bible christianity www

wright – ‘wisdom in a troubled time’

In this sermon to head-masters/mistresses, Wright touches on quite a few important concerns – especially for our time.  In particular, he focuses on at least two examples of foolishness ( 1) economic foolishness demonstrated in the current ‘crisis’, and 2) the foolishness of the so-called ‘evolution-creation debate’) and the need for wisdom.  Good stuff, Bishop.

21 replies on “wright – ‘wisdom in a troubled time’”

Liked the call to move pass the creation-evolution debate and get to the interesting question of “whether we are creatures of blind chance, programmed to be selfish, or whether we live in God’s world, called to wise and humble service.” The first problem I would have with it is that is assumes that natural selection does not also select (or programme)for wisdom and humility. Is something like kindness some sort of call from God or simply a trait that has evolved because it aids survival?

Cheers, Jack (who is loving school holidays and having the time to play on computer :))

Cheers, Jack,
I think Wright’s point concerns the distinction between ‘Darwinism’ (biological theory) and ‘social Darwinism’ (social theory based on said biological theory).

But it’s a valid question about whether or not natural selection (by mutation) can ‘select for wisdom and humility’. From what (little) I know about Dawkins, I think he’d raise the distinction between genes and ‘memes’ here. So a key question would be ‘is wisdom a genetic thing or a memetic thing?’ Certainly, I think most biologists would agree that anything remotely resembling ‘wisdom’ or ‘humility’ (whether genetic or memetic) was non-existent until very recently in the proposed history of genetic development.

A further question I’d have is: how do we know that ‘kindness’ aids survival? It would take some convincing for me – but I’m open to ideas. Abilities like gathering food got genetics pretty far with no help from ‘kindness’. :) The ‘fittest’, you might say, don’t need to be the kindest to survive. Whilst it makes the ‘survival’ more pleasant, I’m not sure it makes or breaks survival itself? Good questions! :)

The fittest may not need to be the kindest to survive but as vulnerable infants they need the kindness of their parents to survive. Humans have really dependent offspring compared to other species, some require no parenting eg fish but even more advanced mammals like horses are not as reliant on parental care as us – a foal is up and walking almost immediately then independently feeding etc. A human baby has no chance at survival if its parents abandon it at birth. So, we may have evolved to be kinder as the kinder parents had offspring that survived. Possible?

Cheers, Jack,
That the most complex organism in the known universe (humans) are also among those with the highest need for parental care is a good observation. The question it raises is how would that (increased need for care) ever be advantageous? I’ve also had similar thoughts about humans need for shelter. We don’t have a fur coat to keep us warm in colder climates…

Also, just to be picky about words:
You said, “…as vulnerable infants they need the kindness of their parents to survive…”
I’d say the only real need is for their biological needs met by their parents until they can meet them for themselves. No ‘kindness’ needed. No affection – no concern, just meeting of biological needs (food, protection from enemies, etc.).

The advantage is in having a bigger brain – its just that having a bigger head means to fit down the birth canal you have to be born earlier than might’ve been ideal. So you are more dependant and need plenty of care, so kindness may’ve evolved concurrently. I think it takes a caring nature to provide those needs (breast feeding is painful to begin with!), going back in time they couldnt be provided without the parent in a lab or whatever.
PS Hope your wife doesn’t read this post about big heads and painful breast feeding – it’s all well and truly worth it.
PSS Hope no-one is freaked out by Jack’s intimate understanding of breast feeding ;)

again – thanks…
I’m still not seeing the link between ‘meeting biological needs’ and ‘kindness’/’caring’. Maybe I’m just thick?

At any rate, I’m not wanting to sound like I’m trying to point to things that ‘couldn’t have happened’ within an evolutionary framework, etc. I think the main thing (the article) is about the need for humans to be fully human and not (for example) do economics in ‘survival of the fittest’ fashion… (which – here’s the implication – is a sub-human [or de-humanising] way to do economics) :D


Ha… I just re-read my words…

I’m still not seeing the link between ‘meeting biological needs’ and ‘kindness’/’caring’.

…and laughed at how they would sound out of the context of this discussion… :)

“Survival of the fittest” doesn’t mean “survival of the greediest”. It means that those that make use of the environment they find themselves in will be more likely to produce offspring who will also probably do quite well in the same environment. If you find yourself in a society (humans, chimps and other species) then being the “fittest” is likely to involve a tendency to make the most of societal living i.e. cooperation, kindness and so on. Those who don’t cooperate or engage in reciprocal altruism are often marginalised in societies which is not the best survival strategy.

Make sense?

Thanks Damian,

“Survival of the fittest” doesn’t mean “survival of the greediest”.

I actually agree. My whole point is that neither ‘kindness’ nor ‘greed’ are even really part of the process. It’s about a genetic advantage for survival.
Also, could it not be (this seems obvious to me?) that ‘kindness’ could equal ‘weakness’ (less food to eat, less food to give to offspring, etc.) that would tend to be selected against?

