Larry Wall, Fundamentalist, non-Creationist, programmer

By Razib Khan | July 2, 2008 2:38 am

If you have ever used the Perl programming language then you have heard the name Larry Wall. But, you might not know that Larry Wall is an active member of the Church of the Nazarene (the “bless” function anyone?). According to the Religion in American Culture survey 63% of Nazarenes accept a literal interpretation of the Bible, as opposed to 46% of Ameican Protestants as a whole. James Dobson is probably the most prominent American Nazarene. So with that, Larry Wall’s opinion on evolution might interest:

A great deal of my theological thinking has been driven by the notion of trying to see truth from God’s viewpoint… I consider the theory of evolution to be by and large proven. And if that’s the case, then from God’s viewpoint, that has to be desirable. Why would God want to do it that way? Why would God want to use a seemingly random process to come up with more complex organisms?
Well, it’s a way of being creative. If you look at almost any game that people play, they are sitting there throwing dice. It’s also how artists work, particularly fiction writers. A good artist blends random-seeming factors with intentional factors into a pleasing pattern. To me that’s the mark of a better artist than somebody who can simply crank out a perfect picture of something you can see. Cameras can do that. But that’s still the view people have of how God has to operate. They still think there’s only one right way to make the universe, so this has to be it. Essentially that’s depriving God of free will — not to mention us!

It is interesting that Wall’s thinking seems to echo that of Leibniz, another nerd and a notional theist.*
* I say notional because some have claimed that Leibniz had a Staussian view of religion and lacked personal belief. This is used to explain the fact that he was an enthusiastic proponent of ecumenicalism in an era where sectarian differences were stark and seemed irreconcilable on the face of it due to the contradictory positions held by Protestants and Catholics.


Comments (13)

  1. What’s a “Staussian” view of religion?

  2. What’s a “Staussian” view of religion?
    basically promote religion for utilitarian reasons despite a personal disbelief or disinterest. in short, in private correspondence some religious apologists of the time arguing with thinkers like spinoza categorized leibniz as one of the “unbelievers,” despite the fact that he generally argued as an apologist on their side. this suggests to some that his lack of deep personal belief was well known in the circles in which he moved.

  3. eric
  4. The idea that a deity wished to use evolution demonstrates a profound lack of understanding of the theory.
    Evolutionary change is like evaporation: it’s an inevitable consequence of a few basic, simple principles, and will occur spontaneously unless constant intervention is used to prevent it.
    Wall even presumes that his hypothetical deity cares about advanced organisms. For all he knows, the purpose of known space is to convert hydrogen to helium, and life is an accidental byproduct.

  5. BGC

    It does not matter much what super-intelligent people believe about theology – the big question is whether natural selection can be regarded as/ made into being compatible with the average evangelical Christian’s belief system.
    If it can, then this will be a great thing for evangelical Christianity, becuase this religion is otherwise very well adapted to the modern world, and the difficulty with natural selection is the main barrier to EC’s wider acceptance and further expansion.

  6. It does not matter much what super-intelligent people believe about theology
    well, insofar as theology matters, it is the super-intellingent people who create it.

  7. Brutha

    How do you know that space is the purpose of converting hydrogen to helium?
    Maybe that process is also an accidental byproduct. There are a lot of things that happen and you can’t get find purpose with scientific reasoning.
    There are humans who use evolution to create chess programs that play world class chess.
    Evolution works by creating an environment that selects specific memes over other memes.
    If you believe in a God who sanctions genocide and practices it himself by flooding the world that would be a fine example of eliminating individuals that don’t have the traits that are intended in the species that God wants to design.
    Can you be any more obvious to show that you are designing by evolution than flooding the world and only letting two individuals of a species with the right traits continue to life?
    That exactly what design by evolution is about. Having a random process that changes individuals and having afterward a process that gives the “good” individuals a greater chance to procreate.
    By the way I don’t believe in God.

  8. “By the way I don’t believe in God.”
    do you believe that i’m larry wall???

  9. Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD

    Just one more reason python is superior to perl.

  10. TGGP

    I give a tongue-in-cheek Straussian interpretation of some religious writing here.
    I had heard Python was easier than Perl and I was starting to learn that but got distracted and then forgot to follow through. Wall does seem to prove the exception to Eric S. Raymond’s rule when it comes the religiosity among hackers.

  11. It’s a bit anachronistic to say he had a Straussian view. Perhaps better to say he had a Voltaire like view of religion? Voltaire was at least alive when Leibniz was. (Although much younger so that probably doesn’t work either)

  12. BTW – Perl is awk which has had feature bloat explosion. It was great when it was just designed for short one page hacks. As a language though… Ugh.
    Python is much better in most ways. Although there’s still a surprising amount of stuff written in Perl. Interestingly I’ve had a lot of Perl programmers tell me they’ve switched over to Squeak which is a Smalltalk like language/environment.

  13. clark, well, how about a spinozan view? i’m to understand that spinoza didn’t expect the masses to be thoroughgoing naturalistic pantheists/deists either. that would be ironic since spinoza was famous in practice for transgressing theological boundaries
    re: python vs. perl, agreed.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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