IS GOD IN OUR GENES? Ask true believers of any faith to describe the most important thing that derives their devotion and they will tell you that it is not a thing at all but a sense – a feeling of a higher power far beyond us.
There have always been other, more utilitarian reasons to get religion. Chief among them is the survival. The structure that religion provides our lives helps preserve both mind and body. But that in turn has raised a provocative question, which came first, the GOD or the need for GOD? In other words, did human create religion from signals sent from above, or did evolution instill in us the sense of the divine so that we would gather in to the communities essential to keeping the species going.
Even among people who regard spiritual life as wishful hocus-pocus, there is a growing sense that humans may not be able to survive without it. It’s hard enough getting by in a fang-and-claw world in which killing, thieving, and cheating pay such rich dividends. Far from being an evolutionary luxury, the need for GOD may be a crucial trait stamped deeper and deeper in to our genome with every passing generation. Molecular biologist Dean Hammer claims that human spirituality is an adoptive characteristic, but he also says that he has located one of the genes responsible, a gene that happens to also code for the production of the neurotransmitters that regulate our moods. Hammer believes that every thought we think and every feeling we feel is the result of the activity in the brain. He also thinks that humans follow the basic law of nature, which is that we are a bunch of chemical reaction running around in a bag. Brain chemicals, including Sertorius, norepinephrine, and dopamine, that regulate such fundamental functions as mood and motor control.
Spirituality is a feeling or a state of mind; religion is the way that state gets codified into law. Our genes don’t get directly involved in writing legislation. Perhaps understanding a little bit the emotional connection many have to their religions.
Spirituality is intensely personal, religion is institutional: – For one thing, GOD is a concept that appears in human cultures all over the globe, regardless of how geographically isolated they are. When tribes living in remote areas come up with a concept of GOD as readily as nation living shoulder to shoulder, it is a fairly strong indication that the idea is preloaded in the genome rather than picked up on the fly. If that’s the case it’s an equally strong indication that there are very good reasons that it’s there. But the most important survival role religion may serve is, as the mortar holds the bricks together, worshiping GOD does not have to be a collective, it can be done in isolation, disconnected from any organized religion. The overwhelming majority of people, however, congregate to pray, observing the same rituals and heeding the same creeds. Once that congregation is in place, it is only a small step to using the common system of beliefs and practices as the basis for all the secular laws that keeps the group functioning. In order to survive, you have to organize yourselves in to a culture. The downside to this is that often-religious groups gather not in to congregation but in to camps – and sometimes they are armed camps. In a culture of crusades, holocausts and Jihads, where in the world is the survival advantage of the religious wars or terrorism? One facile explanation has always been herd culling – an adaptive way of keeping populations down so that resources are not depleted. But there is little revolutionary upside to wiping out an entire population of breeding age males, as countries are trying to recover from wars. Why do we then often let the sweetness of religion curdle in to combat? The simple answer might be that just because we are given a gift, we don’t necessarily always use it wisely.