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The ‘God gene’

Published: 14 November 2015 (GMT+10)

Is there a ‘God gene’? And would a lack of it excuse a non-believer from investigating the evidence for God and the Gospel? Tyler S. from the United States writes:

Hi guys. In a recent discussion with a friend, the concept of "The God gene" was brought up. Basically, it's a theory that a certain genes lead an individual to be more spiritual overall. Essentially, people born without these genes are less inclined, if at all, to pursue any type of belief in God. His argument, in essence, is that since he was born with absolutely no type of inclination towards a belief in God, the responsibility for his unbelief would fall somewhat on the shoulders of God should He exist. Could you offer any insight on this (both this gene, and his conclusions)? I would appreciate it very much. Thanks!

CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:

The idea of a ‘God gene’ has been panned as bad science and bad theology across the spectrum. When voices as diverse as biblical creationist Al Mohler,1 theistic evolutionist John Polkinghorne,2 and atheistic evolutionist PZ Myers3 all agree that this notion is absurd, it’s a good sign that the idea is absurd.

Nevertheless, he might still say "well even if there is no ‘God gene’, then I’m still naturally disinclined to believe in God, which if He exists is partially his fault." So what? We’re often ‘naturally disinclined’ to do the right thing, but that doesn’t mean we’re any less culpable when we indulge our sinful inclinations. In fact, this inclination to sin is not unrelated to an inclination to atheism. If we don’t want God, it’s easy to talk oneself into thinking that He’s not there. But again, having an inclination doesn’t justify indulging in it.

And what does Paul say? "Test everything, cling to the good" (1 Thess. 5:21). Your friend doesn’t get to blame God for his unbelief if he doesn’t use his mind to refute his unbelief. And since he’s relying on his lack of a ‘God gene’ to blame God for his unbelief, he’s clearly not relying on his mind for his unbelief!

God doesn’t reveal himself only through our natural inclinations (though many people might have a natural inclination to believe in God). He also reveals himself in creation and in Scripture. For instance, has your friend ever reflected even briefly on questions like: ‘why is there something rather than nothing?’ or ‘what makes torturing babies for fun wrong, and self-sacrifice right?’ Even a very brief reflection on those questions can lead one to the one true God who is worthy of worship. And reflecting on the second question can even lead us to understand that while God is perfect, we are not, and we need His help to be rightly related to Him, because we can’t be by our own efforts. Reading through and reflecting on the Gospels has led many an unbeliever to Jesus, if only through the amazing character of Jesus himself. Your friend has loads of evidence around him to consider; see especially our atheismGod, and Jesus Q and A pages (and these articles: Atheism and Is God obscure and arbitrary in what He wants from us?, as well as our resource Christianity for Skeptics (also in epub and mobi eBook formats).

References and notes

  1. Mohler, A., ‘The God Gene’: Bad Science Meets Bad Theology, beliefnet.com/News/Science-Religion/2004/10/The-God-Gene-Bad-Science-Meets-Bad-Theology.aspx, accessed 1 October 2015. Return to text.
  2. Geneticist claims to have found ‘God gene’ in humans, The Washington Times, washingtontimes.com/news/2004/nov/14/20041114-111404-8087r, 14 November 2004. Return to text.
  3. Myers, P.Z., No god, and no "god gene" either, web.archive.org/web/20090512101759/http:/pharyngula.org/index/weblog/comments/no_god_and_no_god_gene_either, accessed 1 October 2015. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Christianity for Skeptics
by Drs Steve Kumar, Jonathan D Sarfati
US $17.00
Soft Cover
The God Reality
by Rob Slane
US $8.00
Soft Cover

Readers’ comments

Chris S.
The best evidence for a God gene is the fact that all human cultures seem to have developed some supernatural belief. And what a diverse group they are - The Greeks Zeus, the Egyptians Osiris, the Jews Jehovah, The Hindu Ishvara, the Navajos Changing Woman, the Budhist Deva, the Aztec Tezcatlipoca. They can't all be true, which suggests belief is based on an inner need, rather than reality.
Shaun Doyle
As I pointed out, it's not just Christians who write this idea off as nonsense. One of the skeptics of the 'God gene' idea I cited is vociferous anti-creationist and anti-theist P.Z. Myers. In fact, I would recommend a lot of what Myers said on the subject, because once one takes out his anti-God vitriol, his biological debunking of the 'God gene' idea is very good.

As to all these different 'gods', what do you mean by "they can't all be true"? Do you mean they can't all exist? Christianity can reject that. We could say that all of them except Yahweh were/are created spiritual entities that deceived people into worshipping them (1 Corinthians 10:20).

We can even draw from the different worldviews themselves to show why only Yahweh alone should be worshiped. For instance, even the Greeks and the Egyptians recognized that Zeus and Osiris had beginnings; Zeus was the (youngest) son of Kronos, and Osiris was the (eldest) son of Geb or Ra. In contrast, Moses said of Yahweh "from everlasting to everlasting you are God" (Psalm 90:2), and Genesis 1:1 presupposes God's eternal existence; God was in the beginning (for more on this, please see Yahweh the Creator God of Israel and Did God create time?). A look at history is also instructive. Just as no deity had fought for his people and personally made a covenant with them in Moses' day like Yahweh did (Deuteronomy 4:32–40), so no deity has a historically verifiable sojourn on earth as a human like Yahweh does (The Incarnation: Why did God become Man?).

Or do you mean that ideologies promote the worship of such beings can't be true? But that's not enough for the atheistic critique to work, which believes that none of these entities exist. And if there's deception in the spiritual realm (which is unseen, by the way!) as there is in the physical realm (including human self-deception: The Fall and the existence of other religions), then it becomes very easy to see why wrong ideas about spiritual things can crop up.
Geoff C. W.
So he wants to blame God for not making him interested in finding out about God? How can he blame God if he doesn't believe there is a God?
Alvin A.
It's another example of "I was born this way" as being an excuse for chosen behavior. In terms of Christian theology, it proposes that some people are not God's children, one implication of which is that those people are not subject to Godly morality, so are self-justified and self-sanctified....if sanctification has any value at all.
Hans G.
Aren't all genes 'God genes'? He made them all.
Chris R.
I'm naturally disinclined to do the washing up and I think it's genetic. My wife is naturally disinclined to accept that as an excuse.
Ted B.
an additional thought, God placed His 10 commandments on every heart. Who likes things stolen, lied about, their beliefs (god) ridiculed, etc...
Intellectual pride is a big barrier... in us all. Knowing that gives us patience

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