Steven Pinker Reaps What He Sows

As I pointed out in the previous posting, the smear techniques being used against New Atheist Steven Pinker are just the same techniques New Atheists have been using against religious people for years.  So there is a certain element of poetic justice watching the atheist activist community lash out at each other with those very techniques.

And don’t think of Pinker as some innocent bystander who just happened to get caught in the rhetorical crossfire.  Back in 2009, he tried using the very same smear techniques against Francis Collins.  For those who don’t know, Collins was a leading scientist who also happened to be a Christian.  Obama appointed him to head the NIH and many in the New Atheist community (Harris, Coyne, Pinker, and others) attempted to derail the nomination by generating some form of outrage through their activist writings.

So let’s take a trip down memory lane.

Pinker began by writing:

I have serious misgivings about Francis Collins being appointed director of NIH.

There you have it.  In essence Pinker and his allies were trying to “deplatform” Collins.  Told ya there isn’t that much difference between a New Atheist and a Social Justice Atheist.

It’s not that I think that there should be a religious litmus test for public science administrators, or that being a devout Christian is a disqualification.

Of course not.  😉

Here Pinker is trying to rationalize things to disguise his anti-religious bigotry.

But in Collins’s case, it is not a matter of private belief, but public advocacy.

In other words, Collins, should have kept his Christian views completely private.

The director of NIH is not just a bureaucrat who tends the money pipleline between the treasury and molecular biologists (which is how many scientists see the position). He or she is also a public face of science, someone who commands one of the major bully pulpits for science in the country. The director testifies before Congress, sets priorities, selects speakers and panelists, and is in many regards a symbol for biomedical research in the US and the world. In that regard, many of Collins’s advocacy statements are deeply disturbing.

The words of someone are “deeply disturbing.”  This is the language of a social justice atheist.  By trying to deny the nomination to Collins because of his words, how is this all that different from the way social justice atheists work?

Now, let’s get to the meaty hypocrisy. Pinker wrote:

For example, I see science as not just cures for diseases and better gadgets but an ideal for how to think about the most important issues facing us as humans– in particular, the ideal that we should seek truth through reason and evidence and not through superstition, dogma, and personal revelation. Collins has said that he came to accept the Trinity, and the truth that Jesus is the son of God, when he was hiking and came upon a beautiful triple waterfall. Now, the idea that nature contains private coded messages from a supernatural being to an individual person is the antithesis of the scientific (indeed, rational) mindset. It is primitive, shamanistic, superstitious. The point of the scientific revolution was to do away with such animistic thinking.

Whoa!  Pinker just engaged in some serious cherry picking by making it sound like Collins’ decision to become a Christian was rooted  in nothing more than “animistic thinking.”  This is misrepresentation.  So in other words, when the New Atheists are complaining and whining about the way the social justice crowd is twisting Pinker’s words, how is that any different from the way Steven Pinker himself represented Francis Collins?

It gets even better.  In trying to defend his ally, Jerry Coyne just wrote:

Even after realizing that these outrage mongers had been played by others—or by themselves—they continue to occupy their Faulty Towers, arguing for example, that Pinker is still a “useful idiot” to the alt-right or is “liked” by the alt-right.

He provides some examples:

 

Well, “giving ammunition to the enemy” is the very same argument Steven Pinker himself used against Collins:

That is far more than just expressing an opinion. That is advocacy, which gives incalculable encouragement the forces that have been hostile to science for the past eight years. And this is not just a theoretical fear: a number of right-wing, religious apologists (e.g., Dennis Praeger, in his debate with Sam Harris) used Collins as a stick to beat secularists:  “Here is a famous scientist who takes an interventionist God and the Bible seriously; who are you to contradict him?” This is going to be multiplied if Collins becomes an even more prominent face of science.

So the professor who accused Collins of encouraging forces “hostile to science” is now being accused encouraging the alt-right.  What goes around comes around, right Steven?

Look, to this day Pinker has never admitted he was wrong about Collins.  Pinker warned:

Also, the human mind and brain constitute one of the frontiers of biomedical science. Cutting-edge research treats intelligence, morality, and religious belief as products of evolution and neuroscience. The idea that there is divine design and teleology behind these functions, on the basis of Iron Age and medieval dogma, is antithetical to this vibrant research area. How will Collins preside over the allocation of research priorities if he believes in ““the certainty that the claims of atheistic materialism must be steadfastly resisted”?

Again, it’s important that there not be an atheist-litmus-test for science administrators. A person’s private beliefs should not keep him from a public position. But Collins is an advocate of profoundly anti-scientific beliefs, and it is reasonable for the scientific community to ask him how these beliefs will affect his administration of the Institute and his efforts on the behalf of the scientific enterprise in Congress and in public.

Yet none of these “deeply disturbing” concerns were rooted in reality.  Collins has done nothing in the last 9 years to think Pinker was right.  Yet Pinker, who claims to champion the search for truth through reason and evidence, has been unable to admit he was wrong.  He and Coyne would rather make believe they never raised such stupid arguments.

Given that Coyne and Pinker think very much like social justice activists, we can no more expect the social justice crowd to admit they were wrong about Pinker than we can expect Pinker and Coyne to admit they were wrong about Collins.

As for us, we get to sit back and enjoy watching the hypocrites rip each other apart.  Just deserts include lots of popcorn.  That’s what happens when men without principles lose their common enemy.

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44 Responses to Steven Pinker Reaps What He Sows

  1. hikayamasan353 says:

    Francis Collins is a very brilliant man who has done a lot to the human biology research. He has done a lot of researches on genetic disorders, such as progeria. And probably, the whole engine of rare genetic disorder research is ran by the belief in human welfare, that even if you have genetic disorders, you still can be a part of the society. Such values are very deeply rooted in Abrahamic religions and humanism. Atheist activism, to the contrary, seeks to euthanize people who potentially have genetic disorders, since their birth, as evidenced by Jerry Coyne. Such anti-life (it’s not even “pro-choice”!) attitude was practiced by Nazi Germany. Even though Hitler himself had very unstable religious views, his government members were antireligious.
    I know I might sound like a counter-activist here. I just don’t really know what I can do with such activism. Eating popcorn on the hill in a hideout with a sniper rifle on my back might probably be the best I can do… I highly doubt that modern atheist activists are even “humanists” if they seek to target each another or whoever they can or want to. Because humanism is all about respecting other humans. And it doesn’t matter if it’s secular or religious humanism.

  2. TFBW says:

    Pinker said:

    Again, it’s important that there not be an atheist-litmus-test for science administrators. A person’s private beliefs should not keep him from a public position.

    A person’s private beliefs should not keep him from a public position, he says, but he takes umbrage at the slightest public expression of those private beliefs, and accuses Collins of advocating “profoundly anti-scientific beliefs” simply because he presumes to know that of Collins’ private beliefs. Let’s be real here, Pinker: an ideological litmus test is exactly what you want. You just can’t bring yourself to admit it, because you profess to be opposed to that kind of thing. You might possibly be satisfied with Collins-like Wrongthink if it were so well encapsulated and hidden as to be completely undetectable, but that’s still a litmus test, since litmus paper won’t detect acid in a hermetically sealed jar.

