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: Are we moving toward greater reconciliation or greater strife among various faiths?
Robert Wright: I think history has tended to move people toward mutual acceptance, you might say. In other words, the moral compass has expanded over time if you compare us to the time when people in one hunter-gatherer village thought the people in the next village were subhuman. That doesn’t mean that continued progress is guaranteed. What is guaranteed, and this is what is interesting to me, and this is what leads me to think that it’s not crazy to say that there’s some larger purpose with a moral dimension unfolding through human history. What’s interesting to me is that the way history seems to be set up, although I know “set up” is sort of a biased term. I’m not sure that anybody here thinks it was set up. But the way the system works, is that if people don’t make the moral progress, they pay a price. So, right now, in the history of the world, if people in the different Abrahamic faiths, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, don’t get better at accepting one another don’t get better at tolerance, it can be really bad for the world on an epic scale. You know, we could be talking about the collapse of the society. And I think this is built into the system and we’ve seen it time and time and time again that history forces people to either expand their moral compass or pay the price. So, all I can say for sure, is that – or pretty sure, is that I think the salvation of the world in the sense of just holding the system together, having some degree of peace and order, depends on further moral progress. That doesn’t mean the outcome will be good, but it’s interesting to me that the system drives us to this point where we either make the moral progress, or we pay the price.
And this is actually reminiscent of something that various biblical prophets were kind of saying in one sense of another. And not just biblical prophets, I would say Mohammad, I would say Abrahamic prophets in general. A common message is to say that salvation is possible so long as you align yourself more closely with the moral axis of the universe. Now, usually these prophets, they didn’t use the term, “moral axis of the universe,” of course, they used the term God. But they did think of God as the moral axis of the universe. And I would say that even now, even if you are secular, you can still say that the salvation of the world in this concrete sense of holding it together is going to depend on humanity aligning itself more closely with the moral axis of the universe, if you agree with me that that axis involves things like acceptance of people who are different than you and overcoming prejudices and biases and so on.
Recorded on February 12, 2010