Sunday, April 01, 2007

Straw Man

From Steven Pinker's How the Mind Works p. 16:

"Man's capacity for evil is never far from our minds, and it is easy to think that evil just comes along with intelligence as part of its very essence. It is a recurring theme in our cultural tradition; Adam and Eve eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge, Promethean fire and Pandora's box, the rampaging Golem, Faust's bargain, the Sorcerer's Apprentice, the adventures of Pinocchio, Frankenstein's monster, the murderous apes and mutinous HAL of 2001: A Space Odyssey."

The statement is correct in its essence, we do have a cultural history of equating knowledge with evil. However, he misquotes Scripture to make it serve his point. It is not "The Tree of Knowledge" but "The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil." While this may be innocuous, it has the all to common effect of casting Christians as close-minded and anti-scientific, whereas in reality it is saying that knowing God's Will, and determining not to do it, is wrong.


Blogger Karl said...

It's possible he just left it off to avoid having a lot of prepositions in a row, but yeah, that story isn't about the knowledge, it's about being introduced to the idea of evil. You win that point.

I just opened up the book to see the context, and I love the examination of Isaac Asimov's robot stories that comes right before this. And I also love the mocking look at possible motivations for evil robots that comes right after it. I love this book!

3:12 AM  

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