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My Gift to You: David Berlinski Interviewed by Peter Robinson

In bringing to your attention a new interview by Peter Robinson with mathematician and philosopher David Berlinski, on the program Uncommon Knowledge, I am actually giving you a valuable gift. Otherwise you might be unaware of it. So…you are very welcome! 

I’m kidding, of course. The Hoover Institution at Stanford produces Uncommon Knowledge, and thank you very much to them for doing so. In seriousness, if you miss this, you’ve missed something wonderful:

What a Match!

It would be hard to think of a living person more interesting than our Discovery Institute colleague David Berlinski. And Peter Robinson is the perfect interviewer: sly, thoughtful, humble, he leads David through a range of subjects that hang together almost symphonically. They discuss evolution, of course, including Yale computer scientist David Gelernter’s recent confession of doubt on that subject, to which Berlinski’s book The Doubtable Darwin helped lead him, as well as an essay by Razib Khan for National Review taking the opposite view. Berlinski’s plea is that the grave contradictions between evolution and evidence at least be forthrightly admitted.

They return to evolution in the end. In between, Berlinski and Robinson cover Pope Benedict at Regensburg, reason and religion, Islam and the philosopher Al-Ghazali, the fate of Europe, whether it’s reasonable to be an optimist or a pessimist, and more. In his final question, Robinson asks Berlinski if he still considers himself an agnostic, which receives a candid and enlightening response, citing Pascal.

These two, who spoke together outside Florence, Italy, are clearly friends and the warmth between them is part of the enjoyment of watching.

Do Conservatives Need Darwin?

I could comment on many of David’s views, expressed so finely here. But I’ll limit myself to one. He responds to Razib Khan’s assertion that conservatives need Darwin because without evolution, there is no basis for seeing vital differences in biology as grounded in objective reality. Most notably, “male and female [would then be] categories of the mind, rather than of nature. In rejecting evolution, a conservative gives up the most powerful rejoinder to these claims.”

The answer, which Berlinski puts far better than I can, is that the truth is exactly the opposite. Despite the title of his famous book, in Darwin’s understanding, which he bequeathed to our academic and media culture, there isn’t really a meaningful, essential category called a species. Instead, organisms form a smear — or ought to, under the theory — blending imperceptibly into each other from the first life to the last, never static, always mutating. If that’s true of species, why would we not expect to see the same with the supposedly crisp binary pairing of male with female? Shouldn’t there be, similarly, not two neatly defined genders but a smear of countless genders? And that is the conclusion to which our culture is leading.

That’s just my own crude take on what David has to say. Now watch and listen and see the real thing!