Genetics and Metaphysics
Considering the wonderful advances in science and the unlimited access
to knowledge and information that modern man has, humankind should be moving
away from metaphysics and the ethereal beliefs associated with it, right?
Wrong! The unconditional adherence to organized religion and the blind
acceptance of otherworldly phenomena remain unchanged, when not growing.
Why does this happen? Because the predisposition to metaphysical beliefs
seems to be coded in our genes. Evolution first created our sense of
identity–our self–and then, from there on, two illusory extrapolations–the body-soul
duality and the allocation of paranormal qualities to common events–came up.
The sense of identity is our certainty of an individuality that delimits
and sets us apart from the others. According to Portuguese neuroscientist
Antonio Damasio, the emergence of such self, that wants to survive and reproduce,
is the reward of evolution to the genetic ‘memorization’ of the events that
favored the survival of our primitive ancestors.
The perception of the self is so compelling that our ancestors, unable
to explain its origin, made out of it a parallel separate entity that were not as
fragile or temporary as the physical body is. The soul is the invention of a
path to eternity and a way to illusorily circumvent our earthly demise, by hiding
under the rug our transitory nature. We humans have a hard time to think of us
Once the soul was fabricated, the addition of further myths was the
obvious outcome that opened room where new beings–deities, ghosts and
mythological beings–thrived. From this expansion to the
assignment of human qualities to both new spirits and natural phenomena was a
fall out. And then, spontaneously and very soon, there arose benign spirits and
malignant goblins, spells and possessions, talking stones and trees scaring, positive
planetary alignments and negative astral positions...
Natural selection chose the genetic adjustments that favored human
survival. The sense of identity seems to correspond to evolutionary genetic
mutations somewhere in the small fraction of our DNA is that is different in
the DNA of chimpanzees. This is an accepted fact.
Evaluations of many ancient fossils and images painted on rocks, hint
believes in some kind of life after death, by both the Homo sapiens and the
Homo neanderthalensis (our closest relative), many millennia before the
development of writing.
What makes us think that belief in spirits is congenital? According to
psychologist Paul Bloom’s experiments at Yale University, body-soul dualism is
present in children from ages as young as two years. During the research tests,
many children asserted that spirits have their own identity and can move from
one body to another.
Genes’ structures influence our behavior through both genetic mutations,
which are permanent, and expressions of the same genes, which are
'semi-permanent'. Epigenetics is the study of physiological and cellular
features that originate in stable but peripheral disturbances in the potential
of expression of a cell (with no mutation occurring within the DNA sequence).
The expression of a gene is its activity level, something like the volume of a
radio which, although variable, it may be set from zero to maximum when the
unit is on. A mutation, on the other hand, is tuning permanently on a different
Epigenetic characteristics may be inherited. Beliefs in spirits, either ‘my
spirit’ or somebody else's, is probably the result of changes in 'volume' in
certain genes: As the 'volume' goes up, predisposition to the belief increases;
agnostics, who neither believe nor deny God, might have it at zero level. What
do babies inherit? The inheritable level of a gene’s expression might be the gene
expression level of either parent at the time of conception.
So, with the complex involvement of both genetic and epigenetic influences,
secularization in humankind is happening at a much slower pace than predicted
by many sociologists. Adhesion to religious dogmas and magical beliefs,
originally considered as cultural evolutions, seems rather the result of gene
expressions (in genes not yet unidentified) that manifest as predispositions to
such adhesions. Organized religions therefore will remain for centuries; occultism, which is followed more often by believers than by
atheists, does not lag behind, as it could be expected. "The human mind evolved to believe in the
gods. It did not evolve to believe in biology," says the American
naturalist Edward Wilson.
Atlanta, November 23, 2014