Steven Pinker relies on some rather impressive sleight of hand to defend his scientism. Like most advocates of scientism, he postures as if he is merely defending science when he wants to defend the extreme views of scientism. He is the Champion of Science and leading Cheerleader For Science. As for his scientism? He tries to confuse his readers by making it look like scientism does not even exist:
The term “scientism” is anything but clear, more of a boo-word than a label for any coherent doctrine. Sometimes it is equated with lunatic positions, such as that “science is all that matters” or that “scientists should be entrusted to solve all problems.” Sometimes it is clarified with adjectives like “simplistic,” “naïve,” and “vulgar.” The definitional vacuum allows me to replicate gay activists’ flaunting of “queer” and appropriate the pejorative for a position I am prepared to defend.
I’m not sure why Pinker couldn’t use google to find Wikipedia and see how it is defined there instead of implying it is nothing more than a “boo-word.” Then again, if he did that, his sleight of hand would not be as effective.
Of course, it is hypocritical for Pinker to complain “the term “scientism” is anything but clear” given that the term “science” is anything but clear. No where in his entire article does Pinker make the slightest effort to actually define the term “science.” Yet given that Pinker is a Gnu activist, it is not surprising that he seems to subscribe to the watered-down view of science. After all, Pinker begins his essay by describing “Descartes, Spinoza, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Rousseau, Leibniz, Kant, Smith” as scientists. I kid you not:
The great thinkers of the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment were scientists. Not only did many of them contribute to mathematics, physics, and physiology, but all of them were avid theorists in the sciences of human nature. They were cognitive neuroscientists, who tried to explain thought and emotion in terms of physical mechanisms of the nervous system. They were evolutionary psychologists, who speculated on life in a state of nature and on animal instincts that are “infused into our bosoms.” And they were social psychologists, who wrote of the moral sentiments that draw us together, the selfish passions that inflame us, and the foibles of shortsightedness that frustrate our best-laid plans.
These thinkers—Descartes, Spinoza, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Rousseau, Leibniz, Kant, Smith—are all the more remarkable for having crafted their ideas in the absence of formal theory and empirical data.
Note that he even writes, “These thinkers…are all the more remarkable for having crafted their ideas in the absence of formal theory and empirical data.”
Say what? According to Pinker, these men actually did science “in the absence of formal theory and empirical data?” What’s more , they also did their science without the guiding hand of the experimental approach. Whoa.
So Stephen Pinker is saying that formal theories, empirical data, and the experimental approach are all superfluous to science. He says you can do science without any of them.