According to Robert Wright in The Evolution of God (reviewed in todays NYT Book Review by Paul Bloom) “God has mellowed” from a capricious tyrant into non-zero-sum playing diety. This is good news for mediators and anyone else in search of a better paradigm for conflict resolution than the 16th century adversarial system. As Bloom explains Wright:
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.
Having just finished reading Wright’s The Moral Animal (an evolutionary exploration for our tendency to reciprocal altruism) and taking the long view of Western Civilization, I’m pre-disposed to believe that we have not only evolved physically and intellectually, but “morally” as well.
I understand from Bloom’s review that Wright — either a firm agnostic or wavering atheist — is moved to wonder whether a universe in which moral progress takes place might suggest the presence of a higher power. Quoting Wright, Bloom observes:
[Wright] 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.
Whatever the source of our moral development, divine or “mercilessly scientific,” its encouraging on a bright summer Sunday to believe we can achieve, if not perfection, at least greater decency toward the divine in one another.
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