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Unread September 22nd, 2009, 03:30 PM
James Brody James Brody is offline
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Arrow Wright's Evolution of God

To Fred Hussey: RIP. A warrior for both his God and for the science they shared.

It’s been nearly a dozen years since I last saw Bob Wright. He’s a thinker, writer, and arranger of deep ideas...a “pattern-maker” of genius and a treasure for our age. He’s also the son of Texas Southern Baptists, and, like me, an Army brat. Unlike me, however, he swore fidelity to his faith at age nine. Thus, “God” and God have always been near Bob’s mind, even when he disagrees with whatever most of us think about god-the-idea vs. god-the-entity.

Bob has also made a second but substantial investment in a different sort of pattern, called “evolution,” and here in The Evolution of God, he annoys theists who endorse special creation and evolutionists who practice a science that is often conjectural but denies anything supernatural.
Wright’s first book, Three Scientists and Their Gods, marked his career with a subtitle: Looking for Meaning in an Age of Information. He followed Three Scientists with a bestseller, “The Moral Animal” that braided together the life of Charles Darwin, Victorian times and its creative tensions, and the structure of a new academic discipline, “evolutionary psychology.” His third book, Non-Zero, described the growth of human cultures as they found the benefits of trade rather than war. To Wright’s mind, non-zero relationships are something of an inevitability…familiarity erodes hostility and favors imitation. The interchanges between two peoples lead to outcomes that benefit both. Thus, zero-sum contests where one player must lose if the other is to win, become “non-zero” wherein each player makes the other prosper. A Robert Heinlein character once commented that two Chinese dropped on Luna’s surface would both get rich selling rocks to each other! An example from Wright: perhaps 1000 people helped produce your car and the $20,000 that you paid compensated each of its creators and the bank.

In book four, The Evolution of God, Bob layers humor with insight while he extends evolution and non-zero dynamics to religions. Not only does he jar us when he juxtaposes two very special words but also applies them to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, concluding that the three are really one, another “trinity,” in how they started, changed over decades, and will probably change further.

Tolerance for different faiths had been established by the Caesars and exploited by many religions. And three collections of religious stories – the Old Testament, the New, and the Koran – are out of sequence in the arrangement of their verses and chapters. He analyzes the Old Testament much as an archeologist analyzes fossil layers that reflect polytheism, tribalism, war, animal and human sacrifices, and the perimeter of tolerance that grew with the perimeter of commerce. It’s not all smooth going for traditionalists. For example, Moses very likely never existed or, at the very least, a lot of stories were made up about him.

The Book of Mark is the oldest and a clearer sketch of the “historical” Jesus who, like Muhammad, could be rather demanding while Saints Matthew and John describe Him as powerful but kind, loving, self-sacrificing, and a performer of miracles – all traits that evolutionary psychologists tell us are most admired by women. St. Paul is captured beautifully as if he were the CEO for Holiday Inns –“Stay with us. You will be safe, our members will love you, and you will live forever!” Paul appears to be a marketer who took advantage of Roman roads and the multi-ethnic communities through which those roads passed.

I hope the hell Wright had a good time doing this to the rest of us!

Similarities Replace Differences
Non-zero is about how similarities and identities emerge from differences. Or, order appears from chaos. In this case, three modern faiths seeded in polytheism, moved from tribal warfare and tooth-and-claw standards to hugs and the salvation of individuals … all in response to changes in social opportunities. Such was true for Chinese and Indian faith, for Judaism, and for Christianity. It was also true for Islam.

Muhammad was a struggling seer when he lived in Mecca and, like Jesus, was considered to be something of a madman. He moved to Medina, gained acceptance of his monotheism, settled some skirmishes between the Medinans, and eventually ran an empire. (Wright advises that reading the Koran backwards is more historically accurate as you start with short lessons, written when Muhammad struggled in Mecca, and move to the longer ones in the front, written when he had to be not only a theologian but also a politician.) Muhammad also demoted Jesus from “God” to “Messiah,” – perhaps a closer alignment with Jesus to his original role – but promoted Ham, the progenitor of Arabs, and integrated much of the Jewish Law into the Koran.

