Is God in our genes? • Time Oct. 25, 2004 • “Does our DNA compel us to seek a higher power?” • Do we seek spiritual outlets because they are adaptive? • Does spirituality help humans cope and flourish? • Foster health and well-being?
Buddhist Belief • Existence of a spirituality “gene”. • Inherit a tiny fragment from a previous life. • This small “gene” merges with those we inherit from our parents. • Shape our physical and spiritual profile.
God Gene • Dean Hamer is a geneticist works at National Cancer Institute (NIH). • Ph.D from Harvard Medical School. • The God Gene: How faith is hardwired in our genes • Idea came from a study on smoking and addiction.
Temperament and Character Inventory • TCI designed by Robert Cloninger. • Researcher on genetics of addiction. • Self-transcendence trait made up of: • 1) Self-forgetfulness: To get entirely lost in an experience. • 2) Transpersonal: Connectedness to the larger universe. • 3) Mysticism: Openness to things not literally provable.
Self-transcendence Gene • Hamer ranked 1000 subjects on Cloninger’s self-transcendence trait. • Got DNA samples from subjects. • Focused in 9 genes involved in production of monoamine neurotransmitters related to mood and reward (serotonin, dopamine). • Gene for vesicular monoamine transporter. • VMAT gene variation high in those with trait.
VMAT gene for spirituality? • Buddhists have found Hamer’s finding “amusing and fun”. • What do you think? • Is our tendency to believe in God due to levels of our brain chemicals? • Most religious leaders are not impressed.
John Polkinghorne • British clergyman. • Winner of the Templeton Prize in Science and Religion. • “You can’t cut faith down to the lowest denominator of genetic survival. It shows the poverty of reductionist thinking.” • Reductionist thinking: The nature of complex things can always be reduced to (explained by) simpler or more fundamental things.
Spiritual inheritance • God “gene” may be a stretch. • But spirituality does convey adaptive value. • Could be inherited in a broad sense. • Might help us cope and flourish. • Promote health and well-being. • Those who possess this trait more likely to have productive lives and strong families.
Minnesota Twin Studies • MZ twins share more in common than do DZ twins. • Phobias, illnesses, habits. • MZ twins more likely to share spirituality but not religious faith. • Spirituality is search for meaning in life, need to relate to something greater than one’s self. • Religion is how spirituality is channeled by institutions, specific beliefs and rituals.
Spirituality and religion • Spirituality is found in all human cultures. • Expressed differently in religious faiths. • Common mechanism for transcendence.
Changes in Brain Function • Writing and speaking brain active now. • Processing language. • PET scans show language areas active. • Limbic system (emotional brain) is quiet.
Path to Meditative State • Begin meditation exercise. • Parietal lobe goes quiet: time and space. • Frontal lobes becomes more active. • Inputs from limbic system.
Deep Meditation • Powerful feelings begin to emerge. • Time and space disappear. • Feeling of peace. • Lose world around you. • Spiritual experience • Centering prayer. • Quiet, reflective state. A meditation class
What are the benefits? • Spirituality has a biological expression. • Benefits: Provides good stress reducer. • Neuroscientist Michael Persinger: • “God experience is a brilliant adaptation. It’s a built-in pacifier.” • Seek meaning in our lives. • Hope there is a purpose to it all. • Religion provides additional benefits.
Religion and Health • Most medical schools now expose students to spiritual issues. • Harvard Medical School: Armand Nicholi • Question of God • Contrasts Freud and C.S. Lewis. • Viewpoints about the role of religion in psychological and physical health.
Religion and well-being • Benefits of participation in religious behavior. • Not just beliefs. • Those that attend services on regular basis report greater well-being and better health. • More than just social association. • Six factors
1. Provides Social support • Social support strong predictor of well-being. • Community of like minded individuals. • Social psych: we strongest bond with others like ourselves. • Help others with problems in mind, body and spirit.
2. Support Health Lifestyles • Many religions urge moderation in use of alcohol and drugs. • Some prohibit use. • Others promote family guidelines. • Discourage other risky behavior. • Natural helpers: Referral sources.
3. Personality Integration • Deeper commitment helps people focus on goals and strivings. • Life-long path of discovery. • Meditation and prayer help us integrate our personalities. • Who we are and what we are about.
4. Increase Generativity • Erik Erickson’s Developmental Stages • Stage Seven – later adulthood, marked by generativity versus stagnation • In this stage generativity refers to the adult's ability to care for another person. • Not just your own children but the next generation(s).
5. Unique Coping Strategies • Providing hope, optimism. • Relief from stressors. • Place lives in a greater perspective. • Positive forms: Working with higher power to get through difficulty. • Negative forms (guilt and blaming) offer no relief.
6. Sense of Purpose • Life has meaning and purpose. • Religion provides framework for life’s journey. • Traditions and rites of passage. • Add meaning to events. • Good times and bad. • Sense of control: Not just pawns.
Not alone on our journey • Prayer: “You are close to us as breathing and further than the farthest most star.” • Provides moral code of conduct. • Most religions have a version of “do unto others as you would have them to unto you.” • Foster a sense of self-worth, shared meaning from the community.
Dark Side of Religion • Religion can become evil. • Religious wars. • Exclude and devalue others who don’t share your beliefs. • Ethnic cleansing. • John Lennon’s dream of a perfect world with “no religion too”.
Benefits from other sources? • Commitment to an important cause. • Examples: Promoting peace, protecting nature, securing equality. • Might provide sense of purpose, social support, generativity, personality integration. • Healthy lifestyle? • Unique coping strategies?
Spirituality takes many forms. • Have to be engaged. • Not just beliefs, but also actions. • Benefits come from active participation. • Walk the talk. • Generativity: Care for the next generation. • Amazing returns on your investment.