Nel's New Day

November 4, 2012

Genetics Shape Religious Beliefs

Why are some people religious and others non-believers? A special report in Scientific American earlier this year addresses the question: “Why does God exists for some of us but not for others?” A study of of people’s religious beliefs shows “that certain personality types are predisposed to land on different spots of the religiosity spectrum.” According to this study, “genetic factors account for more than half of the variability among people on the core dimensions of their character, which implies that a person’s feelings regarding religion also contain a genetic component.”

This study uses the same personality characteristics that have been used to determine the level of conservatism in personality: extroversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness. These remain stable through a person’s life and are independent of each other.

“Extroverts are dynamic, gregarious and socially warm, whereas introverts are timid and reserved.

“Neuroticism refers to a person’s tendency to be anxious, depressed, and generally emotionally vulnerable, as opposed to emotionally stable and positive.

“A third facet is agreeableness, which captures whether a person is empathetic, helpful and trusting of others, as opposed to mean, individualistic and arrogant.

“Conscientiousness individuals are methodical, self-controlled, and willing to establish goals and work toward achieving them, whereas those low in conscientiousness tend to be impulsive and disorganized.

“Finally we can differ in openness: whether we like novel, challenging and complex ideas, experiences and feelings. Less open individuals prefer to stay within their comfort zone.”

An analysis of studies shows that religious people score higher on agreeableness and conscientious. They end to volunteer more and show more self-control in areas such as low alcohol, drug, and tobacco use. People who  assume that these traits come from their religious beliefs need to understand that personality traits are present in early childhood and then heavily shape social attitudes, values, and identities in later life.

Scholars have long suggested that religion fosters social bonds within large groups of people. Agreeableness and conscientiousness indicate preference for social harmony and personal order—a type of stability.

Another characteristic of religious people is that they are less likely to use humor. They are also more likely to be in education, medical services, health, and humanities fields whereas nonbelievers go into engineering, science, and mathematics.

Individuals low on openness tend to be drawn to fundamental religions. When presented with choices, people in these religions are willing to help familiar people but not strangers. Other tests show the highly religious people are not willing to help people who they perceive as threatening to their personal values. In other words, “those viewed as outsiders were least likely to receive a helping hand from more conservative beliefs.”

Shared environment may play a great role in childhood and adolescence, but the genetic influence kicks in between ages 18 to 25. For adolescents, genetics counts for only 12 percent of religious identity with the environment counting for 56 percent of the outcome. The remainder of the percentage comes from unique characteristics that shape adolescents. In adults, genetics determine 44 percent toward religiosity and 18 percent, environment. The farther they go from the influence of early years, the more idiosyncratic factors determine attitudes.

The report concludes: “Does God call us? For some of us, the answer is yes: through our genes, parents, acquaintances, and life events.

The far-right, religious people tend to accuse the “liberal education” in universities of turning their children away from the church. According to these studies, the young people are just turning to their genetic makeup to make decisions.

The studies also show why more religious people are unwilling to give rights to people who they don’t know, such as marriage equality, and are less likely to care about people in poverty who have starving children. Unless they know the people who need help, they don’t want to provide assistance.

Another interesting part of religion comes from a new poll revealing that more than 68 percent of registered Republican voters believe that people can be possessed by demons. Only 48 percent of self-identified Republicans believe in climate change. The poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling, described by NPR as “one of the most prolific polling outfits in the country.” Yet only 37 percent of registered voters–both Democrat and Republican–believe in ghosts. According to the poll, zombies are considered to be the scariest monster, another issue that has not been raised at all on the campaign trail.

Asides:  Newt Gingrich’s newsletter, Human Events, included the following last week: The truth is, the next election has already been decided. Obama is going to win. It’s nearly impossible to beat an incumbent president. What’s actually at stake right now is whether or not he will have a third-term. Once again, politicians prey on the ignorant. According to the 22nd Amendment, ratified in 1951, presidents cannot run for more than two terms.

Mitt Romney has spent much of his campaigning trying to convince listeners that people are worse off since President Obama was inaugurated. Gallup’s “U.S. Economic Confidence Index” keeps refuting Romney’s claim. At -22 almost five years ago during George W. Bush’s last year, it has climbed to -8 this past week, up 12 points in the past month.

My praises to the sturdy people who are willing to stand in long lines to vote, lines that would be shorter if Republicans were willing to extend early voting. An example is Florida, where one man stood in line for eight hours. Other people lasted until 1:00 am after the lines were cut off at 8:00: that’s another five hours.

What I liked best about today was the extra hour that I gained from ending Daylight Savings Time. And VP Joe Biden’s comment: “It’s Mitt Romney’s favorite time of the year because he gets to turn the clock back.”

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