Atheism has been linked to genetic mutations, according to a study published in the journal Evolutionary Psychological Science. The authors of the study, who are from the Ulster Institute for Social Research, argue that industrialization has changed our genetic makeup because it has reduced the impact of natural selection. In pre-industrialization societies natural selection played more of a role in which genes survived because the “fittest” were the ones who would reproduce, thus passing their genes onto the next generation. But industrialization brought better medical care and medicine, meaning that more mutations were allowed to proliferate.
What does all of this have to do with religion and atheism? The authors of the new study contend that before industrialization, religious societies thrived because their worship of “moral gods” was what helped individuals to develop strong social bonds and to choose reproductive partners that would pass on strong genes. But western societies became less religious after industrialization, and with the rise of atheism came increased levels of mutations among humans, the researchers say.
“We developed better and better medical care, easier access to healthy food and better living conditions. Child mortality collapsed down to a tiny level and more and more people with more and more mutant genes have survived into adulthood and had children,” lead author of the study Edward Dutton said to Newsweek.
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“Holding similar moral beliefs gives individuals an incentive to mingle—and reproduce—with new people. This creates large ‘ethnocentric; groups, bound by religion, who come to dominate others. They win the wars and kill off the other groups,” Dutton added.
Dutton and his team tested a group of atheists and religious people for left-handedness and found that there were more lefties in the group of professed atheists than the believers. According to the research, left-handedness is an indication of a high level of mutated genes.
As Newsweek reports, life expectancy among religious people tends to be higher. They also tend to be healthier. The research team suggests that it’s not that religion relieves stress and promotes long life but that religious people have the genetic relics from the time before industrialization when natural selection was the norm. The non-religious people would not have lived to adulthood before industrialization, Dutton said.
A 2013 study conducted in Finland adds another dimension to a deeper understanding of atheism. According to the Conversation, its findings suggested that even though atheists said that they did not believe in God, they still feared the concept of God.
During the experiment, scientists strapped electrodes onto a group of believers and non-religious people and then asked them to read some pretty intense statements. Participants were instructed to say things like “I dare God to make my parents drown” or “I dare God to make me die of cancer.” Surprisingly, the people who said that they did not believe in God started sweating at the same levels as people who professed to be believers.
An associated study showed that the participants weren’t just intimidated by condemning people they loved to awful fates. When the non-believers were asked to make similar statements without the mention of God, their physical reactions were different. They were calmer and did not sweat as much.