Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Pinker The Stinker

Written by: on February 20, 2020

FYI,  the title has nothing to do with my post, it just came in my head so I decided to go with it :)!

Steven Pinker, Ph.D., is the Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. In his book, Enlightenment Now, he lays out his argument for why the Enlightenment, reason, and humanism, aka progress, is suitable for all people. For Pinker, reason is the answer or at least the way to understand all things while faith/religious notions should be rejected as a source for framing human life. Pinker writes, “Foremost is reason. Reason is nonnegotiable. As soon as you show up to discuss the question of what we should live for (or any other question), as long as you insidious that your answers, whatever they are, are reasonable or justified or true and that therefore other people ought to believe them to, dan you have committed yourself to reason, into holding your beliefs accountable to objective standards.”[1] On the surface, Pinker is very convincing as he provides mountains of data to support his argument for how science and reason have made the world better. My issue as well as others[2] is that Pinker dismisses the honest critiques of Enlightenment, his data is derived to fit his narrative, and he diminishes the value that faith plays in the lives of millions of people. For instance, he writes,

[W]e must allow the world to tell us whether our ideas about it are correct. The traditional causes of belief– faith, revelation, dogma, authority, charisma, conventional wisdom, hermeneutic parsing of text, the glow of subjective certainty– are generators of error, it should be dismissed as sources of knowledge. Instead, our beliefs about empirical propositions should be calibrated by their fit into the world.”

Nicholas Maxwell, in his review of Pinker, sums up well the many issues of his stating:

This is in many ways a terrific book, from which I have learnt much. But it is also deeply flawed. Science and reason are at the heart of the book, but the conceptions that Steven Pinker defends are damagingly irrational. And these defective conceptions of science and reason, as a result of being associated with the Enlightenment Programme for the past two or three centuries, have been responsible, in part, for the genesis of the global problems we now suffer from, and our current inability to deal with them properly. [3]

Depending on who the source is the many problems Maxwell refers to are traced back to religious understandings, the Enlightenment, Modernity, or Post-modernity. The bigger question I am left wrestling with becomes is their room for both the “brain” and the “body.” Another way I could say this is can the head and the heart, thinking, and emotions work together, especially for leaders.

I was reminded of our reading Down the Rabbit Hole of Leadership, Pathology in Everyday Life, where Kets de Vries employs both. He writes:

Mindless neuroscience is not going to be the answer to understand the functioning of the human mind. We might hope that neuroscience will not turn out to be an explanatory fad. That being said, in the years to come, neuroscience could evolve in such a way as to yield solid predictions about how genetics and brain conditions, and all of their complex aggregates and interactions, can influence a specific individual’s specific choices at particular times.[4]

But he also writes about emotions, specifically empathy saying,

Empathy is a key dimension of emotional intelligence, that is, the ability to recognize our emotions, understand what they’re telling us, and to realize how they affect people around us. It’s a core component in every human relationship – a cornerstone of interpersonal effectiveness. Empathy helps us understand the unspoken elements of our communication with others. It enables us to be more effective at collaboration and finding solutions.

For me, as far as leadership goes, this means we must allow leadership to include both the brain and body because, at the end of the day, it is a relationship involving human beings, not a transaction of commodities.




[1] Pinker, Steven, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress (New York, New York: Viking, an Imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, 2018), 8.

[2] Gopnik, Alison. “When Truth and Reason Are No Longer Enough.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, March 17, 2018. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/04/steven-pinker-enlightenment-now/554054/. Also see this link: https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/transformation/steven-pinker-s-ideas-are-fatally-flawed-these-eight-graphs-show-why/


[3] Maxwell, N. “We Need Progress in Ideas about How to Achieve Progress: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment NOW: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress. UK: Allen Lane, 2018, 556pp, £25.” Metascience, 2018, Metascience , 27 (2) Pp. 347-350. (2018).

[4] Kets de Vries, Manfred F. R. Down the Rabbit Hole of Leadership: Leadership Pathology in Everyday Life. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019, 5.


About the Author

Mario Hood

Most importantly, I am married to the love of my life, Misty Hood, and I'm kept on my toes all day every day, by my son Dalen and daughter Cola Hood. I also serve as the Next Generation Pastor at Church On The Living Edge in Orlando, Florida, under the leadership of Senior Pastor, Dr. Mark Chironna as well as being a Youth and Family Life coach.

12 responses to “Pinker The Stinker”

  1. Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    Great analysis Mario. Pinker seems to really only impact one of the three appeals you point out. I wonder if Pinker isn’t really a “leader” but is more a “presenter”, presenting the material he feels is helpful for the logical appeal category. He may argue that, but it fits this paradigm!

  2. Hey Mario. Good stuff on bringing in Maxwell’s critique. I don’t know much about him but I may have to look him up to see what he says more in detail. Just like him, I like the fact that we can learn from atheist. It’s just that not enough academics point out that for Pinker to succeed in his project, he’d have to import a lot of Christian stuff into it. Things like purpose and meaning, significant topics for anyone, isn’t discussed. I love progress. But Pinker’s version doesn’t have an ultimate telos.

    I thought it was ironic that he would, at the end, quote principles from the Humanist Manifesto to support human flourishing. I noted that in my blog.

  3. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Thanks for bringing the heart and mind together into a collaborative effort. I know your research passion and focus is on Holy Spirit-led leadership. What would Holy Spirit-led leadership look like within the context of a collaborative partnership of the heart and mind?

  4. Tammy Dunahoo says:

    I appreciate you bringing Kets de Vries’ comments about neuroscience to this conversation. I started reading next week’s text and look forward to the discussion on nature and nurture. While Pinker is an advocate for science he seems to also a argue a bit with himself when it comes to the non-scientific aspects of human beings. The natural component of neuroscience certainly helps us understand much of human development but it is not complete without social aspects being connected. Remember one of our first books in the MAML program, “General Theory of Love”…I use it often.

    • Andrea Lathrop says:

      Mario – this is great. I want to know more about “General Theory of Love” from you and Tammy.
      And I love the call to heart and mind engagement for the Christian leader. Noll has made me think about this a good bit – my experience has had a lot of “heart” emphasis. I wonder if you’d see a difference between heart and soul? Or how you would define those two things?

      • Mario Hood says:

        That’s a good question Andrea. I haven’t done a ton of research on the soul and how that is defined but I Think it is easy for our American minds to want to separate things into distinct categories. Not saying you are but in general the people I run into want to know where your spirit starts and your soul starts or your emotions starts and your reasons start. It’s all part of our embodied self. If I had to give a clear answer I would probably put heart and soul together, lol.

    • Mario Hood says:

      Yes. That book is a go too always. As soon as we read it I knew I was in the right program.

  5. Mary Mims says:

    Mario, I enjoyed your post and the fact that you include that emotion is an important factor to consider when evaluating statistics. How people feel matters because God made man with them. Reason alone will never be successful, as we see today.

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