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THE EVOLUTION OF GOD

Posted by princessxxx on August 19, 2009

NO SMITING

By PAUL BLOOM
Published: June 24, 2009
God has mellowed. The God that most Americans worship occasionally gets upset about abortion and gay marriage, but he is a softy compared with the Yahweh of the Hebrew Bible.
That was a warrior God, savagely tribal, deeply insecure about his status and willing to commit mass murder to show off his powers. But at least Yahweh had strong moral views, occasionally enlightened ones, about how the Israelites should behave. His hunter-gatherer ancestors, by contrast, were doofus gods. Morally clueless, they were often yelled at by their people and tended toward quirky obsessions. One thunder god would get mad if people combed their hair during a storm or watched dogs mate.
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.

In sharp contrast to many contemporary secularists, Wright is bullish about monotheism. In “Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny” (2000), he argued that there is a moral direction to human history, that technological growth and expanding global interconnectedness have moved us toward ever more positive and mutually beneficial relationships with others. In “The Evolution of God,” Wright tells a similar story from a religious standpoint, proposing that the increasing goodness of God reflects the increasing goodness of our species. “As the scope of social organization grows, God tends to eventually catch up, drawing a larger expanse of humanity under his protection, or at least a larger expanse of humanity under his toleration.” Wright argues that each of the major Abrahamic faiths has been forced toward moral growth as it found itself interacting with other faiths on a multinational level, and that this expansion of the moral imagination reflects “a higher purpose, a transcendent moral order.”

This sounds pro-religion, but don’t expect Pope Benedict XVI to be quoting from Wright’s book anytime soon. Wright makes it clear that he is tracking people’s conception of the divine, not the divine itself. He describes this as “a good news/bad news joke for traditionalist Christians, Muslims and Jews.” The bad news is that your God was born imperfect. The good news is that he doesn’t really exist.

Wright also denies the specialness of any faith. In his view, there is continuous positive change over time — religious history has a moral direction — but no movement of moral revelation associated with the emergence of Moses, Jesus or Mohammed. Similarly, he argues that it is a waste of time to search for the essence of any of these monotheistic religions — it’s silly, for instance, to ask whether Islam is a “religion of peace.” Like a judge who believes in a living constitution, Wright believes that what matters is the choices that the people make, how the texts are interpreted. Cultural sensibilities shift according to changes in human dynamics, and these shape the God that people worship. For Wright, it is not God who evolves. It is us — God just comes along for the ride.

It is a great ride, though. Wright gives the example of the God of Leviticus, who said, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and he points out that this isn’t as enlightened as it may sound, since, at the time, “neighbors” meant actual neighbors, fellow Israelites, not the idol-worshipers in the next town. But still, he argues, this demand encompassed all the tribes of Israel, and was a “moral watershed” that “expanded the circle of brotherhood.” And the disapproval that we now feel when we learn the limited scope of this rule is itself another reason to cheer, since it shows how our moral sensibilities have expanded.

Or consider the modern Sunday School song “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” (“Red and yellow, black and white, / They are precious in his sight.”) Actually, there is no evidence that he loved all of them; if you went back and sang this to the Jesus of the Gospels, he would think you were mad. But in the minds of many of his followers today, this kind of global love is what Christianity means. That certainly looks like moral progress.

But God still has some growing up to do, as Wright makes clear in his careful discussion of contemporary religious hatred. As you would expect, he argues that much of the problem isn’t with the religious texts or teachings themselves, but with the social conditions — the “facts on the ground” — that shape the sort of God we choose to create. “When people see themselves in zero-sum relationship with other people — see their fortunes as inversely correlated with the fortunes of other people, see the dynamic as win-lose — they tend to find a scriptural basis for intolerance or belligerence.” The recipe for salvation, then, is to arrange the world so that its people find themselves (and think of themselves as) interconnected: “When they see the relationship as non-zero-sum — see their fortunes as positively correlated, see the potential for a win-win outcome — they’re more likely to find the tolerant and understanding side of their scriptures.” Change the world, and you change the God.

