Further to my recent series of posts on the Intelligent 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 Devil’s Delusion, Berlinski, a supposedly secular Jew, writes on the crimes of so-called atheist totalitarianisms in the 20th century:
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.
I can only assume that Berlinski had forgotten about the events of September 11, 2001 when he was writing this passage. This was an outrage carried out by people who were thinking only too much of what heaven would think of them. Hopefully, the more recent events on the Moscow tube will jog his memory.
Appealing to authority and credential inflation are common tactics of creationists and Intelligent Design proponents. Expelled’s host, Ben Stein, went to great lengths to hold out Berlinski as an example of a smart guy who believed in Intelligent Design in order to give it some credibility. However, all Berlinski succeeded in doing was to be a particularly obnoxious and unlikeable character, saying that Richard Dawkins is “a crummy philosopher” and “a little bit of a reptile”.
In an article reminiscing on an infamous book review for The New York Times in 1989 where he wrote, “It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that),” Dawkins had this to say about Berlinski:
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.
After witnessing his performance in Expelled, Dawkins’ assessment of Berlinski is borne out all too well.
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