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thprop
08-06-2009, 11:57 AM
I thought a new thread might be useful to discuss Bob' response (http://evolutionofgod.net/coyne) to Jerry Coyne (http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/)'s review of TEOG in TNR (http://www.tnr.com/booksarts/story.html?id=8874be1e-16db-43db-bda5-17ac7af196d0) - as discussed in his diavlog with Mickey (http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/21636). The thread discussing TEOG is fairly large and the discussion might either overwhelm or get lost in the diavlog discussion.

Here are a couple of Coyne's blog post on TEOG - one (http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/07/31/robert-wrights-faitheist-manifesto/) two (http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/07/27/review-of-robert-wrights-the-evolution-of-god/).

thprop
08-06-2009, 12:43 PM
Jerry Coyne may not respond to Bob's missive for a while - he is on hiatus right now (http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/08/04/guest-blogger/) - "The Significant Otter is visiting."

Bob maintains that Coyne's review is full of "false or misleading things" about TEOG. He lists six of them. Bob maintains that "Once you correct them, his critique basically collapses." He does not explain why the critique collapses - he does not even address the review as a whole. He basically takes the same path that creationists and IDers do in attacking evolution - throw whatever you can at it, claim that you are right and hence the argument collapses.

In another post, I will address some of the six "misrepresentations". What immediately stood out were Bob's claims of context and Coyne not understanding what he meant. I think Bob should really take John Horgan's criticism (http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/21244?in=15:35&out=16:00) to heart -
If you write a 500 page book and people still don't know what you really think by the end --- HMMMMMM -- sort of a problem.

I think Bob was just snarky when he said -
I want to emphasize that I think these are innocent mistakes. I have no reason to believe he intentionally misrepresented my argument. Indeed, his errors are of a kind that most of us have committed under deadline pressure or under the influence of deep intellectual passions.

Coyne's piece was over 8,000 words. I don't think he was feeling deadline pressure. Paul Bloom's big wet kiss to Bob (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/28/books/review/Bloom-t.html) in the New York Times was only 1,400 words. Maybe he was feeling deadline pressure and just went in the tank.

thprop
08-06-2009, 12:56 PM
Bob writes -

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

Then he claims -
Answer: By taking that quote out of context.

But it is Bob who is taking things out of context. What Coyne wrote:
Singer's and Westermarck's ideas may be wrong, but at least they require only a few reasonable assumptions: population growth, altruism, rationality. In floating the idea not only of a deity, but of one who uses arcane ways to perfect his creatures, Wright's theory is far less parsimonious, riddled as it is with unproven and occult assumptions. The deity enters into Wright's elaborate confection in several ways. Wright suggests that the moral sentiments themselves may have come from an evolutionary process guided by God. He also suggests that God may have created that whole process from scratch:

It is this moral order that, to the believer, is grounds for suspecting that the system of evolution by natural selection itself demands a special creative explanation.... And if the believer, having concluded that the moral order suggests the existence of some as-yet-unknown source of creativity that set natural selection in motion, decides to call that source "God," well, that's the believer's business. After all, physicists got to choose the word "electron."

In statements such as this, Wright, for all his reverence for Darwin, does nothing less than reject the modern scientific view of evolution, according to which it is a purely naturalistic process without a specified direction. How else can you explain the fact that more than 99 percent of all species that ever lived became extinct without leaving descendants, or that species can become either simpler or more complex when it is adaptive for them to change? Whatever view of progress one maintains, there are some evolutionary lineages that grossly violate it.
AND

Yet the notion of guided evolution leaves a problem. What good is a God-evolved species if it must inhabit a world as messy, contingent, and stricken with unpredictable horrors as the process of evolution itself? Is there any way that we can affirm, however dimly, that the world is getting better? And if so, might this, too, have something to do with God? The journalist Robert Wright has devoted much of his career to speculating about these questions, seeking divine purpose behind what he sees as social and biological "laws." His thesis, in The Evolution of God, is that theologies have changed over time to accommodate the increased interactions among cultures that come with a more complex world, and that this theological change has made the world a more moral place. This is a historical claim about morality's progress. But atop this claim Wright makes a really remarkable claim, a metaphysical one, that this whole process is driven by God, who is pulling society toward moral perfection. What's more, he says that this conclusion is not religious but scientific--that it is based on "facts on the ground" that should be obvious to any observer. In what he sees as the relentlessly progressive evolution of religion, Wright seems to find an argument for the existence of God.

thprop
08-06-2009, 01:34 PM
This one is just plain embarrassing. Bob writes:
He then writes “One can in fact make a good case that, contrary to Wright’s claim, ethics went downhill as religion evolved—specifically, that it declined in the transition from polytheism to monotheism.”