Bottom line: Each leader, those in the Old Testament, the New, or the Koran, in synchrony with his people and their opportunities, found the God he needed for the times he faced, a choice that often pivoted on whether the people saw themselves in zero-sum conditions – winner-take-all – or in those of non-zero in which swaps and mutual influence generate profits.

Wright’s Logos
“On the one hand, I think gods arose as illusions, and that the subsequent history of the idea of god is, in some sense, the evolution of an illusion. On the other hand: (1) the story of this evolution itself points to the existence of something you can meaningfully call divinity; and (2) the “illusion,” in the course of evolving, has gotten streamlined in a way that moved it closer to plausibility. In both of these senses, the illusion has gotten less and less illusory.” (p. 4)

Wright doesn’t care for the idea of an old male hominid staring at us from the sky. And he finds an orderly progression, an “evolution,” from spirits and shamans to chiefdoms, polytheism, and monotheism. From early religions that had neither a concept of religion nor moral rules, and didn’t need them because of the restricted size of tribal groups, to complex books of laws, to later simplifications such as that in the New Testament. On the other hand, he hungers too much for order not to believe in a “design” even if the “designer” hides. (Wright, thus, resembles the legends that we have about Pythagoras!)

Wright’s concept of “moral imagination” guides our appreciation of non-zero games: it is usually better to give than to receive because you eventually receive. As my fundamentalists friends say, “Give abundantly and you will eventually receive abundantly.” And for the immediate instant, you don’t get killed. The old-school Darwinians were thus confused: cooperation is not a mystery but a biological and moral outcome that physics makes into an inevitability. “Survival of the fittest” now implies “survival of the cooperators.”

Bob puckishly asks for the differences in our understanding of God and of an electron. Both are invisible, measured, and inferred by their properties and on the basis of an array of “facts.” Thus, there are, on fundamental levels, few differences between the folks who study and manage electrons and those who study and manage God. Wright argues that both the electron and God fall between illusions and imperfect conceptions. Thus, Weinberg’s notion, “The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless” may seem brilliant.

It is also flawed.
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Unread September 22nd, 2009, 03:42 PM
James Brody James Brody is offline
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Arrow About Wright's Evolution of God

More about a Sense of “Maybe” and Bob Wright’s Evolution of God

I’m an agnostic but probably for reasons of genetics rather than rearing. I’m also an evolutionist who finds awe and value in religion. (I have very few friends!) I also like Bob Wright and admire what he has done. Finally, I know that he is too bright, and his pattern too well-ordered, for him to be disturbed by differences between us. We both find order but of different kinds. I tend to prefer zip and surprises and I am more intrigued with the patterns of individual variation than with slowly moving averages.

1) Wright accepts gossip from evolutionary psychology that genes change too slowly to influence changes in human culture: cultural change, therefore, depends on selection contests between differences in ideas and tools. He also views “religion” as a “spandrel,” the unintended product of more elemental adaptations that we have for affiliation and protecting our relatives. We disagree on both points. I don’t find value in classifying herds, swarms, flocks, and schools as spandrels! As for genes – more about them later.

2) I still, after a dozen years, find Stuart Kauffman’s descriptions of phase transitions to be convincing, interesting, and useful. That is, there is a “chaotic phase” wherein any two participants rarely meet more than once, there is “order” where relationships are defined and change rarely if at all, and there is a “phase transition,” a narrow boundary where structures appear, replicate, take on partners or cast them away, where “maybe” rules, and where guys like me can have a lot of fun. When Wright refers to “moral imagination” as our search engine for an understanding of logos and of God, he may be describing our navigator through a phase transition. Of course, my lack of friends mean that I occupy a narrow range between mobs that will hug, feed, and bandage me and mobs that will sned me to the nearest agency!

