The Evolution of God
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The Evolution of God

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  2,892 ratings  ·  394 reviews
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...more
Hardcover, 567 pages
Published June 8th 2009 by Little, Brown and Company (first published January 1st 2009)
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sckenda
Apr 09, 2013 sckenda rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Those interested in Religion and Evolutionary Theory
Robert Wright in “The Evolution of God” argues that people’s conception of God shows moral progress. Wright, a former professor of religion at Princeton, was reared a Southern Baptist in Texas but now writes from the perspective of an agnostic religious scholar.

Using evolutionary theory, Wright claims that there are patterns of progressive evolution in the monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (which he calls the “Abrahamic Faiths”). Wright states that believers have expand...more
David
This is a most impressive book.

Robert Wright's earlier book "Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny" explored the notion that much of the advance of human civilization (including religion) has been driven by a fundamental principle of game theory (and also of economics), namely that a cooperative strategy benefits both parties. The development of trade rather than war, first between tribes, then among larger groups, then between nations, can be seen as manifestations of this principle.

Wright's lat...more
Karen
Long Story Short: This book has a lot of interesting close-ish reading of the big three Abrahamic religious texts (Torah, Bible, Koran), interspersed with a lot of philosophy and splaining I wasn’t that crazy about.

The Book’s Strengths: First of all, I like Wright’s writing style. He explains his points well, and he intersperses his texts with just enough humor that it’s a pleasant surprise every time. True, writing style is not a very important part of a book’s message, but it makes it easier t...more
Socraticgadfly
A one-trick pony from Wright

This book could, and should, have one of two alternative titles.

It's either "Nonzero: The Religion Primer" or "The Evolution of Western Religious Thought."

Why would either one of those be better?

First, what I recommend instead of this book. People looking for good scholarly insight into the evolution of human religious thought, from a well-grounded (and not overblown) evolutionary psychology perspective, should head to Scott Atran's "In Gods We Trust." He covers the g...more
Mark
Peruse scripture a little, and you can find license for whatever deed you contemplate. That's the bad news.

A closer study shows god to be the ductile creation of Man, alternately vengeful or loving, jingoistic or welcoming, as He finds expedient for the time. I feel Wright easily makes this basic point, that religion has evolved to fit "the facts on the ground" and by the time he's done, it feels like a layup. I had thought it contradictory that people could both espouse a Church and hold their...more
Becky
The Evolution of God is an absolutely great read. I personally feel that it paints a very hopeful picture for the further evolution of religion in our massively interconnected world. I felt that at all times he was respectful towards people of various levels of faith, while being an agnostic himself. You’d think from some of the vitriol in the one-star reviews that Bill Maher had written the book and proceeded to shit on people’s doorsteps. At all times this book was professional, scholarly, and...more
Daniel
This is one of the best books I have read on this subject. A must read for anyone who wants to sound intelligent on religion.

That being said, my two criticisms would be the author's heightened awareness of the nature of non-zero sum equations. Yes, we get it. It isn't necessary to reintroduce the concept over and over.

The other critique I would offer is that this book seems to be the work of a tortured soul. A deconstructer by day who searches at night for an altar on which to confess. The las...more
diana
Overall, I think The Evolution of God is an excellent overview of how modern views of God and religion developed. The book is remarkably broad in its scope, tracing the evolution of a number of pagan and all three Abrahamic religions, yet I rarely felt that Wright did not adequately cover a subject. Rather, this book has sparked my interest such that I am now planning to do much more reading about biblical history and archaeology.

My major complaint about this book is that Wright was incomplete...more
Clif
Robert Wright has written a book long overdue, one that examines the creation of god/s and the behavior of that god, or those gods, based on the needs of the tribe or culture or civilization that did the creating. It is a rational look at religion and a brilliant example of good, logical thinking.

People have always had questions about their environment, a need to support what is considered proper action and to oppose what is thought improper. Not to have an answer is psychologically unbearable b...more
Pat
As the title suggests, this book explores the history of how god(s) evolved, beginning with pre-historic hunter-gather societies who had many gods, through to the birth of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). Wright is a clear and compelling writer, and researched his topic well. I thoroughly enjoyed the history. The description of Polynesian religion, in particular, was fascinating, as was the description of how Judaism moved from monolatry (the belief that many gods exist...more
Robert Delikat
I am challenged by Robert Wright’s The Evolution of God in many of the same ways I was by Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature. The subject of the evolution of how humans think about a god is such a sweeping subject, and this book appears to be such a scholarly work, that it is difficult for me, a mere mortal, to know what is fact and what is fiction. I will take a couple of examples. Wright makes the point in the book that the Jews were actually the Canaanites, worshipers of Baal, fo...more
Sarah
I grew up trying to read the Bible, copiously; first as an exercise in divining God's will, then as a desperate attempt to demonstrate that I was among the saved, then as an act of refutation, then later in an attempt to contain the whole thing in my head and come to some sort of coherent "once and for all, dammit" understanding of the thing. It was this last attempt that really brought home what a patched together, boggling document it is- style, tone, characters, thesis- all a jumble that shif...more
Jan Rice
When you get over your snit about what you think Robert Wright is saying about your particular religious tradition, you may decide we should all listen to what he has to say. He may under-emphasize or minimize too much at certain points, but his hypothesis has the ring of truth. He has a viable argument against the new atheism. He is pointing us in a direction other than polarization. We should not be at each others' throats! I hope a lot of us read this book.
Richard
Jun 27, 2009 Richard marked it as to-read
Recommended to Richard by: NY Times
Extensive review in the New York Times on June 24, 2009, along with a Q&A with the author.

