The Line Separating Scientific Empiricism from the Pursuit of the Irrational Is Not So Clear as Steven Pinker Would Like It to Be

In his recent book Enlightenment Now!, the linguist and cognitive scientist Steven Pinker defends the Age of Reason’s legacy against its detractors past and present. Ross Douthat, drawing on his own childhood experience, questions “the bright line that Pinker draws between the empirical spirit of science and the unreasoning obscurantism he suggests otherwise prevails.”

When I was a child I lived in several worlds. First was the world that I understood to be the normal one: a world where people had professional degrees and followed their doctor’s instructions strictly and carefully; a world ruled by a solid-seeming secular and liberal consensus about what was scientific, what was certain, what was true. Then there were the other, stranger worlds—which we explored for reasons of chronic illness, religious interest, and some of the roving curiosity that defined my parents’ generation at its best.

First was the world of charismatic religion, where people sought healing and spoke in tongues and prophesied, experiencing the divine as palpably as people in the secular world experienced, say, the pronouncements of the New York Times. Second was the world of alternative medicine and what was then still described, disparagingly, as “health food.” . . .

I’m reasonably confident that both of the stranger worlds of my childhood, the prayer services and macrobiotic-diet camps, fit [Pinker’s] definition of the anti-empirical dark. And therein lies the oddity: if you actually experienced these worlds, and contrasted them with the normal world of high-minded liberal secularism, it was the charismatic-religious and “health food” regions where people were the most personally empirical, least inclined to submit meekly to authority, and most determined to reason independently and to keep trying things until they worked. . . .

Which is why, if Pinker and others are genuinely worried about a waning appreciation of the inquiring scientific spirit, they should consider the possibility that some of their own smug secular certainties might be part of the problem—that they might, indeed, be stifling the more comprehensive kind of curiosity upon which the scientific enterprise ultimately depends.

Read more at New York Times

More about: Enlightenment, History & Ideas, New Age, Science and Religion, Secularism

 

Iran’s Program of Subversion and Propaganda in the Caucasus

In the past week, Iranian proxies and clients have attacked Israel from the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, and Yemen. Iran also has substantial military assets in Iraq and Syria—countries over which it exercises a great deal of control—which could launch significant attacks on Israel as well. Tehran, in addition, has stretched its influence northward into both Azerbaijan and Armenia. While Israel has diplomatic relations with both of these rival nations, its relationship with Baku is closer and involves significant military and security collaboration, some of which is directed against Iran. Alexander Grinberg writes:

Iran exploits ethnic and religious factors in both Armenia and Azerbaijan to further its interests. . . . In Armenia, Iran attempts to tarnish the legitimacy of the elected government and exploit the church’s nationalist position and tensions between it and the Armenian government; in Azerbaijan, the Iranian regime employs outright terrorist methods similar to its support for terrorist proxies in the Middle East [in order to] undermine the regime.

Huseyniyyun (Islamic Resistance Movement of Azerbaijan) is a terrorist militia made up of ethnic Azeris and designed to fight against Azerbaijan. It was established by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps . . . in the image of other pro-Iranian militias. . . . Currently, Huseyniyyun is not actively engaged in terrorist activities as Iran prefers more subtle methods of subversion. The organization serves as a mouthpiece of the Iranian regime on various Telegram channels in the Azeri language. The main impact of Huseyniyyun is that it helps spread Iranian propaganda in Azerbaijan.

The Iranian regime fears the end of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan because this would limit its options for disruption. Iranian outlets are replete with anti-Semitic paranoia against Azerbaijan, accusing the country of awarding its territory to Zionists and NATO. . . . Likewise, it is noteworthy that Armenian nationalists reiterate hideous anti-Semitic tropes that are identical to those spouted by the Iranians and Palestinians. Moreover, leading Iranian analysts have no qualms about openly praising [sympathetic] Armenian clergy together with terrorist Iran-funded Azeri movements for working toward Iranian goals.

Read more at Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

More about: Azerbaijan, Iran, Israeli Security