he mean by that?

DB: God only knows. [Laughter]

Why does the universe persist?

CF:  What theories do they [atheistic scientists] have on the persistence of physical laws?  How do they account for their persistence?

DB: Why does the universe not collapse, is another way of putting your question.  Or, to put the matter somewhat differently, why is the universe so astonishingly stable?....  In the history of thought in the 20th century you find very few physicists addressing this question.  Until about 1967.  Freeman Dyson published a fundamental paper on the stability of matter. And he very honestly, very generously, recognizes that this is a real question: Why does the universe go on? Why isn’t it a miracle each time it continues for an instant of time? And he established some interesting results, but very partial, very diminished in scope, particularly with respect to particles, not with respect to anything more substantial—and certainly not with respect to the universe as a whole….

CF: Well, what I gather from what you are saying is that despite the interesting results, they have no answer whatsoever.

DB: No, I think that’s too strong. They have partial answers…. If you have a certain Lagrangian[2] that behaves in a certain way under certain conditions, under certain initial conditions, then you can expect that as time goes to infinity the underlying form of the equation will not change, and the underlying properties, the qualitative properties….

CF:…[T]that being the case, who did the math, who wrote the equation?...

DB: Good question.

The “anthropic principle”

CF: Let’s talk about the idea of the anthropic principle—another gimmick that they’ve come up with.

DB: In 1973 a bright young physicist asked why the structure, the fundamental parameters of the universe, should be so finely tuned as to permit human life.  And the answer that physicists have sometimes given is that if they weren’t tuned that way, we wouldn’t be here. If these are necessary conditions, and the necessary conditions for life happened not to obtain, then obviously we wouldn’t be here….

CF: So, that’s another way of saying that “It’s just one of those things.”

DB: Yeah, just one of those things—a lucky break.  But if it weren’t a lucky break, we wouldn’t be here.  But we are here, so we had a lucky break. What is the problem? [Laughter]

CF: But the only way it could be a lucky break is if there were [an infinity of] multiple universes, and this universe would be one roll of the dice.  But don’t they have a problem if there is only one universe?

DB: If there’s one universe, the only possible thing to say is: “My, that was a lucky break [laughter], and lucky breaks happen.”  Look, that’s how I got this apartment. Who am I to gainsay lucky breaks?

God Conserving the World

CF: Let me put the question this way: Why is the universe not an ongoing miracle?

DB: Exactly. That’s just the reverse of the question…. [I]f you go back to the 12th century you will of course discover Catholic theologians discussing exactly that question…  And the orthodox Catholic answer, which a great many Catholics have certainly forgotten, is that God is everywhere conserving the world: Deus et ubique conservans mundus—or is it munda? Well I’ve forgotten my Latin endings. God is everywhere conserving the world. Without that, the world would simply collapse….

Don’t forget that that Catholic doctrine, as I’m sure you know, leads to what? You don’t know!  You see?  That point of metaphysics leads to the doctrine of the ubiquity of the Body of Christ. That’s why Christ’s Body is ubiquitous. It has to be…. You find people scoffing at these theological details: The ubiquity of the Body of Christ? Get out of here!  I’m not commending this as a theory, but it is infuriating, when you talk about this in a general secular setting, that people just refuse to realize that there are some very deep issues that this addresses. This is not an idle speculation by papists taking a few idle moments out from papal debauchery. It’s nothing of the sort. 

Darwin, the Banishment  of God, and Genocide

CF: Everything you’re saying leads to the problem of no explanation for first causation. Wasn’t it a commonplace in science before the 19th century simply to assume the existence of a divine creator?

DB: Well, I think the great physicists never put that issue in doubt, or even at the forefront of their speculations.  It was the inevitable background against which physical inquiry was conducted. Darwin had an immense role to play in overturning that, because he seemed to suggest—for the first time, really for the first time—that it was possible to do away with any kind of intervening modality, divine modality, in explaining the properties of living systems. Dawkins says Darwin made it “possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” And once that was on the table, a great deal changed within the structure of the sciences.  A great deal changed.

