By Thomas Brewton
An evolutionary psychologist asserts that evolution in the ways humans use their brains, influenced exclusively by external, materialistic conditions, has made our era the least violent period in history.
Professor Steven Pinker’s latest book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, raises two important questions: has the world in fact become less violent, and has there been an evolutionary change in ways humans use their brains?
Read The Precious Steven Pinker, a critique by David Bentley Hart posted on the First Things website. For a larger picture of Professor Pinker’s views, see this video of an interview with Stephen Colbert, this New York Times opinion article, this New York Times profile, and Professor Pinker’s letter to the editor in Commentary Magazine.
Has the world in fact become less violent?
Professor Pinker’s argument is largely based upon statistical analysis that shows a declining ratio of violent deaths, excluding accidents, to the world’s population. In effect he agrees with the position attributed to Joseph Stalin: “One death is a tragedy, but a million deaths is just a statistic.”
He admits that millions of deaths occurred in the First and Second World Wars, the latter a product of Hitler’s National Socialism. He also acknowledges that Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and Pol Pot liquidated hundreds of millions of their subjects.
Despite the horrific nature of these mass slaughters, professor Pinker sticks to his statistical analysis as proof that the world has become less violent. While he doesn’t so state, the callousness of his position supports the prejudice of many people that more than six million Jews killed in Hitler’s Holocaust wasn’t a big deal.
Pinker’s optimistic assessment is a throwback to the 19th century idea of Progress, the burgeoning faith that liberal-progressive-socialism, guided by an academic elite, was inevitably propelling humanity toward social and political perfection.
Millions of deaths on the battlefields of Europe between 1914 and 1918 rudely shattered intellectuals’ naivete. More recently Islamic jihad has been a call to look reality full in the face.
Has there been an evolutionary change in ways humans use their brains, a change that leads to reduced violence?
Harvard experimental psychologist Steven Pinker argues that every aspect of thought and emotion is rooted in brain structure and function, i.e., there is no such thing as the human soul. Humans certainly were not created in the image of God.
Eliminating humans’ spiritual dimension eliminates the possibility of God’s existence. If Professor Pinker and his atheistic colleagues can reduce the human soul to a large mass of physical nerves and synapses, they will have made humans little more than phenomenally complex computers contrived entirely by chance.
The probability of that evolutionary chance, as a critic famously observed, is on the order of a tornado passing through a junk yard and producing a completely finished, fully functioning Boeing 747.
Professor Pinker implicitly espouses the liberal-progressive-socialistic faith that the world is evolving toward a single world government guided by an intellectual elite representing the best of brain-use evolution. He explicitly credits evolving diplomatic policies among nations and creation of international organizations such as the League of Nations and the United Nations as the agents making our world less violent.
He characterizes evolving brain-use as a process of learning to see issues from other people’s viewpoint. This, of course, is an attribute of amoral multiculturalism, which preaches “tolerance,” meaning the absence of standards of conduct. One can’t condemn Hitler, for example; one must see Nazi barbarity from his viewpoint. One can’t condemn the 9/11 terrorists; we must see their actions from their viewpoint.
Evolutionary psychology, a materialistic philosophy, is the field of study in which Professor Pinker conceives his thesis.
Evolutionary psychology’s basic elements are, one, that human psychology first evolved in the late Paleolithic era, dubbed the era of evolutionary adaptation. Evolutionary psychologists offer no explanation for how or why human psychology is supposed to have made its evolutionary appearance at that time. As with all things evolutionary, things just happen by chance.
Two, in that Paleolithic period all human basic strategies for coping with getting food, clothing, shelter, and sexual relations for procreation appeared as the foundation of human behavior.
Three, those strategies, overlaid by materialistically evolved modifications, persist today as the underlying foundation for all human behavior. That’s another way of stating that humans are just receptors of pleasure-pain stimuli from external conditions, that morality and individual responsibility are illusions imposed by those external conditions.
Professor Pinker does not recognize the pervasive and powerful pressure of Judeo-Christian morality in softening the barbarisms of European life after the 6th century fall of the Western Roman Empire. He charges that Judeo-Christianity historically was responsible for genocide, toleration of slavery and rape, and prescription of the death penalty for idolatry, homosexuality, blasphemy, and working on the Sabbath.
Christianity, as a matter of historical record, was the greatest source of steady improvements in Western life for more than a thousand years. Among Judeo-Christian accomplishments were hospitals, education, food and shelter for the poor, as well as transformation of Roman latifundia across Europe from slavery into the feudal system that gave peasants hereditary rights to occupy and cultivate their family land. 19th century abolition of slavery in the British Empire and in the United States was the product of decades of Christian agitation.
David Berlinski, in The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions, notes that there is absolutely no evidence whatever for the assumption that basic human psychology emerged via an evolutionary process in the Paleolithic period.
It is an assumption plucked out of thin air. It is a variant of the standard justification for all of evolutionary doctrine: “it might have been,” or “we can speculate that this must have been,” or that “it must have been this way,” the rationalizations offered by evolutionists like God-hating Richard Dawkins.
Yet so-called scientists, who savagely condemn the faith of religious Jews and Christians, have no trouble taking the assertion of evolutionary psychology on blind faith. Why? Because it conforms to their preconceptions that God does not exist and that humans are the product of blind, material forces combining with random genetic variation to evolve new species.
Another aspect of evolutionary psychology is scientists’ never ending struggle to demonstrate that they are so intelligent that they don’t need God as the Creator of the universe. They can handle everything in their own minds, thank you; it suffices to gaze upon themselves worshipfully in the mirror every morning, congratulating themselves as lords of the universe.
[This article was originally published in The View From 1776 blog.]