An ethical decline in the transition from polytheism to monotheism is contrary to my view?

No Bob - that is not what he said. He claims that one could make the case that ethics declined as religion evolved. He used the transition from polytheism to monotheism as an example. He did not make any claims about your views on polytheism vs monotheism. He disputes your claim ethics improved as religion evolved. He never said you made any claim polytheism vs monotheism. Read it again.

And don't say you don't make any claims improved ethics as religion evolves. You may not use those words but in the video right next to your response you say -
I do think on balance there is a moral growth in the Abrahamic god.

Yes - think, on balance, growth - no hard claims. Just lots of weasel words to give deniability.

thprop
08-06-2009, 04:20 PM
| Posted by Robert Wright
3 of 13 | warn tnr | respond
I don't recognize the book depicted in this review--and I wrote the book! Within a few days I'll have a reply online that documents Jerry Coyne's flagrant misrepresentations of my argument. It will be posted at www.evolutionofgod.net (which, in the meanwhile, I recommend as a place to read excerpts of the book and excerpts from less tendentious reviews). --Bob Wright 7/28/09

Impressed - Bob attacked the review and plugged his book in the same comment. But Bob, I hope the reviews on your site are more tendentious than Jerry's - you do want to sell books, don't you?
tendentious - trying to influence opinion: written or spoken by somebody who obviously wants to promote a particular cause or who supports a particular viewpoint

| Posted by Ken Pidcock
4 of 13 | warn tnr | respond
I would agree that Coyne misrepresents the book as an argument rather than a well-research history. However, I would add, in reply to Bob Wright, that you asked for it, sir, with your "I am not Jerry Coyne" afterword. I still don't understand how that was appropriate to the thesis, and I haven't been satisfied by any of your explanations for it.


Ouch!

| Posted by millsm
5 of 13 | warn tnr | respond
An excellent review! I am somewhat taken aback by Wright's defensive and vacuous "I don't recognize the book..." response to Coyne's review. I found it very revealing when Wright was interviewed by Bill Moyers on his Journal, when Moyers pointed out to him that he continuously refers to a directive power "out there" that guides evolution. Moyers asked Wright whether the guidance comes from "out there" or from "within". Wright, flummoxed, replied with, "Oh did I say out there? I find myself saying that too often." I find Wright to be muddled about his principle thesis and incapable of defending his ethereal suppositions. A writer of specious theology perhaps, but certainly an obfuscator of evolutionary fact.

I like this line of thinking.

| Posted by Evan
6 of 13 | warn tnr | respond
Mr. Wright I have read your book. I have also read Mr. Coyne's review. I recognize your book in this review. Your book is a mish-mash of ideas that you try to put together to argue that evolution (both biological and cultural) has some sort of purpose. Yet you give away the game late in the book by including some examples of highly "evolved" moralities. These are the Egyptian religion of Osiris, which predates ALL the Abrahamic religions, and the Buddhist tradition of Ashoka the Great, which predates two out of three of the Abrahamic religions. Can you really have meant to show that morality evolves when the best examples of religious morality you can find existed before the religions that make up the body of your analysis?


Pretty insightful!

| Posted by JSmith
7 of 13 | warn tnr | respond
I just started reading this review. In the first paragraph, Coyne states that "science has delivered two crippling blows to humanity's self-image"--the first being the overturning of the geocentric view of the universe, and the second being the theory of evolution. In the case of astronomy, it is a little troubling that Coyne is able to repeat this bit of intellectual folklore. As is well known, the "geocentric" view of the universe held in the middle ages represented the belief that Ptolemaic astronomy could be reconciled with the story of creation in Genesis. But as, for example, any reader of Dante knows, the Christian interpretation of Ptolemaic astronomy, in continuing to place the earth in what could be considered a spatial center, certainly did not place the earth in the center if by "center" we mean that which is most important and of highest value. Rather, what spatially looks like the center, in the Christian Ptolemaic view, is in fact the bottom. And at the very center, and therefore the very bottom, what we find is not earth, but hell! So it is clearly not the case that the very idea of heliocentric astronomy did anything to affect "humanity's self image." I'll have to think twice as I read all that Coyne goes on to say about a wide range of topics in the history of religions.

