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The Evolution of God [Kindle Edition]

Robert Wright
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (180 customer reviews)

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Book Description

In this sweeping narrative that takes us from the Stone Age to the Information Age, Robert Wright unveils an astonishing discovery: there is a hidden pattern that the great monotheistic faiths have followed as they have evolved. Through the prisms of archaeology, theology, and evolutionary psychology, Wright's findings overturn basic assumptions about Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and are sure to cause controversy. He explains why spirituality has a role today, and why science, contrary to conventional wisdom, affirms the validity of the religious quest. And this previously unrecognized evolutionary logic points not toward continued religious extremism, but future harmony.

Nearly a decade in the making, The Evolution of God is a breathtaking re-examination of the past, and a visionary look forward.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In his illuminating book, The Moral Animal, Wright introduced evolutionary psychology and examined the ways that the morality of individuals might be hard-wired by nature rather than influenced by culture. With this book, he expands upon that work, turning now to explore how religion came to define larger and larger groups of people as part of the circle of moral consideration. Using a naïve and antiquated approach to the sociology and anthropology of religion, Wright expends far too great an effort covering well-trod territory concerning the development of religions from primitive hunter-gatherer stages to monotheism. He finds in this evolution of religion, however, that the great monotheistic (he calls them Abrahamic, a term not favored by many religion scholars) religions—Christianity, Islam, Judaism—all contain a code for the salvation of the world. Using game theory, he encourages individuals in these three faiths to embrace a non–zero-sum relationship to other religions, seeing their fortunes as positively correlated and interdependent and then acting with tolerance toward other religions. Regrettably, Wright's lively writing unveils little that is genuinely new or insightful about religion. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

Straddling popular science, ancient history, and theology, this ambitious work sets out to resolve not only the clash of civilizations between the Judeo-Christian West and the Muslim world but also the clash between science and religion. Tracking the continual transformation of faith from the Stone Age to the Information Age, Wright, a self-described materialist, best known for his work on evolutionary psychology, free trade, and game theory, postulates that religious world views are becoming more open, compassionate, and synthesized. Occasionally, his prescriptions can seem obvious—for instance, that members of the different Abrahamic faiths should think of their religions as “having been involved, all along, in the same undertaking.” But his core argument, that religion is getting “better” with each passing aeon, is enthralling.
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Product Details

  • File Size: 866 KB
  • Print Length: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition (May 20, 2009)
  • Sold by: Hachette Book Group
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #227,672 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
419 of 458 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well-Researched, Judicious, and Enlightening June 10, 2009
This new book from acclaimed author Robert Wright is a well-researched one covering a great deal of territory. It should be read in its entirety to be properly understood. In it he discusses the history of religion with a focus on western Abrahamic faiths, although not entirely neglecting eastern religions. He tells us in the Introduction that he's giving us a human "materialistic" account of it, although he thinks doing so "actually affirms the validity of a religious worldview," though not a traditionalist one, but one nonetheless. Wright argues the gods arose as illusions and that "the subsequent history of the idea of god is...the evolution of an illusion." This evolution points to the existence of a "divinity," he argues, even though this god is not one that most believers currently accept. As it evolved it has "moved closer to plausibility." (p.4).

Wright begins with the five types of primitive hunter-gatherer supernatural beings: elemental spirits, puppeteers, organic spirits, ancestral spirits, and the high gods. These primitive gods were not always worshipped but treated as we would treat other human beings. In these societies the Shaman was the "first step toward an archbishop or ayatollah" who had contact with these otherwise hidden forces and could help focus their powers to heal, protect, and provide.

As small tribes grew into larger societies the chiefdom was the next evolutionary stage where there was a need for a "structural reliance on the supernatural." Chiefs in these agricultural societies were conduits through which divine power entered the social scale down to the lesser folk. If things went well for a society then the chief was doing a good job. Superstition reigned in these days.
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155 of 170 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Can Wright be wrong? July 13, 2009
The Evolution of God
In 2000 Robert Wright published Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny to some acclaim. In it he argued that there is a favorable direction to human history attributable to increasing opportunities for non-zero-sum interaction where both parties gain something, versus zero-sum situations where one party may gain, but only at the expense of the other. Social structures grow to take advantage of these situations, he contended, and build incrementally toward supranational governance. He concluded that " is hard, after pondering the full sweep of history, to resist the conclusion that -- in some important ways, at least -- the world now stands at its moral zenith to date."

