Robert Wright — The Evolution of God
March 4, 2010

Robert Wright charts an intellectual path beyond the faith versus reason debate. He takes a relentlessly logical look at the history of religion, exposing its contradictions. Yet Wright also traces something "revelatory" moving through human history. In this public conversation -- recorded before a live audience -- we explore the story he tells, the import he sees in it for our culture, and where it has personally taken him.

(photo: Nancy Rosenbaum)

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Video Interviews with Krista Tippett

In the Room with Robert Wright

In the Room with Robert Wright (produced version)

SoundSeen (our multimedia stories)

Philo, Logos, and Non-zero

One of Wright's favorite philosophers, and some background on "non-zero sumness."

Is religion potentially dangerous?

Question to Robert Wright: "Is Religion Potentially Dangerous?"

The evolution of God and women's rights

Question to Robert Wright: "How Does the Evolution of God Relate to the Evolution of Women's Rights and Standing in Society?"

Spiritual but not religious

Wright discusses spirituality vs. religiousness.

A "mature idea of God"

Question to Robert Wright: "What Is a Mature Idea of God?"

Selected Readings

Introduction to The Evolution of God

This first chapter gives a good summary of the ideas behind Wright's newest book.

Excerpts from Three Scientists and Their Gods

Selected segments from Robert Wright's conversations with digital physicist Edward Fredkin and sociobiologist E.O. Wilson.

Pertinent Posts from the On Being Blog

If you consider yourself "spiritual but not religious," can you help us understand what this term actually means to you? Does science have something to do with it?

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His answer to the audience question, “Is religion potentially dangerous?” is one that’s often asked in the context of the seemingly intractable conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

A found image adds a layer to the relationship between Darwin's theory and religion.

About the Image

Krista and Robert Wright on stage at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

(photo: Nancy Rosenbaum)

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Has Mr. Wright conducted any research within the field of anthropology of the anthropology of religion and/or the idea of evolution of culture (e.g., Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Sigmund Freud)? If so, how has it influenced his view of monotheism?

What has been the response of the evangelical right to The Evolution Of God? Has there been an official response?

Do you believe the current entrenching of positions among many religious organizations and its members is a sign of an impending breakthrough to a more unified vision of God or simply a build up to another more serious conflict that will remain unresolved for an extended time ?

As a teacher at a parochial (Jesuit) high school, I hear a lot of immature/adolescent concepts of God, but I'm not completely sure what a "mature" idea of God might be. The idea that emerges from Psalms may come close, but I'd be interested in your opinion.

When I was growing up my heroes were all scientists of a "platonic" bent... most being theoretical physicists like Einstein, Dirac, Schrödinger, etc. And it's not uncommon to find amongst them written expressions of wonder at the fact that our universe appears to adhere completely to mathematical laws: "Why should that be so?" being a common refrain. There's a famous very well written very readable piece by the physicist Eugene Wigner that I read when I was a boy, named "The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences" that provides a wonderful distillation of this particular wonder. The astronomer Carl Sagan once wrote that "Some people think God is an outsized, light-skinned male with a long white beard, sitting on a throne somewhere up there in the sky, busily tallying the fall of every sparrow. Others -- for example Baruch Spinoza and Albert Einstein -- considered God to be essentially the sum total of the physical laws which describe the universe. I do not know of any compelling evidence for anthropomorphic patriarchs controlling human destiny from some hidden celestial vantage point, but it would be madness to deny the existence pf physical laws." Do you think perhaps this sense of expressed, almost beatific wonder with the the mystery of the mastery of physical law, might in itself be one of the most religious of expressions of experience? Especially for our time.

Has God evolved?

Traditional religions were often naively inclusive of ancient cultural myths and legends that were expressions of allegorical myths and legends that were expressions of allegorical floklore rather than verifiable, literal spiritual reality.

Rejection of an the intelligent-design hypothesis could well be attributed to the proclivity and vanity of the human ego, which is more interested in being 'right' and proving others 'wrong' than it is at arriving at truth.

Resistance to truth is not logic. The narcissistic core of the human ego divides mankind into the Hatfields and the McCoys is not motivated by devotion to the truth but merely to the ego-inflated narcissisic payoff obtained from conflict and being
'right'. The ego is innately activeely hostile to humility and would rather die (millions do just that) or kill others than relinquich its secret claim to
sovereignty.

