Study finds beliefs about all-knowing gods fosters co-operation

February 10, 2016
Credit: George Hodan/public domain

Beliefs about all-knowing, punishing gods—a defining feature of religions ranging from Christianity to Hinduism—may have played a key role in expanding co-operation among far-flung peoples and led to the development of modern-day states, according to a UBC-led study published in Nature.

The research, an international collaboration among anthropologists and psychologists, looked at how religion affects humans' willingness to co-operate with those outside their . The study involved interviews and behavioural experiments with nearly 600 people from communities in Vanuatu, Fiji, Brazil, Mauritius, Siberia and Tanzania whose included Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, animism and ancestor worship.

"Certain kinds of beliefs—involving gods who are aware of human interactions and punish for moral transgressions—can indeed contribute to the evolution of human co-operation," said lead author Benjamin Purzycki, a postdoctoral research fellow at UBC's Centre for Human Evolution, Cognition and Culture.

"If you think you're being watched, and expect to be divinely punished for being too greedy or thieving, you might be less inclined to engage in anti-social behavior towards a wider range of people who share those beliefs."

Results show that believers in all-knowing gods who punish for wrongdoing are more likely to behave fairly towards anonymous, distant "co-religionists"—those who share beliefs about gods and rituals, but may not belong to the same religious organization.

When people act this way, the study suggests, they are engaging in behaviour that can support key features of modern-day societies - such as large, co-operative institutions, trade, markets and partnerships.

"Religious beliefs may have been one of the major contributing factors in the development and stability of highly complex social organizations, such as states," said Purzycki.

Background

The paper, "Moralistic gods, supernatural punishment and the expansion of human sociality," is published in Nature.

The study included interviews along with two games that involved the distribution of coins to participants or other believers based locally or in distant communities. In these games, participants were supposed to use a die to determine who would get the coins. However, as anonymous players, they could override the die and give coins to whomever they wished. For both games, participants were more likely to play by the rules and dole out more coins to distant believers if they reported that their gods knew about people's thoughts and behaviour, and punished for wrongdoing.

Explore further: Religion makes people helpful and generous -- under certain conditions: UBC researchers

More information: Moralistic gods, supernatural punishment and the expansion of human sociality, Nature, nature.com/articles/doi:10.1038/nature16980

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julianpenrod
2.1 / 5 (18) Feb 10, 2016
Note the presumption in this "analysis", insisting that humans necessarily all have a grasping, greedy, conniving nature, always conspiring against their fellows. Not all people are necessarily like that. Many appreciate, enjoy and even treasure those around them, enough not to see every human around them only as potential prey. Some people are so hateful of those around that they can't go through the day except bombed out on drugs and indulging every sexual deviance. A number of people can actually be altruistic because they want to, not because they feel threatened by God. And that may affect the acceptance of the presence of God. Not looking at the world in a consistently mercenary and self centered way can help someone see things that the short sighted and malignant might miss, such as the presence of God.
mike74
3.6 / 5 (17) Feb 10, 2016
If humans by nature were deceitful, selfish and murderous, we wouldn't have survived a social primate species for very long. I've no doubt that some part of our society and civilization was cultivated through religion, but it's also worth bearing in mind that it is faith (credulity) that is the primary way its adherents gain entrance to their particular heavens. You can be the kindest, selfless individual, but if you don't believe the right way, it makes no difference according to mainstream theology in all the Abrahamic religions. I can't speak for Hinduism and Sikhism and so forth, because my knowledge on those religions are limited. But even with those belief is considerably more important that works.
mike74
3 / 5 (12) Feb 10, 2016
2/2 That should have been * Even with those beliefs, belief is considerably more important than good works*.
-- I think with the exception of Buddhism, which some don't even consider a religion, faith in its religious claims are considered more important than good deeds.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
4.7 / 5 (14) Feb 10, 2016
An old and arguable hypothesis of why city states arose. As the abstract says: "To explain this rapid expansion of prosociality, researchers have proposed several mechanisms3, 4. Here we focus on one ..."

