Omniscience… But With A Catch

01 Aug


(God doesn’t know where Adam and Eve are, but he knows they’re up to no good)

Where do moralizing gods come from? Reported by the British Psychological Society blog:

To test this moralisation bias theory, Purzycki has conducted what he describes as “the first study to systematically compared the minds of gods.” For this he surveyed 88 Christians at the University of Connecticut (including 60 Catholics, 14 Protestants) and 88 ethnic Tyvans living in Southern Siberia.

True to the religious teachings of their faith, the Christians stated initially that their god knows everything. However, when they rated God’s knowledge of 50 moral and non-moral issues (e.g. “God knows if I was helpful to someone”; “… knows what is under my bed”), they showed a clear bias for rating him more knowledgeable and concerned about moral facts than non-moral ones. “In one sitting, students claim both that God knows everything, but knows moral information better than non-moral information,” Purzycki said.


The Tyvans’ explicit teachings state that the Cher eezi are not concerned with people’s interpersonal moral behaviour. However, asked to rate their spirit masters’ knowledge of 50 issues, the Tyvans showed a consistent bias, rating their knowledge and concern of moral facts as greater than their knowledge and concern for non-moral facts.

This was the case even when the analysis was restricted to those Tyvans who didn’t list a single interpersonal behaviour when asked at the survey start to name things that please or anger their spirit masters. On the other hand, true to their teachings, the Tyvans’ survey answers were influenced by geography – they said spirit masters knew and cared more about moral behaviour in their relevant geographical location.

So there seems to be a general intuition that gods are experts on moral behavior, even when the religion in question explicitly states that the god does not judge moral behavior.

This joins another thread about moral intuition in general, where people who use more intuition in their everyday judgements are more likely to be religious. Moreover, people assume that their moral intuitions are shared by their gods… so of course the moral facts that you know would be known by your god (because you don’t know what generates your feeling of certainty over a moral fact) but your god might not know non-moral facts that you yourself don’t know.

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Posted by on August 1, 2013 in cognitive science, religiosity


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