Must be an egghead.

| Posted by Frank Williams
8 of 13 | warn tnr | respond
It looks to me like Wright is taking an old Platonic position: that the idea of God(s) is a Noble Lie, a useful and beneficial falsehood. See Plato's Republic, end of Book 3.

| Posted by Richard R Schneider, MD
9 of 13 | warn tnr | respond
As a cardiologist and a physicist who has read Non Zero carefully cover to cover, I can say catagorically that Jerry A. Coyne does not understand it. His comments about Robert Wright's thought process completely misrepresent what Mr. Wright has written. I wonder if Mr. Coyne, has any education in advanced mathematics. While this is not necessary to understand Non Zero, a basic ability to understand mathematical concepts and basic statistical probabilities is necessary. Mr. Coyne does not seem to have this ability. A basic understanding of biology would also be helpful.


A basic understanding of biology? Seriously? Are you really an MD? Do you know who Jerry Coyne (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Coyne) is?

| Posted by Jason
10 of 13 | warn tnr | respond
Coyne, I have only read Wright's latest book, "The Evolution of God". From what I can tell, the motive of this review seems to be to be based upon a personal dislike of Robert Wright, not his ideas. Sure Wright makes a few debatable intellectual leaps, but he is honest about them. He is also very careful to play the devils advocate. You give examples to show that Wright is molding information to fit with his teleological worldview, but you are most definitely doing the same thing, fitting information to confirm your view that their is no higher purpose in the universe.

I think we need to get Jerry and Bob together on BHtv - or in the boxing ring. Or in the Octagon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultimate_Fighting_Championship)!!!!

| Posted by Craig McGillivary
11 of 13 | warn tnr | respond
I haven't fully read this review because frankly I only have so much time and I would rather read Wright's book than this review. I stopped reading around the point where he calimed that Wright wrote this book to respond to crtics of Nonzero. Wright wrote the book in order to explore the question of whether Christians, Jews and Muslims could get along. At that point I got bored with the peice and realized that I had only read like 10% of it. What Robert Wrights book shows is that revealed truth is nonsense and that because it is nonsense religious adapt to circumstances so that they aren't the problem that many atheists assume them to be. Religions claim to have the truth and they claim to stick to this truth against all evidence, too many athiests believe these claims are true.


Did Bob personally tell you why he wrote this book? I think he wrote it to make some money.

| Posted by D. C. Toedt
12 of 13 | warn tnr | respond
Dr. Coyne's review of Wright's book brings to mind the knee-jerk attack response of many creationists to proponents of evolution: They seize on a few minor data points that stray from an otherwise well-established curve; they unreasonably exaggerate the importance of those particular data points; then they triumphantly proclaim the other side's alleged failure. Sorry, no sale. (I also agree with Richard Schneider MD: Perhaps Dr. Coyne simply doesn't understand Wright's thesis, possibly because of the ideological blinders he seems to be wearing.)

I hate those fundamentalist atheists.

ogieogie
08-08-2009, 01:21 PM
Thprop -- Thanks for the thread. I'm reading these discussions with interest, but not Bob's book, so I have nothing to add. He strikes me as a remarkably engaging crackpot, but a crackpot nonetheless, and one who picks his cherries with an impressive and entertaining grace.

thprop
08-08-2009, 03:46 PM
Thprop -- Thanks for the thread. I'm reading these discussions with interest, but not Bob's book, so I have nothing to add. He strikes me as a remarkably engaging crackpot, but a crackpot nonetheless, and one who picks his cherries with an impressive and entertaining grace.

I have four more posts to go - I hope to be done over the weekend.

Simon Willard
08-08-2009, 06:27 PM
He claims that one could make the case that ethics declined as religion evolved. He used the transition from polytheism to monotheism as an example.

I understand Bob to be talking about improvements over a larger time scale. He is very clear that there are times of backsliding. Evidence for improvement may be somewhat vague, but it's not fair to say he uses "weasel words", as you put it. It's just hard to put numbers on these things. Bob sees ethical progress between those early times and the 20th century. Do you?

Simon Willard
08-08-2009, 09:39 PM
But it is Bob who is taking things out of context.... Coyne wrote:Wright suggests that the moral sentiments themselves may have come from an evolutionary process guided by God. He also suggests that God may have created that whole process from scratch:... And if the believer, having concluded that the moral order suggests the existence of some as-yet-unknown source of creativity that set natural selection in motion, decides to call that source "God," well, that's the believer's business. After all, physicists got to choose the word "electron."

