Takedown of the Day

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Chris Dierkes

Chris Dierkes (aka CJ Smith). 29 years old, happily married, adroit purveyor and voracious student of all kinds of information, theories, methods of inquiry, and forms of practice. Studying to be a priest in the Anglican Church in Canada. Main interests: military theory, diplomacy, foreign affairs, medieval history, religion & politics (esp. Islam and Christianity), and political grand bargains of all shapes and sizes.

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47 Responses

  1. Avatar Will says:

    “. . . less than optimal nature of the New Republic?” What does that even mean?Report

  2. Avatar North says:

    Aww I like TNR. Even Marty is kind of fun in that crazy rich uncle in the attic kind of way.Report

  3. I dunno. I quite liked this quote more than the above quote:

    ” But since forming an interesting counterargument would involve comprehending my argument in the first place, maybe we should assign this job to someone other than Jerry Coyne.”

    Heh.Report

  4. Avatar Secret Agent Limbo Moose says:

    Being unfamiliar with Robert Wright, I went to his evolutionofgod website and read the afterword to his book. Unfortunately, it was full of pernicious nonsense (which doesn’t speak well for the rest of the book.) For example, there’s an extended comparison of belief in electrons versus belief in god, which Wright argues are absolutely of equal nature. As someone who once dabbled in measuring electrons, Wright’s description of science showed a profound ignorance of the basics, and the words he put into the mouth of his strawman (atheist) scientist were utterly wrong — not only wouldn’t a real scientist say such things, but he completely ignored what objections a real-world scientist would make. For a single example (since this is blog comment), consider that any reasonably competent experimental physicist could describe to someone — anyone who’s interested — how to set up experiments that, step by step, display the properties of the electron. That’s how to get different people to share observations, and that’s the core of what science is. On the other hand, I (being an atheist) have occasionally heard theists describe their evidence for the existence of god. The problem is, they can’t tell me how I can make those observations myself. Nevertheless, they insist that god exists for me, too, even though there’s no way for me to get any evidence for their claims. This. to me, seems to be a fundamental difference between the arguments about electrons and arguments about god, and this is a fundamental difference that Wrights emtirely misses.Report

  5. Avatar Bob says:

    Speaking of, Mr. Wright as a longish op-ed in today’s NYT, linked below.

    For my money Wright gets into his wind-bag at warp-speed mode here, “The first step toward this more modern theology is for them [believers] to bite the bullet and accept that God did his work remotely — that his role in the creative process ended when he unleashed the algorithm of natural selection (whether by dropping it into the primordial ooze or writing its eventual emergence into the initial conditions of the universe or whatever).”

    Yeah, I can just see believers and atheists accepting that bit of jive, “…God did his work remotely….”

    No more devinley inspired books, no more miricles, no more “Personal Jesus.”

    And how likley we atheists come around to accepting such oogedy-boogedy.

    Wright gets one thing right, “…whatever.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/23/opinion/23wright.html?scp=1&sq=robert%20wright&st=cseReport

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Bob says:

      I can see it happening in a progression to a post-evangelical protestantism.

      A while back, I asked Chris and Scott for a definition of God in an atheism discussion and the answers they provided seemed like they’d fit in with what Wright’s talking about.Report

    • Avatar Bob in reply to Bob says:

      What does “it” mean? “I can see it happening…”

      Do either Scott or Chris see the Pope or the Archbishop of Canterbury or some Muslim cleric rejecting the Bible or the Koran anytime soon?

      Look, I think Wright gets it exactly right in The Evolution of God. Religion is man made. As Dawkins says, if triangles had gods they would look like triangles. Religion changes over time to accommodate “facts on the ground.” Religion, on the other hand, rejects that and insists on divine revelation as the source of truth.

      Wright is free to speculate on the op-ed page of the NYT on what will bring religion and science or atheist together.

      Will religion in the year 3000 be the same as religion in the year 2000 be the same as religion in the year 1000? I’m guessing, No. So what does that tell us about religion?

      Oogedy-boogedy, that’s what.Report

      • Avatar Chris Dierkes in reply to Bob says:

        Bob,

        As much as I like the other Bob, and I do, there is a problem ultimately (in my mind) with arguing that there is religion and then “facts on the ground.” In Wright’s terms that’s mostly technological and economic selection (game theory, non-zero sum scenarios, etc.).

