It’s called the God gene or the religiosity gene — and it may play a significant role in a person’s religious path.
While religion has long been considered a personal choice, it turns out that genetics may make an individual embrace a certain religion naturally. Could religious belief actually fall under the umbrella of nature vs. nurture?
Living Church of God reviews what’s being discovered:
Genetics is endlessly fascinating and powerful. Genes dictate everything from eye color to hair color to flavor preferences and stature. They are also increasingly thought to reflect present and future inclinations.
Just 25 years ago, the majority of scientists believed that religious choices were based more on one’s environment and socialization than the person’s genetic makeup.
A religiosity gene means an individual has an above-average chance of becoming and staying a person of faith. The best evidence so far for such a gene is a study involving twins that contend that around 40% of variables related to religiousness can be attributed to genes.
Additional research has found that nature vs. nurture may also evolve over time. As a person becomes an adult, the study finds that genetics tied to religiousness become more dominant.
Research regarding religious inheritance took off when a 1996 study in the “American Sociological Review” found that exposure to a particular faith in parents meant one is more likely to share those ideals.
In his 2004 book “The God Gene,” Dean Hamer attempts to link a predisposition to religion and spiritual experiences to genetic variants in vesicular monoamine transporter 2, but that theory was later disproved.
A more accepted study is “Religion, Fertility and Genes,” published in 2011 by The Royal Society. Guided by the belief that religious people tend to have more children than secular people, the study found that “genetic endowment” is linked to religious predisposition.
The study also suggests that the so-called God gene may become dominant over the decades because the population tied to religious sects such as the Amish is growing thanks to larger families. That potentially means that genes that determine a person’s faith may also grow as well.
More research is clearly needed to make a God gene a fact — or not. The theory remains controversial for both those who identify as religious and those who do not.
Many religious people reject the notion that faith is dictated by DNA. Non-religious people often scoff at the thought that religion is hard-wired in humans. Hamer’s hypothesis centers around natural spirituality, what he calls transcendence, but opponents say there is no way to empirically prove the genetic link to transcendence.
He continues that everyone has a certain capacity to gravitate toward religion, but that some groups have higher capacities than others.
It’s variants in 100 genes that make each human different from another human. One study found that when there are environmental factors that support free thought, there is a greater likelihood that biology plays a role in religious predispositions, while those living in strict religious-based environments are less likely to have a link between faith and genetics.
In the end, the social factors in religious predisposition may be too hard to ignore.