Berlinski quote of the Month

Posted: March 26, 2010 in Uncategorized

Not unrelated to the film ‘Expelled -no intelligence allowed’-I submit for your thoughts and comments:

‘Dawkins is prepared to acknowledge the facts while denying their significance. Neither the Nazis nor the Communists, he affirms, acted because of their atheism. They were simply keen to kill a great many people. Atheism had nothing to do with it. They might well have been Christian Scientists.

In the early days of the German advance into Eastern Europe, before the possibility of Soviet retribution even entered their untroubled imagination, Nazi extermination squads would sweep into villages, and after forcing the villagers to dig their own graves, murder their victims with machine guns. On one such occasion somewhere in eastern Europe , an SS officer watched languidly, his machine gun cradled, as an elderly and bearded Hasidic Jew laboriously dug what he knew to be his grave.

Standing up straight, he addressed his executioner. “God is watching what you are doing,” he said.

And then he was shot dead.

What Hitler did not believe and what Stalin did not believe and what Mao did not believe and what the SS did not believe and what the Gestapo did not believe and what the NKVD did not believe and what the commissars, functionaries, swaggering executioners, Nazi doctors, Communist Party theoreticians, intellectuals,Brown shirts, Black shirts,gauleiters, and a thousand party hacks did not believe was that God was watching what they were doing.

And as far as we can tell, very few of those carrying out the horrors of the twentieth century worried overmuch that God was watching what they were doing either.

That is, after all, the meaning of a secular society.”

(taken from David Berlinski’s book ‘The Devils delusion Atheism and its scientific pretensions’)

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Comments
  1. Berlinski came across as a particularly obnoxious and unlikeable character in Expelled. Here is what Richard Dawkins had to say about him, even before the film was released:

    Are there, then, any examples of anti-evolution poseurs who are not ignorant, stupid or insane, and who might be genuine candidates for the wicked category? I once shared a platform with someone called David Berlinski, who is certainly not ignorant, stupid or insane. He denies that he is a creationist, but claims strong scientific arguments against evolution (which disappointingly turn out to be the same old creationist arguments). Together with the great John Maynard Smith and others, he and I were guest speakers at a debate organized by a prominent Oxford rabbi. Maynard Smith spoke after Berlinski and, not surprisingly, he soon had the audience roaring with laughter as he lampooned Berlinski’s bad arguments. But what amused me was Berlinski’s tactic for dealing with this mocking laughter. He sprang to his feet, held up a reproachful open palm towards the audience, and said (approximately of course, I can’t remember the exact words): “No no! Don’t laugh. Let Maynard Smith have his say! It’s only fair!” Happily, the Oxford audience saw through this tactic of pretending to think the audience were laughing at Maynard Smith rather than with him. And the rabbi, himself a devout creationist, afterwards told me he had been shocked at Berlinski’s duplicity. By itself, this is too trivial an example to deserve the name wicked. But it did make me wonder about Berlinski’s motives. As I said, he is certainly not ignorant, stupid or insane.

    MSP

  2. Mike Godfrey says:

    I guess Berlinksi wasn’t in it for the popularity but to express his dissent from the group-think regarding the ‘apparent’ appearance of design in nature, something that will never win points with the judges
    see: here
    I personally always enjoy what he has to say, whereas Dawkins on the other hand goes around pronouncing judgements of cruelty, wickedness and insanity on people as if throwing confetti.
    Dawkins huggable nature is further suppressed by his insistence in aligning intelligent design theory with creationism, calculated now doubt to inspire David Berlinski, a secular Jew to be come obnoxious and unlikeable.
    My post wasn’t about Berlinski as much as the possible effect of believing ‘God is not watching’ has on peoples trigger finger.

    • Well, I don’t act with reference to what God might think of me when I punch my last ticket and so far it has not effected on my trigger finger for worse. I don’t even have a trigger finger.

      Clearly, consideration of the Almighty’s opinion did not restrain the Crusaders, the Inquisitors and the Conquistadors from butchery.

      Darwin is a secular religion… If you question Darwinism you have committed blasphemy… Blah, blah, blah… Haven’t heard that one before… NOT!!!

      As I said in Part 2 of my review of Premier’s screening of Expelled:

      Contrary to the impression of theists, scientists do not religiously adhere to Darwinian evolution. If you demanded fifty grand from the editor of Nature to pay for a peer-reviewed paper that falsified evolution or amended it significantly, he would probably give it to you in used twenties.