3) Stephen Strogatz introduced me to the research of Yoshiki Kuramoto, a Japanese physicist who proved that in a field of oscillators, no matter how many, similarity of frequency and weak, mutual influence draws them into synchronous motion. Huygens noticed in the 1650s, for example, that pendulums come to tick and tock at the same instant. Oscillators are not only powerful and plentiful. They explore between two extremes and, if conditions are right, shift their frequencies. Ticks and tocks may have more creative potential than straight lines! We also know that cardiac pacemaker cells fire as a unit as do clusters of neurons; my house and I move through the seasons as if we are one, and people even choose friends and mates on the basis of similarities (often similarities with a genetic loading!). The point: one angry Catholic will attract and amplify the conduct of other angry Catholics. Likewise for angry Arabs. And likewise for a peaceful Catholic or Arab.

4) Hungarian Albert Barabási described the growth of “emergent networks” wherein the first player chooses partners consistent with his or her needs. Some players in the network have many links, others have very few. (The phases of network organization parallel the statistics of a Bose condensate!) Further, some “links” are unidirectional and rigid, others are “weak,” change their strength and directionality with the conditions around them, and actually stabilize the network. Emergent networks are captured by power laws, not bell-curves, and apply to the variation found in collections of insects, mammals, and trees as well as to earthquakes and forest fires. You can also find them in an abstract painting and they may play in our choices for “good art” and “bad art”; you can find them in the width and length of streets and in the organization of communities. It may be that our brain not only organizes itself according to power laws but is attracted to them in one more arrangement that Kuramoto would recognize – a synchrony between similar linked oscillators.

Along these lines, another Hungarian, Peter Csermely, related the structure of a network to the resources available to it: chaotic, scattered units become participants that connect into “the rich get richer” and “winner-take-all” assemblies. These stages have been aligned with the equations for Bose condensates! Individualism, of course, aligns with “the rich get richer” and collectivism with “winner-take-all.” Limit resources and winner-take-all collapses into fragments that are scavenged by an invader. These arrangements and developmental histories occur in computer simulations. They occur in financial networks. They can also be found in stories by Toynbee or Gibbon.

5) Religion is a unifying force that favors the rearing of children, the formation of marriages, and the emergence of commerce between similar people. Individuals become religious collectives that screen newcomers and filter out the dangerous ones. Religion is an adaptive feature with a heritability that lets a third of us listen to God, another third hear nothing, and a middle third that will do whatever the neighbors do.

A Matter of Time

Mark Steyn captured the “out-of-phase” aspect of the gap between Islam and the West. Islam, centuries behind Europe, is more aggressive with its membership requirements and with its birthrate. Ed Wilson might here bring up his concepts of K- and r-selection: the former describes a slower rate of reproduction, larger offspring, more postpartum training, and more elaborate contracts with surrounding creatures; the latter is one of “have lots of kids, have them fast, let them hit the ground running, and move on before the environment changes.”

Thus, unlike Wright, I see genes as a likely player in cultural changes.

Genomic imprinting may underlie some of these differences between Islamic fundamentalism and the West. That is, research suggests that in-utero contests between some of dad’s genes and the corresponding genes in moms can change conduct and physique within a generation. That is, a mother’s bias is to limit placental and fetal growth, retain control of her own blood pressure and blood sugar, and make a child that is less muscular but with a greater cerebral cortex. Dad’s genes favor a muscular, perhaps impulsive child, one with a smaller cerebral cortex but larger motor areas and hypothalamus, more dental enamel, and, sometimes, greater reserves of high-energy brown fat. (Dad’s genes – at least in mice who share about 90 percent of our genetic architecture – also favor daughters that are more apt to make nests, feed their young, and retrieve offspring that wander.) Given that mothers – in response to environmental abundance or scarcity – spontaneously abort one-third of their male infants, mothers could favor lots of militant, impulsive children or a few reserved, thoughtful ones.

