The Corner

David Klinghoffer On Darwin

A couple of readers have prodded me to make some rejoinder to David

Klinghoffer’s column yesterday, dissing poor old Chuck Darwin.

I beg to decline, mainly because I am too fond of David. He was my

first boss at NR–literary editor when I started doing book reviews for

the magazine 6-7 years ago. He is the nicest guy you could meet, and I

will only register a mild, sad regret that he has fallen in with the

wrong crowd.

I am, in any case, coming to believe that ID-ers and working scientists

have different types of brain organization. (Incipient speciation,

perhaps?) One thing I notice, talking to working scientists, is how

deeply, deeply uninterested most of them are in metaphysics–in the

topics that fill up ID websites and talk, and the emails I get when I

write about ID. If you try to talk metaphysics to the average working

scientist, his eyes glaze over at once. ID-ers want to talk about

nothing else. Scientists just want to get on with finding out things.

It’s Guelphs and Ghibellines, Yankees and Mets–some fundamental

difference in ways of thinking. A small number of scientists–Sagan,

Dawkins, et al.– make much noise with their opinions on metaphysics

(which are usually no more profound than what you or I could come up

with) but most couldn’t care less.

I recall a conversation I once had with an actual cosmologist (the only

such conversation I have ever had, I think). Eons ago (he said) the

universe was much hotter and denser than it is now. At earlier periods,

it was hotter and denser yet. At the remotest period we can theorize

about, it was so hot and dense that our current understandings break

down. If we can improve our understanding a bit, we might push back

that break-down point a few trillion trillion trillionths of a second.

That was his aim. But what (I asked) happened before that? How did

the whole thing get started? Where did it come from? What was there

before? I could see the guy’s eyes glaze over before I finished asking.

“How the **** should I know? I’m a physicist.” But those metaphysical questions are, of course, the ones everyone wants to talk about.

It is the same, incidentally, with mathematicians. The great “crisis of

foundations” that roiled the further edges of mathematics from the 1890s

to the 1960s, and many of whose big questions are still unresolved

today, left surprisingly little mark on the actual daily work of actual

mathematicians, and it is very hard to get a conversation about

“foundations” going in a group of working mathematicians (outside the

tiny number who specialize in it). They just don’t care much. They

want to get on with finding out stuff.

To alter the old joke slightly: Those who can, do; those who can’t,

talk metaphysics. Probably science is too important to be left to the

scientists. I’m beginning to wish it weren’t, though.

John Derbyshire — Mr. Derbyshire is a former contributing editor of National Review.

Most Popular

White House

Another Warning Sign

The Mueller report is of course about Russian interference in the 2016 election and about the White House's interference in the resulting investigation. But I couldn’t help also reading the report as a window into the manner of administration that characterizes the Trump era, and therefore as another warning ... Read More

What’s So Great about Western Civilization

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays. Dear Reader (Redacted: Harm to Ongoing Matter), One of the things I tell new parents is something that was told to me when my daughter still had that ... Read More
White House

The Mueller Report Should Shock Our Conscience

I've finished reading the entire Mueller report, and I must confess that even as a longtime, quite open critic of Donald Trump, I was surprised at the sheer scope, scale, and brazenness of the lies, falsehoods, and misdirections detailed by the Special Counsel's Office. We've become accustomed to Trump making up ... Read More
Film & TV

Jesus Is Not the Joker

Actors love to think they can play anything, but the job of any half-decent filmmaker is to tell them when they’re not right for a part. If the Rock wants to play Kurt Cobain, try to talk him out of it. Adam Sandler as King Lear is not a great match. And then there’s Joaquin Phoenix. He’s playing Jesus ... Read More

Supreme Court Mulls Citizenship Question for Census

Washington -- The oral arguments the Supreme Court will hear on Tuesday will be more decorous than the gusts of judicial testiness that blew the case up to the nation’s highest tribunal. The case, which raises arcane questions of administrative law but could have widely radiating political and policy ... Read More