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Man and God: Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now

By David Hale - posted Thursday, 30 July 2020

Enlightenment Now, is a book by Steven Pinker, that makes the same argument page after page {perhaps too many pages}. Things are getting better from a reduction in violence to workplace accidents to an increase in life expectancy and education.

The book argues what has made that happen, the Enlightenment and especially science.

It is not just Steven Pinker who is optimistic, his dad Harry was too, noted at the start of the book, and that is saying something.


Harry Pinker was born in 1928, just before the worst financial crisis in the 20th century. Lived through two World Wars, Korea, invention of nuclear bombs, 9/11, and the Global Financial Crisis. And all the other bad things the news likes to focus on, as per an argument in the book.

Yet, Harry remained an optimist. As Harry Pinker also lived to see the end of the Great Depression, the end of the World Wars, a vaccine against polio, no nuclear annihilation and the recovery after the GFC.

There is no real issue with thd progress mentioned in the book.

Yes, life expectancy has improved across many places. Yes, smallpox has been eradicated. Yes, crop yields across some places have improved. Yes, workplace accidents compared to the 19th and early 20th century is much less. Yes, being poor 100 years ago was generally worse than it is now.

I could not help feeling that the argument for progress became too repetitive. As Pinker noted, however, he was mindful that people dismissed his previous argument of a fall in violence in a previous book. So, he has come back stronger.

There does seem to be a dismissal though of individual suffering in the book. It is not that Pinker does not reference personal suffering, but he constantly goes back to how good things are in the aggregate.


A kind of moot point, when someone is suffering to note that 100 years ago, there may have been more suffering.

The progress argument can be somewhat undermined if your definition of success is not progress, but the end of diseases {at least all preventable and curable ones}, all poverty and violence. If that is the definition, then we are nowhere near achieving those goals.

The book, however, is much more than just about progress.

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About the Author

David Hale is an Anglican University Lay Chaplain, staff worker for the Australian Student Christian Movement and a member of the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship.

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