Thursday, June 30, 2011
lady gaga is right…sort of
The latest DNA research development is fascinating. As exploration inside “Darwin’s Black Box” carries on, scientists are discovering more and more predispositions to behaviors and abilities, both good and bad. Last month it was reported that a regulating gene for obesity and diabetes was discovered at King’s College in London. Apparently, we inherit the gene from both mom and dad. The cell from our mom regulates our metabolism, while the one from dad is switched off in us at birth. The discovery could be a breakthrough in curing Type 2 diabetes. Amazing.
The so-called “fat gene” has been fodder for late-night comedians for some time. But it now seems that certain people may have a propensity for obesity based on genetics. For those of us tipping the scales on the hefty side, this brought a sort of perverse relief. It at least weighed in, no pun intended, on the nature-versus-nurture debate.
Er, sort of.
It turns out that there may be a delicate interdependent dance between environment, behavior and genes.
Last year, Time magazine did a cover story on the burgeoning field of epigenetics. In the 80’s, a Swedish scientist began studying the long-term effects that earlier famine or feast years had on succeeding generations. The article states the question that prestigious preventive-health specialist Dr. Lars Olov Bygren began asking:
“Could parents' experiences early in their lives somehow change the traits they passed to their offspring? To put it simply, the data suggested that a single winter of overeating as a youngster could initiate a biological chain of events that would lead one's grandchildren to die decades earlier than their peers did. How could this be possible?”
That study and others led to the discovery of epigenes. As the article reports, “…Epigentics is the study of changes in gene activity that do not involve alterations to the genetic code but still get passed down to at least one successive generation. These patterns of gene expression are governed by the cellular material—the epigenome—that sits on top of the genome, just outside it (hence the prefix epi-, which means above). It is these epigenetic "marks" that tell your genes to switch on or off, to speak loudly or whisper. It is through epigenetic marks that environmental factors like diet, stress and prenatal nutrition can make an imprint on genes that is passed from one generation to the next.”
Fascinating. Science seems to be saying that nature and nurture are physiologically entwined. Bad behaviors in parents prior to their children’s conception can predispose future kids to certain diseases and even early deaths. It strikes me as more than interesting that the Bible says God visits “the sins of the fathers on the children on the third and the fourth generations…” (Exodus 20:5)
I have little doubt that future genetic—and epigenetic—studies will only reveal more and more our propensity toward certain behaviors. Who knows if kleptomania, overeating, sexual orientation, MPD and more will be uncovered in the intense research of those microscopic three-billion base pairs? So as Lady Gaga sings in her gazillion-seller hyper-catchy pop tome, Born This Way,
“It doesn’t matter if you love him or capital H-I-M,
Just put your paws up ‘cause you were born this way, baby…
…I’m beautiful in my way ‘cause god makes no mistakes,
I’m on the right track baby: I was born this way”
Sounds like you’re destined before you’re even conceived…and to some degree, even by the mere behaviors of your back-to-the-future parents. Is Lady Gaga right?—is it true God makes no mistakes? But what if He wasn’t in the “making” in the most operational sense? Are we to blame God for our cellular predisposition, good or bad? The fact that Gaga’s vocal cords are shaped and stretched a certain way for those powerhouse ultrasonic notes, was that God? Is her self-proclaimed bisexuality from God?
Here’s the big question at the core of Christianity: What if we’re all really, really flawed?
And flawed all the way down to our DNA? Is that a game-changer in any way? My genetics are broken and I have to wear contact lenses: should I blame that on God? But here’s an even deeper question: If behaviors—or to some degree even motivations—are triggered by a predisposed gene and we are born that way, does that make them amoral? Because someone “can’t help it”, does that remove any sense of morality connected with the behavior? And does that mean that we’re not responsible?
I think our brokenness—all the way down to our DNA—is part of what Paul is describing as the flesh. Think about it. Christianity claims that the Spirit of God is in conflict with our natural (genetically predisposed) nature…not because God made us that way, but because we are terrifically broken, all the way down to our genes. The Bible gives us a powerful narrative as to why we’re flawed: a desire—even in a perfect state—to be god rather than be with God. Knowing that we are deeply broken is critical to understanding Christianity; admitting we are deeply broken is the first step to experiencing Christianity.
Call it depravity, call it brokenness, call it sin, but whatever you call it, it separates us from intimately knowing God, apparently because He is perfectly unbroken. You can’t mix oil and water. Or we’re as different as chalk and cheese, as my U.K. friends say.
Just by replacing the words “sinful nature” (or “flesh” in the King James) with “flawed genetics” gives a fresh view to the conflict that Paul expresses in this passage:
I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. Romans 7:18–20 (NIV)
It may be that our “war against the flesh” is exactly that: a conflict with what may seem natural to us. But what may seem natural to us might simply be a blindness to how broken we are. All the way down to our genes. And that may mean the only way to know whether any behavior falls in the “healthy” or “unhealthy” category—sin or not sin—is not whether it simply hurts a fellow human being, but whether it hurts the heart of God and His originally perfect design.
Now that is a game-changer. And modern science may be aiding us more that we realize.
When you follow the (natural) desires of your (broken DNA), your lives will produce these evil results: sexual immorality, impure thoughts, eagerness for lustful pleasure, idolatry, participation in demonic activities, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, divisions, the feeling that everyone is wrong except those in your own little group, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other kinds of sin. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19–21 (New Living Translation…with Workman-phrases in parentheses…)