Gods popular when life gets tough

NZ Herald reports Judgmental gods the offspring of harsh times, study finds

People living in hardship are more likely to believe in moralising, high gods, according to a major new study co-authored by New Zealand researchers.

The study tracks the evolution of human cultures and finds ecological factors play a part in shaping human societies, including religious belief.

It drew on data from between 1900 and 1960, covering 583 traditional societies and religions as common as Christianity and Islam to more rare, localised belief systems.

Co-author Professor Russell Gray, of the University of Auckland’s School of Psychology, said people tended to believe in big gods when life was tough or uncertain.

“Pro-social behaviour maybe helps people do well in harsh or unpredictable environments.”

The emergence of religion has long been explained as a result of either culture or environmental factors but not both.

The new findings imply that complex practices and characteristics thought to be exclusive to humans arose from a medley of ecological, historical, and cultural variables.

The study’s primary author Dr Carlos Botero, an evolutionary ecologist from the Initiative for Biological Complexity at North Caroline State University, saw the study as “the tip of the iceberg” in examining human behaviour from a cross-disciplinary standpoint.

“Pro-social behaviour maybe helps people do well in harsh or unpredictable environments.”

The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science.