david berlinski
I had the following dream last night. In it, mathematician and Darwin skeptic David Berlinski was stretched out on a red couch, schmoozing entertainingly with a couple of ID-friendly, C.S. Lewis-quoting Muslim chaps. Dr. Berlinski stretched out so far that the pair of interviewers were confined to one distant end of the couch, though they didn't seem to mind. They cracked up at all his jokes, as I did, too. Dr. Berlinski held a cane with a golden head which he used to illustrate points, and he appeared not in his usual splendid attire but, much more casually, in a cut-off jean jacket over a t-shirt. It was quite a fun dream and went on for about 45 minutes or so.

I'm kidding, actually: it wasn't a dream, though there is arguably an element of the surreal. It was a video from the very amiable and, yes, ID-friendly crew of Ahmadi Muslims at the thoughtful site Rational Religion. You must watch this.


Chatting Up Berlinski

Two young doctors, Umar Nasser and Tahir Nasser, chatted up David Berlinski in his Paris apartment. In the video, the conversation ranges from the Quran to the New Atheism and what's so "new" about it, Ray Kurzweil and the Singularity, David Chalmers and whether consciousness is really a "hard problem" after all, and more.

Some Darwinist critics have lashed out at Berlinski's sartorial choice of "biker" attire for his recent conversation with Stephen Meyer, David Gelernter, and Peter Robinson, recorded in Italy for the Hoover Institution's Uncommon Knowledge program. I'm glad to see him casting scorn on these dull critics by wearing the same outfit here. Why should he not dress like a biker if he wants to do so?

The Problem of Origins

In seriousness, it's a great conversation, and the introduction of the Islamic themes, mainly by Tahir Nasser, is interesting. They observe that problems of origins — of the universe, of life, of complex animal life, of language, of civilizations — are not only fascinating and profound and deeply difficult. More than that, these developments appear to be saltational, abrupt, as far as we know. It's not what an evolutionist or a materialist would expect.

Master of the Subjunctive

Berlinski questions evolutionary understandings of language and expresses doubt as to what reproductive benefit could have accrued to "the first guy to master the Greek subjunctive." He reflects on how little we really understand about the distinctive features that mark human beings off from other creatures: "We have no analytic insight into the most trivial of human accomplishments. Walking is one example. Talking is another example. Being able to move in a social environment is a third example."

I expect these will be among the themes covered in Berlinski's new book, Human Nature, coming out next month, and eagerly awaited. In fact, I just got a copy yesterday.

A Way of Backfiring

By the way, while I'm by no means an expert on Ahmadi Muslims, this Wikipedia article characterizes their views on biological origins as similar to theistic evolution. However, that's not the impression I get from reading some of their work. Also on the Rational Religion site, Umar Nasser has a smart review of Michael Behe's book Darwin Devolves. Dr. Nasser admits:
As a medical doctor I'm familiar with biochemistry, genetics and the physiology of at least one well-regarded organism on the planet. So while I'm not exactly a layman, I'm certainly no specialist in molecular genetics. Thus it can be difficult to be certain of how strong Behe's thesis really is.
But he goes on to say that he found persuasive some of attack reviews on Behe from Darwinists — persuasive, that is, in the sense that they made him think Behe must be onto something. Critiques from Darwinists have a way of backfiring and turning the undecided against them, but we knew that already. Nasser writes, "Nothing has convinced me more that Behe is correct than reading and analysing the criticisms levelled against him." Citing the "Criticism & Response" page on the Darwin Devolves website, Nasser tweaks the trio of preemptive Science reviewers, along with Jerry Coyne, Richard Lenski, and Richard Dawkins:
[T]he real highlight was Richard Lenski claiming that his LTEE [Long Term Evolution Experiment] was in fact not a good example of how evolution works in the real world. Why? Because the environment isn't varied enough to simulate real life, which would generate more genetic innovation.
Yet, "Lenski didn't seem to mind when Richard Dawkins practically made the LTEE the centrepiece of his book The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (2009)." Nasser wryly suggests that Lenski ask Dawkins for a retraction. Good point! Or maybe Professor Lenski has done so already, and Nasser and I missed it. I'd be glad to be corrected.