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The Evolution of God

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  6,410 ratings  ·  588 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, ...more
Hardcover, 567 pages
Published June 8th 2009 by Little, Brown and Company
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Socraticgadfly
Nov 29, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
...more
Jan Rice
Jul 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, religion
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.
David
Sep 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Karen
Jan 09, 2012 rated it liked it
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
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Becky
Aug 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: myth-religion
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
Sarah
Dec 28, 2010 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
David
Nov 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is a very well-written book. I enjoyed reading about the evolution of prehistoric religions, and the early stages of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The "evolution" is basic a growth in morality. The book shows that all three religions manifested a morality that changed with the times and circumstances. When your group is politically or militarily weak compared to your environment, "getting along" with your neighbors is of paramount importance. But when your group is strong, you can ...more
Mark
Dec 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Moshe Mikanovsky
Apr 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio-book, religion
4 stars for the importance of this book. For the actual presentation and pace, the book was a tad tedious and slow. It is though the first book I've read which lays out the actual evolution of religions, mainly from shaman/tribal/pagan to the monotheist/Abrahamic religions. Some great insights into the reasoning of people to believe in a set of gods or a god, into the progress of societies and with that progress also came the progress in what type of deity was needed, the zero-sum and ...more
Maria
По един много лежерен, спокоен и логичен начин с тази книга Робърт Райт допринася за каузата на атеистите много повече от Ричард Докинс с неговото войнствено отричане и непримирима борба с религията. Ясно и просто Райт обяснява психологическите предпоставки за зараждане на религията и след това еволюцията й в зависимост от реалните факти в културното и социално развитие на обществата. Започва от ловците и събирачите с техните нравствени и духовни нужди, преминава през племена, вождества, държави ...more
Robert Delikat
Jun 01, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, religion
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, ...more
Shira
Aug 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
My take-away understanding of this book was that the author believes that as a religion encompasses greater population diversity, it perforce must, and hence does, become more tolerant and open or universalistic. Some kind of reward and punishment system (divine or spirit-based whether here and now or after death) also generally ramps up as again population encompassed by the religion increases.

This was a long but worthwhile read, starting with the earliest forms of religions and moving up
...more
Pat
Mar 04, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Clif
Jul 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
...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
...more
diana
Jun 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Daniel
Nov 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Kevin
Nov 28, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: own-books
I must admit that I liked this book, and it enlightened me about the concept of ‘God’. It tells you how mesmerized you are by religious teachings about ‘God’ ! Men are born without religion. Imagine the situation where, once he had found his God in natural marvels which he had no control upon, like fire, wind, water (flood),Sun etc. etc. ‘God’ evolved along with the evolution of culture, and religion came into being, the most powerful weapon that binds people together or make them fight to death ...more
Judy
Oct 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Extremely readable explanation and discussion of how monotheism developed in response to human social evolution and the surrounding facts on the ground, i.e. political and cultural circumstances. I've already bought another book of his (The Moral Animal) so I can enjoy even more of his writing style. He writes with a pithy, down-to-earth attitude, and I find myself chuckling at the way he boils down difficult concepts into a one-sentence reality that I repeat to myself long after I've shut the ...more
Joseph Adelizzi, Jr.
Oct 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Once upon a time I had conversion on the road to Chipotle. Well almost. I was actually IN Chipotle. Misreading The Life of Pi. Homesick at having been on the road for quite some time, away from family. Given how Chipotle has been in the news so often over the years, perhaps I was suffering from E. coli contamination (pardon the cheap shot - I actually enjoyed all my meals at Chipotle). There I was, in a corner table by myself, feeling forlorned and downtrodden, all but collapsing under the ...more
Michael
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
...more
Book
Jun 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: atheism-religion
The Evolution of God by Robert Wright

