INTERNET God has evolved very much the way human organism did through natural selection, says Robert Wright, the author of “The Evolution of God” Sudhamahi Regunathan

W hichever way you go, the path to truth seems to call for selflessness or in spiritual parlance, giving up the ego. In an engaging interview of Robert Wright, author of “The Evolution of God”, by the excellent interviewer Bill Moyers, one comes upon this learning through an entirely unexpected and different route.

Wright says rather categorically that, “…the human mind is not designed to perceive ultimate truth or even truth in a very broad sense. I mean, the human mind was designed by natural selection to get genes into the next generation… help you eat and reproduce. Quantum physics has shown us you know, in highlighting our inability to think clearly, even about things like electrons. The human mind is not designed to perceive truth that goes beyond this narrow part of the material world.”

As a word of comfort Wright, however adds, “Now, I don't think that precludes the possibility that as ideas about god have evolved people have moved closer to something that may be the truth about the ultimate purpose and ultimate meaning.”

Wright argues that there is evidence of some sort of larger purpose unfolding through the workings of nature, but whether god truly exists may not be as important as how the idea of god has changed over the centuries, often struggling to evolve from the idea of a belligerent deity to one of tolerance and compassion.

“The god that I show evolving is undergoing a process very analogous to natural selection. New traits arise, and if they succeed in enhancing the power of the god, by, for example attracting new believers then they remain. And if they don't work for one reason or another, they fall by the wayside. So, god has evolved very much the way, you know, human organism evolved through natural selection,” says Wright.

He does not believe religion was designed by natural selection. “…the main purpose (of religion) seems to be to explain to people why good things happen and why bad things happen and how you increase the number of good things and the number of bad things. Now, it doesn't initially serve a moral purpose, in our sense of the term. ..And then they try to manipulate the gods in ways that will make things better. Imagining things out there making things happen…But by and large I think people were making up stories that would help them control the world.”

He sees the survival of religion as, “…a tribute to the evolutionary power of cultural change. And it shows us how god has adapted to varying cultural circumstances because the god that is believed in now, first of all, assumes many different forms, even among believers…the very appealing parts of god endure. But then there's adaptation. And I think the adaptation accounts for some of the real moral growth.”

How does adaptation take place? Wright calls this process the cultural evolution where no one set of ideas but a collection of them from different sources influence the story.

Then what holds the progression of continuity in the story?

“I believe that there's a purpose unfolding that has a moral directionality. I have barely the vaguest notion of what might be behind that and whether it could be anything like a personal god or an intelligent being or not. That's another question. I don't know. But I will say it's-- whatever is behind it, if something is, it's probably something that's beyond human conception.”

As though a pointer to the future, Wright says that, “… the basic illusion natural selection builds into all of us is that we are special. But it really is an illusion and it's more fraught with ethical implications than we realise. I mean it just suddenly blinds us to the truth about people I think.” So to move away from focusing on the self is the way to get closer to the moral truth, asserts Wright.