Science After Babel

David Berlinski

Polymath and raconteur David Berlinski is at it again, challenging the shibboleths of contemporary science with his inimitable blend of deep learning, close reasoning, and rapier wit. In Science After Babel he reflects on everything from Newton, Einstein, and Gödel to catastrophe theory, information theory, and the morass that is modern Darwinism. The scientific enterprise is unarguably impressive, but it shows no sign of reaching the empyrean heights it seemed to promise a century ago. “It resembles Bruegel’s Tower of Babel,” Berlinski says, “and if it suggests anything at all, it suggests that its original plans have somehow been lost.” Science endures. Scientism, it would seem, is guttering out.


Many will read this book for the close, elegant reasoning, the astonishing erudition, or the mordant analysis. I confess I read it for the prose. “Vast sections of our experience might be so very rich in information” — I quote here from the discussion of our limited ability to define complexity — “that they stay forever outside the scope of theory and remain simply what they are: unique, ineffable, insubsumable, irreducible.” See what I mean? Nobody but David Berlinski has ever employed such sweet, gorgeous prose in writing about science.

Peter Robinson, Murdoch Distinguished Policy Fellow at the Hoover Institution and former speechwriter to President Ronald Reagan

Whether deconstructing the latest theory of everything or dishing on scientists and mathematicians he has known, whatever David Berlinski writes is delightful and profitable to read!

Michael Behe, Professor of Biological Sciences, Lehigh University, author of Darwin’s Black Box, The Edge of Evolution, and Darwin Devolves

If I were picking two books to be required reading for every college student in the United States, Science After Babel would be one. A striking and beautiful and absolutely necessary book. David Berlinski at his spectacular best.

David Gelernter, Professor of Computer Science, Yale University

Science After Babel is a literary triumph. In it, David Berlinski masterfully exposes the hubris of scientific pretensions with a wit that dances deftly between the lines, unveiling profound insights with a refreshing candor. This book testifies to the author’s penetrating intellect, inviting readers to reconsider the limits of scientific authority and reject facile invocations of science that demand assent at the expense of compelling evidence and rigorous thought.

William Dembski, mathematician, philosopher, and former head of the Michael Polanyi Center at Baylor University; author of multiple groundbreaking works on the theory of intelligent design, including The Design Inference (Cambridge University Press, 1998)

Berlinski speaks wittingly as an insider to the sciences and their recent history. As a historian-philosopher of science, I recognize numerous valuable insights in this collection of arguments and memories. He captures the wonder of scientific inquiry without misplaced worship of speculative pronouncements made in its name. Berlinski is the most enjoyable antidote to scientism I know.

Michael Keas, Lecturer in the History and Philosophy of Science, Biola University, author of Unbelievable: 7 Myths About the History and Future of Science and Religion

Dr. Berlinski explores everything from the complicated spawning behavior of salmon and the problems with the RNA World hypothesis to various acute challenges to modern evolutionary theory, including the Cambrian explosion, molecular machines, and the failure of punctuated equilibrium. As he shows, trouble is brewing for Darwin on other fronts as well—population genetics, taxonomy, behavioral psychology, and the philosophy of biology, to name just a few. In total, Science after Babel is a lively mix of deep scientific knowledge, literary skill, and humor. The work reveals why scientism’s contemporary tower of babel has failed to reach the heavens. I highly recommend the book and hope it is widely read.

Ola Hössjer, Professor of Mathematical Statistics, Stockholm University

David Berlinski is world class at combining devastating wit with even more devastating substantive criticism, and this book would be well worth its purchase price for the fine polemic essays it contains. But what makes it really special is the inclusion of hard-to-find historical and technical essays on mathematics, biology, and philosophy. In his popular writing, Berlinski has generally refrained from delving into all the gory details of his arguments, though we can sense a mastery of those details. Here the mastery is on unrestrained display, and the details can be fully enjoyed.

Stephen McKeown, Assistant Professor of Mathematics, University of Texas at Dallas

In Science After Babel David Berlinski takes critical scholarly aim at many current day “scientific truths” — more properly shibboleths — including Darwinism, reductionism, the Standard Model of particle physics, and “talking” chimpanzees; and he shows how much nonsense often passes as secure scientific knowledge. Neo-Darwinism he describes as “empty,” and in discussing the Standard Model he comments wryly, “Theories come and go.” He also takes aim at a vast constellation of recent authors, including cosmologists Brian Greene and Lawrence Krauss, biologist Stephen Jay Gould, and philosopher of biology Michael Ruse.

The book is a delightful read delivered with great wit and erudition. We are treated to unique recollections — of his drinking coffee in Paris with René Thom, the founder of catastrophe theory; of the insane driving, also in Paris, of his friend, the mathematician, polymath, and leading French anti-Darwinist Marcel Schützenberger; and of a conversation with Noam Chomsky. Altogether the book represents an extraordinary and absolutely fascinating tour de force touching on topics as diverse as medieval Islamic astronomy and the great twentieth-century mathematician John von Neumann’s reflections on the role of chance in evolution. The text is interspersed throughout with some beautiful descriptive writing—Mount Rainer’s snow glimpsed flying out of SeaTac was “silent, sweeping, silvery, still, serene.”

The book is a stunning intellectual achievement. Few authors could have written such a far-reaching, in-depth critique of so many current philosophical and scientific beliefs. Science After Babel is mandatory reading for anyone interested in a critical assessment of much current scientific thinking. No other recent publication comes close, and unquestionably this brilliant book establishes David Berlinski as one of the leading intellectuals of our time.

Michael Denton, PhD, MD, former Senior Research Fellow in the Biochemistry Department at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, author of Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, Nature’s Destiny, and The Miracle of Man

David Berlinski

Writer, Thinker, Raconteur, and Senior Fellow, Discovery Institute
David Berlinski received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University and was later a postdoctoral fellow in mathematics and molecular biology at Columbia University. He is currently a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture. Dr. Berlinski has authored works on systems analysis, differential topology, theoretical biology, analytic philosophy, and the philosophy of mathematics, as well as three novels. He has also taught philosophy, mathematics and English at such universities as Stanford, Rutgers, the City University of New York and the Universite de Paris. In addition, he has held research fellowships at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria and the Institut des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques (IHES) in France.