Review of Robert Wright’s “The Evolution of God”

I have a long review of Robert Wright’s The Evolution of God in this week’s New Republic. You can get it free online here.

Short review:  save your money unless you’re religious but insecure in your faith, and desperate to find some sign of divinity in the world.

75 Comments

  1. Posted July 27, 2009 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Who appears “destined” to reduce tensions and to come up with “win-win” situations? Relatively secular societies.

    This may not always be the case, for we have WWII as an example of the relatively secular Germany and Japan becoming reactionary and belligerent. Nonetheless, secular, capitalistic, and internationally trading societies have for the most part become “more moral” (a disputable claim itself) in Wright’s terms for economic and safety reasons.

    We manage to get along with Japan far better than with our “fellow Abrahamic religionists” the Muslims. That’s because Japan wasn’t religiously wedded to retrograde social and economic forms and customs. This would be largely true of most East Asian countries as well, peoples without the heavy religious commitments to “despising the infidel” that all Abrahamic religions can fall back upon, and which Islam has especially emphasized.

    While this isn’t the full story either, it would appear that reduction and loss of reactionary religious beliefs and customs is more easilay and honestly argued as the route to Wright’s “moral progress.” Abrahamic religions (including highly complex relations between those and their societies) are quite directly the cause of many tensions in this world, while economic interconnectedness ando open societies–if not perfect means toward lessening tensions–have tended to further increase cooperation.

    Wright’s trying to explain through god what is already reasonably explained by economic and social analyses. And he’s doing a very bad job of it, necessarily ignoring the empirical data against his claims. It’s an apologetic, with all of the expected flaws and failure that we have come to expect from apologetics.

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  2. Posted July 27, 2009 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Biological evolution has a set of properties that is found in such purposive things as animals and robots and is not found in such evidently purposeless things as rocks and rivers. This isn’t proof of teleology, but it’s evidence of it.

    This from his earlier book is an exercise in question-begging and answer-ignoring.

    All evidence points to “purpose” evolving as a cognitive category in animals for the functions of looking ahead and of choosing useful food, objects, actions, etc. There is no “purpose for existence” of animals–including ourselves–than can be discovered through honest research or philosophical argumentation. This is a major reason for believing in evolution, after all, and not in design.

    Wright just merrily conflates our purposeful production of robots for our uses with the “purpose” that animals like ourselves have evolved to facilitate our survival. And, at least in the above quote, he ignores the fact that humans used to consider rivers to have “purposes” as well, with gods controlling rivers for their own “designs” (has he read Homer?).

    In truth, he appears to be as confused about, and prone to use equivically, purpose as any IDist is. Just take your own prejudices as absolute truth, and build your “scientific conclusions” around those biases. Is his next step to complain incessantly about how we won’t treat his highly biased approach as the equal of science, with its practices designed to reduce the impact of prejudice upon its conclusions, like the IDists do?

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  3. Anonymous
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Hope you might consider doing a Bloggingheads diavlog with Wright.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted July 27, 2009 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      After reading Coyne’s review, I doubt Write would agree to do it.

  4. NewEnglandBob
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    Jerry Coyne, this is quite a review! Not only did you review Wright’s current book, but his previous two books. And you show yourself to be a biblical scholar on the bible AND the Koran!

    Do you actually sleep? Where do you find the time to do what you do?

    I had some big laughs at the following:

    “By knitting together all humanity into one e-network, it forms “a social, political, and even moral culmination of sorts.”

    In other words, societies–at least those societies embracing the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam–keep getting better, more ethical.

    “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.”

    “God was so wise that he set up a world in which the rational pursuit of self-interest leads people to wisdom.

    How does Wright publish books where he starts with false premises, fabricates data (“The problem is that Wright has a tendency, already demonstrated in Nonzero, to dwell on data that support his theory and to ignore those that do not support it.”) and comes out with wild-ass conclusions?

    I have not even finished your review yet. I had to pause on page 11 where you talk about ethics and morality. I was exhausted.

  5. tdd
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    I ran across the following post on the daily dish where Robert Wright was subbing and I decided that with reasoning skills like these, his book wouldn’t be worth reading. Your review confirmed my suspicion.

    A reader writes:

    To my mind atheism, including the so-called ‘New Atheism’ project, is not even at its core about God and religion but rationalism, which is to say, a mindset that values reasoned, logical thinking over dogmatism and unwarranted assertions.

    [Wright's response to the reader]

    I agree that the “new atheists” see their mission as advancing reason. But I think this self-conception can abet self-delusion, making it easier for them to be blind to their own lapses of reason.

    For example:

    I think Richard Dawkins and Dan Dennett are confused in describing religion as a “virus” of the mind. After all, viruses are typically parasitic—they spread at the expense of the host. And Dawkins and Dennett would surely concede that, say, the Catholic belief in the wrongness of contraception has helped the belief’s hosts—the Catholics—flourish in Darwinian terms. If Dawkins and Dennett were being truly rational, they’d call religious belief a “symbiont” that can be either parasitic or “mutualistic” (i.e. win-win), depending on the belief in question. (Not every single virus is parasitic, but viruses are so frequently so, and so commonly conceived that way, that the term “virus” universally connotes parasitism, as Dawkins and Dennett well know.)

    What explains this lapse of reason on the part of the champions of reason? I’d guess that their vision is being warped by adversarial instincts—by their their sense of opposition to religious people, or at least to religious beliefs. Human beings naturally, without even thinking about it, cast their enemies in unflattering light, and “virus” is certainly an unflattering label.

    This human tendency to view enemies through a biased lens points to another flaw in the thinking of the “new atheists”—their belief that when religious people display seemingly irrational intolerance or hatred, the root of the problem is religion. No, the root of this irrationality is the same as the root of Dawkins’ and Dennett’s irrational deployment of the term “virus”. When you view people or ideas as your adversaries—view them in zero-sum terms—your unconscious mind does the rest of the work, making you conceive them and depict them in less flattering terms than is objectively warranted. That perception brings out the worst in religion and always has. It doesn’t exactly bring out the best in science, either.

  6. Robocop
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    “Finally, consider what most of us agree are real improvements in ethics over the last several centuries: the idea of democracy; the elimination of more horrible punishments; the adoption of equal rights for racial and ethnic minorities, homosexuals, and women; the disappearance of slavery; the improved treatment of animals; and the increasing view that adult sexuality is a private matter. In each case, the impetus for change came overwhelmingly from secular views.”

