Free Will and Belief or Genetic Predeterminism

As our knowledge of humanity grows through the human genome project, it is increasingly recognized that there may be some genetically verifiable influence on much of our thinking and behavior – perhaps more than might have been popularly realized.  Scientists are finding a genetic connection for example to who votes and who does not.   This information was recently addressed in a 27 May 2008 NY Times editorial, “It’s the Genes, Stupid” which concludes with the words:

“Of course, these findings don’t have to mean that we are robots. They merely suggest that genes affect how susceptible we are to social and environmental stimuli.”

Some geneticists do think they will eventually find the genetic link which will predict who believes in God and who does not.   This no doubt will set up a clash between Calvinistic Christianity whose belief in the omnipotence of God leads them to accept total divine predestination for each human, and those who reject God and think humans are purely genetically pre-programmed  and thus predestined by accidents of history.

All that the genetic connection suggests to me is that everything which humanity experiences, from the external physical world, to emotions,  to the spiritual or to the divine, eventually have to be turned into some kind of signal which effects the human body.  We are embodied creatures – or some prefer to see us an ensouled.  Whatever the case may be, the emotional and ideas and the spiritual and the divine are all experienced by us in and through our bodies at some level.    The physical and spiritual worlds are connected as is the body and the soul and the spirit.   Whatever it may mean, Genesis 2:7   tells us that God breathed into the dust of the earth and that combination of God’s breath and the physical dust allowed the soul (Greek: psyche) to form; the soul is the very place where the divine and the spiritual interface with the physical.   The soul experiences all things including God through the human body with which it shares existence.

Surely everything we experience – including the experience that comes into our person through the genetic combination of our parents genes  – have some impact on our lives.  This isn’t predestination, but tells us that we do receive from birth a great many factors over which we have no control but which do influence us all our lives – genes, nationality, temperament, the year in which one is born, material wealth, environment, nurture, parents, family, location.   

At least the traditional Christian concept of being human is that we can aspire to become something more than our genes and our nurture.  We can get beyond all types of determining factors in our lives through fasting and self denial, through love, through repentance, through forgiveness, through faith, through hope and through endurance.   The history of humanity is one in which we have proven how resourceful we are to adapt to every climate and condition and season and problem.   Humans are capable of self sacrificial love which goes beyond the instinctive desire to survive.

What the human genome project will demonstrate as it makes genetic connections to all manners of human behavior and ideas, is that the tangible and intangible, the spiritual and the physical, the divine and the created, are all interrelated and there is an interdependence of all these factors in what it is to be human.   God intended our bodies to be the very way in which we experience the past and the present, the physical and the spiritual, our neighbors and our God.


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