« We Go One God Further »

My collection of (mostly) quotations and links (mostly) about skepticism, science, philosophical naturalism, freethought and humanism. Mostly. (Formerly “Un bon mot ne prouve rien”.)
Recent Tweets @antallan
Who I Follow
Posts tagged "steven pinker"
… the findings of science entail that the belief systems of all the world’s traditional religions and cultures — their theories of the origins of life, humans, and societies — are factually mistaken. We know, but our ancestors did not, that humans belong to a single species of African primate that developed agriculture, government, and writing late in its history. We know that our species is a tiny twig of a genealogical tree that embraces all living things and that emerged from prebiotic chemicals almost four billion years ago. We know that we live on a planet that revolves around one of a hundred billion stars in our galaxy, which is one of a hundred billion galaxies in a 13.8-billion-year-old universe, possibly one of a vast number of universes. We know that our intuitions about space, time, matter, and causation are incommensurable with the nature of reality on scales that are very large and very small. We know that the laws governing the physical world (including accidents, disease, and other misfortunes) have no goals that pertain to human well-being. There is no such thing as fate, providence, karma, spells, curses, augury, divine retribution, or answered prayers — though the discrepancy between the laws of probability and the workings of cognition may explain why people believe there are. And we know that we did not always know these things, that the beloved convictions of every time and culture may be decisively falsified, doubtless including some we hold today.

Steven Pinker, “Science Is Not Your Enemy : An impassioned plea to neglected novelists, embattled professors, and tenure-less historians”, New Republic

Steven Pinker

[Science] is distinguished by an explicit commitment to two ideals, and it is these that scientism [in this good sense] seeks to export to the rest of intellectual life.

The first is that the world is intelligible. The phenomena we experience may be explained by principles that are more general than the phenomena themselves. These principles may in turn be explained by more fundamental principles, and so on. In making sense of our world, there should be few occasions in which we are forced to concede “It just is” or “It’s magic” or “Because I said so.” The commitment to intelligibility is not a matter of brute faith, but gradually validates itself as more and more of the world becomes explicable in scientific terms. The processes of life, for example, used to be attributed to a mysterious élan vital; now we know they are powered by chemical and physical reactions among complex molecules. [ … ]

The second ideal is that the acquisition of knowledge is hard. The world does not go out of its way to reveal its workings, and even if it did, our minds are prone to illusions, fallacies, and superstitions. Most of the traditional causes of belief — faith, revelation, dogma, authority, charisma, conventional wisdom, the invigorating glow of subjective certainty — are generators of error and should be dismissed as sources of knowledge. To understand the world, we must cultivate work-arounds for our cognitive limitations, including skepticism, open debate, formal precision, and empirical tests, often requiring feats of ingenuity. Any movement that calls itself “scientific” but fails to nurture opportunities for the falsification of its own beliefs (most obviously when it murders or imprisons the people who disagree with it) is not a scientific movement.

Steven Pinker, “Science Is Not Your Enemy : An impassioned plea to neglected novelists, embattled professors, and tenure-less historians”, New Republic

Stephen Pinker

Steven Pinker: On Free Will (by Big Think)

h/t WEIT

Steven Pinker: Human nature in 2013

Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor, and Johnstone Family Professor, Department of Psychology, Harvard University

Let’s face it: most scientists are terrible communicators. Why do the world’s most cerebral people find it so hard to convey their ideas? And how can we learn to do better? I suggest that answers can be found in a number of ideas from the modern sciences of mind and language. Among them are: The Tree and the Chain (how multidimensional ideas are mapped onto one-dimensional strings); The Curse of Knowledge (why it’s so hard to imagine what it’s like not to know something you do know); and Long Shadow of Mrs. Grundy (how to distinguish rules of proper usage that are worth keeping from those that are bogus)

Challenge a person’s beliefs, and you challenge his dignity, standing, and power. And when those beliefs are based on nothing but faith, they are chronically fragile. No-one gets upset about the belief that rocks fall down as opposed to up, because all sane people can see it with their own eyes. Not so for the belief that babies are born with original sin or that God exists in three persons or that Ali was the second-most divinely inspired man after Muhammad. When people organize their lives around these beliefs, and then learn of other people who are doing just fine without them—or worse, who credibly rebut them—they are in danger of looking like fools. Since one cannot defend a belief based on faith by persuading skeptics it is true, the faithful are apt to react to unbelief with rage, and may try to eliminate that affront to everything that makes their lives meaningful.

Steven PinkerThe Better Angels of Our Nature, ISBN 978-1-846-14093-8, p. 140

Stephen Pinker

CFI: It’s Time for Science and Reason

(by centerforinquiry)

Though infinitely powerful, compassionate, and wise, [God] could think of no other way to reprieve humanity from punishment for its sins (in particular, for the sin of being descended from a couple who had disobeyed him) than to allow an innocent man (his son no less) to be impaled through the limbs and slowly suffocate in agony. By acknowledging that this sadistic murder was a gift of divine mercy, people could gain eternal life. And if they failed to see the logic in all this, their flesh would be seared by fire for all eternity.

Steven PinkerThe Better Angels of Our Nature, ISBN 978-1-846-14093-8, p. 14

Stephen Pinker