Friday, November 13, 2009

Science: Gene Variant and its Religious Implications

Neuroscientists at UC-Irvine released a study in the journal Cerebral Cortex that says, "People with a particular gene variant performed more than 20 percent worse on a driving test than people without it - and a follow-up test a few days later yielded similar results. About 30 percent of Americans have the variant.

"This gene variant limits the availability of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor during activity. BDNF keeps memory strong by supporting communication among brain cells and keeping them functioning optimally. When a person is engaged in a particular task, BDNF is secreted in the brain area connected with that activity to help the body respond."

I was wondering if, soon, neuroscientists will announce another break-through in brain-derived neurotrophic factor. I suspect that there exists another 'gene variant' that causes some people to believe in ghosts, dead men walking, angels and voices in their heads. It is clear to me that there must be something going on in the heads of this set of 'believers' which is not going on in the heads of millions of other human beings.

Dr. Steven Cramer, neurology associate professor and senior author of the study published recently in the journal Cerebral Cortex, said, "It's as if nature is trying to determine the best approach. If you want to learn a new skill or have had a stroke and need to regenerate brain cells, there's evidence that having the variant is not good.

Here's a question that needs pondering- why did Nature offer the variant in the first place? And, extending my hypothesis, of what benefit to human evolution was/is the 'believer's variant'? Further, of what value to modern-day humans are those who still carry the believer's variant?

With all of the religious wars past and present, how could such a BDNF gene-variant be useful for human existence? How was a belief in the paranormal helpful to furthering the human race? The only idea that comes to mind is that it limits population growth through war. The limit to population growth might be its only saving grace. One might conjure that, in those dark days of prehistory, there was a dog-eat-dog scenario played out among our predecessors in the hunt for food. Perhaps one tribe's "god" became the nemesis to the other tribe, and that offered a reason to attack and kill them off.

The Muslim world, I would suspect, might have a greater number of BDNF belief-gene-variant than most other groups of humans, as adherents to that religious sect seem to be most fervent. Christian fundamentalists and Zionists would, I suppose, also be high on the belief-gene-variant.

Those of us who rank at the bottom of the BDNF belief-gene-variant column have stood, scratching our heads, in wonder at the intense 'religiosity' that we see playing out on the battle fields of the world. We just don't get it. Now, perhaps, we know why. Yet I still do not understand the benefit to humanity of a strong belief-system. As with our appendix, it should have died out long ago, just after the neolithic period.

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