DANIEL C. DENNETT:
I love it: another hilarious demonstration that you can publish bull---t at will -- just so long as you say what an editorial board wants to hear in a style it favors. First there was Alan Sokal's delicious unmasking of the editors of Social Text, who fell for his fashionably anti-scientific "proof" that according to quantum physics, the world is a social construction. Now David Berlinski has done the same to the editors of commentary, who fell just as hard for his parody of "scientific" creationism. They must really be oppressed by evolutionary theory to publish such inspired silliness without running it by a biologist or two for soundness. Two such similar pranks in a single month make one wonder if this is just the tip of the Zeitgeist. What next? A hoax extolling the educational virtues of machine guns for tots in the American Rifleman?
I love the rich comic patina of smug miseducation Mr. Berlinski exudes: Latin names for species mixed with elementary falsehoods in about equal measure, the subtle misuse of "Doppelganger," the "unwitting" creation of a new term, "combinatorial inflation," and the deft touch of "betraying" his cluelessness by referring to Kim Sterelny as "she."
The hints are subtle but conclusive. No serious opponent of evolutionary theory would trot out the ill-considered remarks of the mathematician M.P. Schutzenberger -- a line of discredited criticism quietly abandoned by others years ago -- without so much as a hint about their standing. How could the heroic misunderstanding of Jacques Monod that enables our author to pit Monod against Richard Dawkins be anything but disingenuous? Could any actual professor of mathematics and philosophy "in American and French universities" misrepresent the import of the second law of thermodynamics with such poetic fervor, such blithe overconfidence?
Whoever this David Berlinski is, he is clever enough to fool Commentary, and I wouldn't even be surprised if some evolutionists take him seriously enough to rebut him in detail. Even better, some earnest creationists may clasp him to their bosom. That is, one presumes, his larger joke. The only reason I am exposing it now (killjoy that I am) is to make it clear that so far as I know, we evolutionists did not put him up to it. We feel no need to burden our critics with such agents provocateurs, but they are welcome to him if they want him.
Center for Cognitive Studies