Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Science as Religion: “Science Is Not Your Enemy,” Steven Pinker Says in Defence of Scientism

Steven Pinker. Image courtesy of Rebecca Goldstein, Wikipedia. (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.)

Joel Kontinen

Recently, psychologist Steven Pinker wrote a long and passionate apology for scientism. He is obviously worried that many modern-day thinkers take a rather sceptical approach to science’s ability to solve all human problems.

Trying to save the rather tarnished reputation of Darwinian evolution, he says:

Just as common, and as historically illiterate, is the blaming of science for political movements with a pseudoscientific patina, particularly Social Darwinism and eugenics. Social Darwinism was the misnamed laissez-faire philosophy of Herbert Spencer. It was inspired not by Darwin’s theory of natural selection, but by Spencer’s Victorian-era conception of a mysterious natural force for progress, which was best left unimpeded.”

This would be news to many of us, as the Darwinian roots of both Social Darwinism and eugenics – and the holocaust – are well documented. It takes more than a Steven Pinker to re-write history.

Pinker takes issue with the use of the word scientism that he puts in quotes:

Scientism … is not the belief that members of the occupational guild called ‘science’ are particularly wise or noble. On the contrary, the defining practices of science, including open debate, peer review, and double-blind methods, are explicitly designed to circumvent the errors and sins to which scientists, being human, are vulnerable. ”

Perhaps the basic problem with scientism, at least in the way it is advocated and revered by Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker and some other anti-theists, is that is has practically assumed the role of a religion.

This is something that C. S. Lewis, for instance, warned us about.


Pinker, Steven. 2013.

Science Is Not Your Enemy: An impassioned plea to neglected novelists, embattled professors, and tenure-less historians. New Republic (6 August).