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Materialist death watch: Is Steve Pinker also among the prophets?

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Things are changing.

Just recently, Richard Dawkins  conceded that a serious case can be made for a deistic God. (= A God Who Used To Be There)

Plus, Tom Wolfe has distanced himself from “Sorry, but your soul just died.” Apparently, it didn’t die, despite everything you did to kill it.

Now, Harvard cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker – well known for a materialist view of the mind – defends freedom of expression in Canada.

All I can say is, well, of all people!

Regular blog readers will know that I have rarely been kind to Pinker, either at The Mindful Hack or The Post-Darwinist (examples linked), or in The Spiritual Brain.

I find his hard core materialism juvenile – after all these years he still doesn’t know that his show left town a while back, as Thomas Wolfe has noted.

All that said, P. M. Jaworski notes at The Shotgun Blog (of the Western Standard) that Pinker recently said something in defense of intellectual freedom in Canada that makes a lot of sense to me:

I was aware of the Steyn/Maclean’s case.

It’s truly shocking that a supposedly democratic government has arrogated to itself the power to censor speech because some judge or bureaucrat thinks it may “expose a person to contempt.” This could outlaw any criticism of a practice that is statistically more common in some groups than others, such as slavery, polygamy, child abuse, ritual torture, gay-bashing, and so on.

It allows haters to decide who gets to say what — all they have to do is say, “So-and-so’s essay made me show contempt,” and So-and-so gets fined or jailed. And it opens the door to the government banning speech that upsets anyone, anywhere — as all-important speech is bound to do.

This is an atrocity against the ideal of free speech, and will make Canada a laughing stock among lovers of democracy and enlightenment. (October 24, 2008)

But Pinker is, alas, mistaken on two points:

1. The criticized practice does not need to be statistically common. Prosecution of the critic requires only that the “human rights” commissioner believes that the critic may “expose a person to contempt.” Statistically uncommon practices are more likely to do so.

2. Second, given that many countries have – or are contemplating – similar laws, we are kidding ourselves if we think that Canada – or American university campuses – are making themselves “a laughing stock” by enforcing censorship of opinion.

Many earnest, humourless people who know that they are “victims” or that they represent “victims” will only rest easy when they have permanently shut down all thought that gives them anxiety. As they are not likely to be free of anxiety any time soon, dislodging them will hardly be easy.

Also just up at The Mindful Hack (O’Leary’s blog on neuroscience and spirituality):

MercatorNet: Political science – The messy room (junk science tries to explain why you vote the way you do)

Adopting a dog can be as good for your health as pills? (Pfizer apparently thinks so. Welcome to non-mechanistic medicine.)

4 Replies to “Materialist death watch: Is Steve Pinker also among the prophets?

  1. 1
    Frost122585 says:


    I am very happy to be the first one to post on this semi interesting thread just so you can read my response for sure. I think that with the worlds new trend towards socialism these usual suspects are feeling like they can loosen up. As a political science major I feel that for most people their political ideology comes first and their scientific, philosophical and theological views come second. I personally have read Steven Pinker’s wife’s book on Gödel and you can tell that she has a very intense respect for platonic- that is metaphysical philosophy, it is not hard to image that Steve would therefore have some sympathies himself towards a more liberal sociological world view (liberal in the literal not socialist sense).

    I never thought Dawkins was really a true atheist but more a smasher of biblical literalism. His arguments defend an evolutionist world view but do not by any logical standard rule out ID or creation.

    Don’t know much about Tom Wolf but I figure he is more or less a depressive leftist feeling revitalized himself.

    Just wanted to share my view that these characters are more political than intellectual and their trend towards moderation is not really all that surprising.

    By the way with the Obama crowed in the lead they probably figure that ID is as good as dead.

  2. 2
    nullasalus says:

    “Just wanted to share my view that these characters are more political than intellectual and their trend towards moderation is not really all that surprising. ”

    I’d agree with this. The target with Hitchens, Dawkins, and most of the rest of the New Atheists is rather narrow – Christianity. And it has vastly more to do with social and political desires/aims than with fundamentals of the faith.

    Or so goes my experience.

  3. 3
    nullasalus says:

    By the way, Denise…

    As a Catholic, I’m very interested in your upcoming talk about Catholicism and Darwinism. However, I think you would do well to stress that Darwinism and Evolution are not one and the same – and further, that Darwinism (at least as you view it) pivots particularly on philosophy rather than science.

    I ask this only because your past writings seemed to show you believe as much yourself (namely, that common descent, old earth, evolution, etc). One of the biggest problems with the modern ID or even TE debate is the confusion over the difference between darwinism and evolution after all.

  4. 4
    Zakrzewski says:

    Well, this is encouraging to say the least. I’ve always known Tom Wolfe was a fairly reasonable person, but it is a pleasant surprise to see Pinker and Dawkins are willing to at least consider other ideas. Perhaps the tides are turning…

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