Review of Mark Perakh’s “Unintelligent Design,” by David J. Turell
Metanexus Anthropos. 2004.12.08. 1,260 words.
David J. Turell here reviews Unintelligent Design, by Mark Perakh, EmeritusProfessor of Physics at California State University, Fullerton. According toTurell, “Unintelligent Design is a full-frontal assault on the writings of abroad group of well-known writers whom Perakh feels are creationists. The bookis primarily a point-by-point ‘scientific’ refutation of the assertions in thosebooks. Well-known authors include Michael Behe, William Dembski and GeraldSchroeder, whose book, The Hidden Face of God, was recently reviewed herefavorably. Despite its aggressive tone and style Unintelligent Design is animportant addition to the science and religion debate. Those interested in thefield should read it.”
Dr. David J. Turell, a retired physician, lives on a paint horse breeding ranchin Texas with his wife, Susan. Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., he practiced InternalMedicine in Houston, Texas for over 30 years. Originally an agnostic, his book,Science Vs. Religion: The 500-Year War, Finding God in the Heat of the Battle,2004, is the conclusion of his personal search for spiritual truths.
Book Review: Unintelligent Design by Mark Perakh (Prometheus Books, Amherst,N.Y. 2004, 460 pgs., bibl, index, ISBN 1-59102-084-0) reviewed by David J.Turell, M.D.
Mark Perakh was born in Russia in 1924, educated to the Russian degreeequivalent to a western Ph.D. in 1949, and a Doctor of Sciences degree in 1967.He taught and performed research at Russian universities, until emigrating toIsrael in 1973 where he taught and did research at Hebrew University inJerusalem until 1978. After 1978 he came to the United States and worked forcommercial corporations, performing practical physics research. In 1985 hebecame a full professor at Cal. State U., Fullerton, retiring with Emeritusstatus in 1994. He has published four books and almost 300 scientific articles.
Unintelligent Design is a full-frontal assault on the writings of a broad groupof well-known writers whom Perakh feels are creationists. The book is primarilya point-by-point ‘scientific’ refutation of the assertions in those books.Although he presents his purpose in writing the book in a preface, at the end ofhis book he feels compelled to reiterate his viewpoint. He implies that theUnited States, as an over-religious country, allows full reign to a vast marketfor creationist books, which become best sellers, while atheistic books are fewand far between. He justifies his one-sided assault by assuming that errors in”naturalism” have been adequately covered by creationist commentary, andtherefore he need not bother. He does not understand the attempt to reconcilescience with the Bible, and ascribes it to “the lack of bravery necessary toface the possibility that there is no supernatural purpose in our life and deathmeans the complete disappearance of an individual conscience.” He is obviouslyin the same camp with Stephen Jay Gould that science and religion are ‘separatemagesteria.’ In his “Afterword” he presents himself not as an atheist or anagnostic, both religious faith and atheism being “irrational,” but as neutral.Not entirely neutral: “Predicting the future is an unrewarding job, andtherefore I would not dare to insist that no rational proof of God’s existenceor nonexistence will ever be found, though I suspect that, unfortunately, thismay be the case.” Still, all in all, an important read.
Atheists praise atheistic books and believers praise religious books. There isalmost no middle ground, essentially no books for agnostics. In a sense,Unintelligent Design purports to be that book, according to Perakh, withoutbeing that book. Not wishing to appear entirely negative, I admit I agree with afair number of the author’s observations. On the other hand, no matter howbrilliant a scientist he appears to be, and I suspect he is brilliant, I findoff-putting his self-serving examples of his ‘brilliance’, in which he endlesslypursues some scientific subject that is really off the point at hand, and hissnide remarks, and his technique of pointing out an author’s lack of knowledgewhen that missing information is of no consequence to the author’s point ofview. The book is written in the style of an attack-dog. Destroying a writer’scredibility is easier than wining a debate by logic. And in using that techniquesome information he presents is out-and-out wrong, just as he accuses otherauthors of inaccuracies.
