The Atheist’s Imagination

Feb 28, 2018 by

by Mark Bauerlein, First Things:

Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker wonders where God was in the Florida shootings. That’s what he said last week on the Hugh Hewitt Show.

Pinker has a new book out, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. In it, he argues that the world is becoming a better place. Health and longevity have improved, and violence and murder have dropped precipitously since the Middle Ages. We overlook those improvements, Pinker says, because the media like to report bad things. He calls for a more balanced representation of current conditions.

But he also finds another hindrance: religion. Too many people, Pinker says, still believe in tall tales and pseudo-religious tricks (also known as miracles). They tend not to be the smart people. Hewitt presents this quotation from the book: “Few sophisticated people today profess a belief in heaven and hell, the literal truth of the Bible, or a God who flouts the laws of physics.”

When asked by Hewitt, Pinker proceeds to define “sophisticated people” as those who are “aware of the scientific realities of the last several centuries.” Pinker acknowledges that religion has, at times, helped to “mobilize people’s moral sentiments,” but it also has an enervating effect, when people count on God to intervene in the real world.

Pinker has a can-do attitude and a practical wariness of God. It all comes down to responsibility. To grant God any administration of human affairs, Pinker argues, lessens the incentive for human beings to correct and improve them. If God lords over all, humans lose their entrepreneurial drive. “If we want to make the world a better place,” he tells Hewitt, “we have to figure out how to do it ourselves.”

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