This book is the definition of confirming by bias. Berlinski is arrogant, sarcastic, erudite and contrarian. I like his writing style and the book is only 225 pages. This book is not for everyone and is down right insulting to some. The preface to the second edition sums up who his intended audience is: "a great many men and women have a dull, hurt, angry sense of being oppressed by the sciences...They are right to feel this way. I have written this book for them."
In the first chapter, "No Gods Before Me", Berlinski makes a cleaver twist on the commandment to reference the belief in what I would call scientism summed up nicely in this quote: "Confident assertions by scientist that in the privacy of their chambers they have demonstrated that God does not exist have nothing to do with science, and even less to do with God's existence."
The next chapter, "Nights of Doubt", he explores the history of disbelief. "For scientists persuaded that there is no God, there is no finer pleasure than recounting the history of religious brutality and persecution...Nonetheless, there is this awkward fact: the 20th century was not an age of faith, and it was awful. Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and Pol Pot will never be counted among the religious leaders of mankind."
In "Horse Do Not Fly", Berlinski goes deeper into the faith exhibited in modern science. From a letter by Richard Thomas talking about baffling math results in recent history, "To a mathematician, these things cannot be a coincidence, they must come from a higher reason. And that reason is the assumption that this big mathematical theory describes nature." Berlinski then writes a funny twist from the Bible, "Western science is above all the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."
In "The Case", he introduces one of his clever tricks, fake dialog. "The question: What causes the universe? The answer: Something." He then introduces Thomas Aquinas, whom Berlinski calls the "largest intellectual personality of the thirteenth century." I have heard of Aquinas, but was unaware of his influence. One of Aquinas' arguments, his Summa Theologica contains 38 treatises and 612 separate questions, was "causes in nature cannot form an infinite series." He ends with a quote from astrophysicist Christoper Isham, "Perhaps the best argument in favor of the thesis that the Big Bag supports theism, is the obvious unease with which it is greeted by some atheist physicists."
The next chapter, "The Reason", deals with why the universe exists. Berlinski does a good job of explaining the history of quantum physics. Then he has the following, which I find hilarious:
A Catholic catechism of Quantum CosmologyThe sixth chapter, "A Put-up Job", is probably my favorite. In describing the fact that many constants need to be just where they are for life to exist, he quotes the physicists Paul Davies, "Scientist are slowly waking up to an inconvenient truth - the universe looks suspiciously like a fix." Berlinski then does a decent job of explaining the history of string theory and does his best to make fun of it. He quotes a good chunk from Leonard Susskind, "If, for some unforeseen reason, the landscape turns out to be inconsistent...I am pretty sure physicists will go on searching for natural explanations of the world...One might argue that the hope that a mathematically unique solution will emerge is as faith-based as ID." ID being intelligent design.
Q: From what did our universe evolve?
A: Our universe evolved from a much smaller, much emptier mini-universe. You may think of it as an egg.
Q: What was the smaller, emptier universe like?
A: It was four-dimensional sphere with nothing much inside it. You may think of that as weird.
Q: How can a sphere has four dimensions?
A: A sphere may have four dimensions if it has one more dimension than a three-dimensional sphere. You may think of this as obvious.
Q: Does the smaller, emptier universe have a name?
A: The smaller, emptier universe is called a de Sitter universe. You may think of that as about time someone paid attention to de Sitter.
Q: Is there anything else I should know about the smaller, emptier universe?
A: Yes. It represents a solution to Einstein's field equations. You may think of that a good thing.
Q: Where was that smaller, emptier universe or egg?
A: It was in the place where space as we know it did not exist. You may think of it as a sac.
Q: When was it there? A: It was there at the time when time as we know it did not exist. You make think of this as a mystery
Q: Where did the egg come from? A: The egg did not actually come from anywhere. You may think of this as astonishing.
Q: If the egg did not come from anywhere, how did it get there? A: The egg got there because the wave function of the universe said it was probable. You may think of this as a done deal.
Q: How did our universe evolve from an egg? A: It evolved by inflating itself up from its sac to become the universe in which we now find ourselves. You may think of this as one of those things.
The next two chapters were not too interesting to me. In "A Curious Proof That God Does Not Exist", Berlinski goes on a rant against Dawkins. Chapter 8, Our Inner Ape, a Darling and the Human Mind", he goes after determinism, evolutionary psychology and Steven Pinker.
Next up, "Miracles in Our Time", Berlinski goes after the grand poobah, Darwin, his disciples (i.e. Hitchens) and his theory of evolution.He quotes an unnamed Nobel laureate, "Darwin? That's just the party line." Something interesting and maybe worth looking into is Euguen Koonin, "Major transitions in biological evolution, show the same pattern of sudden emergence of diverse forms at a new level of complexity...No intermediate 'grades' or intermediate forms between different types are detectable." Another interesting theory is the neutral theory by Motoo Kimura, "the great majority of evolutionary changes at he molecular level, are caused not by Darwinian selection, but by random drift of selectively neutral mutations."
The book ends with "The Cardinal and His Cathedral", an attempt to draw parallels to Cardinal Bellarmine and Galileo. I think he should have ended with this, "If science of the twentieth century has demonstrated anything, it is that there are limits of what we can know."