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is a journalist and scholar whose books include The Moral Animal and The Evolution of God.
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?
In the Room with Robert Wright (produced version)
One of Wright's favorite philosophers, and some background on "non-zero sumness."
Question to Robert Wright: "Is Religion Potentially Dangerous?"
Question to Robert Wright: "How Does the Evolution of God Relate to the Evolution of Women's Rights and Standing in Society?"
Wright discusses spirituality vs. religiousness.
Question to Robert Wright: "What Is a Mature Idea of God?"
This first chapter gives a good summary of the ideas behind Wright's newest book.
Selected segments from Robert Wright's conversations with digital physicist Edward Fredkin and sociobiologist E.O. Wilson.
Krista and Robert Wright on stage at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.
More information about text formats
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 tosovereignty.
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?
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 incongruitybut 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?
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.
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.
When you speak of the "evolution" of God, could you not call it the "revelations" of God?
If we're genetically wired for compassion...does it follow that some people or peoples are more genetically predisposed to love or extend acts of mercy than others?
I missed the show. Can I listen to or watch it somewhere on your site?
Just finished listening to the conversation with Robert Wright in the most recent podcast. Many thanks for sharing such a thought-provoking dialogue. Many of Wright's ideas about "the evolution of God" resonate with some of my own thoughts about how the interpretations of spiritual texts in religious traditions often fluctuate according to the dynamics within culture and society at a particular point in time.
However, I found myself wondering if his propositions might be a little limited in scope.. He spoke a great deal about how the perception of the Christian God has changed with the development of civilization, but do the conclusions he reached ring quite so true if we take into consideration religions of the East (e.g. Hinduism or Taoism)? Has the perception of Hindu deities become more compassionate as Indian society has moved toward globalization?
Another thought I had relates to his "relentlessly logical" perspective on compassion. I really appreciated Krista's challenging, yet amiable questions to Mr. Wright regarding the limits of his views on religion. I also wonder if something might be lost in conceiving of compassion in such a logical manner... I can know that my neighbor is deserving of kindness or that I am likely to benefit most from acting altrustically, but I would argue that true compassion is not possible without a dimension of feeling that is not based in rational analyses. This "feeling" aspect of compassion may be influenced by the logos that Philo so adored, but it cannot be evoked by logic alone. Emotions are by their very nature elusive of the top-down control of reason and rationality (consider, for example, how a fear response in the amygdala of the brain often "overrides" the activity of the brain's frontal lobes concerned with more rational thought processes). Perhaps there is something that emerges in the ritualistic and communal aspects of various spiritual traditions that serves to connect individuals with the less-logical dimension of compassion.
I have a serious problem with Robert Wright's idea of the New Testament representing universal love. As a Jew, when I read the New Testament, I find it full of hated of Jews. Reading the New Testament makes me feel physically ill, literally.
Robert Wright talks about Philo, but he ingores Maimonides. He also ignores Jewish mysticism completely.
I forgot a major point. Judaism is not an "Old Testament" religion. It is a Rabbnic religion. No Jew reads the Bible without the surrounding commentaries of centuries of commentators and the Midrash. Does he even know these exist? Probably not, most Christians don't. I recommend The Commentator's Bible by Michael Carasik. He has two volumes out so far, Exodous and Leviticus.
As a 66 yr old retired scientist, I've been pondering these issues over many years, especially on the Nordic Track with my eyes closed and my mind attempting to be empty, but failing miserably...Here's what I've come up with so far about 'purpose'. Not much really.Perhaps one of the properties of matter, at least matter as it becomes more organized into cells, tissues, organs, creatures, is what we call 'consciousness'. At least in this microcosm of the universe, evolution appears to be in the direction of more organization (for awhile). What is the purpose in this? One evolutionary scientist suggests that this is so we can awake and admire ourselves, creation, the universe. Perhaps. I'm not sure, but one can certainly suggest there is a 'direction' in this 'evolution'. I should limit this observation to life on Earth, as I haven't been authorized to speak for any other 'life' forms yet, lol. What we do with this 'gift' when we stop killing each other, is to explore our surroundings. This 'need to know' is what appears to drive us. Maybe consciousness will get us into too much trouble and be discarded like some colossal evolutionary mistake (of which there are many), but I like to think not. We have this penchant for discovering how things work and the 'purpose' may be revealed in this odyssey. It would be nice to think that the purpose is to discover our 'purpose' and return to the source (whatever that means). Sounds like a copout, but that's all I've got. I'm still thinking....
