Steve Pinker reviews Faith versus Fact

Aug 3, 2015

In the latest issue of Current Biology, Steve Pinker has written a longish review (2 pages) of Faith versus Fact, and it’s free online (pdf at the link). His review is called “The untenability of faitheism,” a title I like a lot. You can read it for yourself, but I’ll give two brief excerpts. The first shows Steve’s frequent use of tropes from popular culture.

The term faitheism was coined by Jerry Coyne, a Drosophila biologist who made major contributions to our understanding of speciation before becoming a prolific essayist, blogger and a vociferous public defender of the modern synthesis in evolutionary biology. (How vociferous? His blog is called ‘whyevolutionistrue’.) His latest book, Faith Versus Fact, is intended not to pile on the arguments for atheism but to advance the debate into its next round. It is a brief against the faitheists — scientists and religionists alike — who advocate a make-nice accommodation between science and religion. As with Michael Corleone’s offer to Nevada Senator Pat Geary in The Godfather Part II, Coyne’s offer to religion on the part of science is this: Nothing.

Now I didn’t coyne the term “faitheism”, as I recall: it was the winner in a contest I devised to invent a word that referred to atheists who are soft on religion; and I can’t remember who won. But I’m glad it’s become a part of the science/religion discourse.

Read the rest of the article by clicking the name of the source below.

14 comments on “Steve Pinker reviews Faith versus Fact

  • God is slippery primarily because he is undefined and his attributes morph. However, the bible is a fixed target. It makes all kinds of scientific claims that are not true, e.g. that pi is 3.

    The notion of some sort of vaporous god is not particularly toxic. What causes trouble is the bible which offers a smorgasbord of evil you can select from and feel profoundly virtuous. I am putting my focus on convincing creationists the creator of the universe could not possibly have written the bible. It is a forgery. If they want to hold onto an invisible friend, that will cause relatively little trouble, unless of course the invisible friend suggests slitting a son’s throat.

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  • I am putting my focus on convincing creationists the creator of the
    universe could not possibly have written the bible.

    That seems like a potentially effective strategy. What are your arguments? How’s it going?

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  • Obsolete?

    Are you suggesting that all facts are “tyrannical”? If so, that would apply to your own statement (and this one, if it is indeed a fact).

    Tyranny – cruel, unreasonable, or arbitrary use of power or control.

    I’m sorry, my friend, but your view is not working for me.

    It seems more accurate and helpful to say that facts (in the form of scientific evidence) are a rebellion against the tyranny of religion.

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  • Tyranny not in its political sense of injustice but in in the more general sense that there is no escape from the absolute power of facts, i am not denying facts ( or science), I am doing the opposite and affirming their absolute power.

    To deny facts , as in religious faith, is to rebel against the facticity of the world.

    And yes, in this sense all facts are tyrannical,. in that they cannot be sensibly opposed. Religion and metaphysics being nonsensical attempts to deny facts.

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  • Thanks for clarifying your meaning.

    Tyranny not in its political sense of injustice but in in the more
    general sense that there is no escape from the absolute power of

    If you intend that meaning, to avoid misunderstanding, it might be better to use a word that you don’t need to strip away more than half of its meaning for it to make sense. How about “certainty” or “potency”?

    I prefer not to think (or promote the idea) of facts as cruel, unreasonable, or arbitrary.

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  • Doug,

    But from the religious perspective of many ( not me) facts are arbitary, unreasonable and cruel , a tyranny from which only God can save them.


    It is not my quote, it is from Antal Szerb ,who died under the real tyranny of the Nazis

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  • Btw, It is not my quote…

    I assumed it was quoted from somewhere, and as such, endorsed and subscribed. Apparently the originator had good reason to use poetic license, but the metaphor seems a bit thin to me.

    …a tyranny from which only God can save them.

    I understand. I am sure there are many who behave (if not feel) this way, but there are many religious people for whom this quote and description, for various reasons, is inaccurate.

    Please excuse my compulsive pedantic intrusion and thanks again for your explanations.

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  • Faitheism is still maintaining perverse antiquated laws in the UK, which means that the terminally ill have to go elsewhere to end their suffering with dignity.

    A man with terminal cancer who travelled to Switzerland to end his life has died, it has been reported.

    Assisted suicide campaigner Bob Cole, 68, a former town councillor in north Wales, travelled to Dignitas on Wednesday from his home in Chester.

    His wife, Ann Hall, died at the same centre in Zurich last year.

    The Sun newspaper has reported that Mr Cole, whose last wish was for the law on assisted dying in the UK to be changed, died on Friday afternoon.

    Mr Cole had called on MPs to support the Assisted Dying Bill that is due for debate in the House of Commons in September.

    Under current UK law, a person encouraging or assisting a suicide or suicide attempt could face up to 14 years in prison, if a decision was taken to prosecute.

    Mr Cole, who had been a councillor in Blaenau Ffestiniog, Gwynedd, was diagnosed in June with mesothelioma, a lung cancer caused by asbestos.

    He told the Sun that he had been left “doubled up in pain” and had “no wish to die in pain without any dignity” after doctors told him he only had months to live.

    His wife died at the same centre in February 2014 after suffering from the degenerative brain condition, supranuclear palsy.

    .Mr Cole, originally from Manchester, became a vocal campaigner for changes to assisted dying laws – making regular trips to London to demonstrate over the issue.

    Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, said: “Bob’s decision is yet another reminder that the current law is broken.

    “Parliament’s job is to fix the law so people like Bob and his wife Ann are no longer forced to travel abroad to simply have control over the manner and timing of their own deaths.”

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