I am also impressed with Stephen Suomi’s observation that humans and rhesus monkeys are “weed species” that adapt to and thrive in every niche they find. He also found that maternal deprivation led to differences in a serotonin-promoter gene 5-HTTLPR, one thought to be unique to rhesus and humans, and that leads to differences in impulsiveness, aggression, and social success. The little guys who fight quickly and make huge jumps between trees either die in those fights or after a crash to the jungle floor. If alive after a year, they are chased – by mothers, aunts, and grandmothers – out of the colony. Suomi also remarked that many of these temperamental differences, orginally attributed to maternal neglect, “washed out ‘ when he added omega-three fats to the lab diet!

Wright may be correct that “zero-sum” ideas can be changed to “non-zero-sum” ideas by cognitive therapy in a renovated Madrasah curriculum. It may also be that giving more assets, love, and omega-threes to Muslim women would help just as much. Of course, a woman in a burqa and driving a Lexus would give me a thumbs-up when I demonstrated against Obama...she had assets, autonomy, and life in a society tempered by female-female links.

Thus, Wright is also correct: “Religion, having come from the brains of people, is bound to bear the marks of our species, for better or worse.” p 32.

*Should be required reading for high school seniors!

Albert, Reka & Barabasi, A-L (2002) Statistical mechanics of complex networks. Reviews of Modern Physics. 74: 47–97. Early publication in June 2001 at

*Ball, Philip (2002) The physical modelling of society: a historical perspective. Physica A. 314: 1–14. Ball writes well. See also Ball, Philip (2004) The Physical Modelling of Human Social Systems. Complexus. 1: 190–206.

*Barabási, Albert-Lazlo (2002) Linked: The New Science of Networks. NY: Perseus. Excellent history of emergent network theory and the characters who built it.

Barabási, Albert-Lazlo & Albert, Reka (1999) Emergence of scaling in random networks. arxiv:cond-mat/9910332v1, 21 Oct 1999. A description of discrete stages in some types of network organization, stages that align with formulae for Bose-Einstein condensates! See also Bianconi, G. & Barabási, A-L (2000) Bose-Einstein condensation in complex networks. arXiv:cond-mat/0011224 v1 13 Nov 2000.

Bloom, Howard (1995) The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History. NY: Atlantic Monthly Press. Also, with a plot very similar to Wright’s NonZero, (2000) The Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century. NY: Wiley.

Brody, James (2008) Rebellion: Physics to Personal Will. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse. Http://

Brody, James (2005) ADHD: Inhibition, Emergent Networks, and Maternal Investment. Chapter 2 in Michelle Larimer (Ed.) Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Research. Hauppage, NY: Nova Science Biomedical Series. 19–58.

Brody, James (2002) From Physics and Evolutionary Neuroscience to Psychotherapy: Phase Transitions and Adaptations, Diagnosis and Treatment. In G. Cory & R. Gardner (Eds.) The Evolutionary Neuroethology of Paul
MacLean: Convergences & Frontiers
, Praeger-Greenwood, 231–259.

*Csermely, Peter (2006) Weak Links: Stabilizers of Complex Systems from Proteins to Social Networks. NY: Springer. Provocative. Fun. Coherent. Convincing. It must be correct!

*Daniels, Bryan C (2005) Synchronization of globally connected nonlinear oscillators: the rich behavior of the Kuramoto model. Physics Department: Ohio Wesleyan University, Delaware, Ohio. Hypnotic demo of metronome synchronization: Http://

Kauffman, Stuart (1995) At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self Organization and Complexity. NY: Oxford. Abstruse in places. Read a chapter, let it incubate for several days, and then reread it. Kauffman, Stuart (2000) Investigations. NY: Oxford. More general, easier to read, and, like Wright, looks for ultimate generalities. “The stunning fact is that autonomous agents do, every day, reach out and manipulate the universe on their own behalf.” Or the idea that an organization, once it finds resources, it also finds self-interest!