    This is a sweeping claim and yet, at least within the article, it is entirely unevidenced. Why are these unevidenced claims worthy of more acceptance than any other unevidenced claims? Indeed, shouldn’t they be rejected entirely unless and until such an affirmative case is made?

    • Robocop
      Posted July 27, 2009 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

      ” Instead, contemporary Christian believers cherry-pick their morals from the Bible, discarding much of the Old Testament but keeping the Sermon on the Mount.”

      If all you mean to say is that some Christians do this, it’s trivially true but essentially meaningless. On the other hand, if you mean to say that progressive revelation is more cherry-picking than, say, careful analysis and understanding, you have to do more than baldly assert it if you expect anyone (beyond the sychophantic choir) to take the claim seriously. Evidence?

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted July 27, 2009 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

        All must cherry-pick, otherwise they would have to follow the bible and believe in slavery, misogyny, stoning of misbehaving children, etc.

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted July 27, 2009 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

        That I do not see everyone owning slaves, stoning misbehaving children, killing out-group members, etc. because their bible tells them so.

        What proof do you have otherwise?

      • Robocop
        Posted July 27, 2009 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

        I’m not contesting that behavior and morals have changed. You attribute the change to “cherry-picking.” Christians typically attribute the change to progressive revelation and understanding (for example — Jesus fulfilling the law — Chapter 19 of the Westminster Confession lays out the traditional Reformed view in pretty short order). What’s your evidence that the traditional Christian understanding and explanation of their own beliefs is wrong?

      • Wes
        Posted July 27, 2009 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

        As a former churchgoer myself, I can assure you that there is no such thing as “the” traditional Christian understanding and explanation of their own beliefs. In fact, the rationalizations attached to religious beliefs change dramatically depending on whom you ask.

        The problem with Christianity is that they want to maintain two opposing claims as true: 1.) That the Bible is the Word of an eternal, unchanging, perfect being who rules the world; and 2.) That the vast majority of the “moral” teaching in the Bible is barbaric by today’s moral standards, so no one could actually get their morals from God’s Word. Instead, they must re-interpret pretty much everything in the Bible in the light of modern culture.

        I think what NewEnglandBob is saying is that you can’t have it both ways. The Bible very clearly and unambiguously endorsing things such as slavery, sexism, child abuse, bigotry, and other activities which our society considers to be morally abhorrent. If you say this is the word of God, then God’s word contains a lot of immoral commands. If you say that God would never command something immoral, so we must re-interpret using modern society’s values as our guide, then you are tacitly admitting that the Bible is not the Word of God. It’s just Euthyphro’s dilemma all over again.

      • Robocop
        Posted July 27, 2009 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

        Wes — You’ll note that I didn’t postulate one “traditional Christian” view. More to the point, that there are any number of possible viewpoints and that some could be cherry-picked doesn’t impact my position a bit. Chrisianity takes great pains to show that it doesn’t cherry pick. Perhaps each of those efforts is misguided and wrong. But my question remains. By what evidence do you, NEBob and JC conclude that any (every!?!) such effort is cherry-picked rather than careful analysis and understanding? The process isn’t so different from Supreme Court justices interpreting the Constitution. The law today is quite different from a century ago even when the Constitution hasn’t changed. Has all that change been the result of cherry-picking?

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted July 27, 2009 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

        Asked and already answered you Robocop. Thanks Wes, you understand it too. As far as looking at “Yet Another Sect’s” doctrine – I will not waste my time, nor do I have enough years of life left to look at the tens of thousands of sects’ doctrines.

      • Robocop
        Posted July 27, 2009 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

        You’re still unclear (or ducking the question), NEBob. You seem to claim that all Christian moral theology is necessarily cherry-picked. You make that conclusion on what evidenciary basis? And, so that I might understand you better, do you think that constitutional interpretation is necessarily cherry-picked too?

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted July 27, 2009 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

        OK, for those who do not understand a simple answer.

        Any Christian or Jew who does not own slaves or does nor suppress women or does not stone unruly children to death or works on the sabbath etc. is cherry picking his/her religion.

        It is even worse for Muslims. They are commanded to murder for dozens of issues. If they don’t then they also are cherry-picking their religion.

      • bilbo
        Posted July 27, 2009 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

        As a former theist myself, it’s interesting to see the perception of religion (Christianity, specifically) that manifests itself on this blog.

        It seems when one refers to a Christian on this blog, they’re most commonly referring to the farthest right end of the spectrum of religious views held under the umbrella of Christianity, i.e. incredibly literal translation of the bible, ignorance of the bible’s historical context, etc. etc.

        What’s frightening about this perception is that, by packaging religion into a nice “every religious person believes exactly the same with no variability,” you make it incredibly easy to criticize but ignore many contradictory points.

        I can’t tell if this stems from an ignorance of theology or if it’s a cheap tactic used to simplify an opposing worldview. Either way, it ruins any useful argument.

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 6:52 am | Permalink

        What are you talking about, bilbo? This discussion is about the degrees of religiosity. The thread about Francis Collins is about his type of dogma.

        Most people here realize that there is a difference in religious views, but in the US, the biggest problem is the intolerant views of the religious far right and the evangelicals and others who take a literal interpretation of the fantasy books.

      • Robocop
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 8:29 am | Permalink

        NEBob — What you said is simple but isn’t an answer. Apparently you think that cherry-picking is a necessity and that careful analysis leading to the conclusions at issue is impossible. On what evidenciary basis do you make that conclusion?

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 8:38 am | Permalink

        Robocop, I have answered your question three times. I am deeply sorry you can not comprehend that answer. Please stop putting words in my mouth that I did not say. It is a sleazy tactic to elicit an argument.

      • Robocop
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 9:18 am | Permalink

        NEBob — I don’t see anything sleazy about asking for your evidence that Christian doctrine is necessarily cherry-picked. You simply pointed to certain views having changed. One you specifically mentioned was the “stoning of misbehaving children” from the Pentateuch. You’re right that Christians don’t approve of that idea. But that doesn’t mean it’s cherry-picked.

