Saturday, May 23, 2020

A Malignant Delusion?

Being a psychologist, even a renowned psychologist does not make you an authority on, for instance, theology. In the case of Steven Pinker it does not even make you an authority on the Enlightenment or on intellectual history. 

This is true even if Bill Gates touts your book on the Enlightenment. Bill Gates is a software tycoon. This does not make him an authority on the Enlightenment or on intellectual history. Heck, it does not even make him an authority on epidemiology or infectious disease.

In the meantime distinguished Harvard professor Pinker managed to jam both of his feet into his mouth the other day, by offering up this tweet:

Belief in an afterlife is a malignant delusion, since it devalues actual lives and discourages action that would make them longer, safer, and happier. Exhibit A: What’s really behind Republicans wanting a swift reopening? Evangelicals.
— Steven Pinker (@sapinker)

He is linking to a Washington Post article about whether Evangelical Christians are most avid to open the economy because they want people to die. Does the notion of defamation register up in Harvard’s hallowed halls? And how about ignorance?

Pinker prides himself on being a rational thinker and even an atheist. Yet, it will take some time to unpack the nonsense that he has loaded into that tweet.

Let’s see: all religions that anyone knows anything about believe in an afterlife. If Pinker were pretending to be rational he would need to show why he has aimed at Evangelical Christians, in particular. Obviously, he cannot. So he should not defame one religion as opposed to others.

In truth, more people seem to have died from the lockdown than from the virus. Preliminary reports suggest that when states relaxed their lockdown and social distancing rules, there was no spike in infection or death. But, Pinker does not know it or does not care. Had he been a rational thinker, he might have noticed that people of all religious stripes want to go back to work. About that, more later.

As for the notion of malignant delusion, psychologist Pinker must understand that a delusion is a belief that one mistakes for reality. A delusional patient might walk into a doctor’s office and explain that his left leg is longer than his right leg, and thus, that it needs to be amputated. He is absolutely persuaded of this truth and will not hear any argument that counters it. If you measure his legs and show that he is wrong, he will dismiss you as a bigot. 

Since a delusional belief negates biological reality, we might also say that a human being whose body contains trillions of XX chromosomes but who believes that she is a man is suffering from a delusional belief. Do Pinker and his Harvard colleagues believe that transgenderism is a delusional belief?

Do he and his colleagues believe that it is a malignant belief, being as it has produced conditions where children are biochemically mutilated with puberty blocking drugs, where they are subjected to surgical mutilation and where they are then obliged to poison their bodies with opposite sex hormones. Is this what Pinker means by a malignant delusion? If not, why not?

Or better, take atheism, of which Pinker is a notable proponent. During the twentieth century certain countries tried to produce an atheistic culture. Among those countries, the Soviet Union and Maoist China. How did that work out? Well we know, from a book called The Black Book of Communism, published, incidentally by Harvard University Press, that the delusion of atheistic culture produced over 100 million dead… many of them dead from starvation. When your favorite belief system has that kind of track record, a little humility might be in order.

Besides, if we were to take these concepts seriously, something that Pinker obviously doesn't, we would remark that in order to label the afterlife a delusion, you would need to know, to a scientific certainty, that there is no such thing. How does Pinker know that there is no afterlife? Has he been there? Has he come back to tell us the truth about whether or not there is life after death?

Fair enough, there is no such thing as an experiment that can prove or disprove the existence of an afterlife. So, effectively, a wee bit of doubt might be in order. Surely, you cannot say that something is a delusional belief unless you have hard science and hard facts to prove that it is not the case.

And besides, if all religions believe in an afterlife, and if they believe that death is not the ultimate meaning of life, why do different religions have different attitudes toward life on this earth? In other words, why single out Evangelical Christianity? Don’t religions predicate your entry to Heaven or even to the Underworld on the way you conduct your life on this earth, on how you acquit yourself of your responsibilities toward other people, toward family and friends. Doesn’t the moral teaching contained in the Bible emphasize these points, at considerable length? Could it be that wild-eyed atheist Pinker does not know what the Bible teaches on these scores? If not, what are his own beliefs based on?

And then there is Max Weber. More than a century ago the distinguished sociologist of religion wrote a seminal work called: The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. It is so well known that one cannot understand why so eminent a thinker as Pinker could have ignored its argument: namely that Protestantism, especially the Calvinist variety, placed a special value on capital formation, and especially on working in the fallen world to produce wealth and prosperity. Believing in predestination Calvin believed that your entry into Heaven was foreordained, and that you needed to promote prosperity on earth in order to show you co-religionists that you had been selected. We can argue for or against the position, but one ought to acknowledge that one branch of Protestantism does not see that the existence of an afterlife precludes wealth creation. As it happens, Luther had already declared business activities to be good works, in contradistinction to traditional Christian teaching which limited them to religious practice. 

