Broad supernatural punishment but not moralizing high gods precede the evolution of political complexity in Austronesia

Joseph Watts, Simon Greenhill, Quentin D. Atkinson, Russell Gray, Thomas E. Currie, Joseph Bulbulia

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Abstract

    Supernatural belief presents an explanatory challenge to evolutionary theorists— it is both costly and prevalent. One influential functional explanation claims that the imagined threat of supernatural punishment can suppress selfishness and enhance cooperation. Specifically, morally concerned supreme deities or 'moralizing high gods' have been argued to reduce free-riding in large social groups, enabling believers to build the kind of complex societies that define modern humanity. Previous cross-cultural studies claiming to support the MHG hypothesis rely on correlational analyses only and do not correct for the statistical non-independence of sampled cultures. Here we use a Bayesian phylogenetic approach with a sample of 96 Austronesian cultures to test the MHG hypothesis as well as an alternative supernatural punishment hypothesis that allows punishment by a broad range of moralizing agents. We find evidence that broad supernatural punishment drives political complexity, whereas MHGs follow political complexity. We suggest that the concept of MHGs diffused as part of a suite of traits arising from cultural exchange between complex societies. Our results show the power of phylogenetic methods to address long-standing debates about the origins and functions of religion in human society.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)-
    JournalProceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B: Biological Sciences
    Volume282
    Issue number1804
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2015

    Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Broad supernatural punishment but not moralizing high gods precede the evolution of political complexity in Austronesia'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this