        The problem is that it projects our world onto the ancient world. Namely where “real” things are going on separate from religion. Religion is historically–and in many places still today–part of the mix of what creates the whole sense of what counts as “facts on the ground” in any time and place.

        For as much as certain people like Jerry Coyne are thinking this is some “liberal creationism” the truth is that it is really just a further step along the route of secularization, scientificization, and darwinian evolutionism. The Jerry Coyne’s of the world have their heads so far up their “rational” backsides they can’t see that for what it is.

        Bob’s view that what constitutes the real is itself a philosophical position. It’s a way of seeing the world that shapes how he sees evidence, what he foregrounds, what he backgrounds in his narrative, etc. etc.

        As I say every time when this issue comes up everything is really an argument about ontology and epistemology. Not religion, not theism, not atheism, not whatever. It’s about what we thinks is real and valuable and how we know and what constitutes truth.

        Bob W. is at least honest about his position. He explains what his is right from the beginning of this book–and his other ones. I think it’s in the end a limited view, but not without it’s own strengths.

        On a separate note, I’m a little confused I must say. I thought the charge of oogedy-boogedyism was originally that religions won’t change with the times, are barbaric throwbacks that won’t catch up with contemporary enlightened thought. Now if they change and adapt isn’t that a good thing?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Bob says:

        “It” == “I can just see believers and atheists accepting that bit of jive”

        I can totally see believers (though, perhaps not atheists) accepting that particular jivepoint.

        We moved from earth gods to sky gods, sky gods to space gods, and now we just have to move from space gods to quantum gods.

        I can totally see that happening.

        I have seen it happen.Report

        • Avatar Bob in reply to Jaybird says:

          Substituting myth for myth happens, that is my Readers Digest take on EOG. I’m willing to accept that. But for the Abrahamic religions to accept Wright’s proposal, god working remotely, is not just biting “the bullet” it’s more akin “eating the bullet.”Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Bob says:

            Dude. I have sat through Unitarian services.

            I shudder at the thought that they might be the future… but, again, I can totally see a new offshoot of the religions explaining how “oh, The Bible contains great truths and analogies and explain the progressive revelation of God to us. When we were howling barbarians in the wilderness, God manifested Himself in this way, as we civilized, we saw God in this way, and now we see him in this way. We’re like a blind man feeling an elephant… but we have the accumulated memory of our ancestors and we have so much more of “the big picture” than they did and we understand God SOOOOOOOOOOOOO much better. Oh, yeah. Totally remotely. Totally.”

            You *CAN’T* see that happening?

            I mean, NPR had a report a while back on Unitarian Interfaith Sunday Schools for children and they had a chirpy mother explaining how religions were like lampshades and the class arts/crafts for that day were to make lampshades with “Islam” and “Judaism” and “Christianity” on it and each lampshade was put over the light and the chirpy mom was explaining that “you can always see the Light of God shine through.”

            This stuff is out there, dude. They’re teaching it to kids. Kids with names like “Hunter” and “Tyler” and “Meaghan”.Report

        • Avatar Bob in reply to Jaybird says:

          What, no kid named Jaybird?

          Yeah, as I said, subbing one myth for another is shorter EOG. And if Jews, Christians, Muslims want to reject their holy books and rituals and power they have my blessing. Do I see that happening? No

          The pope would look just fine wearing a lampshade and his red Prada shoes.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Bob says:

            “Jaybird” fell out of favor after the ’70s ended.

            They don’t have to reject it. They just have to stop reading it. They just have to explain how very important it is without ever cracking it. “It’s a metaphor for the truth!”

            It’s not a rejection. It’s a “Deeper Understanding Of Deeper Truth”.Report

    • Avatar Bob in reply to Bob says:

      For me oogedy-boogedy is nonsense, irrational.

      Saved by good works v preordained for heaven or hell, hell, even the concept of heaven or hell.

      Icons v iconoclast.

      Thou shall not kill v thou shall not murder.

      Prosperity gospel v it is easier for the rich man to pass through the eye of the needle than enter the kingdom of heaven.

      Oogedy-boogedy is denying facts on the ground in favor of myth.

