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Moralistic Gods

August 31, 2015

How did religions with moralizing gods spread around the world?



The rise of moral religions. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

It’s no accident that the largest religions in the world have omniscient gods interested in the moral transgressions of individuals, according to University of British Columbia researcher Ara Norenzayan and other proponents of the “Big Gods” hypothesis. They believe judgmental deities encouraged members of growing societies to work together, reports Science magazine correspondent Lizzie Wade.

LIZZIE WADE (Science Magazine):

They can not only see all of your actions and are constantly judging them, they can also look inside your mind, so you actually have to police your thoughts, which can be extremely effective if you want to encourage cooperation.


When societies were made up of small bands of hunter-gatherers, there was no need for an all-seeing god: everyone would know if you lied or stole, and they’d stop cooperating with you. Moral gods may have helped societies grow, by fostering cooperation, even among strangers. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.