||This article possibly contains original research. (May 2015)|
|Part of a series on|
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.
Although it is always difficult to determine the many interacting functions of a gene, VMAT2 appears to be involved in the transport of monoamine neurotransmitters across the synapses of the brain. PZ Myers argues: "It's a pump. A teeny-tiny pump responsible for packaging a neurotransmitter for export during brain activity. Yes, it's important, and it may even be active and necessary during higher order processing, like religious thought. But one thing it isn't is a 'god gene.'"
Carl Zimmer claimed that VMAT2 can be characterized as a gene that accounts for less than one percent of the variance of self-transcendence scores. These, Zimmer says, can signify anything from belonging to the Green Party to believing in ESP. Zimmer also points out that the God Gene theory is based on only one unpublished, unreplicated study. However 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." [dead link]
Walter Houston, the chaplain of Mansfield College, Oxford, and a fellow in theology, told the Telegraph: "Religious belief is not just related to a person's constitution; it's related to society, tradition, character—everything's involved. Having a gene that could do all that seems pretty unlikely to me."
Hamer responded that the existence of such a gene would not be incompatible with the existence of a personal God: "Religious believers can point to the existence of God genes as one more sign of the creator's ingenuity—a clever way to help humans acknowledge and embrace a divine presence."
Hamer repeatedly notes in his book that, "This book is about whether God genes exist, not about whether there is a God."
- Hamer, Dean (2005). The God Gene: How Faith Is Hardwired Into Our Genes. Anchor Books. ISBN 0-385-72031-9.
- Myers, PZ (2005-02-13). "No god, and no 'god gene', either". Pharyngula. Retrieved 2012-01-29.
- Zimmer, Carl (October 2004). "Faith-Boosting Genes: A search for the genetic basis of spirituality". Scientific American.
- The 'God Gene' Sales Stunt
- Geneticist claims to have found 'God gene' in humans
- Hamer, Dean (2005). The God Gene: How Faith Is Hardwired Into Our Genes. Anchor Books. Page 16
- The God Gene: How Faith is Hardwired into our Genes by Dean Hamer. Published by Doubleday, ISBN 0-385-50058-0.