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

Lynn D. Johnson, Ph.D. ljohnson at solution-consulting.com
Thu Dec 29 19:46:29 UTC 2005

Todd, I think you might be misunderstanding my argument. Anyway, you are
supposed to send criticisms to another email address, I think <grin>
Comments below

Todd I. Stark wrote:

>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.
No, you misread. The key is gratitude, optimism, and so on. Such
emotional states drive a positive hormone environment. BTW, you can get
a lot of that from owning dogs and cats that you pet, since that also
elevates DHEA. I brought in the business about religion because Frank
had recently said to me he couldn't see the value in it. Since he is not
going to become an adherent, I came up with a quasi-mystical hymn he
could sing at random times throughout the year, so as to raise his good

Or maybe he should pet a dog.

>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. 
Sounds like your right temporal lobe is going to waste, hummm???

> 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.
Agreed. Most people are on the believing side, 80% - 90% in the US, less
in godless europe, but what the heck, they'll all be muslim within 100
years anyway. Perhaps 40% - 50% of serious scientists are theists.


2.1 billion christians
1.1 moslems
1 secularists
lots of other stuff.

>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.  
Well, if you go to church, you will be very literally reminded of it,
and quite straightforwardly.

>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 
Nothing has a consistent and straightforward effect, but generally there
is a strong elevating message there. It does have an effect, if I look
at my own life and that of others.

>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.  
No, they are about the same. There is very little difference in core
values, except that christians have a stronger injunction to forgive.
Not absolute, just stronger. See recent essays by Dennis Prager on that,
a professing jew who points out how very similar his values are to
christian values, which he sees as proceeding from the jewish foundation.

He recently wrote about being criticized by his jewish friends for
supporting christians, but he thinks such divisiveness is silly.

>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. 
Yes, but they aren't the happy ones (come on, it is a joke!)

>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.

Hum . . . evidence? Surveys?

So how to explain the pro-social benefits of religious adherence? That
was my topic, I thought. Maslow found spiritually committed people
survived concentration camps better than secular and non-believing. That
has been recently supported in various meta analyses
cf., http://archfami.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/7/2/118

Do an APA lit search on _religion_ and _benefits_. I am too lazy to get
to it right now.

>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.
Not what Maslow found. Belief had a very positive effect. Belief is
amazingly robust as a driving force in our behavior. See Seligman's work
on learned depression, learned optimism, and the attitudinal
(belief-oriented) components of resistence to depression.

>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.
NOt a bad arugment, but too limiting. It could be one factor, but there
are more powerful benefits of a robust belief system.

>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.
Citations? Surveys?

Some of the evidence you may offer would be rather suspect, such as
Adorno et al., the F-scale which I think turns out to have no real
validity. Adorno was a True Believer, and knew what he wanted before
starting his research (see Robert Rosenthal).

>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.
Have you read the stuff on vertical and horizontal religion by Alport?

>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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