Genetics Influences Whether Someone is Religious Or Not
I humbly accept your challenge, LuckyLemon.
But let me be clear – I am not defending the proposition that genetics has a bigger impact on someone’s religiosity than his or her environment does. I’m defending the much simpler proposition that genetics influences how religious a person is, or can be.
By the way, you say “[genetics] can only go so far until . . . your own individual choices will push you to make the religious and non-religious decision,” implying the people have control over their religiosity. So I guess I’ve found another claim worth defending – that people do not have free will – but I’ll do my best during this particular debate to focus on how genetics influences religiosity.
Good luck, old timer!!!
Note: The numbers in parentheses refers to the numbered reference links on the bottom. I will also set each of my points/rebuttals in a numerical list to keep it ordered.
1. "I am not defending the proposition that genetics has a bigger impact on someone"s religiosity than his or her environment does. I"m defending the much simpler proposition that genetics influences how religious a person is, or can be."
On the contrary, I believe that to completely counter the idea that "genetics influences one's religion," one must note what DOES influence one's religion. By understanding what truly does the role more, I can persuade the opponent of just how little, or not at all, their genes affect their religion. But lets not debate about how to debate, right? Although, I am sure that with the two of us, we are going to break most of the rules anyways.
2. Lets be on the same page of what "genetics" is.
Genetics: The study of the patterns of inheritance of specific traits. Relating to genes and genetic information. Also known as "heredity." Modern theories explain how traits are passed down from parent to offspring. (1)
The idea of a parent passing down a genetic trait to an offspring can be explained by the scenario of a Huntington's disease-positive mother passing down the Huntington's disease traits to her daughter or son. This offspring can inherit their mother's mutational, normal, and disease genes in terms of BIOLOGY. After all, genetics is rooted from Mendelian principles which is structured by biological principles. (2)
Now, with the idea of religious views, religion is the " set of BELIEFS concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies." (3)
Beliefs: MENTAL acceptance of and conviction in the truth, actuality, or validity, especially of a particular tenet or a body of tenets accepted by a group of persons
Genetics may help determine one's physical characteristics and even subtly contribute one winning an Olympic trophy over another, but to say it can help determine your MENTAL views after you come out of the womb is a stretch. I can understand if you mean your genes can always play a role, whether small or big, on what happens in one's life, and that can lead to some mental patterns, but religion takes many processes, thoughts, decisions, and life lessons/messages together to strike the question. Having the right gene to skip all that experience and answer for you is hardly realistic.
To put it in societal perspective, if genes influenced whether a human being becomes religious or not, there would not be nearly as many "rebellious" atheists in the midst of strictly Catholic family and religious people from nonreligious families. The variety of society itself, not just including religion, should show the limitations of genetics, and one of those limitations is its influence on religiousness.
I agree with LuckyLemon when he says, “religion takes [too] many processes, thoughts, decisions, and life lessons” to place all of these factors on one gene. I assume that a collection of genes influences a person’s religiosity, just as a collection of genes influences a person’s intelligence (1). We should also define what “religiosity” is, as this complex term has different meanings to different people. Here I’m defining it as some quantifiable variable that reflects “[actions that indicate] belief in, obedience to, and reverence for a god, gods, or similar superhuman power” (I used the OED.com’s third definition of “religion”).
LuckyLemon says, “by understanding what truly does the role more [genetics or the environment], I can persuade the opponent of just how little, or not at all, their genes affect their religion.” I don’t know which of the two has a stronger impact. LuckyLemon did not address in this round which of the two has the bigger impact. And I don’t know if this claim was up for debate.
But knowing which of the two has a stronger impact is irrelevant. All we need to know, or what we need to debate about, is that genetics influences a person’s religiosity. According to Michael Breed and Leticia Sanchez’s article “Both Environment and Genetic Makeup Influence Behavior,” “genes . . . create a framework within which the environment acts to shape the behavior of an individual animal” (2). I’m assuming these PhD’s of ecology and evolutionary biology know what they’re talking about simply because of their titles and the way in which they say this sentence, acting as if behavior being caused by a combination of genetics and environment is an established fact in their field. Breed and Sanchez also state that “genes . . . create the scaffold for learning, memory, and cognition, remarkable mechanisms that allow animals to acquire and store information about their environment for use in shaping their behavior.”
Where I anticipate LuckyLemon and I, as well as others, disagree is whether or not religiosity is also one of the behaviors that genetics influences. In his 2006 TED Talk “Let’s Teach Religion – All Religions – in Schools,” Daniel Dennett says, “Religions are natural phenomena. . . . They have evolved over millennia. They have a biological base. . . . They have become domesticated. And human beings have been redesigning their religions for thousands of years” I infer from these claims that religion, just like genes, are natural, are evolved, are capable of being redesigned to cater to our needs, whether the needs are real or imagined. Although Dennett doesn’t give a reference for these specific claims in this speech, I have found a 2013 Popular Science article, “What Twins Reveal About the Science of Faith” by Tim Spector, that explains how two academic twin experts – Nick Martin, an extrovert atheist Australian, and Lindon Eaves, a British lay preacher – “estimated the heritability of spirituality to be around 40 to 50 percent.” But this article doesn’t explain how exactly these two experts came up with those numbers, and I couldn’t find an online copy of the study. So I’m guessing I’d have to read the book that’s advertised in the article to understand the statistics in the study, or at least get a reference to the study.
