Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Levin, Berlinski, And Evangelizing The Culture

I don't normally watch the program, but my wife and I were in a hotel Sunday night, and we watched what was available on its cable, so we saw Mark Levin's new show, Life, Liberty, and Levin. This episode was devoted to David Berlinski's skepticism about Darwinian theory, as well as what appears to be a vague theism he seems to share with Levin. As best I can determine, both men are non-observant Jews. You can watch the full show on YouTube here.

I've been following the Darwin-skeptic movement for some time, especially since Phillip Johnson's 1991 Darwin on Trial. Most Darwin skeptics seem to be Protestant (Johnson is an observant Presbyterian, as far as I can determine) or Jewish (like Benjamin Stein), with the exception of Michael Behe, who appears to be an observant Catholic. But since becoming Catholic myself, I've discovered that dismissal of Darwin is common especially among neo-Thomists, so much so that they make little point of it, and Edward Feser is equally dismissive of the Intelligent Design movement as he is of Darwinism, both on Thomistic rational grounds.

It's a little puzzling to me that Catholic skepticism of Darwinism has been so little in the public eye, although more telegenic figures like Feser have more on their plate, and others, like Fr Ripperger, take some getting used to. But Berlinski is about as intellectually respectable as a Darwin-skeptic can get, having received a PhD in philosophy from Princeton, worked as a research assistant in molecular biology at Columbia, and published on systems analysis, the history of differential topology, analytic philosophy, and the philosophy of mathematics. Mark Levin's degrees are from Temple University, not as elite an institution as the Ivies.

What I found odd is that both Levin and Berlinski run up against the big question -- if it all didn't derive from pond scum and a couple of comets, then where did it come from? -- and seem to be utterly without the resources to continue. Berlinski says, I believe correctly, that Darwinian theory violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics (as, parenthetically, does the standard model of galactic and planetary formation), and he goes on to say that every birth violates the Second Law. But neither he nor Levin seems able to do much more than go "humm".

Prof Jordan Peterson seems to have a similar problem, approaching essentially moral issues as a psychologist at least asserting that he's following a scientific model -- he decides that the traditional virtues are a good idea, but that's only because Carl Jung has figured this out, and he still can't quite make up his mind over natural religion. Peterson seems to lack the same philosophical tools Berlinski lacks.

I assume that even as a philosophy major at Princeton, Berlinski would have had a hard time finding a course in Aquinas (if someone has access to a 1960s course catalog there, it might help). I note that undergraduates aiming at the Catholic priesthood usually major in philosophy, so possibly at Catholic institutions it might be easier to find one, but I wouldn't take this for granted.

But if I were in a position to look seriously at advancing the project of evangelizing the culture, I think I would make it a priority to restore Aquinas to the place he should have in the public discourse. And I would do what I could to put the CDF on a more productive path than trying to maintain the ordinariates on life support.