Sunday, August 27, 2006

Robert Wright Wredux:
is this man a theist?

Is Robert Wright what I think he is? I've argued that Wright is likely a closet theist who doesn't want to admit his fundamental orientation (forgive me if I seem to be appropriating GLAAD language). His latest interview, with Karen Armstrong, offers compelling evidence in my favor. Here's a transcript from the section of the interview where he asks Armstrong about purpose in history:

[To Armstrong] Having failed to get you to engage in one kind of God-talk, let me try another thought on you that's pertinent to the desire of a lot of people to have a sense of higher purpose, the sense that there's a reason they're here-- or that we're here, collectively. And it has to do with the question of whether history has any purpose. My own view is that if you look at... patterns in history, the unfolding of history, there is reason to believe that there's some larger purpose that's hard to fathom-- we can't entirely figure it out, but that there's something unfolding, some point to the exercise. [latter emphasis added]

In his interview with Steven Pinker, Wright says the following:

[To Pinker] Ok, well, speaking of cosmic beings, there's a kind of teleological flavor to this in my mind. In other words, if (a) you know, these moral truths are really out there, they're absolutes and (b) we naturally evolve in that direction-- I mean, if we naturally evolve toward moral truth, that suggests to me in a vague way there is some purpose to the whole exercise. [emphasis added]

As the interview with Pinker continues, Wright holds to an explicitly teleological view while Pinker politely dissents.

I think Wright is clearly a disciple of telos (Gk. "end," "purpose," "goal")-- perhaps even in the Teilhardian "Omega Point" sense (though for Wright, what that point is is uncertain)-- and would like to take the further step of suggesting that "the exercise," as he repeatedly calls it, is being run by a divine intelligence. He can't come out and say that quite yet, but I see him as building a case for theism.

Can an atheistic case for cosmic telos be built? I suppose it could; it would probably replace the God of the Abrahamic scriptures with some enormous alien intelligence.

[NB: I'm not concerned with the concept of telos as it may explicitly or implicitly appear in the writings of someone like Karl Marx. Marx's concern was fairly parochial: for him, the directionality of history meant the directionality of human history, not cosmic history.]


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