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.
Religion Can Make You Prosocial, Depending On Your Genes
Joni Sasaki and colleagues found that subjects with certain dopamine alleles became more prosocial after being exposed to religious ideas than those without these alleles. The authors write that, “given the role of dopamine in reward-related processes, an interesting, if controversial, possibility is that people with certain genetic variants are predisposed to behave prosocially for particular reasons.” Those with non-susceptibility alleles of the DRD4 gene may act prosocially because of the pleasure it elicits, while those with the susceptibility alleles act prosocially when they feel pressured to do so by others—or by God. (Chris Halloran, ScienceOnReligion.org)
Humans ‘Will Become God-Like Cyborgs’ Within 200 Years
Yuval Noah Harari, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said the amalgamation of man and machine will be the ‘biggest evolution in biology’ since the emergence of life four billion years ago. Prof Harari, who has written a landmark book charting the history of humanity, said mankind would evolve to become like gods with the power over death, and be as different from humans of today as we are from chimpanzees. He argued that humans as a race were driven by dissatisfaction and that we would not be able to resist the temptation to ‘upgrade’ ourselves, whether by genetic engineering or technology. (Sarah Knapton, The Telegraph)
Study Reveals Flaws in Gene Testing; Results Often Conflict
The first report from a big public-private project to improve genetic testing reveals it is not as rock solid as many people believe, with flaws that result in some people wrongly advised to worry about a disease risk and others wrongly told they can relax. Researchers say the study shows the need for consumers to be careful about choosing where to have a gene test done and acting on the results, such as having or forgoing a preventive surgery. Not all gene mutations, or variants, are equal. Some raise risk a lot, others just a little, and some not at all. Most are of unknown significance—a quandary for doctors and patients alike. And most variants are uncommon, making it even tougher to figure out which ones matter and how much. (Marilynn Marchione, CNBC)
Technology has allowed more and more premature and critically ill newborn babies to survive, but sometimes with major problems. Families, doctors, and chaplains must now face issues of life and death. “The big question today,” observes Dr. John Lantos, a pediatric bioethicist at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, “is how many survive without devastating neurologic impairments or other chronic medical problems?” (Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly)
What Good is Thinking About Death?
When faced with the idea of death, people turn to things they believe will give them immortality, literal or otherwise. The hope of true immortality can be found in religion’s promises of heaven or reincarnation, or in some of science’s more dubious life-extension promises (Just freeze your dead body! They’ll wake it up later!). More often though, it’s the hope of symbolic immortality that calms the frightened rabbits of death-fearing hearts—the idea that people are a part of something that will last longer than they do. (Julie Beck, The Atlantic)