Tuesday, December 14, 2004

More on the God Gene

One of my commenters has called my attention to this column from Town Hall columnist David Limbaugh. Apparently ignorance and arrogance run in the family.

Limbaugh opens with:

Don't get all nervous, but this new “discovery” of a God gene that finally gives us a scientific explanation for those whacked-out believers in God started me thinking about the sin of pride.

It is obvious just from this that Limbaugh has not made any serious attempt to understand what Hamer or anyone else is actually claiming, but that is not what struck me about this sentence. It's that first clause: “Don't be nervous...” Why would it make me nervous that Limbaugh is thinking about the sin of pride? The tone being created here is that of Limbaugh having a chat with like-minded friends. You know, the sort of people who are well used to Limbuagh's endearing ramblings but nonetheless recognize his keen wit and superior intellect.

The tone is reinforced by the linkage between the discovery of the gene and the sin of pride. What's the connection between those seemingly unrelated things, Limbaugh wants us to ask. Only Limbaugh's piercing intellect could see the subtle connections between them!

After Jon Stewart's now infamous appearance on Crossfire (the one where he accused hosts Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson of hurting the nation), James Carville appeared on The Tonight Show to defend the show's honor. During this appearance he said that you have to understand that people use Crossfire the way a drunk uses a lightpost. For support, not illumination. His point was that people aren't looking to Crossfire for nuanced arguments and subtle insight. Instead, they want to see someone on television saying what they already believe.

That is the purpose Town Hall serves. Its supporters aren't really looking to Town Hall's columnists to educate them on the day's issues. Rather, they want people with enough stature to be columnists for the site to repeat what they already believe anyway.

My first draft of this post involved me ranting some more about how jaw-dropping ingnorace coupled with relentless arrogance is a requirement for employment in the right-wing punditocracy. Hopefully what I said above is more constructive.

Romans 1:20 says: "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities -- his eternal power and divine nature -- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."

In other words, human beings have to reject what their senses and intellects tell them in order to arrive at any other conclusion than that God created them and the universe.

Many learned scientists reject this idea, preferring to believe just the opposite: that a belief in the Divine Creator is counterintuitive, devoid of reason, blind to the facts and insufficiently deferential to science. You wouldn't believe the condescending e-mails I received from self-described scientists following my column on the book “I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be an Atheist,” telling me, essentially, what a moron I am.

We should point out that Limbaugh wrote the foreward to the book he is promoting here. That book was coauthored by Norman Geisler, who testified on behalf of the creationists in the 1981 Arkansas creationism trial. I have not read it yet, but I have read some of Geisler's previous work. If he remains true to form in the present volume, then you would, indeed, have to be a moron to take seriously anything he says.

I wonder what these smug critics would tell Britisher Anthony Flew, one of the world's leading proponents of atheism, who has now abandoned his disbelief in God. Flew observed, quite rightly, that the latest biological research “has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce (life), that intelligence must have been involved.”

Zing! Anthony Flew has begrudgingly concluded that there's a nonintrusive, deistic sort of God, therefore Geisler's writings are entirely correct. Somehow I don't think Limbaugh would be impressed if I pointed out people like E. O. Wilson, who was gradually persuaded that his conventional religious beliefs were not correct.

As for Flew, John Wilkins has everything you need to know right here. Wilkins makes it clear that Flew's reasons for his conversion, such as it is, are not teribly persuasive.

At this point Limbaugh asserts that Christian theism is well-supported by evidence and that it is only human pride that keeps people from seeing that.

Finally, we come to Hamer:

It's hard not to conclude that such pride is responsible for the above-mentioned bizarre theory of American molecular geneticist Dr. Dean Hamer (The God Gene: How Faith Is Hard-Wired Into Our Genes), that a person's capacity for believing in God is genetically determined.

Those with VMAT2 -- the God gene -- apparently have freer-flowing mood-altering chemicals in their brains, making them more inclined toward spiritual beliefs. Environmental influences, such as growing up in a religious family, supposedly have little effect on our beliefs.

