Monday, October 26, 2009


I read recently [The source of which I cannot find at this time.] where a Dr. Dean Hamer who is a geneticist working for the National Institutes of Health is looking for the genetic reasons for all human behavior. There is no doubt that, as someone has said, "genetics is the 'hot ticket' in human behavior today." "Hot ticket" or not, genetics will never give the full answer for human behavior though such research can be helpful in understanding the human condition it seems to me. But I believe it will help ONLY if the people who trust science alone would give an ear to some other matters involved in human behavior.

In the article I read there was a listing of several gene "chunks" as the article called them that were linked to various human conditions. Among them were genes that are linked to alcoholism, aggression, homosexuality, monogamy, adultery and even a "god gene" whose presence [or absence] gives a greater or lesser propensity for religious devotion." [Obviously that's why some believe the gospel and others don't. Mystery solved. :)]

In other words, your creative condition at birth is the key to your ultimate behavior according to the new genetics. The assumption is that were we to accept this and were we to harness or control whatever genes are in question we could change human history. Dr. Hamer is quoted as saying that a particular gene doesn't "whisper in your ear," but it is grounds for propensities to certain behavior at the very least. [I think he may be correct in this last statement perhaps, as I will show.]

My personal opinion on all this is much as Dr. Scott Peck said in his book__ "People of the lie"__"the subject of human behavior, good and evil, is far too important and complex for a one-sided explanation to solve it"__and I agree with that completely.

I've thought a good bit about all this and that tends toward being dangerous within itself, the way I sometimes think, but here goes anyway.

My view is that to properly and helpfully deal with human behavior there are at least four component parts to it all that MUST be considered. You could call them "Four factors that predict or at least impact human behavior." [And the people we become ultimately.]

ONE is the spiritual factor. We were and are created in the Image of God. [Albeit now fallen.] Whatever we have as an individual in life as human beings, it started with God creating us as we are to be in relation to Him as He is. To see this correctly we MUST factor in the presence of sin [a fall] in some fashion. Add to that the purposes of the One who made us all and the redemptive work accomplished in Christ and you have a spiritual factor that cannot be denied. At least SHOULD NOT be denied. Human life and behavior cannot be truly understood without this factor being addressed properly IMHO.

TWO is the genetic factor. We were created human beings. That humanity is composed of the genetic structure that each of us possesses. Whatever genes do or don't do, they do not fully and adequately answer "why" we behave the way we do. They may help in understanding our unique areas of STRUGGLES but they do NOT answer, in and of themselves, the "why" or "what" our behavior should be as a whole by any stretch as I'm attempting to show. [To attempt to do so would make anyone's genes too tight.] :)

To illustrate, my dad was an alcoholic. That was doctor confirmed when he was a teenager. If there is a gene that gives a propensity for alcoholism he had it. No doubt about it. But as a family we refused to give him a pass for the pain and hurt to himself and to others he created or even for the violation of the scriptural admonition to refrain from drunkenness.

He refused to give that pass to himself as well. So he joined Alcoholic Anonymous which became a resource for recovery until he ultimately came to know the grace of God that redeemed him a couple of years before his death when he responded to the gospel. But that Grace did not remove the struggles with alcoholism though he remained dry until his death.

But, someone says, he had a genetic propensity that others didn't have. True. But human behavior is NOT determined by genes alone. They cannot be used to give a free pass to the moral abuse of alcohol and the destruction it can create. There are moral implications all along the way in life and choices that must be made regardless of genetics in this or other propensities as well.

THIRD is nurturing or environment. When I was a young man science said a child came with a brain like a blank sheet of paper and one's nurturing filled it up for good or bad and THAT determined the behavior of that child. That is no longer accepted for good reason. But nurturing is certainly a major factor as are ANY "gene chunks" that might be present in a newborn baby. As with the other factors, it cannot alone fully explain our behavior when that behavior becomes harmful to ourselves or others or destructive of the purposes and principles of God for us as human beings.

FOURTH is choices. We are made to choose. The discussion of the theology of the freedom of will is not pertinent here but the FACT of the will is very pertinent. From earliest childhood our role in nurturing is to bring about good choices that reflect the purposes of God and the rules of society and human relationships. No thinking or discussion about human behavior should be without this important factor involved in it.

So in conclusion and to put it simply...all four factors mentioned are important. I also believe it to be true that__read this carefully__ nurturing and choice can overcome genetics to a great degree and__ genetics and environment can influence choice__but ultimately choice CAN override genetics and environment.

Someone has said it this way and I agree. "We have choices even if they are reduced to how we will respond to genetic propensities or to bad nurturing that was ours and it is the making of good choices that enables us to be truly responsible to society and ultimately to God." [I'm not talking about will power as you will see.]

I am in the mess I am in because of fallen humanity and those choices I have made as a fallen human being. So it is NOT only because of my genetic structure or my past personal nurturing environment. Choices count in life.

But here is the POWERFUL good news. [Enter the gospel.] Post-Christ, as a redeemed human being, I can make other choices, empowered by the Spirit of God, that will make life different for me regardless of my original genetic propensities or my negative nurturing. I AM as a Christian a new creation in Christ possessing His life and power and am now able to obey His Word by making new choices REGARDLESS of the old genetic propensities or upbringing. I am now, after all, a new person in Christ as is every believer.

Accepting responsibility for my choices is tough, but it is, as I rely on the Grace of God and Power of the Spirit, my only course for ultimate change in my behavior and a better life. It is this possibility of the miraculous that is part of the good news of the gospel. Therein lies hope for change in us all.

Paul B.


Aussie John said...


Good stuff!

"nurturing and choice can overcome genetics to a great degree and__ genetics and environment can influence choice__but ultimately choice CAN override genetics and environment."


Any observation of humanity which precludes our native sinfulness, disregards the fact that we are ALL spiritual, as well as flesh and blood.

Sadly, it is becoming more and more frequent to find church leaders doing the same.

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie J,

Sorry I'm so long in getting back to my blog after posting.

Thanks for being so faithful to read and comment. I sure have been enjoying your blog by the way.