Thursday, June 04, 2009

More on "The evolution of God"

Last Monday I had posted couple of reviews of Robert Wright's book, The Evolution of God. Well...he was also interviewed in the Sunday Magazine section. There are a couple of things that I want to highlight. First, on the issue of evolution:

Were you a churchgoer as a child?
Southern Baptists don’t fool around. At age 8 or 9, I chose to go to the front of the church in response to the altar call and accepted Jesus as my savior.

When did you begin to doubt?
I think it was roughly sophomore year in high school. I encountered the theory of evolution, and my parents were creationists. There was a clash. They brought a Baptist minister over to the house to try to convince me that evolution hadn’t happened. He was not entirely successful, I would say.

Then you went off and studied science?
No, I’m not a scientist; I’m just a journalist. I don’t have a doctorate in anything.
Now many of us argue against making an evolution-atheism connection, i.e. that an acceptance of evolution does not necessarily lead to atheism, and as scientists we should not present evolution as a choice between religion and science. At the same time, it is also clear that evolution rules out certain forms of religious ideas (e.g. special creation, ten thousand year old earth, etc.). I find Robert Wright's reply above, the opposite side of the spectrum. If certain religions keep on rejecting established ideas of science as a matter of doctrine, then many sensible adherents will simply leave the faith rather than abandon science-based evidence.

While we are on the subject, here are Wright's views on Dawkins and Hitchens:
Like Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens. What do you think of their work?
I think they have naïve ideas about the importance of religion in the world. They just seem oblivious to the good that religion has done, and I guess one point in my book is how malleable religion is; it has the capacity for good, which tends to come out when people see themselves as having something to gain from peaceful interaction with other people.
He also talks about his materialistic approach to the history of religions:

Your approach to religious history is so nakedly materialist. For instance, you claim the Apostle Paul was a kind of marketing guru who dropped the more demanding requirements of Judaism, like circumcision and dietary restrictions, to attract more followers.
Do the math. How many Christians are there today and how many Jews are there? If his goal was to gain a large following, he seems to have made the right tactical decision there.

Do you have to make Christianity sound like a pre-electronic Facebook?
Institutions thrive when they can serve the interest of a bunch of people, and there’s no reason to think the church is different. None of this is to say Paul didn’t feel divinely inspired.
Read the full interview here. Also, please check out an excerpt from Wright's book at Tom Rees' blog, Epiphenom. Commenting on Wright's ideas of the origins of moral societies, Tom brings up a fundamental question regarding this debate:
All this is very relevant to discussion of where morality comes from. Theologians argue that if God does not exist, then there's no rational basis for morality. Clearly, that's not the case.

And if Wright is right, then not only can morality be supported without recourse to God, but our moral society grew naturally from the rational application of common sense. Religion bought into this, but didn't originate it.
Read the full post here.

2 comments:

Determinist said...

The whole religion/science controversy is silly. Joseph Campbell said it best when he said, "There is no conflict between science and religion. The conflict is between modern knowledge and knowledge at the time the bible was written."

He is completely right here. I think science says exactly zero about God. God is a metaphor for various thoughts and feelings that are difficult or impossible to describe in words, which is why there is so much written about them. :)

If there is a refutation of religion, it would lie in history, since we can so often see religions being born, living for a while and dying like any other organization.

Campbell also said, "Religion is the defense mechanism in response to the religious experience." - true, true.

Imagine a religious leader trying to explain an unexplainable feeling to a bunch of other people. They respond to his charisma and the way he behaves, but the message/feeling is lost in one generation.

Buddhism is the only religion who seems to actually cultivate the feeling itself.

Atif Khan said...

I somehow feel more inclined towards Richard Dawkins views.