In his brilliant new book, The Evolution of God, Robert Wright tells the story of how God grew up. He starts with the deities of hunter-gatherer tribes, moves to those of chiefdoms and nations, then on to the polytheism of the early Israelites and the monotheism that followed, and then to the New Testament and the Koran, before finishing off with the modern multinational Gods of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Wright’s tone is reasoned and careful, even hesitant, throughout, and it is nice to read about issues like the morality of Christ and the meaning of jihad without getting the feeling that you are being shouted at. His views, though, are provocative and controversial. There is something here to annoy almost everyone.
The possibility of a reasonable engagement between faith and reason, between doctrine and biblical scholarship, between a mature theology and a golden age of scientific research—all this seems very distant right now.
And that’s why a new book gives me hope. It reminds us that if you take a few thousand steps back from our current crisis, the long-term prognosis is much better than you might imagine.
The book is The Evolution of God (due out in the US next month) and it is by Robert Wright, a secular writer best known in America for thoughtful defences of evolutionary psychology and free trade. The tone of the book is dry scepticism with a dash of humour; the content is supple, dense and layered. What makes it fresh and necessary is that it’s a non-believer’s open-minded exploration of how religious doctrine and practice have changed through human history—usually for the better.…
On any list of nonfiction authors that many people may not know but should, Robert Wright would rank high.… Taken together, The Moral Animal, Nonzero and The Evolution of God represent a powerful addition to modern thought.
Thank God or “God” or whatever matters most to you for this book … which offers the sort of hope even unbelievers can believe in: that we can somehow learn to talk about religion without throwing our food.…
As a lively writer, supple thinker, and imaginative synthesizer, Wright is bound to attract attention. His sprightly style deprives his subject of any solemnity. “Among the Aranda of central Australia,” he writes, “one of the shaman’s jobs was ensuring that solar eclipses would be temporary—nice work if you can get it.”
As a bold formulator he’s also a lightning rod for controversy. The Evolution of God, which explores permutations in our concepts of the deity, will please neither hard-core atheists nor fundamentalists of any faith. It’s too open to theism for the former, too rooted in scientific rationalism for the latter…
Wright’s description of Paul as an entrepreneur brilliant at expanding his Jesus “brand” throughout the polyglot Roman Empire may put off some Christians, but it provides a convincing account of why early Christianity was able to succeed among a Babel of competing deities.
The Evolution of God is a remarkable book, engaging, audacious, and provocative in an open-ended way … Wright is your favorite professor or high school teacher, teasing, debunking, taking the stuffiness out of learning.
Making the best recent scholarship accessible to the general reader, Wright follows the historical trajectory from polytheism through monolatry (worship of one god among many) to monotheism, focusing primarily on the evolving vision of God in the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the Qur’an.… Wright’s approach will appeal to a broad range of readers turned off by the “either/or” choice between dogmatic atheism and religious traditionalism. Recommended for all readers engaged in consideration of our notions of God.
John C. Snider
… offers a much more hopeful outlook for humanity’s future than, say, the kind of “religion spoils everything” absolutism of Christopher Hitchens.… Wright provides us with a book that will trigger passionate debate, although it does far more than that. The Evolution of God is a brilliant explanation of why the Abrahamic faiths are the way they are. The book is also peppered with Wright’s dry, deadpan wit.…
Luckily, Wright is not a professional academic but a scholarly journalist.… What I like about him, apart from the fact that he writes wonderfully readable yet learned prose, is his generosity to people of faith.…
The tone of Wright’s volume is lively, at times even snarky: Chapter titles such as “Well, aren’t we special,” “Yahweh’s sex life (and other myths),” and “God as Programmer” suggest its flavor. But the author isn’t simply out to slay sacred cows.… At its root, Wright’s argument places its faith in the development of moral imagination.… As the world grows smaller, and the connections among us more obvious, it’s harder and harder to see a difference between “us” and “them.”