Book Review: The Evolution of God by Robert Wright
by Rich Deem

Introduction

Has God Evolved?

Robert Wright, as an atheist naturalist, must find natural explanations for humanity's  nearly universal belief in the existence of God. As with everything else in the universe, it must have evolved!

Rich Deem

The Evolution of GodRobert Wright, a former "Christian," and author of The Moral Animal, has written a new book, in which he purports to show that the concept of God has evolved along with mankind. Wright believes that the concept of God will continue to evolve until He becomes a complete patsy and all humankind will live together in harmony. Yes, it is the classic "religion is bad" and "atheism will save humanity" story. For having been a "Christian," Wright's handling of the scriptures is actually worse than that of either the LDS or Watchtower faiths, as we shall see.

Evolution summary

The first three chapters of The Evolution of God discuss the origin of gods based primarily upon speculation, based upon modern hunter-gatherer societies, Shamans, and chiefdoms. There are few hard facts about what actual ancients believed prior to the establishment of civilizations. The fourth chapter examines the religions of the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, China, and Egypt, with their myriad of Gods.

The second section of the book examines the purported evolution of God from plurality to singularity, specifically, the establishment of Abrahamic monotheism out of polytheism. We shall examine some of these claims in more detail below.

The third section is entitled, "The invention of Christianity" with its usual claims that the Jesus of the New Testament was primarily invented. Interestingly, chapter 11 is entitled, "The Apostle of Love," although it is not about the apostle John, as the average Christian would expect. Instead, Wright seems to think that Paul is the apostle of love, probably based upon 1 Corinthians 13 (which is actually in the context of the members of the church). This is the first time I have heard of anybody describing Paul as the apostle of love, as opposed to the apostle of theology. It makes one wonder exactly how much theology Wright studied when he was a "Christian." We have a page addressing the claim that Paul invented Christianity.

The fourth section is entitled, "The Triumph of Islam." Before all you Moslems get your hopes up, like the rest of the book, Wright is not being kind to Islam. However, according to Wright, Muhammad was an ecumenicist - something I have never heard anyone else claim.

The fifth section is entitled, "God Goes Global." Wright contends that religions are successful when they produce social "salvation" as opposed to personal salvation. He even contends that the Abrahamic scriptures were really about social salvation, and that the "historical" Jesus may have been "more concerned with social salvation." Accordingly, the next evolution of religion is toward globalization, so that we can all get along together. Wright suggests that "westerners can employ their moral imaginations to appreciate the perspectives of Muslims" since "there probably aren't many people in Indonesia or Saudi Arabia reading this book." In other words, it is "American arrogance" that accounts for Muslim terrorism (probably because of all the religious fundamentalists in the U.S.). Wright says the road to social salvation is through "moral imagination" - "our capacity to put ourselves in the shoes of another person." The problem with such a concept is that if the other person has no "moral imagination" he is apt to blow us out of our shoes!

Ultimately, Wright concludes that none of the gods "invented" by human societies really exist. Instead, Wright concedes that some kind of "god" exists that encompasses the ideals of love and truth. He seems genuinely bothered by the existence of love, but hasn't come to the point of dismissing it merely as brain biochemistry, as other atheists have done. Finally Wright authored an appendix entitled, "How Human Nature Gave Birth to Religion." Although there is a definite association between human nature and religion, Wright seems unaware that there is a question here of cause and effect. Wright assumes human nature gave rise to religion, when, in fact, it could be that religion (i.e., God) gave rise to human nature.

Evolution of Abrahamic monotheism?

I would like to deal with the central tenet of Wright's book in more detail, especially the claim that Abrahamic monotheism arose out of polytheism. It is in this section, that Wright shows his willingness to use any and all techniques, especially quoting out of context, to support his hypothesis.

Robert Wright claims that the original God of Abraham was just one of many Canaanite gods, which one can get from "decoding" the biblical texts. Wright claims that God was not originally transcendent, but was a "hands-on deity" and cites as evidence that He planted the garden of Eden, made garments to clothe Adam and Eve, and could be heard walking in the garden. Wright seems to fail to understand that God often took on human form in order to interact with human beings, including His incarnation as Jesus Christ.

Wright says that God was not omniscient at that time, since He had to ask Adam and Eve where they were hiding. In reality, God was using a technique most parents have used on their children (maybe Wright never had any kids?). Many times, I have asked our three boys a question to which I knew the answer, just to see if they would tell the truth. In fact, God's response indicates that He knew exactly what Adam and Eve had done.1 Of course, Wright doesn't quote from those verses!

