Spirituality not shunned in science

Feb. 23, 2015

Eleanor Skelton
[email protected]

The modern day martyr stereotype involves the Christian freshman debunking his atheist science professor, risking his A for a failing grade.

But this scenario is incredibly rare. None of my science professors have ever attacked my religious beliefs.

Instead, my professors asked students to not take offense when teaching evolution and to consider the evidence for themselves.

When I was shunned by a fundamentalist church for believing that God’s will could be different from my parents’ and pastor’s, one of my chemistry professors suggested an alternate church for me to check out, although she herself is not a churchgoer.

Other professors in science departments were themselves Christian.

The deepest conversations I’ve had about spirituality in college were with science classmates as often as with my English classmates.

One of my coworkers in the Science Center escaped an abusive Catholic household, identified as Wiccan for several years, and recently converted to Islam, because she appreciated its structure and view of God.

My chemistry tutor Kyle Culhane, now a physics graduate student, explained how he appreciated Aristotle and Aquinas’ philosophies about the “prime mover” or the “unmoved mover.”

“Since the laws of physics are dictated by cause and effect and we describe the world around us in this way, these are our knowable truths,” Culhane said. “But for me the [god or] gods are unknowable. If I could know them, they would no longer be gods.”

“But that also reveals the obvious dichotomy of science and spirituality for me. My spiritual side must be at ease with never knowing because my scientific side demands it unknowable.”

Last summer, I read a book by behavioral geneticist Dean Hamer called “The God Gene: How Faith is Hardwired into our Genes.”

Hamer’s main premise was that there is sufficient genetic evidence to explain why some people seem more attracted to spiritual practices than others. The VMAT2 gene regulates the production of dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine, three hormones that regulate mood.

These hormones are present in higher concentrations when a person has a polymorphism of VMAT2 that produces more messenger RNA than the alternate version.

Hamer’s research links this trait to a higher inclination towards spirituality.

Previous research by psychologists cited in “The God Gene” indicated that people who experienced periodic epiphanies stayed healthier and lived longer, demonstrating at the least that spirituality is evolutionarily advantageous.

In the preface, Hamer says that his research could be thought to support the existence of a divine being or deny it, depending on personal interpretation. His goal was just to present the evidence for a genetic explanation.

As a student researcher, my studies have never attacked my spirituality, only enriched it.

Freshmen considering a major in the natural sciences shouldn’t feel obligated to join the mythical battle between science and religion. It’s safe to put aside the fear and just explore.