(side note) I feel like there are (perhaps unavoidably) metaphors and anthropomorphisms all over this subject. We need to (I think – from my limited understanding) carefully distinguish between ‘greed’ and ‘strong food gathering ability’, etc.

cool stuff to think about…


Kindness (or, the tendency to help others) can definitely be a genetic trait. See how an animal raised apart from other members of its species will care for its child and/or other animals.

And if you live in a society, kindness is definitely a strength because societies, as a general rule, reward kindness and punish those who refuse to help others or do their bit. I don’t think you’re quite getting how being altruistic is a great survival tactic when you have to get along with other members of your species. And you seem to struggle to see how an animal can be prepositioned toward altruism genetically.

If you get a chance, and you are interested to see how genes can affect how we behave, read The Selfish Gene by Dawkins and The Blank Slate by Pinker. I have both of these if you would like to borrow them.

As with all these kinds of conversations, the detail is immanent (and too much for me to chase-down at the moment). The genetics/memetics distinction seems a key one for this…?

To rewind back to Jack’s initial comment:

“The first problem I would have with it is that i[t] assumes that natural selection does not also select (or programme)for wisdom and humility. Is something like kindness some sort of call from God or simply a trait that has evolved because it aids survival?”

Perhaps natural selection may indeed help things like ‘cooperation’, ‘kindness’ and ‘wisdom’ to emerge. But given this, neither Wright nor myself would see this as being in conflict with a ‘call’ from God to be wise.

That was his point, really. In terms of the context of his address (in terms of ‘troubled times’ – in terms of financial practice/policy/etc.), we humans find ourselves able to be more or less ‘wise’ with the way we do things. In terms of Wright’s point about the ‘creation v. evolution’ debate, I hear him saying – ‘Look, let us (Christians) stop this silly argument about how we became human (i.e. ‘how long it took’, etc.), and talk about how we can be fully, truly, beautifully, and wisely human.’

Fair enough. I was just responding to your comment about “not seeing the link between ‘meeting biological needs’ and ‘kindness’/’caring’”.

The genetic indications for humans (and others) to display traits of kindness/caring may also be mixed with traits that display cruelty/negligence within the same individual. Beyond this, however, there seems to be an inbuilt human need, if humans recognise a desire to be kind (beyond adhering to a moral code), that is wise and promotes not just the survival of the species, but involves promoting ideas of beauty and truth that seem to underpin human society.
This seems to go beyond any biological impulse and extends into metaphysical realms not easily recognised as essential by ‘natural’ determinism.

I can think of one; the desire to throw yourself on a grenade to save a group of children who aren’t closely related to you. But I would see this as either a genetic trait “misused” or a meme that has intrinsic value for a group that benefits from looking out for each other or a mixture of the two. If it’s a genetic trait then it’s unlikely to become prevalent in the group unless it’s just a numbers game and, more often that not, you are ensuring the survival of your own gene pool. If it’s a meme then as long as people hold these kinds of actions in high regard it’ll likely continue to exist.

We used to have a little farm with some sheep. The male lambs would often try to mate anything that was the right shape and height; other boy lambs, dogs, knees, etc. Their over-strong urges were of more benefit than if they were under-strong. Sure, they did it “wrong” most of the time but you can bet that those with the strongest urges would have passed on their genes (and their urges) far more successfully if not for the fact that we castrated the lot of them ;)

I believe (as you know) that we are material beings with completely material urges and desires. I think that some of these can be heavily influenced by ideas we inherit and I think that when people regard them as “metaphysical” it’s likely that it is because we can’t find a reason for why we should act in that manner. This could be because there really is no reason or because we just haven’t figured it out yet. The “metaphysical” urges we deem are useful we consider as being from God and the detrimental ones we consider an aspect of our corrupt and sinful metaphysical nature.

I’d guess that BC would see the selfless act of leaping on a grenade to save complete strangers as being in this “metaphysical” category but I’d see this as misfiring of a genetic urge or the result of a meme that can be of net benefit to a group (and, therefore, itself).

And what about art. Or mathematics? These can be shown to be of benefit (at a stretch sometimes) but I don’t think that everything has to be fully utilitarian or functional in order to be natural.

We’re heading off to Taupo for a wedding tomorrow, and I’ve not packed – so have to rush off here… have a good weekend, y’all… :)

We can describe ourselves as completely material beings. But ‘material’ may be shown, through physics at least, to be one of those limiting concepts in common currency, just as, say, the word ‘natural’ has become. Most often, ‘natural’ becomes limited to chemo-biotic terms, excluding the metaphysical, but in fact metaphysical includes the ‘natural’.
Interestingly enough, from even from a modern religious view, things we attribute to God, seem to be increasingly less utilitarian and functional and least to do with things ‘natural’. Hence our use of the term supernatural. We use the term natural from our existential perceptions, and that we are taught only to understand things from a ‘naturalistic’ point of view. (What other view could we but have?)
Consider the actions of Austin Hemmings, who acted because he saw someone in need. Deciding whether it was from a natural ‘genetic’ urge or a natural ‘memetic’ urge is probably pointless. Both terms stem from systems of ideas of how we function and may not be the whole story. But for some there is a teleological connection between the individuals involved and the events that drew them together in a single story. And this doesn’t negate all of our ‘natural’ understanding of things.

Comments are closed.