The Genetics of Belief

Faith communities at their best add immeasurably to the storehouse of human well-being. Works of charity, celebration of the ineffable Mystery of the world, rites of passage, ethical principles'

Excuse me! Faith communities, throughout time, have followed the example of the Abrahamic god who murdered and instructed his people to murder. If you doubt it, all you have to do is read the holy scriptures or the diaries of the men and women burned at the stake because they understood the healing power of herbs, or the men who were slaughtered at the whim of this capricious god who seemed to favor one clan over another, one village over another, one people over all others. Let us not forget the Crusades or the Inquisitions. Have you read the histories of these outrageous mass murders? Or let us not forget what the religious invading Spanish and English colonizers and their attempt at genocide. Read that history if you want your toenails to curl. 

Murders, rapes, hangings, burnings, oppression, exploitation, domination.

It puzzles me that when people talk of their religion they discuss such things as love, cooperation, care, commitment, faith, obedience to a high power when the literature reveals the most god-awful atrocities committed in the name of their god, whoever that is. 

What do I see? Hate! Hatred of Blacks! Hatred of women! Hated of men who think differently than you! Hatred of homosexuals. Hatred of immigrants! 

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John, I appreciate your contribution to why the god gene is b.s. Your reference to fear makes sense to me. When I talk with people about their religion, they all too often reference their fears. Perhaps that fear has its base in the fears of ancestors from the Burning Times. However, the fear of god can be so easily transmitted from parent to child, it doesn't have to come from ancient collective memories as described by Jung. It could come from the environment.

Your powerful and beautiful statement covers me with goose bumps.

No, I believe I will not let the religious off that easily. They are ultimately intellectually responsible for their beliefs and actions. I refuse them the right to dodge the responsibility for their actions and beliefs by blaming biology and claiming "no choice". I speak for myself, but I do speak as a biologist trained in genetics and evolutionary biology.

~ John Elder

Daniel, I studied sociopathy part-time for several years circa 1980. For about twenty years I did none, and then did another two years of part time study.

Pre-1986 explanations (lacking brain scan info and the efforts of Robert Hare) differ radically from current explanations.

My beloved friends of Atheist Nexus, I have been found out again. I start reading an article, it doesn't matter if it is economics, theology, politics, permaculture, I begin to fit it in with other readings that hold my attention. As I read this article, so full of references to religion, science, are they compatible? Are they reconcilable? I wonder if I can explain why I picked up the ideas about free will and co-mingled it with this theme. Ruth is really good at pointing out when I co-mingle ideas. 

If you notice, I started with a quote from Genetics of Belief,

"Faith communities at their best add immeasurably to the storehouse of human well-being. Works of charity, celebrations of the ineffable Mystery of the world, rites of passage, ethical principles'.

I responded with

Excuse me! Faith communities, throughout time, have followed the example of the Abrahamic god who murdered and instructed his people to murder. If you doubt it, all you have to do is read the holy scriptures or the diaries of the men and women burned at the stake.

Religion, can it be reconciled with science?  Where is there an example to demonstrate that religion is inadequate to explain human thought and behavior? 

Free Will! It was only after the invention of neuroscience and technology that we could test for reliability and validity of religious beliefs. 

Sam Harris, Free will

Another way would be to test, with double-blind studies, if prayer works in healing, reviving life.

One thing of which I am certain, some people find great comfort in prayer; that doesn't mean the same as healing or reviving.  

Your contributions mean a great deal to me and I will do a better job of writing. Our shared conversation is priceless to me. 

 Joan thank you for the link. Even if we are born with a gene that can make us have a propensity to seek religion we are still born atheist. I doubt very highly that if said gene does exist it's only function is to make us religious. 

 Perhaps the gene is like a seed of potential. Not designed to elicit a specific trait, but one that can be cultivated, pruned, and cared for by the gardener to become what it is best used for. When I was a child my father told me about a loblolly pine I believe he called it. It was a tree that when planted far apart from one another made a great shade tree. When planted close together grew into tall trees good for harvesting lumber. It's genes told it to grow. How it was planted and taken care of determined its future and usefulness.

 Perhaps there is a gene involved that affects our psyche but it is other factors such as group think and rational thought that determines our religious belief.

Thanks for your response, Compelledunbeliever. It confirms to me once again that I did a terrible job of writing and did not make myself clear. I will do better, I promise. 

John Elder, you are a real treasure! You hang in there with the subject far longer than most. 

