Let’s take a moment to go back in time.
For most of human history, we lived in small groups of about 50 people. Everyone knew everybody. If you told a lie, stole someone’s dinner, or failed to defend the group against its enemies, there was no way to disappear into the crowd. Everyone knew you, and you would get punished.
But in the last 12,000 years or so, human groups began to expand. It became more difficult to identify and punish the cheaters and free riders. So we needed something big—really big. An epic force that could see what everyone was doing, and enforce the rules. That force, according to social psychologist Azim Shariff, was the popular idea of a “supernatural punisher”—also known as God.