        Jesus specifically said that He came to “fulfill” the Law (as outlined in the Pentateuch). He deliberately failed to follow some of the Law’s injunctions. He summarized the Law positively — as loving God and our neighbors, despite the negative focus of the Pentateuch (“Thou shalt not…”). He radically redefined “neighbor” as applying universally. He made it clear (in the Sermon on the Mount, for example), that not doing what was prohibited wasn’t really keeping the Law. Accordingly, that Christians (by definition, followers of Jesus Christ) might come to look at the Law differently is no surprise and not necessarily cherry-picking. If you want to allege cherry-picking, it’s your burden to support the claim with evidence. Got any?

      • TheBlackCat
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 9:50 am | Permalink

        What about the New Testament laws, such as prohibitions against women teaching or holding authority over men, prohibitions against women speaking in church, rules that women must cover their heads in church, and prohibition against divorce and marrying divorced women (both in the sermon on the mount)?

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 9:54 am | Permalink

        Jesus said…Jesus said…Jesus said…

        This is your evidence?

        Fantasy tales written 30, 60 90 and 150 years after the alleged acts.

        If is funny that you want me to show evidence of the delusions of people’s minds and how they interpret these fairy tales. What evidence do you have about how this mish-mash is interpreted? Are you back to the thousands of sects and their myriad interpretations? Which one are these mythical ‘Christians’ using? No that couldn’t possibly be cherry-picking, could it?

        Lets discuss the meaning of Harry Potter too and Mormon magic underpants and the horse that Mohammad rode into heaven and Zeus’ use of lightning or how about how Santa Claus maneuvers all those chimney once a year.

        I would rather talk about logic, reason, critical thinking and evidence? Got any?

      • Robocop
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 10:10 am | Permalink

        NEBob — That you now seek to change the subject is proof positive that you have no case to make.

        “No that couldn’t possibly be cherry-picking, could it?”

        It could be, and in many cases surely is. But you claimed that it’s all cherry-picking, which is something else entirely. Epic fail.

        Black Cat — Those are reasonable questions. Figuring out what Biblical injunctions are culturally derived and which ought to apply in all circumstances isn’t easy for anybody. Again, it’s much like constitutional scholars trying to interpret the Constitution. In my view, a cherry-picking claim posits bad faith and a pre-determined conclusion. I don’t see that often, even when I think the conclusion offered is wrong.

      • TheBlackCat
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 11:50 am | Permalink

        “Those are reasonable questions. Figuring out what Biblical injunctions are culturally derived and which ought to apply in all circumstances isn’t easy for anybody.”

        Are you saying unambiguous rules stated in the sermon on the mount cannot be trusted?

        “Again, it’s much like constitutional scholars trying to interpret the Constitution.”

        No, it isn’t at all like the constitution. Here explicitly-stated rules, rules with no hint of ambiguity, are completely and totally ignored in all circumstances. Can you show me anything in the constitution that is unambiguously stated, with no contradictory statements anywhere else in the constitution, but is completely and totally ignored today?

        I also can’t help but notice that you don’t actually answer my question. Are the laws set out in the New Testament valid, or not? Are the laws set out by Jesus himself valid, or not?

        Let’s give a specific example. The rule against divorce, or marrying a divorced woman, are both laid out by Jesus in the sermon on the mount, with no hint of ambiguity, question, or tentativeness. Nevertheless, both rules have been abandoned by many modern Christians. On what basis was it decided that these rules are no longer valid?

      • Gingerbaker
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 11:55 am | Permalink

        “By what evidence do you, NEBob and JC conclude that any (every!?!) such effort is cherry-picked rather than careful analysis and understanding?”

        – Robocop

        What immediately comes to mind is that any honest ‘careful analysis and understanding’ of scripture would lead the scholar to a rejection of the Bible as coherent. Indeed, the more one analyzes the Good Book, the more one realizes that it is not only self-contradictory, it is a compendium of centuries of deliberately dishonest interpolations, outright deletions, and historical revisionism used to bolster the authority of the Church through apologetic midrash.

        What emerges is a Dark Ages morality tale recounted as a patchwork of hearsay by the mentally ill, all poorly rehabilitated by easily-documented historical liars in the service of a Roman Emperor.

        The entire text is a tapestry of borrowed myths and lies, woven by a severely schizophrenic narrator(s) into a testament that is so internally incoherent that it can only be interpreted by the intellectually dishonest as saying anything at all.

        Aside from that, of course, it serves as a wonderful source of moral meaning. ;D

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 11:57 am | Permalink

        TheBlackCat asked:

        Nevertheless, both rules have been abandoned by many modern Christians. On what basis was it decided that these rules are no longer valid?

        The whim of cherry-picking, of course. It can even change on a day-by-day basis depending on the shoe color of the day. :)

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

        Gingerbaker said:

        …it is a compendium of centuries of deliberately dishonest interpolations, outright deletions, and historical revisionism used to bolster…

        I sense that you are holding out your true feelings on this. I think you should let down your hair (and bang on those drums) and really let us know what you think of the bible.
        /smirk

      • Robocop
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

        “Are you saying unambiguous rules stated in the sermon on the mount cannot be trusted?”

        I can only speak for myself, but not necessarily.

        “No, it isn’t at all like the constitution. Here explicitly-stated rules, rules with no hint of ambiguity, are completely and totally ignored in all circumstances. Can you show me anything in the constitution that is unambiguously stated, with no contradictory statements anywhere else in the constitution, but is completely and totally ignored today?”

        From the 2nd Amendment: “[T]he right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

        “Are the laws set out in the New Testament valid, or not? Are the laws set out by Jesus himself valid, or not?”

        That’s not a relevant question even if I could somehow speak for Christianity — you’re trying to move the goalposts. The claim was that Biblical interpretation is all cherry-picked. I think it’s clear that the claim has been been established. Not remotely.

        “What immediately comes to mind is that any honest ‘careful analysis and understanding’ of scripture would lead the scholar to a rejection of the Bible as coherent.”

        That’s absurd and unsupportable (not to mention unsupported). Indeed, some of the more prominent New Testament scholars aren’t even Christian, yet they don’t reject it “as incoherent.” I suppose you think that these scholars (e.g., Vermes, Fredriksen, Ehrman) are mentally ill for not recognizing your claim as capital-T Truth?

