Scientism, whether Rosenberg’s today or E. O. Wilson’s a generation ago, is impatient with history (“The Atheist’s Guide” declares it to be “bunk”), with social science generally and with the arts and literature. These benighted investigations cannot generate first-class knowledge, for they provide no predictive laws for human behavior. Yet the success of science in delivering powerful generalizations need not diminish accomplishments that help with decisions great and small. History and ethnography, poetry and fiction all modify the ways in which people see themselves and others, creating intricate webs of associations that pervade our judgments. It may be hyperbolic to declare that Shakespeare teaches us more about being human than all the natural scientists combined, but a real insight underlies the assertion. Similarly, the first sentence of Thomas Kuhn’s masterpiece, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” (now half a century old), instantiates a more general piece of wisdom: History can change the images by which we are possessed.
Philip Kitcher, John Dewey professor of philosophy at Columbia University in Seeing Is Unbelieving a New York Times piece discussing why Alex Rosenberg’s THE ATHEIST’S GUIDE TO REALITY: Enjoying Life Without Illusions was selected by the New Republic as the worst book of 2011.