The Perils of Intellectual Apostasy, Part Two

 

After I posted my piece last night on The Perils of Intellectual Apostasy, a colleague drew my attention to the comments attracted by Leon Wieseltier’s defense of Thomas Nagel’s controversial recent book Mind and Cosmos.

These, too, deserve attentionand none more so than the reply composed by Steven Pinker of Harvard University, which captures brilliantly the closed-mindedness that typifies the modern academy. Here is a juicy snippet:

The fact that Nagel’s wildly intemperate subtitle (that Darwinism is “almost certainly false”) will give ammunition to disturbing anti-science, anti-reason forces in the contemporary political power structure is, of course, not in itself a refutation of his argument. But surely it is not inappropriate of reviewers to bring this issue up. Nagel—and Wieseltier—have to know that there is a powerful and well-funded lobby in this country that is trying to discredit the entire institution of science as a close-minded, ideological propaganda front which is determined to promote a secular, materialistic, anti-Judaeo-Christian liberalism. This is emboldens them to blow off the scientific consensus about man-made climate change, corrupt science education, suppress research on gun violence, and criminalize lifesaving medical research. For several years Nagel has been expressing casual opinions and overstating claims in ways that are guaranteed to credit and energize this lobby. While the substance of his claims have to be evaluated on their merits, it is completely legitimate to criticize the way he has expressed them. This is not about the culture war. This is about the future of the planet.

If Wieseltier had wanted to gather further evidence for the strength of political correctness in the academy and the politicization of science, he could not have found anything elsewhere quite as compelling as this. When a distinguished scholar, such as Pinker, writes of “the scientific consensus about man-made climate change,” you know he lives in a bubble where he talks only with those who agree with him. There never was such a consensus among scientists on this matter, and with every passing day there is less of one.

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  1. Profile Photo Inactive
    @PaulErickson

    Dr. Rahe, I never thought that “LOL” would be an appropriate response to a Harvard professor.  Congratulations.  With this bit from Steven Pinker, you have changed my mind.

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    @TheMugwump

    Pinker should know that science doesn’t work by consensus.  If something is true, it’s proof is based on empirical evidence.  A consensus is merely a loosely defined, or undefined, amalgamation of opinion.  I recall nearly laughing my head off when the alphabet networks announced that the evidence is in:  global warming is a fact.  As if new evidence and new models might never disprove the theory.  And which party is accused of being anti-science?  Bah. 

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    @BarbaraKidder

    You offer more damning evidence of the tactics used by the left, to maintain their stranglehold of academia.

    But your example does have a similar flavor to the comments offered by many critics of conservatives who hold YEC  views , here on Ricochet; to wit:

    “We would rather you didn’t question evolution on Ricochet, because it encourages those ‘fringe’ conservatives who believe in YEC, and we (the elite at Ricochet) all know that there is a consensus amongst intelligent conservatives that evolution is good science and quite compatible with religious faith, and

    “it also helps the ‘enemy’, because they lump us conservatives  together, and subject us ALL to scorn, and

    “hurts Republicans in their efforts to win elections!”

    It seems to me that what you are calling for in your post is an intellectual honesty that allows for individuals to step outside the mold of orthodoxy and make honest observations and arguments, even if, by so doing, they undercut other’s dearly held beliefs, and sometimes, their own earlier stated views.

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    @PaulARahe
    Barbara Kidder: You offer more damning evidence of the tactics used by the left, to maintain their stranglehold of academia.

    But your example does have a similar flavor to the comments offered by many critics of conservatives who hold YEC  views , here on Ricochet; to wit:

    “We would rather you didn’t question evolution on Ricochet, because it encourages those ‘fringe’ conservatives who believe in YEC, and we (the elite at Ricochet) all know that there is a consensus amongst intelligent conservatives that evolution is good science and quite compatible with religious faith, and

    “it also helps the ‘enemy’, because they lump us conservatives  together, and subject us ALL to scorn, and

    “hurts Republicans in their efforts to win elections!”

    It seems to me that what you are calling for in your post is an intellectual honesty that allows for individuals to step outside the mold of orthodoxy and make honest observations and arguments, even if, by so doing, they undercut other’s dearly held beliefs, and sometimes, their own earlier stated views. · 0 minutes ago

    Indeed. The only proof that one has a mind is that one changes it from time to time.

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    @Valiuth

    I think the real problem with Mr. Pinkers statements is the unstated assumption that accepting his scientific concusses  requires that one also accept his political/philosophical views.  I have very little doubts about Evolutionary theory. I also don’t doubt that over the last several decades the Earth has warmed. I will even go so far as to concede that the average temperature of the earth may in the future decades continue to climb. I am also willing to postulate that the study of embryonic stem cells may yield interesting and even life saving innovations. 

    I don’t have a problem with the science. I just don’t feel the science forces me to accept a liberal philosophical out look. Evolution I don’t think negates the existence of God or his ability to shape the cosmos and life. I don’t think the “fact” of global warming necessitates destructive economic policies. Nor do I think that potential medical advancements are a sufficient reason to make the destruction of human embryos ethical. 

