Kirkus Reviews QR Code


Asking the Big Questions in a Culture of Easy Answers

by Curtis White

Pub Date: June 3rd, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-61219-200-0
Publisher: Melville House

White (English/Illinois State Univ.; Barbaric Heart: Faith, Money, and the Crisis of Nature, 2009 etc.) disputes the triumphalism of neuroscientists, evolutionary psychologists and geneticists who proclaim “the victory of science and reason over religion.”

The author pays particular attention to the writings of Jonah Lehrer, Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens, all self-professed atheists whom White charges with having encroached on the “domain of philosophy, the arts, and humanities.” As an impassioned social critic, he does not endorse the fundamentalist Christian attack on science, and he argues against what he calls scientism, exemplified by Dawkins' contention that the human mind, social behavior and morality can be explained as the working of selfish genes or their cultural counterpart, memes. Without a “collaboration with art,” he writes, “science is doomed to moral sterility, or to a nihilism that asserts that there are no values.” White goes a step further, charging that this “ideology of sciences meshes with the broader ideology of capitalism” by treating self-interest as primary. He skewers Hitchens as a representative of privilege and entitlement who basked in his sense of cultural superiority and found a convenient scapegoat for unjust wars in the gullibility of religious believers. White also objects to Lehrer's explanation of the role of a brain scan in showing creativity—by showing areas of the brain that are activated when a subject solves a puzzle, creativity is illuminated. This implicitly equates the creativity of Beethoven or Bob Dylan with that of the inventor of Swiffer mops, without regard to the content of their thought or the broader “social context” in which it occurred. While not denying the fascinating advances of modern science, the author stresses the importance of philosophy and other disciplines.

A witty critique of scientific overreach that celebrates the totality of human achievement.