Gene-Driven Robots or God-Designed Special Beings?

During the past 25 years, the progress that has been made in genetics has been incredible. Mankind has gone way beyond understanding the basic concepts of inheritance and is now on the brink of manipulating genetic characteristics. Already this manipulation is being done in plants and animals, and now various genetically-caused diseases such as cystic fibrosis are being attacked. As this acceleration of knowledge has taken place, there has also tended to be an acceleration of speculation as to how many things that plague mankind may be directly rooted in our genetic makeup. Some writers, such as Robert Herrnstein and Charles Murray in their book The Bell Curve, have suggested that intelligence is rooted in our genes and that black races are generally less intelligent than other races because their genes have programmed them to have less intelligence. Criminal behavior, alcoholism, homosexuality, abuse, and even political choices have been proposed to be caused by the genetic makeup of the individual. Intelligence is not the answer for several reasons. First of all, it is almost impossible to define intelligence. Howard Gardner, of Harvard University, has argued that there are, in fact, seven different intelligences that we all have:

1. Linguistic

2. Musical

3. Spatial

4. Logical--mathematical

5. Bodily--kinesthetic

6. Intrapersonal

7. Interpersonal

The point is that people do not think in the same way, and IQ tests just measure one or two ways in which some people think. In my physics classes, I have often found that extremely bright students sometimes have a terrible time with the subject matter. Their linguistic intelligence may be very high, but they have a terrible time with the mathematical logic of physics. On the other hand, I sometimes find students doing brilliant work in my classes that have been very poor students in other classes. They are gifted in the mathematical logic of physics, but have not done well in classes where linguistic ability is demanded.

Animals show high intelligence in all of these areas, even when human standards are forced upon them. Virtually every kind of intelligence test has been tried on animals. Whales and porpoises consistently score quite well on these tests. People who have worked extensively with apes and monkeys report that these are very intelligent animals in a wide range of areas. It is no surprise that gorillas and chimpanzees learn the sign language of the deaf quite easily and that computer-like communication devices have been used by these primates very successfully. The other side of this issue is that there are people who certainly are human by anyone's definition but who have low intelligence. I am the parent of a young man with very low intelligence, but I would challenge anyone to work with my son and try to maintain he is not human. Animals raised in human homes do not become human under anyone's definition of what being human means. Intelligence and environment do not provide adequate criteria to evaluate humanness. Clearly something is missing.

The idea that undesirable traits are genetically linked to certain races is not new. The Nazis considered Jews and other groups to be genetically inferior and justified killing them on this basis. The eugenics movement in the United States in the 1930s caused 30 states to adopt laws that required the sterilization of prisoners and people who were mentally ill. Much of the cause of all this has been the willingness to believe that man is only an animal, no different than any other animal except in language and intelligence; thus if animal experiments show traits are related to the animal's genetic makeup and the traits can be bred into or out of the animal, then it should also be possible to do anything to a human that you can do to an animal.

The complication in this whole discussion is that much of the research linking behavioral traits to genetic characteristics is flawed, and much of the evidence that is not flawed and appears to be true is misinterpreted by both the media and even some experts in science. It is easy to show that some negative characteristics are passed on from parent to child. Some diseases (diabetes, for example) can be traced through family lines . It is also true that statistical studies tend to show that children of alcoholics have a higher rate of alcoholism than the general population. Similarly. children of abusers have a higher rate of abuse of their children and/or spouses than the general population.

In 1995, Jerry Hirsch and Garland Allen made a presentation to the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advance-ment of Science. Some of the points made in their presentation point out the scientific and statistical problems involved in many interpretations of gene studies. Here are some of their points:

We would suggest that there is another problem involved in this discussion in addition to the scientific problems that Hirsch and Allen have pointed out. The problem we would point to is the tendency of many to define man only in physical terms. If your concept of man involves the belief that molecules and their arrangement are all man is, then sooner or later the value of man will become only a function of the ideal arrangement. The root of the misuse of genetic studies and their interpretation lies in this belief. This is also the root of the notion that those with undesirable genetic characteristics (the wrong arrangement of molecules) should be destroyed.

The need to define mankind in terms of something other than molecular arrangement is not only seen in the consequences of following that belief, but it is also seen in the characteristics of humans which logically cannot possibly be a function of our genes.The latest buzz word among social scientists to explain what being a human is is the word creativity. Scientists like James Trefil at George Mason University have written extensively about man's uniqueness in these terms. In the January, 1994, issue of Smithsonian, Trefil says:

To understand the uniqueness of human beings, you have to understand not only how we differ from other animals but also how we differ from machines that our creativity and inventiveness have produced.

He goes on to point out that computers will never generate artificial intelligence because they lack the creativity that humans possess. Man's willingness to die for his country, his faith, or someone else is not a characteristic that can be transmitted in his genes because if it were, it would be a lethal gene and would be eradicated from the gene pool in one generation. Such things as guilt, sympathy, empathy, and compassion are not seen in animals and tend to perpetuate the genes of other individuals, not your own. Even man's tendency or desire to conceptualize and worship God cannot be a genetic characteristic if you put any stock in the lesson of history. Religious wars are at least as common as territorial conflicts and once again tend to eliminate the gene pools of those who participate in them.

If man is perceived as having a dimension which is independent of his genes, then man can be more adequately defined. This dimension recognizes man as having a component that is expressed in all those ways that genes cannot account for--man's ability to feel guilt, to be able to be sympathetic, to have empathy, to worship God, to create art and music, to be able to be taught to think, and to have a political ideal that he will die for. If this is what defines mankind, then every human being is of intrinsic inherent worth. Race, age, religion, economics, education, sex, politics, language, and social castes are of no consequence. All humans have equal worth and dignity. The definition of mankind that we have arrived at in this discussion is the very definition that the Bible gives. To be created in God's image means to have a makeup which we call a soul that is not genetic in nature, but spiritual in nature. It accounts for those things genetics cannot explain; it offers a real foundation upon which all humans can treat other humans with mercy, compassion, love, concern, and respect; and it puts man in a special relationship with God that allows mankind to face death without fear and tragedy and without fatalistic futility.

We are not gene-driven robots. We are special beings uniquely created in the image of God with a spiritual makeup that gives us intrinsic, inherent worth.

                            --John N. Clayton

Back to Contents Does God Exist?, Sep/Oct 1996