      MSP

  3. Mike Godfrey says:

    Here’s what Im not saying -im not saying and have never said all atheists are prone to killing,im not saying all theists are peace loving hippys.If only life were that simple.
    What I am saying is that atheism makes it easier to pull the trigger in certain context,historically National socialism in Germany is a good example amoung many.
    There are no negative consequences to killing -if you believe in a closed exclusively materialistic universe, then God is not watching,there are no social consequences as the ruling paradigm inspires both the atheism and the killing.I’m tempted to wheel out the old quote placed on the lips of Ivan Karamazov by Dostoevsky but can’t bring myself to do so.
    Clearly People will use a belief system to there own ends., including Christianity and Atheism.
    From the article I linked earlier:

    ‘Some months ago an American philosopher explained to a highly sophisticated audience in Britain what, in his opinion, was wrong, indeed fatally wrong, with the standard neo-Darwinian theory of biological evolution. He made it crystal clear that his criticism was not inspired by creationism, intelligent design or any remotely religious motivation. A senior gentleman in the audience erupted, in indignation: ‘You should not say such things, you should not write such things! The creationists will treasure them and use them against science.’ The lecturer politely asked: ‘Even if they are true?’ To which the instant and vibrant retort was: ‘Especially if they are true!’ with emphasis on the ‘especially’.’

    This smacks of religiously adhering to Darwinian evolution, to me.

    • There was nothing secular or atheistic about National Socialism in Germany. See my recent post touching on the support of the Catholic Church for the regimes of Hitler and Mussolini.

      Hitler made a few church-bashing comments while boring his entourage half to death during tea time, but overwhelmingly he affirmed his belief in Christianity and Providence throughout his career and stated in Mein Kampf that by persecuting the Jews, he was acting in accordance with the will of God.

      Whether Hitler was sincere in these statements (I wouldn’t trust the man’s opinion on the colour of an orange) is irrelevant. Clearly, he felt the need to pander to religious prejudices to gain popular support.

      Did you see what happened on the Moscow tube yesterday? This was an outrage carried out by people who were thinking only too much of what heaven would think of them.

      I’d take the “comments” about the need to hide the failings of Darwinism from the creationists with a pinch of salt. The boys over at sp!ked like to stir it up.

      As Sam Harris stated during his recent ABC debate alongside Michael Shermer, you are about as likely to see arrogance at a science conference as you are to see nudity. Every statement is qualified with reservations about evidence, expertise and the need for further research.

      Having said that, I think the Royal Society’s ousting of Michael Reiss in 2008 after he commented that teachers should be equipped to answer questions from pupils about creationism and ID was over zealous and only fuels such accusations. Perhaps Reiss would have got away with his remarks if he had not been a clergyman as well.

      MSP

  4. Mike Godfrey says:

    There’s no doubt that Hitler initially courted the church -until there usefulness to him had disappeared. You can find pro-christian quotes early in Hitler’s Political career that by the hight of his powers are replaced by more negative assertions towards the Church.
    If the regime were God friendly there would have been no need for the confessing church which was set up to oppose the Nazi regime on moral and theological grounds.

    James Hannam:
    ‘Upon attaining office and enjoying a free hand, what line did Hitler take on religion and the Church?
    Five days after becoming Chancellor in 1933, Hitler allowed a sterilization law to pass, and had the Catholic Youth League disbanded’

    Hitler claimed assent to Christianity while persecuting and manipulating the church , in the spirit of Forest Gump: ‘Christian is as Christian does’, Hitler was not a Christian -nor was National socalist Germany.
    I wondered if you saw this news story regarding Chinas fondness to kharvest its citizens organs , as an atheistic nation it sets low value on its population.
    There are always news items such as the bombing in Moscow which will support one view or another – Fundamentalism either atheistic or otherwise, always grants one group the power to demonise an oposing world-view -for example :

    Dawkins quotes in the book ‘The God delusion’ approvingly and at length a speech by his friend Nicholas Humphrey which argued that, “We should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe, for example, in the literal truth of the Bible or that planets rule their lives, than we should allow parents to knock their children’s teeth out.”

    So much for a free society under athesim.

    • The 1933 Reichkonkordat disbanded all Catholic opposition to Hitler, including the Centre Party. The Catholic Youth League was replaced by the Hitler Youth. That was part of the deal that Pacelli did with the Nazis in an attempt to ensure the long term survival of Catholicism.

