Some (nonscientific) thoughts about religion / God plus the question if genes are responsible for being 'spiritual'.
Lets step into the next 'minefield' :-)
One of my last articles written in German was about the political situation in Germany, and one very valuated user pointed out that discussing about politics sometimes can be compared with walking on a 'minefield'. He is right, no doubt, but on the other side I think it is important to speak also about the complicated, delicate topics instead of avoiding them completely. As long as all participants follow the golden rule to respect each other and their divergent opinions, I see no problem.
As if politics was not enough, today I decided to step into the biggest 'minefield' possible. I would like to share my thoughts about religion with you ...
What is my own 'religion'?
As my topic of today is religion related, you may wonder what my own 'religion' is: none! I call myself an agnostic. Whereas most people know what an atheist is, many of them don't know the meaning of "agnostic". The difference is easy to understand: the atheist claims that there is no God, whereas the agnostic answers the question, if there is a God or not, with one single sentence: "I don't know it!"
Before I dunk into the matter ...
Before I continue let's make clear that I respect religious people and their believes - it is their convincement to believe in God, and who I am to try to persuade them of the opposite? It's everybody's personal decision, what to believe and what not. However, at the same time as I respect the lifestyle and believes of others, I expect them to respect my way of life and (non)belief as well. Let's be different, but let's respect each other, and yes, let's be friends - no problem from my side ... :)
So what are my imaginations about religion and God? One moment please, I still have to explain one other thing: this article runs under the ' #science tag ' as well, and in my mind's eye I already see all 'scientists' of this platform shaking their heads, thinking "Oh, my God (God?!?), @jaki01, what happened to you? So far we thought you are a more or less serious person, and now you want to sell your thoughts about religion as 'science' - are you still OK?" Well, I hope, I am. :) Please, you @justtryme90's, @lemouth's and @hagbardceline's of this platform, be patient: the 'scientific' part comes in the end. First I would like to philosophize (means: speculate) a little bit about who 'God' could be, and in addition I have prepared a few questions for the experts of the different religions: I am curious to read their answers.
The second part is more 'scientific' then and deals with the question how in evolution religious (or better: 'spiritual') thinking could originate and continue to exist until today? Are there actually genes responsible for the predisposition of being 'spiritual'?
Some speculative thoughts about 'God'
Many religions consider God as omniscient and thus also knowing every single individual personally. I always found this imagination to be very unlikely: assumed there actually is somebody (let's call him/her/it 'God' from now on) who created the universe for any unknown reason. Why should he be interested in communicating with tiny organisms like us on a very small planet of a sun system at the edge of one galaxy between about a trillion of other galaxies (in one of maybe myriads of universes)?
No, I don't believe that, and as anyway I cannot know if 'God' exist, and if he does, who he is and what he wants, I allow myself to be creative and speculate a little bit:
Maybe 'God' is kind of a 'biologist'/'physician' in his own world who created the universe in the hope that life would develop by choosing suitable physical conditions which likely would lead to the process called 'evolution'? Who knows, maybe his boss needed 'life' for some further experiments, so 'God' had to create the universe rather fast, not to lose his job? :-) (And maybe the whole universe is still in the same test tube in the laboratory of 'God' where it was created by adding enough heat energy from outside to cause the big bang? - OK, don't take this one too serious ... :)
Imagine 'God' exists and actually wanted to create life, then we could be compared with his 'ants', whereas he is the 'entomologist'. Real (human) entomologists try to ensure the best possible environmental conditions in the formicarium of their ants. The insects have a nice temperature, food and water. They actually could consider the entomologist as their 'God' who cares for them. But what would happen, if suddenly one ant had the idea to pray? Would the entomologist hear that? Would a possible 'creator' of the universe hear us ...? :-)
Well, I have more of these crazy ideas, but I will limit myself to one more of them here: what about if 'God' has a very young son who always disturbs him when he needs to work or just wants to relax a little bit by watching some 'God soccer' games? Fortunately he is a 'programmer', and solved his problem by creating a very nice computer game, called "the universe", for his son, who is playing 'universe' all the time now, and observing the earth. One genial feature of this computer game is the 'evolution', so that the lazy programmer need not to invent new creatures all the time, no, they get created automatically, so that his son keeps busy playing. He also has the option to influence things, for example by throwing comets if some species on earth are dominant for too long, so that the game threatens to get boring ...
No, of course I don't believe in these scenarios, but at least I think they are not more improbable than any religious ideas. If we know nothing, every speculation has the same probability. You can object now "But you have to admit that you cannot really refute what religions say!" That's true, but I will answer "And you couldn't refute, if I claimed pink elephants were circulating around Pluto!" :) Not to be able to refute something doesn't mean to believe in it. To believe something at least there should be some observations, calculations, experiments, plausible theories, ... which makes something more probable than just "trying a shot in the dark" ...
