The Evolution of God: An Exciting New Book on Religion, Coming Out in the U.S. Next Month, Is Reviewed by Andrew Sullivan

The Evolution of God, by the once frequent New Republic contributor, Robert Wright, is due out next month, and Andrew Sullivan gave it an enthusiastic review for the Times of London.

Money quote:

From primitive animists to the legends of the first gods, battling like irrational cloud-inhabiting humans over the cosmos, Wright tells the story of how war and trade, technology and human interaction slowly exposed humans to the gods of others. How this awareness led to the Jewish innovation of a hidden and universal God, how the cosmopolitan early Christians, in order to market their doctrines more successfully, universalised and sanitised this Jewish God in turn, and how Islam equally included a civilising universalism despite its doctrinal rigidity and founding violence.

Fundamentalism, in this reading, is a kind of repetitive neurotic interlude in the evolution of religion towards more benign and global forms.

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.

Wright’s thesis, as Sullivan characterizes it, sounds interesting: Wild, exotic hot-house religious “plants” take on, as it were, subdued colorations, and more universal qualities, as their geographical ranges expand over time.

I’ve kind of thought along these lines with regard to the Internet. It’s hard not to be aware of counter arguments to your own religious positions when, with just a Google search, you can find critiques of what your religion (or irreligious group) teaches. It makes it harder to be an adamant young earth creationist, for example, with so many good science-based evolution sites available to peruse (and that are just a mouse click away).

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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7 Responses to The Evolution of God: An Exciting New Book on Religion, Coming Out in the U.S. Next Month, Is Reviewed by Andrew Sullivan

  1. Scarlet Letter says:

    In an article on the “New Atheist Movement,” Julian Baggini explains why he has not read [the books on atheism] by Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens:

    “Why on earth would I devote precious reading hours to books which largely tell me what I already believe?”

    My feelings about the book The Evolution of God are similar:

    Why would I devote precious reading hours to books which tell me about a topic about which I have sufficient knowledge?

    I can’t imagine how The Evolution of God could show me that “religious doctrine and practice have changed through human history — usually for the better.”

    Your quote from Thoreau is apt; I would rather read about topics about which I have less knowledge: biological evolution.

    • Casro says:

      We need more of these books because religion is so ingrained everywhere that there is a lot of work to be done until it is accepted to religion-less. I am an anti-theist but have great difficulty confronting family and friends without hurting their feelings while the reverse is not true. Books like this are desperately needed.

  2. santitafarella says:

    Scarlet Letter:

    I find wonky books like the ones that Robert Wright writes stimulating, and with all the bleak religious news in the world, I’d like to see if someone with the brain-wattage of Wright can make a reasonable case that, in the broad scheme of things, religion is mellowing.

    I haven’t read the book yet, so I don’t know how he makes his case.

    But being dismissive of his book in advance seems, well, narrow minded of you (at least a bit).


  3. Scarlet Letter says:

    “religion is mellowing”

    How can you say religion is mellowing when the US wants to make 2010 the Year of the Bible?

    I’m sure there are many things we can agree on; however, accommodating religion is not one of them.

    I got the impression from one of your comments on Jerry Coyne’s blog that you are not a fan of Pharyngula. I was disappointed to see that PZ called A N Wilson an ignorant old fuddy-duddy and that many of the commentors don’t know who Wilson is. Wilson is not old (born 1950), and although his rejection of atheism is unfortunate, he certainly isn’t ignorant as I understand the word.

  4. santitafarella says:

    Scarlet Letter:

    I don’t want to defend Wright’s thesis without reading his book, but I think that the long view of history suggests that Christianity is far less violent and antisemitic today (if no less mendacious) than it was 500 years ago. That’s progress.

    As for PZ Myers and his blog, if he spoke ill of A.N. Wilson it makes me annoyed with him all the more. Wilson was formative in my youthful intellectual development. I remember, back in the 1980s, being mesmerized by his biography of Tolstoy.

    I believe Myers to be, on balance, a controversialist, meaning that he picks fights for the sake of picking fights, and for the purpose of stirring up his fan base. Sometimes he goes after legitimate targets, but too frequently he is on a witchhunt for ideological purity (as when he attacked the magazine New Scientist, calling for its boycott). He can also be illiberal, which annoys me. And when it comes to his attacks on literary folks like Wilson and Eagleton, I feel like he’s treading on people who are admirable and nuanced thinkers and teachers. He just seems too pissed off, caustic, and obnoxious for my taste.


  5. Scarlet Letter says:


    Thanks for your reply and explanation. See for an antidote to Pharyngula.

    I continue my conversation with you in the comments section of “Drudge Report Uses An Antisemitic Visual Trope in Depicting the Pope’s Visit to Israel.”


  6. Scarlet Letter says:


    See “You can’t win” – Posted on May 12, 2009 at Pharyngula. The comments are particularly offensive making much ado about nothing.

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