Some examples of the attacks: Against Hugh Ross, an old-earth creationist,Perakh changes the history of the Hebrew language, to challenge Ross’interpretation of the Torah containing a limited working vocabulary of wordswith variable meanings. Perakh disagrees, and states the Torah contains 14,691different words, when it is well known that a working vocabulary of 2,750 wordswill interpret 95 percent of the five books. Ancient Hebrew was very limited,requiring referral to other similar Semitic languages to be sure of word-rootmeanings. It fell into disuse in the Middle Ages and modern Israel revived alanguage, which had a working vocabulary of about 10,000 words. Perakh quotes amodern Israeli dictionary as having 70,000 entries, 50 years after the start ofIsrael, as if to reinforce his point. It appears that Perakh does not understandthe complexities of the scholarship involved in investigating the interpretationof the ancient texts. There are other ways to try to refute Ross’ approach.
An attack on Michael Behe takes the form of a subterfuge: Perakh spends over twopages describing a mathematical form of ‘irreducible complexity’ found in the’algorithmic theory of probability (ATP)’, “of which Behe was apparentlyunaware” and which Perakh admits is “something quite different from what Behemeans by his term.” Perakh concludes his mathematical discussion, “ATP hasestablished that irreducible complexity is just a synonym for randomness,” andtherefore, “if a system is irreducibly complex, it is not a product of design.”In his further discussion Perakh notes that Dembski’s definition of complexityalso “is very different …than the definition of complexity in ATP.” If Perakhadmits that Behe and Dembski are using a different definition, why compareapples and oranges and conclude they are wrong? Perakhﾒs subterfuge provides a’non-answer’ to Behe and Dembski.
In criticizing Gerald Schroeder, Perakh is literally vicious. On page 38 of TheHidden Face of God Schroeder presents an equation, hv=mc^2, combiningdeBroglie’s wave theory equation (E=hv) with Einstein’s famous E=mc^2 . Hispoint is to present to the non-physicist, lay reader, the concept of quantummechanics in which quantum expressions of energy can be both particles andwaves. Perakh pounces: “Obviously lacking the proper understanding of these twoequations, and seeing the same letter E on the left side of both, Schroedermechanically combined [the two equations] into one,” which Perakh then describesas an “absurdity.” Perakh claims that this equation “is not the only error inSchroeder’s new book.” “Since Schroeder’s insufficient competence in physics,which is his professional field, is obvious, what credibility can be given tohis lengthy discourse on molecular biology, which is not his professional field?Moreover, what credibility can be given to his general thesis asserting thealleged harmony between the Bible and science?” Contrast this excerpt withThomas P. Sheahen’s review of The Hidden Face of God on this web site. Sheahenwith a Ph.D. in physics from M.I.T. undoubtedly saw the same equation, andunderstood, as I did, what Schroeder was doing.
The book is divided into three sections. In Part One, Perakh offers hisrefutation of Intelligent Design. Dembski, Behe, and Johnson are the authorsdiscussed. Phillip Johnson is found in the Chapter, A Militant Dilettante in theJudgment of Science, to give just one example of the tone that pervades thebook. Part Two covers those authors who have presented material showing theirimpression of a concordance between the Bible and science. The total listincludes Hugh Ross, Grant Jeffery, Fred Heeren, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson,the seventh Lubavitcher Rabbi, Nathan Aviezer, Gerald Schroeder, and LeeSpetner. In Part Three Perakh does provide a fine discussion of the scientificmethod and some pertinent aspects of probability theory. There is then a long,and in my opinion unnecessary, refutation of the validity of the ‘Bible codes’.It seems as if Perakh had to take on everybody.
Despite the tone of the book, and my obvious reservations, I still suggest thatUnintelligent Design is an important addition to the science and religiondebate. And despite its aggressive tone and style those interested in the fieldshould read it. It represents the worldview of a scientist whose life was spentprimarily in commercial practical scientific research, basically a commitment toscientific reductionism.
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