CF: I believe you covered this in the documentary [“Expelled”]… which is just a staggering breakthrough, because here you have—I am thinking of the tableau at the end of the film—three Jewish intellectuals, standing by a remnant of the Berlin wall, lamenting the tyranny of the Darwinian establishment, after the film has drawn the explicit connection between Darwinian theory as a necessary (though not a sufficient) condition for Hitler.  What happened to Ben Stein as a result of this film?

DB: That’s an interesting question, and I cannot speak authoritatively, because Ben Stein and I have met only a couple of times.  So I really don’t know the details of his personal life.  But from the point of view of his public life—that is, the figure he cuts, the positions he’s being offered, the role he can or cannot play, the degree of respect accorded, the historical value of his long associations in Hollywood—that’s all over.  He’s just been ostracized—mercilessly ostracized…. The degree of vituperation to which he’s been exposed is just astonishing. Just astonishing.

CF: Give us a brief explanation of the link between Darwinian theory… the Holocaust, Stalin’s genocide, the whole de-privileging of humanity.

DB: There are things we cannot talk about. It’s one of those subjects that just will not be allowed into discourse—it simply won’t…. [N]obody cares deep down, that he [Ben Stein] made a fool of Richard Dawkins at the end of the movie.  [Ben Stein is like] the Siberian forces under General Zuhkov’s command during the Battle of Moscow. There was a wonderful passage where the German forces trespass, unknowingly, into the preserve of the Siberian forces, and all hell breaks loose. Ben Stein is exactly that. It was perfectly obvious what would happen.  We were all sitting here—the producers, Ben Stein and yours truly—saying: “You know, this is explosive. People are gonna react with blind fury.”…

The fury was more than blind. It was apoplectic. It clearly was. Because that’s the sort of connection that violates every one of the principles of the secular society. Principle number one: There can be no connection between a scientific theory, which is a matter of fact, and a moral judgment or a moral conclusion that is not a matter of fact. Principle number two: That Darwin has been promoted to the first vacancy in the Holy Trinity and therefore he’s irreproachable. [Laughter]…

I wish I had more time, more energy, and was younger. I would write about these things. There’s a whole brilliant essay to be written about that particular issue: Why does the secular scientific community—or the media organs that are associated, ancillary to it—react with that kind of dull, dimwitted fury to what is, let us be honest, a plain matter of fact.…. There is a connection between what Darwin said in 1859 and what the Nazis believed. There just is. The literature is overwhelming.  No serious historian disputes it.  Not one….

So you have wretched boobs like Hector Avalos, a professor of theology at Iowa State, who say: “Hah! It’s not Darwin. Be serious. It was Luther, five centuries before.” In the privacy of his chambers Hitler was studying Luther! [Laughter] The fact of the matter is, Hitler wasn’t studying Luther, and he wasn’t studying Darwin. He was not a student. He was not a highly educated guy, although, as Churchill remarked, he was quivering with intelligence. It was the ideology as a whole that was influenced by Darwin.

Step by step you can trace the intellectual history: It goes from Darwin to Haeckel. It goes from Haeckl to various subsidiary biologists. It goes from the biological community and the community of physicians, who were remarkably Darwinian in German society. And it finally finds its efflorescence in the ideology that the Nazis practiced. That’s not to say it was the only influence. But to say that it was an influence is irrefutable. It’s simply a fact.

CF: You make the argument in the book, and in the documentary, that Darwinism was a necessary but not a sufficient condition. Why is it is a necessary condition for the genocidal events of the 20th century?

DB: That’s the interesting question.  That’s the untouchable question. I guarantee that if you publish something to this effect, there will be a storm of protest.

