The Long Road from Genes to God

By Carl Zimmer | September 20, 2004 2:33 pm

I am sure that in 50 years, we are going to know a lot more about how the mind works. The fusion of psychology and genetics will tell us about how our personality is influenced by our genes, and they’ll also show exactly how the environment plays a hand as well. The preliminary evidence is just too impressive to seriously doubt it. Likewise, I am sure that we will have a deeper understanding how our minds have evolved, pinpointing the changes in DNA over the past six million years have given us brains that work very differently than apes. Again, the first results can’t help but inspire a lot of hope.

Given where I stand on all this, I would have thought that I’d enjoy Dean Hamer’s new book, The God Gene: How Faith is Hard-Wired In Our DNA. The time is ripe, judging from the string of books that have been published in the past few years on the link between religion and biology. I thought that Hamer, a geneticist, might be able to throw some interesting information into the mix, thanks to his expertise in behavioral genetics. The book turned out to be elegant and provocative, and, as I write in my review in the new issue of Scientific American, disappointingly thin on the evidence. From a single study that Hamer hasn’t even published yet, he weaves an incredibly elaborate scenario in which faith is an adaptive trait. I wouldn’t be surprised if it is the product in some way of natural selection, but now is hardly the time to be writing a book claiming to have figured out its origins–not to mention making appearances on talk shows and the like. Too many links between behavior and genes have already crashed and burned (including some Hamer himself has made).

Update, 9/27: Scientific American has posted the review on their site

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Uncategorized
MORE ABOUT: Brains

Comments (7)

  1. Augusta Era Golian

    Ahhh, but the money is to be made now, before the crash and burn.

  2. the bunyip

    Whell, i beat you on the calendar, Carl, but that’s about all. Mine’s in Amazon.

    Hamer asks all the right questions, but has no qualms about providing answers on skimpy evidence. In one sense, that’s a pity since many will be diverted from taking further steps in researching this issue.

    I still think Pascal Boyer has come as close as anybody up to this point.

    the bunyip
    stephen

  3. William Gruzenski

    When we are children we learn to play with toys. But when we become men we learn to give up what was never real.
    Nothing–Nothing in this world is true. But we must learn how to bless it.

    Theory is a waste of time; there is much work to do.

  4. If you like Boyer, Atran & Sperber are very similar. Their basic thesis is that religion is a complex multivariable phenom. They tend to lean toward it being a byproduct of the interaction & interplay between our cognitive domains, in other words, it is not a direct adaptation.

    If people are interested, you can find the papers of these three thinkers at the links below:
    Atran
    Boyer
    Sperber

    (the suspicision many people have that “religiosity” is a phenotype that exists on a normal distribution suggests many independent factors, like its a polygenic trait)

  5. Sarah Dempsey

    Nothing is true indeed.
    Thus, if it ain’t real, it don’t exist.

  6. the bunyip

    Have i been asleep on the progress of this research topic, or is this something truly new?

    And is this valid stuff?

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/print/0,3858,5022003-111414,00.html

    stephen

  7. Sarah Dempsey

    I’m going to try and explain the nonexistence of time (and coincidentally the nonexistence of motion) in simple terms. Once again time does not exist. It is simply our mind applying an understandable framework to the progression of our consciousness through a series of static, overlapping, and simultaneously coexisting, multidimensional universes. The progression of our consciousness occurs in a linear, contiguous, and continuous fashion. And thus if it is not real, it cannot exist.

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The Loom

A blog about life, past and future. Written by DISCOVER contributing editor and columnist Carl Zimmer.

About Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer writes about science regularly for The New York Times and magazines such as DISCOVER, which also hosts his blog, The LoomHe is the author of 12 books, the most recent of which is Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.

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