A Dolorous Rationalist

Isegoria has posted an excerpt from Razib Kahn’s review of Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now. Kahn, like Pinker, is a true believer in what he calls the “enlightenment project,” which he conceives as the use of “critical rationalism” to liberate men from “tribal visions” and resettle them in the promised land of truth and righteousness.

“Behold, I will save my people from the east country, and from the west country; and I will bring them, and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in truth and in righteousness” (Zechariah 8:7-8)

Reason is the God of Kahn’s people, and their Jerusalem is the technocratic millennium first prophesied by Auguste Comte.

Khan tells us that he is, nowadays, suffering the dolor of a true believer who suspects that reality (with which Khan thought he was intimate) is about to do him dirty. Indeed, it’s begun to seem that reality does not give one fig for his precious project, his millennium, or his dolor. Reality seems set on its own project, and is busy gathering men to its own Jerusalem. And in this project, “enlightenment” and “critical rationalism” is just one more depopulating district out in the “east country.”

Khan is an evolutionary thinker, so he should understand this. But he doesn’t want to. For some reason evolutionary thinkers loose their Olympian sangfroid when Science is the T Rex being swallowed by the tar pit. They find it hard to accept the idea that reality doesn’t much care for science, or scientists. It doesn’t seem fair, since, as Khan tells us, scientists strive

“to be right in the eyes of nature.”

And that’s why it hurts when nature turns around and gives it to them in the neck. That’s not what was supposed to happen!

“For David’s sake did the Lord his God give him a lamp in Jerusalem . . . to establish Jerusalem: because David did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord . . .” (1 Kings 15: 4-5).

Why doesn’t Nature give scientists “a lamp” to draw the people from the east country and the west country? Why doesn’t she help them establish their Jerusalem as “a beacon upon the top of a mountain,” as a city set on a hill that “cannot be hid” (Isaiah 30:17; Matthew 5:14)?

To answer this question, we must turn to the Scriptures of Rationalism, and more especially to Immanuel Kant’s 1784 essay, “Answer to the Question, What is Enlightening?” Here the Sage of Königsburg tells us:

“Enlightening is, Man’s quitting the nonage . . . . [and] making used of [his] understanding without the guidance of another. Sapere aude! Have courage to make use of thy own understanding! is therefore the dictum of enlightening.”

Or, less verbosely, “it is the vocation of every man to think for himself.”

Rationalism is the conviction that, if every man undertakes this vocation, and is afforded perfect liberty* to think for himself, all men will, after sufficient discussion, come to the same conclusion. As Khan puts it, Rationalists suppose that free enquiry will result in “convergence” on the truth. They suppose it will draw men from the east country and the west country until all “shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem.”

But this is not what reality supposes. Reality supposes that when every man thinks for himself, every man will think just as he pleases, and that when every man thinks just as he pleases, he will begin to think that even the east country and the west country lack sufficient elbow room.

When a man thinks he has a vocation for thinking, he doesn’t reckon he’ll converge on Jerusalem. He reckons he’ll light out for the territory ahead of the rest.

This is something Rationalists would know if they paid closer attention to the Puritan project, predecessor to their enlightenment project in more ways than one. This also aimed to gather men to Jerusalem by lighting a beacon upon a mountaintop and telling them to think for themselves. As you recall, the Puritans believed that if only men were permitted to read Scripture in the light of their own understanding, and free of “the guidance of another,” they would converge on the faith propounded by John Calvin. But what the Puritans discovered was that this happened only to those men who were pleased to think like John Calvin.

Following the dictum sapier aude, some men did indeed become Puritans, but others followed the same dictum to become Quakers, or Familists, or Rationalists in the manner of Razib Kahn.


*) Perfect liberty entails freedom from prejudice and superstition as well as freedom from penalties for heterodoxy.

