Genetic Predispositions (Part 1) July 27 2019

(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")

The more I learn about how the human body works, the more I am in awe of God’s creation. I am an engineer, not a geneticist, but it is especially fascinating to learn about how DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) provides the set of instructions that makes us who we are: our height, facial features, our eye and hair color, foot sizes, vocal chords that create our distinctive voices, and thousands of other attributes that we don’t even think about. We can pick out a specific person from among millions of people and even know who is calling us from the sound of their voice alone. Amazing! I don’t see true science as a threat to God’s Word but as validation of it, as we see more and more of the intricacies of God’s creation.

The “double helix” structure of DNA was not discovered until 1953, when scientists began to understand how DNA has the ability to pass along biological instructions with great precision, even from generation to generation. Babies inherit half their DNA from the mother and half from the father, making this new little person unique. It is truly remarkable, and validates David’s declaration in Psalm 139:13-14:

“For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well.”

It should be noted that, just because we can explain more of how life works doesn’t mean that it was not created. It’s just like with a work of art or a complex machine; it should cause us to sit back and admire the level of craftsmanship that made it possible.

According to geneticists, we also have genes that don't quite work as they should. In most cases, the second copy of a gene in the double helix makes up for the corresponding one that does not work properly, and we stay healthy. A problem only arises if a child inherits two non-working copies of the same gene. Cystic fibrosis and Down syndrome are examples of genetic conditions that can result.

So What About Genetic Predispositions?

The study of genetics has also spawned research into associations between our genetic makeup and various “propensities.” For example, the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states that genes are responsible for about half of the risk for what they call “alcohol use disorder” (AUD). They say that environmental factors as well as genetic and environmental interactions account for the remainder of the risk. In saying this, they acknowledge that genes alone do not determine whether someone will develop AUD. This makes these kind of “behavioral predispositions” very different from true genetic diseases like cystic fibrosis or Down syndrome.

Researchers also acknowledge that some who have these genetic predispositions (toward alcohol, for example) never end up having that problem. In other words, “environmental factors” and “environmental interactions” are fancy ways of saying that people can still choose not to drink alcohol even if genes suggest a greater likelihood of being addicted to alcohol during their lifetime.

As Christians, we can get all tied up in knots over how we should think about genetic predispositions and what we should do about them. But of all people, we should be least surprised by this, because God says that, through Adam, we are all genetically predisposed to sin. In other words, we were born sinners and inherited a sin nature, as explained in Romans 5:5.

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, so death spread to all men, because all sinned.

As usual, the Bible is way ahead of the scientists, because God’s Word clearly states that as humans, we have weaknesses. It is possible that some of these weaknesses are from what the world now calls genetic predispositions, but the fundamental point is that we do things, or fail to do things, because we make choices. We are not forced to sin because of genetics, but we do have weaknesses when dealing with temptation. Paul graphically described this struggle in Romans Chapter 7.

For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.” (verses 18-20), followed by:

Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.”

Who among us cannot relate to this? Jesus Himself highlighted this constant struggle when the disciples fell asleep as Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). Perhaps today’s researchers have, in fact, identified genetic predispositions. That’s OK. They have just discovered the types of human weaknesses that the Bible already described thousands of years ago. We do not need to spend a lot of time trying to debate whether a predisposition or weakness is genetic. Rather, we need to focus on what God says is the solution.

Whether because of genetics or other causes, God’s answer to our weaknesses is simple, straightforward, and hopeful. Were we humans hopeless before DNA was discovered? Of course not. Were we devoid of solutions prior to the National Institutes of Health? Not at all! Societies have spent years and years and billions of dollars searching for explanations of what causes destructive human behaviors and figuring out what to do. But their fundamental error has been seeking solutions that exclude God’s clear, simple instructions. No doubt, most of the people trying to research genetic predispositions or help people deal with them, are well meaning, motivated, and care about others. But apart from the Scriptures, they cannot find the only truly life-transforming solution. They are looking in the wrong place for the ultimate answer.

Next time, we’ll talk about biblical solutions to the “weaknesses” we have as humans, even as Christians, whether that be genetic predispositions or otherwise. We will see from the pen of Paul, writing by the Holy Spirit, that “power is perfected in weakness … for when I am weak, then I am strong.” These biblical truths are radical, compared to where the world is going, but they offer incredible hope for victory. The world says that if you are born weaker or predisposed in a particular area (such as anger), you are doomed to respond that way. God’s Word says just the opposite – you need not be controlled by your predispositions. We’ll look at that in-depth in the next blog.

So stay tuned for Part 2. And if you have time, you might want to also review the previous BCF blogs on addiction to see God’s answer to the pervasive problems that can hold a grip on us, destroying families, relationships, and lives. You can find these in the blogs dated  October 27  and  November 10, 2017  and the two blogs in February 2018 (February 4February 19). They are related to what we will cover next time.

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Steve Smith