Thursday, March 20, 2014
God gene - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: The God gene hypothesis proposes that a specific gene (VMAT2) predisposes humans towards spiritual or mystic experiences. The idea has been postulated by geneticist Dean Hamer, the director of the Gene Structure and Regulation Unit at the U.S. National Cancer Institute, and author of the 2005 book The God Gene: How Faith is Hardwired into our Genes.
The God gene hypothesis is based on a combination of behavioral genetic, neurobiological and psychological studies. The major arguments of the hypothesis are: (1) spirituality can be quantified by psychometric measurements; (2) the underlying tendency to spirituality is partially heritable; (3) part of this heritability can be attributed to the gene VMAT2; (4) this gene acts by altering monoamine levels; and (5) spiritual individuals are favored by natural selection because they are provided with an innate sense of optimism, the latter producing positive effects at either a physical or psychological level.
According to this hypothesis, the God gene (VMAT2) is a physiological arrangement that produces the sensations associated, by some, with mystic experiences, including the presence of God or others, or more specifically spirituality as a state of mind.
Based on research by psychologist Robert Cloninger, this tendency toward spirituality is quantified by the self-transcendence scale, which is composed of three sub-sets: "self-forgetfulness" (as in the tendency to become totally absorbed in some activity, such as reading); "transpersonal identification" (a feeling of connectedness to a larger universe); and "mysticism" (an openness to believe things that remain unproven, such as ESP).
The self-transcendence measure was shown to be heritable by classical twin studies conducted by Lindon Eaves and Nicholas Martin. Interpretors of these studies argue that specific religious beliefs (such as belief in Jesus) have no genetic basis and are instead memes, cultural units transmitted by imitation (non genetic means).
The evolutionary advantage this might convey, or whether it could be a side effect of a separate adaptation, have yet to be fully explored. However, Dr. Hamer has hypothesized that self-transcendence makes people more optimistic, which makes them healthier and likely to have more children.
Hamer notes that the importance of the VMAT2 finding is not that it explains all spiritual or religious feelings, but rather that it points the way toward one neurobiological pathway that may be important.
John Polkinghorne, an Anglican priest, member of the Royal Society and Canon Theologian at Liverpool Cathedral, was asked for a comment on Hamer's theory by the British national daily newspaper, The Daily Telegraph. He replied: "The idea of a God gene goes against all my personal theological convictions. You can't cut faith down to the lowest common denominator of genetic survival. It shows the poverty of reductionist thinking."
Hamer repeatedly notes in his book that, "This book is about whether God genes exist, not about whether there is a God."