Historically, expansions of context have had salutary effects, such as the expansion of physics from the limited Newtonian paradigm to inclusion of subparticle physics, quantum mechanics, and ever-evolving quantumm theory. A conceptual bridge was established by the critical discovery of the Heisenberg Uncertainity Principle. It explained the impact of observation by human conciousness, which thereby empowers and precipitates the 'collapse of the wave function' as a consequence of the intentions (i.e., from potentiality to actuality). The field of astronomy similarly expanded from the study of just planetary systems to include infinite galaxies and multipple universes that are ever expanding and multiplying at the speed of light.

Different points of observation do not thereby create a seperate conflicting 'realities' but merely represent different perspectives from within the all-inclusive field of consciousness itself. As an example, instead of artificially creating a fractious dichotomy between 'evolution' and 'creation', how simple it is to see from a higher, inclusive paradigm that evolution is creation. It becomes obvious that evolution is simply what ongoing creation looks like, and that they are actually one in the same thing. Creation is innately evolutionary and emergently unfolding. Similarly, the intelligence of nature may seem to be only linear, rudimentry trial-and-error system, but out of the prehistoric swamps has emerged Homo sapeins whose nonlinear consicousness.

How do we begin to move outside of the memes and unresolvable conflicts of the ages to create a new expanded paradigm of reality that is inclusive of both science and spiritual realites instead of an 'either-or' partioning of mutually seperate realities, seemingly exclusives provinces or realms of inquiry?

Thank you

Are you able to comment on Rudolf Steiner, father of Anthroposophy, and his place and understanding of the Christ role in the spiritual evolution of man?

name the three persons or three books that have most shaped your vision of a "GOD"
....thank you

I have heard that in poles, 50% of Americans said they could not/would not cast a presidential ballot for someone who said they didn't believe in God. Is this progress, or is it a reason for pessimism?

I apologize for the long question but it is 64 years in the making....

How do you adjust to the possibility that your whole life may have been a search for a god from whom you are not getting a recoginizable, provable response. isn't it getting harder toexcuse God for creating man?

Isn't it starting to feel like religion is 'man' creating a god, that can excuse man's violence. As we get more fearful with progressive age the old excuses wont do. Excuses like free agency requires all possibilities...to exist....for our developement..

Have we erred in our judgment of who or what god is to us, An attempt to excuse god, when he/it created man's futility and violence potential.

In the face of the more agressive hostile meat eaters that are the more prominate and obvious creation of the imagined god who for-knew and therefore, allowed what he/it was creating.
As such, therefore he/it is responsibile for the pervasive inhumanity that seems like mans constant blueprint? Do you agree? We are constantly pitted against agressive violent meat-eaters who are willing to take by any violence necessary for their gain. God created that?

where does your knowledge of God come from, and how do you know you are right?

If I am correct you now hold the possibility that there is something "out there" pointing to some possibility of a higher entity. Are you familar with the book, The Language of God by Francis Collins, and if so what do you think of his view of "What Came before the 'Big Bang'?"

Your 8/23/09 article in the New York Times does not mention Stuart Kauffman's speculation that there is a principle of self-organization which in addition to natural selection guides evolution. Why was Kauffman's call for "reinventing the sacred" not mentioned in your article ?

Has God as He says in the Old Testament created us-men&women- in his express image and thus is truly a corporeal man with flesh and bone though exalted and a perfect being?

humanity' understanding of God changed so much thoughout history why? is it because of humanity' understanding level and cultural environmental political economical noises? what are the common clear common points of understanding of God throughtout history?

Could you please define the word "religion" and what is your source to define it that way? Thank you!

If the universe contained no humans and no other intelligent life, then would it still possess a "moral direction"?

What is your latest evidence of God giving you some message?

If things that become self-evident to a Society need changing - do we collectively create that change without a 'revolution'?

How does the mind adopt a truth? I think it was William James who said that if a prayer or ritual is repeated time again without contradiction, it becomes a truth be it true or not. I think of the Muslims praying five times a day, or the recital of the Nicene Creed. Does the image create the ritual or the ritual create the image? And does either provide "absolute" truth? Or was Reinhold Niebuhr on to something when he said:

"The final wisdom of life requires not the annulment of incongruity
but the achievement of serenity within and above it."

Given your perspective on the influence that politics and economics have had on the evolution of religious practice, what form do you see religion taking in the 21st century?

I think that organized religion has lost focus on the mission (given to us by Jesus)

What would you dsuggest to someone like me who is very religiously dettached, yet, very spiritual and yearning for sincere examples of "Jesus"

H2 said that we could do/be what he did, I believe that, I hope to see that from thise who preach to be the messengers of God (Robertson, Hagee, the Republican Party)

I wonder if Mr. Wright sees examples of theological inconvenience, as he applies to the Crucifixion, for example, going on today? or it is even possible (or wise) to see that sort of thought while in the midst of things?

