Societies Don't Need an All-Powerful God to Thrive

New anthropological research demonstrates that belief in an all-powerful God is not essential to the formation and development of complex society.

Anthropological research demonstrates that belief in an all-powerful God is not essential to the formation and development of complex societies.

Canadian researchers previously argued that a singular, moralizing God allowed societies to establish order when population growth outpaced the society's ability to police moral action.

But new analyses of religious systems that pervaded certain island chains — those running from Madagascar to Easter Island — challenge this notion. Now researchers say that having a singular moral authority is not strictly necessary to enforce the social norms that bind society.

For the new study, anthropologists from the University of Auckland in New Zealand looked at isolated societies that were (a) politically complex, (b) had identifiable systems of deities, and (c) were free of influence from dominant faiths like Islam and Christianity.

Belief in supernatural punishment was enough to stem the tide of social transgression whether or not that punishment came from a singular deity. Belief in ancestor spirits or karma, for example, facilitated enough social order to provide stability.

Today, science more often rules our sense of order than ancestral spirits or the cosmic justice of karma. So does religion still have a role in society? The Pew Research Center has found that the majority of people who consider spirituality important do not identify with a specific religion.

Journalist and scholar Robert Wright affirms that there is a place for religious faith, but it must stay in the moral arena and not challenge scientific findings.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Big Think
Sponsored by Lumina Foundation

Upvote/downvote each of the videos below!

As you vote, keep in mind that we are looking for a winner with the most engaging social venture pitch - an idea you would want to invest in.

Keep reading Show less

Why Lil Dicky made this star-studded Earth Day music video

"Earth" features about 30 of the biggest names in entertainment.

Culture & Religion
  • Lil Dicky is a rapper and comedian who released his debut album in 2015.
  • His new music video, "Earth," features artists such as Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Ed Sheehan, Kevin Hart, and Leonardo DiCaprio.
  • All proceeds of the music video will go to environmental causes, Dicky said.
Keep reading Show less

A bionic lens undergoing clinical trials could soon give you superhuman abilities

We're talking Ghost in the Shell type of stuff. 


Maybe you watched Ghost in the Shell and maybe afterwards you and your friend had a conversation about whether or not you would opt in for some bionic upgrades if that was possible - like a liver that could let you drink unlimitedly or an eye that could give you superhuman vision. And maybe you had differing opinions but you concluded that it's irrelevant because the time to make such choices is far in the future. Well, it turns out, it's two years away.

Keep reading Show less

Behold, the face of a Neolithic dog

He was a very good boy.

Image source: Historic Environment Scotland
Surprising Science
  • A forensic artist in Scotland has made a hyper realistic model of an ancient dog.
  • It was based on the skull of a dog dug up in Orkney, Scotland, which lived and died 4,000 years ago.
  • The model gives us a glimpse of some of the first dogs humans befriended.
Keep reading Show less