The Long Road from Genes to God

I am sure that in 50 years, we are going to know a lot more about how the mind works. The fusion of psychology and genetics will tell us about how our personality is influenced by our genes, and they’ll also show exactly how the environment plays a hand as well. The preliminary evidence is just too impressive to seriously doubt it. Likewise, I am sure that we will have a deeper understanding how our minds have evolved, pinpointing the changes in DNA over the past six million years have given us brains that work very differently than apes. Again, the first results can’t help but inspire a lot of hope.

Given where I stand on all this, I would have thought that I’d enjoy Dean Hamer’s new book, The God Gene: How Faith is Hard-Wired In Our DNA. The time is ripe, judging from the string of books that have been published in the past few years on the link between religion and biology. I thought that Hamer, a geneticist, might be able to throw some interesting information into the mix, thanks to his expertise in behavioral genetics. The book turned out to be elegant and provocative, and, as I write in my review in the new issue of Scientific American, disappointingly thin on the evidence. From a single study that Hamer hasn’t even published yet, he weaves an incredibly elaborate scenario in which faith is an adaptive trait. I wouldn’t be surprised if it is the product in some way of natural selection, but now is hardly the time to be writing a book claiming to have figured out its origins–not to mention making appearances on talk shows and the like. Too many links between behavior and genes have already crashed and burned (including some Hamer himself has made).

Update, 9/27: Scientific American has posted the review on their site