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 EVOLUTION OF GOD and Morality

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Gnomon
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PostSubject: EVOLUTION OF GOD and Morality   Sat Jul 18, 2009 8:24 pm

Evolution of the God Concept

I just finished reading a book by journalist-philosopher Robert Wright that should be of interest to many Deists. The new work is THE EVOLUTION OF GOD, which is essentially a sequel to some of Wright's previous books on similar themes; THREE SCIENTISTS AND THEIR GODS : Looking for Meaning in an Age of Information (1988); THE MORAL ANIMAL : Why We Are the Way We Are : The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology (1994); and NONZERO : The Logic of Human Destiny (2000). In the latter book he used the Game Theory concept of "non-zero-sumness" * to illustrate the Cultural Evolution tenet that unrestricted mutual cooperation is what distinguishes the rapid emergence of human culture from the barely-perceptible progress of Darwinian evolution, with its savage competition for resources. In other words, the unique human talent for unbounded communal effort is the key to our rise from amoral animals to moral humans. Unlike most social animals, we are able to overcome our instinctive hostility to "others" even of our own kind (aliens, outsiders, foreigners, gentiles) in order to find solutions to problems that are in our mutual interest. And yet, as epitomized in the biblical story of the Tower of Babel, such civilized cooperation can be sabotaged all too easily by our natural, selfish animal instincts---perhaps with a little nudge from a bible-god threatened by our seemingly unstoppable progress. Yet even that vengeful deity's dog-eat-dog Natural Selection has not been able to stop the forward momentum of Cultural Selection---perhaps snuck into the fine-print of the evolutionary curse-of-competition by a more favorable Promethean deity .

Having established the cooperative key to practical cultural evolution, Wright turned his attention back to the philosophical question central to all human cultures : why? He says that religion, and its various god-concepts, grew out primitive attempts to understand why good and bad things happen to people just minding their own business. So they developed a primitive pre-scientific theory of Causality. An early animistic argument was that benevolent and malicious beings of some kind must be responsible for the tricks and treats we experience. If these entities were human, we could reward or punish them for their deeds. That not being the case, our ancestors used their unique human imagination to hypothesize protean shape-shifters (spirits) inhabiting animals, vegetables, and natural forces. Since these non-human-agents were beyond the reach of the normal social protocols, super-natural methods of supplication had to be implemented. From that crude beginning, the author traces the emergence of more-and-more sophisticated theologies as god-science adapted to the changing circumstances of natural and cultural evolution over the last ten thousand years. [Perhaps culminating in Modern Deism????]

Wright discloses early-on that his approach to these touchy topics is from the "scientific materialist" perspective. And yet, he contends that, ". . . the history of religion presented in this book . . . actually affirms the validity of a religious worldview; not a traditionally religious worldview, but a worldview that is in some meaningful sense religious." And that is why I think freethinking Deists will appreciate what he has to say on the matter. He goes on to explain that, "this book is partly about how and why the moral compass has expanded, how religions came to define larger and larger groups of people as part of the circle of moral consideration." The "moral compass" is a concept pushed in recent years by philosopher Peter Singer. And that expanding circle fits neatly into my own picture puzzle of the arcane divine design for positive moral evolution that many of us intuitively sense is emerging all around us from within the apparent random meanderings of natural evolution (order within disorder). Since Wright is a journalist as-well-as a philosopher, the book is fairly large (567 pages), but easy to read. He uses modern commercial terminology to illustrate why the optimistic win-win attitude will always out-produce the defensive win-lose approach to dealing with the tooth & claw jungle out there. Yet that crassly-mercantile thesis has practical ramifications for political, religious, and philosophical ideals. I won't get into any more detail at this point. But as other posters read the book, I suspect we will dig-up many deist-related ideas to argue about---in a win-win sense, of course.



* which refers to the positive overall outcome of a "win-win" game, in which both sides cooperate, as opposed to a competitive "win-lose" game, in which positive gains are offset by negative losses. This is competition from a holistic perspective.


Last edited by Gnomon on Sat Jul 18, 2009 8:30 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: EVOLUTION OF GOD and Morality   Sat Jul 18, 2009 8:25 pm

Another major feature of THE EVOLUTION OF GOD is that Wright gives a clever intertwining history of what he calls the "Abrahamic religions". Most of us are generally familiar with the Judeo-Christian traditions. But we tend to be ignorant and fearful of the alien Islamic traditions that we correlate with terrorism. I learned a lot about how that obscure Islamic history is an integral part of the on-going, still-emerging story of G*D : the Incremental Time-Lapse Manifestation of an Eternal Deity.
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