Religion Gene

Jackie - posted on 11/23/2010 ( 25 moms have responded )

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This is not news but it is true that geneticists have identified a "religion gene". Apparently, somewhere in the human DNA there is a precoded gene that tells us that we have to believe in something! I was wondering what the use for such a gene would be...



If we follow Darwin's theory of evolution, it is possible to hypothesize that humans that do possess this gene and do therefore have the belief that there is some sort of a deity out there protecting them, fared better and survived long enough at least to bear progeny and pass this gene along. I suppose that means that people that did not possess the "religion gene" and therefore did not believe in protection from above, did not survive as long. This is not so strange. After all, if you believe that you will miraculously survive, chances are that you are also trying your best to do so and a strong belief does bring favorable results.



There is another school of thought, which bears consideration, however. It is the idea that the body is simply the biomechanical expression of the soul. In this scenario, the human body possesses every single mechanism necessary to attain the desires of the "higher self". If it is in the interests of the higher self then to believe in one or more deities, the gene is placed there to make it easier.



Both arguments have merit and can be debated with relative ease.



Yet, the most important lesson we learn from the discovery of the "religion gene" is that purported agnostics and atheists are either lying about their lack of faith, they have substituted denial in lieu of a deity as a reaction to social pressure, or, quite possibly, they are the exception to the rule and simply do not possess this "religion gene".



Whatever the case may be, there is no denying that for most people there is a sense of comfort and safety, perhaps due to an increase in endopherines, that arise from observing even simple acts of faith, such as crossing oneself or lighting a candle or whatever practice their own religion dictates. Such feelings are useful to humans and to society as a whole because they are intimately connected with a sense of peace and happiness, the human conscience and finally to a reverence for things that are greater than oneself.



http://ancientgreekreborn.blogspot.com/2...



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So what do you think? Do you believe that having faith in something is embedded in your genetic code?



Do you think agnostics or atheists are in denial or do think that through the power of knowledge and learning and logical thinking, they (we) have overcome what is otherwise in our genetic makeup from centuries of ancestors? Or do you think that some are just born without it therefor unable to actually have "faith".



I'll be the first to admit that sometimes, when things get hard, I wish I COULD just put my faith in something bigger than me to help me out of bad situations but I am physically and mentally unable to.

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LaCi - posted on 11/23/2010

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I read about this in psychology today years ago. It makes sense that one's religiosity could be under the influence of certain predetermined limitations. As with anything else, intelligence in every aspect-reasoning, artistic, everything, we all have particular limitations. You can't mold a person from birth to be a genius, an artist, a professional athlete, or religious. There are always predetermined limitations to our abilities. The way that a person is capable of thinking, in my opinion, falls within certain predetermined boundaries.

Johnny - posted on 11/23/2010

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You see, I consider myself an agnostic, but I do NOT believe that a higher power exists. I also do NOT believe that one does not exist. I simply have no way to know and feel no need to know. Perhaps in the future, I'll find out, perhaps not. And it's not like not believing in giant pink bunnies. I am able to gather the information to inform myself of the fact that giant pink bunnies do not exist except as mascots. I am not able to gather or even know what information to gather to verify the existence of a higher power. But then, I'm really comfortable with the fact that humans are unable, incapable, and unwilling to know most of what is actually going on. If we already knew it all, there would be no point to all of this.

Krista - posted on 11/23/2010

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Actually, Jodi and Mary Elizabeth, you're both right, in a way.

A lot of people don't realize that there are different types of agnosticism.

From your friend and mine...Wikipedia:

1. Agnostic atheism
Agnostic atheists are atheistic because they do not have belief in the existence of any deity, and agnostic because they do not claim to know that a deity does not exist.[15]
2. Agnostic theism
The view of those who do not claim to know of the existence of any deity, but still believe in such an existence.[15]
3. Apathetic or Pragmatic agnosticism
The view that there is no proof of either the existence or nonexistence of any deity, but since any deity that may exist appears unconcerned for the universe or the welfare of its inhabitants, the question is largely academic.[citation needed][16]
4. Ignosticism
The view that a coherent definition of a deity must be put forward before the question of the existence of a deity can be meaningfully discussed. If the chosen definition is not coherent, the ignostic holds the noncognitivist view that the existence of a deity is meaningless or empirically untestable.[17] A.J. Ayer, Theodore Drange, and other philosophers see both atheism and agnosticism as incompatible with ignosticism on the grounds that atheism and agnosticism accept "a deity exists" as a meaningful proposition which can be argued for or against. An ignostic cannot even say whether he/she is a theist or a nontheist until a sufficient definition of theism is put forth.[18][not in citation given]
5. Strong agnosticism (also called "hard," "closed," "strict," or "permanent agnosticism")
The view that the question of the existence or nonexistence of a deity or deities and the nature of ultimate reality is unknowable by reason of our natural inability to verify any experience with anything but another subjective experience. A strong agnostic would say, "I cannot know whether a deity exists or not, and neither can you."
6. Weak agnosticism (also called "soft," "open," "empirical," or "temporal agnosticism")
The view that the existence or nonexistence of any deities is currently unknown but is not necessarily unknowable, therefore one will withhold judgment until/if any evidence is available. A weak agnostic would say, "I don't know whether any deities exist or not, but maybe one day when there is evidence we can find something out."

