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IN THEORY:Is faith a matter of genetics?

March 31, 2007

In a recent debate, Daniel Dennett, a professor at Tufts University, argued that religions are like genes, the most successful ones survive not necessarily because their ideas are true, but because they have succeeded as the "fittest" religious arguments through the years. Since not all religions can be true, he suggested that other reasons must be at play in perpetuating them — such as the idea that mankind may be genetically predisposed to being religious.

What do you think of this notion? Could there be a genetic link to religion?

In addressing this question from a Bahá'í perspective, two important principles come to mind. The first is our abiding belief in progressive revelation, the concept that throughout history, God has sent and will continue to send, holy individuals endowed with perfect, divine knowledge, with teachings to renew and advance civilization and man's understanding of the nature of the Creator. In this regard, the supposition that "not all religions can be true" comes into question.

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All the major revelations, including those founded by Moses, Krishna, Zoroaster, Christ, Buddha, Muhammad and Bahá'u'lláh, are actually true when understood as part of an eternal divine plan. Misunderstandings of some of the symbolic aspects of ancient teachings have led to arguments and schisms, but this is man's immaturity at work, not a failing on the part of God or of His divine messengers.

The second Bahá'í principle that finds relevance to this topic is the essential harmony of science and religion, and the acceptance of both as mutual means of understanding existence and the human condition.

Evidential science and intangible belief provide parallel paths to truth and knowledge, and we encourage scientific exploration as a partner to religion.

Perhaps the theory that we are genetically predisposed to a greater or lesser inclination to believe may help explain what drives our thirst to know the unknowable. Perhaps God has given us a small assist to finding faith by creating within us a chemical, biological or genetic blueprint that gently pulls us toward Him. We have far to go to fully understand the nature of faith. There is merit to approaching that understanding by scientific method, as well as by simply and humbly accepting what our souls recognize to be true, without needing proof.

BARBARA CRAMER

Secretary

Local Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Glendale

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