David Berlinski Crosses Swords with Pharyngula’s PZ Meyers

David Berlinski sent me the following e-mail this morning and encouraged me to share it here. The exchange below comes after the recent publication of David’s op-ed in the Wichita Eagle.

Someone named PZ Myers posted an indignant response to my op-ed piece to the Panda’s Thumb. Our correspondence follows. By all means post it to the Discovery Institute’s web site.

Dear Dr. Myers:

I read with interest your criticisms of my little op-ed piece for the Wichita Eagle; and very indignant they were. Your references to my most recent book, “The Secrets of the Vaulted Sky”, were, however, in error, the result, no doubt, of the fact that you have not read the book, and, I am sure, do not plan to do so. Please allow me to quote the book’s first words: “Astrology is a failed science in the simple but inescapable sense that in this country and in Europe, it is no longer taken seriously by scientists.” My book is hardly a defense of astrology, as every careful reviewer has taken pains to note. The very idea is absurd. Neither is it a critique of astrology. It is, instead, a history of astrological doctrine and an account of the lives of various astrologers from Babylonian to modern times. Quite fascinating, if I do say so myself. And instructive as well, since, like Darwinian theories, astrological theories were once treated with immense respect by serious and responsible scientific figures like Johannes Kepler. Although psychological advice is not in my line, the example of Kepler’s life might suggest some self-scrutiny on your part. Here is a man of evident genius, and one moreover prepared to discard with great ruthlessness what he considered the vulgar aspects of 15th century astrological doctrine. No one could have been more contemptuous of what Kepler considered the abuse of astrology. What he was unable to do was free himself of the conviction that astrological theories were fundamentally correct. That act of intellectual liberations was beyond him.
As for field studies reporting weak to non-existence selection effects in the wild, do have a look at J.G. Kingsolver, et al, “The Strength of Phenotypic Selection in Natural Populations (/The American Naturalist/, March 2001), a paper which must now be considered more up-to-date than Endler’s well-known 1986 monograph on the same topic.
I would be as prepared as the next man to believe that in Darwinian theories you are in possession of theories worth defending if only you would do a better job defending them.

Sincerely yours,
David Berlinski

PZ Myers wrote:

Yes, I am justifiably indignant. Your editorial was a slurry of misconceptions, deceptions, and lies; have you no shame at all?

David Berlinski wrote:

Dear Dr. Myers –All that indignation might be put to better effect had it not crossed my desk advanced by absurd criticisms of a book you have never read, and supported neither by argument nor a rational appeal to the evidence. A defense like yours does more to speed Darwin’s theory toward the undertaker’s parlour than any criticism I might make. Add just a few more words — something I am persuaded you can do — and you will cover the cost of Darwin’s eternity slippers as well as his burial plot. A sense of shame? My poor baffled booby. I am quite sure that in the faculty lounge where you take coffee, your colleagues are apt to slap you on the back collegially and assure you that this is all very fine stuff — just swell; but the universe, thank God, is not the university, and men and women who have read more than ten good books and are not afraid of ghosts will consider the rhetorical force of your words and simply chuckle to themselves. When you have an argument to make, or specific evidence from the literature to cite, you may by all means write back, and I will answer with all of my well-known equanimity of spirit.