[SCIENCE] Mighty gods through the lens of big data
Why big gods—all-seeing deities who punish the wicked and reward the good—appear is one of the
great questions in the history of religion and anthropology. Many researchers advocate the so-called Big
Gods hypothesis, according to which such supernatural beings (or principles like Karma) were necessary
in order for large, complex societies to emerge. Unlike the original small communities, where everyone
knew each other, in larger societies, due to anonymity, people could break the rules without anyone
noticing. Therefore, the role of the great gods was to monitor everyone and encourage moral behaviour.
To test this interesting idea, a team of researchers relied on big data, specifically, the largest historical
databank named Seshat, after the ancient Egyptian goddess of wisdom and accounting.
Seshat contains information on the size, polity, military, religion, economy, and hundreds of societies
spanning the past 10,000 years, allowing researchers to compare them quantitatively. The scientists
used various criteria to analyse 414 societies from 30 regions around the world, from the deep past to
the Industrial Revolution. It turned out that the great gods appeared after societies had already grown
large and complex, not before, as the great gods hypothesis claimed.