What would be the implications for the world for acknowledging a "God" beyond concepts?

Has he read Rebecca Goldstein's '36 Arguments for the Existence of God'? If so, what did he thing of the arguments?

How does the "evolution" of Language this socio-cultural process?

What parallels and connections would you draw between the current "spiritual-but-not-religious" trend and what is happening in the scientific community? The general public's attitude toward the sciences? (If I were to lead, I might add: is science providing the structure we crave without imposing parental rules and confinement we spent so many years trying to escape?)

Is it important for us to have a common concept of God, and if so, why?

How did the 'ancients' deal with the problem of evil?

What does he think of the relationship between a creator God and Darwin's theory of evolution?

In light of the dominance of money over government that has evolved in the past 3 decades, what hope do you hold for the reemergence of an economy informed by spiritual community in the US?

How do the rise of various fundamentalisms influence the evolution of God?

Do you see God as working under captamation structures?

Is God evolving or are we?

With science, we understand the world so much better than during the distant past when religions arose to explain everything. Although some areas of the world are becoming more secular, others like the middle east are as 'religous' as ever.

Where is the world heading in this regard? Can we ever just agree on a set of moral beliefs, and leave the 'religious details' behind us? Can our human intellect ever overcome the religious indoctrination of our future generations?

I thought the non-zero idea was pretty good until 9/11. What does Mr. Wright now think?

I first saw The Evolution of God reviewed in The Economist and recommended it to our pastor at First United Methodist Church in Fort Collins CO. He's now leading a study of the book -- we're currently discussing Chapter 12. While we disagree with some of Wright's assumptions, e.g. Mark's gospel is most accurate because it was written first, we're realizing the vast gulf between what Bible scholars know and what most members of the congregation know about the Bible. Does Mr. Wright have suggestions for ways shrink this gap, for ways to tell the story of faith so that the focus is on the truths it conveys rather than whether or not it's factually true?

Thank you.

I hope you mean that human kind's conception of "God" has evolved. If my (I shudder) assumption is correct, what events in time, social structure, economic alignment, or politico-geographic adjustments have marked or spurred these evolutionary changes? Or have these changes been the result of some other force or forces affecting our fellow travelers through space and time?

I am fully aware of how the Christian traditions feel called to cloth the people who are poor, feed people who are hungry, and aid people who have a disability (though the actual practice of these imperatives is at times questionable). Is this true of all three monotheistic religions?

Also, when would you say the motivation to help others arose? In some ways, concern for the other can hinder one's personal advancement and even the safety and advancement of one's family, tribe, or religious group. While you present the development and evolution of the traditional god of the 3 main monotheistic religions as a rather natural development, it would seem that the fundamental concern for the other stands at odds, in some ways, with successful group development. Why do all three monotheistic faiths remind their followers to care for the poor, sick, and destitute?

What person or institution has caused more wars in human history than arguments over religion?

Have you read Jacob Needleman's newest book, What Is God? It seems to me that you are insistent on some kind of materialist "proof" of God's existence, and Needleman has come to recognize another kind of "proof" or reality. I'd be interested in your response--am I off base about you, and what do you think about Needleman's thesis?

Can you speak about the role of the natural world in shaping human consciousness and perception about the divine and it's capacity to grow, expand and evolve in relation to the dynamics of creation?

Do you believe that God changes?

Short version: How do you measure compassion and when is there enough?

Long version: Most people consider themselves to be compassionate. How do you measure compassion in a person? What distinguishes someone as compassionate and another as less compassionate or not compassionate enough? While you foresee the evolution of compassion as moving in a global and universal direction, on an individual level what is the requisite quantity or quality of compassion that you imagine? Is there a minimum measureable standard that refects true compassion? Put another way, what percentage of one's time, treasure and/or talent must one give to be compassionate? Can I be compassionate and hold back more than I need to take care of myself and my family for the rest of their lives? etc.

Thanks

Imagine global religious evolution 50 years from now...how might that influence human perceptions of a divine being?

"The evolution of an illusion" prompts comparison with Carl Jung's speculation that God created Man to define him to himself (that's not exactly it, but close I hope).

Do you feel an affinity with that concept?

I enjoyed your book tremendously; however, I was expecting and hoping for a discussion of process theology which, I believe, is related to your conception of non-zero-sumness as related to the evolution and advancement of God. Would you please discuss process theology briefly and whether or not you see it as I do: as a natural consequence of globalization and the non-zero-sum nature of religion?

Thank you very much,

---- Kevin Pettit

How do you respond to the Quanum theory that God is in every human being and that we are all one.

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is a journalist and scholar whose books include The Moral Animal and The Evolution of God.

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