February 11, 2005


God and Evolution (NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF, 2/12/05, NY Times)

[M]odern science is turning up a possible reason why the religious right is flourishing and secular liberals aren't: instinct. It turns out that our DNA may predispose humans toward religious faith.

Granted, that's not very encouraging news for the secular left. Imagine if many of us are hard-wired to be religious. Imagine if, as a cosmic joke, humans have gradually evolved to leave many of us doubting evolution.

The notion of a genetic inclination toward religion is not new. Edward Wilson, the founder of the field of sociobiology, argued in the 1970's that a predisposition to religion may have had evolutionary advantages.

In recent years evidence has mounted that there may be something to this, and the evidence is explored in "The God Gene," a fascinating book published recently by Dean Hamer, a prominent American geneticist. Dr. Hamer even identifies a particular gene, VMAT2, that he says may be involved. People with one variant of that gene tend to be more spiritual, he found, and those with another variant to be less so.

Here's a theory that's equally asinine from a Christian or a Darwinian perspective--the latter because Nature obviously wouldn't select for a gene that leads to extinction over one that leads to survival, so the past two centuries of secularization would be anti-natural; the former because faith is so clearly cultural rather than biological.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 11, 2005 11:57 PM

How does either belief contribute to physical survival?

Posted by: creeper at February 12, 2005 12:53 PM

oj wrote: "faith is so clearly cultural rather than biological."

I don't think it's so clear. It may be possible for a believer to choose not to believe, but from my personal experience, I can tell you that at least some of us can't force ourselves to have faith if we don't come by it naturally. I would rather like to be more religious, and have actually put some effort into it, but just don't seem to have the ability.

My eight year old daughter, on the other hand, is surprisingly religious given her parents lack of faith, and the general lack of faith in oh-so-blue-California where we live. She has basically enrolled herself in Sunday and Hebrew school and attends services regularly. Whereas my wife and I support her in her religious activities, we gave her virtually no initial encouragement.

So my entire experience with the matter indicates that culture has less to do with religious belief than inate predisposition to it. That doesn't mean that it's genetic, but it doesn't rule it out either.

Posted by: Bret at February 12, 2005 3:21 PM

Oh my gosh, variability of traits!

Posted by: creeper at February 12, 2005 4:31 PM


Yes, that's the culture. Twpo hundred years ago you'd have had faith in God, now you have it Darwin or whatever. It's just culture.

Posted by: oj at February 12, 2005 5:42 PM

So, two hundred years ago there were no atheists, skeptics, or agnostics?

I don't have faith in Darwin (I just have found genetic algorithms an important tool in the engineering realm and I think Darwinism is a nice introduction to the concepts of evolution), and I don't seem to have much of a need for a creation myth. I don't know how we got here and I don't really care.

Posted by: Bret at February 12, 2005 6:22 PM

No, there weren't. Of course you don't care, you've internalized the myth.

Posted by: oj at February 12, 2005 6:25 PM


Shame on you for presuming to know what you think.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at February 12, 2005 7:11 PM

Let me rephrase that. Two hundred years ago there definitely were atheists and agnostics. Benjamin Franklin, Hume, and your buddy Darwin for example.

As a far as internalizing the myth: first, you can't possibly know that (and thus my assertion to the contrary carries at least as much weight), and second, it's incomplete since Darwinism's explanations only apply sometime after the earth was created leaving the whole creation of the universe thing unspecified. Also, keep in mind that I was agnostic prior to learning about evolution, so therefore couldn't have had an internalized creation myth at that point.

Posted by: Bret at February 12, 2005 7:31 PM


They weren't atheists.

Posted by: oj at February 12, 2005 9:27 PM


If not atheists, then agnostics and skeptics. Hume was quite anti-religion.

Posted by: Bret at February 13, 2005 1:20 AM


Anti-Religion, not anti-religious:


Posted by: oj at February 13, 2005 8:45 AM

OJ's problem is that he backed the wrong eohippus some time ago. Worse, he knows it.

Posted by: Brit at February 14, 2005 3:19 PM