Note on Wright post below

The long post below is my response to Robert Wright’s critique of my New Republic review of his book, The Evolution of God.   (A much shorter point/counterpoint by Wright and me will appear soon in The New Republic.)

Please post any comments here; I’ve disabled all comments save linkbacks for the post following.


  1. gillt
    Posted September 18, 2009 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    So I guess Wright thinks being an agnostics means one can argue both sides simultaneously. Nifty, that.

  2. Posted September 18, 2009 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    I almost feel sorry for Wright after that trouncing.

    Almost. He was asking for it, big time.

  3. Posted September 18, 2009 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    This whole idea of “god as an extension of our potentially perfected self” is so, well, vain.

  4. articulett
    Posted September 19, 2009 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    And if the believer, having concluded that the itch on his ass of some as-yet unknown source of itchiness that it set itch neurons in motion, decides to call that source “gremlins,” well, that’s the believer’s business. After all, physicists got to choose the word “electron.”

    Write’s “argument” is very Francis Collins-esque… it allows the believer to take anything he doesn’t understand and call it “evidence” of whatever he wants to believe in!

    • articulett
      Posted September 19, 2009 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      “Wright’s” not Write’s”

      • articulett
        Posted September 19, 2009 at 11:25 am | Permalink

        I consider my gaffe as EVIDENCE that theists have put a curse on me. 🙂

  5. NewEnglandBob
    Posted September 19, 2009 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    Wright clearly does not understand evolution:

    moral improvement…
    toward moral truth…
    becoming morally richer…

    He thinks there is a direction to evolution.

    I’m not saying there is proof that biological evolution has a purpose and is the product of design. I’m just saying that it’s not crazy to believe this. 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.

    Yes, it is crazy.
    “Set of properties…” – wow, its this obfuscatory!

    If you watched evolution on this planet unfold from a distance (and on fast-forward), you would find it strikingly like watching the maturation of an organism: there would be directional movement toward functional integration.

    There he goes again. He clearly does not understand evolution.

    Thank you, Jerry, for pointing out what a hack Wright is. He writes on all sides of issues. He is a whirling dervish. His motivation must be that he wanted to write a commercially viable book and facts should not get in the way.

    • articulett
      Posted September 19, 2009 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

      Well, you could imply that there is a “direction” towards evolution just like there is a direction towards better technology. But it’s “crane” type direction–not skyhook.

      There’s always going to be a selection advantage for more efficient information processing, whether genes or memes. I don’t know whether it’s fair to say that today’s technology is more complex than yesterday’s, because it’s smaller and simpler and uses less energy– it’s streamlined over time… the same with organisms undergoing natural selection– they are increasingly efficient.

      So in that way there is direction. Technology, like life doesn’t go backwards– only forwards towards more efficient replication and processing of information. Stuff that doesn’t work, dies out (becomes obsolete) or evolves into something that does (Computers getting smaller and doing more…), for example.

      But to think this implies a designer is as wrong as imagining someone having “designed” the internet in it’s present form. Anyone who uses the internet contributes to what it becomes, but there was no “designer”. There were people who planted “seeds” and the internet emerged from the ground up. The internet would seem magical if described to someone 50 years ago– And yet no one was capable of designing or really imagining such a thing. You could say it had direction or purpose, but that would be a fuzzy thing to do unless you were trying to assert there was a divine source for the internet. The same goes for evolution.

      Of course, I often wonder how people can witness the “miracle” of the internet–something that humans invented and no gods foretold– and still hold fast to the supposed mightiness of the invisible guy in the sky. The irony never ceases to amuse me.

      • articulett
        Posted September 19, 2009 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

        speaking of the miracle of the internet I just learned that you can use google as a calculator by typing in the problem and then pressing = example: “2+57+607=”

        You can also type in this: “answer to life the universe and everything =” and get a better answer than god.

        Also this: “number of horns on a unicorn =”

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted September 20, 2009 at 7:18 am | Permalink

        I don’t agree that there is a direction. Sometimes things go towards more complexity and sometimes towards less complexity. Take the case of vestigial organs. When something is no longer used, it can disappear. Life can go backwards.

        Also, complexity can be misleading. E. coli is immensely complex and may have been for hundreds of millions of years.

        Of course, you and I agree that none of this implies a designer.

  6. Tim Harris
    Posted September 20, 2009 at 6:02 am | Permalink

    Thank you for taking up the thankless task of criticising Wright’s silly, dishonest and deeply cynical book. I made the mistake of buying it, and got half-way through before giving up in disgust; I have now read your review of his book, with which I entirely agree, Wright’s dishonest response (as well as a morally and intellectually contemptible remark about atheists and happiness that graced Andrew Sullivan’s blog), Jim Manzi’s pathetic vacuities, and your admirable response to Wright’s response. He’s got his method well worked out: speak through both sides of your mouth at once, hedge all bets so that you can avoid being pinned down as far as is possible, and make disingenuous noises about misrepresentation when someone does pin you down… ‘BUY THE BOOK’ shouts a line at the bottom of his response to you on his blog. Peddling his stuff and looking successful is what he is principally interested in, and he writes accordingly. There is small interest in truth.

    • Posted September 20, 2009 at 8:48 am | Permalink

      “‘BUY THE BOOK’ shouts a line at the bottom of his response to you on his blog. Peddling his stuff and looking successful is what he is principally interested in, and he writes accordingly. There is small interest in truth.”

      Reminds me of a another book Coyne recently reviewed.

  7. Posted October 10, 2009 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    Sugerencias puede haber muchas, y creo que todo el mundo opina de la mejor manera, pero la verdad es que está en cada uno de nosotros poder hacer lo que queramos. ,

%d bloggers like this: