George Will

Furthermore, the report says, social environments that meet -- or defeat -- this need ``affect gene transcription and the development of brain circuitry.'' And ``a social environment can change the relationship between a specific gene and the behavior associated with that gene.'' A child's ``relational context,'' says Schore, ``imprints into the developing right brain either a resilience against or a vulnerability to later forming psychiatric disorders.''

``The biochemistry of connection'' will seem too, well, deflating for some people's comfort. The report cites, for example, another study that says oxytocin, a hormone, enters a woman's bloodstream during sexual intercourse, childbirth and lactation, promoting, the report says, ``emotional intimacy and bonding (also sometimes known as `love').'' In men, marriage -- sexual and emotional intimacy with a spouse -- seems to lower testosterone levels, thereby lowering the ``biological basis for violent male behavior and male sexual promiscuity.''

So biology, it seems, buttresses important moral conventions. And they may have evolved in conformity to biological facts.

The scientific fact, if such it is, that religious expression is natural to personhood, does not vindicate any religion's truth claims. A naturalistic hypothesis is that the emotions of religious experience have neurobiological origins: The brain evolved that way to serve individual and group survival.

In any case, the social utility of religion remains. And there may be a biological basis for religious affiliation reducing the risk of certain pathologies, and even enhancing immune systems.

The most basic authoritative community, the family, is the most crucial. Its decline weakens the other institutions of civil society. The result is a thinness of social connectedness, and what Tocqueville warned was a risk of American individualism -- each person confined ``entirely within the solitude of his own heart.''

``Hardwired to Connect'' suggests that there is no simple ``versus'' in ``nature versus nurture.'' There is a complex interaction, which means, among many other important things, that IQ is not a simple genetic inheritance, it is a function of that inheritance and the influence on it of a context of connections.

The implication for governance is that social policies should foster the health of authoritative communities, especially given the fact that the yearning for such communities among adolescents often takes the form of gang membership. And evidently the Bush administration's belief in the wisdom of delivering social services through faith-based institutions is not just a matter of faith.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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