I'm a combo of #1 and #5. I don't believe, and I certainly don't claim to know, and I think that our tiny human brains are utterly incapable of knowing.

Jessica - posted on 11/23/2010

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If you want to look at the idea of evolution, maybe athiests dont have the gene, because as we evolve religion is becoming more and more unnessessary. Where further back in time not being so could get you hanged? Not saying I believe this nesessarily, just a thought.

ME - posted on 11/23/2010

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I don't want to split hairs, but technically, an Agnostic makes no judgements one way or the other about whether or not god exists.

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After mulling the definitions over, I've decided that #5 best applies to me. I'm a strong agnostic.

Jodi - posted on 11/23/2010

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Dana, I feel the same way, none of those really fit my beliefs! Not saying they aren't credible, just, not really saying any of them strikes them as "my" beliefs.
No matter which way you slice or dice it, how EXACTLY did Agnostics fit into this study. Having all of those different types/definitions of Agnosticism makes it more clear that we wouldn't fit neatly into the study as EITHER religious or aethiest, how was that taken into account? Just my reasoning behind my original post, because now I'm even more curious!

[deleted account]

OMG! I'm even more confused now. Krista, I believe in SOMETHING greater than you and I, but I wouldn't necessarily consider that to be a deity. What category would you put me in? Part of me wants to say, #2 and part of me wants to say, #5. I dunno

Katherine - posted on 11/23/2010

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During 15 years of excavation they have uncovered not some monumental temple but evidence of a critical transition in religious behavior. The record begins with a simple dancing floor, the arena for the communal religious dances held by hunter-gatherers in about 7,000 B.C. It moves to the ancestor-cult shrines that appeared after the beginning of corn-based agriculture around 1,500 B.C., and ends in A.D. 30 with the sophisticated, astronomically oriented temples of an early archaic state.

This and other research is pointing to a new perspective on religion, one that seeks to explain why religious behavior has occurred in societies at every stage of development and in every region of the world. Religion has the hallmarks of an evolved behavior, meaning that it exists because it was favored by natural selection. It is universal because it was wired into our neural circuitry before the ancestral human population dispersed from its African homeland.

For atheists, it is not a particularly welcome thought that religion evolved because it conferred essential benefits on early human societies and their successors. If religion is a lifebelt, it is hard to portray it as useless.

For believers, it may seem threatening to think that the mind has been shaped to believe in gods, since the actual existence of the divine may then seem less likely.

But the evolutionary perspective on religion does not necessarily threaten the central position of either side. That religious behavior was favored by natural selection neither proves nor disproves the existence of gods. For believers, if one accepts that evolution has shaped the human body, why not the mind too? What evolution has done is to endow people with a genetic predisposition to learn the religion of their community, just as they are predisposed to learn its language. With both religion and language, it is culture, not genetics, that then supplies the content of what is learned.

It is easier to see from hunter-gatherer societies how religion may have conferred compelling advantages in the struggle for survival. Their rituals emphasize not theology but intense communal dancing that may last through the night. The sustained rhythmic movement induces strong feelings of exaltation and emotional commitment to the group. Rituals also resolve quarrels and patch up the social fabric.

The ancestral human population of 50,000 years ago, to judge from living hunter-gatherers, would have lived in small, egalitarian groups without chiefs or headmen. Religion served them as an invisible government. It bound people together, committing them to put their community’s needs ahead of their own self-interest. For fear of divine punishment, people followed rules of self-restraint toward members of the community. Religion also emboldened them to give their lives in battle against outsiders. Groups fortified by religious belief would have prevailed over those that lacked it, and genes that prompted the mind toward ritual would eventually have become universal.

In natural selection, it is genes that enable their owners to leave more surviving progeny that become more common. The idea that natural selection can favor groups, instead of acting directly on individuals, is highly controversial. Though Darwin proposed the idea, the traditional view among biologists is that selection on individuals would stamp out altruistic behavior (the altruists who spent time helping others would leave fewer children of their own) far faster than group-level selection could favor it.