      Religion, all religion, is man made.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Bob says:

        “Mostly Harmless”

        I have seen folks get irritated that Pluto got downgraded from a planet to a dwarf planet. These are people that I presume have never bothered to do as much as open wikipedia and look at the pixelated “picture” we have of Pluto.

        And yet… they have an uncanny attachment to the idea that our solar system has 9 planets… rather than 8 planets, 4 dwarf planets, and assorted “other” debris.

        People get attached to ideas and they like not having to change their minds about them… even over things as silly and trivial as the categorization of a piece of rock light minutes away that they have never seen, only been told about by school teachers.

        This is what dudes do, dude. It’s what they do.Report

  6. Avatar Francis says:

    Count me in with the oogedy-boogedy crowd. I’ll recognize that billions of people believe in some version of a higher power. So? I know plenty of smart people who “believe” in astrology and don’t “believe” in global climate change. Doesn’t mean they’re right; it just means that their disbeliefs need to be managed by those of us who don’t hold those particular delusions.

    Is Wright really so arrogant that he thinks he can get the world’s religions to evolve to a point where they’re nice, sweet ceremonial deism? Apparently he thinks that believers need to “accept that God did his work remotely”

    yup, he is that arrogant.

    Why, by the way, do I need to read theology? The summaries that get published as op-eds do a fine job of showing me that its essential premise is that it assumes its own conclusion. That’s not thinking; that’s mental masturbation.Report

    • Avatar Chris Dierkes in reply to Francis says:

      1. Bob more than anything saying that historically among the Abrahamic religions (which is what he focuses on though the process also happens among Eastern religions) there are times when non-zero sum scenarios bring about more tolerant sides of those religions. Hence it would be wiser, from a pragmatic moral point of view, to construct contexts that tend to bring about the better sides of religion. That seems to me like a fairly logical point of view.

      2. Relative to theology assuming its own premises. Inverting the normal way of thinking, I would say this might make theology more honest/transparent.

      Within that scientific worldview, there are presumptions/guesses that guide research (hypotheses) which may turn out to be wrong and culturally, re-fashioning explanations in light of new evidence is valued. All to the good.

      Except that the metaphysical (ontological) philosophical assumptions at work in that world are not ever questioned–and therefore assumed and “proven” by all later evidence.

      Namely that only what are termed material events are real. Wright goes as far to according consciousness an epiphenomenal status–an accident (mutation) selected that nonetheless is real enough. This view which I find quite flawed philosophically still makes Wright, by the standards of more the orthodox types like Steven Pinker, some kind of weirdo heterdox, quasi-heretic.

      The notion that material events alone are real (presumed in your comment) is not ever established by material proof. Deciding beforehand that only material things are real and then designing an entire process of knowledge gaining based on that premise and then all that evidence being claimed as proof of the original point of view, would be the definition of assuming the conclusion is one’s premise.

      Like I said, at least theology (good theology anyway) is honest about doing it. Mainline science? Uh, not so much.Report

      • Avatar Francis in reply to Chris Dierkes says:

        If I got this straight, theology is the study of the claim that immaterial events may be real.

        So, we need to stash the theology section of the local bookstore between fantasy and romance novels, because that’s what they’re about, too.

        The problem with Wright and Collins and Templeton Foundation is what they propose is to stop studying. If consciousness is a gift from god, then there’s not a lot of point in trying to understand consciousness. godidit is the end of that branch of science.

        And yet, for all the godidit claims made over time, it’s the people who ignored those claims and kept looking for material causes who have made stuff work.

        The deeper problem is that people like Wright write consistently about the obnoxiousness of the new atheists, but somehow fail to mention just how often politicians and priests claim success for healing the sick or diverting a hurricane.

        What I see is an assumption that those claims are so mainstream that they aren’t worth commentary. And that’s just pathetic. We’re still debating the content of high school textbooks!

        If immaterial events are real, if there is an activist god who can do miracles, he can give me the same courtesy as he gave to Doubting Thomas. Show up. Let me knock a glass off the table and have it rise.Report

        • Avatar Chris Dierkes in reply to Francis says:

          No it just means consciousness is real. Whatever we mean by real. Consciousness does not equal intervening God (which I don’t believe in btw).

