GRE Article of the Month – August 2013

Science Is Not Your Enemy
By Steven Pinker for New Republic

Many essay prompts—both on the GRE and the SAT—ask the student to consider the impact of science and technology: has science brought about unmitigated good or is the truth a little more nuanced? (If you want to write a strong GRE essay, always go for the more nuanced stance).

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This month’s article takes a position on that very issue, with Stephen Pinker, a professor of neuroscience at MIT/Harvard, and author of notable books, The Blank Slate and The Language Instinct, among them, posits that science has mostly brought about good. His real target though are those who form the vanguard of the backlash in science, which Pinker feels is very much in vogue, both in religion and within the academia itself.

In detailing this attack on science, Pinker builds up a cogent case that science has not only improved the lot of human beings, but has also provided us more “reasonable” answers on one of the deepest questions: Where have we come from? In other words, Pinker believes that science has supplanted the role of religion, and that the two are not, as the late Stephen Jay Gould intoned, “non-overlapping magisterial”, or separate fields of human inquiry.

In taking such a position, Pinker is likely to rankle those who are of a religious faith, and in that sense the article is especially polemical. Whether or not you agree with Pinker yourself, his piece makes for some heady reading, fodder for a lively intellectual debate amongst your friends. Finally, the article from the New Republic is full (and boy do I mean full) of GRE words.

GRE words from the article:

  • Foible
  • Propagate
  • Efflorescence
  • Eclectic
  • Bipartisan
  • Pejorative
  • Circumvent
  • Conjecture
  • Obliterate
  • Ethereal
  • Concede
  • Ingenuity
  • Incommensurable
  • Retribution
  • Dialectics
  • Inextricable
  • Philistine
  • Impugn
  • Patina
  • Recrimination


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6 Responses to GRE Article of the Month – August 2013

  1. Diksha August 20, 2013 at 10:41 pm #

    Hi Chris

    Thanks for the article – learned a lot of new words. One suggestion – if plausible could you please add the meanings of the words above since dictionary might show most prevalent meaning which might be not the one tested on GRE…. Just a thought…
    Eg: philistine

    Did I use “plausible” correctly??


    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele August 23, 2013 at 2:05 pm #

      Hi Diksha,

      Hmm…what I’ll do is be on guard for any tricky words like philistine. I’ll say 2nd. def. or lowercase, in the instance with philistine.

      I think you meant “possible” for “plausible” — plausible means believable. For instance, do you find Pinker’s case above plausible, or does he sugarcoat science?

  2. Aaron August 20, 2013 at 3:28 pm #

    “To begin with, the findings of science entail that the belief systems of all the world’s traditional religions and cultures—their theories of the origins of life, humans, and societies—are factually mistaken.”

    “Most of the traditional causes of belief—faith, revelation, dogma, authority, charisma, conventional wisdom, the invigorating glow of subjective certainty—are generators of error and should be dismissed as sources of knowledge.”

    “There is no such thing as fate, providence, karma, spells, curses, augury, divine retribution, or answered prayers”

    “The facts of science, by exposing the absence of purpose in the laws governing the universe, force us to take responsibility for the welfare of ourselves, our species, and our planet.”

    The above quotes from the article show lack of nuance. In summarily dismissing religious concepts – whether you agree with Pinker or not – he has taken extreme positions. “There is no such thing,” “All the world’s,” and “the absence of purpose” are extreme positions that lack a more nuanced understanding of the origins and practice of religion. I could see such sentences getting harsh responses from from the graders, unless maybe they believed more in Pinker than in nuance. Also, what Pinker cites as “traditional causes of belief” are only a selected group of causes. Many more causes could be cited. The article was, however, loaded with good GRE words.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele August 23, 2013 at 2:08 pm #

      Hi Aaron,

      I totally agree — Pinker is not big on nuance, he is big on polemic. But that’s part of the reason this article will most likely incite discussion. The article is definitely a little too subjective to do well on the GRE essay. I’ll probably end up picking something a little less nuanced and incendiary for next month’s article :)!

      • Aaron August 25, 2013 at 5:04 pm #

        Thanks Chris. I am generally against the polemical tone but not necessarily against everything he says. In a sense, this article is an excellent example of how to include good words, learn new words, and avoid absolutist statements.

        • Chris Lele
          Chris Lele August 26, 2013 at 11:49 am #


          Yes, I agree. Definitely lots of GRE vocab in there :)!

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