July 11, 2021 | David F. Coppedge

Retraction Note: “Evolution of Religion” Study Pulled

Nature has egg on its face. Its peer-reviewed paper
on the evolution of “moralizing gods” was found immoral


Passing through the Editor’s desk, this headline from Nature appeared on June 7:

Retraction Note: Complex societies precede moralizing gods throughout world history

It made a splash on March 20: a paper that showed a connection between the evolutionary rise of complex societies and the invention of “moralizing gods” who punish non-cooperators. The “letter to Nature” paper was peer reviewed and written by 13 academics, with all the fanfare of the world’s leading science journal. Three of the lead authors, Harvey Whitehouse, Pieter François, and Patrick E. Savage, are from the Centre for the Study of Social Cohesion at Oxford University.

Well, you can forget about it. The paper has been retracted. Fifteen other scientists complained to Nature that the authors had played fast and loose with their data. They ended their detailed rebuttal,

Together, these reanalyses cast serious doubt on the main conclusions in Whitehouse, et al. that moralizing gods appear only after rapid increases in social complexity globally. Given the problems with preservation of evidence for religious beliefs in the historical record, we conclude that the reported megasociety threshold is an artefact of the decision to recode 61% of cases from missing data to known values, all indicating that moralizing gods are absent.

Thus shamed publicly, the authors of the evolution-of-religion paper are sheepishly trying to salvage something from the disaster in futureware.

Following the publication of this Letter, Beheim and colleagues submitted a Matters Arising in which they argued that our primary results were called into question by our treatment of missing data. In our research, we attempted to test the ‘big gods’ hypothesis even-handedly using the best available evidence, and we made our data and code available during the review process and after publication, in line with best practice in open science. Nevertheless, we accept that we should have labelled moralizing gods as ‘absent’ or ‘inferred absent’ rather than ‘unknown’ in portions of our dataset before the dates of the first appearance, rather than converting ‘NAs’ to zeros during the phase of analysis. Since this Letter was published, we have thoroughly refined our data and analyses, and have found that our original conclusions are still strongly supported. However, the differences between our revised analyses and the original Letter are substantial enough to warrant a Retraction of the original Letter. We have submitted the enhanced analyses for peer review and potential publication in another journal. We encourage the community to refer to these new papers in future instead of this now-retracted Letter. We apologize to the scientific community for the unintended confusion.

Smarting from the loss of prestige by publishing in the world’s leading science journal, the group reworked their ‘data’ and sent new drafts as preprints in off-label journals. Perhaps the predatory journals will let them publish it (13 Feb 2021).

Ha! It seems that their consciences bothered them. Maybe they heard a little voice saying, “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” And another, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.”

But actually, these 13 losers should not have apologized at all. They were doing exactly what their Darwinian worldview demands: strategizing to pass on their genes. Their strategy didn’t work against the fitter hominid editors at Nature, so they just changed their strategy by going to weaker journals. What’s to apologize for? This was never about Truth to begin with. Alert readers will notice that the evolutionary view is self-refuting, so it is false on its face; natural selection, not a search for Truth, made these guys write and retract their fake-science paper. They are pawns of selfish genes in their worldview.

Because we know they are really moral creatures made in the image of God, we can see their consciences at work. They love spinning yarns about the ‘evolution of religion.’ They seem especially fascinated with “moralizing gods” and “punishing gods” because if they can escape their own guilt through ‘science’ they feel better. And so they dredge up the worst examples of angry gods sending lightning bolts down on people. Society can dispense with religion, they think, deceiving themselves.

The existence of silly idols is uncontroversial. The Bible condemns all idolatry in the strongest terms. The Bible, by contrast, presents a transcendent Creator God who is not part of creation, but its Maker. He is above all so-called ‘gods’ and is eternally self-existent. He is the starting point for all reasoning and morality. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom—so said the wisest man who ever lived, Solomon.

This God is indeed just and will not let evil be unpunished; Hitler and Stalin will not get away with what they did. But God loved the world so much that He gave His only son, so that anyone who believes on Him will not perish, but have everlasting life. Complex societies would never come up with such a story in order to keep the lower classes in check. The gospel is a great leveler. There are no social classes; there are no races, we are all equally guilty before God, and we all have equal access to His forgiveness. This is totally unique in human thought: that a Creator would come and dwell among us, and give His life to save us. All He wants is our repentance and trust.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:6-11)

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