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Robert Wright on ‘The Evolution of God’

Evolution of God CoverMany scholars have pointed out that the ‘personality’ of the God of the three Abrahamic faiths appears to have evolved over time. It has also frequently been claimed that the evolution of God’s personality as depicted in the Bible and the Koran was toward a more compassionate and moral God. In his new book, The Evolution of God (Little, Brown and Company, 2009), Robert Wright reviews a good deal of that evidence and suggests that the reason God grew to be more moral is because the people of the societies that believed in him had to interact with people of other faiths in distant lands in a non-zero-sum way. It was acceptable to be compassionate and loving toward other people – as long as both groups prospered from the interaction.

Wright sees a general progression in history toward greater and greater global integration, with local gods becoming more tolerant of other faiths and therefore less violent.

While the bulk of his argument focuses on the Jewish, Christian and Islamic cases, he also claims that the general trend applies to non-Abrahamic faiths (like Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.) as well. Wright apparently sees religions and religious doctrines in particular as almost infinitely malleable. Doctrine is simply adjusted or interpreted in order to meet the political demands of the polity. Thus, the gods serve human ends in Wright’s story.

Strangely, Wright finds this conclusion optimistic. The ability to read one’s own scriptures selectively to arrive at rosy views of other people is the grounds for Wright for optimism. As long as the trend is toward ever-greater need for global cooperation, Wright believes that holy texts will be susceptible to readings that are more humane and accepting. While one would need to review Wright’s book Nonzero (Vintage, 2001) on the trends in history to evaluate fully his evidence for optimism about the effects of globalization, my own reading of the evidence is that the long-term trends are not reassuring.

For more on Robert Wright's argument see "Love your neighbor - and thank economics!" by Connor Wood here.

For more information about Wright’s The Evolution of God see here.

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