How 'Big Gods' Transformed Human History

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For tens of thousands of years, humans lived in small bands of hunter-gatherers, sharing some kind of animistic belief. They probably believed the landscape was alive and sacred. And then everything changed. In just a few thousand years, people gathered by the hundreds or thousands in big settlements. And that’s when the Big Gods arrived. All-knowing and all-powerful gods, who saw everything you did.

The mystery is — why?  Where did those Big Gods come from and why do they still dominate today’s major religions?  University of British Columbia psychologist Ara Norenzayan has a theory. He thinks omniscient gods created a system of shared beliefs so strangers could trust each other and form large, pro-social communities.

This episode was produced in partnership with the Center for Humans and Nature, an organization that brings together scholars from a diversity of disciplines to think creatively about our relationships with nature and each other. What do you think evolution can tell us about love and morality? Share your thoughts at This episode was made possible through the support of the John Templeton Foundation.