Freethought Today · April 2014

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Pinker named FFRF’s first honorary president

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is delighted to announce that world-renowed scientist Steven Pinker, already an honorary FFRF director, will serve as its first honorary president.

Pinker, a Johnstone Family Professor in the psychology department at Harvard University, is on Time’s list of the “World’s 100 Most Influential People.” As an experimental psychologist, he’s one of the world’s foremost writers on language, the mind and human nature. His research on visual cognition and the psychology of language has won awards from the National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Institution of Great Britain, the Cognitive Neuroscience Society and the American Psychological Association.

Pinker told FFRF, when receiving its Emperor Has No Clothes Award in 2004: “I was never religious in the theological sense. I never outgrew my conversion to atheist at 13.” 

Born in Montreal, Pinker studied at McGill University and Harvard, where he earned his Ph.D. He taught at MIT for 21 years and also at Stanford. He’s the author of six critically acclaimed books for a general audience, including The Language Instinct (1994), How the Mind Works (1997), The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (2002), and The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Declined (2011).

Pinker has actively worked against religious incursions in science and government, including testifying before Congress. He prevailed against a proposal at Harvard to require a course on “Reason and Faith,” saying, “[U]niversities are about reason, pure and simple. Faith — -believing something without good reasons to do so — has no place in anything but a religious institution, and our society has no shortage of these. Imagine if we had a requirement for ‘Astronomy and Astrology’ or ‘Psychology and Parapsychology,’ ” he wrote in an op-ed titled “Less Faith, More Reason” in the Harvard Crimson in 2006.

In a 2007 interview with Salon.com, Pinker noted, “Atheists are the most reviled minority in the United States, so it’s no small matter to come out and say it.” 

Pinker is part of an intellectual power couple with his wife, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, a recipient of a Mac-Arthur “genius grant.” A philosopher and novelist, Goldstein was named a Freethought Heroine by FFRF in 2011, when she spoke poignantly about her escape from the strictures of strict Orthodox Judaism.

Among her books are 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction, and the just released nonfiction work, Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away. The Boston Globe calls her “a playful, bouyant, witty stylist who parses intractably difficult philosophical and religious ideas with breaktaking ease.”

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