The minds of gods: a comparative study of supernatural agency

Cognition. 2013 Oct;129(1):163-79. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2013.06.010. Epub 2013 Jul 25.


The present work is the first study to systematically compare the minds of gods by examining some of the intuitive processes that guide how people reason about them. By examining the Christian god and the spirit-masters of the Tyva Republic, it first confirms that the consensus view of the Christian god's mind is one of omniscience with acute concern for interpersonal social behavior (i.e., moral behaviors) and that Tyvan spirit-masters are not as readily attributed with knowledge or concern of moral information. Then, it reports evidence of a moralization bias of gods' minds; American Christians who believe that God is omniscient rate God as more knowledgeable of moral behaviors than nonmoral information. Additionally, Tyvans who do not readily report pro- or antisocial behavior among the things that spirit-masters care about will nevertheless rate spirit-masters' knowledge and concern of moral information higher than nonmoral information. However, this knowledge is distributed spatially; the farther away from spirits' place of governance a moral behavior takes place, the less they know and care about it. Finally, the wider the breadth of knowledge Tyvans attribute to spirit-masters, the more they attribute moral concern for behaviors that transpire beyond their jurisdiction. These results further demonstrate that there is a significant gulf between expressed beliefs and intuitive religious cognition and provides evidence for a moralization bias of gods' minds.

Keywords: Cultural consensus analysis; Minds of gods; Omniscience; Religion; Supernatural Punishment Hypothesis; Theological correctness.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Morals*
  • Religion and Psychology*
  • Religion*
  • Theory of Mind / physiology*