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Moralistic gods explain growth of human society?

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gods Osiris, Anubis, and Horus/A. Parrot, CC

Abstract from Nature:

Moralistic gods, supernatural punishment and the expansion of human sociality

Since the origins of agriculture, the scale of human cooperation and societal complexity has dramatically expanded. This fact challenges standard evolutionary explanations of prosociality because well-studied mechanisms of cooperation based on genetic relatedness, reciprocity and partner choice falter as people increasingly engage in fleeting transactions with genetically unrelated strangers in large anonymous groups. To explain this rapid expansion of prosociality, researchers have proposed several mechanisms. Here we focus on one key hypothesis: cognitive representations of gods as increasingly knowledgeable and punitive, and who sanction violators of interpersonal social norms, foster and sustain the expansion of cooperation, trust and fairness towards co-religionist strangers. We tested this hypothesis using extensive ethnographic interviews and two behavioural games designed to measure impartial rule-following among people (n?=?591, observations?=?35,400) from eight diverse communities from around the world: (1) inland Tanna, Vanuatu; (2) coastal Tanna, Vanuatu; (3) Yasawa, Fiji; (4) Lovu, Fiji; (5) Pesqueiro, Brazil; (6) Pointe aux Piments, Mauritius; (7) the Tyva Republic (Siberia), Russia; and (8) Hadzaland, Tanzania. Participants reported adherence to a wide array of world religious traditions including Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as notably diverse local traditions, including animism and ancestor worship. Holding a range of relevant variables constant, the higher participants rated their moralistic gods as punitive and knowledgeable about human thoughts and actions, the more coins they allocated to geographically distant co-religionist strangers relative to both themselves and local co-religionists. Our results support the hypothesis that beliefs in moralistic, punitive and knowing gods increase impartial behaviour towards distant co-religionists, and therefore can contribute to the expansion of prosociality.More. (paywall)

Rot. In real life, as opposed to games, belief in moralistic gods doesn’t even protect one from murder by family or spouse, never mind strangers. It depends on what the gods feel morally outraged about.

Social scientists could avoid digging the hole any deeper just by staying away from “religion.” Like “politics” and “art,” it is too complex for all the silliness. Even Michael Shermer is beginning to get it. about social science: “Duarte et al. find similar distortive language across the social sciences … ”

See also: Early human religion: A 747 built in the basement with an X-Acto knife
If naturalism can explain religion, why does it get so many basic facts wrong?

Evolutionary conundrum: is religion a useful, useless, or harmful adaptation?

Imagine a world of religions that naturalism might indeed be able to explain

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One Reply to “Moralistic gods explain growth of human society?

  1. 1
    mahuna says:

    As much as I became disillusioned by Daniel Quinn’s ideas, the generally agreed sequence is that FIRST you get a professional priesthood who steal from the productive citizenry, and THEN you get “kings”. But do read Quinn’s “Ishmael”.

    Humans have had an “amateur” religion from as far back as anyone can guess. Every unspoiled people civilized (people who dwell in permanent cities) men have encountered hold the common Shamanistic beliefs: there is a Creator; when humans die, we go to Heaven, where we will meet/experience the Creator without the need for priests or even shamans; shamans can meet/experience the Creator by going into a trance.

    Professional priesthoods (i.e., a “club” of social parasites who produce nothing useful and spend their lives threatening non-priests with bad fortune in this life and Hell in the after life) defend their livelihoods by inventing “the wrath of God”. Fortunately, most human societies in most ages have been able to ignore the professional priests enough to do useful things (e.g., develop Agriculture).

    On the other hand, humans have ALWAYS had a basic morality that, for example, forbids an adult from hitting a child or raping a woman (or man) against their will. As humans became “civilized”, and dwelt in cities and accepted the burden of professional priests, both beating children and forcing sexual intercourse on unwilling women became part of the “culture” administered by professional priests.

    As near as I can tell, Sociologists generally prefer to accept societies who were in the early stages of Civilization (e.g, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Assyrians, etc.) as examples of “primitive” human societies. This is nonsense. We know quite a bit about how the Celts, for example, organized their clan-based societies (the Clan as a group was responsible for ANY transgression by a member of the Clan) or the much smaller bands of Aborigines, Bushmen, etc.

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