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New Statesman columnist blasts scientism, skewering “shabby book”

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In “The Answers” (The New Republic, December 14, 2011), Leon Wieseltier hasn’t much use for scientism, especially that of Duke University philosopher of science Alex Rosenberg:

THIS SHABBY BOOK is riddled with other notions that typify our time. Rosenberg maintains that atheism entails materialism, as if the integrity of the non-material realms of life can be secured only by the existence of a deity. Reason does not move him, no doubt because of the threat it poses to the physicalist tyranny. He asserts, as would anyone who does not live in Congo, that “most people are nice most of the time,” because “we were selected for niceness,” which is all we need for ethics. He calls this “nice nihilism,” since it promotes moral values without moral beliefs. As for “Hitlers, Stalins, Mao Zedongs, Pol Pots, and Osama bin Ladens”—the people who are not nice most of the time—“biology has the answer”: there are always variations in inherited traits. But the variations cannot be the answer, because they are the question.

Moreover, most people are both good and bad, neither devils nor angels. Rosenberg is untroubled by such complications. He is untroubled by everything under the sun. The man’s peace of mind is indecent. “We know the truth,” he declares sacerdotally in his preface. “Some of the tone of much that follows may sound a little smug. I fear I have to plead guilty to this charge …” Once upon a time science was the enemy of smugness.

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