Why some societies developed a strongly moralistic god and others a more hands-off deity has long vexed social scientists. Now, a new explanation is emerging from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. According to a new study published this week, the severity of a given climate strongly correlates with the extent to which a god intervenes directly in human affairs and supports a clear moral code.

For the study, a team of biologists collected data on 583 societies cataloged in the Ethnographic Atlas, cross-referencing knowledge about the societies' belief systems with climate data such as rainfall, temperature, biodiversity, and the prevalence of plant life.

Accepting that culture and the natural environment interact, social groups facing harsher environmental conditions would have a strong incentive to create a mythology centered on the importance of cooperation, even in anonymous interactions. In other words, the gods of rougher terrain tend to encourage the humans dwelling there to support each other so they survive.

As Neil deGrasse Tyson explains in his Big Think interviews, it is often our fears which encourage us to create, explore, achieve, and conquer. Thank goodness we've had them over the millennia.

Read more at Pacific Standard

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