        “Indeed, the more one analyzes the Good Book, the more one realizes that it is not only self-contradictory, it is a compendium of centuries of deliberately dishonest interpolations, outright deletions, and historical revisionism used to bolster the authority of the Church through apologetic midrash.”

        Besides the erroneous suggestion that it’s one book, I note no eveidence presented to bolster this nonsense. It seems to be a trend.

        “What emerges is a Dark Ages morality tale….”

        Written centuries before that. What prescience!

        “The entire text is a tapestry of borrowed myths and lies, woven by a severely schizophrenic narrator(s) into a testament that is so internally incoherent that it can only be interpreted by the intellectually dishonest as saying anything at all.”

        So besides your literary and historical expertise, you’re a psycho-therapist now too? I’m very impressed. Really. Would you share your vita? You’ve also done a lovely job indicting an entire class of quality scholars from the world’s greatest universities. Still no evidence though. Pity that.

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

        Robocop said:

        That’s absurd and unsupportable (not to mention unsupported). Indeed, some of the more prominent New Testament scholars aren’t even Christian, yet they don’t reject it “as incoherent.”

        Full name – Bart D. Ehrman
        Born – ca. 1955
        School/tradition – Evangelical Christian ->
        New Testament textual critic ->
        agnostic
        Main interests -New Testament authentication, Historical Jesus, Lost Gospels, Early Christian writings

        He claims the bible has thousands and thousand of errors in it. He lost his faith due to it.

        “He has written about how the original New Testament texts were frequently altered by scribes for a variety of reasons, and argues that these alterations affect the interpretation of the texts.”

        “Ehrman is the author of more than twenty books with two New York Times bestsellers including Misquoting Jesus and God’s Problem. Much of his work is on textual criticism and the New Testament.”

        “His most recent book Jesus, Interrupted was published in March 2009 and discusses contradictions in the Bible.”

      • Robocop
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

        “Full name – Bart D. Ehrman….”

        Exactly. Even when I disagree with him, I find Ehrman’s work interesting and engaging. Any lack of inerrancy doesn’t demand incoherence or suggest any lack of value.

      • TheBlackCat
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

        ““Are you saying unambiguous rules stated in the sermon on the mount cannot be trusted?”

        I can only speak for myself, but not necessarily.”

        Do you mean that it is not necessarily true that an unambiguous statement in the sermon of the mount can be trusted, or do you mean that it is not necessarily true that an unambiguous statement in the sermon on the mount cannot be trusted? If the first, on what grounds do you draw this conclusion? If the second, then how come Christians can divorce?

        “From the 2nd Amendment: “[T]he right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.””

        I prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt, but I have not other explanation for this other than blatant dishonesty or gross ignorance. The actual text of the second amendment reads “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” You cut out half the sentence, a key portion of the sentence, yet gave no indication that you had done so. If you were at all familiar with the history of the second amendment, you would know that the part you cut out is central to disagreements about its interpretation. It depends on whether you consider the right to bear arms the important part of the sentence, or the militia the important part.

        You have provided no similar content in any of Jesus’s teachings that could lead to ambiguity in the interpretation of, say, rules on divorce, not to mention something in the very same sentence that would lead to such ambiguity.

        “That’s not a relevant question even if I could somehow speak for Christianity — you’re trying to move the goalposts.”

        I am not moving any goalposts. I am asking my own questions, I am not bound to any goalposts set by somebody else.

        “The claim was that Biblical interpretation is all cherry-picked. I think it’s clear that the claim has been been established. Not remotely.”

        No, nobody has made that claim. The actual claim was “All must cherry-pick, otherwise they would have to follow the bible and believe in slavery, misogyny, stoning of misbehaving children, etc.” You moved the “all” in the sentence, completely changing its meaning.

        So far I have seen lots of arguments why this is the case, yet you have provided no concrete reasons to think it is anything other than cherry-picking. I have given you a concrete example of a rule that is being ignored, asked you on what grounds, other than cherry-picking, that the rule can be ignored, and you have completely ignored the question. I am left with no other conclusion than that you have no answer. You can prove me wrong at any time, but your apparently disinclination to give any specifics is not encouraging.

      • Robocop
        Posted July 29, 2009 at 9:00 am | Permalink

        “Do you mean that it is not necessarily true that an unambiguous statement in the sermon of the mount can be trusted, or do you mean that it is not necessarily true that an unambiguous statement in the sermon on the mount cannot be trusted?”

        The former.

        “If the first, on what grounds do you draw this conclusion?”

        Because doing the cultural and exegetical analysis is so problematic. For example, with respect to the divorce question, some say the Greek apoluo in Matthew means a separation in general which does not involve the legal aspect of a permanent separation like a divorce. Thus, the argument is that remarriage without a formal divorce (rather than divorce itself) is what is prohibited. Another approach to this question is available here.

        “I prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt, but I have not other explanation for this other than blatant dishonesty or gross ignorance.”

        Then you didn’t read very carefully.

        “You cut out half the sentence, a key portion of the sentence, yet gave no indication that you had done so.”

        You can only think so if you are ignorant of the conventions of writing. I wrote that the quote was “from” the 2nd Amendment, meaning that it wasn’t the entire text and included brackets around the “T” at the start of the quote to show the deviation from the original.

        “If you were at all familiar with the history of the second amendment, you would know that the part you cut out is central to disagreements about its interpretation. It depends on whether you consider the right to bear arms the important part of the sentence, or the militia the important part.”

        You condescend beautifully, but make no worthwhile point. The language of the first section is in no way conditional. To come to a different conclusion, one needs to do more than read the text, one must read into the text, finding a classical ablative absolute that turns it into a conditional (though even this understanding of the a-a is controversial). It isn’t worth spending much time on anyway because it isn’t the only Constitutional example.

        The 1st Amendment provides, in pertenent part (though it should be clear that I’m not quoting all of it), that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech….” “No law” means no law, right? But, in the famous expression of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, free speech does not protect someone falsely shouting fire in a theater. Oh, and by the way, note that the 1st Amendment only refers to Congress. It applies to state and local governmental action only because the SCOTUS decided that the due process clause of the 14th Amendment incorporated that protection. I double-dog-dare you to see that in the text.