But still, whereas pre-Reformation Christian thought believed that economic activity in the fallen world should be limited to subsistence, the better to leave people more time to pray, Protestantism-- of which Evangelical Christianity is a prominent American branch-- effectively led the way toward creating an ethic that placed greater value on work. 

It should not be mysterious or ironic that people who believe in the value of work and of making a living should want to go back to work. Is it not strange, that atheists quiver in the corner and want people to work less, thus, might we say, to pray more. OK, fair enough, people who are alone and isolated in their homes might not be praying. If they are atheists, they are surely not praying. I suspect that they are meditating, however. But, didn’t the Reformation bring into Christianity the notion that people should read and interpret the Bible as individuals? 

Before the Reformation, and certainly before the printing press, good Christians received Bible study from priests. And only from priests. They did not have their own Bibles and did not read them on their own. So, social isolation has an uncanny resemblance to the circumstances that led to individual Bible study.


UbuMaccabee said...

Great article, Stuart. Pinker took his mask of for a moment and let everyone know what he thinks. He thinks all the same things that everyone in his circle of right thinking people think about important things who read the WaPo. Nice footwork on the transsexual angle; Pinker the brave won’t touch that live wire. He revealed himself to be a dummy, a sycophant, and an anti-Christian bigot in one brief tweet.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

I’m tired of Bill Gates. He’s not an authority on public health or education, either. He’s throwing his money all over the place, and the recommendations are always the same: more centralized control. More one-size-fits-all “solutions” like mass ______ in public health to eradicate _____, and if you disagree you’re a quack, a Luddite, a denier, anti-science, etc. And if you’re against Common Core...

As for Steven Pinker, he sees the same bogeyman and spaghetti monster behind everything: the Evangelicals. He thinks it’s delusional to believe in an afterlife. Fine. What I think is anti-science, anti-life and anti-rational is the continuation of these insane lockdowns to battle “the invisible enemy.” If he doesn’t like the idea of a swift reopening, what’s his proposal? An indefinite continuation? Because of his bias for work-from-home when there are tens of millions of workers who cannot work-from-home? How’s that for a nasty bias? By definition, being a blue collar worker means you cannot work from home. Pinker and his ilk are evangelizing a lockdown public health mitigation strategy — built solely on faith — that has real, tangible, practical results: death, despair, and poverty for millions of people. And yes, some of them may be Evangelicals.

I am beyond disgusted by the response of our “leaders” to coronavirus. We’ve created a Coronapocalypse by making life worse. Any fool can point out risk. It takes intelligence to quantify that risk. This isn’t about flattening the curve, and hasn’t been for some time now. This is a complete and total PANIC. We’ve become a nation of snowflakes.

Perhaps believing in an afterlife allows you to have courage to face this life in the best way possible. Methinks the people who believe this life is all there is are terrified to lose theirs. Given the panic of those living with such fear, my belief in an afterlife allows me to LIVE.

Sam L. said...

"He is linking to a Washington Post article about whether Evangelical Christians are most avid to open the economy because they want people to die."

You can understand why I say I despise, detest, and distrust the WaPoo, and why I call it the WaPoo.

Anonymous said...

I'm a Republican who wants the economy to reopen and I'm Jewish. It is ridiculous on its face and only a leftist would believe it (and probably then just barely).

Anonymous said...

Bill Gates is in the sights of an angry mob, and many seem to want his hide tacked to the side of the closest barn.

Some claim his vaccines caused 500k polio cases in India. His dad was supposedly a high ranking Planned Parenthood appointee. He is strongly in favor of global birth control policies. Eugenics? Abortions?

Nah, he's only a software whiz.

Anonymous said...

Calvin has a history worth investigating.

As with all humanity,not only is Calvin *not* without flaws, it is likely he was part of an organized an attack on the Catholic monopoly on minds and souls,(and property)...

To imagine this was an exclusively "Christian" Reformation would be naive in the extreme.

David Foster said...

A high % of Evangelicals are from a Scots-Irish background.

Scotts-Irish people tend to not like authority, and they don't mind fighting.

This factor probably has a lot more to do with Evangelical hostility toward the lockdowns than do Pinker's theological theories.