      Hitler made a reference to religion in his final public speech before the Russian Army arrived into Berlin. His counter-attack during the Battle of the Bulge in 1944 was called “Operation Christrose”.

      If you want to do body counts, then consider the 100 million (perhaps, we will never know the true figure) of Native Americans who were put to death by the Christian Conquistadors following Columbus’ discovery of the Americas.

      Communism is a political ideology, not a religious ideology. I am not writing one word in support of China’s policies with regard to one child families and organ harvesting. I’m arguing that such beliefs do not flow naturally from a simple rejection in a personal creator god who writes books and gets dead people to walk again.

      I heartily agree with Dawkins and Humphrey. Parents and school teachers have no more right to teach child the unquestionable authority of the Bible or the Koran in 21st century Britain than the ancient Aztecs had to cut their hearts out while they were still beating to ensure that the sun rose the next day.

      That is not an unfree society. That is simply respecting the wellbeing of our fellow human beings i.e. The Golden Rule.

      MSP

  5. Mike Godfrey says:

    As I said previously
    ‘Here’s what Im not saying -im not saying and have never said all atheists are prone to killing,I’m not saying all theists are peace loving hippys. If only life were that simple.

    • Conquistadors: 100.000 ? (More could be added here based on various other wars in the Americas – and a lot more due to diseases – though hard to argue that many of these were for Christian motives or other “ideological” reasons than greed)
    Failing on the safe side one could say about 2 millions have been killed by Christians, for some kind of religious motives.

    Which is not much compared to other possible figures

    • Roman conquests: More than 5 million ?
    • Arab conquests: More than 2 million ?
    • Turkish conquests: More than 3 million ?
    • Djengis-kahn: More than 5 million ?
    • Aztecs: More than 1 million (1.500 per year in the temples)
    • Hindu: More than 4 million (hindu nasjonalism etc. from the 13. to the 19th century)
    • Khublai Khan: 18 million
    • Timurlane : More than 5 million
    • Buddhist Royal ideology : Mora than 2 million
    • Napoleon: More than 2 million
    • World War One : 15 million
    • Hitler: 34 million
    • Stalin: 20 million
    • Mao: 10-40 million
    • Pol Pot: 1,6 million

    So Christianity is maybe the (long lived) religion/ideology/movement with less victims..

    I would not defend the churches historic record as that proves very little of significance. Body counts can only go so far, Berlinski’s original point remains that :
    ‘very few of those carrying out the horrors of the twentieth century worried overmuch that God was watching what they were doing either. ‘
    Athesim removes constraints.

    From Victor Reppert:
    Religion doesn’t lead to violence. A willingness to use the powers of the state to enforce religious or non-religious conformity is what leads to violence. Political power carries with it temptations. Christians have a track record in dealing with those temptations. It as some bad patches in it, but by and large Christians aren’t going down that road.
    Ed you say :

    ‘I heartily agree with Dawkins and Humphrey. Parents and school teachers have no more right to teach child the unquestionable authority of the Bible or the Koran in 21st century Britain than the ancient Aztecs had to cut their hearts out while they were still beating to ensure that the sun rose the next day.
    That is not an unfree society. That is simply respecting the wellbeing of our fellow human beings i.e. The Golden Rule.’

    ‘… Dawkins on the other hand goes around pronouncing judgements of cruelty, wickedness and insanity on people as if throwing confetti. ‘

    Your pronouncements on rights and who should and shouldn’t have them seems to be stretching materialism to point of groin strain. Where are the ‘ought’ particles how much do they weigh and what charge do they have?
    What we ought to do has no basis in materialism,apart from social utility which is inadequate to produce anything except the gas chambers. Social utility -even this has no basis for what is right or wrong -after all why should I care about social good -why should I care about what parents teach there kids?
    There is no basis apart from utility for respecting the well being of out fellow human beings.
    Perhaps teaching children about God is respecting the well being of out fellow human beings-especially if God happens to be there .
    On this I do agree with you I would not teach my kids about the unquestioning authority of the bible -I would teach them to investigate the claims for themselves.

    • I could well argue that the crimes of supposedly atheist regimes in the 20th century were not for atheistic motives. They were done for greed, power and political dogmas which were as far removed from secular rationality as it is possible to be.

      For the last time, Hitler was probably not an atheist and fascism and National Socialism were not secular, so please remove them from my side of the balance sheet.