Uninhibited by humility, Dr. Hamer doesn't limit his conjecturing to his area of expertise. He ventures out into the spiritual and historical realms as well, telling us his findings aren't antithetical to a belief in God because “Religious believers can point to the existence of god genes as one more sign of the creator's ingenuity … Buddha, Mohammed and Jesus all shared a series of mystical experiences or alterations in consciousness and thus probably carried the gene.”

Perhaps Hamer's pride obscures from him the pitfalls in over-generalizing and presuming to lump together believers of different faiths. How could Christ, who claimed to be God in the flesh, have shared any mystical experiences with Buddha and Mohammed, neither of whom asserted their own deity?

Limbaugh clearly knows nothing about genetics generally or about Hamer's work in particular, yet he is perfectly happy to write a column on the subject. In that column he accuses Hamer of being arrogant. Lovely.

He makes no attempt to engage anything Hamer actually wrote or the evidence he used. Instead he proceeds straight to speculation about Hamer's motives. Of course, the idiot right-wing lickspittles he's writing for don't really care about evidence.

As for the quote from Hamer given above, let's take it at face value. In his public appearances Hamer has made a point of dstinguishing “spirituality” and “religion”. He is arguing that your openness to spiritual assertions, by which he means openness to things that are supernatural or transcend the natural world, is determined partly by your genetic makeup. How that openness gets translated into specific religious beliefs is not influenced by your genes. The fact that Jesus, Mohammed and Buddha had different ideas about humanity's place in the cosmos and our relationship with God has nothing to do with Hamer's claim.

Limbuagh closes with an impressive troika of ignorance:

Perhaps Dr. Hamer's conceit prevents him from recognizing that a God-gene is hard to square with Biblical Christianity. How could Christians subscribe to the idea of a God gene when the God of the Bible, if nothing else, is a god of accountability and judgment? Surely even Five-Point Calvinists would consider the notion a grotesque twist on the Doctrine of the Elect. But these distinctions are doubtlessly lost on the likes of Hamer, whose theories necessarily elevate the concept of determinism and demote personal responsibility.

Here we see him aping his brother's brain-dead notion that accepting a genetic component in our openness to certain beliefs is the equivalent to accepting moral relativism and rejecting personal responsibility.

Indeed, perhaps it is pride that leads the anti-theistic among us to reduce everything to deterministic molecules and DNA because such things are within their eventual grasp and control. To acknowledge that there may just be certain things beyond their eventual comprehension and, thus, control could be tantamount to recognizing that there is something -- Someone -- greater. Such blasphemy cannot stand.

Detemrinistic molecules? Huh??? Here we have him implying that scientific investigation is motivated by atheism. And finally:

Perhaps the good doctor's arrogance precludes him from considering that for many Christians, believing is not a matter of some chemically induced emotional state. It is based on things far less vulnerable to the vicissitudes of our emotions, such as a belief in the Bible as the unchanging, inspired Word of God.

He closes with one last caricature of Hamer's findings. And I love the idea that a belief in the Bible as the inspired Word of God has nothing to do with the vicissitudes of our emotions.


At 6:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And the misunderstanding of The God Gene continues. This time on MSNBC's Scarborough Country. The host, Pat Buchanan filling in for Joe Scarborough. The guests, Bill Donohue (president of the Catholic League), author Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, and Ellen Johnson (president of American Atheists).

The first part of the discussion focuses on The God Gene. Then, after a commercial break, they get into a discussion about the Salvation Army and Target stores. I use the word 'discussion' although that seems to be the last thing they do on these type of shows. Mostly it's just a bunch of people shouting over top of one another.

Read the transcript here.

At 5:21 AM, Anonymous Paul said...

spelling mistakes:
Please leave mistakes to creationists.

Surprise, surprise, religious fanatics are genetically modified.

I wrote a critical review of “I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be an Atheist” at http://saenen.4t.com"


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