Nature or Nurture: Is Spirituality in Our DNA?

The human inclination to believe in supernatural beings such as gods, ghosts, angels, souls and spirits can be found throughout history and in every known culture. Today, some studies suggest that 84% of the world’s population belong to a religious group or consider religion to be important to them. But while we continue to turn to God in our hour of need, are we predisposed to believing? Is it in our DNA or something we have learned?

The Enduring Strength of Religion and Belief

Religion and spiritual belief have featured in every culture throughout history, with evidence for beliefs in an afterlife dating back to at least 50,000 to 100,000 years. Despite religious prejudice and persecution experienced around the world, religion and spirituality continues to endure and be a central part of life for hundreds of millions of people. In this fast-paced, modern and often isolating world, our faith and belief have become even more important and crucial in helping us to manage our lives. Belief and spirituality offer great comfort and help us cope in times of poor health and while our bodies may be sick, spiritually and belief can help keep our mind clear and healthy. Our spirituality is key to helping us on the road to self-discovery and enabling us to make deeper connections.

Are Our Brains Programmed to Believe?

While some suggest that our brains have evolved to believe in God, Neuroscientists have explored the question of whether we are hard-wired to have religious and spiritual belief by comparing the brains or both believers and non-believers, looking to see if there are any changes to the brain when we meditate or pray. While there is still very little known in this area, what scientists have found is that our brains change during our lives as we develop and have new experiences. While our brains are involved in everything we do and experience, there is no specific spot in the brain dedicated to anything, including faith. There is no specific ‘God spot’.

Is Religion in our Genes?

A study of American twins may help scientists understand whether genes play a role in determining how religious a person is. Scientists had always considered that religious inclination was a product of a person’s upbringing or socialisation. However recent research and a study of adult twins who were raised apart, suggests genes may contribute around 40% of the changeability of a person’s religiousness. But what is not clearly understood, is just how that changes with age. Some studies of young people with adoptive or biological parents have indicated that children tend to mirror the religious and spiritual beliefs of their parents. Genes may therefore only play a small role in a child or teenager’s religiousness.

Whether it’s hard-wired in our DNA to have spiritual beliefs or something we learn from our environment and upbringing, the inclination for humans to believe in a greater power is still strong and with no signs of waning.

Katlyn Eriksen

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