Looks like a good addition to the ongoing debate on the origins of morality. As an agnostic, the obvious fact "God" has evolved in fundamental ways is one of my primary objections to the Christian belief in a perfect God. For that matter, the clear fact that religions develop over time is a pretty clear indicator that they are cultural creations, and not supernatural in origin.

Wright is also an advocate...more
Mary Gail O'Dea
Robert Wright is a terrific writer. This is a heady work -- starting with hunter/gatherer societies and taking us through the beginnings of Christianity and Islam. The premise is that God always has been made in the image and likeness and man. God has evolved over the centuries to reflect "conditions in the ground," which help makes sense of the various "Gods" seen in the Old Testament -- e.g. the warrior god and the protective god, in the Koran -- (pretty much the same) - the warrior god and th...more
Todd
If your a religious scholar, there's probably not much here that would be news to you. However, the rest of us have plenty to learn from Wright's latest work. In many ways, Evolution of God fits in nicely was some of the recent work of Bart Ehrman (Misquoting Jesus and Jesus Interrupted) in that Wright puts forth the context and scholarly interpretations of some of the better known parts of the Bible and the Koran (i.e. The exhortation to 'Love thy neighbor' is most likely a lot more provincial...more
Jeffrey
Why is most of the world now mono-theistic? Was the advent truly something from the Jews, or was it simply a natural out growth of prevailing current ideals during the birth time of the philosophy? These are the questions that are asked in the book, The Evolution of God by Robert Wright.

Before reading the book, I thought this was going to be another attack on religion in the vain of Hitchens or Dawkins. After reading the book, I think that might be a tad much but it is still in the ball park. Th...more
Jake
"The Evolution of God" is best seen as a continuation of "Non-Zero", Wright's review of history through the lens of evolution and game-theory. His basic idea there was that the arc of history bends towards justice and a better world. He posits that the driver of this moral development is the evolution of win-win relationships between people and cultures through interactions like trade and commerce (not just in goods, but also in ideas.) In "The Evolution of God", Wright extends this analysis to...more
Michael Johnston
The scope of this book's undertaking is impressive (and a little daunting). It is a book principally about mankind's cultural evolution. An account of our social and cultural development as told through a review of the history of religion. Yet, Wright also dicusses the existence of God, the relationship between science and religion, the causes of (and solutions for) radical Islamic terrorism, the nature of ancient trade relationships and the modern relations between the major monotheistic relgio...more
Angela
Jul 28, 2009 Angela rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Angela by: nytimes review
The Evolution of God is an ambitious look at how our religions tend to change along with the societies in which we live, from animism in small tribes to the rise of monotheistic religions to unite empires. Wright's detachedly bemused commentary on various religious practices throughout the world makes most of the book an entertaining read, although the last half of the book begins to drag a bit as he begins to couch his challenges in more justification. Still, as the book moves on and begins to...more
Rbeisenberg
This gets a 3 not because I think it was "just ok," but because there are things about the book that I think are great and things that I very much disliked. I recommend reading it to form your own opinion, if you are interested in the subject matter, of course.

On the one hand, this book is full of wise and informative insights about the development of what Wright calls the "Abrahamic God" (the god of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). For those, like myself, who did not know very much about the...more
Sara
It took me about a month to get through this book (won on goodreads - yay!), not just because it's long but because the topic is extremely deep, making it impossible to quickly tear through. I enjoyed it a lot, and reading in small doses allowed me time to ponder each section. Probably anyone else who reads this will end up taking their time as well.

The author makes a case for how the concept of a god has evolved throughout time. He opens with a look at more "primitive" religions (or even those...more
Misha
ღმერთი (ყოველშემთხვევაში ღმერთის წარმოდგენა ადამიანების გონებაში) არ იყო ყოველთვის ყოვლისმცოდნე, ყოვლისშემძლე და ყოვლად კეთილი, ის ასეთად განვითარდა პირველყოფილი რწმენებიდან სადაც ადამიანები, აღმერთებდნენ ბუნების მოვლენებს, ცხოველებს და ა.შ განვითარება მოხდა არა მხოლოდ ბუნების მოვლენებიდან და ცხოველების გაღმერთებიდან ადამიანის მსგავს ღმერთებამდე არამედ პოლითეიზმიდან მონოთეიზმამდე და ამ ყველაფრს თან ახლდა მორალური კოდექსის განვითარება. - ეს არის ამ წიგნის მთავარი მესიჯი.

