Well, here is another poor bloke misreading, misunderstanding, and misrepresenting Pinker. Or, maybe not.
He makes a very good point here:
“…even those who are skeptical about the scientizing enterprise must stand with the scientists [which I do on questions of the earth’s age and so on, just as most Christians do as well], though it is important to point out that the errors of religious fundamentalism must not be mistaken for the errors of religion. Too many of the defenders of science, and the noisy “new atheists,” shabbily believe that they can refute religion by pointing to its more outlandish manifestations. Only a small minority of believers in any of the scriptural religions, for example, have ever taken scripture literally. When they read, most believers, like most nonbelievers, interpret.”
Any readers of this blog must know at this point that I’m no fundamentalist (or a very poor one) and any arguments tailored to fundamentalism will fail here. Quite a few still do not understand this. It will be very difficult for readers to understand my posts if when they think “religion” or “Christianity” they only see fundamentalism.
Putting all that aside, there is another way to look at what Pinker was doing in his now infamous essay defending scientism. He was basically making this point: Look at all the positive outcomes that we can link to the Enlightenment narrative. And those positive outcomes say something significant, something true about that narrative.
Burk was alluding to basically the same thing, which I noted in my last post.
Or as one of Pinker’s critics put it:
“Pinker’s argument, very briefly, is this: people in the humanities should stop complaining about the rise of ‘Scientism’. Scientism is great. Science has helped to cure diseases and invent the aeroplane and the electric toaster. But more than that: scientific progress has undermined, exposed and debunked animist and religious beliefs, leading to a radical disenchantment of the world. In place of the old supernatural beliefs, scientific progress has opened the way for the rise of secular humanism, by which Pinker means the desire for the flourishing of sentient beings.”
Clearly, this is all debatable as to whether or not “Scientism” or the Enlightenment narrative is responsible for what Pinker thinks it is and if other narratives play a part or could also said to be responsible. But Pinker is also, just as clearly, linking outcomes to a narrative and he wants us to understand that such is significant—that it says something “true” about that very narrative and not some other narrative. What else would he be saying? “These are great outcomes, but too bad the Enlightenment espoused and was so wrong about what is actually true.” We know he is saying no such thing. We know Burk wasn’t saying any such thing. He wasn’t saying these outcomes are great, but too bad modernity/rationalism is false or doesn’t speak to, or about, anything that might be true…such as, the truth of atheism.
Here are the questions we need to think about:
Do ideas have consequences? Do philosophies/world-views/narratives/faiths have real cultural/societal impacts? Can those be linked, the ideas with the outcomes? Can we evaluate those outcomes?
If we answer yes to any of the above, then the next set of questions are these:
What, if anything, can this tell us about those ideas—those narratives? If we see the outcomes as positive and good, then can we, like Pinker and Burk, assert that such tells us something about the truthfulness of those narratives? Both Pinker and Burk believe those narratives to be true in the same sense Christians believe their narrative to be true. And I know Burk will have some question-begging responses to that assertion. He will say yes, but the Enlightenment narrative actually is true and we have evidence. Yawn. But back to the point, both sides think the way these narratives impact our actual lives says something about their truthfulness. For instance, if one believes the Enlightenment narrative and its impact on the question of God’s existence (or how that question perhaps informs the Enlightenment) is a true narrative, tells us something actually true about our existence and the world, Christians believe the same about the Judeo-Christian narrative. So, when one wants to know how Christians link these ideas, they can simply think about how they do the same with the narrative they believe to be true. They are linked by the same logic.
Again, this isn’t “proof” or an assertion we are proving something empirically/scientifically; it is more a common-sense nod, or leaning toward one narrative over another. Unless, of course, Burk wants to defend his belief that because we can link positive outcomes to the Enlightenment, it means God does not exist. I doubt he would go that far. And neither am I. I’ve said over and over my argument is not “This proves empirically/scientifically that God exists.” My thesis and these series of posts were an attempt to answer the question, “If we cannot found narratives empirically/scientifically, then how can we know which ones are true?”
Now, where does one find the errors of logic in Pinker or Burk’s line of thought here, which is exactly the same line of thought I’ve been putting forth? In one’s schematic, or points 1, 2, or 3, where does their logic fall down for you? Or does it? If not, why?
In other words, the question we may need to ask here is not, do you accept my thesis, but do you accept Pinker’s?
Why or why not?
On another note, this. Wow, nice.