20170809

A gene for religiosity?

PSI Blog 20170809 A gene for religiosity?

I am always interested in finding out why indeterminists use the assumptions they do. So I just reviewed a book, “The God Model,” by Phillip Shirvington, that surveys all the prominent religions and comes up with the idea that natural selection may have favored a part of the brain that causes folks to be religious.

He writes:

“So, to summarize, it is proposed that the common thread running through all religions is the existence of a faculty enabling access to what is believed to be a God in the mind of the individual, derived from code in the human genome, emplaced there 15,000-200,000 years ago, during which our ancestors evolved after having acquired human form. This faculty in the mind is the basis of religious experiences by believers, which in turn underpin institutional religion of all kinds…”

Readers should know that I believe that religion evolved in response to the need to instill and enforce loyalty in defense of a particular social organization. The destruction of the unfittest eliminates disloyal elements, protecting the organization from disbandment. In science, we do the same thing, rejecting publications and individuals that contradict the established paradigm.

Most of the text would be useful in a course on comparative religion, outlining the assumptions used by organized religious sects. For instance, some believe that the universe is material per the First Assumption of Science, materialism (The external world exists after the observer does not), some believe that it is an illusion (immaterialism), and some believe in a mixture of both. And, of course, as I have maintained elsewhere, nearly all religions oppose the Fourth Assumption of Science, inseparability (Just as there is no motion without matter, so there is no matter without motion).

Now for the strange part. A gene for religion? The evolutionist, Dawkins, came up with the term “meme” for ideas that evolve, being passed from generation to generation, sort of like that old “telephone” game in which a statement passed from person-to-person gets messed up in the process. Thank heaven that he never gave a genetic cause for any of those memes—they were all cultural. On the other hand, Shirvington might have something there. Again, he writes: “evidence in this book suggests religiosity is a least partly genetically determined.” He points out that primates without the prefrontal brain capability that humans have do not display religious behavior. He doesn’t exactly say there might be a gene for religion or that there is a special spot in the brain for religiosity.

Instead, I tend to believe Sapolsky’s interpretation that religion is a mental illness. Schizophrenia, for instance, is known to be inherited. It seems in this disease, one half of the brain can talk to the other half as if they were two people. Thus, reports by folks who have “talked to god” have a certain reality to them. Others, who have been properly indoctrinated in religious matters also might display their mental illness as religious behavior. He does have a great explanation of where the idea of heaven came from: We have a tendency to visit our deceased relatives and friends in our dreams. Heaven is therefore just an extension of those dreams. Shirvington puts a lot of stock in ordinary folks who report dramatic religious experiences. Of course, the elation felt when one is “born again” is little different than the dithyrambosis or eureka moments felt by scientists, adventurers, and gold seekers. Also of course, those not exposed to any religious dogma are unlikely to exhibit religious behavior no matter what their genetics—an obvious falsification of Shirvington’s theory.

  


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