Pinker and Goldstein Challenge Religion

Pinker speaks about Darwin and God
Ruoyu Zhang

Steven Pinker and his wife Rebecca Newberger Goldstein discuss Darwin, the role fiction should play in intelligent life, arguments on the existence of God, as well as other topics of literature, science, and philosophy.

While the faithful in the Harvard community were receiving ashes on their foreheads in observation of Ash Wednesday, Psychology Professor Steven A. Pinker and his wife, Rebecca N. Goldstein spoke on the similarities between moral communities formed both within and outside of the context of religion.

A crowd of about a hundred attended “Mind-Body Problems: Science, Fiction, and God,” which centered around the release of Goldstein’s newest novel, “36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction.” According to Pinker and Goldstein, the novel straddles both sides of the argument on God’s existence, creating a holistic approach to the question of whether religion is necessary in order to have morality.

According to Pinker, both he and his wife are atheists and also believe in morality. The core of last night’s discussion, as well as the argument of Goldstein’s novel, is an effort to dismantle the idea that morality stems from religion and that without religion, there is no morality.

“You don’t have to believe in God to believe there is morality,” Pinker said.

During the talk, Goldstein said that belief is not actually central to religion.


Instead, Goldstein said, the community of shared values provided by religion can also exist in atheist communities.

In an interview after the discussion, Pinker said he thinks that fiction can allow those on either side of the debate to understand one another’s arguments.

“A position that might seem intellectually foreign to you, say the way religion seems to an atheist, can be made more comprehensive,” said Pinker. “We can see the world through their eyes, and that’s something that fiction can do.”

Pinker said he still feels that as a psychologist, he has more to understand about the role of religion and morality in society.

“There’s also an interesting scientific problem: why religion is so compelling to so many people from so many cultures,” he said.