This Week in Humanism 2018–02–25
“Manifestos are meant to be short and punchy. The first edition of The Communist Manifesto ran to just 23 pages. Martin Luther’s Ninety-five Theses were thin enough to be nailed to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. So Steven Pinker is stretching the genre with his 450-page doorstopper Enlightenment Now: A Manifesto for Science, Reason, Humanism and Progress.
A respected linguist and cognitive scientist, Pinker has emerged in recent years as prominent defender of the West and allied scientific values, blending rhetoric and data like Christopher Hitchens with a PhD. His 2011 book The Better Angels of Our Nature is a bible of the New Optimists movement, a loose coalition of academics and tech-heads who think the public is far too negative about current affairs.
The first half of Englightenment Now develops that theme further. A barrage of statistics, graphs and listicles shows how life is improving under numerous headings. There are fewer wars, improved living standards and more freedoms. What’s more, a lot of the problems we complain about are symptoms of progress, eg life expectancy has risen by about 10 years in half a century (so, the implication is, stop whining about the pensions “time bomb”).”
“Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Tell us a little about your family and personal background. Where did you grow up? What was the environment like with respect to values and/or religious beliefs?
Daniela Wakonigg: I am Austrian and I grew up in Germany, where I still live today. I was an extremely curious child and still am an extremely curious adult. I’m interested in natural and human sciences, arts, and politics. It’s actually hard to find a topic I’m not interested in!
I was raised as a Roman Catholic but started to doubt and to think about the big questions of life–Is there a god? What will happen after death?–when I was still in primary school. As I couldn’t find answers I decided to study Philosophy and Catholic Theology (and also German Language and Literature, as it appealed to the artistic side in me). I left university with a Master of Arts and as an atheist, after a very lengthy and intense, but unsuccessful, search for convincing reasons to believe in the existence of divine powers.”
“Caroline Winterer is a historian at Stanford University and the author of “American Enlightenments: Pursuing Happiness in the Age of Reason.”
If 2017 was a rough year for you, look no further than Steven Pinker’s engaging new book, “Enlightenment Now,” to cheer you up. Conceived before Donald Trump even announced his candidacy, it could not have been better timed to clarify — and, for some, refute — the habits of mind that brought Trump and the GOP to power.
Pinker hopes to revive the values of the Enlightenment by making a case for reason, science, progress and fact-based argument. He musters an army of numbers to vanquish a host of enemies: religion, conservatism, nationalism, tribalism, Marxism, authoritarian populism, postmodern theorists, Nietzsche and many more.
Pinker’s launching pad is the Enlightenment, when many things started improving for homo sapiens. The age that used reason to crush superstition culminates in the cheerful graphs that adorn this book. Going up are life expectancy, calories consumed, gross world product and incomes. Going down are infant and maternal mortality, death from famine, starvation, extreme poverty, social spending, and even the loneliness of U.S. college students.”
“COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCIV) — In 1961, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it’s illegal to make people say they believe in God to get government jobs. Justice Hugo Black, writing the majority opinion, added a footnote in that decision calling Secular Humanism a religion.
Based on that footnote, several South Carolina lawmakers in a newly filed billargue the federal government has illegally established a national favored religion by recognizing same-sex and other so-called “parody” marriages.
The bill is called the Marriage and Constitution Restoration Act. It holds that the federal government has violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, because it forces states to recognize Secular Humanism as a national religion by recognizing same-sex marriages.”
“It is unbelievable but it did happen the other day. On a very cold wintry night a young man got grievously injured in a road accident. He lay on the ground traumatised. Lot of blood was oozing out of his multiple injuries. Someone rang up the police flying squad which did come, not flying but virtually crawling.
“Yes, what’s the matter?’’ asked the dozy cop nonchalantly sitting in the front, his tone indicating that he had been disturbed.
“Sir, this person is seriously injured; he needs to be rushed to the hospital,’’ said someone from the small crowd that had gathered. With that, he, along with the help of another person started lifting the unconscious victim to put him inside the police jeep.”
“The question of God’s existence is not new — German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche first said “God is dead” in 1882. But the University of Miami made national headlines by tapping Anjan Chakravartty as the first atheism, humanism and secular ethics chair. This is the first chair of its kind in the nation.
Chakravartty will begin his tenure on July 1. He currently serves as a philosophy professor and director of the John J. Reilly Center for science, technology and values at the University of Notre Dame.
“Well, you have to admit that the optics of it are kind of funny on the surface,” Chakravartty said. “Coming from a renowned Catholic university into a chair that has ‘atheism, humanism and secular ethics’ in the title.””
“To think of this book as any kind of scholarly exercise is a category mistake. The purpose of Pinker’s laborious work is to reassure liberals that they are on “the right side of history”.
“Opposing reason is, by definition, unreasonable.” Steven Pinker is fond of definitions. Early on in this monumental apologia for a currently fashionable version of Enlightenment thinking, he writes: “To take something on faith means to believe it without good reason, so by definition a faith in the existence of supernatural entities clashes with reason.” Well, it’s good to have that settled once and for all. There is no need to trouble yourself with the arguments of historians, anthropologists and evolutionary biologists, who treat religion as a highly complex phenomenon, serving a variety of human needs. All you need do is consult a dictionary, and you will find that religion is — by definition — irrational.”
“World peace activist and founder of international organisation World Without Wars, Rafael de la Rubia has created niche for himself by advocating peace talks in conflict zones of world. The objective of his movement is to create non-violent consciousness and has attracted attention of everyone. ‘The Hitavada’ spoke to him over myriad issues and he replied in candid manner. Here are some excerpts of the interview:
Q: Can you briefly describe about yourself and the experience you had as world peace activist?
A: As a world peace activist I have worked in more than 60 countries throughout America, Europe and Asia. As a founder of the international organisation ‘World Without Wars’ and the creator and spokesperson for the World March for Peace and Non-violence actively working in the field of non-violence for more than 35 years.
Also serving as a President of the Humanist Forum of Educators, which seeks to develop methodologies of non-violence in education, and as Co-ordinator of the ‘Forum for Nuclear Disarmament of the Mediterranean.’ Were involved in international seminars to deepen the understanding, development and practice of new humanism which focuses on disarmament. Journey so far has been great involving lots of challenges. I have also written books including ‘Introduction to a Universal Humanism’ and ‘Reconciliation for a World Without War’.”