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Study suggests that environmental dangers strengthen belief in moralizing Gods

Posted December 2, 2014
Picture: Adam and Eve by Albrecht Dürer. Source: The Morgan Library & Museum

Picture: Adam and Eve by Albrecht Dürer. Source: The Morgan Library & Museum

Why faith in moralizing Gods is present in some societies and absent in others?  Interdisciplinary team of researchers led by biologist Carlos A. Botero explored how various ecological and cultural factors influence religious beliefs across the globe.

“After simultaneously accounting for potential non-independence among societies because of shared ancestry and cultural diffusion, we find that these beliefs are more prevalent among societies that inhabit poorer environments and are more prone to ecological duress,” authors of the study published in the Proceedings on the National Academy of Sciences claim.

Laboratory studies reveal that faith in moralizing deities stimulates fairness and facilitates cooperation. Interestingly, this effect is even stronger when ecological threats are near. “Given the strong correlation between cooperation and ecological uncertainty in nonhuman animals, these findings are especially suggestive of a link between ecology and religion,” the scientists think.

However, results of previous studies exploring the relationship between environment and religion are mixed. Botero and his colleagues think that inconsistent results might be the consequence of the methodological shortcomings. For instance, samples were either very selective, or small. “Our analysis is based on a global cross-cultural sample of 583 human societies that occupy a range of different habitats and are exposed to a wide array of environmental conditions,” they say.

Scholars discovered that positive statistical association between belief in moralizing Gods and recognition of rights to movable property exists. In addition, it is stronger in the places, where political institutions are more complex. Study showed that these religious beliefs are strongly related to the scarcity of resources and ecological dangers.

“In general, our findings are consistent with the notion that a shared belief in moralizing high gods can improve a group’s ability to deal with environmental duress and may therefore be ecologically adaptive,” the scholars explain. They admit, that ecological factors can’t explain everything. For example, spatial proximity plays an important role. This fact suggests that religious convictions is transmitted via social networks and attempts to convert others.

“Through a careful consideration of the historical, spatial, and ecological circumstances under which a wide variety of human societies exist, we have shown that the global prevalence of religious beliefs in moralizing high gods arises through a combination of social and ecological factors,” the researchers conclude.

Article: Botero C.A. et al, 2014, The ecology of religious beliefs, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Source link.

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