Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

Twin Research Links Genetics and Adult Spirituality
ABC News ^ | March 21, 2005 | AMANDA ONION

Posted on 03/21/2005 11:57:19 AM PST by Heartlander

Twin Research Links Genetics and Adult Spirituality
As People Enter Adulthood, Religious 'Genes' Kick In, Study Finds


March 21, 2005 — The Georgia woman who reportedly convinced an alleged gunman to end his killing spree said she and Brian Nichols talked about their families, the Bible and their faith.

"I believe God brought him to my door," Ashley Smith told reporters after calling 911 and alerting police that Nichols, the suspect in the slayings of four people, including an Atlanta judge, was in her apartment.

Smith's faith may have led her to believe that Nichols targeted her for a reason, but scientists are asking what makes people like Smith maintain their faith in the first place.

If new research is to be believed, when it comes to fostering religious adults, genetics play a significant role.

Recent studies with twins show that while environmental factors play a big part in determining a person's degree of faith early in life, later on genetics take over and become a dominant factor as people make the transition into adulthood and either strengthen or reduce the role of religion in their lives.

"Our findings show that the differences in religiousness among individuals are due in part to genetic differences among individuals," said Laura Koenig, a graduate student at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and lead author of the twin study in the current issue of the Journal of Personality.

This could mean that people like Smith are, to some extent, hardwired in their faith.

Comparing Faith Among Twins

To get at possible causes behind a person's degree of religiousness, Koenig examined surveys completed by 169 identical and 104 fraternal twins. All the twins were men born in Minnesota with an average age of 33 at the time of the survey. The idea was that similarities in faith between identical twins would have a stronger genetic link that those found among fraternal twins.

In the surveys, the men graded how often they took part in religious activities and the importance of religious faith in their lives. They also rated their mother and father's level of faith, as well as their own while they were growing up. Finally, they were asked to grade the current and past religious faith of their twin.

Koenig then compared how similar faith levels were between the identical twins, who share 100 percent of their genes, and the fraternal twins, who share half of their genes, to get a sense of how much genetics may be influencing their faith. The results, she said, "showed that the environment had a large effect on religiousness in childhood," while for adults, "the reverse was true — genetic effects were stronger."

The findings are a fresh take on previous research that has hinted at a genetic root for spirituality. Among the first was a 1979 twin study at the University of Minnesota, led by one of Koenig's co-authors and advisers, Thomas Bouchard, a psychologist at the school.

In this now-famous study, the researchers tracked down 53 pairs of identical twins and 31 pairs of fraternal twins who had been separated at birth and raised in different settings. The researchers then looked for traits in common to try and separate the influences of genetics and environment.

Among the many areas where identical twins showed strong overlap was spirituality — they were twice as likely as fraternal twins to share as much or as little faith as their long lost sibling. There was a weaker genetic link, however, when the researchers assessed how much each twin practiced his or her religion, in terms of attending services or observing rituals.

"I think it is important to distinguish religion in terms of things like going to church and following a creed. That tends to be very much influenced by the patterns of your parents," said Robert Cloninger, a psychiatrist at Washington University in St. Louis and co-designer of a test used in psychiatry to assess character and spirituality. "Spirituality, meanwhile, has to do with a way of feeling and thinking, which tends to lead to an acceptance of the role of a higher intelligence. Studies show there are specific receptors in the brain that influence a person's ability to get into that mode of thought."

If hardwiring for spirituality exists, is it there for a reason? Some argue it's there for a very important purpose — survival.

Survival of the Most Spiritual?

"There is logic behind why humans may have evolved with a religious predisposition in their genes — it has health, pro-social behaviors and psychological advantages," argues Harold Koenig (no relation to Laura Koenig), a psychologist and co-director of the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at Duke University. "Hope, optimism helps people to survive despite difficult life circumstances."

Koenig's center has conducted more than 25 studies over the past 20 years looking at the relationship between religion and physical and mental health. He says the work has shown a clear link between good health and spirituality, except in less common cases where unwell people feel they have been 'punished' by God.

Assuming religion does carry a health benefit, as Harold Koenig's studies suggest, then, he says, it makes sense that evolution would favor a genetic disposition for spirituality. Dean Hamer, a geneticist at the U.S. National Cancer Institute has made similar arguments in his book, "The God Gene: How Faith Is Hardwired into Our Genes."

But these researchers also stress that genetics certainly don't act alone when it comes to influencing a person's level of faith. In fact, as people age and approach the possibility of death, or when individuals, such as alleged hostage victim Smith and shooting suspect Nichols are facing an extreme fate, Harold Koenig argues that outside circumstances inevitably start to play a stronger role.

"When you're confronted with issues that take away control of your own life, environmental factors will be stronger," he said. "Genes are still at play, but for the moment they take the back seat."

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Miscellaneous; Philosophy; Technical
KEYWORDS: faith; faithandphilosophy; genetics; godgene; laurakoenig; spirituality
Science attempts to explain religion and God via evolution. Isn’t that special…

For the record, this article does not reflect my beliefs.

1 posted on 03/21/2005 11:57:22 AM PST by Heartlander
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: Heartlander

Well, look at it this way, if true, God picked you before you got here.

2 posted on 03/21/2005 12:03:00 PM PST by edcoil (Reality doesn't say much - doesn't need too)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Heartlander

Interesting how the MSM are trying to hold on to their "values" while reporting more frequently about religion. It's like they KNOW they have to, but they can't quite bring themselves to do it.

3 posted on 03/21/2005 12:04:09 PM PST by Darkwolf377 (Agnostic for life)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Heartlander

""I believe God brought him to my door,"

I don't, anymore than I believe that God brought this a$$clown to slaughter 3 innocent people in the process of bringing him to her door.