Wright indicates that the Old Testament actually supports the existence of other Gods. For example he says that the command "You shall have no other gods before Me" (Exodus 20:3), implies that there are other gods. However, just 20 verses below, the text clarifies the command:

'You shall not make other gods besides Me; gods of silver or gods of gold, you shall not make for yourselves. (Exodus 20:23)

So, the text makes it clear that these "gods" are made merely of silver or gold. Does Wright believe that this text is trying to tell us that these gods of silver or gold were real, living deities? I don't think so! The entire point of the commandment is that God wants our loyalty to Him to come before our loyalty to things that we place value on. Jesus confirmed this commandment in saying that loving God was the "great and foremost commandment."2

Wright goes on to say that the scriptures imply the existence of other gods when God uses the plural "Let Us make man in Our image"3 and "let Us go down and there confuse their language,"4 among others.5 However, instead of the "Us" being a plethora of gods, Christianity interprets the "Us" as representing the Trinity - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which is one God.6 Among the Jews, the "Us" is said to refer to God and His angels. The Old Testament is replete with instances of angels appearing before men and instructing them what God wants them to do.7 The text indicates pretty clearly that God had communicated with the angels who were being used as His instruments - hence the reference to "Us."

Wright claims that in "the poems that most scholars consider the oldest pieces of the Bible, there's no mention of God creating anything" (emphasis in the original). The statement is blatantly false, since, according to scholars, the consensus oldest book of the Bible, Job, contains the longest creation account in the entire Bible (Job 38-41, 129 verses, compared to only 56 in Genesis 1-2). Wright's claim that "Yahweh was not yet the cosmic creator" is laughable, since God clearly describes to Job the founding of the earth, complete with it being originally shrouded in a blanket of clouds and "thick darkness,"8 which is what science tells us. If this is not cosmic creation, then what is?

Wright also quotes Psalm 82 as evidence for a divine council of gods:

A Psalm of Asaph. God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: (Psalms 82:1, ESV)

Wright had to quote from an obscure translation (ESV) to support the interpretation he was after. However, if he had quoted from any other translation, the meaning would have been clear that it was no reference to a divine council, but merely a reference to a ruling body.

The context makes it clear that these "gods" are merely mortal men who are acting as unrighteous judges in Israel. This example is certainly not a reference to some divine council of gods.

In contrast to Wright's interpretations, the Bible makes it clear that the gods of the other peoples are not real, but manmade.9 The Bible also makes it clear that some of these "gods" are demons - fallen angels.10 Other passages make it clear that there is but one God and no others.11 Although Wright claims that those verses were added later, he provides no evidence to support such an assertion, and his verses out-of-context certainly do nothing to add to his argument. If the Bible were truly edited from the original writings, certainly there would be evidence of these changes in the nearly 1,000 years between the copies of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Masoretic text. The complete book of Isaiah from the Dead Sea Scrolls is a prime example of monotheistic theology and yet remained virtually unchanged over the centuries. The atheistic claims of extensive editing of the Bible remain unsupported speculation based upon extreme bias toward materialistic naturalism.

Wright asserts that another God, named Elyon, was the father of Yahweh, who was given the people of Israel to rule over, citing Deuteronomy 32:

"When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, When He separated the sons of man, He set the boundaries of the peoples According to the number of the sons of Israel. For the LORD'S portion is His people; Jacob is the allotment of His inheritance." (Deuteronomy 32:8-9)

Contrary to Wright's assertion, Yahweh is the name of God and Elyon (Most High) is one of His many titles. Many passages make it clear that Yahweh is Elyon.12 Wright continues with his assertions that Yahweh was a minor god of the Canaanites who had a consort name Asherah. In fact archeologists have found a couple inscriptions to "Yahweh and his Asherah." Does this discovery prove that the God of the Bible evolved from Canaanite polytheism? The reality is that the grammatical structure of the inscription suggests that "his Asherah" should probably be "his asherah" and doesn't really refer to any kind of goddess at all. Even if it did, I would find it extremely unlikely if archeologists did not find evidence of polytheism in ancient Israel. The Bible very clearly states that the kings, the common people and even the priests went after other gods, including Asherah. So, it would be expected to find such evidence somewhere in Israel. In fact, I would expect to find much more than just a couple examples of polytheism, since about half of the kings of Israel are described as having lead the people astray. If the Bible were trying to hide the existence of polytheism in Israel, why is it so prominently mentioned?

The book continues for nearly 500 pages of this nonsense. The Evolution of God contains many other atheistic myths that are extensively covered on this website. For more information, see Related Pages, below.

