Darwin and the Mathematicians

ENV: In the past, you’ve remarked about mathematicians and their opinions of Darwin’s theory of evolution. They were skeptical, you said; very skeptical. John Von Neumann was an example. How do you know that about him and about other mathematicians? DB: How do I know? Here’s how: I have been close to a number of mathematicians, and friends with others: Daniel Gallin (who died before he could begin his career), M.P. Schutzenberger (my great friend), René Thom (a friend as well), Gian-Carlo Rota (another friend), Lipman Bers (who taught me complex analysis and with whom I briefly shared a hospital room, he leaving as I was coming), Paul Halmos (a colleagues in California), and Irving Segal (a friend by correspondence, Read More ›

David Berlinski on The Deniable Darwin and Commentary

Q: Many of the most important and lengthiest essays in The Deniable Darwin were originally published in Commentary magazine. How did that fruitful partnership, or patronship, come about? Did you encounter any resistance from the Commentary readership? DB: My association with Commentary was a stroke of good luck. I wanted a wider readership. Who doesn’t? So I wrote [editor] Neal Kozodoy a letter. It was 1994. Neal, for reasons of his own, thought it important to broaden Commentary‘s intellectual horizons. We had been struck by the fact that science as an institution lacks for critics. To a very surprising extent, it gets a free pass. So our association began. I’ve never known a better editor. “The Deniable Darwin” provoked a Read More ›

Spending the Public’s Money: It’s a Tough Job

Seeking relief from the demands of geschaeft, The Washington Times reported recently, senior officials at the National Science Foundation routinely spend a great deal of their time (and our money) visiting pornographic sites on the Internet. Just possibly, I suspect, they spend all of their time on stress relief and none on the public’s business, stress relief so striking as to cancel its cause entirely. “The problems at the National Science Foundation (NSF) were so pervasive,” the Times reported, “they swamped the agency’s inspector general and forced the internal watchdog to cut back on its primary mission of investigating grant fraud and recovering misspent tax dollars.”

David Berlinski: Does Darwin Matter?

ENV: How do the scientific issues you write about affect the way we live? Why should the Darwin question matter to people who don’t normally concern themselves with scientific theories? DB: I think of the Darwinian debate in the way that Dickens thought of Jardynce v Jarndyce in Bleak House. It is awfully easy to be sucked into it, and once suckered, awfully difficult to get out. I have seen it so often. A man wakes and because has read a book or scanned an essay, he is persuaded that he can make a contribution. He is eager to make it. He offers his opinion on the Internet and is gratified by the prospect of the congratulations that he is Read More ›

David Berlinski on Religion, His Teaching, and His Life in Paris

ENV: You describe yourself as a “secular Jew” and “remarkably indifferent to the religious life.” Yet so much of your writing bears directly on whether religion has been intellectually defeated by secular, science-flavored ideologies. You can’t have given no thought to religious questions. Would you share with us your hunches and suspicions about spiritual reality, the trend in your thinking, if not your firm beliefs? DB: No. Either I cannot or I will not. I do not know whether I am unable or unwilling. The question elicits in me a stubborn refusal. Please understand. It is not an issue of privacy. I have, after all, blabbed my life away: Why should I call a halt here? I suppose that I Read More ›