Wednesday, March 26, 2008

St. Dopamine

Via Marginal Revolution I found Where Angels No Longer Fear to Tread, an article in the Economist about new research into religion. Of course, it looks like this research is FABA: For atheists, by atheists. They have no new arguments, so it's time to re-characterize belief in God as a mere evolutionary trait.

I actually want research into this area, I just think it would be nicer if believers did it.

Patrick McNamara, for example, is the head of the Evolutionary Neurobehaviour Laboratory at Boston University's School of Medicine. He works with people who suffer from Parkinson's disease. This illness is caused by low levels of a messenger molecule called dopamine in certain parts of the brain. In a preliminary study, Dr McNamara discovered that those with Parkinson's had lower levels of religiosity than healthy individuals, and that the difference seemed to correlate with the disease's severity. He therefore suspects a link with dopamine levels and is now conducting a follow-up involving some patients who are taking dopamine-boosting medicine and some of whom are not.

Of course, religion might just encourage higher dopamine levels, rather than the dopamine levels encouraging religion. Were the Parkinson's patients religious before they came down with the disease? Did they stop going to church because it's really uncomfortable trying to sit still in a church with Parkinson's disease?

I expect an attempt to cast modern perception backwards too. Instead of removing the specter of Marxism and, indeed, all socialism from our minds, and trying to understand what was actually happening in the past, many modern thinkers will simply accept the mythology of collectivism and graft it onto religion. In other words, instead of people coming together for God, the evolutionary psychologist will see people coming together as the purpose.

Still, research like this could help us understand differences. Oh, how many of you enjoy large parties! Meanwhile I'm looking for a quiet place to sit and recoup. Similar differences in reaction would be present in more religious settings. I believe a better understanding of our behavior would lead to better ways of communicating, and in some cases, we could keep those who might get lost on the right path.

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