Conclusion Top of page

The Evolution of God is a prime example of what is wrong with common atheistic scholarship. Robert Wright uses logical fallacies and extensive quoting out-of-context in order to support his hypothesis that God is a made up myth. The book attempts to demonstrate the evolution of God, but merely shows the evolution of Robert Wright to the point that he must believe every atheistic denigration of God in order to prop up his atheistic worldview.



References Top of page

  1. He [Adam] said, "I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself." And He said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" (Genesis 3:10-11)
  2. And He said to him, "'YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' This is the great and foremost commandment." (Matthew 22:38)
  3. Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." (Genesis 1:26)
  4. "Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another's speech." (Genesis 11:7)
  5. Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever"-- (Genesis 3:22)
    Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?" Then I said, "Here am I. Send me!" (Isaiah 6:8)
  6. See The Triunity (Trinity) of God in The Old Testament.
  7. Angels of God comprise the "Us" of God:
    • Then the angel of the LORD said to her, "Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority." (Genesis 16:9)
    • But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." (Genesis 22:11)
    • "The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father's house and from the land of my birth, and who spoke to me and who swore to me, saying, 'To your descendants I will give this land,' He will send His angel before you, and you will take a wife for my son from there. (Genesis 24:7)
    • The angel of the LORD appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed. (Exodus 3:2)
    • 'But when we cried out to the LORD, He heard our voice and sent an angel and brought us out from Egypt; now behold, we are at Kadesh, a town on the edge of your territory. (Numbers 20:16)
    • But God was angry because he was going, and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the way as an adversary against him. Now he was riding on his donkey and his two servants were with him. (Numbers 22:22)
    • Now the angel of the LORD came up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, "I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land which I have sworn to your fathers; and I said, 'I will never break My covenant with you, (Judges 2:1)
    • The angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, "The LORD is with you, O valiant warrior." (Judges 6:12)
    • Then the angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, "Behold now, you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and give birth to a son. (Judges 13:3)
    • When the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD relented from the calamity and said to the angel who destroyed the people, "It is enough! Now relax your hand!" And the angel of the LORD was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. (2 Samuel 24:16)
    • The angel of the LORD came again a second time and touched him and said, "Arise, eat, because the journey is too great for you." (1 Kings 19:7)
    • But the angel of the LORD said to Elijah the Tishbite, "Arise, go up to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria and say to them, 'Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron?' (2 Kings 1:3)
    • Then it happened that night that the angel of the LORD went out and struck 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians; and when men rose early in the morning, behold, all of them were dead. (2 Kings 19:35)
    • either three years of famine, or three months to be swept away before your foes, while the sword of your enemies overtakes you, or else three days of the sword of the LORD, even pestilence in the land, and the angel of the LORD destroying throughout all the territory of Israel.' Now, therefore, consider what answer I shall return to Him who sent me." (1 Chronicles 21:12)
    • And the LORD sent an angel who destroyed every mighty warrior, commander and officer in the camp of the king of Assyria. So he returned in shame to his own land. And when he had entered the temple of his god, some of his own children killed him there with the sword. (2 Chronicles 32:21)
    • Then the angel of the LORD went out and struck 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians; and when men arose early in the morning, behold, all of these were dead. (Isaiah 37:36)
    • So they answered the angel of the LORD who was standing among the myrtle trees and said, "We have patrolled the earth, and behold, all the earth is peaceful and quiet." Then the angel of the LORD said, "O LORD of hosts, how long will You have no compassion for Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, with which You have been indignant these seventy years?" The LORD answered the angel who was speaking with me with gracious words, comforting words. (Zechariah 1:11-13)
    • And the angel of the LORD admonished Joshua, saying, "Thus says the LORD of hosts, 'If you will walk in My ways and if you will perform My service, then you will also govern My house and also have charge of My courts, and I will grant you free access among these who are standing here.'" (Zechariah 3:6-7)
    • "In that day the LORD will defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and the one who is feeble among them in that day will be like David, and the house of David will be like God, like the angel of the LORD before them. (Zechariah 12:8)
  8. "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding, Who set its measurements, since you know? Or who stretched the line on it? "On what were its bases sunk? Or who laid its cornerstone, When the morning stars sang together, And all the sons of God shouted for joy? "Or who enclosed the sea with doors, When, bursting forth, it went out from the womb; When I made a cloud its garment, And thick darkness its swaddling band, (Job 38:4-9)
