Kristof on The God Gene
Also in today's Times is is this column from Nicholas Kristof. He discusses Dean Hamer's book The God Gene. It's pretty familiar stuff, but one paragraph caught my eye:
Of course, none of that answers the question whether God exists. The faithful can believe that God wired us to appreciate divinity. And atheists can argue that God may simply be a figment of our VMAT2 gene.
Now, I have no opinion on whether Hamer is right about a proclivity for religious belief having a genetic component. The idea currently resides somewhere between “not ridiculous” and “not proved” in my opinion.
But if Hamer is correct then it would be hard for religious people to argue that such a gene is simply God's way of making us appreciate divinity. Presumably some people would have, and others would lack, such a gene. Would we conclude that God arranged things so that people lacking the gene would find it difficult to appreciate divinity?
The discovery of such a gene would be harmful to religion in another way. One of the main reasons evolution is viewed as a threat to religion is that it robs the argument from design of most of its force. Confirmation of Hamer's hypothesis would rob religion of another of its key arguments: that the widespread belief in the supernatural reflects the reality of something beyond nature. If that widespread belief could be attributed to genetics, then this argument would have no impact.
Whatever. A question of more immediate import is how the people who defended Larry Summers will respond to this column. Do you think they will praise Kristof's courage for raising a potentially disturbing hypothesis in a public forum? Don't hold your breath.