They prime (remind of moral behavior) with moral authorities. Their own supplement notes that when police is effective, it is also an effective prime. But they don't have a secular null, comparing how non-religious people would behave.

But whatever they think they find (IMO that moral authorities - of any kind - works), trying to project religious behavior to modern states fails miserably. We know from Paul's statistics since 2006, and now easily accessible Gapminder's, that religiosity correlates with dysfunctional societies, so that happiness and absence of corruption for example correlates with lower religiosity.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
4.5 / 5 (16) Feb 10, 2016
@juklianpenrod: "the presence of God". You mean the obvious absence of such magic agents. Most seculars couldn't care less about such superstitions, and even fewer would try to accept what isn't. Most benign societies like Scandinavia have a very low religiosity, which means your claim ("the short sighted and malignant") doesn't work.

@mike74: Wikipedia has a list of war crimes et cetera that buddhist societies has done in the name of, or at least despite, their magic belief.
mike74
2.2 / 5 (13) Feb 10, 2016
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
"Wikipedia has a list of war crimes et cetera that buddhist societies has done in the name of, or at least despite, their magic belief"
I have no doubt about it.
My point was that Buddhism doesn't focus so much on the afterlife as it does on works in this life. I don't endorse Buddhism, nor am I trying defend it, except to point out that it's different to mainstream religions like Islam and Christianity in some ways.
AKron
4.7 / 5 (13) Feb 10, 2016
Religious people have been at each others throats since the beginning of religion and are still at it today. This article is seriously messed up.
MDivJoe
2.8 / 5 (4) Feb 10, 2016
The gist of this article is about the formation of early communities into organized states. The article ends with saying "Religious beliefs may have been one of the major contributing factors in the development and stability of highly complex social organizations, such as states." This is without question. In many of our societies that are becoming increasingly secular, we tend to forget what a cohesive force common belief in a higher power can be, whether or not you agree if it should be. Scandinavia may have a low religiosity today, but belief in the Gods was a bedrock of common moral culture for thousands of years that brought communities together and in many cases provided the moral authority to expand their societies. I would also argue that in a place like Scandinavia, the conversion to Christianity by St. Olaf's reign before secularization occurred, was an important factor in the creation of the eventual state.
nilbud
3.9 / 5 (7) Feb 10, 2016
Pathetic crap. Religitards only invented their monotheistic fairytales recently. This pack of lies and rebadging of old behavioural psychology experiments is just another atrocious attempt by fantasists to try to pretend they are scientific.
FainAvis
5 / 5 (9) Feb 10, 2016
If I lived in a state where the ruling elite threatened to burn me at the stake or drown me in the dunking chair if I did not give convincing lip service to their contrived stories, would I say the things that kept me alive? I'm sure I would. And that is how Christian churches won converts in the old days. Now they are a bit more subtle, "You'll got to hell for eternity, if you don't love/bow down to our deity." If those dismerable bastards are ruling, you bet common people will conform.
Frosted Flake
3.8 / 5 (10) Feb 11, 2016
I completely reject the authors conclusions. I rebut with the following

1/ God only knows how we managed to survive long enough to invent god. Or, where we would be today without the 'help' god has been.

2/ God sort of went out of style about the time my actual life wasn't actually literally at stake anymore. God bless America!
CubicAdjunct747
3 / 5 (10) Feb 11, 2016
The same author should do a study on how believing in one god has stunted the growth of advancement and adds to the lack of mental bandwidth. The study should be based on Galileo and others, we all know what happened to them.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4 / 5 (12) Feb 11, 2016
"Results show that believers in all-knowing gods who punish for wrongdoing are more likely to behave fairly towards anonymous, distant "co-religionists""

-Does he mean distant as in the crusaders and the Holy land, or al quaida and the world Trade center?

Or does he mean culturally distant as in shiites and sunnis who frequently try to exterminate each other, or the xians in northern Ireland who were until very recently killing each other's children, or the similar relationship in Germany during the 30 years war which killed 1/3 the population?

