Robert Wright is a journalist, scholar, and author of several best-selling books about science, evolutionary psychology, history, religion, and game theory, including "The Evolution of God," "Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny," "The Moral Animal," and "Three Scientists and Their Gods: Looking for Meaning in an Age of Information." He is a visiting scholar at The University of Pennsylvania and Schwartz Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation. He is also the co-founder and Editor in Chief of Bloggingheads.tv, a current events "diavlog" featured in The New York Times and elsewhere.
Question: If morality is to evolve further, must it evolve beyond religion?
Robert Wright: I mean, certainly the moral progress that is required to save the world can take place in a context devoid of religion. I mean the kind of enlightenment that it takes for people to accept one another is not something that has to take place in the context of religion. On the other hand, I certainly don’t think that progress, even that kind of ultimate progress that is necessary requires shedding religion, per se. It may require abandoning some beliefs that are characteristic in religion in some places, or in some brains right now; it certainly does. But you can certainly be abundantly moral, human, and enlightened person, and be religious in a meaningful sense.
Now, there are certain doctrines that – there may be important religious doctrines. There are religious doctrines that are important to some people that will probably have to be shed, yes, for the good of the world. Certainly the idea that not only is my God kind of better than yours, but so long as you believe in the wrong God, we can’t do business, or I should kill you or something. But almost nobody actually believes that in any of these religions. If you look at the way people actually live, they’re much more practical than that. And so I wouldn’t say there are any mainstream beliefs that have to be abandoned. And we don’t have to have any single religion. All that’s really required is tolerance of other beliefs and in that sense maybe a certain amount of intellectual humility. But I don’t think you need some sort of merger of religious beliefs. There are doctrines that could help, like the notion of the god – the idea that the different gods that are worshipped are all different manifestations of the single underlying divine unity. That might be a productive thing for people to agree on. But even that, I wouldn’t say, is essential.
Recorded on February 12, 2010