    In any case, welcome to the other end of the Ideological Purity Test stick. Enjoy your beating.

  3. Dhay says:

    > Whoa! Pinker just engaged in some serious cherry picking by making it sound like Collins’ decision to become a Christian was rooted in nothing more than “animistic thinking.” This is misrepresentation.

    Isn’t it just. Who better than the celebrated skeptic, Michael Shermer, to put that one to bed; here’s a small part of Shermer’s book’s much fuller description of Francis Collins’ quite extended conversion process:

    Michael Shermer, in his “The Believing Brain”, Chapter 2, reports that Collins’ …

    “…journey from atheist to theist, which at first was a halting intellectual process filled with the internal debates scientists typically have with themselves when working on new ideas.”

    “The internal debates scientists typically have with themselves when working on new ideas” are rational, evidential and scientific, are they not. Shermer here confirms that Collins’ “waterfall” conversion experience was the final intuitive working-out of a long process of rational enquiry. Shermer’s jibe at Collins, that “smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons”, arguably misses the mark where Collins is concerned.

    But it looks to be bang on the mark where [Steven Pinker] is concerned.

    *

    Funny that Pinker has said nothing comparable about his mate, Jerry Coyne, whose sudden anti-intellectual anti-conversion was as irrational and weird as you can get:

    https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2015/06/01/jerry-coynes-multiple-definitions-of-faith/#comment-8728

  4. CT says:

    > Collins has done nothing in the last 9 years to think Pinker was right.

    That is a difficult question which would require a lengthy review of Collins’ decisions at NIH. Given the specificity of what this advocate/apologist has professed and claimed, I would suspect he’d eventually run into issues, which is basically what Pinker is saying. But without a full review, we don’t know.

    > Yet Pinker, who claims to champion the search for truth through reason and evidence, has been unable to admit he was wrong

    Ah, now I remember. This is a straightforward fallacy, which, IIRC, you were unable to comprehend (and likely still will).

    Suppose Harold often drives drunk. Despite this, he goes his whole life without getting into a single accident or receiving a single traffic violation. Harold dies peacefully in his sleep at age 84. Is it reasonable to conclude that Harold’ relatives were wrong to scold him for driving drunk? Is it reasonable to conclude that driving drunk is OK because there were no ill consequences?

    No, it was bad for Harold to drive drunk no matter what the consequences ultimately were. That Harold happened to avoid disaster does not imply that the argument for avoiding driving drunk was mistaken.

    Disregarding Collins and Pinker for a moment, do you agree with everything I said about the Harold situation? You should. Let’s see.

    Because I know creationists so well, I will now head off a fallacy which has almost certainly appeared in a few creationists’ minds right now. No, I am not equating Collins with a drunk, or equating Christianity/religion with drunk driving. C’mon, please follow more closely.

    The point of the Harold illustration: when judging a given argument that X has potentially adverse consequences, we don’t conclude that the argument was mistaken if it eventually turns out that no adverse consequences occurred. We judge the argument on its merits regardless of what the eventual outcome happens to be.

    And remember in the case of Collins, without a full review we don’t even know if there have been adverse consequences. But even if there were none, that does not render Pinker’s argument invalid.

  5. TFBW says:

    @CT: The owner of this blog is not a creationist. I am. Since you seem to want to argue with a creationist, I’ll answer your criticism. Short version: your objection begs the question that having religious views of a particular sort does for one’s ability to perform science what being drunk does for one’s ability to drive. Reiterating your prejudice is not an argument. Most of the best scientists in history were theists, usually of the Christian persuasion, and creationists to boot, so I consider the suggestion quite laughable on its face. You want to tell me that Sir Isaac Newton was to science what a drunk is to driving? Ha! A derisive snort is all the refutation that deserves.

    Also, as regards the objection that we require a “full review” of Collins, I consider this an obfuscation. I’m sure his critics would have pounced on any opportunity they saw, or else they never were really all that concerned with the quality of his work so much as the symbolic significance of granting a person with Improper Religious Views the position in question. If you want to make the claim that Collins is bad at his job, back up the assertion with evidence or be dismissed as an activist throwing a tantrum. If a “full review” is what it takes to provide evidence for the claim, do the damn review or pipe down: it’s not our problem that you haven’t done your research, and I’m not about to give you a pass for it.

  6. Kevin says:

    We can also easily flip the argument. It takes no imagination whatsoever to come up with possible pitfalls that could arise from having an atheist head the NIH, so we should therefore be very cautious about appointing such a person to that position. What would a Jerry Coyne do – direct research toward “curing” religious belief? What would a Sam Harris do – oh wait, he’s not actually a scientist because he does no science. What about atheists who do not believe in objective morality – what criteria do they use to judge ethical scientific practice? Even if there’s no evidence to support unethical behavior arising from their atheism, it’s still not wrong to criticize, right? Drunk Harolds everywhere.

    Or, we can judge a person’s viability as head of the NIH based upon their scientific credentials and contributions. On this, Francis Collins clears the bar easily, and is objectively superior to all his New Atheist detractors combined.

    Assertions without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. Provide evidence that Collins warranted actual concern, based upon objective criteria, or admit that the assertions were based upon ideologically-driven speculations that had no basis in reality.

  7. Dhay says:

    CT is very late to this party; there’s been a fair bit posted and responded to on S2L Francis Collins and his detractors, going at least as far back as the “Dawkins vs. Collins” post on 12 April 2012 which compared CVs, revealing the rather poor qualifications of Richard Dawkins as compared with the better qualifications of Collins: https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2012/04/12/dawkins-vs-collins/

    Or there’s all these posts: https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/?s=collins

    In this very thread you will find Michael Shermer’s evidence of the rationality displayed by Collins when moving towards Christianity, evidence Shermer expands on in his book. Try reading the chapter; and if you can overcome disconfirmation bias enough to read what Shermer actually says rather than what Shermer insinuates without evidence, I think you will agree with me.

    That 2012 post was expanded in 2015, including:

    So what if we tried to help Dawkins by enlisting the work of his fellow Gnu leaders who are also biologists – Jerry Coyne, Sam Harris, and PZ Myers? After all, these three men have viciously attacked Collins on the internet. They publicly opposed Collin’s nomination to head the NIH by suggesting, without any evidence, that his religious faith would lead him to somehow harm the funding of scientific research. Harris has claimed that Collins “has repudiated the scientific worldview” and is “a man who believes that understanding ourselves through science is impossible.”

    https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2015/01/10/francis-collins-vs-new-atheists/

    Congratulations on sneaking in your own insinuations, in plain sight: you liken Collins as head of the NIH to a frequently drunk driver; in other words, to a dangerous criminal.

