A Harvard University professor sparked an online debate Thursday after suggesting belief in heaven has harmed the coronavirus response by devaluing human life.
Steven Pinker, a professor of psychology at the school, made the comments on Twitter while referencing a Washington Post article that blamed evangelicals for the movement to a quick reopening of America.
“Belief in an afterlife is a malignant delusion, since it devalues actual lives and discourages action that would make them longer, safer, and happier,” Pinker wrote on Twitter. “Exhibit A: What’s really behind Republicans wanting a swift reopening? Evangelicals.”
Belief in an afterlife is a malignant delusion, since it devalues actual lives and discourages action that would make them longer, safer, and happier. Exhibit A: What’s really behind Republicans wanting a swift reopening? Evangelicals. https://t.co/ppo2bwiVGn
— Steven Pinker (@sapinker) May 21, 2020
The comment drew more than 4,500 responses.
“It’s just the opposite,” one person wrote. “People who believe there is no higher power or no consequences in the afterlife are much more willing to commit crimes if they think they can get away with it.”
“My faith in God only increases my appreciation for the value, worth & purpose of each human life (mine included),” another person wrote. “This isn’t some sort of waiting room for heaven but rather in life we are to be good stewards of the message of the gospel as well as the physical world around us.”
“Putting aside the #coronavirus politics, belief in God and an afterlife is actually the only thing that gives any purpose or value to life,” a third person wrote. “If there is no God we have no more value or purpose than a pile of sand. If there is no afterlife, then our lives are simply a zero sum.”
A few atheists also took exception to Pinker’s comment.
“It’s easy to be critical of those who wish to reopen the economy when one has a guaranteed high-paying job and no children,” wrote Gad Saad, an author and a professor at Concordia University and a self-described atheist. “Perhaps some theory of mind might allow us to empathize with those who are going bankrupt and feeding their children oxygen?”
Pinker, an atheist, is known for controversial statements and positions. In 2005, he told Time Magazine, “[R]eligion has given us stonings, inquisitions and 9/11.” Faith, he once said, is “believing something without good reasons to do so.” In 1997, he wrote an article for The New York Times Magazine arguing that the killing of a newborn baby is less controversial and should be judged less severely than the killing of an older child.
“The right to life must come, the moral philosophers say, from morally significant traits that we humans happen to possess,” he wrote in 1997. “One such trait is having a unique sequence of experiences that defines us as individuals and connects us to other people. Other traits include an ability to reflect upon ourselves as a continuous locus of consciousness, to form and savor plans for the future, to dread death and to express the choice not to die. And there’s the rub: our immature neonates don’t possess these traits any more than mice do.”
Photo courtesy: Pixnio
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, The Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.