What did Darwin really accomplish in 1859 that was so remarkable?  Well, he for the first time provided, to my way of thinking at least, the possibility that a serious intellectual could reach the judgment that human beings were nothing more than accidents of creation. He didn’t provide the justification in any complete scientific sense, but something entered the human imagination in 1859 with the publication of The Origin of Species, and it was that possibility: Human beings are really not as we had all thought—I’m speaking collectively in behalf of the entire human race—an expression of the divine; they were nothing more than accidents of matter. Now, Greek philosophers had speculated along those lines, but Darwin, it seems to me, provided for the first time a scientific rationale for that. Human beings, living systems, are accidents of material objects—nothing more, nothing less—and not entitled to any form of divine sanctity or protection. 

That to my mind was the decisive event.  And everyone in the late 19th century saw it.  Even before Darwin, think of Matthew Arnold’s poem:  “And we are here as on a darkling plain/Swept by confused alarms of struggle and flight/Where ignorant armies clash by night.” That is the expression of the receding wave of faith, when the Darwinian wave is coming in to replace it. But Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, Joseph Conrad—all of the great figures from 1860 to 1914, 1918—saw the same thing: that once that divine mandate has been withdrawn, great evil would come into the world. And they were absolutely right. It did. 

Why not make that connection? It seems to me an obvious connection.  Not only to me, but to all the people who were carrying out the impermissible evil.  It seemed to them the same way. I mean, they thought it was a great liberation. I don’t know if you remember Koestler’s Darkness at Noon. There was a great scene there where the old Communist who was interrogating the jailed Communist—who is modeled on Bukharin[3]— cheerfully admits that all they were doing was experimenting with human life, killing 30 million people. “Well, what of it?”—Ivanov is his name—“Yeah, that’s what we’re doing. We’re killing 30 million people a year. So what? Cholera killed that many anyway. Why shouldn’t we be entitled to play that role?”  And Bukharin—who is called Rubashov in the book—struggles to express his revulsion, and he can’t find the language. He can’t bring himself to say because it’s not right.  He doesn’t have the vocabulary. It’s been lost.

So, not only do observers of the 20th century say this, but participants, when justifying themselves, say exactly the same thing.  “Why shouldn’t we do this? We feel like killing nine million European Jews? Well, you know, that’s what we like! So what?”

CF: And if there is no God, everything is permitted.

DB: Too bad.

Darwinism and the Loss of Human Nobility

CF: You discuss the problem of how the absence of God means everything is permitted, and there’s no alternative to that conclusion once God is removed from the picture.

DB: I think that’s true.

CF: So what do you say about these evolutionists who talk about the nobility of the human being, any kind of human decency in the absence of God. Isn’t this just a sham?

DB: Well, if I knew of an evolutionary biologist who actually discussed the nobility of the human enterprise, I would certainly be prepared to find his views interesting. I don’t know of a soul.  In fact, they all draw the obvious conclusion: There is no such thing as human dignity—neither human dignity nor any intrinsic nobility to the human animal. You get somebody like David Barasch, for example, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Washington, who really thinks of human beings as a kind of excrescence on the face of the earth—perfectly prepared, for example, to see them merge with other forms of life.  A totally odious and repulsive kind of guy.

CF: I’m thinking in particular of a section from The Descent of Man, quoted by Ben Stein in the film, where he [Darwin] says something to the effect of “any breeder would well-advised not to breed his worst stock,” applying that to the human condition. And Stein was attacked for taking that out of context, because in the following paragraph Darwin says but of course we can’t apply that principle to humanity, because the noblest part of us would be swept out.  So I look at that as a literary convention, a bit of irony, typical of writers of this kind, who are introducing the devastating concept, but then they have to clothe the nakedness of it by talking about the nobility of the human species.

DB: With a certain degree of hypocrisy.  Because to what could Darwin have appealed in talking about the nobility of humanity? Or the nobility of a part of humanity? Why is one part nobler than another?  There are no concepts left in the Darwinian world for you to explore that, except the concepts we might make up.

