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Are We Genetically Predisposed to Believe in God?

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February 13, 2010 Tags: Brain, Mind & Soul

Today's video features Jeffrey Schloss. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

In the last installment of our video “Conversations”, Dr. Jeff Schloss of Westmont College discussed two reasons for evangelical opposition to evolution: the theory’s challenges to biblical historicity and to the belief in a creator. In this segment, Schloss addresses what he sees as the third major area of difficulty and that is the question of whether or not human beings are predisposed toward belief in a higher power.

He observes that this has to do with human nature, and not just the origins of human beings, but what it is inside of human beings that people take as tokens of the transcendent—for example, certain moral beliefs, or the human capacity to have religious beliefs. He notes that these are areas of inquiry that evolutionary theory didn’t touch for the first 150 years or so, but in the last few decades its discourse has considered the possibility.

Schloss points out that while this question of evolutionary predisposition toward religious belief may be challenging, Christians need not see it as threatening. In fact, this is actually a Pauline notion that is explored in Romans 1, where Paul claims that it is in mankind’s nature to “know God”: “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (ESV, Romans 1:20-21).

Commentary written by the BioLogos editorial team.

As Senior Scholar of BioLogos, Dr. Jeff Schloss provides writing, speaking, and scholarly research on topics that are central to the values and mission of BioLogos and represent BioLogos in dialogues with other Christian organizations. He holds a joint appointment at BioLogos and at Westmont College. Schloss holds the T. B. Walker Chair of Natural and Behavioral Sciences at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California, and directs Westmont’s Center for Faith, Ethics, and the Life Sciences. Schloss, whose Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology is from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, often speaks to public, church-related, and secular academic audiences on the intersection of evolutionary science and theology. Among his many academic publications are The Believing Primate: Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Reflections on the Origin of Religion

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amy b - #4420

February 13th 2010

I would be very interested in a post on the state of research in evolutionary theory regarding the development of morality, religion and numinous experiences.

Bob R. - #4468

February 14th 2010

You can find an interesting discussion at this web site that deals with the general question, “Does Evolution Explain Human Behavior?” However, many of the participants discuss some of the latest research that you are interested in while wrestling with the broader issue.
Bob R.

amy b - #4482

February 14th 2010

thanks Bob R, I’ll look into your recommendations

Gregory Arago - #4512

February 15th 2010

Aside from the slightly reductionistic title question, this is an excellent video!

‘Tokens of the transcendent’ can be translated as ‘tokens of the immanent’ for people with a karmic worldview. Schloss’ appeal to what “people take to be” is a sociological observation that holds in some places, but not all.

Lev Tolstoy wrote: “People believe in eternal life because they believe that life’s beginning is spiritual, and therefore eternal.” For those who do not believe this, the notion of ‘transcendental’ is a mysterious one to grapple with.

What Schloss says about “evolutionary theory…taking a run at” morals and religious beliefs is true. How to negotiate this? Moral beliefs and religious beliefs are more about ‘Character’ than about ‘Nature.’

By giving space to speak of Character, rather than Nature, Schloss would open the table to new discussants.

This move would show that evolutionary theory is part of ‘natural-physical science’ and *not* properly part of ‘human-social sciences.’ Evolution is a limited theory.

Charlie - #4589

February 16th 2010

Amy B,

Here are a list of articles from the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences:


They’re all about morality and religion.

John VanZwieten - #4590

February 16th 2010

Dr. Shloss’s comments about the Christian beliefs about embodiment are important, and should be included in “The Questions” area in the so-far unanswered questions about evolution and the origin of morality and religious belief.

To demonstrate the biological wiring involved in emotion, belief, memory, will, etc. is not to destroy the spiritual part of those things.  I recently read the book “This is Your Brain on Music” which described many of the biological bases for creating and appreciating music.  I didn’t therefor give up my enjoyment of music—rather I’m all the more amazed by how I’m created.

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