What do I think of Steven Pinker’s book published by Viking? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Someone recommended I get this book saying it could be the next version of The God Delusion. It’s over 400 pages worth. I picked it up at the library yesterday and went to work immediately. It didn’t take long to realize how bad this book will be.
Well, if he’s wanting to extol the Enlightenment and show how bad the so-called Dark Ages were, I’m curious what he has to say about some of the great thinkers of the time. Let’s start with my favorite, Thomas Aquinas. I’ll just check the index.
Hmmmm. Must be an oversight. He’s not mentioned.
How about Augustine?
That’s odd. None of the great thinkers are mentioned. Of course, Donald Trump and Al Gore and others get mentioned, but you would think if you were going to say something about the “Dark Ages” you might interact with people from the “Dark Ages.”
Heck. We could go back further. Paul isn’t mentioned. Not even Jesus is mentioned. Okay. In fairness, Muhammad isn’t mentioned either, but still….
So yeah. This is another book where apparently Pinker wasn’t interested in doing any primary research to see what people before him actually thought about things. It’s best to just read what people today think about what people back then thought. One wonders if Pinker will begin swallowing pre-chewed food before too long.
I’m only going to be looking at part 1 for now because first off, I have not finished with the book. Second, there is so much wrong in part 1 that I want to make sure I have room. If this is the new God Delusion, we can expect atheists to be setting themselves back intellectually even more.
The very first page talks about the Enlightenment and how mankind saw it as his coming to maturity. Let us remember also that the age where when people first come to maturity is when they’re teenagers. At that point, they think they know everything and don’t need to listen to anyone else because they are the best. We can be sure Pinker and his ilk are the teenagers. They just have not come to full maturity yet.
According to Pinker, the battle cry was “Dare to understand!” After all, no one before had really ever bothered to try to understand anything. Nope. Everything was just believed blindly and there were no arguments and debates of any kind.
Pinker goes on to talk about the recent bloodshed from wars about religion. Absent of course is any mention of the French Revolution or anything of that sort. He speaks of the scientific revolution, ignorant that that really started in the “Dark Ages” when science began. We can safely conclude that Pinker has never really done any study of this period of the science done in it.
Pinker talks about the importance of reason and how applying reason showed that miracle reports were dubious and that writers of holy books were all too human and that people believed in incompatible deities. I do find this utterly amazing. I find it amazing that Pinker didn’t know that people in the past were just as skeptical. There have always been people like Lucian wanting to disprove miracles. Of course, the writers of holy books were human. Does Pinker think we think they were Reptilians? And finally, people believed in incompatible deities? Was this supposed to be news? As for miracles, Pinker never tells us how reason disproves them. Is it some assumption that if you’re a thinking person, you obviously don’t believe? Does Pinker mean to say that only people who are stupid and don’t use reason believe in miracles?
Pinker goes on to talk about how science delivered us from fears of the natural world. He quotes some writers talking about what the people believed back then, but as expected, he never quotes from that time period itself. He never gives any instances where these things are believed. If this is what people believed, surely Pinker could easily have gone and found some references? Not a one is found.
Pinker goes on to humanism which he says is based on a universal human nature, but how can this be? A universal human nature is not scientific. It is not material and you cannot take universal human nature and put it in a jar and study it. This is actually looking at essences and natures which is a metaphysical idea that started back in Greece and really got going in the, wait for it, DARK AGES!
Pinker tells us about how this understanding led to us answering the moral call with sympathy. Thus an end was brought to such forces as slavery. Apparently no one knew about this sympathy thing until the Enlightenment came along. No mention is made of William Wilberforce and no, he’s not in the index either. No mention is made of Christians who in the first few centuries A.D. bought slaves just to set them free. No mention is made of how Clovis II and Bathilda both worked together and ended slavery in their time. Nope. Forget what people in the past did.
The final idea is progress and while most of us support progress, we all define it in different ways. I would consider America returning to Christian values and a deeper understanding of Jesus Christ to be progress. Pinker would consider it just the opposite. Muslims could consider going to Sharia Law to be progress. Who is to determine who is right on this?