These people do all hate atheists but seem far more interested in killing each other.

If the authors were generally interested in finding out why this is so they should investigate the relationship between religion and population growth, which inevitably leads to conflict, and god-sanctioned bigotry, which offers either side a final solution to their suffering.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.1 / 5 (13) Feb 11, 2016
If humans by nature were deceitful, selfish and murderous, we wouldn't have survived a social primate species for very long
Well, even more telling is the fact that god waited some 300k years, the entire pleistocene, before gracing humanity with his active presence.

And he decided to flush the earth and kill everything on it rather than write his book of salvation and enlightenment only a few millenia sooner.

And the Hebrews thought that deceit, selfishness and murder was acceptable behavior among themselves before god gave moses his book of rules.
Eikka
not rated yet Feb 11, 2016
My point was that Buddhism doesn't focus so much on the afterlife as it does on works in this life.


Buddhists societies have been known to engage in strict caste-systems and deep social divides on the idea that people re-born into awful positions in life earned it through karma. In that sense, they do focus quite a lot on the afterlife for securing themselves a better next life.

But Buddhism itself doesn't have a doctrine that defines rules about conduct or meters out punishments for "sins" - it merely points out that certain actions are "expedient" while others are self-defeating in the same sense as sticking your hand in a fire hurts. The idea of "karma" then is simply the natural consequences of a person's own and other people's actions that are happening.

Of course the lay society may understand it as divine retribution and act accordingly in a superstitious manner.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.9 / 5 (11) Feb 12, 2016
In addition to caste bigotry and enslavement, Buddhists can be every bit as violent as any other religionist.
https://en.wikipe...violence

-And of course, just as in any other religion, there are others who would claim that these bigots, torturers, warmongers, and enslavers are 'doing it wrong'.

But it's in all the holy books. What gives pacifistS the right to deny the word of god?

'I come to bring not peace but a sword... sell your cloak and buy one.' -jesus

'I come not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it.' -jesus
Eikka
not rated yet Feb 12, 2016
But it's in all the holy books. What gives pacifistS the right to deny the word of god?


The fact that Buddhism doesn't have "holy books", and the books they have don't contain bigotry, torture, warmongering or enslaving except as historical accounts.

The closest thing the Buddhist have to a holy book is the Tripitaka which is a 40 volume pile of scripture that defines the rules of monastic life, and the rest is accounts of philosophical discussion on, and the sutras left behind by Siddharta Gautama.

Point being that Buddha isn't god, and there's not a line of word-of-god in any of the books. Some schools of Buddhism hold ceremonial readings of the sutras where they open a book, rifle through all the pages like a flipbook, and declare it "read". Most of it is just boring accounts of which monk visited what monastery and met who in the year of the snail.
Eikka
not rated yet Feb 12, 2016
The carrying idea of buddhism in relation to violence and altruism is, that you're perfectly free to do all the evil you wish to do, considering that you're then perfectly free to suffer the consequence of turning your world into a worse place through numerous incarnations of the true self.

The understanding is that the self isn't limited to the immediate individual, which is considered to be a false notion or a constructed and incomplete illusion of reality. Hence why all the weird questions e.g. about whether there's a sound when a tree falls in a forest, or the sound of one hand clapping: it's all meant to point out that the sound and the listener are the same event and phenomenon - distinct but inseparable and individually meaningless.

So this understanding of the extended self leads to the notion that violence against others is a form of self-harm, and altruism is just helping yourself.
Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Feb 12, 2016
A society based on Buddhist principles isn't and doesn't need to be perfectly good, perfectly egalitarian or perfectly fair, and it doesn't attempt to be so. There's no sin or explicitly wrong things to do - the point is just not being a dick.
EnricM
1 / 5 (2) Feb 13, 2016
What about Northern Europe?
Doesn't our very existence render this stupid study plain Bullshit ?
Phys1
4.1 / 5 (9) Feb 13, 2016
Religion works like this:
Step 1. Imagine a murderous superior being that holds us all hostage. Use natural disasters to convince yourself. This step is usually performed before your birth by your social environment
Step 2. Succumb to the Stockholm system and love him/her ! Ascribe all good things of life to his/her doing to strengthen your affection of your imaginary friend.
Step 3. Consider anyone who does not share your affection as an enemy.
AGreatWhopper
3 / 5 (16) Feb 13, 2016
Study finds beliefs about all-knowing gods fosters co-operation

