Friday, July 04, 2008

David Berlinski on why we should not pay any attention to "evolutionary psychology"

I've been rereading agnostic mathematician David Berlinski's The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions (for a review I am writing), and it was fun to read his sendup of Harvard materialist cognitive scientist Steve Pinker (who thinks that the brain is like a machine):
A successful evolutionary theory of the human mind would, after all, annihilate any claim we might make on behalf of human freedom. The psychical sciences do not trifle with determinism: It is the heart and soul of their method. Were boron salts at liberty to discard their identity, the claims of inorganic chemistry would seem considerably less pertinent than they do.

When Steven Pinker writes that "nature does not dictate what we should accept or how we should live our lives," he is expressing a belief - one obviously true - entirely at odds with his professional commitments.

If ordinary men and women are, like Pinker himself, perfectly free to tell their genes "to go jump in the lake," why pay the slightest attention to evolutionary psychology?

Why pay the slightest attention to Pinker?

Either the theory in which he has placed his confidence is wrong, or we are not free to tell our genes to do much of anything.

If the theory is wrong, which theory is right?

If no theory is right, how can "the idea that human minds are the product of evolution" be "unassailable fact"?

If this idea is not unassailable fact, why must we put aside "the idea that man was created in the image of God"?

These hypotheticals must now be allowed to discharge themselves in a number of categorical statements:

There is no reason to pay attention to Steven Pinker.

We do not have a serious scientific theory explaining the powers and properties of the human mind.

The claim that the human mind is the product of evolution is not unassailable fact. It is barely coherent.

The idea that man was created in the image of God remains what it has always been: And that is the instinctive default position of the human race. (pp. 178-179)
That's why you should never let a mathematician have a go at a materialist theory! Or if you do, don't expect to come back and find any of the structure standing.

Mario and I had a bit of fun with Pinker in The Spiritual Brain too, and he is easy to have fun with.

Here's the review:

Introduction:Berlinski, the devil, and the long spoon
Part One: Taking the measure of the new religion of science
Part Two: Materialism conflicts with evidence more than theism does
Part Three: Evolutionary psychology - the saints' legends of scientism
Part Four: The duty Berlinski never accepted

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