წიგნი ეხება აბრაამისეულ რე...more
Ben Babcock
The Evolution of God comes close, in many ways, to my ideal Platonic conception of a "non-fiction book." It is thick and weighty (all the better to use against zombies, should the apocalypse happen while reading it). It is organized into a series of logical parts, which are in turn each organized into a series of logical chapters, providing convenient stopping points for a respite. Last, but not least, it has endnotes. Pages upon pages of endnotes. I loves me my endnotes.

And Robert Wright's endn...more
Christine
OK, Robert Wright is a smart guy and definitely did his research well for this book. But I was hoping for a history without any opinions and he had to share! And he has his mind made up even though he likes to delude himself that he is open-minded. The religion of Robert Wright is set in stone. He also loves to use his lingo a lot, and I mean a lot. He probably think it sounds pretty suave to the ladies...he needs converts.

Anyway, if you can deal with all that and work around it, he does give a...more
Laura
An ambitious and comprehensive work. He gets a little too caught up at times, as most biblical scholars tend to do, particularly around p. 157 where he claims that the hebrew word for 'moon' (yareah) actually refers to a 'moon god,' with the sole evidence that a canaanite god was named something similar (yarih). Not like close languages never even slightly overlapped, but whatever. Oh, and the best part...what's the evidence for this? Why can "yareah" only refer to a moon god, not the moon itsel...more
Adam Floridia
For its genre, if it fits into a genre, this book is certainly a 5/5. The fact that I have always found reading almost any type of history akin to watching astroturf grow relegated my rating to a 3/5.

While obviously not exhaustive, Wright's account of the evolution of religion is very thorough and convincing. It turns out that early religions had nothing to do with morality; they were simply means of explaining natural phenomena in a pre-science era. Surprise, surprise. As the big three Abrahami...more
Mike Angelillo
The first three quarters of this book, dealing with the evolution of God through the Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths are both informative and enjoyable to read. Essentially, Wright makes the case that God evolved based on the changing social and political situations of the member faiths. He covers the growth of Israel from Canaanite origins (as opposed to conquering Canaan), the historical Jesus versus the scriptural Jesus, Mohammad's changing views of faith as his political situation chang...more
A. Jesse
Two big ideas.

Convincing: Our ideas of gods or God evolve in a social and political context. When we see gain in warfare, we imagine a vengeful God, but when our interests seem to lie in cooperating with other nations, we imagine a compassionate God. Over millenia, technological progress has motivated us to cooperate with other nations more than to fight them; thus God has grown ever more universal and moral.

Not so convincing: God is real, if we name the source of our moral progress "God".

Bonus:...more
Ginny
A history of the development of the idea of God, as evolved through the three Abrahamic religions, with a materialist's focus on how socio-economic conditions of a time mold how God will be perceived in that time. I'll admit I found some of the early chapters a bit of a slog, but it picked up later. And I learned quite a bit about the historical events surrounding the birth of all three religions. An optimistic portrait of a dialectic that, the author would have, predicts the eventual peaceful r...more
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The Evolution of Gods 5 17 Feb 06, 2014 07:58AM  
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57798
Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name.

ROBERT WRIGHT is the author of The Moral Animal, Nonzero, and Three Scientists and Their Gods. The New York Times selected The Moral Animal as one of the ten best books of the year and the other two as notable books of the year.

Wright is a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Essay and Criticism and ha...more
More about Robert Wright...
The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny Three Scientists and Their Gods: Looking for Meaning in an Age of Information Our Man in Tehran: The True Story Behind the Secret Mission to Save Six Americans during the Iran Hostage Crisis & the Foreign Ambassador Who Worked w/the CIA to Bring Them Home Our Man in Tehran: Ken Taylor, the CIA and the Iran Hostage Crisis

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“Humans have various ways of coping with extended stress, and one is the anticipation of a better time. Here, as with retribution, there is often a kind of symmetry: the more intense the stress and the more hopeless the situation, the more fabulous the coming times that are anticipated.” 10 likes
“What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?" asked the Christian theologian Tertullian... Having received the revealed thruth via Christ, "we want no curious disputation." Well that was then. Today science is so powerful that theologians can't casually dismiss secular knowledge. For most... Athens and Jerusalem must be reconciled or Jerusalem will fall off the map. Philo's thoughtful answer is 'Logos')” 3 likes
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