David Berlinski Writer, Thinker, and Raconteur

David Berlinski on The Deniable Darwin and Commentary


Q: Many of the most important and lengthiest essays in The Deniable Darwin were originally published in Commentary magazine. How did that fruitful partnership, or patronship, come about? Did you encounter any resistance from the Commentary readership?

DB: My association with Commentary was a stroke of good luck. I wanted a wider readership. Who doesn’t? So I wrote [editor] Neal Kozodoy a letter. It was 1994. Neal, for reasons of his own, thought it important to broaden Commentary‘s intellectual horizons. We had been struck by the fact that science as an institution lacks for critics. To a very surprising extent, it gets a free pass. So our association began. I’ve never known a better editor. “The Deniable Darwin” provoked a great deal of controversy when it was published. It still does. Bloggers still feel obliged to waddle into Blogginess with a counter-critique. Some readers found my Commentary essays difficult, especially those dealing with the origins of life and the evolution of the eye. They objected, perhaps rightly so. They are difficult. But Commentary, you must remember, is a Jewish magazine, and it was the thought that I might in some way be offering encouragement to Christian evangelicals that some of Commentary‘s readers found troubling. They were fearful that in the very next issue I might be found speaking in tongues or eagerly handling snakes. 

The story is very complicated. I have not done it justice. I do not know all of the details. But Commentary is now in other hands and I no longer have a home there. I am, in fact, pretty much homeless. The editor of The New York Review of Books once wrote to tell me of his interest in my work. He was all of an oleaginous eagerness. On discovering who I was, he very quickly lost interest, my own letters going unanswered.

Robert Silvers is a man not much inclined to snakes either. I understand that he breaks into a rash whenever he handles them.