For Wright, the next evolutionary step is for practitioners of Abrahamic faiths to give up their claim to distinctiveness, and then renounce the specialness of monotheism altogether. In fact, when it comes to expanding the circle of moral consideration, he argues, religions like Buddhism have sometimes “outperformed the Abrahamics.” But this sounds like the death of God, not his evolution. And it clashes with Wright’s own proposal, drawn from work in evolutionary psychology, that we invented religion to satisfy certain intellectual and emotional needs, like the tendency to search for moral causes of natural events and the desire to conform with the people who surround us. These needs haven’t gone away, and the sort of depersonalized and disinterested God that Wright anticipates would satisfy none of them. He is betting that historical forces will trump our basic psychological makeup. I’m not so sure.

Wright tentatively explores another claim, that the history of religion actually affirms “the existence of something you can meaningfully call divinity.” He emphasizes that he is not arguing that you need divine intervention to account for moral improvement, which can be explained by a “mercilessly scientific account” involving the biological evolution of the human mind and the game-theoretic nature of social interaction. But he wonders why the universe is so constituted that moral progress takes place. “If history naturally pushes people toward moral improvement, toward moral truth, and their God, as they conceive their God, grows accordingly, becoming morally richer, then maybe this growth is evidence of some higher purpose, and maybe — conceivably — the source of that purpose is worthy of the name divinity.”

It is not just moral progress that raises these sorts of issues. I don’t doubt that the explanation for consciousness will arise from the mercilessly scientific account of psychology and neuroscience, but, still, isn’t it neat that the universe is such that it gave rise to conscious beings like you and me? And that these minds — which evolved in a world of plants and birds and rocks and things — have the capacity to transcend this ­everyday world and generate philosophy, theology, art and science?

So I share Wright’s wonder at how nicely everything has turned out. But I don’t see how this constitutes an argument for a divine being. After all, even if we could somehow establish definitively that moral progress exists because the universe was jump-started by a God of Love, this just pushes the problem up one level. We are now stuck with the puzzle of why there exists such a caring God in the first place.

Also, it would be a terribly minimalist God. Wright himself describes it as “somewhere between illusion and imperfect conception.” It won’t answer your prayers, give you advice or smite your enemies. So even if it did exist, we would be left with another good news/bad news situation. The good news is that there would be a divine being. The bad news is that it’s not the one that anyone is looking for.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/28/books/review/Bloom-t.html

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45 Responses to “THE EVOLUTION OF GOD”

  1. obama the antichrist said

    God is perfect, btw, there is nothing anywhere to prove God isnt perfect!
    “Or consider the modern Sunday School song “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” (“Red and yellow, black and white, / They are precious in his sight.”) Actually, there is no evidence that he loved all of them; if you went back and sang this to the Jesus of the Gospels, he would think you were mad” HA thats a laugh wasnt it jesus who surrounded himself with children and told the people to have a child like faith isnt jesus the one who talked to samaritans when he was a jew (which if you didnt know wasnt socially accepted) sure he didnt me every single race but his practices still are part of this song. “they are precious in his sight” if you have read the gospels just for any little bit you would notice that Jesus never denied the ones that were hated like the lepers or the adulterer that was about to be stoned. EVERYONE WAS PRECIOUS IN JESUS’S sight.
    Now God destroyed the world or the city because it was full of sin, not to show off his power like a bully on the playground, and each time he gave them a chance for salvation. HE ALWAYS GAVE THEM A CHANCE TO CHANGE!
    God has never changed, since he always gave a chance of salvation he gave us Jesus the ultimate salvation!
    I find this funny that this review comes from the nytimes the most liberal and denounced paper HA!

    Like

  2. princessxxx said

    i saw this guy on “The Colbert Report” and you can’t get more right wing than Stephen Colbert!
    Colbert served in Iraq.
    or Afghanistan, i don’t remember,
    it was one of the two.

