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Are We Genetic Robots?
As Darwin recognized, we humans are the first and only species able to escape the brutal force that created us: natural selection. . . . We alone on earth have evolved to the point where we can . . . overthrow the tyranny of natural selection. (Richard Dawkins' TV series The Fifth Ape, Episode 2, “The Genius of Charles Darwin,” August 2008)

a robotThe past 25 years have seen incredible progress in our understanding of genetics. As the human genome has been compared to that of other living things, it has become apparent that what distinguishes us is not our genetic makeup. Our genome is over 90% the same as many other forms of life, but it is clear that our culture is not 90% the same as any other form of life on this planet. It is also true that our culture has evolved. The way we live is completely different from the way humans lived 500 years ago, and how they lived then was radically different from how people lived 5,000 years ago. This is not true of other forms of life. Chimpanzees today live exactly as chimpanzees lived 10,000 years ago.

Atheists would maintain that this cultural evolution is totally due to the evolution of the brain. The idea is that the brain evolved, and when it reached a certain point, the brain took over. The problem with this proposal is that we do not see evidence of genetic evolution in humans, even though changes in phenotype (that is the outward appearance) are apparent. We also do not see humans as having a prerogative on brain characteristics. Our brain is not the largest in the animal kingdom, nor does it have sections that do not exist in other forms of life.

It is important to examine the unique characteristics of humans. Animals can think, solve problems, reason, communicate, have emotions, and have social structures. We have a tendency to anthropomorphize animals, in other words to ascribe human emotions to animal behaviors. When a dog cowers it is not an act of repentance and sorrow; it is an act of submission. Walt Disney may have done us a disservice when he gave us deer and rabbits weeping or jumping for joy. This anthropomorphism is pitched to us daily in such things as the GEICO lizard and the polar bears and their bottle of Coca Cola. The things that are unique to humans include our capacity to worship, to create in abstractions, to be able to be taught to think, to learn, to organize, to teach, to express ourselves in musical and artistic creation, and to create and build unique, complex structures. All of these abilities go beyond what is in our genes. These abilities have had an effect on our biology as well as our culture. We live twice as long as we used to. We have new diseases and have escaped some old ones. We have modified our way of living from agricultural to urban. We have also escaped dependence on natural selection, as Dawkins claims.

a robotWhen the Bible states that we are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26 – 28), the words in Hebrew are chosen to give a special meaning which is completely different from the description of the physical creation of humans in chapter 2. In Genesis 2:7 we are told that man was formed of the dust of the ground. The verb used here is yatshir, indicating something like what a potter would do using natural, physical materials to form the final product. The formation of humans is by the genome, or the pattern, the “potter” is following. In Genesis 1:27 the verb used is bara, indicating a process only God can do and in an image of God himself — a spiritual image (John 4:24). This is further emphasized in what God tells mankind this unique creation will allow, “. . . fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living creature that moves upon the earth” (Genesis 1:28). In Genesis 2:15 God tells the man to dress and keep “the garden.” The final awakening of humans comes with the ability to choose good or evil — obedience or disobedience. Up until that time, humans could make physical choices, but their moral sense was not awakened.

Animal behavior is genotypically driven and does not change. The mating dances of birds are the same as they were 1,000 years ago. The chemical signaling of ants is as it was when life first appeared on earth. Bees signal, wolves howl, penguins nest on ice, salmon migrate, sharks hunt, and bats catch bugs as they did thousands of years ago. We may disrupt some of these behaviors, but, when the disruption is removed, the behavior returns.

Our social problems are not genetically driven. War is not inevitable. Alcohol use is a choice, not a robotically driven disease from which we cannot escape. Abuse, sexual behavior, food habits, smoking, drug use, and education or lack of it are all things we have the capacity to control. We are not genetically programmed to destructive behaviors. If we understand and believe that, we can change ourselves and the world around us for the better.

— John N. Clayton

Picture credits:
© iStockPhoto.com/Ociacia
© iStockPhoto.com/cosmin4000