Roberts, G. & Sherratt, T. (1998) Development of cooperative relationships through increasing investment. Nature, 394, 175–179.

Steyn, Mark (2006) America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It. Washington DC: Regnery.

Suomi, Stephen (1999) Attachment in rhesus monkeys. In J. Cassidy & P. Shaver (Eds.) Handbook of Attachment: Theory, Research, and Clinical Applications. NY: Guilford, 181–197.

Suomi, Stephen (2000) How gene-environment interactions shape individual development trajectories in rhesus monkeys. Presentation at The Relationship System, Georgetown Family Center, April 2000. *Magnificent presentation at Http://

Suomi, Stephen (2006) How gene x environment interactions can shape behavioral and biological development in rhesus monkeys, humans, and other primates. Presentation at XVII Biennial Congress, International Society for Human Ethology, Detroit, MI, August 2.

*Strogatz, Steven (2003) Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order. NY: Hyperion. As basic, enriching, and surprising as Linked and perhaps a platform for Barabási’s book.

*Watts, Duncan & Strogatz, Steven. (1998) Collective dynamics of 'small-world' networks. Nature. 393: 440–442. The first “great paper” on small-world effects and one of the most cited by scientists.

Last edited by James Brody; September 23rd, 2009 at 04:02 PM.
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Unread October 14th, 2009, 04:54 PM
PruffTup73 PruffTup73 is offline
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Default Wrights Evolution of God

The Force: has Technology trumped evolution?

Darwin informs us that natural selection, i.e. evolution, has been the guiding force determining the course of biological change. Natural selection, i.e. evolution, operates far too slowly to compete with Technology in the present and future determination of biological change.

Just ask the Polar Bear

Is Technology the “true” meaning of Intelligent Design?
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Unread October 14th, 2009, 05:59 PM
James Brody James Brody is offline
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Cool Re: Wright's Evolution of God

1) Polar bears are doing well.

2) Technology follows human need, some of which, as shown by Twitter, can be very stereotyped, quick, and explained post-hoc.

3) Every living creature modifies its environment.

4) Genes, by a variety of tricks, turn on or turn off with each passing generation, sometimes in response to environmental assets.

Back to your books, m'boy. And back to your commonsense observations...
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Unread November 10th, 2009, 09:54 PM
PruffTup73 PruffTup73 is offline
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Default Wrights Evolution of God

Im curious as I was talking about evolution with my friends earlier today. How did the world come to be? Am I suppossed to believe that particles just started appearing from nothing, which eventually started the big bang?

Or maybe I should believe that orginisms just kinda appeared from no where after this melted blob hardened up some to become Earth?

Also, show me "proof" that there is no God.
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Unread November 12th, 2009, 11:28 AM
James Brody James Brody is offline
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Cool Re: Wright's Evolution of God

You and I agree.

But consider where you place your bets...a superior organizing force that behaves as if human or a human species that follows the same organizing rules as physical particles.

The choice is yours.

I admit my ignorance and, sometimes, my fear of the clear night sky. On the other hand, I'm not going to risk making up stories.

(So I think!)
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Unread November 13th, 2009, 11:06 AM
TomJrzk TomJrzk is offline
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Default Re: Wright's Evolution of God

Originally Posted by James Brody View Post
But consider where you place your bets...a superior organizing force that behaves as if human or a human species that follows the same organizing rules as physical particles.

The choice is yours.
Very well put, Jim. I plead ignorance, too, and will bow with the best of them if he sends some angels down in flaming chariots.

I might still be a bit skeptical, though, if the flaming chariots look a bit too much like Earth landers from Mars. I'd prefer wheels and horses like in Ben Hur.

I still wonder why he didn't send a Jesus to all the poor souls in the Americas before Columbus. That doesn't seem like a very fair god, much less righteous.
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