Now comes The Evolution of God, where Wright further elaborates his contention that moral progress is ingrained in the course of history. In it Wright offers a materialist analysis of changing portrayals of gods and God, sure to aggravate conventional believers of many faiths. But he also asserts that history shows there might be something like a God force behind moral improvement, a position that many religious skeptics are likely to reject.

Wright's thesis entails three basic propositions. The first is that God evolves. By this Wright means not an actual God, whom he generally treats as illusory, but rather peoples' conceptions of gods and God. The "evolution" he writes about is mostly cultural evolution, although he includes an appendix on the possible biological roots of religion.
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97 of 112 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Religion: explained purely naturally, or not? June 23, 2009
By Steve
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Robert Wright is an intellectually curious journalist and a fine writer whose previous books (The Moral Animal & Nonzero) I enjoyed. Wright's new book explores the character of religion through history, and, marshalling scholarly research, shows how religious ideas developed in response to changing social and political circumstances. The explanations make no appeal to the supernatural. But Wright sees progress (however haphazard and intermittent) in the moral dimension of religion through time, which leads him to speculate that this phenomenon actually points to the existence of something worthy of being named divine.

The bulk of the book is an interesting run through research findings from anthropology, archaeology and textual analysis on the topic of historical religious ideas and practices. The tour begins with a look at hunter-gatherer style animism and the role of gods and religion in tribal cultures, continues with an examination of the development of the various pantheons of gods in ancient civilizations, and then tackles the Abrahamic traditions. In all cases there seems to be a plausible explanation of prevailing religious ideas and the character of God or gods changing in concert with the "facts on the ground". As nations make war, their gods intone contempt for non-believers. As empires digest conquests, they co-opt the gods of their new subjects. More positively, as societies enter into non-zero sum relationships with a wider circle of neighbors, their gods become more universal and more supportive of a broader moral vision.

Wright also presents his own thoughts on what it all means.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Dare to let this book challenge you
Wright's introduction, Afterword, and Appendix highlight this book for me---and throughout, the vital evolution of non-zero-sum awareness, with its potential to reconcile religion... Read more
Published 7 days ago by Margaret Keip
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Very interesting non judgmental open minded historical journey from hunter gathers to modern religion.
Published 25 days ago by shaun hillin
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Writing
I love the way this Wright writes! He makes the history of god beliefs fascinating.
Published 1 month ago by Elizabeth Clarkson
2.0 out of 5 stars I believe that Mr. Wright has a real gift ...
I believe that Mr. Wright has a real gift for bringing out interesting concepts. When I could verify the references, it appears to me that Mr. Read more
Published 1 month ago by scott priest
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspires considerable thought
All of Wright's books have a habit of lingering in the mind well after the reading is finished. It is impressive that he does this without falling into the traps that make such... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Edward W. Goggin
5.0 out of 5 stars I can honestly say that this book forever changed my perspective on...
This book is not for everyone. If you are afraid to question the complete and total accuracy of the Bible or the Koran, you should not read this book. Read more
Published 2 months ago by lady of the lake
5.0 out of 5 stars read it for your enlightenment
Very insightful and informative.
Published 2 months ago by Read This Suckas
5.0 out of 5 stars Another carefully thought out analysis...
Good book. Covers most of the major religions, their birth, development and how humanity itself helps to guide the message from God. Read more
Published 2 months ago by DMZ33
5.0 out of 5 stars very interesting ideas
This book presents ideas of God in a very non dogmatic and interesting way. The zero sum nomenclature is a little much, but it is still a book worth reading.
Published 3 months ago by Paul J. Crowder
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very Good Book.
Published 3 months ago by Belinda B.
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More About the Author

Robert Wright is a contributing editor of The New Republic, a columnist, and a visiting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the cofounder of, runs the web-based video project, and lives in Princeton, NJ, with his wife and two daughters.

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Gods of the majority of humans
God originated in the mind of humans. Man made god in his image, with the qualities that man wants in a god. That is why he is different for different cultures.
Jul 27, 2009 by Roland R. Courtemanche |  See all 8 posts
Mr. Wright has the Christian Message Wrong...
"John 3:16, one of the most fundamental beliefs of the Bible states, "For God so loved the world, that he gave His Only Begotten Son, that whosoever beleveith in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life." "

You know that the book of John was written AFTER Paul changed... Read More
Aug 28, 2009 by Shane Smith |  See all 4 posts
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