    So according to you Collins is like an often drunk driver who simply has not been caught or killed anybody … yet … and whom nobody has yet reported as driving drunk or dangerously. Odd, for “On July 8, 2009, President Barack Obama nominated Collins as Director of the National Institutes of Health, and the Senate unanimously confirmed him for the post. [Wiki]” That’s eight and a half years in the NIH top post, under presidents of opposite polarity, without a single complaint at his, er, driving ability or, er, sobriety except from certain New Atheists before appointment.

    Since then it’s been crickets from these vociferous critics; Jerry Coyne keeps taking pot-shots at Collins’ views because Collins regularly contradicts — who better to do that — Coyne’s own line about the incompatibility of religion and science; that’s to say, because Collins has views different to Coyne; but even Coyne has had to commend Collins: “I applaud him for standing up for research versus superstition.” (25 August 2010, entitled “Francis Collins is stunned”.)

    If you wish to criticise Collins, please do so using science, evidence and reason; insinuation just doesn’t cut it.

    *

    Would Harris have made an acceptable head of the NIH? You might like to consider whether Harris’ Buddhist-derived views are compatible with the possibility of understanding ourselves through science:

    What Wright correctly sees as the heart of meditation practice—the draining away of the stories we tell compulsively about each moment in favor of simply having the moment—is antithetical to the kind of evidentiary argument he admires. Science is competitive storytelling. If a Buddhist Newton had been sitting under that tree, he would have seen the apple falling and, reaching for Enlightenment, experienced each moment of its descent as a thing pure in itself. Only a restless Western Newton would say, “Now, what story can tell us best what connects those apple-moments from branch to ground? Sprites? Magnets? The mysterious force of the mass of the earth beneath it? What made the damn thing fall?” That’s a story we tell, not a moment we experience.

    The Buddhist Newton might have been happier than ours—ours was plenty unhappy—but he would never have found the equation. Science is putting names on things and telling stories about them, the very habits that Buddhists urge us to transcend. … the meditator’s project of being here now will never be the same as the scientist’s project of connecting the past to the future, of telling how and knowing why.

    [Includes link to original book review.]
    https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2017/07/31/sam-harris-is-a-religious-man/#comment-19597

    Can you see a meditator heading the NIH. Probably not. That really is anti-science, anti-science at the core.

  8. CT says:

    TFBW: Sometimes I amaze myself with my ability to predict a mistaken creationist response. But what is perhaps more amazing is that you read my prediction and went on to make exactly the mistake I predicted.

    As I said, I am not relating drunkenness to Collins or Christianity or Christians who are scientists. The Harold illustration serves one single purpose. Here is what I wrote again:

    “The point of the Harold illustration: when judging a given argument that X has potentially adverse consequences, we don’t conclude that the argument was mistaken if it eventually turns out that no adverse consequences occurred. We judge the argument on its merits regardless of what the eventual outcome happens to be.”

    Do you understand this general principle?

    (P.S. The blog author is a proponent of intelligent design, which is generally considered to be a form of creationism.)

  9. TFBW says:

    @CT: The way I see it, either your question is relevant for exactly the reasons I addressed, or it is entirely irrelevant to the matter at hand. I was merely taking the more charitable of these two alternatives when addressing your question — assuming that you are not simply throwing red herrings around. But hey, maybe there is a well-concealed third way which you can share with us. So what, pray tell, does your Harold Illustration have to do with the question of Collins’ fitness for duty unless there is something in his case which acts as a parallel to both “drunkenness” and “driving” in your question, and what would those parallels be?

  10. CT says:

    TFBW: The connection was made in my first comment. Search for “straightforward fallacy”.

    You declined to answer my question: Do you agree with the general principle? Again, the general principle is: When judging a given argument that X has potentially adverse consequences, we don’t conclude that the argument was mistaken if it eventually turns out that no adverse consequences occurred. We judge the argument on its merits regardless of what the eventual outcome happens to be.

    If you agree with this general principle, then you concur that the blog post contains the aforementioned straightforward fallacy.

  11. TFBW says:

    @CT: When judging an argument that X has potentially adverse consequences, we judge the argument by the evidence that was presented in support of the argument. No such evidence has been presented in this case, so the argument can be lightly dismissed, particularly given the ease with which counter-examples can be cited — counter-examples which the likes of Pinker must studiously ignore in order to make his claim with a straight face.

    When no such evidence is given, and the adverse consequences fail to materialise in the specific case about which the warning was being raised, thus leaving the assertion still without evidence, we say, “told you so.” We also point out that the other side remains unrepentant for their abject and continued lack of evidence, despite their ostensible commitment to such. Where’s the fallacy?

    Meanwhile, you’ve said that you answered my question in the “straightforward fallacy” part. In order for that to be relevant, there must be some parallel between Collins’ case and the Harold Illustration you gave. You still haven’t spelled out that parallel, and you’ve seemingly denied my guess that the parallel was, “religion is to science what drunkenness is to driving.” If that’s not the case, then no, I don’t understand your illustration at all, or the fallacy to which you are referring. It makes perfect sense under my interpretation, but you denied that, so please explain.

  12. CT says:

    TFBW: My response would depend entirely upon your answer to my question, however you keep refusing to answer it. I shall ask again: Do you agree with the general principle? Again, the general principle is: When judging a given argument that X has potentially adverse consequences, we don’t conclude that the argument was mistaken if it eventually turns out that no adverse consequences occurred. We judge the argument on its merits regardless of what the eventual outcome happens to be.

  13. TFBW says:

    Yes. I agree. Now answer my questions.

  14. Dhay says:

    CT > That is a difficult question which would require a lengthy review of Collins’ decisions at NIH. Given the specificity of what this advocate/apologist has professed and claimed, I would suspect he’d eventually run into issues, which is basically what Pinker is saying. But without a full review, we don’t know.

    Who on earth are you to demand a full review of Francis Collins’ performance as head of the NIH. Everybody in any management post gets regular reviews of their performance from their superiors in the management chain. A “full review” is a task for the current administration, and was formerly, since 2009 no less, a task for the last administration. Both have kept him in post.

    What gives you the authority and competence to arrogate the power to perform a job review of a senior government post-holder.

  15. CT says:

    You asked, “Where’s the fallacy?” It’s in the two sentences I quoted in my first comment,

    > Collins has done nothing in the last 9 years to think Pinker was right. Yet Pinker, who claims to champion the search for truth through reason and evidence, has been unable to admit he was wrong.

    Apply the general principle to which you agreed. See the fallacy? That 9 years have passed without ill news does not imply that Pinker was wrong. Pinker’s argument is properly judged on its own merits, not on what consequences ultimately occurred.

  16. TFBW says:

    Pinker never had an argument. He had a bald assertion. Now he has an assertion plus one data point which runs contrary to his assertion. The assertion is just as unsupported as it always was, yet Pinker postures as though he is on the side of evidence and reason.

    I agree that a complete lack of evidence (and even a little counter-evidence) doesn’t automatically make Pinker wrong: It just makes him a blatant hypocrite who professes to value reason and evidence above all else, while utterly forsaking them both if it suits him, and never backing down. If I wanted to argue that he’s wrong, I would present more counter-evidence, as I have.

    Does that clarify?