... in populations too stupid to understand the concept. In populations that DO understand the concept and appreciate it, the belief makes them more stupid, lets them rely on earlier superstitious mechanisms for controlling society.

There is no place for religion in contemporary society. It is the root of all evil.
MalleusConspiratori
1 / 5 (7) Feb 13, 2016
Religion has morphed into organized conspiracy theories. The logic challenged will always find something that only they understand to shout to those that don't conform to their sad, scared preconceptions.
MalleusConspiratori
1 / 5 (7) Feb 13, 2016
Eikka
Buddhists societies have been known to engage in strict caste-systems and deep social divides on the idea that people re-born into awful positions in life earned it through karma. In that sense, they do focus quite a lot on the afterlife for securing themselves a better next life.


For our purposes, i.e. science, I think Buddhists should be thought of differently from "religion". Buddhism has a number of concepts that make more sense when you understand quantum physics, not less, and no other religion can say that.

In fact you can use multiverse conceptions to operationally define karma. If "reality" is the mean of the distribution of possible multiverses, as Feynman seems to have suggested, then something you could have done but didn't, contributes to "classical reality"- even though you didn't do it in classical reality, as opposed to something you never could have done. That net difference is karma.
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (9) Feb 13, 2016
Buddhists do have holy books which reinforce the perception that they are superior to others which inevitably leads to nationalism and violence.

"Michael Jerryson, author of several books heavily critical of Buddhism's traditional peaceful perceptions, stated that, "The Burmese Buddhist monks may not have initiated the violence but they rode the wave and began to incite more. While the ideals of Buddhist canonical texts promote peace and pacifism, discrepancies between reality and precepts easily flourish in times of social, political and economic insecurity, such as Myanmar's current transition to democracy."

"If from one corner of your mind, some emotion makes you want to hit, or want to kill, then please remember Buddha's faith."

-One could just as easily substitute jesus, mohammud, or any other god in that sentence.

You read the link I posted and find out that devout Buddhists are just as capable of violence as any other.
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (9) Feb 13, 2016
It doesn't matter what the books say, it matters what they make people do.

"Ashokavadana states that there was a mass killing of Jains for disrespecting buddha by King Ashoka in which around 18,000 followers of Jainism were killed."

-Holy books which offer an exclusive path to salvation are easy to reinterpret...

"Sinhala Buddhist Nationalism is opposed to Sarvodaya, although they share many of the same influences like Dharmapāla's teachings by example, by having a focus upon Sinhalese culture and ethnicity sanctioning the use of violence in defence of dhamma"

"
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (9) Feb 13, 2016
"The beginning of "Buddhist violence" in Japan relates to long history of feuds amongst Buddhists."

"In Osaka they defended their temple with the slogan "The mercy of Buddha should be recompensed even by pounding flesh to pieces. One's obligation to the Teacher should be recompensed even by smashing bones to bits!"

"During World War II, Japanese Buddhist literature from that time, as part of its support of the Japanese war effort, stated "In order to establish eternal peace in East Asia...

"We now have no choice but to exercise the benevolent forcefulness of 'killing one in order that many may live' (issatsu tashō). This is something which Mahayana Buddhism approves of only with the greatest of seriousness..."

-But to fundys everything is of the greatest seriousness.

Isn't it?
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (10) Feb 13, 2016
Re Buddhist holy books

"In Buddhism, there are a vast number of Buddhist scriptures and religious texts, which are commonly divided into the categories of canonical and non-canonical.