Wright's work, patching up the God concept, isn't necessary outside of monotheism. In the East, there never was "the deal with the Devil" that Descartes made with the church, splitting spirituality and reason. James Burke, In The Day The Universe Changed, explains in the last episode, Worlds Without End, while the West was focused on "outer space" the East was focused on "inner space."
I believe Einstein agreed with him: “The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend a personal God and avoid dogmas and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description.” --Albert Einstein
This scientific world view is merging with eastern spiritual experience and even Neo-Platonism. This is the truth of quantum physics. It shows the limitations of this Western Cartesian mind.
This conversation between Krista and Wright strikes me as rather "christian chauvinist". To suggest that there is a move toward a universal understanding of god, overlooks Neo-Platonism and Buddhist practice which has always recognized universal consciousness. Not just a dualist notion of a separate god, but access for everyone to the divine within all of us, all of creation, and the universe.
These wisdom traditions were driven out by the hegemony of Orthodox Christianity in about the 5th century, from which it appears from Wright we are slowly recovering.
Supposing it is all moving in the right direction, but this 2000 years of dualism is in fact a kind of zig in the zig zag forward. It will be seen as a very abusive time.
The Buddhists in Tibet or in Thailand have a totally different experience of life on this planet. They haven't pushed the planet to the brink of destruction with their consciousness. That move was a uniquely Western, Judeo-Christian expression, moderated in some ways by Islam which carries more of the indigenous expression, such as forbidding killing fruit trees or destroying water sources. But not sufficiently to avoid this coming cataclysm, which is a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy taught in these foundational texts.
The presence of Monotheists everywhere leads to zealously inspired wars from those books. They are the big problem in India now, and Nigeria. The Western materialism of Marxism is what is destroying Tibetan Buddhism, not the other way around. Like the native Americans they could have lived on for a lot longer without wrecking the ecosystem, nor the soul of man, such as happened in the US with neo-liberal economic religion and philosophy destroying cultural traditions and ties dating back to times immemorial. All this in a country where untold millions attend religious services every weekend and hear readings from these texts.
I understand though with donor situations as they are in the US, we can't speak openly about these things on radio. That is the same thing that happened on NPR with the news, so that now David Horowitz gets to slam Howard Zinn in an obit without any factually based remarks against all norms decorum because he is considered to legitimately represent a conservative viewpoint. Without any factual basis that seems to be the conservative viewpoint.
"Christian chauvinism" we will have to live with in the US until the collapse finally shows all this religion for what it has always been. Then the wisdom traditions and quantum notions can finally regain their place 1600 or so years after getting wiped out by Pope Cyril or someone like him. Only those with that access to the divine will survive it! Those bathed in hatred and rage and dualism will reap it upon themselves.
My wife and I quite enjoyed your dialogue with Mr. Robert Wright. We especially liked the sharing of your views on the blending of science and spirituality. I believe you would find the writings from the Baha'i Faith on the topic of science and religion quite interesting. Below we have added a link for your convenience.
Dan and Amy Haghighi
Dear Ms. Tippet, You probably get Baha'i responses often and know what I'm going to say ! I haven't seen a Baha'i program come by yet, though. A Baha'i precept is to study all the religions, not just our own.
It was interesting to hear Mr. Wright describe much of the Baha'i explanation of religion as being one entity, but more as a mechanic on the exterior.
If already familiar, you know we understand all religions are one revealed, progressive message and guide from God, and the "love and truth" and Divine attributes -- common threads per the author -- are never abrogated, being the "Eternal Covenant" of God with man.
