The New Tetragrammaton

It all started with Genesis. I’ve been reading Genesis since before I was even a teenager. When I began teaching it in a seminary setting, the age-old question of how science and religion fit together had become an insistent preoccupation. I began reading books by scientists who hypothesized that belief itself has a biological basis. Of course, there will never be any convincing those who believe since it is a chicken-and-egg style argument whether the body has “faith structures” because God put them there, or if we believe in God because our bodies grew them. One thing seems fairly certain, humans are “programmed to receive” what has been labeled “divine input” through the very bodies we’ve evolved.

Last night I finished reading Dean Hamer’s The God Gene, the latest in a long series of such books I’ve picked up over the years. While much of the technical and statistical information was beyond the comprehension of a simple humanities scholar such as myself, it became clear that a genetic basis likely does exist for a sense of spirituality among people. Quantifying spirituality, obviously, is a task open to long and serious debate, but the general traits of spirituality are nevertheless instantly recognizable. If those recognized as spiritual share characteristics uncommon among the non-spiritual, that itch should be telling us something. Hamer tracks the culprit to the gene VMAT2, responsible in some way for the monoamines that trigger spiritual experiences. He displays the evidence for how he drew this conclusion in a scientific way, being careful to note that genetic predisposition to spirituality neither proves nor disproves God.

Since the traditional Judeo-Christian name for God consists of four letters known as the “tetragrammaton” and since the “God gene” also has four letters, VMAT, I wonder if we’re onto something here. God can’t be measured in the lab (yet), but the “receptors” for God can. Others scientists have analyzed “God nodules” in human brains that seem to react to spiritual influences. As long as religion does not object to the laboratory probing of its sacred cows, we may eventually find God in a test-tube or petri dish. Chances are he won’t be a bearded white man sitting on a golden throne, and the smart money says most people won’t worship him once he is found.

9 thoughts on “The New Tetragrammaton

  1. KarlH

    What? Sorry, but about all intelligent believers know this is true already. You’ve lost me a bit on this post. God in the anthropomorphic sense might die, in some ways (which is a good thing if this information is accepted a bit more), but this really shouldn’t make “believers” look foolish.

    For instance, morality, of course, emerges from certain qualities—societies don’t survive if the key virtue is selfish living. There should be, then, no tension between the morality that is revealed and the morality that, if there is a Ground of Being/Prime Mover/etc., comes from “above.” Does it come from above or is it merely emergent? The fact is that it’s rather irrelevant, though the answer is obvious if you think about it for some time. In a bit clearer terms, there do seem to be certain moral principles, revealed through the evolution of communal interactions, that must be abided by: do they come from above or below? And here I must redirect you to Kant’s critique of metaphysics if you’re not big on the Monistic One/neoPlatonist bent.

    Anyway, the question of whether or not morality comes from above or below seems, to me, to be a false dichotomy. Perhaps it’s a both/and, and I don’t see how the question really has much value—secular humanists and theistic-atheists-in-disguise (Paul Tillich, Reinhold Niebuhr, perhaps Karl Rhaner and Hans Küng as well) get along so nicely these days. It’s easy to see that theology is moving away from the Thomistic view of objective sins, etc., and to an interpersonal/principle-and-condition-based morality. Best not to burn any bridges, as they will remain.


    • Steve Wiggins

      Thanks Karl. In the long term you may well be correct, but for my short experience on this planet the selfish thrive very well, thank you, while the generous suffer. I confess to being an idealist, albeit a beleaguered one.


  2. KarlH

    (I realize that you weren’t talking about morality, but perhaps it would be useful to apply the same type of thinking to religious pictures. An intelligent man once said something along the lines of “the act of picturing both comes from an objective reality and is a subjective representation, nonetheless”).


  3. rey

    “the act of picturing both comes from an objective reality and is a subjective representation, nonetheless”

    An intelligent man said this? Seems to me if he was so intelligent he would have been able to word it in a more comprehensible way.


  4. rey

    Personally I think this is really stupid. Just another attempt to say we have no free will, i.e. that our genes control all our actions. I can’t stand the deterministic line of argumentation, neither from a maltheistic Calvinist nor from an atheist.


    • Steve Wiggins

      I agree, Rey. Determinism/predestination in any form makes a mockery of everything we do. To be fair, Hamer steered well away from that, at least in this book.


  5. Jesus prayer may fit in here; “I publicly praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intellectual ones and have revealed them to babes.”


  6. v02468

    I don’t think it matters whether belief in God is hardwired or not. I’m a Christian and have no problem allowing for God to work through natural means.


    • Steve Wiggins

      The nice thing about the book is that the author states up front that his thesis in no way should change one’s belief system. He is not a believer, but he does not try to sway his readers in that direction.


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