24 January 2012

Nature, Nurture, And Godliness

I saw two very similar posts today in my Google Reader feed, and I figured that they were a sign that I needed to finish a post I started writing seven weeks ago. The first post is from Chuck:

The crux for my rejection of God – or at least the narrative crafted around the existence of God and his plan – has always been that if God gifted man with the ability to reason, which breeds the tendency to be skeptical, then casting skeptics into Hell for not believing is a bit sadistic.  I can only know Earthly values, and if I know not to pledge allegiance to Earthly sadists then I must maintain consistency in that principle.

The second is from Scott Adams:

There's a hypothesis that the ability to believe in God has a genetic basis. That hypothesis is far from proven, but the smart money says there is some truth to it because most mental capacities have a genetic component. There's probably even a genetic basis for why my favorite color is green.

Both Chuck and Scott Adams address man’s religious tendencies from a genetic tendency.  Chuck obviously has a negative perspective (certain genetic attributes move you away from a belief in God) and Adams takes a positive perspective (certain genetic attributes move you towards a belief in God), but both make the point that one’s beliefs have a basis in genetics.  Assuming this is true, the question must be asked:  why is there a behavioral component to religion if religiosity is primarily a matter of genetics?

Of course, it should be noted that it is hard to sort nature from nurture.  Are religious people that way by nature or nurture?  An absence of childhood church attendance, for example, indicates a lack of environmental emphasis on church attendance, which then begets an absence of adult attendance.  However, parents that don’t take their children to church are basically demonstrating nonattendance as well.  Absence of church attendance, then, can be seen as both symptom and cause, and thus serves as a self-reinforcing feedback loop.  Therefore, if a parent has a genetic predisposition to avoid attending church, this will have genetic ramifications for his children, and will be reinforced in the children’s environment.

At any rate, the greater point is that genetic predispositions towards certain behaviors (in this case, religiosity and its manifestations) will not only have obvious genetic ramifications, but environmental indicators as well. 

And so, one can make the argument that genetics not only pass on through breeding, but through environmental controls as well (since humans have some control over their environment).  But if genetic predisposition are more dominant in their manifestations (i.e. genetic tendencies are more likely to influence environmental factors than environmental factors are to influence genetic tendencies), the obvious conclusion is that, for all intents and purposes, the actual behavioral components of religion need not be followed because one’s religiosity is already genetically predetermined.  This begs an obvious question:  Why, then, would God command parents to train children to act religiously?

God clearly states that he desires Godly offspring, which means that he expects parents to act in such a way that their children are religious.  One way to attain this goal is to have someone who is genetically predisposed to being religious marry and copulate with someone who is also genetically predisposed to being religious, thus increasing the chance that one’s offspring are genetically predisposed to being religious.

Therefore, the behavioral components of religion can be viewed as a way of genetic signaling.  One need not necessarily do them because they are inherently religious (or moral) but because they signal that one is religious (or moral).  If one is genetically predisposed to Godliness, this would be shown by obedience to essentially meaningless, arbitrary rules.  Thus, it is not that the rules are significant, but that the compliance to the rules that is significant.  Therefore, those who are compliant to generally arbitrary rules are demonstrating their genetic predispositions for the purpose of finding a similar mate.

[As a point of clarification, the arguments and assertions in this post should not be viewed as advocacy or evidence of personal beliefs.  This is simply an intellectual exercise and nothing more.  The reality of the role of nature and nurture as it relates to Godliness is likely more complex than humans can imagine.  Also note that several terms and words are used interchangeably with other terms and words (e.g. “religious” is used interchangeably with “moral”).]

No comments:

Post a Comment