    BINGO 60 SECONDS

    Like

  3. obama the antichrist said

    stephen colbert on comedy central? right wing? thats a false and i googled anything i can think of and none of it said that he served only that he reported there

    Like

  4. Geir (Gerhardt) Smith said

    spread the word that obama is the antichrist
    sweep the world like a tsunami
    NOW

    Like

  5. dorian said

    good read, p!

    ‘For Wright, it is not God who evolves. It is us — God just comes along for the ride.’

    God might have a long ride ahead of him, i hope he brought a lot of snacks.

    p – you confused stephen colbert with stephen baldwin again. one served in cable, the latter in hollywood.

    pop goes my eggos

    Like

  6. Princessxxx said

    well, i’m going to need to see those googles that you could not find.

    Geir, is that copyrighted already? that obama is the antichrist?
    dorian, you should snatch up those rights right now. make some money, sell some t shirts.

    christians will buy any damn thing.

    Like

  7. Princessxxx said

    dorian, you misspelled ‘egos’

    Like

  8. dorian said

    too late i ate them anyway. they’re small this morning. hehe

    yeah, geir, nice one! i thought maybe haiku but princess, good capitalist thinking. we’ll print a few out and sell some here and some in walmart sunday after service, i’ll catch them before they head to the casinos.

    Like

  9. Princessxxx said

    town hall meetings packing heat.
    bring your credit card scanner,
    your gonna be rich.
    god promised he would take the money from the evil,
    and give it to the righteous.
    praise the lord.
    copyright, now.

    Like

  10. Geir (Gerhardt) Smith said

    princess, it’s widely seen that obama is the Antichrist
    If you want to talk about it OK but I fear you’re closed-mind types who blindly believe in pipe dreams
    Are you talking or just spewing ignorance ?
    If not, then tell me what part you object to.
    I did not perceive any idea in what you shat on your posts.

    Like

  11. Geir (Gerhardt) Smith said

    Dorian, Obama’s being ripped to shreds out there and he’s a coward. He’s not stood up once to his opponents.
    He’s afraid because if he shows himself in public anyone can ask him “Why not send the long-form certificate ?”
    You morons may not know but on MySpace, Oba Mamabo wrote on his own bio there that he was in fact 52 now.
    His mom was not even in HAWAI when he was born !!!!!
    When do you guys realize it’s TOO LATE ?

    Like

  12. Princessxxx said

    that’s why we gotta sell those t-shirts and get the message out there. now before the government steals our right to copyright and make money off the bible. blessed and be healed.

    Like

  13. Anonymous said

    http://barackobamakoolaid.com/

    you can order some T-Shirts there.

    or get the full story here:

    http://www.obamaconspiracy.org/2008/12/barack-obama-is-the-antichrist/

    princess, you are a douche

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Douche

    Like

  14. princessxxx said

    sorry, anonymous was me.

    Like

  15. dorian said

    princess your last one’s your best so far. everything is ⓒ and ® and † (blessed)

    Like

  16. obama the antichrist said

    but God is omnipotent omniscient and omnipresent…so he already knows what is going to happen and when it is going to happen and the how its going to happen…so God isnt on any ride because he already knows what is going to happen

    Like

  17. Geir (Gerhardt) Smith said

    Obama the antichrist is a false christ
    he says how things will happen
    that’s what false prophets will do
    that’s written in the bible
    he says what is right and what is wrong
    that’s wrong
    princess that website is crap crapola
    none of those links in it refer to the meaning of the Marks of the Beast which were drawn
    all the rest is lies of people just shooting their mouths
    you and Dorian are ignoramuses royale
    I made a big explanation about the meaning of the Marks of the Beast here
    http://tinyurl.com/kw4zru
    the links you gave don’t even ADRESS THE TOPIC for christ’s sake !

    Like

  18. Hors Service said

    I don’t think the topic here is wherever Obama is the antichrist…

    Obama don’t pretend to save people’s soul: wasn’t the antichrist supposed to do so?