    By the way, your continued dissembling on whether religion is to science what drunkenness is to driving is quite bizarre. If I assume that you disagree with this statement, then I automatically get a free pass on the whole Pinker issue: I can agree with the drunkenness issue, but then say, “but by your own admission, this has absolutely nothing to do with what Pinker said, so what’s your point?” And yet you call me out for making this necessary connection. Silly.

  17. Kevin says:

    CT has a habit of not addressing criticisms, which will probably get him banned rather quickly.

    For someone to have a valid criticism of Harold’s driving, it would have to be based upon objective harm that has been caused directly or indirectly by driving while intoxicated. Even if Harold himself never has or causes an accident, we know from empirical data that driving while intoxicated is extremely dangerous to oneself and others.

    So, for Pinker’s objection to be valid, what empirical evidence do we have that it is “dangerous” to science for someone like Francis Collins to be in the NIH? I’m not aware of a single piece of evidence to support this, while I have a lot of evidence that Collins is a superb scientist who is quite appropriate for the position.

    Counter-evidence, anyone? Also still waiting for an explanation as to how an atheist would be less “dangerous” to science than Collins. I suspect it will be a long wait.

  18. Dhay says:

    CT > Suppose Harold often drives drunk. Despite this, he goes his whole life without getting into a single accident or receiving a single traffic violation. Harold dies peacefully in his sleep at age 84. Is it reasonable to conclude that Harold’ relatives were wrong to scold him for driving drunk? Is it reasonable to conclude that driving drunk is OK because there were no ill consequences?

    No, it was bad for Harold to drive drunk no matter what the consequences ultimately were. That Harold happened to avoid disaster does not imply that the argument for avoiding driving drunk was mistaken.

    Let me give a direct answer: it would only be reasonable for Harold’s relatives to scold Harold for driving drunk if Harold actually does drive drunk; if not, not.

    Presumably you intend to develop this hypothetical into an actual argument. Please do so.

  19. Michael says:

    That is a difficult question which would require a lengthy review of Collins’ decisions at NIH. Given the specificity of what this advocate/apologist has professed and claimed, I would suspect he’d eventually run into issues, which is basically what Pinker is saying. But without a full review, we don’t know.

    Oh please. There is no rational reason to think a “lengthy review” of Collins’ decisions would show he ran into “issues” (whatever in the world that vague hand waving is supposed to mean). You’re simply trying to retreat into imaginary findings because you have no actual evidence Pinker was right. Yet you insist on clinging to his argument.

    Look, it’s been nine years since Pinker, Coyne, and Harris launched their smear campaign. Have any of them ever lifted a little finger to actually test their own paranoid claims during the following nine years? Of course not. That’s because their “arguments” were rooted in bigotry, and are thus unfalsifiable.

    Ah, now I remember. This is a straightforward fallacy, which, IIRC, you were unable to comprehend (and likely still will).
    Suppose Harold often drives drunk. Despite this, he goes his whole life without getting into a single accident or receiving a single traffic violation. Harold dies peacefully in his sleep at age 84. Is it reasonable to conclude that Harold’ relatives were wrong to scold him for driving drunk? Is it reasonable to conclude that driving drunk is OK because there were no ill consequences?
    No, it was bad for Harold to drive drunk no matter what the consequences ultimately were. That Harold happened to avoid disaster does not imply that the argument for avoiding driving drunk was mistaken.

    That’s because we have a mountain of independent data that indicate drunk driving is bad. For example:

    U.S. researchers looked at fatal car crash data from a U.S. national database of more than 570,000 collisions between 1994 and 2011.
    They analysed blood alcohol content (BAC) measurements for the drivers as well as clear indicators of blame for the accident, such as which driver ran a red light or drove in the wrong lane.
    Drivers with a BAC of .01 percent – the lowest level recorded in the dataset – were 46 per cent more likely to be solely blamed for the crash than a sober driver.

    There was never a mountain of independent data to even suggest Collins would be bad for the NIH (rendering your analogy to Harold a fallacy – the fallacy of false analogy). Were there previous heads of the NIH who were Christians and whose Christianity caused them to make “adverse” decisions? Harris/Pinker/Coyne never bothered to show any. Was there something from Collins’ extensive and very successful history as a scientist to indicate he would make “adverse” decisions? Nope. Nothing. The best Harris/Coyne/Pinker could come up with was innuendo based on cherry picking (the very same approach the social justice atheists have used recently against Pinker) from his book.

    But that approach had no traction and appealed only to the New Atheists. And of course it would appeal only to the New Atheists. Collins was a threat to their Cause, as intelligent, successful scientists were not supposed to be evangelical Christians. His very existence undercut their crackpot notions that science and religion are incompatible. Today, their movement is dead and Collins still heads the NIH. He’s given them nine years of decisions that could have validated their fear-mongering. They haven’t been able to crow about a single one.

    No, it was bad for Harold to drive drunk no matter what the consequences ultimately were. That Harold happened to avoid disaster does not imply that the argument for avoiding driving drunk was mistaken.

    Here we can see another aspect of your false analogy. If Harold avoided disaster, it’s because of pure luck. For example, every time he swerved into the wrong lane, he was lucky enough there was no one there. We know this from all the independent data we have about drunk driving. To make your analogy stick, you would have to make the case that Collins’ avoided adverse decisions because of pure luck. But that would be a nonsensical position.

    Disregarding Collins and Pinker for a moment, do you agree with everything I said about the Harold situation? You should. Let’s see.

    Since the Harold situation is a false analogy, it has no relevance. You are left with the simple fact that there is not a shred of evidence to indicate Coyne/Harris/Pinker were right. And there is evidence to indicate they were wrong (as I showed five years ago).

    The point of the Harold illustration: when judging a given argument that X has potentially adverse consequences, we don’t conclude that the argument was mistaken if it eventually turns out that no adverse consequences occurred.

    The “given argument” is so weak it can be ignored. Potentially adverse consequences. Anyone appointed to head any government agency comes with potential adverse consequences. You and your Gnu leaders needed to make the case that such adverse consequences were likely. But that can’t be done when all you have is your anti-Christian bigotry. So you retreated into the murky, squishy realm of the potential. Like the way Steven Pinkers views have the potential to strengthen the alt-right.

    And remember in the case of Collins, without a full review we don’t even know if there have been adverse consequences. But even if there were none, that does not render Pinker’s argument invalid.

    Of course. Pinker’s argument is anti-Christian bigotry and thus unfalsifiable. Thanks for helping to illustrate once again that New Atheists lie when they claim to oh so value evidence.

  20. Isaac says:

    I just read this entire comment section all at once.

    CT, please say something, just to let me know you’re not dead.

  21. Dhay says:

    Just to let everybody (including CT) know that there has been “Praise for Francis Collins” on the part of some prominent New Atheists; this quotation is from a Friendly Atheist post by a guest contributor:

    Christopher Hitchens has been writing a lot about his illness lately, and in his latest Vanity Fair piece, he mentions a close Christian friend:

    Dr. Francis Collins is one of the greatest living Americans. He is the man who brought the Human Genome Project to completion, ahead of time and under budget, and who now directs the National Institutes of Health… I know Francis, too, from various public and private debates over religion. …

    It’s not often that an anti-theist goes out of his way to praise a Christian, so Collins must be doing something to please the atheists. Sticking up for good science over bad faith is definitely one way to win rational people over.