The Evolution of God by Robert Wright is a book about the evolution of the concept of God. The author makes use of archaeology, theology, and evolutionary psychology to explain how mainly the Abrahamic religions evolved. The book 576 pages worth is composed of twenty chapters within five major sections: I. The Birth and Growth of the Gods, II. The Emergence of Abrahamic Monotheism, III. The Invention of Christianity, IV. The Triumph of Islam, and V. God Goes
...more
Eric Layton
Mar 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
A very interesting and well thought out thesis. Worth the read. I do NOT recommend this for people of faith. It may teach you a few things about the histories of your religions/gods that you have probably never been taught.
Jake
Dec 31, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, sociology
"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
Mary Gail O'Dea
Nov 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Jeffrey
Jul 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
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.
...more
Richard
Jun 27, 2009 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
Todd
Jul 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
John Doyle
Sep 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, philosophy
In hunter-gatherer societies and ancient languages (e.g. ancient Hebrew) there is no word for religion because the memes that the modern world labels "religion" were important but mundane realities of everyday life. As human social units expanded beyond small hunter gatherer groups to villages, cities, states, nations etc a variety of frameworks emerged to address problems inherent in social structures that extend beyond networks of family and close friends. In the Evolution of God, Wright ...more
mohammad firouzi
Dec 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Wright draws the most important conclusion at the very last part of his book. he takes us to a journey which starts at the beginning of pre historic mankind beliefs to modern time. he rightly states that the purpose of invention of god was explaining the unexplainable events. in the middle chapters he looks at similarities and differences between Abrahamic religions. maybe its not a brand new theory but he is again on spot to highlight that all three of them changed according to their geography ...more
Dave
Sep 13, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I find Wright's conjectures about the rise of monotheism fascinating and plausible. I liked the style and felt Wright's arguments were coherent and well supported. The author describes the development of theistic and monotheistic religion from stories of gods affecting human affairs in early hunter - gatherer groups through tribal shamans and early city state myths and religions to the modern era. Specific attention is given to Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

I do not recommend the book for
...more
Kirsten
Feb 18, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another great Robert Wright read. Compared to his earlier books I would have to say that this one is a little more dense. At least it felt to me like there was a lot of information that, though very interesting, could require pre-existing enthusiasm for the subject, perhaps a little bit of background knowledge about the bible to keep the rails greased, and the ability to concentrate, especially in the first third of the book. With that said, the book didn't disappoint and, even though this was a ...more
Mehrsa
Apr 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating book--especially if you know your scriptures. I love the Karen Armstrong history of God books, but I felt like this went farther back and further out. It was very well-written and asked the right questions and answered them carefully.
Kevin
Jul 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Impressive book covering early hunter-gatherer beliefs all the way to modern beliefs. Covers the natural progression of animism, to spirit belief, to the spirit transformation into gods, to a hierarchy of spirits/gods with a powerful god of gods, then into monolatry (polytheistic but only one diety is worth worshiping), then the final step into a monotheistic belief where other gods no longer existed.

Very sensical explanations about common scripture (pentateuch, koran, and bible) and how early
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Bibliovoracious
Nov 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Excellent. Many well-thought ideas that were fresh to me that rang with authenticity. Explored with just the right objective distance to have anthropological perspective, but with sensitivity to that universal yearning for goodness or growth.

This is the story of People, whose cultures and experiences and outlooks evolved, therefore so did their beliefs. And here we are - on a continuum, still moving forward. For People hath created their Gods in their own image, according to their best
...more
Steve
May 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
No doubt any modern christian would scoff at any text that claims that the christian god yahweh is just one of many. The more militant might demand this book be banned or burned. Of course, when one realizes that the christian bible actually claims this (in text often overlooked or completely ignored) it defintely brings a wrinkle to any person of faith. It turns out that the "heretic bible" is just a bible that is truly understood.

This book is a little slow in the beginning and I was close to
...more
Ben
Nov 12, 2010 rated it really liked it
"Now we've reached a stage in history where the movement toward moral truth has to become globally momentous. Technology has made the planet too small, too finely interdependent for enmity between large blocks to be in their enduring interest. The negative-sum side of the world's 'non-zero-sum'ness is too explosively big to be compatible with social salvation... So if the god of the Abrahamic faiths is to keep doing what he has often managed to do before, evolve in a way that fosters ...more
Marco Teixeira
Dec 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The first critic concerning this book is the title. It should have been “The evolution of the abrahamic God”, since there is no mention to Hinduism and just a few times Buda and Buddism is mentioned. There is a lot of information about ancient forms of religion through. After Darkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitches this is another “antropomorhic god killer” book. The author in the final chapters defends that might be some kind of God making a sort of comparison with the concept we have of an ...more
Timothy Reeder
Oct 31, 2014 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed the early parts of the book which discussed that prehistoric concepts of "god" before such a concept truly existed. Then reading how these beliefs evolved into refined ideas of deities was very fascinating. Even hearing how monotheistic systems developed in this polytheistic world was still great. But as the book shifted from this into the further development of monotheism and the emergence of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam it seems to move away from an anthropological and ...more
Megan
Sep 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
The Evolution of God by Robert Wright is broken up into five major sections, each looking at an Abrahamic religion and examining the science, politics and expansion of social groups that played a part in making them what they are today. The book begins by exploring the slow evolution from animistic religion to polytheistic. The second section goes on to show how monotheism as we know it today, with an all-powerful being, eventually developed. The third section takes a look at Christianity and ...more
Leo Walsh
Jan 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book is extremely thought-provoking. It looks at how human theology has evolved as societies have grown ever-more inter-twined. Gods-proper have moved from tribal to clan-gods -- but always conceived of as "one among many." And those gods dictated how we live with, and respect, the people within our clans.