4 posted on 03/21/2005 12:05:37 PM PST by Blzbba (Don't hate the player - hate the game!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: edcoil


This would quiet my Bible study's most oft-heated debate --- predestination.

That said, the study is garbage.

5 posted on 03/21/2005 12:06:22 PM PST by MeanWestTexan
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

To: Heartlander

I am looking at the name of the author, and wondering how anyone can hope to have a career as a credible journalist with a name like Amanda Onion!

Amanda B. Rekkenduith, perhaps.

6 posted on 03/21/2005 12:06:58 PM PST by Atlas Sneezed (Your FRiendly FReeper Patent Attorney)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Heartlander

This is our version of Social Darwinism. Now, it's genetics.

7 posted on 03/21/2005 12:10:18 PM PST by LauraleeBraswell ( CONSERVATIVE FIRST-Republican second.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Heartlander
My question has got to be how many Millions of taxpayer dollars were dropped on this worthless piece of scientific doggerel? This article is laughable.
8 posted on 03/21/2005 12:12:20 PM PST by SouthernBoyupNorth ("For my wings are made of Tungsten, my flesh of glass and steel..........")
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: MeanWestTexan

The bible also says I knew you in the womb

No that is not predestination is it?

9 posted on 03/21/2005 12:14:45 PM PST by edcoil (Reality doesn't say much - doesn't need too)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: Heartlander

I didn't detect any use of the "E" word at all. This article was primarily about psychology and genetics. It basically outlined the nature vs. nurture aspects of religious participation. I don't believe there was anything inflammatory or controversial about this article. Nor were there any beliefs reflected.

10 posted on 03/21/2005 12:16:34 PM PST by Redfox
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Heartlander

It would make a great book title, anyway... "The God Gene".

11 posted on 03/21/2005 12:24:09 PM PST by thoughtomator (Death to Terri! Death to Israel! Death to the Great Satan!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: edcoil

I thought that was just John the Baptist, but I can't remember.

Ah but foreknowledge is not the same thing as pre-destination.

That said --- I deal with pre-destination the same way I deal with the issue of whether it is possible to lose one's salvation --- when logical arguments can be made any direction, I try to err on the safe side.

12 posted on 03/21/2005 12:29:23 PM PST by MeanWestTexan
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 9 | View Replies]

To: Redfox

The ‘E’ word is used and apparently our genetic codes just see things differently.

13 posted on 03/21/2005 12:39:16 PM PST by Heartlander (I prefer Pinkard and Bowden over Pinker and Skinner)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 10 | View Replies]

To: Heartlander
I have a tendency to believe the premise of the article.

I was adopted. Growing up I knew I was Catholic, I knew that Catholicism was the way I should express my beliefs. I wanted to go to Catholic School, but my parents said "but honey, we're Baptist".

As an adult, I converted to Catholicism. Then, due to an inheritance put back for me from my biological family, I had the opportunity to meet them and discover a bit of my origin.

They were all Greek Orthodox. I know nothing about the Greek Orthodox Church except its catholic nature.

Maybe I was genetically programmed, maybe not - but definitely worth a thought or two.
14 posted on 03/21/2005 12:44:28 PM PST by hushpad (The Slippery Slope? The Judiciary passed it a few miles back.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: MeanWestTexan

Any betting man would bet on God's side if just to go with the percentages 8-).

15 posted on 03/21/2005 12:45:20 PM PST by edcoil (Reality doesn't say much - doesn't need too)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 12 | View Replies]

To: Redfox

If by "E" word, you mean evolution; then you weren't reading too closely.

“There is logic behind why humans may have evolved with a religious predisposition in their genes”

“it makes sense that evolution would favor a genetic disposition for spirituality”

16 posted on 03/21/2005 12:45:41 PM PST by Sopater
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 10 | View Replies]

To: Heartlander
Roughly, this accords with my experience.

Many people I respect report “spiritual” or “religious” experience, while some others , myself included, seem to have the potential for this sort of experience to a only very limited extent, if at all, my impression has always been that “spirituality” was an innate capacity in much the same way that some people are profoundly moved by music, and others not.

Similarly, it’s always seemed to me that being disturbed by someone’s ability to experience (for example) “divine presence” or not makes about as much sense as being upset with someone who responds differently than I do to a particular piece of art - I may be convinced that someone with the inability to respond as I do to a painting that “speaks to me” is poorer for it, but I don’t suppose that I can convince them that my experience is somehow more “real” or “accurate” than their own – only that it’s different.

And wonder: if we are eventually able to demonstrate an underlying neurological basis for the experience of “spirituality”, will “spiritual” or “religious” people find it easier to accept the lack of such experience as a normal aspect of the human distribution of “talents”, or conversely will the “non-spiritual” find it easier to accept the reality of such spiritual experience for those who are prone to discover it.

And I also wonder how we might eventually find that a propensity to “spirituality” is correlated to a propensity for “religious belief” - for example I know people who would characterize themselves as very “spiritual” but who are not much attracted to any of the organized systems of religious belief, and adamantly “secular” who are attracted to organizations professing “belief systems” which seem to have a lot in common with organized “religions”.

The only thing I'm sure of is that such a demonstration would likely upset at lot of people of both sorts.
17 posted on 03/21/2005 1:32:43 PM PST by M. Dodge Thomas (More of the same, only with more zeros on the end.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: M. Dodge Thomas

I personally know many people who were non-religious - from non-religious homes - who became Christians and their lives changed. I do not see divine revelation (a manifestation of divine will or truth) as genetic but obviously the argument is being put forward.

18 posted on 03/21/2005 3:26:39 PM PST by Heartlander (I prefer Pinkard and Bowden over Pinker and Skinner)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 17 | View Replies]

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794 is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson