Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Robert Wright on Colbert

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In case you are wondering what does he mean by "some sort of purpose" in the universe, perhaps this response may shed some light (Wright's write-up is in response to a review by Jerry Coyne):
My beliefs about God

Coyne writes, “Wright suggests that the moral sentiments themselves may have come from an evolutionary process guided by God.” And: “Wright makes a really remarkable claim, a metaphysical one, that this whole process is driven by God.”

Guided by God? Driven by God? Here’s what my book says (p. 448):

“This book’s account of the moral direction of history has been a materialist account. We’ve explained the expansion of the moral imagination as an outgrowth of expanding social organization, which is itself an outgrowth of technological evolution, which itself grows naturally out of the human brain, which itself grew naturally out of the primordial ooze via biological evolution. There’s no mystical force that has to enter the system to explain this, and there’s no need to look for one.” And (on p. 401): “We can explain the complex functionality of organisms without positing a god. The explanation is natural selection.”

In other words, if there’s a God involved, it’s a God of a deistic sort, who set the whole system, including natural selection, in motion and then kept his paws off. The process would be “guided” by God, and “driven” by God, in the sense that every Ford is “guided” and “driven” by Henry Ford.

Moreover, I’m agnostic on the question of whether there’s even a deistic sort of God. But, you may ask, if I’m agnostic, then how can Coyne quote me saying things like this: “God was so wise that he set up a world in which the rational pursuit of self-interest leads people to wisdom.”?

Answer: By taking that quote out of context. That passage characterizes not my view, but the theology implicit in the Hebrew wisdom literature. To fully appreciate how negligent a reviewer would have to be to miss this fact, I recommend reading the quote in context. It’s in the final paragraph of this passage.

If faced with these misrepresentations of my views, Coyne’s alibi might be that at the end of his review he sets the record straight by noting (indeed, complaining) that I don’t profess to know whether any god exists. And, indeed, the closing paragraphs of his review do contain a refreshingly accurate portrayal of my position. But how does Coyne reconcile this portrayal with his earlier assertion that God’s existence is a “claim” that I make?

Read Wright's full response here and Coyne's review here.


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