      According to Paul Johnson in his rather optimistic study of the faith, A History of Christianity, something like 25 percent of the Waffen SS were confessing Catholics. Not a single one of them was excommunicated for taking part in the Final Solution. Neither was Hitler or any prominent Nazi leader.

      Clearly, Christianity offered no restraint on man’s heart of darkness in Nazi Germany.

      Humanists employ a consequentialist, utilitarian philosophy. We seek to maximise human pleasure and happiness (as long as it does not cause needless suffering to others) and reduce human suffering. We judge the moral content of our actions based on their actual or likely consequences.

      We can say that the Holocaust was objectively wrong because it caused a vast amount of pain and suffering with no mitigating benefit to humanity at large.

      Perhaps this is slightly off topic, but I suggest you watch Sam Harris’ TED talk on how science can be used to determine human morals.

      So on the contrary, Humphrey, Dawkins and I are more than entitled to throw around moral pronouncements on the ills of faith-based religion like confetti.

      MSP

  6. Mike Godfrey says:

    ‘I could well argue that the crimes of supposedly atheist regimes in the 20th century were not for atheistic motives. They were done for greed, power and political dogmas which were as far removed from secular rationality as it is possible to be.’

    I partially agree with this -no one is so singular of mind not to have motives of power,greed and fame mixed in with dogmatic concerns -I do not believe,however that these motives are incompatible with secular rationality.If evolutionary ‘fitness’ means anything it must include how much you can get for yourself or your genetic offspring through whatever means ?Morality would be fitness aimed not truth aimed.

    ‘Clearly, Christianity offered no restraint on man’s heart of darkness in Nazi Germany’ -Certainly in some cases that was correct -Christianity can only offer restraint if it is considered true,not just culturally expediant.

    ‘Humanists employ a consequentialist, utilitarian philosophy. We seek to maximise human pleasure and happiness (as long as it does not cause needless suffering to others) and reduce human suffering. We judge the moral content of our actions based on their actual or likely consequences.’

    Thats all very fluffy and nice but there’s no basis for it that I can see -why do Humanists choose Human pleasure as a basis for morality ? Why not human pain or human indifference ?

    Massimo Pigliucci:
    ‘The crux of the disagreement, then, is embodied in the title of Harris’ talk: in what sense can science answer (as opposed to inform) ethical questions?

    Let me take one of Harris’ examples, the (highly questionable) legality of corporal punishment of children in several US States. Harris rhetorically asks whether we really think that hitting children will improve their school performance or good behavior. But that isn’t the point at all. What if it did? What if a scientific study showed that indeed, hitting children does have a measurable effect on improving those desirable traits? Harris would then have to concede that corporal punishment is moral, but somehow I doubt he would. And I certainly wouldn’t, because my moral intuition (yes, that’s what I’m going to call it, deal with it) tells me that purposefully inflicting pain on children is wrong, regardless of whatever the empirical evidence says.’
    Pigliucci is sounding more and more like a moral absolutist -and less and less like a moral relativist here .

    Pigliucci goes on to say:

    ‘But why value individual human wellbeing, or the wellbeing of self-aware organisms, to begin with? Facts are irrelevant to that question. ‘
    Why indeed ? What fact does Harris have to hand to tell me why I ought to value other humans -afterall Science is a tool or a method, albeit a highly valuable tool or method, one of the best we have for ascertaining truth. It is not a belief system or a religion.

    Despite Harris dreadful mumbeling sleep inducing talk on TED, (I give Dawkins his due, he is a great orator something Harris makes me appreciate in Dawkins, as Harris is the very anthesis of it.) regarding Morality -or why I don’t like rocks -or how I discovered the ‘ought’ particle – I see no reason for the existance of a morality that would circumvent the fact that fitness selects for expediancy rather than what is right or wrong.

    ‘So on the contrary, Humphrey, Dawkins and I are more than entitled to throw around moral pronouncements on the ills of faith-based religion like confetti.’ -Im not too sure that your moral pronouncements amount to any more than preferences -such as I like Nick Cave but hate the sugar Babes.

  7. There was something very wrong with the Holocaust over and above competing viewpoints regarding musical tastes or the flavour of ice cream.

    The Holocaust caused great misery and suffering and adversely affected the lives of millions of people FACT. I doubt whether those 6 million Jews would have been affected so badly if Hitler had demanded they eat vanilla instead of strawberry.

