We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Biology of the Golden Rule

Back in February, Prof. Paul J. Zak, Claremont Graduate University, posted an article entitled, "Why it pays to be nice," in which he discusses research he has done into the neurochemical oxytocin (ox-ee-TOE-sin).  He has found that when we do something nice for another person oxytocin is released in the brain of that person, which causes her or him to have a pleasant experience and want to return the kind deed. He calls this process, "a mechanism for reciprocating nice with nice" and observes that it, "is exactly what highly social creatures like us need to remain part of our social groups." He claims to have verified these findings repeatedly and argues that best business practices rely on it; he concludes that, "Even more than simply money, my experiments show that those who release the most oxytocin are more satisfied with their lives. Why? They have better relationships of all types: romantic, friendships, families, and they even share more money with strangers in our laboratory tasks. We simply like being around people who treat us well (and don't brag about it). A little dose of nice goes a long way."

Zak also writes, "Think about how revolutionary this finding is: we have a chemical in our brains that is released when someone – even a stranger – treats us well, and this chemical motivates us to treat them well in return. This is the biological basis for the Golden Rule: do to others what you would like done in return. The Golden Rule exists in every culture on the planet, so it must have deep biological roots."

Oxytocin is not proof that there is no God because those of us who believe that evolution itself is divinely driven can easily argue that the presence and role of this chemical reflects God's creative will for us as a race.  Oxytocin also does not prove there is a God for the skeptic can just as easily point out that it is produced as part of an entirely natural process and is what one would expect to find in a social animal.  My point is a different one and a recurring theme of this blog: the findings of science frequently "make sense" to those who believe in a Creator God who initiated and remains present in cosmic and Terran ("earthly") evolutionary processes.  We don't look to science to provide "evidences" of God, but at the same time in the findings of science we find described a universe and a natural world compatible with the One that is at once Beyond and Present.  Amen.