          I think we’ve been down this road before, but it’s not Cartesian dualism nor is it scientific materialist monism, but the process philosophy of Whitehead. One could have that view and be a Buddhist, Confucian for that matter–not god-defined systems of religious philosophy. [For the record, I’m not a Buddhist, just saying there is a certain degree of similarity].Report

  7. Avatar Andy Smith says:

    I see much to challenge in Wright’s NYT article, but I will just address the following passage:
    “Mr. Pinker has noted how the interplay of evolved intuition and the dynamics of discourse tends to forge agreement on something like the golden rule — that you should treat people as you expect to be treated. He compares this natural apprehension of a moral principle to the depth perception humans have thanks to the evolution of stereo vision. Not all species (not even all two-eyed species) have stereo vision, Mr. Pinker says, but any species that has it is picking up on “real facts about the universe” that were true even before that species evolved — namely, the three-dimensional nature of reality and laws of optics.”
    The flaw in this argument is to equate an evolutionary adaptation that allows a species to function better with some “real fact of the universe”. As I discuss in detail in my book The Dimensions of Experience, the experience of a four-dimensional world (three of space and one of time), evolved gradually. It began with very primitive invertebrates with one-dimensional perception, sensitive to the intensity of certain stimuli like light and chemical substances (actually, still more primitive organisms have zero-dimensional perception, but I won’t get into that here). During the course of evolution, two-dimensional perception (surfaces and contrast) emerged in invertebrates like arthropods, followed by three-dimensional perception in lower vertebrates. Only the higher vertebrates, particularly our own species, experience a greatly extended dimension of time.
    Does this mean that four-dimensional space-time is a fact of the universe? No, it just means that this is how our species, and some others, experience the world. There could be higher forms of dimensionality, and certainly the experiences of mystics suggest that there may be. But regardless, the fact that other organisms, unable to perceive the world in as many dimensions as we do, nonetheless have been able to survive calls into question the ultimate reality of our own experience. Why should we think evolution has now reached the point where our species experiences all the dimensions present in the world, when we know for a fact that for hundreds of millions of years that was not the case?
    Many scientists seem to believe that if there were higher dimensions to the universe (other than the very tiny and curled-up ones proposed in string theory), we would witness strange phenomena, such as objects moving into and out of one of these dimensions beyond our experience. The metaphor often referred to is Edwin Abbott’s Flatland, whose creatures were confined to a two-dimensional surface, and therefore found the movement of three-dimensional objects through this surface inexplicable in terms of the laws that seemed to govern their own existence. But unlike Flatland, organisms in the real world are not confined to a dimensionality commensurate with what they can experience. Invertebrates that are sensitive to only one or two dimensions of space nevertheless move about in the same four-dimensional space-time with which we are familiar, and may interact with other organisms in it. It’s just that they experience phenomena in this higher dimensionality differently from the way we, and other forms of life that experience four-dimensional space-time, do.
    Studies with the praying mantis, for example, show that they will strike at certain artificially-constructed rectangles, depending on the relative lengths of their sides. These rectangles appear like prey (such as other insects or worms) to them. The mantis, from our point of view, is a three-dimensional organism that moves about in a three-dimensional world and interacts with other three-dimensional organisms. Yet while it has some limited depth perception, it clearly perceives much of this world, including the key features critical to its survival, in two dimensions. It takes information from a three-dimensional world and experiences it as a plane.
    Likewise, it’s entirely conceivable that we could live in a world of dimensions beyond the three of space and one of time that we actually experience. None of our sophisticated scientific technology could detect these higher dimensions (unlike the curled up ones apparently revealed, or more accurately hypothesized, by string theory), because all the phenomena we observe through this technology are ultimately filtered through our particular four-dimensional experience of space-time. It’s not that we are not experiencing certain phenomena; it’s just that we are experiencing them in a way that is limited relative to what would be possible for a form of life that could experience higher dimensions.
    The same argument, of course, applies to morality. We can certainly accept the argument that human morality has survival value for our species, and that it evolved because of this. It does not follow from this that this morality is a fact of the universe. It could be, as three dimensions of space and one of time could be, a temporary stepping stone on an evolutionary path that might lead to more complex, and adaptive, forms of understanding the world in the future.Report

    • Avatar Chris Dierkes in reply to Andy Smith says:

      Andy,

      Welcome–how you been?

      You’re definitely right that (er) Wright is giving a metaphysical perspective-free reading. [At least that’s what I take to be your point]. So is everyone else for all I can tell except writers like yourself.

