Results tagged “Rebecca Goldstein” from onegoodmove

Proud Atheists

Proud atheists is excellent. Steve Paulson interviews Steven Pinker and Rebecca Goldstein, America's brainiest couple . . . It's good to see more atheists coming out. Steven's and Rebecca's voices are a valuable addition to the growing chorus of those who celebrate reason over superstition.

Spinoza certainly dismissed the religion he'd been exposed to. Do both of you consider yourselves atheists?

[pause] GOLDSTEIN: Yes.
PINKER: Yes.
GOLDSTEIN: Proud atheists.
PINKER: There, we said it. [Laughs.]

So you have to hesitate for a moment before you use that dirty word?

PINKER: Atheists are the most reviled minority in the United States, so it's no small matter to come out and say it.

One of your critics in this controversy is Stephen Prothero, a religious studies professor at Boston University, who wrote the book "Religious Literacy." He said, "You can be a very smart person and be very dumb when it comes to religion. Professor Pinker just doesn't get it." Prothero says we have to understand religion to come to grips with hot-button issues like abortion, stem cell research and gay rights. And he says Iraq is such a mess right now because our leaders in Washington just didn't understand a basic fact about Islam before they launched the war -- that Sunnis and Shiites hate each other.

PINKER: I think religion is one of the things you have to understand. But the situation in Iraq is not primarily a theological one. There are just as fierce battles among the various tribes and militias, clans and nationalities. So it's not just a Shiite-Sunni dispute. The mistake was not being ignorant of religion. The mistake was being ignorant of all aspects of Iraqi society, including family structure, local history, the evolutionary psychology of kinship and how it reinforces ties of family and clan and kin in Iraq in a way that differs from countries that we're more familiar with. So religion should be part of it. But I don't see why, of all of the forces that go into history -- military, economic, sociological, evolutionary, psychological -- religion itself should be privileged.

GOLDSTEIN: It depends on what you mean by understanding religion. Obviously, religion is a tremendously powerful influence in history. But I have to say -- and I think this is something that Steve and I disagree on -- I do worry whether some of the people who are writing the new atheist books understand what it feels like to be a religious person. Do they get what that feels like? I don't want to say that there's only one kind of religious impulse. There are so many different ways of responding to the world that could be called religious -- some of them very expansive and life-embracing, and some of them not. But I think one of the things that made Steve nervous was to pose these two things -- faith and reason, religion and science -- as alternative ways of pursuing truth. In terms of the pursuit of knowledge, faith is not an alternative mode to science and to reason.

PINKER: Exactly. I would be opposed to a requirement on astrology and astronomy, or alchemy and chemistry. Not because I don't think people should know about astrology. Astrology had an important role in the ancient world. You can't understand many things unless you know something about astrology -- the plays of Shakespeare and so on. What I'm opposed to is equating it with reason or science.

But can you really equate religion with astrology, or religion with alchemy? No serious scholar still takes astrology or alchemy seriously. But there's a lot of serious thinking about religion.

PINKER: I would put faith in that same category because faith is believing something without a good reason to believe it. I would put it in the same category as astrology and alchemy.

Those are fighting words!