The conflicts Mr.Wright identifies are either the man-made aspects or the impermanent elements of the "Lesser Covenant" that each "Manifestation" of God or founder brings to a certain place, level of human growth, and time. And points of disagreement are a big study.
Each One, limits Their revelation to what can be understood and benefit at the time. For example, look how the simple Genesis story of creation describes how the universe became, but in " seven days" (approx.: dark, light, form, water, life .. )and for apt for a rudimentary human understanding. No Prophet is less than or would repudiate Those before, but are Themselves dependably denied by leaders of belief of their time.
Science now tells it accurately, and a teaching today is that true science does not contradict God - unimaginable that it would. So all "errors" between them have some base to look over.
Above it all, God and religion are one, and in this revelation we are told - and ordered, I guess - that man is one and the virtues, again being revivified, are this time to realize the oneness of humanity and practice it.
To avoid the man-made divisions, Baha'u'llah said we approaching the maturity of humankind, and all must be educated, (girl child in preference to boy child if the resource is limited!), and each person must understand God's will individually and now have no priests, pastors, or other interpretations.
And obviously, there will be more guidance every millennium or so as God guides us out of the next deterioration of the message, and according to conditions and readiness due to our advancement.
Anyway, thank you for your work and programs.
(the photo if it arrives, is on Facebook, under Manuel Dinamarca Valenzuela) the Parish was founded 1824, maybe the church itself was newer.
site for further: www.bahai.org
Warm regards from Chile,-BillWm N Thompson,retired 3M engineer from Stillwater/St.Paul, MN
Ramón de la Cerda #437, Casa 3, Limache, ChileTel: (56) 33-418901 Cel.: (56) 99-419-0022 Skype: wnthompson Twitter: backtoyoubill
"This handful of days on earth will slip away like shadows and be over. Strive then that God may shed His grace upon you, that you may leave a favorable remembrance in the hearts and on the lips of those to come.
I think we're taking a simplistic understanding of evolutionary principles too far! Evolution presumes that enough time has passed for innumerable variations of the species to be "evaluated" by nature with regard to fitness. Can one really make the same claim of human religions? Are the two most widespread religions (Christianity and Islam) that way solely because they were more compelling to minds/spirits/souls (probably the "fitness" we're after here)? Didn't they also rely on the sword/conversions under duress quite a bit of the time? Wouldn't this latter force negate the applicability of Darwinian logic?
When I say I am spiritual but not religious, I usually mean that I recognizethat I am part of a grand Totality, part of a cosmos which, in encompassing allthat is, is infinitely creative and transcendent; and yet, is also a cosmos ofwhich I am a necessary, inextricable part, even though I am mortal, and thus itis also a cosmos that is finite, ephemeral, and mysterious--this is my spiritualnature. What I mean by not being religious is that I no longer subscribe to theformal orthodox beliefs of organized religions, with all their rites and ritualsemanating from mythic conceptions of the universe. In the age of Einstein andDarwin I have no need of the God hypothesis as an explanation for the nature ofbeing. Humans are the symbol using animal, and "God" as a cognitive symbol(concept) for the Creation, and its implied, though invisible Creator,originating in the ignorance of our ancestors, is a useless and irrelevantlegacy beside our evolving scientific understanding. But residing within mybeing, and resonating AS my being, there is a need for synergy, fusion, one-nesswith, as Native Americans might put it, "all my relations." Spirituality isabout relationship--to the sky, the earth, the flora and fauna that surround me,the visible and invisible presence of animate and inanimate forces, too numerousto name, too powerful to ignore. And a framing of the moral temper of mybeing's relations to all of that. I have found that while religion may aid inacknowledging the awesome sacredness of Being, it cannot and does not explainit, nor is helpful, ultimately, in living sacredly. (By living sacredly I meanliving in the full awareness of the preciousness of life, one's own and that ofthe creatures and plants we devour.) Religions' mythic symbolism keeps gettingin the way. One can discover and live a life of sacredness without religion. Ido so. This is what I understand Mr. Wright to be suggesting in his basicthesis about the Evolution of God. The "Evolution of God" is really theevolution of humanity towards a more perfect moral order--with or without theGod hypothesis.