God has certainly made a comeback since the days when the death of God was on everyone's mind. There is much less hesitancy today for folks to prescribe just how one might go about finding God. I do not mean preaching from Scriptures, which has always gone on. I mean the new ideas about God, the developments of science that suggest that God may exist, the developments in spiritual psychology that point toward activities that put a person on the path to experiences of God, and the general tone of the times that encouraging thinking about God.
An interesting development in materialistic science (that is, that domain of science that studies material objects) is the debate over "intelligent design." Researchers have discovered certain characteristics in living creatures that supposedly could not have developed through natural selection, but would have to have been built in "by design." These discoveries suggest to some a "designer." Another area where materialistic science has touched upon God is within the human brain. Researchers have found that there are certain parts of the brain that seem to be particularly active when a person is having an experience of God, such as through meditation. The suggestion is that the God connection, if not God itself, is found in the brain. Next up to bat is the idea that God is in our genes.
I'm referring to the new book, The God Gene: How Faith is Hardwired into our Genes (Doubleday). The author, Dean H. Hamer, Ph.D., is a respected geneticist at the National Institutes of Health. His previous book, The Science of Desire, was a New York Times Book of the Year. This second book was anxiously awaited and now will receive plenty of attention. Has he found God? He writes that his research suggests that religion may not be a culturally invented and transmitted human activity. Instead, it may be an instinct, "hard-wired" into our brain. His research has focused on genetic structure, on the question of whether or not religious driving is in the human DNA. He believes he has identified a particular gene that makes a person a person looking for the experience of a higher power.
The essence of his research has been to assess a person's spirituality by the use of a questionnaire. The questionnaire contains questions such as, "Do you feel a sense of unity with all the things around you?" Egypt "Do you sometimes feel a spiritual connection to other people that can not be explained in words?" Many researchers have used this same questionnaire to explore the relationship between spirituality and health, so it has some standing in the scientific community. Using this measuring device to distinguish people with high spirituality from individuals with little evidence of a desire for self-transcendence, Dr. Hamer believes he has identified the gene responsible for this difference.
From such a finding, he argues not for the existence of God, exactly, but that the tendency to believe in a higher power, or to have mystical experiences of a higher power, is genetically determined. Placing his idea within the evolutionary paradigm, he suggests that belief in a higher power has survival advantages, giving people a vision of hope, and motivation to overcome adversities.
If we were to shift our focus temporarily from the biotechnology laboratory to the monastery, shifting the medium of inquiry from looking at cells in a microscope to listening to the experiences of deeply obedient religious practitioners, we would hear that they've found that just as hard as they seek God, God is seeking them. It is an old theme in mystical literature, suggesting that the urge for transcendence may arise from God calling from within. Moving to the consulting room of Carl Jung, listening to the dreams of his patients, we find that he has concluded from patients' dreams that there is a God factor within us that urges us to seek the source of this longing. Examining the readings of Edgar Cayce, who united his consciousness with a superior intelligence, we find many statements that suggest that the purpose of human life is to become the carriers of God's consciousness, to provide companionship to God, and to do God's work.
Thus, from three very different types of sources, all non-material in nature, but experiential instead, we get the idea that there is a spiritual presence within us that seeks recognition – most would call the presence God. Dr. Hamer's idea, that the urge to seek God is a genetic instinct, is not that unreasonable. If there is an inherent tendency towards spiritual seeking, to find evidence that variations in the strength of this instinct can be associated with a particular gene should not seem surprising. The book will certainly stimulate debate. There will be concern for the spiritual destiny of people missing the God gene. There will be some who use the findings to trivialize spiritual yearnings. And others will pray that God will be revealed in a more immediate fashion than through the microscope.