Steven, I really do love your books, at least I loved all of the ones I had read (Stuff of Thought; Language Instinct; Blank Slate; How the Mind Works) up to Better Angels — though I cannot deny you did give a slight warning of what was to come in Blank Slate, iirc. (Better Angels came across to me as one extended apology for neoliberalism.)
So what’s with these words that The Guardian has attributed to you”
Harvard professor and author Steven Pinker came out in support of Dawkins, writing to KPFA that their decision was “intolerant, ill-reasoned, and ignorant”.
“Dawkins is one of the great thinkers of the 20th and 21st century. He has criticised doctrines of Islam, together with doctrines of other religions, but criticism is not ‘abuse’,” said Pinker. “People may get offended and hurt by honest criticism, but that cannot possibly be a justification for censoring the critic, or KPFA would be shut down because of all the people it has hurt and offended over the decades.”
Yes, I can agree that Richard Dawkins is a great communicator of science. Whether he is a “great thinker” I do not know. Was “the selfish gene” his own discovery or was he communicating to a popular audience the way others in his field had come to understand a process of evolution?
But even if “Dawkins is one of the great thinkers of the 20th and 21st century” in the field of biological evolution, he is no better qualified to speak about Islam or any other religion than any other articulate “village atheist”. Dawkins is definitely not one of the great thinkers on Islam, not even Christianity.
I have no interest in covering some of the other indignant ravings about this event, least of all the incoherent ignorance spilt by Coyne et al, so will conclude with some links to views of those I consider among the more sane, though I am sure most of you already have your own lists:
Dawkins being “deplatformed” — Siggy:
There are many things I find objectionable about Dawkins, but I am personally able to separate that from his science writing, which seems fine. So I don’t really agree with KPFA.
But geez, by turning this into a free speech issue, you’re making me take the opposite side!
Reflections on having completed Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: The Decline of Violence in History and its Causes. . . .
By the time I had completed the seventh chapter of Better Angels I began to feel my existence was somehow in a surreal place. Compared with most lives throughout human history mine has been fantastically lucky and overwhelmingly privileged. The pain that follows reminders and expanded awareness of just how cruel so much of human existence has been inevitably leaves some sense of guilt and a need to to do more to justify or repay the privilege of my life to date.
Pinker helps readers appreciate just how fortunate we are to be living in the ongoing momentum of the Enlightenment where the seeds of our humanistic and scientific values were planted. (Those who argue that the Enlightenment gave birth to Hitler and the Holocaust and other modern degradations are flat ignorant — Pinker describes the charges as “ludicrous, if not obscene” — since such movements were in fact a reaction against Enlightenment values.) Our moral and rights revolutions, the growth of “liberal” values, humanistic concerns and reactions against cruelty to slaves, children, other races and classes, democratic movements, human rights of liberty and equality, workers’ rights, children’s rights, civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, animal rights, care for the environment — it’s been an incredible moment of history.
All of this has been accompanied by scientific and technological understanding, burgeoning education and even advances in our collective ability to reason and understand — all without the would-be diversions and false-leads of dogma and religion.
Pinker does not mention it, but what we witnessed early this century when millions of people came out into the streets all around the world to protest against the threat of an imminent invasion of Iraq was surely a most significant milestone in human history. Today there is even international outrage over the single killing of a lion for sport. We do live in the most amazing times. Continue reading “Better Angels of Our Nature”
A thought-provoking essay, Has Violence Been Vanquished, by Steven Pinker, adapted from his new book, can be read at the ABC’s Religion and Ethics website. The same page contains links to some reviews of this book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.
I am not as confident as he is that democracies per se are responsible for a reduction of violence. John Keane’s book, Democracy and Violence, has left me wondering if popular correlations are more illusory than real. Further, wonder if the deaths from state sanctions, sanctions against other states and recriminations by states against portions of their subject populations, count as violent deaths. Technically they might be attributed strictly to starvation, disease, natural causes despite the state violence that enforces these conditions.
Gwynne Dyer’s War: The Lethal Custom has likewise argued that the ratio of deaths from war has declined significantly over recent generations.
Don’t know. It’s a reassuring thought I suppose for those of us relaxing with a beer in front of the TV behind locked doors. But then again I know we are lucky to be able to travel so widely and live so much longer without the same fears and insecurities that haunted past generations.