Overview:

On the Day of Reason we should read and recommend Harvard professor Stephen Pinker's 2021 book, Rationality.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The first Thursday in May every year is a tad significant in the U.S. With roots in the early Republic, a 1952 Congress established this day as the ‘National Day of Prayer,’ one in which the President is required to instruct citizens to pray.

How odd a notion while wielding a Constitution that forbids the establishment of a national religion (First Amendment) and prohibits the necessity of politicians wearing religion on their starched sleeves (Article VI).

As a corrective to this flagrant act of governmental overreach, the nonreligious American Humanist Association established an informal ‘National Day of Reason’ in 2003—sacralizing (if you will) the same first Thursday in May. And this year, Congressman Jamie Raskin offered a special resolution to make this day official.

To honor the day, I recommend reading Harvard professor Steven Pinker’s 2021 book, Rationality.

Pinker has written almost twenty books, all of which are distinguished by the clarity of his prose. In Rationality, he makes a strong case for the important role of reason in every aspect of human endeavor.

What method could adjudicate between opposing claims other than rationality? Is a ‘hunch’ on equal footing as rationality? Is ‘I know in my heart of hearts that X is so’ foundationally identical to rational proof? How would anyone defend any position except via rationality? Even those who defame rationality use rationality to defame it.

The book’s chapters offer precise and often entertaining charts and graphs, as well as examples of irrationality, conspiracy theories, critical thinking, correlation and causation, and several other topics.

Pinker argues that rationality can be taught, and rationality should be made a curricular component of public education. Add one more ‘r’ to the famous three Rs: reading, (w)riting, (a)rithmetic, and rationality. The Four Rs.

At this moment in our history when many millions of Americans easily believe fiction over fact and embrace error as truth, the best way to honor a Day of Reason would be to apply rationality as an antidote to credulity.

J. H. McKenna (Ph.D.) has taught the history of atheism and other classes since 1999 at the University of California, where he has won teaching awards. He has published in academic journals and the LA...