The God Gene

On my recent trip I took along Dean Hamer’s book The God Gene: How Faith Is Hardwired into Our Genes. Since he apologizes for the title as not of his choosing, I will not comment on it, except to say that it was a factor that led me to not read the book sooner. I thought it would be predictable where his line of reasoning would go, based on the title, and so I write this as someone who was pleasantly surprised by the book’s content. He is not attempting to suggest that there is in fact a single “God gene”, but merely exploring the role of genes in spirituality and religion.

Hamer’s book is based on one particular discovery the author was involved in relating to a genetic difference and its effect on brain chemistry relevant to spirituality, as well as the results of various twin studies in this area. He offers a nice balance between nature and nurture (and, while recognizing that there are genetic and social roots to these, he leaves room for the idea of ‘personal preference’). Among the most striking information in the book is that there is an inverse correlation between mystical and religious tendencies (p.21). There is also strong evidence that, while parents may influence whether or not their children do such things as attend church, there is little ability on the part of parents to influence whether their children are spiritual (pp.49,51,176-177). Religion and spirituality are clearly independent factors, even though this doesn’t entirely support the contemporary dichotomy that some make between the two. As Hamer himself writes, “Whatever the genes are for spirituality, they don’t have any effect on how often people go to church.”

Given that the author clearly doesn’t know much about religions in general (there is a reference to Islam on p.210 that is about as inaccurate as is conceivably possible), the book is not bad. There are some interesting references to DNA research on the Jews and on caste in India – although the evidence that is at odds with the traditional Biblical account is not actually mentioned. What is included is nonetheless important and fascinating.

At the Sibiu conference I attended only one paper dealt with Neurotheology, but it was an interesting one. The author spoke about the thalamus and compared it to the ‘bridal chamber’ of the mind/soul mentioned by the mystics. It was interesting to see how someone objected to the suggestion that spiritual experiences might have something to do with the brain. The same person also objected to the theologian in question’s use of the term “making love” in relation to the mystical experience of God. Anyone who knows the writings of the mystics, or who has had a mystical experience themselves, will know that such language is in fact apt. And given the similarities, and given that religious experiences, whatever else they may be, are experiences, how could they possibly not have a connection to the brain?

It is now possible to identify genes such as VMAT2, which codes for a monoamine transporter and the two versions of which (A and C) correspond to a significant extent to one’s sense (or not) of self-transcendence – this is the key research Hamer was involved in on this subject, and which he describes in the book. Although I am (mostly) being facetious, I would humbly suggest that the presence of A rather than C in one’s DNA at this point be called “The Dawkins Disability”. After all, religion seems to be present from the origin of self-awareness, and although religion and spirituality are themselves not directly correlated, religion tends to arise and perpetuate ideas that are born out of spirituality – major religious figures were in most cases individuals who had mystical or other sorts of religious experiences. Perhaps it would be fitting to name the presence of a particular gene variation that fails to provide for such experiences after a person who illustrates precisely the sort of lack of self-transcendence this gene causes.

At any rate, for anyone interested in the relationship between religion and science, and between mysticism and neuroscience in particular, I would definitely recommend this book.

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13138212243149812373 Kurt

    God Gene ExistsTheories on the fourth dimension vary widely. I believe that there is a fourth-dimensional world containing forces that can act upon and influence us three-dimensional beings, as the Spiritualists assert.The Fourth Dimension Simply Explained by Manning, Henry P. states, ”Is there a real fourth-dimensional world? It is highly improbable. If there were such a world would it be inhabited by beings that could act upon us three-dimensional beings, as the Spiritualists assert? We reasoned the possibilities of a fourth-dimensional world by analogy — we must reason this question in the same way. If there is a fourth-dimensional world containing beings that can act upon and influence us, who are but three-dimensional, then, by analogy, we would expect the existence of a world of two-dimensional beings upon whom we could consciously act. We do not know of such a world. Also, we would expect a fifth-dimensional world with beings that could influence the beings of a fourth-dimensional world, and so on. Perhaps there is a two-dimensional world that we cannot influence. Then, the other worlds should be independent also, and if the fourth-dimensional beings can still influence us, then the fourth-dimensional world would be an exception in the great plan of creation. The existence of such a world with beings that can influence us is, therefore, highly improbable.”I am a rational, logical, non-religious sixty-five year old retired California Real Estate Broker, living in Newport Beach. I considered my first spiritual interaction fifty years ago a possible dream until I had two additional distinct spiritual interactions in September 2001. I then came to the conclusion that they definitely were not dreams. It results when, via meditation, the state of consciousness is placed into a trance, it is a displacement, standing out from the proper place, hence a spiritual rising above; A transference of consciousness from the physical plane to another inner and superior plane, accompanied by awareness and memory of the experience. It is necessary to distinguish between an astral-psychic experience and a truly psycho-spiritual one. The former is delusive, the latter is the state of illumination spoken of by Plotinus, resulting from the true asceticism of the disciple and in its highest form is the same as the high stage of meditation; “the liberation of the mind from its finite consciousness, becoming one and identified with the Infinite”.The India Daily Technology Team on May 28, 2005 published the following editorial in their newspaper.“Physics meets paranormal – Finding nearest openings to seven parallel Universes – Near death experiences.The ultimate bending space and time results in finding the opening to the nearest parallel space and time. According to advanced researchers in Physics, there are seven parallel Universes. These Universes are so different in their perception that with conventional physics we can never find where they are and how they are. However, the concept of accelerating to speed much higher than light and take us to these parallels Universes through an opening in our vicinity. You do not have to travel a thousand light years into a black hole to go there; that is just one of the ways to approach the parallel Universes. But our mind and spirit has the psychic power that can make us travel through the nearest opening into the parallel Universes. Those who have experienced near death experiences move into these parallel Universes through the tunnel with a while light at the end of the tunnel. All of those who had near death experience report similar happenings. How can this be explained with physics?Our spirit or soul is a source of electromagnetic energy that can infinitively amplify if needed. Inner satisfaction of a soul results in elevation of this energy. It is also true that we move into these parallel Universes using intense electromagnetic flux with the help of dark energy. We just do not know how to do that. The problem is that if we try to do it using physical means we encounter a situation that is infinitely impossible to achieve. But accelerating through a black hole or applying dark energy in a suitable manner in the immediate vicinity theoretically can take us to the parallel Universe. But a much better way is to traverse to the parallel Universe through our inbuilt psychic power. When our spirit is allowed freedom through death or through transcendental meditation, the unleashed electromagnetic flux crates the miracle – it finds an immediate opening to the parallel Universe in the close vicinity. Religious prophets in various religions as well as those who have experienced near death experience the parallel Universes. Most of them report part of oneness and tranquility. They also report of completeness of knowledge.Will we eventually find the electromagnetic fields and the change that runs this Universe? The other parallel Universes may not work the same way. That is the reason what is energy or spirit in this Universe is part of tranquility and eternity in another Universe. This has now been verified by Transcendentalist Kurt Kawohl from the USA. When he had a near-death experience in 1956 at age fifteen his soul traveled into a higher-level parallel universe. What happens to us after death has now been made clear. Kurt twice repeated this experiment in 2001 when he placed his body in stasis and used his psychic power via transcendental meditation to again access this parallel universe where spiritual life thrives. Some researchers believe that parallel universes exist in our immediate vicinity.Please feel free to visit http://transcendentalists.org and http://www.lulu.com/kkawohl1 to learn more about Kurt Kawohl’s experience”.