“It (the research) opens up new insights into the emergence of religion as a belief system that developed to explain natural threats or events.” – Professor Brock Bastian

An October 2019 study suggests that moral vitalists may view immoral essences— the forces of evil—as having the capacity to “infect” and corrupt people’s minds and bodies.

Scientists contend that the world’s spiritual belief systems and religions were developed to explain and predict the devastating effects of pathogens and spread of infectious disease where moral vitalism (beliefs about spiritual forces of evil) is higher in geographical regions characterized by historical higher levels of pathogens.

Researchers suggest that moral vitalism embraces the dual beliefs that forces of good and evil (a) actually exist and (b) may cause moral and immoral events to occur. Moral vitalistic thinking is attractive because it provides a convenient explanation for why good and bad things happen, as well as what makes people good or bad (cf. Staub, 1989, 2003; Zimbardo, 2007)

Moral vitalistic thinking is attractive because it provides a convenient explanation for why good and bad things happen, as well as what makes people good or bad (cf. Staub, 1989, 2003; Zimbardo, 2007).

The study was led by Brock Bastian, an associate professor with the School of Psychological Sciences at the University of Melbourne in Australia. The paper is titled, Explaining illness with evil: pathogen prevalence fosters moral moral vitalism but was originally published under the name, “Moral Vitalism: Seeing Good and Evil as Real, Agentic Forces.”

The researchers said;

“Building on this, we demonstrated that moral vitalists seek to protect themselves from being contaminated by those who are likely possessed by the forces of evil (Study 4) and that concerns about contamination and possession are also evident in concerns over one’s own mental purity (Study 5).

Taken together, the evidence supports a new dimension of moral cognition—the belief that agentic forces of good and evil exist in the natural world—and validates a brief measure that captures these beliefs and predicts theoretically relevant judgments in the moral domain.”

Brock Bastian had commented via email to Live Science Reports;

“We uncovered consistent evidence that historical pathogen prevalence is related to an increased tendency to believe that there are forces of evil at work in the world,” the researchers reported. Correlations between belief in the devil and historic, widespread disease were the strongest in Nigeria, Bangladesh and the Philippines; those correlations were the weakest in the Czech Republic, Germany and Sweden, the scientists found.

If spiritual beliefs in evil were more common in regions that carried a higher load of pathogens, “it suggests that historically these beliefs may have evolved to explain the effects of pathogens.”

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