Steven Arthur Pinker is a cognitive psychologist, linguist and popular author. He is Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. Pinker writes very interesting books. I’ve read several. For example, his book, The Blank Slate; The Modern Denial of Human Nature (2002), debunks the theory, inherited from Rousseau, John Locke and others, that human nature is a blank slate at birth. Pinker presents mounds of data and research to show the exact opposite, leading him to conclude that we are born intrinsically selfish, violent and corrupt. Really!? Where have I read that before?

Pinker’s latest book, entitled Enlightenment Now, is described on the front cover as Bill Gates’ new favorite book of all time. In this massive tome, Pinker attempts to revive the values of the Enlightenment by making a case for reason, science, humanism and progress. Pinker’s launching pad for his new book is the Enlightenment. This is when things started improving for homo sapiens, according to Pinker. To that end, he uses dozens of graphs to drive home his points. He argues that virtually all things are improving in the world, thanks to humanism, reason and Enlightenment principles. He especially extols the virtues of science. Progress is increasing everywhere. For example: life expectancy, gross world product and incomes. Going down is infant and maternal mortality, death from famine, starvation, extreme poverty, social spending, and even the loneliness of U.S. college students.

Question: could Christianity and especially the Reformation explain many of these same trends even better? Most likely! This is the contention of luminaries such as Alfred North Whitehead and sociologist Rodney Stark, just to name a few. The Reformation put a premium on exploring God’s world and His Word. Many of the great scientists were also professing Christians (i.e. Galileo, Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, Faraday, Bacon and Pascal, to name a few). They believed that the world was able to be explored precisely because God created it with rational principles.

Some of Pinker’s conclusions are very convincing, such as his attacks on Nietzsche and those on the academic left who justify dictators and thugs. These include brutal dictators who’ve adopted Nietzschaen principles. Less convincing is Pinker’s attacks on religion of all kinds. He is a committed atheist. He often uses broad sweeping statements such as “most enlightened people do not believe in God”. Really? In making such statements repeatedly, Pinker seems amazingly uninformed of the hundreds of millions of Muslims and conservative Christians all over Asia and Africa. He is either woefully ignorant or intentionally deceptive. Either way, Pinker rewrites history way too often and undermines his own analysis. Too bad for such a talented writer.

by Jay Childs, Senior Pastor