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The Heated Debate Between Pinker and Wieselter: Combination of Science and Humanities

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The heated debate between Pinker and Wieselter over the combination of Science and Humanities raises the issue of whether a border should exist between the two.

Firstly, it is clear that Steven Pinker was defending science from the criticisms of both uneducated fundamentalism and jealous left-wing academics. The article argues that science can be used as a means to establish an ideal political and cultural view. He efficiently argues that Science is not an ideology that denies other forms of expressions but rather enhances the understanding of nature. He elaborates that science is not to blame for the disasters that have occurred in history as they have contributed to more success than harm. The article continues to defend that science does not disprove other ideologies but rather dispel the false statements mistaken as primary principles. Pinker introduces his article by briefly introducing scientists he feels have made a significant contribution to the development of science; however, he also states his criticism against science and disproves the arguments effectively. He believes that science has contributed substantially and thereby be given credit. Pinker also argues that science can prove to be as a means to establish correct political and cultural views. For instance, he claims that science has simplified historical debates and political science implying that he does not view it antagonistically. Upon analyzing the correlation between disasters and science Pinker proves that science does not attack other ideologies. He supports this by highlighting that the underlying principles of science have the aim of increasing knowledge, and disproving false statements and beliefs. He asserts that critics would retort that “scientific ideas and discoveries battle against our traditional religions and moral teachings”.

Secondly, Pinker approaches this statement with his belief that science has to be free of any biased judgment including religious ones. While he does not provide further evidence to support his view, he was able to refute the criticisms with examples that science is able to undermine religion by challenging the views of pre-modern religious beliefs. For example, he feels that religion and science should belong in the same sphere as science is able to inform our moral values and educate us on the conception of life. Moreover, he redefines the meaning of ‘scientism’ by stating that scientism is fine if it is used to refer to a method of inquiry about the universe. Thinkers such as Hobbes, Locke, and Hume were credited for their ideas in the lack of formal theory and empirical data. Pinker points out that people working in the humanities should welcome what science can offer to their field of study instead of resenting their intrusion. Moreover, Pinker highlights the contributions of scientists in history have made in areas such as human nature. However, as Science gradually permeates into humanities, it becomes susceptible to criticism. For instance, scientific knowledge not only provides evidence it is also evaluated prior and open for others to peer review and strengthen its credibility to avoid any errors made during the experimental phase. For this reason, it is injudicious to concur that Science diminishes the importance of humanities and vice-versa.

In “Crimes against Humanities” the author Leon Wieseltier retorted Pinker’s view by stating that science has little relevance to morality and politics because it is not philosophical. Wieseltier also argues that the superiority of science over humanities was meaningless. Moreover, the emergence of “digital science” has brought new meaning to humanities as pointed out by Wieseltier as a form of rebuttal to Pinker’s argument. He presents that the scientific discussions of morality, politics, and art should be categorized as philosophy. He argues that science can be categorized as a world view however not in a humanities context. Likewise, Wieseltier claims that Pinker seeks to claim rationality as part of science rather than the humanistic tradition to bolster his own stand. Scientists such as Pinker are not restricted to using humanities as a means to prove the existence of science. Wieseltier justifies his position by arguing that the scientists are more eager to attest to themselves is caused by the complexity of humanities that is beyond the scope of Scientific understanding. As Pinker claims the correlation between philosophy and science does not deem that philosophy should belong under the same category as science. Similarly, the study of human nature does not deem social psychologists and behavioral economists alike.

Wiseltier challenges Pinker’s statement by arguing that science does not confer any special authority implying that the knowledge gathered from sciences will never be able to base life upon. The major problem is that famous scientists assume that areas such as physics or any other discipline allow them to preach on wider issues. As Wiseltier points out that “some scientists and scientists feel prickly and self-pitying about the humanistic insistence that there is to the world than science can disclose”, this means that scientific expertise cannot be said to give deeper insights into the nature of life or light of truth. Nevertheless, the humanities could stand to learn from science and their discoveries to an extent.

Similarly, expertise in science does not necessarily imply a special insight into human nature. In general, Wiseltier portrays Pinker’s stance as reductionistic and materialistic. As a result of science, we are becoming increasingly quantified. He believes that Scientism instead should be solely about a method but rather the attempt to condense knowledge into quantifiable terms. According to him, scientist deems that science receives most criticism from two areas namely religious fundamentalism and academic humanities who view scientific thinkers like Pinker as problematic. He believes that the topic of religion focuses more on subjective individual benefits rather than objective benefits like science. For believers of religion, they only rely on God’s existence which belongs under philosophy. Wiseltier also implies that Pinker’s view on scientism is mono-dimensional as his approach to explaining through science and undermining religion proves that he is an absolutist. Hence, science is incapable of covering such a broad range of areas.

Additionally, Wieseltier brings up the idea that particular topics that remain unsolvable with Science do not make it a mystery but rather the rational explanations may stem from philosophical and emotional theories. The complexity of human nature is not easily explained as the evolution of nature is rather inconstant. Similarly, Wieseltier retorts that areas such as literate and art are also driven by the truth and support logical methodologies open to debate and criticism. This implies that science being a novel topic does not need to be based on previous discoveries, unlike humanities. In other words, science is able to integrate modern and traditional ideas during the development of human evolution. This clearly shows that Wieseltier believes that clear boundaries should be established between Science and Humanities with certain exceptions. Whereas Pinker challenges him by arguing that such boundaries potentially hold the humanities back.

In conclusion, both authors have argued for their own stance on whether science and humanities could co-exist without boundaries Moreover, the articles both seem to resort to making personal attacks at each other’s notions and perhaps also overstated their cases. For example, Pinker argued in favor of science stating that it has a gradual impact on modern society however it still lacks definite answers when it comes to certain topics and believes that such boundaries that Wiseltier argues for would hold the humanities back. Likewise, while science does focus on answering the fundamental problems of sustaining life, the intricacy of the humanities also shapes our society and enriches our understanding of cultures and religions. Both science and humanities, therefore, bring their own individual advantages to modern society.


  1. Albert, D., 2011. Ten Important Reasons to Include the Humanities in Your Preparation for a Scientific Career. Science Mag, May.
  2. Pinker, S., 2013. Science Is Not Your Enemy. [online] The New Republic. Available at: [Accessed 23 March 2020].
  3. Wieseltier, L., 2013. Crimes Against Humanities. [online] The New Republic. Available at: [Accessed 22 March 2020].

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