    Even PZ has changed his attitude about Collins lately:

    Collins has the right goals: he’s wrangling with congress to open up opportunities for more stem cell research. His opponent is the Christian pro-life contingent, and hey, look, Collins speaks their language — he’s One of Them. Could that help? Will he get through to them and break the logjam? Stay tuned!

    … this is a case where, if Collins succeeds in battling the bureaucratic believers and overcoming the hurdles to stem cell research support, I will grudgingly admit that he was a politically astute choice for his position, despite my earlier contrary sentiments…

    I think that’s a pretty high form of compliment coming from him 🙂 [Smiley original.]

    … there’s a lengthy profile of Collins in the New Yorker this week, portraying him as a staunch defender of science despite his evangelical Christianity. If you can get through the beginning, you might gain some newfound respect for the guy.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2010/09/03/hitchens-discusses-collins/

    Let’s see, praise for Collins from Christopher Hitchins — never a man to pull his punches, I understand — and praise from PZ Myers, from the anonymous ‘guest contributor’, and from blog owner Hemant Mehta whose approval and permission to contribute had to obtained, which strongly implies his agreement.

    (If you do a search of Friendly Atheist using “Francis Collins” you’ll find multiple pages of posts referring as sunject or in passing to Collins, and the general impression I’m getting is that Mehta is grudgingly admiring of Collins — ‘praised by faint condemnation’, to mangle Shakespeare.)

    Anyone else grudgingly admiring of Collins at that time? Ah yes, there’s Jerry Coyne, in his 31 August 2010 blog post entitled “Collins is okay”:

    I’ve been pretty hard on Francis Collins, what with his mixing faith and science and telling people that there’s empirical evidence for God’s existence. But that makes it extra incumbent on me to give him kudos when he does something right. I mentioned the other day his support of stem-cell research, which is discussed in a new article, “The Covenant,” in The New Yorker. Maybe I was too eager to get in a lick against Christianity, so let me say that I much appreciate his going to bat for good science and humanitarian medicine. …

    I’m not going to pull my punches if Collins continues his public harmonizing of science and faith, but [Collins] is a Christian I can appreciate—and live with.

    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2010/08/31/collins-is-okay/

    *

    While looking through those Friendly Atheist relevant pages, I came across a 25 September 2011 post by Mehta entitled “Was the New York Times’ Profile on Richard Dawkins Too Kind?” which post criticised the NYT article’s author because he “pretty much ignored any real criticism of Dawkins within atheist circles (especially regarding Elevatorgate).”

    That’s a good reminder: Dawkins is — he denies it, but there’s plenty of atheists, Christians, women and Muslims who see it plainly — a bigot. He’s not a drunken driver who’s miraculously escaped the notice of all but his family — using CT’s analogy — Dawkins has been knocking over the street furniture in the centre of town for many years.

    Who would appoint Dawkins to any top managerial position.

    *

    As regards Sam Harris, I delivered my negative verdict — the attitude of mind of a meditator is profoundly anti-scientific — in a long response above (which has probably escaped general notice because my habit of linking to sources triggered a delay before it appeared from moderation.)

    Who would appoint Harris to any top scientific post.

    Harris also advocates that people should take psychedelic drugs — this has a better likelihood than meditation of putting them on the pathway towards becoming Buddhists — advocates taking psychedelic drugs while pointing out that a proportion of those who do so will end up with temporary severe distress or permanent psychological and emotional damage. (See his blog post — it’s been moved in with the podcasts — entitled “Drugs and the Meaning of Life.”)

    Who would appoint Harris to head the NI Health.

    *

    Jerry Coyne is an anti-free will ideologue (as is Harris); Coyne argues about it even with his own fanbase.

    There must be an opportunity here to weave in a joke or two about talking cats, and the apparent certainty of truths arrived at by revelation while listening to a Sgt Pepper album; but it’s long enough response already, and I can’t be bothered.

    Who would appoint someone with strongly held fringe ideas to head the NIH? It’s an accident waiting to happen.

  22. CT says:

    This is why creationists are so entertaining. You never hear, “Yeah, oops, that was a mistake,” or, “Thanks for pointing out that flaw.” Even when the flaw has been drawn out for all to see, even when the creationist has assented to a general principle which proves the flaw, still, even then, there must be no admission, else the Enemy will see weakness. Instead, some screwy gymnastics must be employed.

    Here is the general principle that TFBW agreed with:

    When judging a given argument that X has potentially adverse consequences, we don’t conclude that the argument was mistaken if it eventually turns out that no adverse consequences occurred. We judge the argument on its merits regardless of what the eventual outcome happens to be.

    Here is the fallacy in the blog post which violates the general principle:

    Collins has done nothing in the last 9 years to think Pinker was right. Yet Pinker, who claims to champion the search for truth through reason and evidence, has been unable to admit he was wrong.

    When pressed to confront this violation of the principle, what does TFBW do? Not “ah right, that’s a fallacy, thanks” or anything of that nature. No, the next step TFBW takes is to deny that Pinker made an argument! LOL! Thus, because no argument was made, the general principle doesn’t apply! Brilliant, in a perverse sense.

    There are two parts to my response. First, Pinker does make an argument, which we can all read here, a link given in the original post. One may assess the argument to be weak or strong, but it is an argument nonetheless.

    Second, the general principle is true regardless of the strength of the argument given. No matter how weak or strong one considers Pinker’s argument to be, this is still fallacious reasoning:

    Collins has done nothing in the last 9 years to think Pinker was right. Yet Pinker, who claims to champion the search for truth through reason and evidence, has been unable to admit he was wrong.

  23. Dhay says:

    > Collins has done nothing in the last 9 years to [make us **] think Pinker was right. Yet Pinker, who claims to champion the search for truth through reason and evidence, has been unable to admit he was wrong.

    But he wasn’t right. I realise that Scottish law accepts as valid an “unproven” verdict, but you have done nothing to successfully prosecute Pinker’s case, neither by the criminal standard nor by the civil standard.

    Pinker should by now have been able to accept (and apologise — he made a nasty slur) he was not right.

    ( ** I have made the obvious correction of the obvious omission. Whether I was right to do so is for Michael to say.)

  24. Kevin says:

    Pinker’s “argument” amounts to “Because Collins is not an atheist who denies compatibility between science and Christianity / because Collins is not secretive about his Christianity, I as an atheist am unhappy that Collins may not do things the way I think they should be done per my own worldview.”

    There’s nothing there to discuss. Pinker’s scientism is not scientific, so unlike the poorly thought out Harold analogy, there is no empirical evidence to back Pinker’s bigoted, ideology-based misgivings.

    The OP is correct – Collins has done nothing in the last 9 years to justify any of PInker’s whining.