But group selection has recently gained two powerful champions, the biologists David Sloan Wilson and Edward O. Wilson, who argued that two special circumstances in recent human evolution would have given group selection much more of an edge than usual. One is the highly egalitarian nature of hunter-gatherer societies, which makes everyone behave alike and gives individual altruists a better chance of passing on their genes. The other is intense warfare between groups, which enhances group-level selection in favor of community-benefiting behaviors such as altruism and religion.

A propensity to learn the religion of one’s community became so firmly implanted in the human neural circuitry, according to this new view, that religion was retained when hunter-gatherers, starting from 15,000 years ago, began to settle in fixed communities. In the larger, hierarchical societies made possible by settled living, rulers co-opted religion as their source of authority. Roman emperors made themselves chief priest or even a living god, though most had the taste to wait till after death for deification. “Drat, I think I’m becoming a god!” Vespasian joked on his deathbed.

Religion was also harnessed to vital practical tasks such as agriculture, which in the first societies to practice it required quite unaccustomed forms of labor and organization. Many religions bear traces of the spring and autumn festivals that helped get crops planted and harvested at the right time. Passover once marked the beginning of the barley festival; Easter, linked to the date of Passover, is a spring festival.

Could the evolutionary perspective on religion become the basis for some kind of detente between religion and science? Biologists and many atheists have a lot of respect for evolution and its workings, and if they regarded religious behavior as an evolved instinct they might see religion more favorably, or at least recognize its constructive roles. Religion is often blamed for its spectacular excesses, whether in promoting persecution or warfare, but gets less credit for its staple function of patching up the moral fabric of society. But perhaps it doesn’t deserve either blame or credit. If religion is seen as a means of generating social cohesion, it is a society and its leaders that put that cohesion to good or bad ends.

Nicholas Wade, a science reporter for The New York Times, is the author of “The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures.”

Katherine - posted on 11/23/2010

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Agnosticism is the view that the truth value of certain claims—especially claims about the existence or non-existence of any deity, but also other religious and metaphysical claims—is unknown or unknowable.[1] Agnosticism can be defined in various ways, and is sometimes used to indicate doubt or a skeptical approach to questions. In some senses, agnosticism is a stance about the similarities or differences between belief and knowledge, rather than about any specific claim or belief.

Eh?

Jodi - posted on 11/23/2010

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I guess I couldn't care less if there is a gene or not. My only issue with the article is their reference to Agnostics. The majority of Agnostics DO have faith or believe in a higher power or diety, we just don't necessarily follow any organized religion. So my question is, did the study only focus on those in an organized religion, or those that have faith of *some* kind? There is a difference. I am Agnostic, I firmly believe in a God, a higher power, a diety above and beyond myself, but I do not follow or agree with any one organized religion. I am not in denial of any kind, I just simply can't blindly follow the teachings of any one religion that has SO many things I can't agree with.

Petra - posted on 11/23/2010

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This is hooey. There is no actual god gene, but a protein within a gene that transports neurotransmitters. Its presence has been correlated with people who are spiritual or inclined to believe in mysticism - not Christians, Catholics or Muslims, in particular. The genetic study was based on only 1000 people and has not been replicated. The results were published in a book long before any scientific publication, where they would then be subjected to peer review. Finally, it has been heavily criticized as it really proves nothing - it is accepted as a hypothesis, not a fact or an actual scientific discovery. Just a religious scientist attempting to find divinity in human physiology - and failing.

Krista - posted on 11/23/2010

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I think that this religion gene is just as influenced by variables as most other genes. Even among religious people, you have extremely varying degrees of faith, from the doubtful yet cautiously optimistic to the rabidly zealous. So why would it be such a stretch to think that this gene could also manifest itself as a lack of belief?

[deleted account]

Well, on this board I already know I have an extremely unpopular opinion, but.... of course there is a 'religion gene' or whatever you want to call it. Since we were created by God... He WANTS us to know Him, beleive in Him, follow Him, etc.... I don't have an answer for the atheists/agnogstics though cuz while I respect them and their right to not believe.... I don't understand it and never will.

Becky - posted on 11/23/2010

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Hmmm. Well, there is a Christian song, I forget who sings it that says, "There's a god-shaped hole in all of us..."
I'm not sure about a gene, but I do think that there are certain personality types that have an easier time having faith than others. For example, if you are familiar with the Meyers-Briggs, a type "F" - feeling - which I am very much, would likely have an easier time believing in a god than a type "T" - thinking. Because F's tend to base their decisions more on their heart than on their head, and the "knowledge" of God is largely subjective. Does that make sense?

Lacye - posted on 11/23/2010

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I don't really believe all that. Religion is a choice. If you believe in God or Allah or Buddah or what ever, that is your choice. Me, I am religious. It's my choice. I don't think I have a religion gene running through my body. I believe in God because I really think he is real.

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