      As I said to one of the earlier commenters, there’s a real problem saying that religion adapts to the real things (“facts on the ground”) thereby making religion ground-less and succumbing to the enlightenment myth of objectivity and secularist-materialism.

      But that ideology is so embedded, it’s hard to get around (see the comments to this post as proof) and the kind of stuff you are talking about is so far ahead of the curve, I don’t know where to begin usually explaining it to someone. In the meantime, maybe something like Bob W.’s book at least begins to get people thinking beyond the false dichotomy of religion v. science even if it’s a not particularly subtle-wise alternative.Report

  8. Avatar Bob says:

    P. Z. Meyer on Wright. He also provides a link to a Jerry Coyne comment on yesterdays op-ed.

    And yeah, I know P.Z. is Satan’s third testicle.

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/08/morality_doesnt_equal_god.php#commentsReport

    • Avatar Chris Dierkes in reply to Bob says:

      Third testicle or no, he’s just question begging as always.

      We do not have evidence for purpose in evolution, and if anything, all the evidence is against the idea that evolution has a direction or that natural selection can be anything but an unguided response to local conditions.

      Again all this depends on a prior metaphysical assumption of material things as being the only real things. And even there, he needs to unpack that assertion with you know evidence (!) instead of just saying it. Granted it’s a blog post, but still….

      What would constitute evidence of purpose in his mind? What is the definition of evidence (back to the materialism thing)?

      You can see it in the political and ethical assumptions in PZ’s discussion of morality. He’s an individualist libertarian which is not surprising given it’s the dominant strain of Anglo-American scientific philosophy. From Darwin on.

      That’s a view–an ethical and philosophical lens that guides all understanding of the science. It’s not entirely insane as a view, but it is a view which is what he won’t recognize.

      Again at least Wright is honest about using a narrative frame.

      PZ might read Teilhard’s The Phenomenon of Man where Teilhard argues that the development of materiality coincides with the rise of what he called centration (self-reflective consciousness) thereby suggesting a telos with evidence. It’s a certain understanding of what constitutes material complexity of course (mostly to do with brain complexity) but again everything depends on the perspective, interpretation, and the narrative worldview. PZ just assumes his is objectively true instead of a narrative. [Some narratives are much better than others–this is not relativism].Report

  9. Avatar Francis says:

    actually, PZ has commented a fair bit in the past as regards philosophical naturalism vs methodological naturalism. It’s just not correct to assume that he’s unaware of the issue.

    Let’s cut to the chase, though. Track record of Enlightenment: pretty impressive. After all, we’re communicating on devices that work only because of a profound understanding of electromagnetism and quantum theory.

    Track record of other methods of thinking: Just how many amputees have had limbs regrown through the power of prayer?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Francis says:

      How many amputees have regrown new limbs through the power of science?Report

    • Avatar Bob in reply to Francis says:

      Where has science claimed such accomplishments?

      On the other hand religious folk are often willing to point to God’s intervention.

      Lourdes, any one”

      From Wiki, “An estimated 200 million people have visited the shrine since 1860,[3] and the Roman Catholic Church has officially recognised 67 miraculous healings which are stringently examined for authenticity and authentic miracle healing with no physical or psychological basis other than the healing power of the water.[4] Especially impressive are candlelight and sacrament processions. Tours from all over the world are organized to visit the Sanctuary. Connected with this pilgrimage is often the consumption of or bathing in the Lourdes water which wells out of the Grotto.”Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Bob says:

        Well, we’re comparing apples to oranges then.

        If we want to compare apples to apples, “… communicating on devices that work only because of a profound understanding of electromagnetism and quantum theory” can be compared to the ability to speak to and hear from not only the deceased, but to speak to and hear from the creator of the universe.Report

    • Avatar Bob in reply to Francis says:

      To repeat Will’s question at #1, “What does that even mean?”Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Bob says:

        Okay then, it was humor in service to the point that there was a major difference between the two “track records”.

