The God Gene?

08 Sep
from Google Images

from Google Images

Dean Hamer[1] claims to have found the ‘God gene’ (VMAT2) in humans.[2] After comparing more than 2,000 DNA samples, he has concluded that a person’s capacity to believe in God is linked to brain chemicals. However, his conclusions have been criticized by some clerics and scientists. For example, John Polkinghorne[3] says “The idea of a God gene goes against all my personal theological convictions. You can’t cut faith down to the lowest common denominator of genetic survival. It shows the poverty of reductionist thinking.” Carl Zimmer[4] claims that VMAT2 can be characterized as a gene that accounts for less than one percent of the variance of self-transcendence scores. These, Zimmer says, can signify anything from belonging to the Green Party to believing in ESP.

Admittedly, I am not a scientist, so my conclusions about the god gene would be derived from a more logical or philosophical point of view. So, even if Dr. Hamer’s conclusions are correct, what has he really proved? Has he proved there is no God by showing that our proclivity for believing in God is hardwired (i.e. has evolved, according to his worldview) in our brains? If humans are wired to be religious, we need to ask why. Why would evolution produce a god gene or wire our brain with a religious urge? What **need** would that represent for natural selection to meet? If Dr. Hamer’s studies proves true, I probably could more easily argue that this would rather point to a genetic design for communication with a spiritual being. Therefore, if we pursue our religious proclivity, we would be properly implementing the gift our Creator has given us to direct our lives toward him. If VMAT2 is indeed the god gene, it would be no more evidence of the non-existence of God than FOXP2[5] is. FOXP2 is a protein that is required for proper development of speech and language. I could understand why a naturalist would argue that the speech gene evolved through natural selection, and which one of us would argue that it doesn’t serve a real need in humanity? Nevertheless, why would a naturalist argue that the god gene evolved through natural selection? What real **need** does it provide in the naturalist’s worldview? The god gene, if it exists at all, would more likely testify of God’s existence and his desire that we would be naturally directed toward him.

I am reminded at this point of the book of Ecclesiastes. Its author asks the question: “What benefit do people get from all the effort which they expend on earth” (Ecclesiastes 1:3 NET)? In other words is life worth living, and, if so, what is its purpose? Humans may be flesh and blood and have much in common with the animal species, but we are unique in that we are moral creatures. We are able to stand beside everything that is done and reflect upon its value, judging even our own behavior as either wise or foolish, right or wrong, good or evil. Animals don’t have this ability. Nevertheless, the author of Ecclesiastes, although he gave himself over to understand the meaning of life, concluded that his great wisdom only produced great frustration, and as he increased his knowledge of human affairs, he only increased his heartache (Ecclesiastes 1:18). Why? because men are condemned to repeat their errors. We either lose our memory of the past or we suppress it, not wanting to remember, and therefore never improve our condition, i.e. nothing new ever transpires (Ecclesiastes 1:9-11). A man’s labor is never completed, and what he does is repeated again and again. He is left with a restless spirit (Ecclesiastes 1:12-14). It is a perversion that cannot be straightened, because something is missing that cannot be supplied through his own labor (Ecclesiastes 1:15). That something that is missing, whose lack produces a restless spirit in man, is God (cf. Ecclesiastes 1:14-15; 3:11). While scientists may have found the gene they identify as the god gene, all they seem to have done is identify that which gives man his restless spirit.

There was a time when we knew God, but we were ungrateful and didn’t appreciate him, and claiming wisdom without him darkened our hearts (Romans 1:21-22). We pushed knowledge of God away from us, just as we do today (Romans 1:28), so the darkness left in the wake of such an unwise attitude toward God is something that cannot be undone without turning back to him. What is missing (God) cannot be supplied (Ecclesiastes 1:15; 3:11) by the new atheists or the god gene some think they have found.


[1] Dean Hamer is a geneticist and director of the Gene Structure and Regulation Unit at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland.

[2] As I said HERE, this current theme about “making sense of the Old Testament God” is based upon the book: Is God a Moral Monster by Paul Copan. These are my thoughts about his book. He may or may not agree with the impression his book has made upon me, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading what Paul wrote and recommend his book to anyone who is looking for a good read concerning defending our faith.

[3] John Polkinghorne is an Anglican priest, member of the Royal Society and Canon Theologian at Liverpool Cathedral.

[4] Zimmer, Carl (October 2004). “Faith-Boosting Genes: A search for the genetic basis of spirituality”. Scientific American

[5] Forkhead box protein P2 (FOXP2) is encoded by the FOXP2 gene, also known as CAGH44, SPCH1 or TNRC10

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Posted by on September 8, 2015 in apologetics


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