        “You have provided no similar content in any of Jesus’s teachings that could lead to ambiguity in the interpretation of, say, rules on divorce….”

        But I did (see above).

        “So far I have seen lots of arguments why this is the case, yet you have provided no concrete reasons to think it is anything other than cherry-picking.”

        So I guess you think Jesus Himself was cherry-picking? Oh, and the previously cited exegesis of the Westminster Divines with respect to what it means for Jesus to have fulfilled the law was wrong how, exactly (for one example)?

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted July 29, 2009 at 9:28 am | Permalink

        And now he makes up his own quotes. Too lazy to look them up. Pathetic.

        Yes, “Jesus Himself” is cherry-picking because his words contradict themselves.

        Despite “the Westminster Divines”, one of the thousands and thousands of contradictory writings fabricated by scribes hundreds of years after the alleged event, the so-called Jesus character is fictitious with no evidence of existence. There is nothing there but second hand woo and magical fairy tales.

      • Robocop
        Posted July 29, 2009 at 9:50 am | Permalink

        “And now he makes up his own quotes. Too lazy to look them up. Pathetic.”

        Since you wish to slander me, you should at least write well enough to make it clear what evil you accuse me of doing. M’kay?

        “[T]he so-called Jesus character is fictitious with no evidence of existence. There is nothing there but second hand woo and magical fairy tales.”

        A Jesus denialist! That explains a lot.

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted July 29, 2009 at 9:54 am | Permalink

        Robocop – a Jesus believer! Now we know where the nonsense originates. Where is the evidence? No, none, nada, zilch, major fail.

        How do you sleep at night with your belief in magical beings? They might come and pluck you away! LOL

      • TheBlackCat
        Posted July 29, 2009 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

        “Because doing the cultural and exegetical analysis is so problematic. For example, with respect to the divorce question, some say the Greek apoluo in Matthew means a separation in general which does not involve the legal aspect of a permanent separation like a divorce. Thus, the argument is that remarriage without a formal divorce (rather than divorce itself) is what is prohibited. Another approach to this question is available here.”

        Then this is saying that even separating from your wife is against the law even if you don’t divorce. That makes things worse, not better. Does any Christian hold this view?

        “You can only think so if you are ignorant of the conventions of writing. I wrote that the quote was “from” the 2nd Amendment, meaning that it wasn’t the entire text and included brackets around the “T” at the start of the quote to show the deviation from the original.”

        Neither, however, gives any indication that you cut out half the sentence. My point still stands. “From” does indicate part of the text was omitted, but in no ways implies part of the sentence was omitted. Brackets are usually used to indicate small changes or adding in missing words for the sake of clarity, I’ve never seen it used to indicate that half the sentence was omitted. I was under the impression the convention for omitting part of a sentence is an ellipses (…).

        “You condescend beautifully, but make no worthwhile point. The language of the first section is in no way conditional. To come to a different conclusion, one needs to do more than read the text, one must read into the text, finding a classical ablative absolute that turns it into a conditional (though even this understanding of the a-a is controversial).”

        In the English language, a sentence is meant to indicate a complete thought. If the two parts of the sentence were meant to be read as separate thoughts, they would be separated with a period or at least a semicolon. The fact that there is no such divider indicates they are part of a single thought, and therefore cannot be looked at individually. You had provided nothing equivalent for any of the biblical issues I have brought up, and the one you have provided makes the rules even more stringent.

        “The 1st Amendment provides, in pertenent part (though it should be clear that I’m not quoting all of it), that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech….” “No law” means no law, right? But, in the famous expression of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, free speech does not protect someone falsely shouting fire in a theater.”

        First, thank you for using an ellipses this time. Second, that does not answer the question I actually asked. Please read my question again. The question I asked you was :
        “Can you show me anything in the constitution that is unambiguously stated, with no contradictory statements anywhere else in the constitution, but is completely and totally ignored today?”

        The first amendment is not completely and totally ignored today by the U.S. government. It has been limited in a very few situations to protect people’s other rights, but in most situations it is still a key right that is strongly enforced in courts. However, for a great many Christian denominations the rules against divorce are given no weight whatsoever, they are ignored totally. I was very clear and very specific about what I was asking precisely so you would not bring up situations where particular rights have been limited in certain specific and unusual situations, unlike the examples I gave where the rules are totally ignored by many Christian denominations without even the slightest hint of following them.

        “Oh, and by the way, note that the 1st Amendment only refers to Congress. It applies to state and local governmental action only because the SCOTUS decided that the due process clause of the 14th Amendment incorporated that protection. I double-dog-dare you to see that in the text.”

        It seems pretty clear to me. Here is the relevant portion. Note the semicolon at the end, indicating a new thought begins after the part I quote. Just prior to the part I quote is a period, also indicating a new thought. Therefore, the section I quote indicates a complete, independent though:

        “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States;”

        Freedom of speech, seems like a privilege or immunity to me. The courts agree that is what is meant by “privileges and immunities”.

        “But I did (see above).”

        First, you hadn’t yet when I asked the question. Second, your explanation would mean separating from your wife would be illegal.

        “So I guess you think Jesus Himself was cherry-picking?”

        Where did I say this? Cherry-picking what? My question is about laws set forth in the New Testament, how could Jesus cherry pick things written decades after his death?

        “Oh, and the previously cited exegesis of the Westminster Divines with respect to what it means for Jesus to have fulfilled the law was wrong how, exactly (for one example)?”

        As I have stated before, I am only asking about New Testament laws. The exegesis only helps when dealing with Old Testament laws. Once again, you are arguing against points NewEnglandBob made, acting like they are somehow points I made. I am not NewEnglandBob, I have my own questions.

      • Robocop
        Posted July 29, 2009 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

        “Then this is saying that even separating from your wife is against the law even if you don’t divorce.”

        No it isn’t. You need to read more carefully For example:

        http://www.divorcehope.com/canchristiansremarryafterdivorce.htm

        “Neither, however, gives any indication that you cut out half the sentence.”

        Nonsense (unless you think it’s good writing to start a sentence with a lower case rather than a capital letter). Sheesh. This isn’t rocket science and isn’t remotely controversial.

        “The fact that there is no such divider indicates they are part of a single thought, and therefore cannot be looked at individually.”

        They are a single thought. The first part explains the second part; it doesn’t limit the second part.

        “Can you show me anything in the constitution that is unambiguously stated, with no contradictory statements anywhere else in the constitution, but is completely and totally ignored today?”

        The concept of “no law” in the 1st Amendment is completely ignored.

        “[F]or a great many Christian denominations the rules against divorce are given no weight whatsoever, they are ignored totally.”

        That’s not what their literature says and isn’t my experience. I even linked an example in my previous post on this subject. Even denominations that allow divorce liberally treat it with moral seriousness. Do you have any denominational literature or other evidence to back up your claim?

        “It seems pretty clear to me….

        ‘No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States’.

        “Freedom of speech, seems like a privilege or immunity to me.”

        This is an astonishing claim in light of your previous condescension concerning my understanding of the Constitution. Had you actually read any of the applicable case law and related academic materials, you would have known that incorporation doctrine is not based upon the privileges and immunities clause, but rather upon the due process clause of the 14th Amendment. The irony here is delightfully rich.

      • TheBlackCat
        Posted July 30, 2009 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

        “No it isn’t. You need to read more carefully For example:

        http://www.divorcehope.com/canchristiansremarryafterdivorce.htm

        This still doesn’t help. According to the article it is only a generic word for “send away”. The author presents no evidence that it indicates sending someone away exclusively without divorce.

        “Nonsense (unless you think it’s good writing to start a sentence with a lower case rather than a capital letter). Sheesh. This isn’t rocket science and isn’t remotely controversial.”

        Irrelevant, nobody reading your excerpt from the amendment who was not already familiar with it would have any reason to think it was part of a larger sentence.

        “They are a single thought. The first part explains the second part; it doesn’t limit the second part.”

        That is your merely your interpretation, one that many people disagree with. Once again, you had given nothing equivalent in scripture that could justify a similar disagreement.

        “The concept of “no law” in the 1st Amendment is completely ignored.”

        No, it is ignored in a handful of situations, but accepted in the vast majority. There is a big difference between a few exceptions to a rule (which would be like banning all divorces, except in the case of infidelity or something), and completely abandoning the rule (which would be like accepting divorce for any reason, which is what we have).

        “That’s not what their literature says and isn’t my experience. I even linked an example in my previous post on this subject. Even denominations that allow divorce liberally treat it with moral seriousness. Do you have any denominational literature or other evidence to back up your claim?”

        I fail to see the relevance. This is a law, not a suggestion.

        “This is an astonishing claim in light of your previous condescension concerning my understanding of the Constitution. Had you actually read any of the applicable case law and related academic materials, you would have known that incorporation doctrine is not based upon the privileges and immunities clause, but rather upon the due process clause of the 14th Amendment. The irony here is delightfully rich.”

        You appear to be correct. My mistake. Not that this clause seems any more ambiguous to me than the one I cited.

    • Robocop
      Posted July 29, 2009 at 10:14 am | Permalink

      “Robocop – a Jesus believer!”

      In this instance, belief has nothing to do with it. Non-Christians also put Jesus denialism in “tin-foil hat” territory with Holocaust denialism, 9/11 denialism, and the like. Moreover, you shouldn’t spend time worrying about my mental state when you have so many conspiracies all around you to worry about . Believe whatever nonsense you want, but until you have a body of peer-reviewed research supporting your denialism, you’d best keep it to yourself.

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted July 29, 2009 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

        You brought it up by saying

        “A Jesus denialist! That explains a lot.”.

        You are one piece of work.

        >YOU are the one who has the beliefs, not me.

        You still do not understand the simple word “atheism” as lack of belief.

        >You go around spewing asinine crap like denialist.
        >
        >You can not argue your way out of a paper bag so you call names. It is the tactic of a loser.
        >
        >A dozen people here have shown you how stupid your statements have been.

  7. PrimeMate
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Forget the evolution of God, let’s celebrate the evolution of Coyne. The Drosophila philosopha has spread his wings and turns out to be the real McCoy.

  8. NewEnglandBob
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    I finished the review and I am even more impressed about how Jerry Coyne took apart dozens of arguments of Wright.

    One thing I did not appreciate is the title of the article “Creationism For Liberals”. It should have been something like “Creationism For Theological Liberals”, because the stances of Wright are by no means attributable to people who would be labeled “Liberals”.

  9. Yair
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    You eviscerated him. I thought that required approval from the ethics committee…

    A VERY impressive review.

  10. Posted July 27, 2009 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    Great piece, Jerry, though the very last para worries me, since it seems to buy into the idea that such things as a rising divorce rate are evidence of a declining morality.

    It seems to me that a rising divorce rate is evidence that we no longer subscribe to the miserable doctrine that two people are stuck with each other forever even if they no longer love (or even like) each other. Sure, divorce is very painful, but so is being trapped in a loveless marriage. We are now more willing to allow people to get on with their lives, find new partners, etc., when love has gone. We try to make divorce easier with no-fault concepts, dedicated divorce courts, counselling, etc. That’s messy, but more humane than the opposite social policy. Even if it’s the wrong policy – and I don’t think it is – it shows an error of excessive sympathy for the plight of unhappily married couples. Hence, if anything, it’s evidence for the thesis that social policy is increasingly driven by compassion.

    It looks to me as if something like what Wright is saying probably does tend to happen within cultures as they become more technologically advanced and economically secure, but not for reasons that have anything to do with biological evolution or with God. It’s simply that sophisticated cultures do learn, over time, to abandon harsh, absolutist moralities in favour of something more humane and flexible. And why not? We are capable of learning that, although the latter kind of morality has its own dangers, it promises to do a better job of providing for human happiness.

    Still, the evidence that this has actually happened might be quite ambiguous, and the real picture might be quite complex. I’d like to see it researched by an historian with less of an axe to grind than it seems Wright has.

    • Chayanov
      Posted July 27, 2009 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

      “It seems to me that a rising divorce rate is evidence that we no longer subscribe to the miserable doctrine that two people are stuck with each other forever even if they no longer love (or even like) each other.”

      Exactly. It has been argued that a higher divorce rate is evidence of a commitment to higher quality marriage. Typically, divorced people search for new partners with whom they are more compatible and they end up getting remarried. If it was the result of a breakdown of morals, they’d have no reason to marry again. Instead, they want to be married, and they want that marriage to be a good one.

