Monday, July 20, 2009

Robert Wright Interview : The Evolution of God

Bill Moyers interviews author Robert Wright about his recent book The Evolution of God.

BILL MOYERS: I don't find any traces of cynicism in the book. In fact, I want to ask you about something you say toward the end. You say that, "Human beings are organic machines that are built by natural selection to deal with other organic machines. They can visualize other organic beings, understand other organic beings, and bestow love and gratitude on other organic beings. Understanding the divine, visualizing the divine, loving the divine--that would be a tall order for a mere human being." But we've not given up trying, have we?

ROBERT WRIGHT: No. And I think, you know, in a way we shouldn't. I mean I think if there is you know, something out there called moral truth. And we should continue to try to relate to it in a way that brings us closer to it. And it--

BILL MOYERS: I don't understand what you mean. Out there?


BILL MOYERS: What did--

ROBERT WRIGHT: Did I say that?

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, you've said it several times. I mean--

ROBERT WRIGHT: I should be careful.

BILL MOYERS: --if you don't--

ROBERT WRIGHT: Because I don't-- what do I mean. I don't--I mean what. Transcendent is a very tricky word. And I get into trouble from hardcore materialists by using it because people think, "Oh, you mean spooky, mystical, ethereal stuff." I don't know exactly what I mean by transcendent.

I may mean beyond our comprehension. I may mean you know, I may mean prior to the creation of the universe or something. I don't know. But I do think that the system on Earth is such that humanity is repeatedly given the choice of either progressing morally in the sense of accepting more people into the moral circle or paying the price of social chaos. Okay?

I would say we've been there before and we're there now. That, you know, we are approaching a global level of social organization. And if people do not get better at acknowledging the humanity of people around the world in very different circumstances, and even putting themselves in the shoes of those other people then we may pay the price of social chaos. So the system is set up that way. And that's just an intriguing fact to me that seems to create a kind of moral axis that we can't help but orient ourselves toward or try to orient ourselves toward.

Watch the entire interview: Bill Moyers Journal July 17th 2009


  1. Yeah Scott transcendent hmmmmm what do they really mean?.

    Dictionary says.

    1. going beyond ordinary limits; surpassing; exceeding.

    Hmmm yeah well considdering how many differing beliefs we have ended up with in this world.Sometimes i wonder ever so slightly if just maybe they might have went that little bit far in thinking what they did or didnt actually know.

    And the second is

    2. superior or supreme.

    What do you reckon it is Scott?.Im going to let you answer which one.

  2. It's a complex issue, for sure.

    If you haven't read Wright's book, The Evolution of God, I'd highly recommend it. The Bill Moyers interview is a good summary of the books content.

    Like Sam Harris, I think people can have profound and meaningful experiences. But these things are not caused by an intelligent agent. It may be the case that there is a general principle that leads us to choose "better" outcomes.

    We could see this as how water naturally flows with the less resistance though specific paths due to the very features of the landscape. However, this is not to say there cannot be multiple paths with nearly identical resistance.

    Here's a talk Harris gave about this idea: Can We Ever Be Right about Right and Wrong?

  3. Thanks for that Scott it was very interesting.Think they need to have these type discussions much more.Thought Sam Harris was quite clear in how he came across.

    I only have dail up net connection so i will listen to the second one soon.

  4. L.o.L..Scott, Harvey has a hero in Vox .

    Harvs interested in yes sir no sir.Oh sorry sir please may i say something on your blog sir.I see sir if i say what you dont like you will delete it sir.Oh the way you can dictate while within the realms of your book and blog is impressive to me sir.May i stroke your back sir and lick you toes like jesus sir.Oh all us who follow your blog are truely mesmerised sir.

    Just suggestion..Maybe dont waste to much time and energy on wallys like Harvey.

  5. Scott,

    I just wanted to say that your car analogy over at Harvey's blog was utter awesomeness. Do you mind if I use it if I ever get the chance?

    I can't believe I'm having to prove that dogs and wolves are related....

    PS. come check out some other rational thinkers at (yes, there's a Simpsons reference in the title)

  6. Hello Matt,

    Thanks for you comment.

    Feel free to use my car analogy it if you like.

    FYI: Harvey doesn't seem to be interested in evidence unless he thinks it supports his view. Of course, since he doesn't really understand the topic at hand, he often promotes evidence which he thinks supports his view, but actually doesn't.

    Also, thanks for the invite to Always on the lookout for rational thinkers.