Are We More Than Our Genes? That’s the spring focus of the Sinai and Synapses Discussion Forum. Each week, we’ll gather some of the most interesting articles on the topic from across the online world. We hope they make you think — and share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.
David Barash: Although most people are grateful that altruism exists, evolutionary biologists have historically had trouble with it—or rather, trouble explaining altruism’s widespread existence in the natural world. The problem is that natural selection is not conducive to benefiting “others.” After all, natural selection is quintessentially a selfish process, in which winning—or at least staying in the game longer than others—is the bottom line. Evolution proceeds by the differential reproduction of genes, so the challenge is to explain the persistence of a trait that, by definition, leads to an increase in the success of another while not increasing the success of oneself. (The Wall Street Journal, paywalled)
Are we pre-wired to know right from wrong? By studying the behavior of newborns and toddlers, psychologist Karen Wynn of Yale University believes she can get us closer to the answer. (National Science Foundation)
An interview with Nikki Khanna, a sociologist at the University of Vermont who specializes in racial identity. (Kate Wheeling, Pacific Standard)
The Oscar-winner will host and produce a series for the National Geographic Channel exploring mankind’s quest for divine meaning. It will reveal how “neuroscience and cosmology are intersecting the traditional domain of religion” by featuring scientists who are searching for the effect of God on the workings of the human body, specifically our nervous systems. (Matilda Battersby, The Independent)
The kashrut laws dictate what foods are kosher and what foods are not. While all plants are considered kosher, genetic material from non-kosher animals can be mixed with kosher foods. If this happens, most rabbinic authorities still consider GMO food kosher. In figuring out Jewish beliefs on GMOs we may be left with only one theological question: Can humans make God’s creation more perfect? (Robyn Purchia, Tikkun)
Author Steven Pease’s new book The Debate Over Jewish Achievement is an exploration of the “why” behind the “what” of disproportionate Jewish achievements. He traces more than 100 years of major theories put forth to explain the phenomenon, using the technique of a Chronology to expose the strengths and flaws of each theory over time. He puts nature (genetics) and nurture (Jewish culture) under an unrelenting microscope, drawing on recent research into the impacts of culture as well as the breakthroughs in genetics following completion of the Human Genome Project. (Religion Press Release Services, Religion News Service)