Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Evolution of God

I've been trying to avoid Robert Wright's new book The Evolution of God.


Because Mr. Wright is one of those stereotypical "kumbaya guys" who plead for believers and materialists to come together, make peace, and put their differences aside - which - in practice - means that believers can keep some vague concept of "God" plus the ethics of altruism ("Love thy neighbor," etc.) but they MUST accept Darwinism and materialism.

Needless to say, this is bad a deal for believers. And it's also intellectual sloppiness of the highest order.

Why? See my article, Life is About Choices.

As part of that article, I actually praised atheist Jerry Coyne, author of Why Evolution is True.

Professor Coyne - unlike the rest of the "Kumbaya Gang" - is quite blunt about the atheistic implications of Darwinian theory - which he approves, of course.

One quote will suffice:

True, there are religious scientists and Darwinian churchgoers. But this does not mean that faith and science are compatible, except in the trivial sense that both attitudes can be simultaneously embraced by a single human mind. (It is like saying that marriage and adultery are compatible because some married people are adulterers.)

As it pertains to Robert Wright's book, Professor Coyne once again challenges the muddled thinking of The Elite (The New York Times? "Brilliant!" The New Yorker? "Enthralling!") and provides some much-needed clarity to this whole debate.

In his New Republic piece, Creationism for Liberals (good title!), Prof. Coyne writes...

While many religious people have been persuaded by Darwin's overwhelming evidence, there still remains a need to find greater meaning behind it all--to see our world as part of an unfolding and divinely scripted plan….

And so the faithful--the ones who care about science at all--have tweaked the theory of evolution to bring it into line with their needs, to make it more congenial. Although life may indeed have evolved, they say, the process was really masterminded by God, whose ultimate goal was to evolve a species, our species, that is able to apprehend and therefore to admire its creator…

Wright makes a really remarkable claim, a metaphysical one, that this whole process is driven by God, who is pulling society toward moral perfection…

First, God directed the process of evolution so that it produced rational and moral creatures with the capacity to love: "Maybe natural selection is an algorithm that is in some sense designed to get life to a point where it can do something--fulfill its goal, its purpose." And then there was some social engineering: "God was so wise that he set up a world in which the rational pursuit of self-interest leads people to wisdom…"

With Nonzero and The Evolution of God, Wright has helped to pioneer a new genre: the intellectual feel-good book--chicken soup for the brain. In this season of the "new atheism," believers are looking for ways to remain faithful but still feel smart. Wright's elaborate argument can do the trick. One reviewer declared that The Evolution of God gave him hope by showing that the evolving doctrines of theology might point to "humankind's slow education into the real nature of the divine," and another exulted that Wright "gives relief and intellectual ballast to those believers weary of the punching-bag tone of the recent faith-and-reason debates…

This is creationism for liberals. While biblical literalists discern the hand of God in features such as eyes or wings, Wright finds it in the process of evolution itself--and in human history. Darwin strongly disavowed such attempts to envision God directing evolution…

Except for his claim that theology is malleable to social forces, which is hardly novel but never mind, there is nothing in Wright's argument that withstands close inspection--nothing in his understanding of theology, of morality and its history, of evolution, of science.

How so? Well, you can read the whole article. But I warn you, it's 17 pages long.

Well, I guess that's better than plowing through the 576 pages of Wright's book.


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