From John Gray at New Statesman, reviewing Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now: The Case for Science, Reason, Humanism, and Progress:
To think of this book as any kind of scholarly exercise is a category mistake. The purpose of Pinker’s laborious work is to reassure liberals that they are on “the right side of history”.
He is an evangelist for science – or, to be more exact, an ideology of scientism. Along with reason, humanism and progress, science features as one of the core Enlightenment values that Pinker lists at the start of the book. But for him science is more than a bunch of methods that are useful in conjecturing how the world works: it provides the basis of ethics and politics.
Exponents of scientism in the past have used it to promote Fabian socialism, Marxism-Leninism, Nazism and more interventionist varieties of liberalism. In doing so, they were invoking the authority of science to legitimise the values of their time and place. Deploying his cod-scientific formula to bolster market liberalism, Pinker does the same. Scientism is one of the Enlightenment’s bad ideas. But bad ideas do not evolve into better ones. They keep on recurring, often in cruder and sillier forms than in the past. Pinker’s formula for human progress is a contemporary example.
The link between the Enlightenment and liberal values, which Pinker and many others today assert as a universal truth, is actually rather tenuous. It is strongest in Enlightenment thinkers who were wedded to monotheism, such as Locke and indeed Kant. The more hostile the Enlightenment has been to monotheism, the more illiberal it has been. Comte’s anti-liberalism inspired Charles Maurras, a French collaborator with Nazism and the leading theorist of Action Française – a fascistic movement formed during the Dreyfus affair – in his defence of integral nationalism. Lenin continued the Jacobins’ campaign against religion as well as their pedagogy of terror.More.
Right. So? Once a person believes, as Pinker does, that our brains are shaped for fitness, not for truth, all ideas are personal quirks, all values are power plays, and all causes are boutique causes. The social justice warrior understands clearly the implication of naturalist atheism: Just shut off the sound system. No matter what, no more problems.
See also: John Gray: No general theory of evolution
Private delusion: Steven Pinker insists that scientific racism was, conveniently, mere “pseudoscience”
Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now: But it’s too late for enlightenment now