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The Evolution of God Hardcover – Bargain Price, June 8, 2009


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition (June 8, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316734918
  • ASIN: B0045JK6HE
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (152 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #916,915 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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More About the Author

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

Customer Reviews

This book is well researched and interestingly written.
Ronald D. Hamann
Even worse though if we assume for the sake of argument that there has been moral progress that is nothing like proof or even evidence that God exists.
Fred Nietzsche
This new book from acclaimed author Robert Wright is a well-researched one covering a great deal of territory.
John W. Loftus

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

408 of 446 people found the following review helpful By John W. Loftus VINE VOICE on June 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover
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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148 of 163 people found the following review helpful By Jay C. Smith on July 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover
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 "...it 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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96 of 111 people found the following review helpful By DCCHEF on June 23, 2009
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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