On the Charge that Religion is the Cause of Inhumanity

CF: …. They [evolutionists] turn it around and say: “On the contrary, it’s not Darwinian thought, it’s Christianity, it’s religion, that is the cause of all the wars and suffering in the world.”  And so I’ll quote from your book: “Just who has imposed on the suffering human race poison gas, barbed wire, high explosives, experiments in eugenics, the formula for Nylon B, heavy artillery, pseudo-scientific justifications for mass murder, cluster bombs, attack submarines, napalm, intercontinental ballistic missiles, military space platforms, and nuclear weapons?  If memory serves, it was not the Vatican.”

DB: I think it’s unavoidable to say something like that. You know, you get the scientific community with its preposterous declarations, who are unbelievably humble—I quote in the book—just remarkably humble fellows. And we’re all so great and pure as the driven snow—twice as pure, because we bleach our teeth! [Laughter]  Not a speck of moral distemper attaches to anything we do.      Then you look at what the scientific community has done in the 20th century in the name of pursuing science, and you get Ben Stein coming out and saying: “No, here’s a real close link between what science is and what science does, and the horrors of the 20th century.”…

You know, you go back to the Manhattan Project… and ask yourself: How many of the guys working on the atomic bomb—at least, I don’t remember the exact number, 1500 incredibly smart people working on the Manhattan Project—but how many of them stood up and said: “This is the devil’s work. I won’t participate for a moment in developing a nuclear weapon that is designed to kill a great many of my fellow men.” It’s an open question:  How many do you think there were?

CF: I would venture to say, not one.

DB: There was one.

CF: Who?

DB:  A rabbi at Columbia University.

CF: That’s not surprising.

DB: A physicist.  Beyond that, not one. And these guys want a pass on any kind of moral evaluation? Now, bear in mind that the circumstances were undeniably tragic, because the thought that Hitler might achieve atomic weapons was a very real possibility…. So you had two diametrically opposed forces working for the same monstrous weapon, and on either side of the Atlantic no one said: “Not me. I’m not participating in this, no matter what.” And there was a tragic dilemma. I can certainly understand the argument… [that] “We’ve gotta do the devil’s work. We’re gonna be damned for all eternity for doing it, but the alternative is worse.” That’s a reasonable argument. But nobody made that argument. They were all thrilled to do it. It was a “sweet research project” in Robert Oppenheimer’s words.

CF: Is that what he said?

DB: Sweet.

CF: Unbelievable.

The Galileo Affair, Faith and Reason

CF: I was arrested by your extended allegory to the Catholic cathedral at the end of the book—

DB: —You can see my model right across the street—

CF:—and we’re sitting here within a few steps of Notre Dame. I want to talk about your obvious affection for, and your championing of, Saint Robert Bellarmine.

DB: First of all, get the pronunciation of his great name straight: its Bellar-mi-ne.

CF: Italian, of course.

DB: He’s a remarkable figure. The kind of figure that I think is admirable in so many ways. Obviously, obviously, highly intelligent. Sensitive. Perceptive. But at the same time—and this is the interesting point—completely aware of his position as a prince of the Church, and as responsible not only for his own thoughts, but for the welfare of the entire Christian community, which in 1620 still extended across… the civilized European world…. Painfully aware that there was far more at stake, far more at stake, than discussing obscure issues of Ptolemaic astronomy….

CF: You’re talking about how in the midst of the Galileo affair he [Bellarmine] said that should it be established empirically beyond any doubt that the geocentric theory is false, then we would have to suppose that we had interpreted scriptures incorrectly….

DB:….[T]he thing is, in the face of this importunate pest Galileo, constantly yammering about freedom of inquiry, Bellarmine has the wherewithal to say hold on: Something more is at stake than your freedom of inquiry; something of great importance for the nature of civilization itself. We’re not going to deny the conclusions of unquestioned empirical research. We’re going to hold off until they aren’t questioned….[T]he Galileo affair was not as it’s commonly portrayed. It was not an attempt to suppress anyone’s freedom of speech. It was an attempt to portray Galileo and very radical new doctrines in cosmology and to balance them against the needs, historically, of the great community of the Christian faith. Those two things were, of necessity, requiring some form of balance. Now when you read Bellarmine, when you read the transcript of the Galileo trial, these are not insensitive thugs. These were men burdened by a sense of enormous responsibility.