        Maybe we few, we enlightened few, are better than those functionally illiterate religious folk. Sure. The comparison of the two track records didn’t get me to reach the conclusion that the original author apparently has. Indeed, the comparison was weak to the point where I thought that a humorous tweaking of the comparison would result in a better comparison: One that would make me say “okay, I see how you got there from here.”Report

        • Avatar Francis in reply to Jaybird says:

          OK, I’ll try again. Dierkes asserts that PZ is operating within a frame that PZ doesn’t even recognize. Dierkes is, in essence, arguing that there are other ways of knowing in addition to the “individualist libertarian” approach which is “the dominant strain of Anglo-American scientific philosophy. From Darwin on. ”

          To which I answer that the approach dates back to the Enlightenment, and has worked quite well. And that other ways of knowing — ie, expecting that there is an interventionist god — has failed to produce a single demonstrable miracle. Throwing away crutches at Lourdes is one thing (placebo effect); regrowing a lost limb would be a trick that would make even Dawkins take a second look.

          I am very happy that many people love their children. As anyone who has seen the inside of the criminal justice system will know, unwanted and unloved children rarely make good citizens.

          As to why people love their children, one approach is to say godidit. Another would be to subject the question to rational inquiry. Taking the latter approach doesn’t mean that the emotions are any less real.

          Wright’s biggest problem is that he is invoking an ever-shrinking god of the gaps. The bloody god of the OT and the merciful (but, oddly, suicidal) god of the NT have shrunk into an actor at a distance. This compromise won’t satisfy atheists who will continue to point out the absence of evidence for this god, or believers who will reject the lack of intervention.Report

          • Avatar Chris Dierkes in reply to Francis says:

            to defend Wright for a second–he is an agnostic on the question of god. There’s no god necessary for him to still argue that there could be a moral telos (see his earlier book Nonzero). It’s certainly fair to question whether a bulk of religious believers will go for a deistic god. I happen to think there are other theological options than just interventionist mythic god or deism. But admittedly I’m in a small camp on that one.

            Branching out from that point then….there are way more options available to us philosophically than just the Anglo-Enlightenment or miraculous re-growth. I’m much more influenced by postmodern Continental philosophy myself, which is why is part of the reason I never quite feel comfortable in these largely American cultural war arguments.

            When I said there were other ways of knowing I was not talking about an interventionist god–which again I don’t believe in. That there is an assumption that those are the only two positions one can hold is again evidence of how American cultural war conditioned this debate is. And need not be frankly.Report

  10. Avatar Chris Dierkes says:

    francis,

    even a distinction like philosophical naturalism vs. methodological naturalism is suspect because of the inherent biases of what constitutes ‘the natural’ (or the real) as discussed above. Whitehead called his thought naturalism but it is very different than a Hume or Locke. What we think to be natural is part of a definition point of view meant to screen out other views.

    Who gets to decide what is natural? Is it ‘natural’ to assume consciousness is not real/natural? Depends on point of view I suppose. But I can see an argument where that is rather un-natural.

    And to add to Jaybird’s retort (though less shrewdly)–I just observe that the track record of the Enlightenment in your example is technological advances, which I’m not arguing against as a definite benefit of science. But what about other values? Or is instrumental technological value the only value?

    Which is better at for example bringing joy or forgiveness? That might seem like a “fuzzy” or wimpy or weird question but only because we have been so inundated and formed by our values in this dominant strain that forms our opinions.

    Is the value of life that we have fancier toys?Report

  11. Avatar Andy Smith says:

    CD: “What would constitute evidence of purpose in his mind? What is the definition of evidence (back to the materialism thing)?”

    Chris, I might throw that question back at you. I agree with PZ that there is no evidence of purpose that we can see. That doesn’t mean there is no purpose, but I think it puts the burden of proof on those who say there is. Maybe I’m missing something, but purpose, at least as usually implied in these discussions, suggests to me intelligence. Of course, we could say that the purpose of life is to survive and reproduce, that genes have a purpose, and so on, but when people like Wright use the word, they obviously mean something more. Something that is directing the whole show, considering not just what is immediately happening, but what can or will happen in the future. This is his god acting remotely.

    One possible source of confusion here is the conflation (by PZ) of purpose with direction. Maybe he’s just being loose in his terminology, but he implies that one is the same as the other. I don’t agree with this, and I think it’s unwise of him not to distinguish them. By not doing so, he potentially undermines his argument.