The next chapter deals with much of science. Speaking of science as science, I have no wish to touch it. I have no desire to challenge evolution. I have a desire to challenge a false implication of it, but not the science itself. That is for the scientists.
On p. 24, Pinker speaks of the idea that if bad things happen, some agent wanted them to happen. That is the only reason they would. This is a common idea, but one repudiated in even the oldest book of the Bible, the book of Job. This book dealt with the idea that was believed that if you’re good, good things will happen, and if you’re bad, bad things will happen. Job’s purpose is not to deal with the problem of evil. It’s to answer the question, “Will a man remain faithful to God even when there seem to be no benefits to it?”
On p. 26 he speaks about how pre-scientific people thought words and thoughts could impact the world in thoughts and prayers. Not exactly. If anything, we are the unscientific ones today when we tell someone we are sending them “good thoughts.” Sending a thought alone cannot affect reality. What the people in the past did was pray to God who they believed could affect reality. Sure, they could be wrong in that, but there is nothing illogical or unreasonable in thinking that if God as existed in either Islam, Christianity, or Judaism was asked something that He had the power to do something.
On p. 27, Pinker said communities came up with rules of debate. You can point out flaws of beliefs of others and you’re not allowed to force others to shut up if they disagree with you. You can even show if your beliefs are true or false and we call that science.
Again, Pinker has never read any from the past. They regularly interacted with one another and showed they thought the other was wrong and did so peaceably. As for saying that this is what science is, this is what any branch of knowledge does. It’s not exclusive to science. It’s as if Pinker wants to claim that any thinking done is science.
On the next page, he talks about free speech, nonviolence, cooperartion, cosmopolitanism, human rights, and acknowledging human fallibility, as well as science, education, media, democratic government, international organizations, and markets. All of these were brainchilds of the Enlightenment.
Well, no. They weren’t. It was the Christians who were building the first universities and establishing criteria of education. (Oh yeah, they also made that darn printing press which is a mystery since obviously Christians didn’t like to read or learn anything). Democracy goes all the way back to ancient Greece. Capitalism and the market really gained a rise in the Middle Ages and we speak today of the Protestant Ethic. Our Constitution finds much in the Magna Carta which was, wait for it, in the Middle Ages.
On p. 30, Pinker writes about the problem of faith as an opponent of Christianity. Of course, there’s no attempt to really interact with NT scholarship to see what faith is. Pinker says to take something on faith is to take it without good reason. It would be nice if some of these guys would provide good reason to think that’s what it really means. Apparently, all they do is look at what they think is modern popular usage and decide that it must have been that way for all time.
Pinker tells us that this clashes with humanism when we put some good above the good of humans such as accepting a divine savior or proselytizing. Absent is any notion that if these things are true, then these are indeed the best goods for humanity. If Christianity is true, the best thing a human can do is submit his life to Jesus Christ.
Pinker tells us that incompatibilities with science are the stuff of legend like Galileo, the Scopes Trial, stem cell research, and climate change. Yes. Many legends also have no basis in reality. Galileo was a firm believer in Christianity and the dispute was more about science than it was about religion. Galileo did not have enough scientific backing to establish his theories. Pinker would do well to read many of the works of Ronald Numbers on myths about science. (Big shock. Numbers isn’t referenced either.)
On p. 31, he tells us many of his colleagues were eager to see his book done for talking points against the right. If so, then we on the right are greatly blessed because Pinker’s “reasonable” friends will simply believe what Pinker says without evidence and further embarrass themselves. Apparently, Pinker’s colleagues just can’t be bothered with going and reading the primary sources, which sadly, Pinker couldn’t be bothered to do either.
He talks about scientism on p. 34 saying it is the intrusion of science into the territories of the humanities. Well, no. Not really. Scientism is instead the idea that science is the only way that any truth can be known.
Pinker says he wants to bring us out of the Dark Ages, but if anything he is leading us to a Dark Age. This would be an age where mankind is ignorant of the past which means not only their successes but also their failures. This is an age where man is trapped in his own culture and generation and doesn’t know how we got here which will impede us from knowing where we are going.
I will have more to say in future installments and even still I have not come anywhere close to covering everything. Pinker is writing about things that he does not know about. The sad thing is many of his followers will join him in his ignorance.