September 12, 2013
Leon Wieseltier on Pinker, scientism, and the humanitiesThis essay, "Crimes Against Humanities", is long, but well worth reading -- especially, I think, if one is a high-level administrator of, or generous benefactor of, an institution of higher education.
This is a long and contentious article. By no means am I done reading it, but a few comments are appropriate here.
Science is a method, it confers no authority in any situation. It just provides a method for searching out the most reliable information about the observable world. Some things about the observable world are not appropriate to the Method, but where the Method reaches, its results are the most reliable. “Reliable” does not mean correct or even Truth, it just means the results can be trusted more than the results of other methods in the same situations.
It is not for science to say whether it “belongs in” morality, politics, or art, but it is not for anyone else to say either. Science is a method, if its method is applied to morality, politics, or art then its results are there for all to decide what to do with. Science has value whenever any testable claim about the world is made, whether by a chemist or a chaplin.
Science has no pre-set boundaries, its realm is the realm of anything rationally testable. The “larger ideas about life” are outside science only so long as they posit nothing testable, when they are pure faith or opinion. Once they make testable claims, then science may be applicable.
Posted by: sean samis | Sep 12, 2013 4:36:12 PM
Sean, it IS long, and I hope you'll read the whole thing. I don't *think* you are disagreeing with LW, and I think your points about "science" are consonant with LW's expressed concerns with Pinker's "scientism."
Posted by: Rick Garnett | Sep 12, 2013 4:44:51 PM
Sean, Science is the study of the physical world, whereas the spiritual world cannot be adequately tested through scientific methods.
Posted by: Nancy | Sep 12, 2013 10:01:27 PM
Everything that exists, exists in relationship. What the physical world reveals is that there is order to God's Creation, including the placement of the Earth in relationship to the Sun and Moon in a position in Space, that if it were to be moved from this position, could no longer sustain human life. When the spiritual Life no longer respects the order of the physical, and denies The Laws of Nature and thus Nature's God, disorder and chaos occurs.
We exist in a material world, where natural life and natural death are part of The Laws of Nature. The Earth was created for man, man was not created for the Earth. Who we are, are sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers; we are here to Love one another, and help each other get to Heaven. Where we are going depends upon whether or not we desire Salvation for ourselves and our beloved. At the end of the Day, there is no crime against Humanities when The Humanities reflect that which is true and beautiful in God's Universe, including the struggles we may encounter along the way, whenever we lose sight of The Way, The Truth, The Life, of Love; but remain determined to finish the Race.
Posted by: Nancy | Sep 13, 2013 12:49:03 PM
I think that commenting on this debate between Pinker and Wieseltier could be turned into a career; the matters are that complex and nuanced. But at the end of the day, I must say that I side more with Wieseltier than with Pinker even though I am sincerely more scientific in mind and deed.
As Wieseltier so well says, sometimes you just have to stand with those you otherwise disagree with when they are unjustly treated.
In this debate, Wieseltier is (as far as I can tell) being true to his humanities background, but Pinker is not being faithful to his scientific background. It seems to me that Pinker is guilty of overreaching just as creationists are; to the detriment of science and the humanities just as creationism is. If I have any nit to pick with Wieseltier, it is that Pinker appears to have committed crimes against BOTH science and the humanities.
I do not believe in any formally boundary between the magisteria of science and the humanities; science works wherever it works; but it still has limits because the method has limits. Here I am in rare agreement with Nancy: science studies the physical world, the spiritual world cannot be adequately tested by scientific methods (except, of course, whenever the spiritual world is claimed to produce physical effects.)
Pinker’s claim that science is not the enemy of the humanities is correct, but his abuse of science and the humanities is a threat to both.
Posted by: sean samis | Sep 16, 2013 12:44:13 PM
Sean - we agree entirely. =-)
Posted by: Rick Garnett | Sep 16, 2013 1:39:16 PM
"...except, of course, when the spiritual world is claimed to produce physical effects."
True, since at the end of the Day, the Laws of Physics reveal, nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could, so there must be a Creator Who exists outside Time and Space, Who created Time and Space, to begin with:)
Posted by: Nancy | Sep 26, 2013 2:16:43 PM
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