Tuesday, January 13, 2009

It's in your Genes

Could your DNA determine whether or not you believe in God? Does that erase any notion of Free Will? "I can't help it that I believe in God, it's in my genes!" Or would it support the idea that sometime during Man's evolution we created God? When Dr Dean Hamer, director of the Gene Structure and Regulation Unit at the U.S. National Cancer Institute, discovered the God Gene a few years ago he proposed
produces the sensations associated, by some, with the presence of God or other mystic experiences, or more specifically spirituality as a state of mind.
Dr. Hamer has also written a book back in 2004 entitled The God Gene: How Faith is Hardwired into our Genes about his search leading him to VMAT2, the gene that turns up in self-transcendent people. Although Dr. Hamer and his colleagues have yet to publish their results in a scientific journal and have taken some heat from both the religious and scientific communities it is still a very intriguing find. It's still being debated if this gene contributes to a person's spirituality but the importance that this may help explain why we are "spiritual" adds to our understanding of humanity's essence.

What then if this gene does contribute to (or define the level of) our spirituality? Does that prove that God exists or is it just a result of evolution? Dr. Hamer has hypothesized that self-transcendence makes people more optimistic, therefore healthier, improving their chances of having more babies. If spirituality (including religion) is just another stepping stone in Evolutions river then what's next? Can we as a species learn to let go of our ancient myths or is this proof that God exists and this is just another sign of his intelligent design?

Muslims have an interesting term describing the human spiritual drive. Fitra, meaning 'innate human nature' in Arabic, describes that we are born with this knowledge of the divine which acts like a compass that drives us to seek God. Of course this word is also used to describe the pure state of a person before they are brought up by parents with a faith other than Islam. Muslims prefer to refer to those embracing Islam as reverts rather than converts because they believe they are returning to that pure state.

Buddhists also have an intriguing view on gene-based spirituality. Robert Thurman, professor of Buddhist studies at Columbia University, says

Buddhists have long entertained the idea that we inherit a spirituality gene from the person we were in a previous life. Smaller than an ordinary gene, it combines with two larger physical genes we inherit from our parents, and together they shape our physical and spiritual profile. The spiritual gene helps establish a general trust in the universe, a sense of openness and generosity.

This gene might also be used to scientifically explain what prophets experience when they commune with the divine.
"Buddha, Mohammed and Jesus all shared a series of mystical experiences or alterations in consciousness and thus probably carried the gene. This means that the tendency to be spiritual is part of genetic make-up. This is not a thing that is strictly handed down from parents to children. It could skip a generation - it's like intelligence."
When I read this my very next thought jumped to Eli Stone, the now canceled ABC series about a lawyer/modern-day prophet who receives divinely inspired visions of the future due to an inoperable brain aneurysm. His father also had the same brain aneurysm and in the current second (and regrettably final) season his brother also had it for one episode. It's not that God couldn't communicate with Eli without the brain aneurysm but that's just what God used to send his messages.

Is a God Gene really needed to have faith in the Divine? While it is interesting I don't think that it is. That's why it's called Faith, either you have it or you don't. I believe because I can't imagine a complex Universe like ours without one. That doesn't mean I'm correct in fact I don't wish to be correct. My goal is to learn, live, and love as much as I can passing my spirit (and genes) to my children and theirs so that we all might enrich humanity and keep our species alive.

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