Aah, religion; the most controversial topic ever to be brought up by anyone. Generally it’s difficult not to get sucked into religious debates, but let’s try to keep decent this time. In this case I’m referring to a study performed by a team from the University of British Columbia. The team of researchers looked at a few secluded civilizations around the world and arrived at the conclusion that believing in punitive omniscient God shaped modern society.
Belief in God
Before you say that it’s obvious that it did, it’s not that simple. The study doesn’t refer to how we evolved as a culture, but to hew we evolved socially and morally.
Practically, the study wanted to show that without believing in a God that punishes us for out transgressions, we probably would have had a totally different society than what we had today.
The study pretty much shows the influential reasons for which big religions such as Christianity and Islam, but also the ancient Greek and Roman religions managed to gain such traction, as well as the quite significant role they played in the development of our society as it today.
For the experiment, the team looked at several indigenous groups that had their own non-mainstream religions, such as the Fijians from Yasawa, the Hazda in Tanzania, and the Siberians in the Republic of Tyva.
Individuals from the group were asked to play a game where they could either cheat or not, and then they were asked questions about their religious beliefs. As expected, the groups that didn’t believe in the existence of a punitive and omniscient God were far more likely to cheat than those that did.
The game consisted of two stages, and the players would be left to play it alone, so as not to influence the outcomes. For both stages, the participant would sit in front of a die, two cups, and 30 coins. The die could either come up empty or full, each with a 50-50 chance. For each outcome, the participant would have to put a coin in one of the cups.
For the first stage, the coins went in either a cup meant for the player, or one meant for someone with the same belief system living in a different village. For the second stage, one cup was meant for an anonymous member of their community, while the other was the same as in the first game.
Just as expected, the individuals that didn’t believe that their God would punish them for what they did tended to give more money to themselves or to their community than to someone in another village.
Image source: Wikimedia