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Bookmarks Issue: 
43-Nov-Dec-2009
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0

A-The Evolution of GodA journalist and visiting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, Robert Wright has written for the New York Times and numerous magazines. His popular books on science, history, and evolutionary psychology include The Moral Animal (1994) and Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny (2000).

The Topic: From the perspective of science, history, and psychology, Wright charts our conception of the nature of God from prehistoric times to the present day, beginning with the animist deities placated by early hunter-gatherer societies. These mountain and river spirits eventually gave way to the complex polytheistic belief systems of ancient nations and city-states, which were themselves ultimately supplanted by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and their moral principles of tolerance, forgiveness, and universal brotherhood. As civilization has become more broad-minded and empathetic, Wright argues, the God it worships has reflected these changes in spite of existing scriptures and dogma. In the end, globalization and humankind’s growing interdependence may result in a compassionate and tolerant religious environment worldwide.
Little, Brown. 576 pages. $25.99. ISBN: 9780316734912

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"His sprightly style deprives his subject of any solemnity. … As a bold formulator he’s also a lightning rod for controversy." Dan Cryer

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"In his brilliant new book, The Evolution of God, Robert Wright tells the story of how God grew up. … 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." Paul Bloom

Wall Street Journal 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Mr. Wright is prone to supposing that strong conclusions regarding precivilization can be drawn from the writings of anthropologists. … The closer Mr. Wright’s analysis draws to the Common Era, the more forceful it becomes." Gregg Easterbrook

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The final judgment may be that the book is too hard on faith to please religious folk and too easy on dogma to please secularists. Still, it is hard not to envy Wright for his Obamaesque hope." Stephen Prothero

Critical Summary

An articulate writer with a spry sense of humor, Wright offers an optimistic vision of the future of humanity. Avoiding any hint of the sermon, Wright’s line of reasoning tends to straddle the middle ground of belief, "too open to theism for the [atheists and] too rooted in scientific rationalism for the [fundamentalists]" (Boston Globe). A few critics lamented his focus on Western religions and his insistence that monotheism is naturally superior to other types of belief systems, and the Wall Street Journal thought he relied too heavily on speculation in his review of prehistoric civilizations. However, despite these objections, all reviewers agreed that Wright’s analysis of cultural trends and their effects on our understanding of God are thought-provoking and encouraging.

Cited by the Critics

God A Biography | Jack Miles (1996): Award Star Pulitzer Prize A professor of religious studies at the University of California, Irvine, Jack Miles provides a serious character study of God as the protagonist of the Old Testament.