Book Plunge: Enlightenment Now—Part Two

Do I have further thoughts on Steven Pinker’s book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

When I say part two, I don’t mean part two of the book but of the review. Part two really doesn’t have much that is objectionable, although there are a few things. He’s mainly talking about improvements in various areas over the centuries and there’s no reason to object. Some are questionable, such as equality since he throws in the redefinition of marriage and interestingly, leaves out the idea of if a baby in the womb counts as an equal human being.

Also, I question knowledge. No doubt, our knowledge as a whole has increased, but I question many times if people today are more knowledgeable. Keep in mind we’ve recently seen young people today eating tide pods and snorting condoms. Wikipedia is a favorite cite to use for informing oneself as well despite not knowing who wrote it and being able to Google is a substitute for research.

Now if there are problems in part two, I mainly leave that to others who have looked at those areas a lot more. I do not have the information nor do I wish to take all the serious investment in it when there are other things. I do wish to point out that there is no necessary connection established yet to the Enlightenment since Pinker presents ideas like science and reason as coming from them while ignoring that these were going on actively in the Middle Ages as well.

So let’s move on to the final part and objectionable material I’ve found since then.

Pinker talks often about how we can be blinded to one side and mocks conspiracy theories, which is good, but I think he buys into his own. He has a large anti-Trump rant where pretty much anything that is said is included, even making a point about being investigated for Russian collusion. One wonders what he thinks of this section now considering things like tax cuts and peace talks with North Korea.

On page 359, he talks about how we maintain ideas to maintain standing with a group. The example he gives is one must think like this to say that God is three persons and yet one person. One would hope that someone who wants to do great research over history would bother to have done a smidgen on religion and what a Trinitarian means when he says God is a Trinity. Apparently, Pinker did not.

That having been said, there is some truth to the idea about ideas having social standing and this is a mistake I think atheists have made with evolution. It has been made the case that to accept science you must accept evolution and to accept evolution, you must disavow God. It’s not that people are anti-science. It’s just that if told to choose God or evolution, they will choose God. In their minds, they often have more reason to believe in God and less to believe in evolution. As long as atheists (and Christians as well) frame the debate this way, it will always be science vs. religion, which is a shame.

On p. 364, he talks about moral progress saying that before the Enlightenment there was starvation, plagues, superstition, maternal and infant mortality, marauding knight-warlords, sadistic torture executions, slavery, which hunts, genocidal crusades, conquests, and wars of religion. He leaves out there were also hospitals being built, literacy being spread, ancient texts being copied, science being done, etc.

Pinker also doesn’t say much about gas chambers for the holocaust or the slaughter of millions by their own rulers in atheistic regimes. If we are to define the Middle Ages by events that are questionable, why not do the same with post-Enlightenment times? if the Enlightenment is only to be defined by the good that has happened, why not the Middle Ages?

Also, many physical problems were being worked on and the science that has dealt with them is a continuation of the Middle Ages science. It would be like saying cancer is around today because we don’t care about science. We do care, but we just don’t have a universal cure yet.

In talking about science on 393, he says that the traditional causes of belief were faith, revelation, dogma, authority, charisma, conventional wisdom, hermeneutic parsing of texts, and the glow of subjective certainty. Sadly, there is no citation of people from the Middle Ages showing any of this. It is also true that no doubt these sources get things wrong at times, but so does science. If we claim a belief such as “Murder is wrong” is revelation, does Pinker question that?

There’s also a great irony that this takes place just after talking about the causes of World War I and that it should not be explained in scientific terms. Could it be you might have to go and parse those texts that we have about the war to see what happened? Could it be some questions just aren’t scientific?

Also, in this chapter, Pinker is pointing out science as the greatest accomplishment of man. Is it? It’s a great one, but science is a means towards an end. Do we want to know how the world works just ot know how it works? Or, do we want to us those to bring about human flourishing, something Pinker talks about often. If we do that, why? Do we want our species to flourish because we really like our species? What is special about humanity? These are questions that aren’t answered by science, but in finding the true greatest good, the sunnum bonum, of humanity.

He says on 394 that a scientifically informed person cannot have religious conceptions of meaning and value. His basis for this is that we know more about our origins than religious people did back then based on their writings. There is no attempt to really wrestle with Genesis. There are multiple ways to interpret the text, but the only one Pinker sees is one that denies an Earth that is 4.5 billion years old. Pinker makes no attempt to wrestle with the meaning of the texts.

On p. 397, Pinker tells us that scientists have been responsible for misdeeds throughout history. He proceeds to tell us how that should not be used as a weapon against science. But wait a second, if that’s the case with science, should it not be that way for religion? We judge religion based on what it does wrong, but we judge science based on what it does right? What a wonderful system!

We’ll continue looking further at Pinker’s book next time. I do plan to finish it today.

In Christ,
Nick Peters