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The Evolution of God

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  6,823 ratings  ·  626 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
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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 g
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.
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 lat
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 t
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
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 affor ...more
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 shif ...more
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 thro
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
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 non-zero-s ...more
Salman Israr
Excellent and deeply interesting.
I was looking for a book with a take on evolution of religious beliefs from evolutionary psychology perspective, and picked it.

Although that wasn't the main thesis of the book, it was in imbued to main thesis, and in background, but still it was really helpful. I feel hopeful, optimistic about where we go as species as I did when I read Sapiens which had stated the same, arrow of history (net) seems to be moving toward global cooperation.
I could even provide a
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, fo ...more
mohammad firouzi
Jan 06, 2017 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
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
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
Jul 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, philosophy
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
Kara 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
Apr 28, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history, religion
There's a trick beginning academic writers learn to help them put together a solid paper: Say what you're about to say, then say it, then say what you just said.

Now, that's not a perfect formula, and obviously as someone gets used to writing, there are lots of ways in which you can – and should – disregard that formula, but it's a good way to begin the process of writing, especially if the writer tends to lose focus of their thesis.

But, as Robert Wright proves in The Evolution of God, it's not j
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
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 weigh ...more
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
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 las
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 b ...more
May 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
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.
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 th ...more
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 of
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. Th
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
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
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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 ha

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