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Is God In Your Genes?

Mal Fletcher
Posted 29 November 2004
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The November 29 issue of TIME magazine carried an intriguing front-page headline: 'The God Gene'. This was followed by a question: 'Does our DNA compel us to seek a higher power?'

The feature article reported on the claim of molecular biologist Dean Hamer that he has located one of the genes responsible for human spirituality.

If we are to take read such findings literally, says the article, 'our most profound feelings of spirituality... may be due to little more than an occasional shot of intoxicating brain chemicals governed by our DNA.'

Hamer is quoted as saying: 'I think we follow the basic law of nature, which is that we're a bunch of chemical reactions running around in a bag.'

In this statement we see a reflection of the inconsistencies which plague the thinking of many in the modern scientific community.

On the one hand, naturalist-leaning scientists – who see no hand of God in our creation – want us to believe that we're little more than the sum total of our constituent, physical elements.

We have no deeper, spiritual makeup and no important, eternal destiny. We are machines made up of and driven by chemicals and electronic impulses.

On the other hand, these same scientists encourage us to believe in an evolutionary process that is anything but simple. It progressed over unfathomable aeons of time and, though it sprang from random events, produced a rich and intricate natural world.

It is complex; so complex that only the truly wise and learned can understand or explain it and only a simpleton will argue against it.

When it suits their cause, everything can be reduced to a very simple, mechanistic level. When it does not, our origins must be seen as incredibly complicated.

Bottom line: it's OK to stand in awe of nature's complexities, as long as you don't see in them a sign of intelligent design. You may worship the creature, but not the Creator.

No thinking Christian suggests that he or she can prove the existence of God through empirical practice. Yet scientists often seem to think they can prove his non-existence through their work, nowadays especially in areas such as genetics and neuroscience.

Some scientists, like Hamer, claim to be agnostic. For them, science proves only that God's involvement in human affairs is, at best, undiscoverable – and probably, therefore, marginal.

Others are more strident in their declarations. Michael Peringer, an Ontario-based professor of behavioural neuroscience, says without apology: 'God is an artefact of the brain.'

Science is not a totally objective discipline -- it involves the subjective opinions and feelings of scientists who interpret what they see.

The word 'paradigm' was first coined by a scientific philosopher named Kuhn, who said that science operates not on facts alone but on assumptions made about the facts.

Scientists construct a paradigm and then sift information through the worldview it provides.

Post-modern reductionism is no more verifiable through repeatable experiment than are the tenets of religious faith. In the end, reductionism is an act of faith, too, in its own way.

It provides some scientists with a way of thumbing the nose at a moral God. And that's why they cling to it.

So, how might the Christian respond? Is a hunger for God built into our genes?

First, if a quest for God is somehow reflected in our genetic code, it is because God put it there. If you stare at an auto-stereogram long enough, with an open mind, you will see the picture that is hidden in what seemed at first to be a random pattern.

Likewise, if you stare at the human makeup long enough, you will see the image of God looking back.

Second, if a yearning for the divine does exist on a physical level, all human beings alike will share it. No one will be excluded; everyone will possess the 'God gene'. The writer of Ecclesiastes reminds that 'God has placed eternity in the hearts of men.' If some people are without a certain gene, it cannot be the seat of faith.

Third, the idea of genetic disposition should not leave us with a fatalistic view of human behaviour. On a moral level, which affects all other levels, our lives are not foremost the sum total of our genes: they are the result of our choices.

What do we do with a murderer who says, 'I can't be held accountable, because murder is in my genes'? We lock him up! Choice is affected by genetic factors and by environmental elements. But choice, in the end, is a matter of will -- and moral will is the one gift which sets human beings apart from all other creatures on this planet.

The real danger in the argument made by Hamer, is not to God, but to humankind. When we look to our genes to explain away our heart's cry for the transcendent; when we reduce faith and the hope it brings to nothing more than a series of chemical reactions, inherited by some and not by others, we reduce not just God, but ourselves.

We are much more than 'bags of chemicals'. We are, in the words of King David, the Bible's great songwriter, 'awesomely and wonderfully made.'

© Mal Fletcher 2004
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