The ‘God gene’
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 atheism, God, 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.