Steven Pinker wants to challenge the claim that “The twentieth century was the bloodiest in history”. Those who advance this idea are said to be numbered among “the romantic, the religious, the nostalgic and the cynical”. The reason why they make the claim is “to impugn a range of ideas that flourished in that century, including science, reason, secularism, Darwinism and the ideal of progress”. However, according to Pinker, there is no substance to this “historical factoid” because historical records are better as we come closer to the present time, because it is a human trait to overestimate the frequency of wars (“vivid, memorable events”) and because we care more about violence today. Against all this, Pinker asserts that there has been a historical decline in violence that deserves our attention.
Those who are accustomed to saying that science deals with “How?” questions and religion deals with “Why?” questions have a real problem with Pinker’s article, because it appears in a leading science journal and is all about why humans behave the way they do. The philosophical stance of much modern science treats morality, ethics, social behaviour and much else as a sub-set of phenomena in the natural world.
There are many issues to consider. For more leads to discussion, go here.