Science Podcasts

Special episode

Thu, 13th Nov 2014

Religion and nature

Desert footprints (c) Moyan Brenn

Religion and nature might have more to do with each other than you thought. In the biggest study of its kind, a team of evolutionary biologists, anthropologists, linguists and religious scholars examined the religions of societies from around the world to see if there was any link between where they lived and what they believed. They found that they can predict which societies will worship moralising high gods - gods who are believed to have created the earth and who care about how humans treat each other - based on how harsh the environments are that people live in. Sara Sjosten spoke to lead author Carlos Botero of North Carolina State University to hear how...

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A fine example is given by Jewish and Muslim dietary laws which make considerable sense if you have poor sanitation, a lack of preservatives, and some knowledge of the lifecycle of the pork tapeworm. What needs to be explained is why people make sensible scientific observations then mystify them, invent deities, and use them as an excuse to kill each other.  alancalverd, Sat, 15th Nov 2014

I always thought the difference between christianity and native religion (Ojibwa) had a lot to do with the natural environment and population density. Native religion seems to emphasize cooperation, trust, sharing - traits that would have been helpful in  an environment where the biggest threat is not really competition by others, but the elements themselves - winter, drought, fluctuations in game. When things are bad, they're pretty much bad for every one, and when they are good, there is more than anyone can consume before it rots, and limited ways to store or accumulate wealth.

In contrast, Christianity seems like a set of rules for living in a more densely populated area where people are more self-sufficient, and can store wealth. The biggest threats are things like greed and theft and conflict over ownership. Since relationships don't always have to be maintained for immediate survival, you need more rules to enforce them - honor thy father and mother, don't covet your neighbors wife,don't lie, don't bear false witness, etc. All of the rules in Christianity seem designed to mitigate some of the conflict that comes with competition between individuals, and in North American native religion, the rules are more about assuring the short term survival of the group.

I'm generalizing of course, and I'm sure there is overlap or things they have in common. cheryl j, Sun, 16th Nov 2014

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