Author Topic: Steven Pinker: Science is not your enemy  (Read 1149 times)

Online Hydra009

Steven Pinker: Science is not your enemy
« on: August 17, 2013, 09:51:19 PM »
A quite lengthy (but very worthwhile) speech about the importance of science, the perception of science, the "encroachment" of science into values, and allegations of scientism.

Quote from: "Steven Pinker"
In other words, the worldview that guides the moral and spiritual values of an educated person today is the worldview given to us by science. Though the scientific facts do not by themselves dictate values, they certainly hem in the possibilities. By stripping ecclesiastical authority of its credibility on factual matters, they cast doubt on its claims to certitude in matters of morality. The scientific refutation of the theory of vengeful gods and occult forces undermines practices such as human sacrifice, witch hunts, faith healing, trial by ordeal, and the persecution of heretics. The facts of science, by exposing the absence of purpose in the laws governing the universe, force us to take responsibility for the welfare of ourselves, our species, and our planet.
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He waxes just a tad poetic about how awesome science is for my taste, but he makes a good point worth keeping in mind.  Science is quite literally a matter of life and death, power and powerless.  Scientia potentia est.  In ages past, you would almost certainly die from what are today minor illnesses or injuries.  Today, we live lives of relative peace, safety, abundance, and most importantly, comprehension, thanks in no small part the development of science and technology.  And while that road has its own problems, the only correct way to deal with them is learn from our mistakes and press on.

Pinker brings up the typical examples of the evils of science.  Notions of eugenics that inspired the Nazis (and thus led directly to WWII, the bloodiest war mankind has ever known).  The Tuskegee syphilis experiments.  The ongoing development of new and horrific weapons.  Obviously, the development of science and technology hasn't created a dystopia, but there are always fears that any day now (it's always any day now), there will be some new invention that will bring it about.  There's also the deeply misguided idea that science robs life of wonder, often paired the equally terrible idea that science can never explain thought, creativity, love, etc.  Such grand pronouncements seem to wither as the "untouchable" phenomena are finally figured out.

Here's Pinker's retort to claims of the dark side of science:

This strange equivocation between the utilitarian and the nefarious was not applied to other disciplines. (Just imagine motivating the study of classical music by noting that it both generates economic activity and inspired the Nazis.) And there was no acknowledgment that we might have good reasons to prefer science and know-how over ignorance and superstition.

Finally, Pinker pokes at the fissure opened up by Harris's attempt to promote a science of morality.  We've already discussed that one at length, but I agree with Pinker's and Harris's views on this one and I'll try to show you why I agree with them.  If I say that kicking a puppy is wrong, and when asked why I think this, claim that puppies feel pain, I am making an empirical claim that can be investigated.  Values are ultimately dependent on the facts on the ground (they tend to get into trouble when they're not), and the facts on the ground are most definitely under the purview of science.  And of course, another example is forecasting, a common decision-making technique whereby actions are analyzed for their likely effects, with beneficial outcomes as more desirable than harmful ones.  It shapes everything from how to live our day-to-day existence to national policy.  (Sadly, the former more than the latter)  It's undeniable that the facts on the ground form the basis for our how we do live our lives and how we should live our lives.

Re: Steven Pinker: Science is not your enemy
« Reply #1 on: August 17, 2013, 10:04:24 PM »
You know, through all the rambling I THINK the point is morals come from science.  As well as everything else.  I'm drunk but concur nonetheless.
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Offline Solitary

Re: Steven Pinker: Science is not your enemy
« Reply #2 on: August 18, 2013, 01:24:23 AM »
Is there any better method than science to finding the truth when it uses evidence and critical thinking? Logic can't find the truth unless it has facts. Philosophy can't find the truth only opinions. Religion can't find the truth because it is based on unreliable evidence, mere opinion, delusional and magical thinking.  :roll:  Solitary
There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.