The God Gene

The God Gene

Question
Is it true that people believe in God because they have a certain gene?
Answer
The concept of a God gene is something from a multidisciplinary field of science called "neurotheology." Other terms associated to this are biology of belief and God molecule.

Dean Hamer, a geneticist at the National Cancer Institute, wrote a book called, "The God Gene: How Faith is Hardwired into Our Genes" (Anchor, 2005). In the book, Hamer thinks he discovered a correlation between the presence of what is called the VMAT2 gene and a tendency to believe in God. However, his book is based on very limited and sketchy data. As mater a fact, it is so weak that in Carl Zimmer's review of the book in Scientific American, he stated that the title should have been, "A Gene That Accounts for Less Than One Percent of the Variance Found in Scores on Psychological Questionnaires Designed to Measure a Factor Called Self-Transcendence, Which Can Signify Everything from Belonging to the Green Party to Believing in ESP." [1]

This appears to be yet another form of scientific reductionism which is the attempt by many in the scientific community to reduce everything down to a physical explanation and leave no room for God. (cf. Ecc. 1:13, 17; 3:10-11; 8:17; 11:5)

There is absolutely no evidence that people believe in God because they have the VMAT2 or any other physical gene. However, such false beliefs are nothing new. It has many kissing cousins in history. Epicurus (340-271 BC), an atomist (from the Greek atomos meaning "uncuttable"), taught that all matter, souls, and gods were composed of mere atoms. Even thoughts are atoms randomly moving about.

Paul confronted the Epicureans and others on Mars Hill (Acts 17:16-34) and, like him, we need to confront this false philosophy today with the gospel. Believing in the one and true living God is not a chemical biological reaction. It's not a matter of an atom, this gene, or that strand of DNA. It's not a matter of matter. It's a matter of spiritual regeneration (John 3:1-8; cf. 1 Cor. 2:9-13) and then conversion (2 Cor. 5:17) leading to the gifts of repentance and faith.  

Regeneration and conversion are essentially two sides of the same coin. Regeneration is the implantation of life within the soul by the Holy Spirit. Conversion is the first exercise of the new nature in repenting from sin and believing unto righteousness. So, regeneration is the root and conversion the fruit.

As to regeneration, Jesus said, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6). Regeneration doesn't concern the flesh, physical genes, atoms, or DNA. When Jesus also said, "Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again'" (John 3:7), he was speaking concerning the spirit (John 3:8; cf.John 1:12-13), thus eliminating any necessity or existence of a physical God gene (cf. Rom. 7:18;  1 Cor. 15:50).

Notes

[1] Carl Zimmer. Faith-Boosting Genes. Scientific American, October, 2004.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).