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← Three articles by Steven Pinker, Russell Blackford and John Gray

The Notorious B.I.N.G's Avatar Jump to comment 8 by The Notorious B.I.N.G

John Gray used to be something of a progressive liberal in the 19th century sense. He was an enthusiastic Thatcherite for a while. But he kept changing his mind, and in the noughties he decided that if Darwin was right and we are animals, then there can be no such thing as 'progress' - it is an arrogant illusion of an arrogant animal. After all, we don't talk of other species 'progressing', do we? Since he had this startling revelation, he has spent his time carping at science from the sidelines and sneering at what he sees as the naivety of those who cling to the Enlightenment tradition. He's always arguing that people like Dawkins and Hitchens believe man can transcend his animal self and attain perfection (they don't) and that this atheist 'faith' is itself a Christian inheritance (because of course atheism = Christianity). In other words, he is the kind of pseudo-intellectual who wastes his mouth arguing that there is no discernible difference between man and a nematode worm, that black is white, and that science is wrong because of Darwin (conveniently forgetting that Darwin IS science. You can't have it both ways). As he is so emotionally invested in this thesis of his, I knew exactly what he would say about Better Angels... before the book had even been released

Needles to say, almost everything Gray writes about Pinker's work in this piece is wrong. Anyone who has made the effort to actually read Pinker's books, rather than scan the Amazon reviews like I suspect Gray of having doing, will know this. Gray's attacks on science and scientists sound an awful lot like the panic-induced defensive manoeuvres of a man out-of-time, who knows that his own discipline (philosophy) has lost large amounts of ground to a more rigorous one (science). When was the last time a philosopher made as big a contribution to the sum of human understanding as, say, Darwin or Einstein? The simple fact is science has made more progress in answering the fundamental questions of existence than philosophy has in the last 3000 years (I say this as someone who reveres philosophy nonetheless). I know it. You know it. And Gray knows it and it shows.

In sum:

John Gray and science: not even wrong.

John Gray and Steven Pinker: an intellectual newt nibbling at the toes of a giant.

Wed, 28 Mar 2012 18:37:46 UTC | #930988