    A good case can be made that evolution results in greater complexity (I discuss this in DE, too), and this could be considered a direction. Certainly it is an indisputable fact that there is greater complexity today than there was earlier. The arguments revolve around whether this increasing complexity is a major feature of evolution, or just a chance outcome among many others. I personally think it’s a major feature, not the entire story, but enough of it to command attention, and I believe that many though by no means all scientists tend to agree.

    Is this evidence of purpose? In a weak sense, maybe. In the sense that when evolution began, highly complex forms of life like us might have been inevitable. That given enough time, PZ’s “local conditions” were certain to create highly intelligent, reflective beings. But to me, at least, that is still a very weak sense of purpose. After all, a strictly deterministic view of the universe would also imply that our evolution was inevitable. But surely no one would regard such determinism per se as evidence of purpose.

    I think of purpose, again, in terms of intelligence; not only does the process lead to some inevitable conclusion, but something around at the beginning knows or anticipates this. And surely any theist—including Wright, based on what he says–must understand it in the same way.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Andy Smith says:

      This is one of those wacky things where I really wonder how loose we are allowed to be with “evidence”.

      In our tribe, our first group of friends to have a kid had a son who was stuck in the ICU for babies for a while. When everything turned around and the kid was able to come home and be held and sleep in his own crib, the dad was holding his kid and talking about how he read The Hobbit to him at the hospital and he finished up with something like “this is why we are here” as he rocked his baby.

      When he said “this is why we are here”, I knew that he *KNEW* that. Now, my wife and I are living a child-free lifestyle but it never would occur to me to even want to argue with my dear friend. He knew, in that moment, that that is why we are here. It’s 8 years later. We do stuff like go to the kids’ birthday parties and watch them open up stuff like Bakugan balls and Choose Your Own Adventure books and light up and see the dad light up in response to the kids lighting up and he still knows that those kids are why he is there.

      Is that evidence insufficient?Report

      • Avatar Bob in reply to Jaybird says:

        Your friend is no doubt a good parent.

        Susan Smith fell far short.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susan_SmithReport

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Bob says:

          We’re talking about evidence.

          Hey. I am an atheist. Most definitions of God strike me as plainly and self-evidently coping mechanisms. The more complex ones strike me as coping mechanisms used by somewhat more complex folks… but that’s the perspective that I have because I’ve looked at the evidence and came to the conclusion that there’s nothing there. No gods, no judges, no morals beyond those imposed on those too weak to impose upon others.

          But what if I looked at the evidence and saw the handiwork of a God? What then? It seems obvious to me that the correct answer in that case is to move to theism. Fulsomely. Find out His Will and do everything in one’s power to act in accordance to It.

          I’ve argued with theists who cannot believe that I look at the universe without seeing a God. They raise their voice and accuse me of bad faith. Denial. Active action to malice. Hey, buddy, I say. I just look and I don’t see it.

          But I have friends who look and they see God. I don’t see how my telling them that they are deluded, or acting in bad faith, or whathaveyou is anything but a mirror image of the aforementioned yelly theists.

          When my bud was holding his kid, he had a certainty that I have not felt for a good, long time.

          When I look, I don’t see a god.
          But when he looks, he sees One.

          And Susan Smith doesn’t really come close to arguing against either one of our positions.Report

  12. Avatar Bob says:

    Susan had a vision as real to her as the vision your friend experienced. Susan envisioned a new life with a new hubby without her boys.

    But if you are saying neither story tells us anything useful, they offer no evidence, regarding the existence of a supreme being acting “remotely”, Wright’s vision, or otherwise I agree.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Bob says:

      One of the arguments I give to theists, when I’m in a scrappy mood, is the argument regarding Cthulhu (well, not Cthulhu proper… more a exceptionally malevolent (and interventionist!) being).

      Let’s assume there is a God, I ask.
      How do you know that he’s not evil?
      How do you know that he isn’t tending his garden here on earth and we are the tasty vittles that he will eat up like so many baby carrots?

      They usually snort at me. Of course the universe isn’t like that.

      Of course.

      I cannot tell you what conclusions to reach from evidence. I can, however, tell you to “look here” and “look there”. You will either see something or you won’t. The conclusion you reach will (indeed, *MUST*) be your own.

      But something doesn’t cease to be evidence when someone else claims to not see it. And, of course, something that isn’t there doesn’t become evidence the moment someone says that it is there.Report

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