[Paleopsych] WebMd: Genes May Help ... (religion, belief, and well being)

Todd I. Stark thrst4knw at aol.com
Thu Dec 29 16:16:45 UTC 2005

Lynn, this is beautiful, in its own gently cynical way.

It shows dramatically the *emotional* level of the misunderstnding 
between theists and atheists that I think _also_ drives those misguided 
attempts to save our souls from science, and drives even some more or 
less educated folks over to loyalist political movements like 
intelligent design.

The most interesting thing about it is the compelling intuitive 
assumption that the meaning of life must be found somewhere in universal 
laws of physics or biology, of all places.  Personally, I find it 
absolutely astonishing that anyone could find reassurance in any sense 
in the "fine tuning" of constants of the universe.  My suspicion is that 
there is a fine edged wedge that we all teeter on in our early 
development, and we all either fall down on one side or the other as we 
mature.  On one side of the wedge are those of us who imagine nature as 
having a spiritual presence and finding that reassuring.  I'm guessing 
that most people are on that side of the wedge.  On the other side are 
those of us who have a lot of trouble imagining nature having a 
spiritual presence, and aren't very much reassured by it when we do 
imagine it.

I think when we look seriously at the theory that religion "reminds" us 
to be forgiving and grateful, I agree that it may have some validity in 
some abstract sense, but not in the straightforward way we tend to think 
of it intuitively.  Emotional response patterns are influenced by a 
mixture of temperament and cognitive habits, and religious belief by no 
means has a consistent effect on cognitive patterns regarding emotional 
response!  Think about it.  That would be like saying that Christians 
all tend to respond the same way to the same situations because of 
certain particular religious beliefs they hold, and that Jews respond to 
the same situations systematically differently because their particular 
religious beliefs are different.  Even in the case of theology this 
doesn't hold up.  There are liberal Jews who think more like liberal 
Protestants than like conservative Jews on most issues, for example. We 
can find common patterns whereby beliefs cluster, but I don't think they 
cluster around particular items of creed that religions find so 
important in distinguishing themselves.  Even the very belief in a deity 
doesn't particularly distinguish us morally or ethically.  The 
hypothesis that religious beliefs in particular guide cognition in any 
global way just doesn't seem very plausible to me.

Religion and its embedded culture do have all sorts of aspects that 
affect social conditions and how we develop.  Our temptation is to 
overemphasize the "belief" or "creed" aspect of religion, and attribute 
everything to that, when in reality, I think it is one of the less 
important aspects of religon in terms of its effects on our well being.

I strongly suspect that our temptation to focus on "belief" is driven by 
an instinct to segregate ourselves based on different ways of thinking, 
we try to discern each others' "beliefs" in order to help predict their 
behavior.  So when we think about each other, we tend to think of them 
in terms of what we imagine people to believe, and we want to attribute 
their goodness or well-being to what they believe as well.

To put it another, perhaps melodramatic way, there are an awful lot more 
forgiving, humble, grateful, ethical atheists and a whole lot more 
unforgiving, arrogant, dishonest theists than we should expect as a 
prediction of the theory that religion particularly reminds us to be 
good or reminds us to be humble.

We truly need to look farther than people's religious beliefs to find 
the real source of human goodness and the relationship between culture 
and well-being, in my opinion.

It appears to me that the world's religions are collectively like a huge 
canvas which we all look at in our own selective way for the pieces we 
need to reassure ourselves of what we already believe.

Thanks again for the beautiful prose.  Now if you can come up with a 
cool humanist holiday to rival Christmas, I'll be really impressed!

warm regards,


Lynn D. Johnson, Ph.D. wrote on 12/29/2005, 1:57 AM:

 > Somewhere (I need to look it up) I have some research reports about
 > optimism and gratitude affecting gene expression - people who are very
 > optimistic, happy, and grateful will live longer and healthier lives.
 > Frank Forman and I were discussing the value (or lack of it, as Frank
 > see it) of a religious life, and Steve's gene expression emphasis
 > suggests one of the values. Since both Christianity and Buddhism
 > strongly emphasize gratitude as a vital virtue (and I believe Islam, not
 > as sure), that may account for religious people tending to live longer.
 > Religions remind one to feel forgiving and grateful. Grateful people are
 > low in cortisol, high in dhea, stronger immune systems, and so on. So
 > religion may help healthy gene expression. Of course, Frank, you can
 > always also be grateful to the big bang et seq. but somehow it doesn't
 > seem as soul-satisfying. So here is my effort at a hymn for materialists.
 > Lynn
 > A hymn for Frank and Sarah
 > "We thank thee, dear Darwin, down under our feet,
 > For all life's developing complexity.
 > We thank thee for frontal lobes mighty and full,
 > And right temporal lobes where we feel mystery's pull.
 > Oh, dear father Hubble, as stars rush away,
 > We're glad they have given us an earth where we stay.
 > And for a world tilted just twenty-one degrees,
 > That makes life adjust to the changes we need.
 > The Anthropic Principle fills hearts with delight,
 > As we ponder the chances that life would arrive
 > From strong and weak forces ideally aligned
 > To tickle our minds with the presence divine.
 > Now let's nurture gratitude deep in our hearts,
 > So good gene expression will sure do its part
 > To lengthen out full lives for you and for me
 > To create our very own divinity!
 > copyright (c) 2005 lynn johnson - distribution is encouraged and will be
 > gratefully appreciated. Direct criticism to whocares at deadletter.com
 > Useful graphic: http://universe-review.ca/I02-21-multiverse3.jpg
 > Lynn D. Johnson, Ph.D.
 > Solutions Consulting Group
 > 166 East 5900 South, Ste. B-108
 > Salt Lake City, UT 84107
 > Tel: (801) 261-1412; Fax: (801) 288-2269
 > Check out our webpage: www.solution-consulting.com
 > Feeling upset? Order Get On The Peace Train, my new solution-oriented
 > book on negative emotions.

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