  11. Robocop
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    “OK, for those who do not understand a simple answer.

    “Any Christian or Jew who does not own slaves or does nor suppress women or does not stone unruly children to death or works on the sabbath etc. is cherry picking his/her religion.”

    You must have misunderstood the question. I understand the claim perfectly. What you haven’t offered is any evidence to support the conclusion you assert.

    • tdd
      Posted July 28, 2009 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

      Isaiah 40:8

      The grass withers and the flowers fall,
      but the word of our God stands forever.”

      Matthew 5:18

      I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

      • tdd
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

        Leviticus 20:13 “‘If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”

        ROM 1:26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their
        women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones.

        27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and
        were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with
        other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

        32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things
        deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also
        approve of those who practice them.

        Which bits do you subscribe to?

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

        Who cares about fictitious fantasy nonsense, tdd?

        Read Harry Potter, it is written better.

    • tdd
      Posted July 28, 2009 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

      I think what NEB really means is that Yahweh, Jesus, and the Holy spirit are such pathetic communicators that most christians can’t make a coherent moral philosophy or theology out of the one resource they have which is the bible and that they instead choose what they think is right and adjust the interpretation of the bible to fit it. If you advocate death for homosexuality, then maybe you don’t cherry pick. But from your words it would appear that you cherry pick the Love thy neighbor as thyself bits.

  12. articulett
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure Wright has an axe to grind… just a bias to confirm.

    Excellent review Jerry!. I got several facebook links to it from some very impressed people.

    I heard Wright on a couple podcasts… he sounds like a nice, smart guy, but he just gets all fuzzy and weird when he starts trying to inject “telos” into the discussion– His NEED to believe in a purpose makes him go into nonsense digressions and rationalizations on an interesting topic.

  13. Posted July 27, 2009 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    Is ther any way I can save my money if I’m insecure and desperate. How strict is the criteria? :)

    • articulett
      Posted July 28, 2009 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      Get it from the library.

      That’s where I get books I don’t want to waste money on.

  14. skepoet
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 1:25 am | Permalink

    Thank you for calling out the teleology that Wright has which turns what is an otherwise sound book into something that is viewing the world with some very selective rose-colored glasses.

  15. Jackybird
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed the article.

    As someone who is very happy to live in the modern world, I’m always a little hesitant to throw around the word “ethnocentric,” but when I read the review of Wright’s book in the Times that was the first thing that came to mind. I’m glad to see other people to address that. It’s a frequent problem for Christian apologists.

    I’ve always had the impression that intolerance of other faiths was one of the things that helped Christianity and Islam to spread.

    Were Christianity and Islam more moral than the religions they replaced as they spread? I don’t want to fall into the trap of idealizing the “noble savage,” but I think an argument against the moral superiority of those two religions can be made.

    Glen Davidson,
    My knowledge of Japan is pretty shaky, but wasn’t Shintoism the state religion before and during WWII? I vaugely remember something about a cult of the emperor, but perhaps that was just anti-Japanese propaganda.

    • Posted July 28, 2009 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

      Sure, Japan was Shinto, and made use of religious propaganda, as did Hitler’s Germany. That’s one reason I wrote “relatively secular.”

      I don’t know if any government is fully secular. But Eastern governments have often been fairly secular, in a way that Western governments almost never were up until Renaissance and Enlightenment times. Confucianism played a considerable role in China’s rationalistic stance, and indeed, Confucius is recorded as making rather agnostic statements regarding the “gods.”

      China’s also a prime example of how rationalism can prevail without there being science in the modern sense of the word.

      Japan was never as influenced by Confucius to the same extent as China was, however Confucian influence in Japan was still quite strong. Meaning that the tendency of Eastern societies not to mix religion and government very much was increased by Confucian ideology. Reaction against modern ideas has thus not been very common in East Asia, quite unlike in the Muslim world. The exception to that is, oddly by considering merely its relative rationalism, was China, but that appears to have stemmed primarily from ethnic and nationalistic pride which was threatened by Western barbarians who managed to leap past China’s accomplishments in a relatively short time.

      Anyway, I’m not one who pushes atheism like some others, rather I find secularism in society to be the main goal. Western societies have been quite religious until relatively recently (and the US still is), much as Japan was still religious but fairly secular in most areas of society.

      We can live with religion, but we’re going to be seriously oppressed if the DI ever achieves its Wedge strategy. Unfortunately, many Americans have awakened to the fact that their religion traditionally does not allow for freedom in society and in science, and thus are fighting against secular society with its freedoms.

      Eastern religions seem not, from my limited knowledge of them, to have the same totalitarian aspect to them. During Japan’s modern imperialistic phase, Shinto was turned into a kind of extension of Japanese fascism, but that use of Eastern religion was more the exception than the rule.

      Glen Davidson
      http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

      • Jackybird
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

        I share your interest in advocating a secular society rather than trying to persuade individuals to totally abandon relgion, and I also share your concern that “many Americans have awakened to the fact that their religion traditionally does not allow for freedom in society and in science.” I would feel much better if theists could concede that atheists are capable of moral thought. Without out that, I worry that they see us as being less than fully human.

        You mention the role of Confucianism which had a very deep influence on Korean culture as well, but today it is the most Christian country in Asia after the Phillipines. I don’t know what the means.

  16. Gingerbaker
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    “he just gets all fuzzy and weird when he starts trying to inject “telos” into the discussion– His NEED to believe in a purpose makes him go into nonsense digressions and rationalizations on an interesting topic.”

    -Articulett

    Yes. Just like every other theological philosopher is forced to do because they worship a god who never frackin’ shows himself. No need to weave golden threads so finely if your god’s existence was obvious to any objective observer. If this yahweh fellow actually performed obvious miracles like healing the ill, resurrecting the dead, or parting the Red Sea today, I’ll be the first to sign up. Until then, my money is on Zeus.

  17. Posted July 28, 2009 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    “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.”

    Phrase-maker!

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted July 28, 2009 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

      More like “Duck Soup for the Brain”
      (apologies to the Marx Brothers (1933) and to Laurel and Hardy (1927 short)

  18. NewEnglandBob
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    Robocop said:

    “Full name – Bart D. Ehrman….”

