New research published in the journal Nature has found that big societies precede “big gods”, or gods which care about how moral you are.
According to the report the researchers systematically coded historical data from 414 societies from 30 regions around the world, covering the past 10,000 years.
They used 51 measures of social complexity, and 4 measures of supernatural enforcement of morality.
Now the fact that big societies tend to have big gods isn’t new – and in fact some have argued before that those big gods were necessary for the formation of those big societies.
What this new research shows however, is actually the big societies came first, and these big gods tend to only appear in societies with more than a million people.
One of my least favourite arguments for religion is the argument from objective morality – in which God is presented as providing the objective moral laws which make society work.
The thing is – the most advanced and well off societies of today are also the most secular, and their citizenry are pretty well behaved as a whole. So that’s one problem with this argument, it doesn’t fit observed reality.
This new research raises a new problem though. If A is required for B, then A has to precede B, right?
So if a belief in moralising gods is required to provide an “objective moral framework” to make complex societies work, then belief in those gods has to precede those complex societies.
And now we have research published in a highly regarded journal telling us it doesn’t.