There is another article though, “Familial Resemblance in Religiousness in a Secular Society: A Twin Study” (doi:10.1017/thg.2013.3), published in 2013 by several Danish researchers. The researchers of this article claim, “the influence of the family environment is most predominant in early life, whereas genetic influences increase with age.” The researchers used surveys collected from over a thousand pairs of twins to support their findings.
LuckyLemon also says, “if genes influenced whether a human being becomes religious or not, there would not be nearly as many ‘rebellious’ atheists in the midst of strictly Catholic families and religious people from nonreligious families.” Let me contradict myself for a moment. Let’s assume that religiosity can be traced to one specific gene instead of many genes, and that the phenotype of religiosity can be identified as easily as albinism can. We can use a Punnett square to show how religious people can give birth to nonreligious people, and vice versa.
Let’s say that being religious is the dominant gene (R) and that being nonreligious is the recessive gene (r). If both parents have the Rr genotype, then there is a 25% chance that their offspring will express the recessive gene and become nonreligious. If one parent has the Rr genotype and the other has the rr genotype, then there is a 50% chance that their offspring will express the recessive gene. The only time religious parents would be guaranteed religious offspring would be if one of the parents has the RR genotype, and the only way a seemingly nonreligious couple would give birth to religious offspring is if neither of the parents carry the RR genotype and if the couple maintained a household in which they accept religious worldviews. (“A Beginner’s Guide to Punnett Squares”)
Well, that’s it for me right now. Looking forward to Round 3!!!
1 – “‘Intelligence Genes’ Reveal Their Complexity”; http://postbiota.org...
2 – “Both Environment and Genetic Makeup Influence Behavior”; http://www.nature.com...
3 – “Let’s Teach Religion – All Religions – in Schools”; http://www.ted.com...
4 – “What Twins Reveal About the Science of Faith”; http://www.popsci.com...
5 – “A Beginner’s Guide to Punnett Squares”;
1. " 'I agree with LuckyLemon when he says, 'religion takes [too] many processes, thoughts, decisions, and life lessons” to place all of these factors on one gene. I assume that a collection of genes influences a person’s religiosity, just as a collection of genes influences a person’s intelligence"
Understand this: It is well documented that a set of human genes are connected to the metabolism of dopamine and serotonin which are chemicals instigating risk-taking. This can manifest into certain behaviors such as the inclination to try roller coasters, fast cars, and daredevil tricks. This does not mean there is a gene for the behaviors "roller-coaster-loving" or "dare-devil trick-trying." Our genetic makeup predisposes us in one direction or another towards a behavior, but it is not that behavior that the gene codes for. There is no genes for Buddhism, Daoism, and Christianity. There are genes that can result in an openness/ susceptibility for certain experiences that later manifest into religion, but those genes are not "God" of "religion" genes.
If my finding a huge flaw in this twin study is not enough, please look at this Twin Study Critique (5), for although they are very useful and convenient when it comes to closely linked genes, they can be quite overrated and poor in judging the population as a whole.
Let me start off this response with an apology. I did a terrible job connecting my ideas and using clear statements during Round 2. Most of my Round 3 response will be correcting these mistakes.
LuckyLemon says, “According to your ‘Intelligence genes reveal their complexity’ reference, intelligence connects to how the brain is put together in terms of function, but nowhere in that article did it address that multiple genes influencing that intelligence connects with the same concept of multiple genes influencing your religion.” He’s right. The article does not claim “that multiple genes influencing that intelligence connects with the same concept of multiple genes influencing your religion.” This connection between intelligence and religion is one I should’ve explicitly made in Round 2, so I attempt to make it now.
(By the way, I wasn’t trying to introduce evidence to suggest how nontheists may be more intelligent than theists are. That evidence wouldn’t support or invalidate my claim that religiosity is influenced by genetics.)