    Anyway, it’s fun to meet someone who really believes this^^
    “His mother wasn’t even in HAWAI”

    Of course, she was in Hell :p

    Oh, Obama is lacking all those horns and red spikes and stuff, so sad… I’m sure it would suits him! He would look so cute.

    Like

  19. Geir (Gerhardt) Smith said

    u’re not very intelligent hors service
    u’re an ugly morality

    Like

  20. Hors Service said

    At least I don’t pretend it.

    In fact I am… THE DEVIL INCARNATES! MWAHAHAHAHAHAHA! And all this site, with people having licencious and poisonous liberal ideas, all this corrupted debates, all the ones who doubt, they’re all doomed!

    It’s nice how you judge my morality with two posts^^ Or perhaps you’ve read the other ones?

    Like

  21. dorian said

    geir we are not here to trade insults. if you want to share your Kalachakra expertise and post university research then educate us. but cut the insults. i don’t really want this blog to have the same environment as your http://tinyurl.com/kw4zru . it’s just not enjoyable to me, personally.

    Like

  22. Geir (Gerhardt) Smith said

    where’s kay then dor
    i wanted to talk and exchange
    i have the facts to unroll

    Like

  23. Geir (Gerhardt) Smith said

    if someone wants to talk that is
    but if it’s just the usual

    Like

  24. Geir (Gerhardt) Smith said

    dorian, about that page you sent the link to http://tinyurl.com/kw4zru
    let’s just start by that
    are you throwing that as an insult or what ?
    that’s replete (that means “full of”) with info
    where do yu want to start ?
    it’s not all crap like you say so stupidly sorry of that cramps ur style i say that too
    what’s so bad about “that environment” as you say ?
    i wish you to have a twenty-eight year university research ENVIRONMENT

    Like

  25. Hors Service said

    Well, just looking at the way you write, did you only went to elementary school?

    (Sorry I know that I shouldn’t mock the way of writing of anyone, but as you seem so proud of your 28 years university research…)

    Like

  26. obama the antichrist said

    Hors are you like legit from france or did i read one of your posts wrong….(random i know) and geir your tactics of debate are turning people off including me and a somewhat support your claims

    Like

  27. dorian said

    ota hors if from france and i just saw that one of geir’s comeback to hors went directly to the spam bucket with the four letter word in it. geir, this is a pg-rated site and wordpress automatically directs posts with certain words to spam. while youtube does not have spam filters, wordpress does.

    Like

  28. Hors Service said

    OTA, I’m sorry I didn’t understood, by “legit” you mean “really” from France? If it’s the case, then it’s true, I am really french, studying in Germany though, at the time.

    Oooh, sad, I won’t have the pleasure of being verbally agressed by a troll… Kind of masochist, I know.
    But it’s like… If Obama makes something, and Ahmadinejad says it’s evil, it’s a good hint that Obama is doing something right. Not a proof, but still a good hint…

    Like

  29. obama the antichrist said

    yes i shortened legitimately to legit…sorry habit i formed

    Like

  30. Hors Service said

    No problem, it’s just that I’m not bilingual, so I have difficulties with expressions, sayings and abbreviations.
    It’s enterely my fault 😉

    Like

  31. obama the antichrist said

    you are completely fine hors i was in panama for a mission trip and i had an idea of what spanish was but i didnt understand a thing anyone was trying to say to me

    Like

  32. I do enjoy it when a new fundamentalist nutter shows up. They are all a bit alike though: buying into any weird theory, touchy about their education.

    Antichrist? What we must remember is that Revelations was written by someone like Geir or Scharfy.

    Like

  33. dorian said

    they do have their prototypes, eh? there are a few more Geir revelations sitting in the bucket that i’m not bothering to read. it’s piling up, i’d better hit delete. i’ll have to put some pretty pictures up to disinfect.

