Sunday, August 23, 2009

Alas, poor Yorick!

So, I read this, and my first thought was to wonder why C.S. Lewis and his ilk were/are so determined to find God's fingerprints somewhere in the world, to find some evidence of the "works" of the "god" which will, once and for all, establish the "god's" existence. We've been down this road once or twice before, right? And I thought I might be inspired to beat that dead horse one more time.

But I read further, and Wright continues to beat his tin drum for the idea that evolution=progress, and progress=improvement, and improvement=people with Really Big Brains or who are capable of Pure Reason or who otherwise fit one of the cliches of 1960's science fiction in which we finally evolve into pure, almost indifferent energy, like the Organians from Star Trek, or something. Anyway, the arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice because of evolutionary pressures; or some such twaddle. ("Justice," as Mr. Wright would know if he bothered to spend any time reading the Hebrew prophets, is not just an issue of rightly ordered human social systems, or even of communications technology rendering us a "global village." Indeed, I can only imagine what Jacques Derrida would make of Mr. Wright's hegemonic and Anglo-centric assumptions about the virtues of such a village. One wonders what planet Mr. Wright has been living on since 2001.)

I mean, really. This is why scientists and linguists (yes, I'm including Stephen Pinker now; he gets an honorable mention in Wright's column) shouldn't "do" philosophy or theology. They think science is a speculation free zone, and then when they escape it they think they have a "solid" foundation upon which to speculate, so....wheee!!!!!!!!


Mr. Pinker’s atheism shows that thinking in these cosmic terms doesn’t lead you inexorably to God. Indeed, the theo-biological scenario outlined above — God initiating natural selection with some confidence that it would lead to a morally rich and reflective species — has some pretty speculative links in its chain.
First, and please everyone say it with me: there is no thinking that leads you inexorably to "God." I put it in quotes, because Mr. Wright obviously means some version of the Abrahamic God when he uses the term, but he has no real idea what he means, nor does he really care, since he considers the subject "speculative." Buddhism, Hinduism, Janeism and Zoroastrianism, and all the other world religions, have no application here. The only explanation for humanity by humanity is the narrative approved by Anglo-American culture; no other need apply.

Aside from the obvious candidates like Huston Smith, I can think of half a dozen French anthropologists and structuralists, not to mention more than a few deconstructionists and simply Continental philosophers, who would take Mr. Wright's Western-centric assumptions apart like the set of intellectual Tinker-Toys they are. "Speculative links," indeed!

Mr. Wright does reach a better conclusion than this, but he does so by reinventing the wheel and proclaiming himself its discoverer. He outlines, briefly and weakly, a reconciliation of science and theology, one that was worked out several hundred years ago. This, however, is news to Mr. Wright, who rediscovers it and declares himself a pioneer. It's a moment akin to the first European standing on land in the Americas and seeing the Pacific Ocean, thinking he'd found something no one else knew about. Except, of course, the only people who didn't know about it where the people he lived with; which, in reality, made those people remarkably ignorant and uninformed, rather than brilliant and prescient. But then, it's all a matter of perspective, isn't it, and who gets to tell the story.

Today the story is told by either "fundamentalists" who are proud of their ignorance, or "atheists" who are equally proud of theirs (Wright gently points out that even Richard Dawkins misunderstands Paley's 18th century metaphor of the "blind watchmaker.")*. As we should learn (but won't) from the town hall meetings this August, those who scream loudest are not always those in front of the parade, or speaking from the heart of the community. But the truly spiritual among us know there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in Mr. Wright's philosophy; just as there are more human experiences of existence than are contained or even imagined in the history of Western culture (which is, after all, only a small part of a greater whole of human history). Some understand, from experience which follows upon reason (Mr. Wright still seems to assume reason leads the way for experience), that spirituality is more than a sense of justice or fairness or even simple kindness to others; that those are simply manifestations of a much, much deeper reality which Mr. Wright's speculations don't even begin to touch on.

*Speaking of story, Wright begins his essay assuming all those who don't think science and religion are at war with each other until the end of time, simply don't care that much about the discussion. He posits that this groupe, both "religious" and "scientists" alike (the classification system leaves more than a little to be desired; apparently "religious scientists" are like "jumbo shrimp" or "square circles" in Mr. Wright's world, I'd like to introduce him to Georges Lemaitre, the Jesuit priest responsible for the Big Bang theory), have simply chosen to "sit this one out" from tolerance or indifference. But again Mr. Wright conveniently ignores that fact that other people think, too, and may have reconciled the claims of science and religion long before the Vatican decided to apologize to Galileo (which, indeed, is what happened). Mr. Wright's ignorance of the subject he professes to know something about, far outweighs whatever knowledge he brings to the debate.

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