He, Not Science, Is The Enemy.
Steven Pinker, in this piece, tells us not to fear scientism, then reminds us why we fear scientism.
It doesn’t seem Pinker gets it, actually, as evidenced by what he says here:
“The term “scientism” is anything but clear, more of a boo-word than a label for any coherent doctrine. Sometimes it is equated with lunatic positions, such as that “science is all that matters” or that “scientists should be entrusted to solve all problems.” Sometimes it is clarified with adjectives like “simplistic,” “naïve,” and “vulgar.” “
These positions Pinker calls “lunatic” are in fact what people like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and a lot of the new atheists — a group of which Pinker is a glorified member — explicitly, if not implicitly (but actually, ‘explicitly’), subscribe to.
It is Sam Harris who claims ‘science can answer moral questions’, despite that it can’t. It is Richard Dawkins who claims all forms of theism, as per science, are false, despite that science can tell us no such thing. It’s Jerry Coyne who tells us that all meaningful questions have a science-based answer, making questions of ethics, epistemology, metaphysics, art, or even whether science is worth doing at all, all meaningless.
These new atheists say all that, mind you, because ‘science’. But, no, we’re all just foolish anti-scientismists, and, according to Pinker, scientism is “more of a boo-word than a label for any coherent doctrine.”
Pinker, again, further confounds:
“Demonizers of scientism often confuse intelligibility with a sin called reductionism. But to explain a complex happening in terms of deeper principles is not to discard its richness.”
One wonders if Pinker has ever met or talked to Naturalist Philosopher and defender of scientism Alex Rosenberg, who, according to wiki: “published a defense of what he called “Scientism”—the claim that “the persistent questions” people ask about the nature of reality, the purpose of things, the foundations of value and morality, the way the mind works, the basis of personal identity, and the course of human history, could all be answered by the resources of science.”?
Oh no. Scientism? — yeah, that’s just an incoherent “boo-word”, says Pinker. It’s been “equated with lunatic positions, such as that “science is all that matters”, says Pinker. Therefore we can very much expect Mr. Pinker to own up to his reasoning and tell Alex Rosenberg to his face that he (Alex) is, in fact, a ‘lunatic’ — oh wait.. no, we can’t.
But, at least, Alex isn’t discarding some complex happening’s (like, consciousness, say) ‘richness’. Of course he isn’t! In fact he says consciousness is an illusion! Oh wait.. he is.
O.K., O.K., but, at least, Sam Harris and Dan Dennet don’t fall into that ‘discarding-complex happening’s-richness’ rut; It’s not like they discard the “richness” of free-will and morality. I mean, they even say free-will and morality are both illusions! Oh wait.. Damnit!
More tripe from Pinker:
“In which ways, then, does science illuminate human affairs? Let me start with the most ambitious: the deepest questions about who we are, where we came from, and how we define the meaning and purpose of our lives.”
Notice the switch from ‘what is our meaning and purpose?’ (the real deep question) to ‘how do we define our meaning and purpose?’ (a ‘deep question’ according to Pinker)? To Pinker, one of the deepest questions humans have ever had to ask themselves is: “how [on earth] do we define the meaning and purpose of our lives [?!!?].” Pinker seems to assume that we do have meaning and purpose and it’s just a matter of how we go about defining it. But, who the hell asks himself that? “Look, so I have this meaning and purpose, I’m sure of it! Tricky part is..hmm.. how do I define it?” Did Pinker mean to say ‘what is the meaning and purpose of our lives’? No. Why? Well, because he damn well knows that that question — what is our meaning and purpose, and not how we define it — isn’t answerable by science. By rephrasing it into the question of how we can “define..meaning and purpose”, despite that probably nobody in history (except maybe linguists or some such) has ever really seriously asked himself that, he ingeniously makes it seem like it’s a question for which science can plausibly have an answer.
The rest of his piece merely harps on the idea that science is so awesome, that we’ve learned so much and cured so many diseases because of it, that it’s wrong to blame science for social darwinism, eugenics, and the millions of people who’ve died because of those kinds of sciency ideas, since they’ve not been done in the name of science, despite that all the cures and technology of which he spoke haven’t likewise been done in the name of science but are still something we apparently have to thank science for, and yada yada yada.
The problem with all this, with this piece, is that Pinker refuses to recognize that there even is a scientism problem — it’s an incoherent “boo word”, he says — and therefore does little to allay the fears of the anti-scientismist. If we can learn anything from this, it’s that we now ought to be more wary of these people.