About Me

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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Reading: The Evolution of God, by Robert Wright

I have almost finished reading Robert Wright's The Evolution of God, and I am going to add writing a full review of it to my lengthening list of things I've promised to do on this blog. I'll try to get to that task sooner rather than later while the book is fresh in my memory.

I have to say that I (1) enjoyed this book very much, but (2) experienced a larger-than-usual number of "I-want-to-throw-this-thing-against-the-wall" moments. I hope to explain why in a reasonably cogent way as soon as I have time to do a proper review. Meanwhile, to whet your appetite, I've tracked down Jerry Coyne's review of the book back in August (in The New Republic). Wright, in turn, took issue with much of this, and there was some intellectual biffo between them thereafter. H. Allen Orr has also written an interesting (and largely persuasive) review.

Since Jerry was being paid - as was Orr - whereas I won't be, I may not opine at quite the same length, but my throw-against-the-wall moments were for reasons not remote from their reasons for scepticism. Still, I'll give the book the fairest, most objective review that I can. Despite my frequent moments of read-rage, I do recommend The Evolution of God in this sense: it contains a lot of fascinating historical and anthropological information, and it is written in page-turning prose that is cunningly woven into a fascinating narrative (I had no trouble reading 300 of its large-format pages yesterday, even though I was intermittently quite busy with other things).

Wright has a gift for clear, interesting exposition, even when his prose is dense with information and argument, and he certainly knows how to structure and pace a long, complex discussion. But, to be blunt, he really ought to cut out the wild metaphysical speculations. They are not at all convincing, and only detract from what is otherwise an interesting tale of changing conceptions of deity from pre-agricultural societies, through the ancient pagan empires (Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome ...), to the rise of Christianity and Islam.

Anyway, I'll leave it at that for the moment. Feel free either to comment now or hold your fire until I say more.

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