  25. Kevin says:

    CT, what evidence would falsify Pinker’s argument? What could we look at and say “Pinker was wrong about Collins”?

  26. TFBW says:

    CT said:

    When pressed to confront this violation of the principle, what does TFBW do? Not “ah right, that’s a fallacy, thanks” or anything of that nature.

    Actually, I said:

    I agree that a complete lack of evidence (and even a little counter-evidence) doesn’t automatically make Pinker wrong: It just makes him a blatant hypocrite who professes to value reason and evidence above all else, while utterly forsaking them both if it suits him, and never backing down.

    You didn’t contradict the hypocrisy claim, I note. You’d rather not draw attention to it, of course.

    I stand by my point that Pinker’s “argument” (it’s not an argument — it’s a polemic) never had any substance, and failed to produce any of the results he said it would. Your harping about how a lack of consequences doesn’t disprove the theory rings hollow, given that it’s a non-result piled on a stack of non-evidence. Paraphrasing Kevin, how much nothingness would satisfy you that there’s nothing there? This is as ridiculous as saying the fact that nobody has ever seen the Yeti doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It’s technically true, but is that really the level of argument you have here? I suppose it is.

  27. TFBW says:

    Actually, I think we need to turn this around a little. The fact that Collins has done a good job of his NIH position for many years is evidence against Pinker’s position. Unless you already happen to have a large body of evidence to back the claim that religion is to science what drunkenness is to driving, then Collins’ example is solid evidence against that claim. Why wouldn’t it be? We’re not talking an anecdote here: we’re talking years of experience with a good track record, including some grudging praise from critics.

    When judging a given argument that X has potentially adverse consequences, we don’t conclude that the argument was mistaken if it eventually turns out that no adverse consequences occurred in isolated cases. But if we have a sustained, lengthy example to work with, and that example fails to demonstrate any of the adverse consequences predicted, and we don’t have any other examples which support the argument, then the argument simply isn’t doing a good job of describing reality, is it?

    Pinker doesn’t have an argument: he has a prejudice and he vents it. But suppose he had a beautiful argument: he still doesn’t have any real-world data to back it up. None. He cites none, and Collins provides a counter-example, as do most historical scientists of note. It doesn’t matter how beautiful your argument is: if it ultimately fails to describe reality, it’s wrong.

    Why shouldn’t Pinker admit he was wrong? Why do you think he’s right? What’s your evidence?

  28. Dhay says:

    CT > This is why creationists are so entertaining. You never hear, “Yeah, oops, that was a mistake,” or, “Thanks for pointing out that flaw.” Even when the flaw has been drawn out for all to see, even when the creationist … Here is the general principle that TFBW agreed with: … what does TFBW do? … No, the next step TFBW takes is …

    Most people replying to an OP reply to the OP. Instead, CT has immediately fished for a creationist, found one in TFBW, then singled out that one person — not the OP or its author, Michael — for his exclusive attention.

    * Kevin has replied, four times so far — and has been totally ignored by CT.
    * I have six responses in this thread, five of them directly to CT (now seven and six) — and have been totally ignored by CT.
    * The blog owner, Michael, writer of the OP and of the quotes therefrom which CT professed to critique has replied directly and at length to CT’s critique — and has been totally ignored by CT.

    The attention CT has given TFBW has been supercilious and condescending, and has made at least one false claim about what TFBW has written. It also seems to be built upon what looks to me very much like a nit-pick, but made by CT into something supposedly important and significant.

    Could I suggest that what we have in CT is an attention seeking troll not out to address any substantive issue but to find, bait and malign a creationist. And that CT is seeking to claim on any or no grounds that he has proven his superiority over a creationist.

    *

    CT > Suppose Harold often drives drunk. Despite this, he goes his whole life without getting into a single accident or receiving a single traffic violation. Harold dies peacefully in his sleep at age 84. Is it reasonable to conclude that Harold’ relatives were wrong to scold him for driving drunk? Is it reasonable to conclude that driving drunk is OK because there were no ill consequences?

    No, it was bad for Harold to drive drunk no matter what the consequences ultimately were. That Harold happened to avoid disaster does not imply that the argument for avoiding driving drunk was mistaken.

    My initial impression was that this might be or become the sort of mind-game taught to philosophy students, and used by philosophers, but nothing but banality came of it. I have seen this kind of extravagantly over-the-top fantasy parallel before, eg:

    Consider the following possibilities:

    1. Imagine that al-Qaeda is filled, not with God-intoxicated sociopaths intent upon creating a global caliphate, but genuine humanitarians. Based on their research, they believe that a deadly batch of vaccine has made it into the U.S. pharmaceutical supply. They have communicated their concerns to the FDA but were rebuffed. Acting rashly, with the intention of saving millions of lives, they unleash a computer virus, targeted to impede the release of this deadly vaccine. As it turns out, they are right about the vaccine but wrong about the consequences of their meddling—and they wind up destroying half the pharmaceuticals in the U.S.

    What would I say? I would say that this was a very unfortunate event—but these are people we want on our team. I would find the FDA highly culpable for not having effectively communicated with them. These people are our friends, and we were all very unlucky.

    2. al-Qaeda is precisely as terrible a group as it is, and it destroys our pharmaceuticals intentionally, for the purpose of harming millions of innocent people.

    What would I say? We should imprison or kill these people at the first opportunity.

    https://samharris.org/the-limits-of-discourse/

    Or:

    THE young man boards the bus as it leaves the terminal. He wears an overcoat. Beneath his overcoat, he is wearing a bomb. His pockets are filled with nails, ball bearings, and rat poison.

    Why is it so easy, then, so trivially easy—you-could-almost-bet-your-life-on it easy—to guess the young man’s religion?

    [How The End of Faith starts.]

    Sam Harris has been rightly much derided (and in the first case trashed by Noam Chomsky) for pretend-they-make-a-point fantasies such as these. Looks like CT has learned from the master.

  29. Dhay says:

    CT > This is why creationists are so entertaining. You never hear, “Yeah, oops, that was a mistake,” or, “Thanks for pointing out that flaw.” Even when the flaw has been drawn out for all to see, even when the creationist … Here is the general principle that TFBW agreed with: … what does TFBW do? … No, the next step TFBW takes is …

    I missed pointing out that CT’s obsession with TFBW is … is obsessive.

  30. Kevin says:

    CT said: ” when judging a given argument that X has potentially adverse consequences, we don’t conclude that the argument was mistaken if it eventually turns out that no adverse consequences occurred. We judge the argument on its merits regardless of what the eventual outcome happens to be”

    We are attempting to judge the merits of the argument, but thus far CT is ignoring feedback. We are still waiting on answers to some questions, for example:

    Is Pinker’s argument possible to refute? At what point can we conclude that Pinker was not justified in his complaining about Collins?

    What evidence supports the suspicion that Collins, a highly esteemed scientist of very noteworthy accomplishment, is not appropriate for the job of leading the NIH?

  31. Dhay says:

    CT > The point of the Harold illustration: when judging a given argument that X has potentially adverse consequences, we don’t conclude that the argument was mistaken if it eventually turns out that no adverse consequences occurred. We judge the argument on its merits regardless of what the eventual outcome happens to be.