    Exactly. Even when I disagree with him, I find Ehrman’s work interesting and engaging. Any lack of inerrancy doesn’t demand incoherence or suggest any lack of value.

    On the contrary, Ehrman’s work shows that the NT is a worthless document, written and rewritten by hundreds of scribes with different agendas.

  19. Robocop
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    “On the contrary, Ehrman’s work shows that the NT is a worthless document, written and rewritten by hundreds of scribes with different agendas.”

    You might want to notify Ehrman, because he thinks otherwise, at least with regard to the alleged worthlessness:

    “As for Ehrman’s own attitude toward Christianity, it evolved in a long and complex process. His realization that the Bible is an all-too-human document ended his literalist faith, but did not cause him to leave the church. Instead, he embraced Christianity as a ‘beautiful myth,’ in effect taking what he needed from it and leaving the rest. He practiced this ‘soft’ Christianity for years, but abandoned it too. What ultimately led him to leave the church was a more profound issue: the problem of evil, what theologians call theodicy. In his 2008 book ‘God’s Problem,’ Ehrman explains that he could no longer believe in an all-knowing and all-powerful God in a world in which an innocent child dies of hunger every five seconds.

    “Ehrman is hard to categorize. He’s a bomb-throwing moderate, a non-dogmatic rationalist. Unlike outspoken critics of religion such as Sam Harris, he does not regard organized religion as dangerous, nor does he claim that any rational person of intellectual integrity must embrace the same conclusions he does. He insists that he is not out to convert anyone, and has nothing but respect for his fellow scholars who know the same historical things he does about the Bible, yet continue to be devout Christians.”

    http://www.salon.com/env/atoms_eden/2009/04/03/jesus_interrupted/print.html

    I won’t have time to get to BC’s comments ’til later — likely tomorrow.

    • articulett
      Posted July 28, 2009 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

      Ehrmans study in the bible cause him to lose his faith in Christianity and possibly in god. He considers himself an agnostic though he does believe there was a historical Jesus that, at least some, of the bible was based on. Not all biblical scholars agree though most people who go into bible studies have a vested interest in such a belief. They go into bible studies because they think it will actually clue them into the mysterious nature of what the invisible creator of the universe wants.

      Unfortunately, they don’t agree and there are many sects and conclusions which has caused much strife amongst the pinnacle of god’s so-called creations.

      You’d recognize your rationalizations as the silly rationalizations they are if you heard a Mormon or Muslim argue similarly about the teachings in their texts.

    • TheBlackCat
      Posted July 28, 2009 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

      Did you actually read the article you linked to, because as far as I can tell it says exactly the same thing NEB said:

      “All we have are copies, made years later — usually, many centuries later. In fact, the copies are copies of copies, and they’re filled with errors or intentional changes made over decades or centuries by scribes. ”

      “He came to believe that the Bible was “a human book from beginning to end. It was written by different human authors at different times and in different places to address different needs. Many of these authors no doubt felt they were inspired by God to say what they did, but they had their own perspectives, their own beliefs, their own views, their own understandings, their own theologies … Mark did not say the same thing that Luke said because he did not mean the same thing as Luke.””

      “unless one simply decides in advance that all logic, scholarship, rules of historical evidence and rational thought do not apply to the Bible — that God did not”say it.” A bunch of human beings said a lot of different things over hundreds of years, a bunch of other human beings wrote down different versions of what they said, and yet another bunch of human beings decided — also over hundreds of years — which of these writings should be part of the Holy Book and which should not. This is simply the historical truth.”

      ” Christianity in this broader interpretation could be seen as a kind of vessel into which one pours one’s ethical or spiritual beliefs. You don’t have to believe that Jesus was the son of God and is consubstantial with God the Father. You can say, “I like the idea of a human being who was so ethically pure and so noble that he gave his life for other human beings.” You pick and choose, taking those elements of Christianity that work for you in your life. And you went through this stage of Christian belief yourself, right?

      Yeah, that was the kind of Christianity I adopted at one point, when I gave up being an evangelical Christian. And it came after I realized all the historical problems with Christianity and with the Bible and the historical contingencies that led to the development of Christian doctrine. That was pretty much the view that I had.”

      • Posted July 28, 2009 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

        The killer for Ehrman was actually the Problem of Evil, not the fact that the books of the Bible are all-too-human documents. He thinks that the latter by itself does not preclude some kind of Christian faith (though it does preclude a fundamentalist one). I think he’s probably right on all counts.

      • Robocop
        Posted July 29, 2009 at 7:26 am | Permalink

        Additionally, Ehrman maintained his belief in what he saw as a “beautiful myth” until the PoE knocked him down and expresses great respect for his peers who see the same facts about the Bible that he does but remain devout. Quite obviously, that isn’t someone who finds it worthless.

      • TheBlackCat
        Posted July 29, 2009 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

        He finds it worthless as a historical document. He finds it worthless as a guide to true religious belief, other than a way to justify your pre-existing notions. He finds it worthless as a guide to the original Christians, or a guide to the consensus religious beliefs at any point (if such a thing ever even existed). He believed in Christianity, but did not have any belief in the Bible according to the article.

      • Robocop
        Posted July 29, 2009 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

        “He finds it worthless as a historical document.”

        If you think so, you haven’t read his work. For example, a good deal of Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium is taken up with a discussion of how Biblical scholars sift through the various texts to come up with historical and other value. Imperfect and worthless are entirely different concepts.

  20. Veronica Abbass
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    Off Topic

    Gerry Coyne gets special mention from Sandwalk

    sandwalk.blogspot.com/2009/07/what-is-nih-up-to.html

    • Veronica Abbass
      Posted July 28, 2009 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

      Sorry, name spelling error: should be Jerry.

  21. Posted July 31, 2009 at 6:10 am | Permalink

    Well, according to comments on this article, seems it’s worth reading Robert Wright’s book. The sad thing is that here in Croatia is going to take some time to get the book in libraries…

  22. Peter Beattie
    Posted August 17, 2009 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    Wright says there are a couple of things wrong with the review.

  23. Grizzly
    Posted August 12, 2010 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    An interesting, entertaining, well-structured review.

    Unfortunately I don’t think that we read the same book. I think that you have misread several sections of Wright’s thesis.


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