Friday, April 5, 2013
Sam Harris and the Moral Landscape, part two.
An eminent historian, Jackson Lears, published an article in The Nation in which he not only lambasts Sam Harris, but also attacks all of science. Lears is part of a rapidly fading (but not fading rapidly enough) group of delusional scholars who embrace cultural relativism as the ultimate reality. Most of Lears’s fellow historians have embraced science. Scholars such as Lears would be an obscure embarrassment except that their work gets “discovered” and trumpeted in some prominent locations. He published in The Nation, a widely-read magazine that I had until now assumed had some credibility, and Michio Kaku got hold of the article to include in The Best American Science Writing 2012. God help us. If Lears’s writing epitomizes scholarship, then the “real” world outside of academia is well justified in totally writing us off as irrelevant and unworthy of serious consideration (or funding).
You see, Lears’s attack on Sam Harris is not to dispute the particulars of Harris’s arguments, but to attack the very idea that there can be any such thing as objective truth.
Among the claims that Lears makes are that reality is socially constructed and that scientists are no more ethical than any other group, including politicians. He blames scientists for everything bad that has happened in the last century including both world wars. Since truth is only what you think it is, in Lears’s view, then presumably he can just make stuff up about history. If archaeological or (God forbid!) DNA evidence should contradict the stuff he makes up, then he can dismiss it because it is merely the socially and culturally constructed viewpoint of those archaeologists and scientists. After all, who are scientists to say that Neandertals were genetically 96% different from modern humans? Lears’s critique of Harris (and Lears’s entire view of reality) is B.S. (which stands for Blame Science).
So Lears dismisses everything Sam Harris claims by saying that Harris has “faith in the existence of something called human nature.” Lears, in his cultural context, denies that there is any such thing. And that takes care of it. Lears can dismiss evolutionary psychology as a “pop parascience” and the only evidence he needs is that he so believes.
Any of you out there who are not part of the scientific or general academic enterprise, please do not consider Jackson Lears or his cultural-relativism colleagues as representative of science. We actually look for evidence and put our ideas to the test.