    “Potentially adverse consequences” is a pompous euphemism for plain English “risk”. “Potentially” maps to likelihood, “adverse consequences” to severity.

    In Britain, following the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (and the subsequent guidance issued on how to fully comply with the Act), risk assessments have become routine for all existing activities in the workplace and for all new activities; each is then reassessed annually to confirm the assessment still looks at all relevant eventualities and that the risk still as low as possible .

    There’s a standard formula for it: risk (of whatever type, eg monetary, to life, to reputation, etc) = likelihood x severity. The latter two are both graded on a scale of eg 1 – 5, where 1 scores very low likelihood or very low severity, 3 medium, and 5 very high likelihood or very high severity. If the product of the two is too high, the activity is then either abandoned as too risky or risk-reduction measures put in place to reduce the likelihood, the severity, or both. Repeat as necessary until the risk has been reduced to acceptable levels.

    Every risk assessment is an opportunity for the assessor to put in place as many risk reduction measures as practicable, the aim being to reduce the risk not just to an acceptable level but to the lowest practicable level.

    Unacceptable risk can arise when likelihood is high but the severity is low or medium, or when the severity is high but the likelihood is low or medium. Or when both are high.

    *

    The fictional Harold of the illustration counts as high risk to his own life and to others’ lives by anyone’s reckoning. Add in high monetary risk (eg smashed up car) and high reputational risk for good measure.

    But what of Francis Collins, CT? When calculating the risk he poses, what’s the likelihood of those “potentially adverse consequences” you allege, what’s the potential severity of those “potentially adverse consequences” you allege, and what indeed do you allege those “potentially adverse consequences” — you obviously have something in mind — what, in your mind, are or might be those consequences? I don’t think you have said: feel free to give a full answer with evidence and reasons for your assessment of likelihood of consequences, severity of consequences, and tell me what it is you claim the consequences actually or “potentially” are.

    Let’s take a trip back in time and look at the potential consequences of NOT appointing Collins as NIH head. OK, I imagine Jerry Coyne, Steven Pinker and some other New Atheists would be delighted that a message is being sent that science and religion are incompatible; and a generation of Christians will be dissuaded from pursuing a career in the sciences because the top jobs are closed to Christians, dissuaded because the propaganda message has been delivered that science and religion are incompatible. Do you really want to dissuade a large percentage of young people from pursuing an interest in the sciences. Is it in the national interest.

    There would have been adverse consequences if Collins had been excluded from the post.

    But he wasn’t; which means Collins is now clear proof, practical proof, living proof that science and religion are compatible; and he’s a clear role model and encouragement for Christians to pursue their interests in science and a career in science. That’s good consequences, surely.

    *

    Funny how alike “science and religion are incompatible” or “Christians don’t belong in the top science posts” sounds to “a woman’s place is in the home.”

    Do I detect bigotry pretending to be something else entirely.

  32. TFBW says:

    Good luck getting anything but weasel words out of CT on anything substantive. He won’t even commit for or against the “religion is to science as drunkenness to driving” principle on which he’s been resting the bulk of his argument here. He says he’s not making that claim, but he’s not denying it either, so go figure.

  33. Kevin says:

    Hopefully he’ll come back, so we can discuss the merits of Pinker’s argument. Thus far he doesn’t seem to interested in analyzing it beyond assertion presented as fact.

  34. Dhay says:

    TFBW > Good luck getting anything but weasel words out of CT on anything substantive.

    I do it for me, really, it focuses my brain.

    That “potentially adverse consequences” waffle in the Harold Illustration is unscientific, it’s not even mathematical when it could and arguably should be, and it’s one-sided in focusing on potential “adverse consequences”, ignoring — in Francis Collins’ case, if not in Harold’s — any and all potential benefits; and uses an extreme fictionalised case to “illustrate” the actually benign case of Collins — it’s as if CT had chalked an outline on the floor and expected us to get Collins to lie down in it.

    Nor does it even meet the standards of common sense: who would fly if “potentially adverse consequences” dominated their thoughts and actions. Get real.

  35. Michael says:

    For the record: Unable to defend Pinker’s crackpot concerns about Collins, CT ran away.

  36. unclesporkums says:

    No surprise there

  37. kertsen says:

    Up until the introduction of the breathalyzer test I expect many drove over the limit without accidents. I know some who boast they are better drivers over the limit than many others are when sober. The law can only go by statistics and they suggest that driving sober is better than driving while drunk or over the agreed limit.
    It is true to say that if the majority of MPs were dedicated Christians the law regarding abortion would be quickly altered, as would other laws accepted at the moment. So I fear that much progress regarding freedom would be reduced if those with fixed beliefs took over our western democracies. Just suppose strict Muslims were in charge : need I say more.
    This is the fear of many atheists and other liberal believers and some react by personal attacks on certain famous Christians. Born again Christians would soon turn back the clock there would be no same sex activity let alone marriage. Democracy as practiced in the rich western countries is a fragile beast as we can see by the March of the right wing in Europe.

  38. TFBW says:

    @kertsen: thanks for sharing your view of reality, but it seems to be a little out of touch. Take the USA as an example. It is still a majority Christian country at this point, and it’s going to work against you if you run for office on a platform of atheism there. You “fear that much progress regarding freedom would be reduced if those with fixed beliefs took over our western democracies,” and you include Christians in that simplistic category, but the USA got to where it is largely on the back of a Christian majority.

    Why shouldn’t I dismiss your assertions as delusional ranting?

  39. Kevin says:

    kertsen: “It is true to say that if the majority of MPs were dedicated Christians the law regarding abortion would be quickly altered, as would other laws accepted at the moment.”

    While I don’t know the cultural situation there (I’m assuming Britain due to MP?), I believe it is safe to assume that if any ideological majority takes over a legislative body, it will set about altering laws to fit its beliefs, while those who do not share those beliefs will oppose the changes. Christians are not somehow unique in this. But then, unlike a position like head of the NIH, legislators are directly appointed by voters, and particularly in a position that has frequent elections, they tend to “reflect” the will of the voters by not being moderates. That’s how it is in the United States House of Representatives, anyway.

    kertsen: “So I fear that much progress regarding freedom would be reduced”

    You would not voice this complaint if someone was saying their freedom was reduced because they could not kill someone who upset them or made their life more difficult, so you too would acknowledge that “freedom” ends where the rights of another begin. Not to turn this into an abortion debate, but pro-life people recognize that a human life begins at conception and thus that life deserves legal protection. That’s not a reduction in freedom, that’s an expansion of rights.

    kertsen: “freedom would be reduced if those with fixed beliefs took over our western democracies.”

    Would you say the same about those with progressive left-wing views? The United States has a problem on many college campuses with leftists who completely disagree with free speech, which is probably the most fundamental right one can have short of self-defense. I believe that a government telling a person what he is or is not allowed to say is a tremendous infringement upon freedom, and the most likely ideological group to do that in the US so far is left-wing progressives. And yes, their views are EXTREMELY fixed.

    kertsen: “Democracy as practiced in the rich western countries is a fragile beast as we can see by the March of the right wing in Europe.”

