Summary of “Steven Pinker’s Counter-Counter-Enlightenment”

At the New York Times, conservative columnist Ross Douthat decried what he called Pinker’s “Smug secular certainties,” and in the London Evening Standard, Melanie McDonagh declared that his “Whiggish case” ignored the “Fruits of belief in [God]” and the “Old problem of existential angst.” Meanwhile, in the left-leaning New Statesman, surly pessimist John Gray showered extravagant contempt over Pinker’s “Evangelism of science” and “Ideology of scientism,” and at ABC, Peter Harrison took exception to his “Teleological view of history” and “Misplaced faith in data, metrics and statistical analysis.”
In any event, Douthat mischaracterises Pinker’s point, which is simply that reason offers a demonstrably more effective means of understanding the world than revealed wisdom, superstition, or faith-based belief.
Predictably, Pinker’s counter-Enlightenment critics are as unimpressed by the demonstrable merits of secular humanism as they are by those of reason and science.
At NYMag, the conservative Christian Andrew Sullivan chastised Pinker’s “Contempt for religion,” and in The Nation, the historian David Bell griped about his “Rigid, Richard Dawkins-style atheism.” But Pinker describes humanism as “By no means incompatible with religious institutions” and states “That religions should not be condemned or praised across the board.”
Harrison accuses Pinker of offering a faith-based “Teleological view of history – the idea that historical events are destined to unfold inexorably in a single direction.” Szalai derides his “Messianic anticipation” and even David Wootton, in an otherwise positive review for the TLS, raises a sceptical eyebrow at “Pinker’s assumption that progress can be projected indefinitely into the future.”
The central theme of Enlightenment Now, to which Pinker returns over and over again, is that progress has been – and will continue to be – possible, provided that we combine reason, science, and humanism with our capacity for ingenuity and sympathy and a defence of benign institutions.
“The Enlightenment belief in progress,” Pinker cautions at one point, “Should not be confused with the 19th Century belief in mystical forces, laws, dialectics, struggles, unfoldings, destinies, ages of man, and evolutionary forces that propel mankind ever upward toward utopia.”
Many of Pinker’s critics are not simply objecting to the details of progress, they are hostile to the idea that progress has occurred at all.

The orginal article.