Now we may say from the perspective of the 20th century: “That’s ridiculous. What sense of responsibility?” But that’s not historically accurate. That is failing to recreate the atmosphere of 17th century Europe, or the papacy, confronted by massive problems of rebellion in the northern countries brought by Martin Luther—a crumbling of the edifice of faith, scandals, corruption, powerful currents of vested influence running everywhere. At every single moment the Catholic faith has faced the problem of perpetuating itself for another generation; it was a real problem.

CF: … He [Bellarmine] is talking about the interpretation of Sacred Scripture having to be modified in the hypothetical case—

DB:—hypothetical, hypothetical

CF: —he said, it’s hypothetical, first of all, we haven’t yet been confronted with this dilemma. But he was willing to say that reason could not be contradicted by faith. So my next question is: Do you hold Bellarmine up as the example of the correct relation between faith and reason, and are you saying in your book by implication that of all the religions in the Western world, Catholicism has gotten it right with respect to the relation between faith and reason?

DB: Yes and yes.

Waiting for the Gift of Faith

CF: And now I want to ask you the hardball question…. [Y]our reason has brought you—as I read this book—to the threshold of faith. Would you reject that conclusion?  Now I’m going to make you a little bit uncomfortable.

DB: Not at all, not at all. I’m waiting. I’ve done my part. Now He’s got to do His. 

CF: …. That was my next question:  Not only that, your reason has brought you to the conclusion that the grace of faith is a gift?

DB: And how. And we are all on a parched, narrow desert waiting for the gift. Well, maybe not you, but me. But if not you, then how come you’re going to put yourself through the torture of 72 miles [laughter], if not perhaps in the expectation that you’ll be vouchsafed the gift?

CF: Would you object if we prayed for you to join us as a member of the Church?

DB: A member of the Church, yes. A member of the pilgrimage, no. [Laughter].

On Churchmen groveling before Darwin

CF: One other subject.  There’s a problem in the Church of churchmen in contingent matters wanting to embrace what is au courant and always being about 50-75 years behind the times.

DB: Oh, let’s use the right word: groveling.  [Laughter]

CF: Tell us, first of all, just by way of background: You’ve had an encounter with the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences… for the purpose of trying to get somebody into the Academy or at least to make a presentation of a paper to the Academy—

DB: —I never got close enough. You know, they couldn’t have been more decent and welcoming. But there’s a wonderful story in Kafka, where he talks about some courier, he’s got a letter to transmit, and he’s in the center of the imperial city. And he talks about the difficulties in getting out of the center of the imperial city because there is layer upon concentric layer of massive, teeming populations, guards. No matter how far he penetrates, he can never get out.  In reverse, that was my experience with the Vatican—as it should be. It’s a huge institution. I couldn’t even find the right door. [Laughter]…. They [two staff members from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith] took me out to lunch. Extremely bright, extremely decent guys. But that was it, really….

CF: Did you discuss with them the problem of evolutionism having basically taken over the secular thinking of churchmen?

DB: We agreed completely.

CF: Oh , they do?

DB: But these were two young guys. We were just sitting around schmoozing over lunch. It wasn’t an opportunity where any of the dignitaries behind them would have a chance to interact and make their position known….

CF: What do you say today to churchmen who are surrounded by Darwinian thought and seem to be, as you say, groveling before it? What’s your advice to the Church today in terms of taking up arms against Darwinian thought?

DB: Stand up and declare yourself like a man. That’s what I would tell them.



[1] The fundamental physical constant expressing the strength of the electromagnetic interaction in various systems, whose currently accepted value is about 1/137.  The slightest variation in this constant would cause the material world to disintegrate.

[2] An equation that expresses the dynamics of a physical system in a way that allows one to predict its future state.  Named after the mathematician Joseph Louis Lagrange.

[3] Nikolai Bukharin, Bolshevik revolutionary and Stalinist apparatchik, ultimately executed for his opposition to the worst excesses of Soviet communism.