The former, also called the Sutras (Sanskrit) or Suttas (Pali) are believed to be, either literally or metaphorically, the actual words of the Buddha. The latter are commentaries on canonical texts, other treatises on the Dharma, and collections of quotes, histories, grammars, etc."

This arrangement of books containing the word of god accompanied by books explaining what he really meant, is universal.

Talmud, mishnah, tanakh, Pauline letters, apocrypha, sunnah, etc.

This tradition leaves open the potential for reinterpretation such as with the book of mormon. The quran could be considered such a refinement of gods holy word.
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (9) Feb 13, 2016
This tradition may be traced to delphic oracles whose intoxicated mumblings of the prophesies of apollo would be translated and interpreted by teams of priests.
Eikka
not rated yet Feb 14, 2016
Buddhists do have holy books which reinforce the perception that they are superior to others which inevitably leads to nationalism and violence.


That doesn't make any sense - Buddhism explicitly teaches that concepts like superiority are illusions and hangups, "kleshas", that are the source of the suffering that makes the practicioners dissatisfied of their lives. Ideas like national or personal superiority are examples of the three poisons: ignorance, attachment, and aversion.

The Buddhist cosmology is represented by a wheel for a reason. The whole thing is like a game or rock-scissors-paper where even the gods are inferior to the demons in some respects.

This arrangement of books containing the word of god


Buddha still isn't god. Buddha is a title that can apply to you and me. The person Gautama Siddhartha, and many other people after him, were sages and not deities, and nowhere in the canon does it say they're actually divine.
Eikka
not rated yet Feb 14, 2016
The actual buddhist gods and other deities are like the Greek gods. They're personalities with their own ends and means, and you don't need to agree with them, or even about them. They don't speak in the canons or books.
Noumenon
1.8 / 5 (10) Feb 14, 2016
There is no place for religion in contemporary society. It is the root of all evil.


There is no place for thought-police in contemporary society. The root of all evil is social engineering implicit in liberal-progressive ideology.

Noumenon
2.3 / 5 (9) Feb 14, 2016
Religious people have been at each others throats since the beginning of religion and are still at it today. This article is seriously messed up.


The greatest number of human deaths occured at the hands of governments who sought to control what people thought,.... Mao, Lenin, Hitler,.... in fact as history advances religion was replaced more by socialism and communism which were far more efficient at causing human suffering than religion ever was.

greenonions
4.2 / 5 (5) Feb 15, 2016
Noumenon
in fact as history advances religion was replaced more by socialism and communism which were far more efficient at causing human suffering than religion ever was.


So what? This argument is trotted out on Physorg - over and over. The logic is so flawed.
Person A - "People with big ears are kind, and non violent"
Person B - "But the big red ear tribe, and the big blue ear tribe have been slaughtering each other in tribal warfare since the beginning of time - surely this contradicts your premise"
Person A - "Well - I can show you three people who have moustaches - who detonated nuclear bombs - and killed millions of people."
Person B - "so what? Your premise was about people with big ears - and how they are kind and non violent."
Person A - "But I can show you three people who have moustaches - who killed millions of people."
Person B - "Sigh...."
Phys1
3.4 / 5 (5) Feb 15, 2016
There is no place for religion in contemporary society. It is the root of all evil.


There is no place for thought-police in contemporary society. The root of all evil is social engineering implicit in liberal-progressive ideology.


So the root of all evil is ordinary people having access to health services, school, enough food and housing ?
katesisco
2.6 / 5 (5) Feb 16, 2016
Everything has been said and I agree that religion is a latter-day confiscation of the power elite.
That said how did co-operation occur? Farming is in my opinion a recourse to an activity after highly active modes have been eliminated. If you can chase a deer or paddle a boat, what else is left but sedentary farming if you are going to eat?
So that means farming was a last resort because of physical incapacity. Damaged dna leading to thryroid/glandular weight gain, low energy due to mitochrondrial dysfunction, etc. Its time we attributed results to those volcanic ashes raining down over the centuries. We didnt get this 'background' radiation from nowhere.

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