Who Is to Blame—You or Your Genes?
SCIENTISTS are hard at work to try to find genetic causes for alcoholism, homosexuality, promiscuity, violence, other aberrant behavior, and even for death itself. Would it not be a relief to find that we are not responsible for our actions but are merely victims of biology? It is human nature to blame someone or something else for our errors.
If the genes are to blame, scientists hold out the possibility of changing them, eliminating undesirable traits through genetic engineering. The recent success in mapping the entire human genome has given such aspirations new impetus.
This scenario, however, is based on the premise that our genetic endowment is, indeed, the villain responsible for all our sins and errors. Have the scientific detectives found enough evidence to make a case against our genes? Obviously, the answer will profoundly affect how we see ourselves and our future. Before examining the evidence, though, a look at mankind’s origin will prove enlightening.
How It All Started
Most people are familiar with, or at least have heard of, the account about the fall of the first human pair, Adam and Eve, in the garden of Eden. Were they made with some intrinsic defect in the genes right from the start, a sort of design flaw that predisposed them to sin and disobedience?
Their Creator, Jehovah God, whose works are all perfect, proclaimed that his crowning earthly creation was “very good.” (Genesis 1:31; Deuteronomy 32:4) As further evidence of his satisfaction with his work, he gave the first couple his blessing and instructed them to be fruitful, to fill the earth with human creatures, and to take charge of his earthly creation—hardly the actions of someone uncertain of his handiwork.—Genesis 1:28.
Regarding the creation of the first human pair, the Bible tells us: “God proceeded to create the man in his image, in God’s image he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27) This does not mean that humans were made to resemble God in physical appearance, for “God is a Spirit.” (John 4:24) Rather, it means that human creatures were endowed with godly qualities and a sense of morality, a conscience. (Romans 2:14, 15) They were also free moral agents, capable of weighing a matter and deciding on the action to take.
However, our first parents were not left without guidelines. Rather, they were warned of the consequences of wrongdoing. (Genesis 2:17) So the evidence indicates that when Adam was faced with a moral decision, he chose to do what to him seemed expedient or advantageous at the time. He followed his wife in her wrongdoing instead of considering his relationship with his Creator or the long-term effects of his action. He also tried later to shift the blame to Jehovah, saying that the wife He had provided misled him.—Genesis 3:6, 12; 1 Timothy 2:14.
God’s response to the sin of Adam and Eve is revealing. He did not try to correct some ‘design flaw’ in their genes. Rather, he carried out what he told them would be the consequences of their actions, which led to their eventual death. (Genesis 3:17-19) This early history sheds much light on the nature of human behavior.*
The Evidence Against Biology
For a long time, scientists have been tackling the monumental task of finding genetic causes and cures for human pathology and behavior. After ten years of work by six teams of researchers, the gene linked to Huntington’s disease was isolated, although the researchers have no idea how the gene causes the disease. However, reporting on this research, Scientific American quoted Harvard biologist Evan Balaban, who said that it would be “almost infinitely harder to discover genes for behavioral disorders.”
In fact, research attempting to link specific genes to human behavior has been unsuccessful. For instance, in Psychology Today, a report on efforts to find genetic causes for depression states: “Epidemiologic data on the major mental illnesses make it clear that they can’t be reduced to purely genetic causes.” The report gives an example: “Americans born before 1905 had a 1 percent rate of depression by age 75. Among Americans born a half century later, 6 percent become depressed by age 24!” It thus concludes that only external or social factors can bring about such dramatic changes in such a short time.
What do these and numerous other studies tell us? While genes may play a role in shaping our personalities, there clearly are other influences. A major factor is our environment, which has undergone radical changes in modern times. Concerning what today’s youth are exposed to in popular entertainment, the book Boys Will Be Boys observes that it is unlikely that children will develop sound moral principles when they “grow up watching tens of thousands of hours of TV shows and films in which people are assaulted, shot, stabbed, disemboweled, chopped up, skinned, or dismembered, when children grow up listening to music which glorifies rape, suicide, drugs, alcohol, and bigotry.”
Clearly, Satan, “the ruler of this world,” has shaped an environment that caters to man’s baser desires. And who can deny the powerful influence that such an environment exerts on all of us?—John 12:31; Ephesians 6:12; Revelation 12:9, 12.
