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5/25/10

On God & Morality: Robert Wright & Karen Armstrong


A god whose existence you can prove is a god to whom you cannot pray

Two books here on faith and belief: The Evolution of God by Robert Wright and The Case for God by Karen Armstrong. Wright holds that evolution deselects aggressive genes, enabling an ascent into greater moral order. Seeking an explanation for this morality, human beings posit God. Of Robert Wright's argument on gracilization (thinning of skulls), the reviewer tells us that "in each society the violent and aggressive males somehow ended up with a lesser chance of breeding. This process started some 50,000 years ago, and, in [primatologist Richard] Wrangham's view, it is still in full spate. And setting gracilization aside, can the later scriptures of West Asia--the Jewish and Christian Bibles and the Koran--be read as the record of a process of human domestication, a further taming and gentling of mankind over time? In The Evolution of God, Robert Wright argues laboriously that they can indeed be so read. . . as natural selection begot cultural evolution and cultural evolution begot successively more comprehensive forms of social organization, 'there appeared a moral order, linkage between the growth of social organization and progress toward moral truth. 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 . . . decides to call that source "God," well, that's the believer's business. After all, physicists got to choose the word "electron".' "

Karen Armstrong writes of apophatic theology--the theology of the original, Greek-speaking Christian church. She calls it a "naysaying" theology. As her reviewer puts the matter, the theology was "a kind of religious language whose difficult task it was to acknowledge in human language the very inadequacy of human language.Armstrong writes the history of how apophatic theology was forgotten in the late Middle Ages; how rational and then quasi-scientific Newtonian theology rose to replace it in early modernity; how, when others were recognizing this as a mistake, fundamentalists tightened their embrace of it; and how, in the wake of the passing of modernity and the failure of both its theism and its atheism, postmodern theology may point toward the recovery of what was lost. A god whose existence you can prove is a god to whom you cannot pray, postmodern theology argues, and prayer -- not proof -- is where religion rises or falls." More

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