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


Jussie Smollett Jokes Declared Off-Limits

The Jussie Smollett story has been declared not fit for jokes. "It's a straight-up tragedy," declares the co-creator of a Comedy Central show, South Side, set in Chicago. Bashir Salahuddin, a former Jimmy Fallon writer, says “The whole situation is unfortunate. Particularly for the city, there’s bigger ... Read More

What The 1619 Project Leaves Out

“The goal of The 1619 Project, a major initiative from The New York Times that this issue of the magazine inaugurates, is to reframe American history by considering what it would mean to regard 1619 as our nation’s birth year,” The New York Times Magazine editors declare. “Doing so requires us to place ... Read More
PC Culture

Courage Is the Cure for Political Correctness

This might come as some surprise to observers of our campus culture wars, but there was a time, not long ago, when the situation in American higher education was much worse. There a wave of vicious campus activism aimed at silencing heterodox speakers, and it was typically empowered by a comprehensive regime of ... Read More
Film & TV

The Movies Take On Limbaugh, Levin, et al.

Oh, good, here’s the lefty British comic Steve Coogan to give us his take on American right-wing talk radio. Let’s all settle in for some deep insights. The comedy-drama is dismally titled Hot Air. No, seriously. That’s what they came up with. Coogan’s Lionel Macomb is introduced to us via his ... Read More
White House

Trump’s Ignorant Comments on Israel

Making the click-through worthwhile: figuring out what President Trump meant when he said Jews who vote for Democrats show “either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty”; examining the data on how American Jews actually feel about Israel; and why Democrats will always find a way or a reason to avert ... Read More