9 thoughts on “A Dolorous Rationalist

  1. @JM – I came from a very similar place and situation to Razib (I teach evolutionary psychology – and psychiatry – and have published on evolutionary theory. But I am a doctor by training, not a geneticist).

    For me, there were several factors which forced me to abandon this position (exemplified in my 2003 book The Modernization Imperative, now available online, tho’ I wouldn’t recommend it! – except as a forensic document).

    First was the realisation that modernity/ Enlightenment – *because* it had abandoned religion was en route to self-willed extinction – through reproductive suppression. This I take as evidence that atheism is a pathology, a sickness (for an evolutionist – pathology is that which reduces reproductive success).

    Second was a recognition that – as a strong generalisation – science absolutely needed religion (specifically Chrstianity or Judaism); and that it had only been residual (childhood upbringing) religion that was keeping scientists honest up to about the middle 1960s; after which there was a preciptipus decline in honesty and the near-total destruction of real science among the cradle-atheists (covered in my 2012 book Not Even Trying – http://corruption-of-science.blogspot.co.uk)

    There were many other steps for me to become a Christian (in 2008) – but these were what set me off.

    Interestingly, before 2008 I debated Razib (in blog comments) about the first of these problems, reproductve suppression; but he was unwilling to acknowledge the demographic association as causal (he apparently presumed that it was a post hoc rationalisation for pre-existing Christianity – whereas for me it was the opposite).

    • The Future is Heaven for secularists. Their success is getting into the Future (survival, in short). And yet secularism more or less guarantees they won’t. Imagine a religion that knew its adherents would not get into Heaven.

      I’ve had many occasions to reflect on what you’ve written about honesty among academics, which is not altogether the same thing as “academic honesty.” By the former I mean “frankness” in all the rich connotations of that word, and this, you know, is as rare as a Republican on campus. By the later I mean rules, the staying just inside of which will earn you the title of an “honest man.”

      • To many, these days, fitness, health and a decade added onto their lifespan seems the equivalent of eternal life. I wonder how they maintain the illusion.

  2. Pingback: A Dolorous Rationalist | Reaction Times

  3. I have a physicist-friend with whom frequently I converse over lunch, as we both have the same break between classes. In many ways this friend is a standard academic liberal, but, in addition to being a physicist, he is also a historian of the sciences. I casually mentioned a few days ago that it seemed to me that organized pattern-recognition, which is essential to science, probably began with religion, which made science possible. The friend agreed. The friend’s researches have convinced him that, in their beginnings, science and religion were, in fact, one. He said that he was pleased to talk about the topic with me and added a sad story. At least one long-time colleague, whom he had assumed to be amicable, on learning of the conviction, nastily broke off the friendship and has not spoken to him since. Other colleagues refuse to discuss the issue with him. None of them is an historian of science, and none of them knows anything about religion except that it is intolerable “superstition.”

    The humanities are just as corrupt as the sciences, of course; maybe even more corrupt.

  4. I’d say that, in today’s university, religious belief carries a stigma similar to that homosexuality carried sixty years ago. The prejudice began in the Ivies, and then naturally spread to the wannabes. Clearly, the higher religions are not just a matter of pattern-recognition, but also of reflecting on the meaning of there being patterns in the first place.

    • Yes. Contemporary “science” peevishly rejects any Logos.

      But then education peevishly rejects any Logos, which is why (as I suspect) my students can concoct a cut-and-paste “research paper” in a jiffy, but simply cannot get their minds around the idea that one might treat a topic essay-fashion by exploring its meaning.

  5. If (P)erfection is real then white man can get there because no material obstacle can exist save for that individual white man’s intangible unwillingness.

  6. Any rationalist worth his reason can clearly discern a race amongst men. That a certain subset of high IQ rationalist reduce this “race” to utter meaninglessness ONLY SERVES to provoke a most complete conceptualization of this “race.” And when a dull “white” mass parrots this “race = hate” then “we” know that the most demonic rationalists have failed spectacularly.


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.