The link between intelligence and correct interpretation of reality is unfortunately weak. That is one of the reason why someone like cognitive scientist Stephen Pinker can be very smart and yet be consistently wrong. Pinker champions his latest wrong idea in his new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: the Decline of Violence in History and Its Causes, which posits that humans are evolving to become less violent.
The fact that you can publish a book making a claim so easily debunked by both empirical evidence and common sense says a lot about the publishing industry. But the idea that Pinker believes it to to be true—and so many people are willing to entertain the notion—says even more about the delusions of liberal humanism. As philosopher John Grey says in his devastating review,
The idea that a new world can be constructed through the rational application of force is peculiarly modern, animating ideas of revolutionary war and pedagogic terror that feature in an influential tradition of radical Enlightenment thinking. Downplaying this tradition is extremely important for Pinker. Along with liberal humanists everywhere, he regards the core of the Enlightenment as a commitment to rationality. The fact that prominent Enlightenment figures have favoured violence as an instrument of social transformation is—to put it mildly—inconvenient.
There is a deeper difficulty. Like so many contemporary evangelists for humanism, Pinker takes for granted that science endorses an Enlightenment account of human reason. Since science is a human creation, how could humans not be rational? Surely science and humanism are one and the same. Actually it’s extremely curious—though entirely typical of current thinking—that science should be linked with humanism in this way. A method of inquiry rather than a settled view of the world, there can be no guarantee that science will vindicate Enlightenment ideals of human rationality. Science could just as well end up showing them to be unrealisable.
Read the whole thing.
(Via First Thoughts.)