Questions about God / religion I always wanted to ask religious people
Thinking about religions, over the time quite some questions arose. I am curious how believers of different religions would answer them:
Quite often religious people ask me why I wouldn't be as humble as they were? However, actually for me it seems the opposite to be the case: I am humble in a sense that I don't believe any 'creator' would spend all his available time with nothing else than watching us tiny humans. :) I am not important enough to be observed (and also evaluated if 'good' or 'bad') all the time. So my question is why an almighty God should spend all his precious time watching boring humans like us (instead for example watching 'God soccer' or spending time with his wife or friends)? :-)
Often believers tell me that one of their main aims is to serve God. However, why should an almighty creature be interested in that? It could do everything it needs within seconds. What is the advantage for God, if someone serves him anyhow?
According to the bible or other religious books, God is sometimes angry and punishes humans for committing errors, sometimes he is forgiving, sometimes gracious, but ... I never ever read that God was smiling or laughing ... Does God never laugh? :)
If God created us humans, why is he angry if we are doing any mistakes? Should a programmer, whose software isn't doing what he wants, be angry on the software or on himself ...? (By the way: shouldn't 'programs' of a perfect 'programmer' actually be ... perfect?
Why have been initiated so many wars because of religion? Do you think God appreciates it if people fight because of him? Why actually should God care, if people believe in him or not or to which religion they belong? Does it make any difference for him? And why?
Some believers are of the opinion they had to 'defend' God if they feel he was insulted by anyone. First of all: do they think an omnipotent creature needs their help and cannot decide himself what to do if insulted (again: does God want people fight against each other because of him)? If God is like a father and we are like his children ... what is the appropriate reaction of an adult person when he gets insulted by a little child? Does he expect another child to come and 'defend' him? :)
Why could the predisposition of being 'spiritual' have been useful in the process of evolution?
Finally now the 'scientific' part of my article is approaching. :) However the next paragraph still is no hard science, but my own old 'hypothesis' of how 'spirituality' could have emerged and continued to exist in evolution. Later I will present a few studies which may support and extend my ideas.
Predisposition of being 'spiritual' (the affinity to believe in something 'supernatural' - in the broadest sense: being 'religious') could have appeared in the process of evolution as consequence of accidental mutations of certain genes (more details below) which influenced some character attributes who increased the propensity for 'spirituality' (like other genes for example increase the affinity of becoming addicted to alcohol and other drugs).
As in evolution unfavorable traits are becoming eliminated in the long run, this predisposition must have been beneficial for the concerned individuals (because, as we all know, religious thinking still exist).
Why could it have been an evolutionary advantage to think 'spiritually' and/or believe in any 'supernatural' power? Well, who believes in 'something spiritual' feels supported and protected (and may believe in a sense of his life), therefore has a more optimistic attitude and a higher self-confidence than 'nonbelievers'. As studies show, being optimistic increases the immune system and leads to a healthier cardiovascular system.
In short: to believe in God makes more optimistic which increases your health which made the responsible gene mutations beneficial. This effect is completely independent from the answer of the question if God really exists. Believing in God had a similar effect like believing in the efficacy of a placebo which heals because the patients think to get a real medicament.
If being religious is such a good placebo, why don't I simply believe as well? The problem with placebos is that they have no effect anymore as soon as the patient suspects them to be placebos ... :)
Are there genes which make us believe in 'God'?
Are there any findings which suggest that my old idea about genes to be responsible for our affinity for religious thinking could be right? It seems so: the idea of a 'God gene' was postulated for the first time by geneticist Dean Hamer in his book "The God Gene: How Faith is Hardwired into our Genes" where he comes to the conclusion that the gene VMAT2 (vesicular monoamine transporter 2) is responsibly for a part of the heritability of the tendency to spirituality. "VMAT2 is an integral membrane protein that transports monoamines - particularly neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, and histamine - from cellular cytosol into synaptic vesicles." In short: VMAT2 modifies the monoamine levels in the brains of spiritual individuals which causes them to be more optimistic.
Recent studies point in the same direction. Rutgers University evolutionary biologist Lionel Tiger says "Believing in God generates soothing "juices" in the brain that make us feel good". Nowadays scientists are of the opinion that a mix of several components might be responsible for religiosity: the neurotransmitter serotonin, a network of neurons in the frontal, parietal and temporal lobes, and - beside other genes - also the already mentioned gene VMAT2.
Finally I want to hint at a very interesting model that suggests that these genes (or to be exact: alleles of genes) which are responsible for spirituality may become even more frequent in human populations in future: “Provided the fertility of religious people remains on average higher than that of secular people [due to cultural, not genetical reasons - @jaki01], the genes that predispose people towards religion will spread,” Rowthorn told PhysOrg.com.
In the end let me make one thing clear: of course there are no genes who make a person to be a Christ, a Muslim or an atheist. Only the disposition to be more open for spiritual / religious thinking depends on genes, whereby the cultural environment plays an important role as well (which is not the topic of this article though).