  9. The "gods" are not real:
    • "There you will serve gods, the work of man's hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell. (Deuteronomy 4:28)
    • "The LORD will bring you and your king, whom you set over you, to a nation which neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone. (Deuteronomy 28:36)
    • you also have done more evil than all who were before you, and have gone and made for yourself other gods and molten images to provoke Me to anger, and have cast Me behind your back-- (1 Kings 14:9)
    • But every nation still made gods of its own and put them in the houses of the high places which the people of Samaria had made, every nation in their cities in which they lived. (2 Kings 17:29)
    • and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods but the work of men's hands, wood and stone. So they have destroyed them. (2 Kings 19:18)
    • They spoke of the God of Jerusalem as of the gods of the peoples of the earth, the work of men's hands. (2 Chronicles 32:19)
    • For all the gods of the peoples are idols, But the LORD made the heavens. (Psalms 96:5)
    • Let all those be ashamed who serve graven images, Who boast themselves of idols; Worship Him, all you gods. (Psalms 97:7)
    • and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods but the work of men's hands, wood and stone. So they have destroyed them. (Isaiah 37:19)
    • They will be turned back and be utterly put to shame, Who trust in idols, Who say to molten images, "You are our gods." (Isaiah 42:17)
    • Surely he cuts cedars for himself, and takes a cypress or an oak and raises it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a fir, and the rain makes it grow. Then it becomes something for a man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself; he also makes a fire to bake bread. He also makes a god and worships it; he makes it a graven image and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he eats meat as he roasts a roast and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, "Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire." But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, "Deliver me, for you are my god." They do not know, nor do they understand, for He has smeared over their eyes so that they cannot see and their hearts so that they cannot comprehend. No one recalls, nor is there knowledge or understanding to say, "I have burned half of it in the fire and also have baked bread over its coals. I roast meat and eat it. Then I make the rest of it into an abomination, I fall down before a block of wood!" (Isaiah 44:14-19)
    • "Gather yourselves and come; Draw near together, you fugitives of the nations; They have no knowledge, Who carry about their wooden idol And pray to a god who cannot save." (Isaiah 45:20)
    • "Those who lavish gold from the purse And weigh silver on the scale Hire a goldsmith, and he makes it into a god; They bow down, indeed they worship it. (Isaiah 46:6)
    • "I will pronounce My judgments on them concerning all their wickedness, whereby they have forsaken Me and have offered sacrifices to other gods, and worshiped the works of their own hands. (Jeremiah 1:16)
    • "Has a nation changed gods When they were not gods? But My people have changed their glory For that which does not profit. (Jeremiah 2:11)
    • "But where are your gods Which you made for yourself? Let them arise, if they can save you In the time of your trouble; For according to the number of your cities Are your gods, O Judah. (Jeremiah 2:28)
    • "Why should I pardon you? Your sons have forsaken Me And sworn by those who are not gods. When I had fed them to the full, They committed adultery And trooped to the harlot's house. (Jeremiah 5:7)
    • Can man make gods for himself? Yet they are not gods! (Jeremiah 16:20)
    • They drank the wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone. (Daniel 5:4)
    • but you have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines have been drinking wine from them; and you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which do not see, hear or understand. But the God in whose hand are your life-breath and all your ways, you have not glorified. (Daniel 5:23)
    • "You also carried along Sikkuth your king and Kiyyun, your images, the star of your gods which you made for yourselves. (Amos 5:26)
    • "You see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people, saying that gods made with hands are no gods at all. (Acts 19:26)
    • Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. (1 Corinthians 8:4)
    • However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods. (Galatians 4:8)
  10. At least some "gods" are demons:
    • "They sacrificed to demons who were not God, To gods whom they have not known, New gods who came lately, Whom your fathers did not dread. (Deuteronomy 32:17)
    • in whose case the god of this world [Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4)
  11. God is One
  12. Yahweh is Elyon:
    • Abram said to the king of Sodom, "I have sworn to the LORD [Yahweh] God Most High [Elyon], possessor of heaven and earth, (Genesis 14:22)
    • I will give thanks to the LORD [Yahweh] according to His righteousness And will sing praise to the name of the LORD [Yahweh] Most High [Elyon]. (Psalms 7:17)
    • For the king trusts in the LORD [Yahweh], And through the lovingkindness of the Most High [Elyon] he will not be shaken. (Psalms 21:7)
    • For the LORD [Yahweh] Most High [Elyon] is to be feared, A great King over all the earth. (Psalms 47:2)
    • That they may know that You alone, whose name is the LORD [Yahweh], Are the Most High [Elyon] over all the earth. (Psalms 83:18)
    • A Psalm, a Song for the Sabbath day. It is good to give thanks to the LORD [Yahweh] And to sing praises to Your name, O Most High [Elyon]; (Psalms 92:1)

http://godandscience.org/apologetics/evolution_of_god.html
Last Modified August 11, 2009

 

Rich's Blog