Thursday, August 23, 2007

Dangerous Ideas

Steven Pinker has a list of dangerous ideas listed in the form of questions. I provide my short reflexive answer to each.

Do women, on average, have a different profile of aptitudes and emotions than men? YES

Were the events in the Bible fictitious -- not just the miracles, but those involving kings and empires? YES

Has the state of the environment improved in the last 50 years? DK?

Do most victims of sexual abuse suffer no lifelong damage? NO

Did Native Americans engage in genocide and despoil the landscape? DK?

Do men have an innate tendency to rape? NO

Did the crime rate go down in the 1990s because two decades earlier poor women aborted children who would have been prone to violence? MAYBE

Are suicide terrorists well-educated, mentally healthy and morally driven? DK

Would the incidence of rape go down if prostitution were legalized? YES

Do African-American men have higher levels of testosterone, on average, than white men? DK

Is morality just a product of the evolution of our brains, with no inherent reality? NO

Would society be better off if heroin and cocaine were legalized? YES

Is homosexuality the symptom of an infectious disease? NO

Would it be consistent with our moral principles to give parents the option of euthanizing newborns with birth defects that would consign them to a life of pain and disability? NO

Do parents have any effect on the character or intelligence of their children? YES

Have religions killed a greater proportion of people than Nazism? YES

Would damage from terrorism be reduced if the police could torture suspects in special circumstances? NO

Would Africa have a better chance of rising out of poverty if it hosted more polluting industries or accepted Europe's nuclear waste? NO

Is the average intelligence of Western nations declining because duller people are having more children than smarter people? NO

Would unwanted children be better off if there were a market in adoption rights, with babies going to the highest bidder? YES

Would lives be saved if we instituted a free market in organs for transplantation? YES

Should people have the right to clone themselves, or enhance the genetic traits of their children? YES

Pinker captures my feelings on this best here:

"Sunlight is the best disinfectant," according to Justice Louis Brandeis' famous case for freedom of thought and expression. If an idea really is false, only by examining it openly can we determine that it is false. At that point we will be in a better position to convince others that it is false than if we had let it fester in private, since our very avoidance of the issue serves as a tacit acknowledgment that it may be true. And if an idea is true, we had better accommodate our moral sensibilities to it, since no good can come from sanctifying a delusion. This might even be easier than the ideaphobes fear. The moral order did not collapse when the Earth was shown not to be at the center of the solar system, and so it will survive other revisions of our understanding of how the world works.

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