From the article,
Something as subtle and complex as intelligence was never going to be pinned on just a handful of genes, as a huge trawl across the human genome seems to confirm. Although it did turn up hundreds of genes that make a contribution, their individual effects are so small that for the most part they are barely detectable. This does not mean, however, that intelligence is not inherited. (1)
The word “intelligence” could be replaced with “religiosity,” and we could see some of the similarities between the two, and thus how religiosity could be genetically based. First, intelligence is difficult to define and quantify, just as religiosity is. Second, researchers use questionnaires to help determine how intelligent a person is, just as they use questionnaires to help determine how religious a person is (as the study from my Round 2 response shows). Third, researchers measure and identify behaviors to determine intelligence, just as they measure and identify behaviors to determine religiosity (again, as the aforementioned study shows). Fourth, researchers use brain mapping technology to determine intelligence, just as they use this technology to determine whether or not someone is having a religious experience (2). And fifth, intelligence is a product of a brain and its cognitive functions, thereby making intelligence a genetic product, just as religiosity is (3). I assume these five similarities lead to the following fifth similarity: since “no one even does studies anymore to look at whether intelligence is heritable” because the scientific consensus is that intelligence is heritable (4), we can assume that religiosity is also heritable, and therefore dependent on genetics.
(I know I’m dangerously close to committing the slippery slope fallacy. I know there’s more work for researchers to do to state that religiosity’s being based on genetics is a fact.)
LuckyLemon says, “religiosity is not quantifiable/quantitative” because “someone's level of ‘belief’ is not quantitative like a number of apples or statistical pie chart from the Census.” He gives this statement as a response to my definition of religiosity, “some quantifiable variable that reflects ‘[actions that indicate] belief in, obedience to, and reverence for a god, gods, or similar superhuman power’ (I used the OED.com’s third definition of “religion”).” He also said that my definition did not match OED.com’s definition.
I did not mean to deceive. I assumed the audience would know I altered the definition a bit because I didn’t include the phrase “some quantifiable variable that reflects” in the quotation, and because I used the phrase “Here I’m defining it as” to introduce the definition. Maybe using the following in my parenthetical note would’ve cleared things up: “I derived this definition from the OED.com’s third definition of ‘religion’.”
Since my definition of religiosity is difficult to accept, I’ll have change the definition. But I don’t know what to change it to. If, for the sake of this argument, we don’t assume that religiosity can be quantified, then we may be wasting time. Without this agreement, this debate would boil down to something similar a debate began by the claim “The Marvel Universe is more interesting than the Dragon Ball Universe.” Yes, both debates would be interesting (the latter more so than the former), but nothing substantial would be gained from neither one, unless we consider learning about each other’s preferences the top priority for debating.
As I’ve previously stated above, religiosity is difficult to quantify, just as intelligence is. But this difficultly shouldn’t stop us, or doesn’t stop us, from quantifying neither one. We’d just have to determine what it is we’re trying to measure. We’d have to agree on a definition. We’d also have to accept, or agree to, making explanations based on educated assumptions. I assumed LuckyLemon and the audience would be all right with these stipulations because this debate is rather informal, and because we’re not making real world decisions based on the results of this debate.
I’ve already attempted to define “religiosity,” and now I attempt to quantify it. The article I used during Round 2, “Familial Resemblance in Religiousness in a Secular Society: A Twin Study” (doi:10.1017/thg.2013.3), tries to quantify religiosity by using a survey. Researchers asked respondents about their daily activities and experiences with religion, and the researchers recorded their responses. They assumed higher scores correlated with higher religiosity and lower scores correlated with lower religiosity. Again, these scores may not be accurate representations of the respondents’ religiosity because the scores were based solely on the unverified responses of the subjects, and because controlling variables and making objective measurements are more difficult in a social science than they are in other sciences such as physics or biology (5).
LuckyLemon says, “I see a deadlock where we need to truly debate. Genes do not determine religion because genes do not truly determine behavior.” I agree with his identifying our deadlock. I agree with the risk-taking scenario and the “openness/susceptibility” claim he makes. Furthermore, I agree with his claim that there is no “God” gene, or any other gene that is single-handedly responsible for a particular behavior. As I stated during Round 1, “I’m defending the much simpler proposition that genetics influences how religious a person is, or can be.”
LuckyLemon criticized Elizabeth and Caroline’s story. He said, “By your understanding of religious genetic influences through Punnett Squares, both parents being both homozygous for nonreligiousness should have led to a high percentage of their identical daughters becoming nonreligious as well.” Although Elizabeth and Caroline’s probability of becoming religious was low because neither of their parents were religious, neither Elizabeth nor Caroline were not guaranteed to be nonreligious.
LuckyLemon also criticized my contradiction when I used the Punnett square. I should’ve made myself clearer. During Round 2, LuckyLemon says, “if genes influenced whether a human being becomes religious or not, there would not be nearly as many ‘rebellious’ atheists in the midst of strictly Catholic family and religious people from nonreligious families.” He seemed to misunderstand how genetics could help explain how religious parents could have nonreligious children and vice versa, so I thought simplifying the problem to demonstrate the Punnett square would help. Of course I understand, as LuckyLemon and I have already stated numerous times already, that one gene is typically not responsible for one phenotype. If multiple genes are responsible for something as simple as tongue rolling or eye color (6), then there should also be multiple genes for something more complex, like behavior, personality, and religiosity.
(ajr18 and LuckyLemon have agreed to keep this a 3-Round debate)
Oh no you don't - celery.
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