And Wright does an excellent job tracing these key ideas through scripture -- with the attendant understanding that most fundamentalist and mainstream believers don't recognize this as
...more
Rbeisenberg
May 27, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Laurel
Jan 28, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was a fascinating look at how our concept of God has evolved throughout recorded history. Some of the topics explored include how societies grew from polytheism to monotheism, how the three main monotheistic religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam) developed into what they are today, and how humans may be genetically "designed" (he uses quotes) by natural selection to lean towards morality. That is, it seems in our evolutionary favor to act with empathy and in harmony towards each ...more
Zivile
I am not religious person but I grew up in a European Catholic surrounding and still live surrounded mostly by Christians. So I am naturally curious about the idea of Judeo-Christian religion and its branches.
Author starts from early days of humankind, speculating the need and eventual rise of something higher than humans power, shamanism etc.
Then it delves deeply into Judaism and how it evolved from many Babylonian gods to eventually one (even erasing goddesses). This part is very interesting
...more
Serene
Nov 29, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: religion
This was an interesting book. Essentially his thesis is that God is what people make him out to be, and while I don't hold his view that God has no existence independent of humanity, I appreciated the historical details he provided on the growing inclusive conception of the divine throughout the ages. Not surprisingly, the stuff on paganism, Judaism, and Christianity was more interesting to me. I just didn't feel he knew enough about Islam to discuss it with enough sophistication, and it was ...more
Harriet Huestis
I read this for book club. It was hard to push through. While I felt I learned something in the earlier parts of the book, I also have suspicions on the trustworthiness of the information. It often felt that the author had limited knowledge and was selective in his choices. His writing style could use improvement. It was wordy and despite that excess often unclear. For example where he defines spandrel in the appendix :
phenomenon supported by genes that had become part of the species by doing
...more
Amber
Mar 25, 2019 rated it liked it
I really loved the anthropological explorations of early societies, shamans, and early forms of spirituality. The Abrahamic portion got to be really long and dull. The early discussions of Yahweh and the creation of monotheistic religions was interesting, as was the analysis of the linguistics and translations of early scriptures. After the early translations and interpretations of Jesus's actions, the book went down hill. There was a vaguely anti-Muslim vibe that was manifested in the ...more
Muhammad Usman
May 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The book is a good resource for understanding religion in a historical, political, philosophical and even scientific perspective. Robert Wright has put great effort into this book. He starts with a description of what primitive prehistoric religion might have been like and then continues his journey through the recorded history and evolution of organized religion. He gives an account of religions in Hunter gatherer societies, Mesopotamia, Babylon, kingdom of Israel And birth of monotheism. The ...more
David
Sep 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book is largely a survey of the development of religions through history and prehistory. The author concludes with a sort of ontogenetic analysis of religions. This is where it gets interesting. Wright doesn’t, or tries not, to pass final judgment on the existence of God or on any religion. But he does examine various religions in terms of their growth and prevalence, or what might be called their “success”. He applies zero-sum game theory principles to explain the growth of religions and ...more
Vinny
Mar 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
The first 3/4 was very enjoyable and educational. Sort of the rational explanation of why people/societies turn to religion and how religions have changed over the last few millennia. Especially how the concept of god has changed as peoples' understanding of the world has changed over time, and as cultures have changed. In the last portion of the book, the author changed from reporting things to offering his own interpretation, often mixed too much with intellectual gobbledygook. And the author ...more
Lynn Buschhoff
Jun 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I will start with a disclaimer. My main area of study for my B.A. was Religion and Philosophy, but I have never been particularly religious. My present interest in religion is from a psychological and political viewpoint., but I read a lot of books about religion and philosophy. This was probably the most enlightening of all that I have read. The author traces the manifestation of gods from the earliest hunter-gatherer groups up to the present. Because of the global implications of the conflict ...more
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The Evolution of Gods 5 28 Feb 06, 2014 07:58AM  

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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
...more
“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.” 15 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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