The Root of Mankind’s Trouble
As we have already seen, mankind’s problems started when the first human pair sinned. The result? While generations of Adam’s offspring are not responsible for Adam’s sin, they nonetheless are all born with sin, imperfection, and death as their inherited lot in life. The Bible explains: “That is why, just as through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned.”—Romans 5:12.
Man’s imperfection puts him at a decided disadvantage. But that does not absolve him of all moral responsibility. The Bible shows that those who put faith in Jehovah’s provision for life and conform their lives to God’s standards will have his approval. Out of his loving-kindness, Jehovah made a merciful provision to redeem mankind, to buy back, as it were, what Adam had lost. That provision is the ransom sacrifice of his perfect Son, Jesus Christ, who said: “God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.”—John 3:16; 1 Corinthians 15:21, 22.
The apostle Paul expressed his deep appreciation for this provision. He exclaimed: “Miserable man that I am! Who will rescue me from the body undergoing this death? Thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24, 25) Paul knew that if he succumbed to sin out of weakness, he could ask God’s forgiveness on the basis of the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ.*
As in the first century, today many who formerly led very bad lives or whose situation seemed hopeless have come to an accurate knowledge of Bible truth, made the necessary changes, and come in line for God’s blessing. The changes they had to make were not easy, and many still have to contend with harmful tendencies. But with God’s help, they are able to maintain integrity and find joy in serving him. (Philippians 4:13) Consider just one example of someone who made drastic changes in order to please God.
An Encouraging Experience
“When I was a young boy in boarding school, I got involved in homosexual practices, although I never thought of myself as being a homosexual. My parents were divorced, and I craved the parental affection that I never received. After finishing school, I did compulsory military service. There was a group of homosexuals in the barracks next to mine. I became envious of their life-style, so I started associating with them. After associating with them for a year, I began to think of myself as a homosexual. ‘This is the way I am,’ I reasoned, ‘and I can do nothing about it.’
“I started learning the lingo and going to gay clubs, where drugs and alcohol were freely available. Although outwardly it all seemed very exciting and appealing, it was actually sickening. Deep down I sensed that this kind of relationship was unnatural and had no future.
“In a small town, I came across a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses while the meeting was on. I went in and listened to the talk, which dealt with future Paradise conditions. Afterward I met some of the Witnesses and was invited to an assembly. I went, and that was a revelation to me—seeing happy families worshiping together. I started to study the Bible with the Witnesses.
“Although it was a struggle for me, I started to apply what I was learning from the Bible. I was able to break free from all my unclean practices. After studying for 14 months, I dedicated my life to Jehovah and was baptized. For the first time in my life, I had real friends. I have been able to help others learn the truth from the Bible, and I now serve as a ministerial servant in the Christian congregation. Jehovah has truly blessed me.”
We Are Responsible
Trying to pin the entire blame for our misconduct on our genes simply does not work. Rather than helping us to solve or overcome our problems, notes Psychology Today, doing so “may be teaching us a helplessness that is at the root of many of our problems. Instead of reducing the incidence of these problems, this seems to have fueled their growth.”
It is true that we must contend with major adverse forces, including our own sinful tendencies and Satan’s efforts to distract us from obeying God. (1 Peter 5:8) It is also true that our genes may influence us in one way or another. But we are surely not helpless. True Christians have powerful allies—Jehovah, Jesus Christ, God’s holy spirit, his Word the Bible, and the Christian congregation.—1 Timothy 6:11, 12; 1 John 2:1.
Before the nation of Israel entered the Promised Land, Moses reminded the people of their responsibility before God, saying: “I have put life and death before you, the blessing and the malediction; and you must choose life in order that you may keep alive, you and your offspring, by loving Jehovah your God, by listening to his voice and by sticking to him.” (Deuteronomy 30:19, 20) Likewise today, each responsible individual is obliged to make a personal decision about serving God and meeting his requirements. The choice is yours.—Galatians 6:7, 8.
See Awake! of September 22, 1996, pages 3-8.
See the book Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life, pages 62-9, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
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Were Adam and Eve predisposed to sin by some defect in their genes?
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Should each person accept responsibility for his decisions?
Drug user: Godo-Foto
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Efforts to find genetic causes for human behavior have been unsuccessful
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Applying what the Bible says can help sincere ones to change