    The science maybe be settled, but the politics/philosophy aren’t. Mr. Pinker and his ilk sadly conflate the two.

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    @RichardFulmer

    It is unfortunate that many professors no longer have the wisdom to believe it possible that they may be wrong.   This is especially unfortunate if, as Professor Pinker believes, the fate of the planet is at stake. He cites global warming.  With insufficient knowledge and the political need to “do something,” the government selected corn-based ethanol as a solution.  That choice was a mistake as even Al Gore now admits.  But special-interest politics make the mistake immortal, and we go on damaging the planet.

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    @GroupCaptainMandrake

    Whatever we may think of Pinker’s comments which actually constitute the second half of his response to Wieseltier’s article, I would recommend that the first half of his note also be read, because it’s there that he argues cogently against (i) Wieseltier’s intemperate remarks about his (Pinker’s) tweet and (ii) Wieseltier’s rather dismissive comment about a crowd of “dittoheads”.   That’s the one impression that I did not get after reading in full the reviews of Orr, Sober, Blackburn and Leiter & Weisberg.

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    @Grendel

    But…but…If the future of the planet is at stake, aren’t Nagel et al. justified in their vehemence?

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    @GeorgeSavage

    …This is emboldens them to blow off the scientific consensus about man-made climate change, corrupt science education, suppress research on gun violence, and criminalize lifesaving medical research.

    I thought I was a scientist.  But it appears that one cannot be a theist, particularly a Christian, and qualify anymore.

    I actually work on “lifesaving medical research” in my day job and have made some modest contributions in that regard.  Nevertheless, I view the “scientific consensus about man-made climate change” as so much agitprop in service of the utopian statist worldview; ditto politically biased “research on gun violence.”   As for criminalizing “medical research”, this is a thinly veiled reference to abortion, where the political goal is to elevate a universally-acknowledged wrong–Remember Bill Clinton’s safe, legal and rare obfuscation?–to a life-saving good.  Embryonic stem cell research has yet to yield any actual medical treatments, just as fetal cell transplantation failed 20-years ago.  But that isn’t the point.   The actual science, if any, exists only to backstop  politics intended to advance a particular worldview.  Think of it as the ultimate appeal to authority.

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    @RichardFulmer
    Grendel: But…but…If the future of the planet is at stake, aren’t Nagel et al. justified in their vehemence?

    If the planet is at stake, then Nagel et al must be right beyond any conceivable doubt before they recommend solutions; a bad solution, such as corn-based ethanol, could make things worse. [appologies for ignoring your irony]

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    @PaulDougherty
    George Savage

    …This is emboldens them to blow off the scientific consensus about man-made climate change, corrupt science education, suppress research on gun violence, and criminalize lifesaving medical research.

    I thought I was a scientist.  But it appears that one cannot be a theist, particularly a Christian, and qualify anymore.

    I actually work on “lifesaving medical research” in my day job and have made some modest contributions in that regard.  Nevertheless, I view the “scientific consensus about man-made climate change” as so much agitprop in service of the utopian statist worldview; ditto politically biased “research on gun violence.”   As for criminalizing “medical research”, this is a thinly veiled reference to abortion, where the political goal is to elevate a universally-acknowledged wrong–Remember Bill Clinton’s safe, legal and rare obfuscation?–to a life-saving good.  Embryonic stem cell research has yet to yield any actual medical treatments, just as fetal cell transplantation failed 20-years ago.  But that isn’t the point.   The actual science, if any, exists only to backstop  politics intended to advance a particular worldview.  Think of it as the ultimate appeal to authority. ·

    You’re a scientheist.

     You put the HE in scientist.

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    @DocJay

    What an interesting quote from the Ivy snob.

    First off, he is correct about the well funded lobby against aspects of science.   The man politicizes science in his very arguments and wonders why people push back.  I find this astounding.    

    Does he not realize that by putting himself out as a gun grabbing, arrogant atheist( as  obnoxious as an arrogant theist), economy destroying, Prius driving, baby killing sort of fellow that cannot rationalize the objections to his beliefs as anything other than religious nuts he relegates himself to the land of the ignorant?

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    @RichardFulmer
    DocJay: What an interesting quote from the Ivy snob.

    First off, he is correct about the well funded lobby against aspects of science.   The man politicizes science in his very arguments and wonders why people push back.  I find this astounding.    

    Does he not realize that by putting himself out as a gun grabbing, arrogant atheist( as  obnoxious as an arrogant theist), economy destroying, Prius driving, baby killing sort of fellow that cannot rationalize the objections to his beliefs as anything other than religious nuts he relegates himself to the land of the ignorant?

    Great point.  Pinker appears to be longing for the establishment of a Platonic republic ruled by philosopher kings (i.e., by Professor Pinker, et al).

