Steven Pinker on Trump, violence, and religion
Author and professor Steven Pinker says the Enlightenment brought progress to the world – but is his data misleading?
Watch the part one of UpFront’s interview with Steven Pinker here.
In part two of our interview with Steven Pinker, the Harvard professor and cognitive scientist addresses criticism of his latest book, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress.
In the book, Pinker argues that war and poverty are in decline and that humanity’s progress can be attributed to reason and science, central aspects of the Enlightenment, an intellectual movement in the 17th and 18th century.
However, critics accuse Pinker of cherry-picking data. They point out that the statistics he uses to support declining death rates begin from 1945, thus excluding the millions killed the decades before, including during World War I and II.
“The claim about the Enlightenment is not that it instantaneously brought an end to war, but the Enlightenment did bring the first ideas on how to reduce war out in the open,” says Pinker.
“The decline in war is really a post-1945 phenomenon.”
Despite the massive loss of life resulting from conflicts in Syria, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of Congo in recent years, Pinker says “even more people were killed in previous decades”.
When asked whether the presidency of Donald Trump in the United States poses a threat to progress, Pinker says the Republican “indeed is a threat to many of the forms of progress that we’ve enjoyed. All the more reason that we should appreciate them, to know what we have to lose.”
Religion can be another barrier to progress, according to Pinker. “Religious institutions themselves evolved under the influence of the Enlightenment,” he argues. “They become more humanistic to the extent that they have, then they can be forces for progress.”
“But yes, I believe that appealing to supernatural forces, appealing to doctrines that only people [who] are born into a particular religion share or that they can’t be persuaded of, does go against progress.”