The God Gene

Can one genetic code explain your belief?

E. Alderson

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“Song of the Angels” by William-Adolphe Bouguereau.

What makes a person want to believe in God? Is it the many delicate, impressionable years of their youth spent at the crowded Sunday Mass? Is it the comfort derived from the words of a holy book within which is promised a paradise just beyond this taxing life? Or is it an experience in their life which changes them forever, an overwhelming moment of connection with a higher being and the universe around them? The answer is different for each person. Spirituality is a complex human phenomenon. It was sewn within our kind as far back as thousands of years ago when we were nothing more than families huddled ‘round on primitive Earth. Back then our spirituality manifested itself as drawings of animal-human figures on cave walls and elaborate burial ceremonies to part ways with the dead.

Perhaps what’s most surprising isn’t that spirituality has been around since the emergence of mankind, but that it has remained so prominent in the modern day. A 2017 survey found that 75% of Americans described themselves as spiritual. This isn’t to be confused with organized religion. The difference between religion and spirituality is that religion is an external show of faith — it’s embodied by places of worship and through community rituals such as a Baptism. Spirituality, on the other hand, is a private belief not necessarily encumbered by any rules or strict structure. It is faith expressed internally, a belief that one carries throughout one’s life that doesn’t have to be shared with other people. This is why church attendance may continue to fall while the number of people claiming to be spiritual can stay the same. Of course despite the differences the two are often intertwined.

In the early 2000’s geneticist Dean Hamer conducted research on religion and spirituality. The premise was a fascinating one: what if there was a genetic component to faith? The debate on whether God does or doesn’t exist may never have an answer, but we can at least try to understand why such a belief arose in the first place. It may be, just like our long fingers and cautious dispositions, that faith was coded into us because it benefited our species — nothing more than another example of Darwin’s theory of evolution. These faith genes or, as Hamer hesitantly calls them, “God genes” may have contributed to optimism…

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E. Alderson

A passion for language, technology, and the unexplored universe. I aim to marry poetry and science.