Coyne is using the word "God" as Coyne does in his previous paragraphs: as a reference to the Deity of the Abrahamic religions with which we are all familiar. This is not what Bob is talking about in the (inner) quoted text above. He is explicitly talking about a redefinition of the word. Because of this distinction, I believe Coyne is taking Bob's use of the word "God" out of context.

Simon Willard
08-08-2009, 09:55 PM
I think Bob was just snarky when he said -
I want to emphasize that I think these are innocent mistakes. I have no reason to believe he intentionally misrepresented my argument. Indeed, his errors are of a kind that most of us have committed under deadline pressure or under the influence of deep intellectual passions.

Coyne's piece was over 8,000 words. I don't think he was feeling deadline pressure..

Okay, so if it's obvious it wasn't deadline pressure, then it's the "influence of deep intellectual passions". If that's snarkiness, it's indistinguishable from good manners: Bob is asserting that there is no assumption of personal animus.

bjkeefe
08-09-2009, 12:12 AM
I have four more posts to go - I hope to be done over the weekend.

Use some new keywords, please. Your current posts are causing a Scientology ad to be displayed.

Okay, I don't hold you fully responsible. Actually, the Scientology ad didn't appear until Simon responded to you.

;^)

Makes a change of pace from seeing Ann Coulter, I guess.

Simon Willard
08-09-2009, 03:24 PM
Use some new keywords, please. Your current posts are causing a Scientology ad to be displayed.

Okay, I don't hold you fully responsible. Actually, the Scientology ad didn't appear until Simon responded to you.

;^)

Makes a change of pace from seeing Ann Coulter, I guess.

While I don't know their algorithm, I am happy to do my part to drive them away. Let's try this key phrase:

"Tom & Katie"

Let me know if you see any more Scientology ads.

claymisher
08-09-2009, 03:37 PM
Let's make Bob some money: mesothelioma! mesothelioma! mesothelioma!

Simon Willard
08-19-2009, 04:00 PM
There's a new column about the Wright/Coyne debate here at the Boston Review's Interns Site (http://brfootnote.theclawmagazine.com/2009/08/19/coyne-v-wright-on-the-evolution-of-god/). First Paragraph:

At the New Republic, Jerry Coyne has a withering review of Robert Wright’s popular new book, The Evolution of God. In response, Wright has made a list of Coyne’s misrepresentations, which convinced me that Coyne should indeed have been more careful. But Wright’s response focuses on the “trees” (Coyne’s individual distortions) and leaves Coyne’s criticism of Wright’s “forest” intact.

bjkeefe
08-19-2009, 04:18 PM
There's a new column about the Wright/Coyne debate here at the Boston Review's Interns Site (http://brfootnote.theclawmagazine.com/2009/08/19/coyne-v-wright-on-the-evolution-of-god/). First Paragraph:

Thanks for the link.

uncle ebeneezer
08-20-2009, 09:32 PM
Yeah, good find. That was great. Particularly this:

Well, natural selection is no more or less than the logical outcome of genetic variability and finite resources, neither of which seems particularly “extraordinary” or “amazing” to me. That might be the simplest and best explanation of natural selection that I have ever come across.

thprop
09-18-2009, 10:48 AM
Jerry Coyne has posted his reply (http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/09/18/response-to-wright/trackback/) to Bob.

thprop
11-09-2009, 10:19 AM
Both Jerry Coyne and Bob Wright were at Ciudad de Las Ideas meeting in Puebla, Mexico, this past weekend. If you scroll down to picture 7 in Jerry's post (http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/11/09/from-puebla/), there is a picture of Bob with the caption "The good Rev. Robert Wright at the pulpit. We had a “talk.”"

bjkeefe
11-09-2009, 01:52 PM
Both Jerry Coyne and Bob Wright were at Ciudad de Las Ideas meeting in Puebla, Mexico, this past weekend. If you scroll down to picture 7 in Jerry's post (http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/11/09/from-puebla/), there is a picture of Bob with the caption "The good Rev. Robert Wright at the pulpit. We had a “talk.”"

Maybe negotiations are underway for JC to do a diavlog??? ;^)

Thanks for the link. I also enjoyed these captions, elsewhere on the same page ...

I shook the hand that fondled Ann Coulter!

... and ...

Fig. 5. Dan and Susan Dennett. The interviewer asked Dan one question: “Do we know what consciousness is?” Dan’s answer: “Yes, but it’s not what you think.”