    Could you elaborate on that? I’m not overly familiar with the situation.

  40. Dhay says:

    I’d like to add a little body to the tweet quoted in the OP

    I’m not saying Pinker is a fascist. I’m saying he’s not a leftist. And the alt-right would find *a lot* to like in his work. Which clearly is a big problem for him. — Giovanni Tiso (@gtiso)

    Interestingly, I find that Steven Pinker has lectured to the American Enterprise Institute, a neoconservative think tank — the most prominent and influential neoconservative think tank:

    AEI is the most prominent think tank associated with American neoconservatism, in both the domestic and international policy arenas.
    ….
    Supported by the Bradley Foundation, AEI has hosted since 1989 the Bradley Lecture Series, “which aims to enrich debate in the Washington policy community through exploration of the philosophical and historical underpinnings of current controversies.” Notable speakers in the series have included … Charles Murray, Steven Pinker, …

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Enterprise_Institute#Social_and_cultural_studies

    I don’t suppose a neoconservative organisation would countenance inviting someone unsympathetic or hostile to its own viewpoint to lecture on current controversies. With that in mind, let’s amend Pinker’s polemic against Francis Collins, as quoted by Jerry Coyne; I’ve trimmed for length, and I’ve trimmed out the references to a science directorate because the words now apply to any directorate:

    I have serious misgivings about Steven Pinker being appointed director. It’s not that I think that there should be a political litmus test for public administrators, or that being a devout NeoCon is a disqualification. But in Pinker’s case, it is not a matter of private belief, but public advocacy. The director is not just a bureaucrat who tends the money pipleline between the treasury and practitioners. He or she is also a public face, someone who commands one of the major bully pulpits in the country. The director testifies before Congress, sets priorities, selects speakers and panelists, and is in many regards a symbol for their directorate in the US and the world. In that regard, many of Pinker’s advocacy statements are deeply disturbing.

    Pinker, in his books, eggs on fellow evangelical NeoCons in their anti-social justice beliefs. He tells them that they are “right to hold fast to the truths of the market” and to “the certainty that the claims of social justice activists must be steadfastly resisted.”

    That is far more than just expressing an opinion. That is advocacy, which gives incalculable encouragement the forces that have been hostile to social justice in the past years. And this is not just a theoretical fear: a number of right-wing, alt-right apologists used Pinker as a stick to beat social justice activists: “Here is a famous scientist who takes neoconservativism seriously; who are you to contradict him?” This is going to be multiplied if Pinker becomes an even more prominent face.

    Again, it’s important that there not be an social-justice-litmus-test for administrators. A person’s private beliefs should not keep him from a public position. But Pinker is an advocate of profoundly anti-social justice beliefs … At the very least, he should distance himself from the American Enterprise Institute and any other advocacy group.

    On Pinker’s argument, the alt-right Pinker would be a very unsuitable person (and public role model) to have as director of the NIH or indeed of any other directorate.

    *

    There’s this weird snippet of Pinker’s that Jerry Coyne quoted:

    Also, the human mind and brain constitute one of the frontiers of biomedical science. Cutting-edge research treats intelligence, morality, and religious belief as products of evolution and neuroscience.

    Can Pinker be serious that intelligence, morality, and religious belief are products of neuroscience; does he not know what neuroscience is, or is he just a sloppy writer who blundered and did not read what he wrote.

  41. Dhay says:

    To answer my question immediately above, Steven Pinker — who Jerry Coyne is sycophantic in praise of for his effortless elegance — is certainly capable of being a sloppy writer, sloppy even when he certainly did read what he wrote. In Jerry Coyne’s 12 July 2019 blog post, “Tarring Steve Pinker and others with Jeffrey Epstein”, Coyne responds to smears against Pinker by soliciting an e-mail in self-defence from Pinker; which includes:

    But I found [Epstein — Dhay] to be a kibitzer and a dilettante — he would abruptly change the subject ADD style, dismiss an observation with an adolescent wisecrack, and privilege his own intuitions over systematic data.

    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2019/07/12/tarring-steve-pinker-and-others-with-jeffrey-epstein/

    My first thought was to ignore the incoherency, probably Pinker uses ADD much as I myself use XXXX — as a temporary marker for a spot where something fuller that I haven’t yet thought through (or perhaps better wording) should be inserted. As he hadn’t had an opportunity to re-read and correct the wording, the blunder should be forgiven, as you forgive my many such.

    Mind you, Yiddish in a public document! To illustrate what I mean, who would use Welsh or Gaelic! It reminds me of the old joke: “Pretentious? Moi?”

    But Pinker has had an opportunity to ask for and get changes. Coyne’s blog post has a footnote:

    Note: At Steve’s request I’ve made two small emendations for clarity.

    Pinker’s re-read his e-mail, asked for the changes he thought necessary, let that incoherent and jarring ADD stand, it’s now fair game for criticism: so much for Pinker’s effortless elegance.

  42. Featherfoot says:

    @Dhay If I have read your post correctly – and I may not have – you’re confused by the word ADD, which you see as an all-caps version of the word “add.” However, I’m pretty sure Pinker is using it as the common acronym for Attention Deficit Disorder. His comment would certainly make more sense that way, and it’s how I understood it when I first read it.

  43. Dhay says:

    Thanks.

    Evidently Pinker judges using acronyms and Yiddish words produces clear and elegant English.

    In Britain it’s more usually ADHD. My bad.

  44. Kano says:

    “Now, the idea that nature contains private coded messages from a supernatural being to an individual person is the antithesis of the scientific (indeed, rational) mindset. It is primitive, shamanistic, superstitious. The point of the scientific revolution was to do away with such animistic thinking.”

    Steven Pinker, you forgot another type of superstitious thinking: Materialism. So lets do away with that too.
    Even Sam and Annaka Harris now say that hard materialism is a ridiculous view.
    And Coyne doesn’t seem to understand ( or maybe doesn’t want to ) that many of us are not against science at all, we’re against materialism. There’s a difference. Coyne and Pinker can whine about it all they want, but those are the facts.
    Post-materialism is not woo pseudoscience, or wishful thinking. Nor will it “bring us back into the dark ages.”
    But CSICOP and Mike Smith, developer of selfawarepatterns, seem to think that it’s a ‘smokescreen for woo and superstition’. https://skepticalinquirer.org/2015/09/post-materialist_science_a_smokescreen_for_woo/
    Steve Taylor, ( who was a hard materialist, due to his education ) is already being accused of “desperately wanting there to be more” or “desperately wanting consciousness beyond the brain.”
    https://selfawarepatterns.com/2019/06/16/what-is-it-about-phenomenal-consciousness-thats-so-mysterious/

    Oh, and you should’ve seen Coyne’s reaction ( whining ) about Rupert Sheldrake in 2014. How Sheldrake is “brainwashing children into believing in fluffy woo”. Hilarious.

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