    So humanists do choose human pain as part of their basis for morality. As for indifference, I suppose it is better to lend a helping hand than do nothing, but there is nothing obligatory about it. Philosopher Peter Ungar argues in Living High and Letting Die that it ought to be considered immoral not to give your spare cash to UNICEF, but so far his idea has not caught on.

    This argument from God-given objective morality has to cut both ways. Sure, you and I say that racism is wrong. But if God does exist, why isn’t he letting in members of the British National Party on such an important moral facts?

    As an aside, I think that the Nazis knew what they were doing was wrong and that it would be viewed as such by the rest of the world. Otherwise, why did they try to destroy the death camps before the Allies reached them? Why did Hitler not sign/ immediately destroy any official document authorising the Holocaust, the little sneak?

    Interesting thought experiment about corporeal punishment being useful and improving of children’s behaviour. I would take a value judgement and say that even if there were benefits in hitting a child, these are vastly outweighed by the pain, anguish and humiliation caused to the child.

    Part of the reason why I would never become a teacher and why I am not keen on having my own children is the unavoidable abuse in bringing them up…

    Dawkins ain’t bad at the lectern. Harris has me stitches. A master of the reductio ad absurdum!

    Nick Cave is a weirdo; SugaBabes kick ass!

  8. […] Design creationist propaganda piece Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, Mike Godfrey over at God3’s Blog quotes one of the film’s participants, David Berlinski.  In his response to the New Atheism, The […]

  9. Mike Godfrey says:

    The musings of moral relativism can never say something is wrong -only that it is a preference to say X is wrong or right.
    My point is that what ever outcome good morality is equal too -in Harris case the greater good and happiness, it is a preference with no logical basis to it other than it is preferred-this is a flaw in the atheistic world-view that theists overcome by having an external source for morals.
    As an aside,Logically from a naturalistic viewpoint some have argued (Peter Singer )that we could declare that we are being species-ist in having some rights for humans that are not passed down the ‘Tree of life’ to our hairier cousins,he has compared speciesism with racism and sexism . This as Steve Fuller said at the expelled screening is the logically egalitarian -if humans have no specific defining attribute that distinguishes us from all other life on earth.

    ‘This argument from God-given objective morality has to cut both ways. Sure, you and I say that racism is wrong. But if God does exist, why isn’t he letting in members of the British National Party on such an important moral facts?’

    Well knowing and acting on that knowledge are different, to my mind pragmatism is no substitute for morality -I think the BNP see there policies as antidote to a problem,as did the Nazis -we all have the option to suppress the truth.

    ‘As an aside, I think that the Nazis knew what they were doing was wrong and that it would be viewed as such by the rest of the world. Otherwise, why did they try to destroy the death camps before the Allies reached them?’ I agree -the Bible says that right and wrong are hard-wired into us,and this ‘hiding’ of what they had done was evidence that they were not immune to this hard-wiring. Hitler’s careful avoidance of any association with the final solution was for the same reason possibly -I must get Kershaw’s book one day.

    Nick Cave a weirdo ??? Yeah absolutely ! -vive la difference-the sugar babes will be remembered years from now for what .. there great musical talent ?

    • Since I agree with much of what you say in your last reply, I think I’m done with this thread. I just differ on the origins of objective morality: it comes from a humanistic within rather than a divine without. This is not moral relativism. It is moral realism.

      Perhaps within our lifetimes human morality will have followed Peter Singer and eating meat, wearing leather and keeping pets will be viewed in the same light as slavery is today. Would we be able to tell our grandchildren that we were morally right to use animals in years gone by?

      I posted a discussion on my own blog of the Berlinski quote and Dawkins’ views on him. Scroll down to the comments and there are some great replies. Apparently someone at an ID panel discussion heard Berlinski tell Laurence Krauss in private that he doesn’t really believe in ID, but the cheques the Discovery Institute write him come in very handy.

      You must check out this comment from Steven Carr. God was watching something far more lurid than Jews being forced to dig their own graves before being shot!

      I have read Kershaw’s one volume condensed version of his biography of Hitler which was excellent. Frankly, the man was such a nasty piece of work, that I am reluctant to tar any ideology or world view with his brush, save National Socialism. I have the full two-volume edition in paperback on my “to read” pile.

      SugaBabes will be remembered for their different line ups with each new album and producing some great catchy tunes!

  10. I enjoyed this post so much i decided to spread the word.

    http://telicthoughts.com/berlinskis-wisdom/

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