Christians, contingency and crisis
Stephen Jay Gould on Freud:
"Sigmund Freud often remarked that great revolutions in the history of science have but one common, and ironic, feature: they knock human arrogance off one pedestal after another of our previous conviction about our own self-importance. In Freud's three examples, Copernicus moved our home from center to periphery, Darwin then relegated us to ‘descent from an animal world’; and, finally Freud himself discovered the unconscious and exploded the myth of a fully rational mind."
One of the nice things about pragmatism is that it knocks the arrogance of statements like this off their own pedestal. I don't know if Gould is paying any attention to the way that people continue to operate in 2006, but as far as I can tell, these revolutions have limited bearing on the average person's life: what they do have the most bearing on is the people who spend all day thinking about them, like Gould or Freud. To say that human arrogance has been knocked off its pedestal has to involve a claim about the way the entirety of humanity operated in the past--so you'd have to assert that in the 12th century, say, every single person alive was arrogant about their own self-importance, and now they're not. On the contrary--despite the fact that past thinkers might have insisted on some cosmic silliness, like that the earth was at the center of the universe, this was still a belief that was dictated to them by the ruling class. Whether to live in the universe of the South American tribes, whose harvests were arbitrarily forced on them by capricious gods demanding human sacrifice, or that of Gould's mechanistic loneliness: what a choice! I'll take neither, thanks. The victims of the black plague in the 14th century were offered no comfort by their or the clergy's cosmology, and neither is Gould offered any by his view of the universe. Luther was terrified by God; Pascal was terrified by the beginning of science.
I made the point here that beliefs are flexible creatures. That we live on a planet orbiting the sun, and that we most likely evolved, has about as much bearing on how most people keep doing the things they love as any. Gould thinks he's being purely scientific, but he's not: he's offering normative claims about how people should live disguised as pure empiricism. How we put beliefs and scientific statements into practice is largely but not completely up to us, as Rorty points out.
Maybe Gould could have gotten Kim Jong-Il to set North Korea free by telling him that our self-importance has been irrevocably shattered by the advance of science.