Is there a gene that determines religiousness?

Yes, there probably is. No, there certainly is not.
First of all, what we mean by gene in that context is not the gene itself but its allelic variants. Apart from this common inaccuracy in defining the terms gene and allele, there is probably some more serious misunderstanding over the action of genes and environment. And the question of a gene for religion might serve a superb example to explain fauceirs’ structure and inheritance.

This example illustrates the rule that the more distant the fauceirs the weaker the interaction or the more other fauceir exert their modifying influence.

Let’s illustrate this by some examples:

  1. Take a monogenic disease such as PKU. Mutations of the gene have the effect that a specific amino acid, phenylalanine, can not be properly metabolized, accumulates and causes brain damage. Although accumulation of phenylalanine inevitably happens the outbreak of the disease can be controlled by environmental factors, simply by changing the diet.
  2. Hypercholesterolemia, by contrast, is rather a polygenic though predominantly caused by mutations of the LDL receptor gene. Myocardial infarction may develop as a result of prolonged hypercholesterolemia, but only if it triggers a chain reaction, and at every stage environmental factor may input either accelerating or delaying the course of disease.
  3. The picture becomes even more complex if behavioral and social aspects are involved. The next example shows drug addiction, which is reported to go in families and some genetic variations have been spotted to cause such a behavior. But drug addiction will not develop if the individual is never exposed to the drug, also in certain social environments drug addition is rare while in other more common, which indicates that there are some social factor that have a bearing too.
  4. Finally, the problem with genetics of religion is still more complex. Religiousness is not a behavioral but a social fauceir, and social involvement depend not only on inherited genes and imprinted behavior, but also learned social values.

One may doubt whether there is genetics of religion at all, as so many social factors seem to be of much more importance, but please let me relate a short story that might underpin some genetic input in our specific social behavior. This morning I woke up early to be at work punctually. While I prepared my breakfast my 7-years-old son came downstairs, a little bit weeping and complaining about pain in his right eye. I inspected his eye and found nothing wrong, I took him on my lap, gently rocking, and after a few minutes he fell asleep again. We ended up sitting in an armchair for half an our or so. My little son needed me so much, and there was nothing more to do than just sit and wait. But over that period, disquieting thoughts were torturing me. What about my work, the telephone calls that don’t reach me, the emails waiting to be answered, my boss looking for me in my empty office. Torn between my duties at work and my duties as a father, I decided to stay with my son.  Well, what would happen, if my supervisor were not so tolerant. As a father himself he values family commitments, but I can imagine social environments that wont accept such an excuse. Thus parents with strong parental feelings will probably end up in societies that value parenthood, and these are doubtlessly religious societies. Emotions, such as those associated with parenthood, are regulated by hormones which in turn are regulated by genes. Conclusively, some genetic traits will segregate into religious behavior. The connection is not so strong and straightforward as in PKU, but it still might exist.

Please allow to conclude by an other fauceir rule: The more recent a fauceir evolved the more it is affected by environmental factors.

In our example phenylalanine metabolism evolved millions of years ago, while religion is a recent human invention that dates back only some thousand years, so PKU can be treated by diet only and  hypercholesterolemia by cholesterol lowering drugs. Drug addition requires a complex therapy that involves drugs and psychotherapy. What concerns religiousness. We have to ask, firstly, if it is a disorder at all. If we agreed upon calling fanatic, zealous, and destroying religiousness to be treated, it predominantly would needs a social approach.

Creative Commons License

This work by Paul Netman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Fauceir theory is developed and © by Mato Nagel and available at


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