Let’s Be Honest
Maher Mali’s review of Pinker’s The Blank Slate takes place 15 years after its publication in 2002. Mali contends that Pinker indicates inborn traits are highly probable rather than pre-determined. Pinker attempts to lay waste to the popular ideas of The Blank Slate (The mind has no instinctive traits), The Noble Savage (it is surrounding society which corrupts people; originally we were all born pure and unselfish), and The Ghost in the Machine (a soul which exists independently of our biology). After showing these beliefs are not true, Pinker methodically lays out why they were propagated throughout the academy and have seeped into the mainstream and why many continue to cling onto them when most empirical evidence promotes opposing arguments. Mali’s major surprise in reviewing The Blank Slate was in discovering how scientists were responsible for disregarding the results from the new sciences along with the mistreatment of its participants. Mali agrees with Pinker that the incentive for these actions from otherwise educated individuals is because they feared the continued maintenance of inequality. Mali contends that Pinker’s book is necessary even today, so many years of accumulate genetics are not dismissed because they indicate truths that are often misunderstood and ignored when they inconveniently challenge popular “sound-bite” beliefs.
I found The Blank Slate thought-provoking, but not particularly helpful to my research area. Similar to Mali, I was most surprised at the strategies and campaigns; otherwise, educated individuals will utilize to preserve their beliefs and their public communication thereof. Pinker quotes, “The modern sciences of mind, brain, genes, and evolution are increasingly showing it (the Blank Slate) is not true. The result is a rearguard effort to salvage the Blank Slate by disfiguring science and intellectual life: denying the possibility of objectivity and truth, dumbing down issues into dichotomies, replacing facts and logic with political posturing.” While I affirm the passionate desires of proponents to overcome inequality and injustice, the desirable end does not justify the shoddy and, at times, the vitriolic means. That is simply utilizing political posturing and “power,” regardless of methodology (i.e., “my mind is made up, do not confuse me with the facts”), is academically dishonest, short-sighted, and does not lead to long-term resolution. The end never justifies the means. I was reminded of this when recalling Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. I am quite familiar with alleged faith-based Evangelicals utilizing political strategies and campaigns to foster misinformation and fear to preserve or succeed in promoting their arguments. I suppose I was just surprised non-faith-based academics are prone to the same disingenuous propensities. It is easy to see why political posturing to gain more power to promote one’s cause is preferred and predominant within all camps. Much more effort, patience, and grace are required to attempt to unpack and understand complex spectrums within our society, withstanding the withering assault of ridicule while digging into the question, discovering common ground, and collaborating towards the next best steps.
From a faith perspective, Scriptural references like Psalms 139 and Jeremiah 1 indicate God is involved and engaged with us before our birth. Anyone who has had multiple siblings (I have six) from the same birth parents or multiple children (I have two children plus two grandchildren from my daughter and son-in-law) from the same couple, knows human beings are never born as blank slates. While not endorsing Pinker’s arguments, I now see that both non-faith-based academics and faith-based Evangelicals need to strive for intellectual honesty in their methodology as well as their respective positions (e.g., coronavirus).
 Malhar Mali, “15 Years Later: Why Do We Still Believe In The Blank State?”, Aero, August 2, 2017, https://areomagazine.com/2017/08/02/15-years-later-why-do-we-still-believe-in-the-blank-slate/
 Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (New York, NY: Penguin Random House, 20002) 421-422.
One response to “Let’s Be Honest”
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Harry, I really like this take and how you found similarity between these two books. We cannot have a needed conversation if both sides do not start from the truth.