Readers will recall Steven Pinker, a Darwinian cognitive scientist, one of whose key concepts is “A…reason we are so-so scientists is that our brains were shaped for fitness, not for truth. Sometimes truth is adaptive, but sometimes it is not.” He has a new book out, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Science, Reason, Humanism, and Progress.
From professor of globalisation Ian Goldin at Nature:
Pinker looks in some depth at the rise in scepticism about science, in society and in parts of academia such as the humanities. He gives shorter shrift to the erosion of faith in expertise elsewhere, even though this is justified in some notable instances. The financial sector, for example, is home to the biggest and most powerful global expert system, from banks and treasuries to the International Monetary Fund. The 2008 financial crisis highlighted the inadequacy of that system, whose primary mission is financial stability. Similarly, accounting firms have given clean bills of health to corrupt or collapsing enterprises. The denial of evidence is irrational, but it is not necessarily irrational to challenge experts and authorities.More.
Not only is it not irrational to challenge experts and authorities; it is essential. Living in an echo chamber does not demonstrate the correctness of their interpretations. It’s a sign of health, for example, that independent science writer groups like American Council on Science and Health are beginning to tell us stuff that the usual cheerleaders for authority in pop science media won’t.
One problem with Pinker’s approach to progress is that, historically, progress is uneven and can go backward steeply. We are accustomed to denouncing the excesses and horrors of ancient Rome. But if a person wanted to be able to read, write, and converse with thinkers, Rome had a great deal more going for it than the centuries of chaos that followed its collapse. The intellectual life survived under threat in monasteries during that period but it was hard to share until the rise of the great universities of the mediaeval period. A person who wanted to be a scholar was, no surprise, assumed to be somewhat of a monk (or nun).
But a much bigger problem is that the Darwinian naturalism Pinker espouses entails that there is no meaningful distinction between the modern search for evidence and the post-modern war on evidence, against which naturalist science is rapidly showing itself to have no defenses.
And the naturalists at Nature cannot even see pussyhats gathering around, who know full well that truth is not adaptive but power is.
See also: John Gray doesn’t think much of evolutionary psychologist Steve Pinker’s “better angels”