Moralizing gods:
As if I needed more evidence that my mind lives on a different planet, there is a recent article that purports to explain the existence of religions that come with a moral code.  (Lizzie Wade “Birth of the Moralizing Gods” Science vol. 349 no. 6251 August 28, 2015 page 919)  The article states that, and I doubt it not, that the gods of modern hunter gatherer tribes were not interested in human conduct.  Yet the gods of civilizations seem to encourage the kind of cooperation made possible by good conduct.  These were “big gods,” able to know everything mortals were up to. 

That is the hypothesis.  The test is yet to come with some evidence already accumulating and inviting the expected contradictions.

I find the idea interesting and would not contradict it, but there is a line of evidence they have not tapped.  A widely accepted religion is a characteristic of a population.  And I think it no stretch that some religions should be better at promoting the social behavior a large civilization needs than other religions.  So if the survival of a civilization depends on their religion, then the good ones should outlast the bad ones, and if you looked at civilizations over time you would find some to be longer lived than others.  And those that were blessed with the best religions, would have a better life expectancy than those that fell early.  Thus averaging old civilizations and their likely survival would show a greater ability to survive than averaging young ones.  But we see the opposite.  The older ones survive less well, as I have demonstrated on a number of occasions.

So the mechanism described may indeed be effective, but either it is not difficult to come up with a good religion or it is not so important.

Religion has another function, at least among tribal people.  It marks the boundaries of the social order, determines whom you may and whom you may not marry.  Up to the present, all the big civilizations thrive by breaking down these barriers.  It’s the dark side of the cooperation that civilizations need. 

One must wonder whether we will ever learn to keep the cooperation that makes the treasures of civilization possible while keeping the barriers that make possible the greater treasure – that of children, our gateway into the future.

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