I was barely out of my childhood (lol) when the original Star Trek TV series (1966) became an overnight sensation, and “Spock” became an instant audience favorite with his dry, emotionless, one-word quip: “Illogical.” For a cool-headed assessment of tricky situations, Captain Kirk always consulted Spock, who could be depended upon to think rationally in any crisis. Spock made logic cool. And where his perfect logic wasn’t sufficient to handle the situation, his “Spock Pinch” could save the day.
When I studied logic in college, a vague uneasiness would wash over me as I attempted to identify some “fallacy of logic” in a written argument. Labeling someone’s argument as fallacious, faulty, false, or a deception seemed brashly impolite and tactless. Possibly even dangerous. I had spent my whole life avoiding confrontation; I certainly didn’t want to insult or embarrass anyone by branding their views illogical, false, fallacious, or deceptive. It was “nicer” (and safer) to beat around the bush and pretend to not notice their affront to logic, never mind that their affront was an insult to my intelligence and an embarrassment to my feelings. Sadly, I don’t know that I will ever master the art of dispassionate disagreement. Besides that, I wouldn’t know how to administer a “Spock Pinch” if someone became violent after I pointed out their fallacies of logic.
Now, enter one David Berlinski [photo at left]. I realized the other day that he is the real life embodiment of Spock. He’s cool-headed and emotionless. Logic, to him, is second nature. He doesn’t go around looking down his nose muttering “illogical,” of course. He deftly sizes up a questionable assertion and says something that exposes the faulty thinking or deception for what it is. He is the proverbial thorn in the side of those who are dressed in the intellectual equivalent of the Emperor’s New Clothes. He has no compunction whatsoever in stating for all to hear, “The Emperor is naked!” – OR—“The ‘science’ here is flawed, and the ‘scientists’ are charlatans who will not ‘allow’ anyone to question or dispute their assertions!” He merely expects “scientists” to hold to the scientific method. (Image that!) When they don’t, but nonetheless claim that their views are “scientific facts,” he exposes them for what they really are; thus he calmly, matter-of-factly, and dispassionately, dispatches them.
At least, calm and dispassionate describes how he looks. After reading several of his articles and his latest book, The Devil’s Delusion, Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions, I now know that his cool, thoughtful, solemn, Spock-like demeanor is an outward pose which just barely conceals his satirical wit. I don’t know how he keeps from laughing out loud. He makes me laugh out loud. Maybe he gives himself a hard Spock Pinch, when necessary, to squelch his own gales of laughter.
The scientists who are not laughing are Richard Dawkins and his cronies who worship at the throne of Darwinism. This is not mere invective. Their belief in Darwinism has a decided religious zeal. They are fanatical about it, and scream “heresy” should anyone in their midst dare express any doubts about any aspect of Darwinist theory. They don’t want to hear about or consider any other ideas or theories. They begin screaming “religion” if anyone merely points out apparent “design” found in nature or the universe. However, to their utter fury, they cannot accuse Berlinski of religious motives, because he is “a secular Jew” and an agnostic who is more interested in the exercise of logic itself (as well as exposing those who want to deceive others) than in supplying answers to scientific questions.
Neil Postman, if he were still alive, would probably find Berlinski to be a breath of fresh air. Neil Postman long ago (1969) delivered a rollicking speech at the National Convention for the Teachers of English, with the attention-getting title, “Bull[****] and the Art of Crap-Detection.”
He explained to the teachers that the “best things schools can do for kids is to help them learn how to distinguish useful talk from ... [bovine dung]....” He then said that the four main types of crap-talk were pomposity, fanaticism, inanity, and superstition. Fanaticism, he said, “has almost no tolerance for any data that do not confirm its own point of view.” He went on to criticize “isms” saying that “those most enmeshed in it hear no ... [bovine dung] ... whatsoever in its rhetoric, and as a consequence are extremely dangerous to other people.” Postman hoped that somehow the teachers would help their students acquire a “knowledge of how to ask questions, how to validate answers, and certainly, how to assess meanings.” (Skills obviously still needing to be taught.)
Postman would commend Berlinski for his ability to see through the Darwinists’ "bull." And for helping the rest of us have confidence in the face of fanaticism.