There are three kinds of people: those who believe in God, those who don't, and those who believe in belief. Robert Wright is a member of the third group. He calls himself an unbeliever who holds that "gods arose as illusions" invented by mankind. At the same time, he thinks it is an excellent thing for others to believe in God. Since he advocates belief largely for secular and social purposes, Wright insists that religions evolve in the direction that he considers most conducive to social harmony and global peace.
It may seem odd that someone would take the trouble to write a 576-page book making this argument. Even so, I approached Robert Wright's new one, The Evolution of God (Little, Brown and Company), with anticipation. Years ago I enjoyed Wright's The Moral Animal (1994), which competently summarized then-recent research of evolutionary biologists on the origins of altruism. Wright presented his findings in a supple, breezy style that made the book a pleasure to read.
The Evolution of God is also engaging, and when you consider the topic you might wonder if the book is yet enough to do it justice. According to the publisher's summary, Wright seeks to provide nothing less than a "sweeping narrative that takes us from the Stone Age to the Information Age," a span of about 7,000 years. Besides, Wright's book covers the entire world, drawing on multiple fields including anthropology, history, biology, philosophy, and theology. Even great polymaths from Voltaire to Thomas Jefferson never attempted anything so ambitious, and Wright deserves credit for trying.
His thesis is simply stated upfront: While the gods arose as illusions, "the story of this evolution itself points to the existence of something you can meaningfully ...1