How do you explain the neurological studies as described in 

Searching for the “Free Will” Neuron

John, that makes sense. I especially agree that having neural activity does not imply god or spirit had anything to do with the early spark and never did see that as an option. I also agree that neural activity gives more evidence of not god rather than god did it. 

Let me see if I understand you, if the brain gives off neural activity, it can be because of very early environmental factors that one may have forgotten. The response is just as strong, even when memory is not conscious. Is this where the collective unconscious comes in, or is that disputed now by neurology? I understand that fear can be environmentally induced very early, before memory. The Nazi hatred of Jews can be totally explained by environmental factors? 

The former slave-holder families hatred of blacks in the present can occur from the same mechanisms? 

What needs to happen for Nazis to stop hating Jews and white supremacists to stop hating blacks? 

John, thank you for your input. You convince me that we do have free will, that quick responses to unexpected events are a natural phenomenon that comes from those who are quick in thought and action. The individual may have a higher probability of survival to develop and produce offspring than those with slow thought and action. Obviously, each generation has a new set of genes and abilities but we are talking about probabilities here. The neuron pathways, as shown in neurological studies, explain the brain activity before the decision to jump, as in the case of a rabbit chased by a predator. The thought and action don't require genetic memory. Natural instinct adequately explains it. 

Obviously, each generation has a new set of genes and abilities but we are talking about probabilities here. The neuron pathways, as shown in neurological studies, explain the brain activity before the decision to jump, as in the case of a rabbit chased by a predator. The thought and action don't require genetic memory. Natural instinct adequately explains it. 

Second, the genetic memory I referred to are the studies, i.e. 

Parental olfactory experience influences behavior andneural structu...

Using olfactory molecular specificity, we examined the inheritance of parental traumatic exposure, a phenomenon that has been frequently observed, but not understood. We subjected F0 mice to odor fear conditioning before conception and found that subsequently conceived F1 and F2 generations had an increased behavioral sensitivity to the F0-conditioned odor, but not to other odors. When an odor (acetophenone) that activates a known odorant receptor (Olfr151) was used to condition F0 mice,the behavioral sensitivity of the F1 and F2 generations to acetophenone was complementedby an enhanced neuroanatomical representation of the Olfr151 pathway. Bisulfite sequencing of sperm DNA from conditioned F0 males and F1 naive offspring revealed CpG hypomethylation in the Olfr151 gene. In addition, in vitro fertilization, F2 inheritance and cross-fostering revealed that these transgenerational effects are inherited via parental gametes. Our findings provide a framework for addressing how environmental information may be inherited transgenerationally at behavioral, neuroanatomical and epigenetic levels.
“The baby does not learn trigonometry, but knows it; does not learn how to distinguish figure from ground, but knows it; does not need to learn, but knows, that when one object with mass hits another, it will move the object … The vast human cerebral cortex is chock full of specialized systems ready, willing and able to be used for specific tasks. Moreover, the brain is built under tight genetic control … As soon as the brain is built, it starts to express what it knows, what it comes with from the factory. And the brain comes loaded. The number of special devices that are in place and active is staggering. Everything from perceptual phenomena to intuitive physics to social exchange rules comes with the brain. These things are not learned; they are innately structured. Each device solves a different problem … the multitude of devices we have for doing what we do are factory installed; by the time we know about an action, the devices have already performed it.”
To me, these kinds of studies require a question, "How did that happen?" I don't know, do you? 

Third, the racial factor and the ancient placing of men and women in a hierarchical, patriarchal nature of culture are environmental. Both start so early in an individual's life, the hatred passes from generation to generation by learning theory. That makes sense. 

I appreciate you hanging in with me, John. I realize you have other things to do. However, if I am going to answer the question about free will, I have to be able to support whatever answer I give. Sounds arrogant, doesn't it. Well, I guess that is why I am a scientist and not a transmitter of faulty information. By the way, I want to be challenged when someone finds me in error. I may, in fact, be in error. 

My relative simplistic approach to the subject combined with your in depth analysis I believe well rounded out the subject for all readers. Thank you for expounding on my simplistic explanation.

I agree!

John Elder, thank you for your clear posts on the subject.

Faith communities are the worst. They make it all worse by justification of their actions from their holy books. I broke a mold in my family and my area when I married a woman from Kenya. Even though we are heading for divorce 12 years later, I have no hatred. No hatred of her or of anybody. I find that the longer I am atheist the more freedom of mind that I have. Atheism has set me free but it was religion that promised it would do so. The freedom I have today was only an empty promise of religion and religion could never deliver.

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