    Like

  34. dorian said

    there were troll droppings in the thicket, betty. i’m glad i nipped this one in the bud. i’ll become a good gardener yet. oh, since princess and ota are writing poems i gathered up as much as i can of the old poems and put them all on a Poems? page here.

    Like

  35. obama the antichrist said

    revalations was written by a man who saw the end times and what God told him to write down he wasnt a nut he was a man used by God

    Like

  36. What is the method you use to determine the difference, OTA?

    Like

  37. dorian said

    okay alright but the ones betty and i were talking about didn’t speak with God. i just deleted 5 comments from the moderation bucket that were pretty nasty smelling with insults for all and one for the white house that reminded me of that apeboy in SNL. remember him? he was nasty. this is the second one this year. those types not interested in real debate they just want to attack and insult everybody.

    from http://www.bloggersblog.com/blog/1210052

    Blog comment trolls are nothing new and have been around since comments on blogs existed. Webopedia offers the following definition of trolls which works well for blog comment trolls.

    (v.) (1) To deliberately post derogatory or inflammatory comments to a community forum, chat room, newsgroup and/or a blog in order to bait other users into responding.

    Blog comment trolls are a continual pest just like they continue to be on message boards. Google shows over 11,000 results for blog trolls. Trolls and spam are one reason some bloggers started moderating their comments.

    Like

  38. Hey Hors: that latest troll lives in France!!! I’d stay in Germany for while…….

    Like

  39. And just in case there’s any doubt who we are/were dealing with:
    http://forums.phayul.com/index.php?showtopic=8294&mode=threaded&pid=32761

    Like

  40. Princessxxx said

    great link betty, haha ha. i especially liked this line:

    “Geir smith is just an old perverted forker but he´s spreading a lot of krap and doing damage slandering HHDL and everyone that is a true follower !

    He should be banned from every forum!

    the guy is sick !”

    Like

  41. dorian said

    adkob gets not just the ordinary ones. we get the supertrolls. i should’ve shared those 5 comments i dumped out yesterday- i just didn’t want to give him any more space or time. he wanted audience.
    i did see that his ip address was in the vicinity of hors’ ip address. i think he’s american.

    Like

  42. dorian said

    geir i know you’re reading us still. i see 3 more comments from you in the garbage bin. don’t waste your time, no one will see them. all i do is hit the ‘delete all spam’ button. anything coming from you goes straight to the garbage bin, with or without profanity.

    take your medication.

    Like

  43. Hors Service said

    Gee, he has an IP adress close to mine? I feel dirty^^
    I deny all links, support or idea-sharing with this… thisness. Just in case that it’s Bill Ayers in disguise, and that Kay will blame me for talking with him^^

    If he’s french, then it’s a rare object: if frenchs have a long-established tradition of moaning, grumbling, protesting and spurious accusations, which they translate into some of the most magnificent trolls I’ve ever read, they habitually stick to French.
    As most of them are also xenophobic, it would be contradictory that they use a foreign language…

    But yes, the grammar and the language used by geir denote maybe a non-english speaker…

    If ADKOB attracts the most combative battle-trolls of the net, then it’s a kind of recognition. A compliment^^

    Like

  44. dorian said

    hors, non-english speaker could be american. heheh
    he’s probably a foreign-born american, bilingual. there was enough american colloquialism in his rants and insults going down the deleted forever hole.
    just a guess. i don’t know if i want too many more warrior trolls. it’s tiring
    having to delete stuff. i’m a lazy person. oh the next troll will get kay’s big bat.
    i’ll borrow her bat after she’s done using it on you.hehe. stick around, hors, i love reading yours and kay’s debates. good with popcorn.

    Like

  45. obama the antichrist said

    betty the way i tell the difference is by having faith and by using what i use best and that is math and numbers. i used numbers to determine the bible true (in my case). its like me asking you how can you tell if darwin was insane or completely true.

    little personal testimony. i didnt believe in God at all in during my HS years but my grandma actually introduced me to how the numbers matched up and i was fascinated by that and i began matching things up and i believed and now here i am

    Like

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