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    @PaulDougherty
    DocJay: What an interesting quote from the Ivy snob.

    Does he not realize ……. relegates himself to the land of the ignorant? · 0 minutes ago

    No, he doesn’t. Why would he? What is in it for him to venture out of his mindset. His worldview holds sway. What pressures are there, really, to move him off his thoughts and align otherwise? Most facets of society (cultural and political) reaffirm his opinions as correct. There is alot of upside to being an arrogant jerk in this matter. Views opposing his, exist in order for him to contrast his brilliance with the hogwash of the minority. He receives all the adulation, admiration and fullfillment a public intellectual could desire. Why mess with that?

    Truth? Psshaww. When you have found the truth, why keep looking?

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    @Devereaux
    Paul Dougherty

    DocJay: What an interesting quote from the Ivy snob.

    Does he not realize ……. relegates himself to the land of the ignorant? · 0 minutes ago

    No, he doesn’t. Why would he? What is in it for him to venture out of his mindset. His worldview holds sway. What pressures are there, really, to move him off his thoughts and align otherwise? Most facets of society (cultural and political) reaffirm his opinions as correct. There is alot of upside to being an arrogant jerk in this matter. Views opposing his, exist in order for him to contrast his brilliance with the hogwash of the minority. He receives all the adulation, admiration and fullfillment a public intellectual could desire. Why mess with that?

    Truth? Psshaww. When you have found the truth, why keep looking? · 7 minutes ago

    Funny!  I suppose all the push-back he notes is just us no-nothings fighting against brilliance. Would that HIS light should be kept under a bushel.

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    @TheKingPrawn

    Well, although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really beautiful and good, I am better off than he is – for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows. I neither know nor think that I know. In this latter particular, then, I seem to have slightly the advantage of him.

    That’s been around for how long and scientists still trip over it? I don’t think a true scientist ever stops trying to prove himself wrong.

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    @user_645593

    I agree with you about the academy imploding. And I don’t think things will improve much until the last Boomer (and I’m one) has been in the ground for a generation.  That seems like a reasonable timescale to detox the society of all these self-destructive ideas.

    Let’s just hope society is robust or “antifragile” enough to make it through.

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    @jkumpire
    Robert: I agree with you about the academy imploding. And I don’t think things will improve much until the last Boomer (and I’m one) has been in the ground for a generation.  That seems like a reasonable timescale to detox the society of all these self-destructive ideas.

    Let’s just hope society is robust or “antifragile” enough to make it through. · 5 hours ago

    Oh how I wish it were true, instead those who follow after us will more than likely live in Hobbs’ ‘state of nature’ except for a few who see themselves as the rulers of Plato’s Republic, who really rule like Genghis Khan.

    Dr. Rahe reveals what the Academy is, an Ivory Tower of hate and filled with weapons of mass  intellectual destruction. 

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    @JamesDeLong

    Here are two useful additions to the conversation:

    In 2006, Cal Tech’s Carver Mead talked on “The Physics of Goo”, discussing the brain as an information processing device and how little we understand it. One example was a fly responding to the threat of a swatter — we simply have no model of how the information flows. http://www.floobydust.us/CMST2006.doc

    The same year, George Gilder wrote an article in National Review examining evolution in terms of information processing systems  – http://www.discovery.org/a/3631. An excerpt:

    “No evolutionary theory can succeed without confronting the cell and the word. In each of the some 300 trillion cells in every human body, the words of life churn almost flawlessly through our flesh and nervous system at a speed that utterly dwarfs the data rates of all the world’s supercomputers. . . . For example, just to assemble some 500 amino-acid units into each of the trillions of complex hemoglobin molecules that transfer oxygen from the lungs to bodily tissues takes a total of some 250 peta operations per second.”

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    @Aurelius

    Prof. Rahe: Pinker’s comment is comical. Nagel’s subtitle is one of his main conclusions. By Pinker’s standards, Nagel is barred either from arguing for the claim or from advertising it regardless of its merits. Closed-minded, indeed.

    Wieseltier refers to Nagel’s 1997 essay “Evolutionary Naturalism and the Fear of Religion” (published in The Last Word). There, Nagel criticizes  “Darwinist imperialism” that rejects “any cosmic order of which mind is an irreducible and nonaccidental part.” He argues that such naturalists mistakenly think that rejecting the latter view is necessary to keep God and religion out of the picture. Nagel himself rejects belief in God, but he thinks that natural selection cannot explain consciousness and undercuts the justification that scientific and mathematical reasoning require. For Nagel, mind is a fundamental feature of the universe albeit a feature that does not require God’s existence or make theism more credible.

    Nagel might reply that Pinker had better hope that Nagel is correct. For Darwinism cannot provide justification for believing that science delivers knowledge or even reliable, warranted belief. If Pinker is correct, then so much the worse for Pinker’s environmentalist policy preferences.

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    @LarryKoler

    James, thanks for the link.Gilder is such a clear thinker.

    • #21

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