The Dull Clang of Settled Science
I believe there is genetic influence on human behaviour. Call it human nature if you like.
In between theology and philosophy I had time for a little bit of science. One of the units I took was Sociobiology – a branch of population genetics devoted to understanding genetic influence on animal behaviour. There is no doubt this is real and that certain behaviours are ‘inbuilt’ in certain species, eg dogs turning around before lying down to sleep, bees dancing messages, etc.
But I have been amused by the frequent media claims that scientists have discovered a gene for, take your pick, being fat, being gay, being an alcoholic, being outgoing. There is no one gene that accounts for any human behaviour, and in any case, one of the things that makes us human is that we can stand back from our instincts and make choices based on reason.
Too often the ‘it’s my genes’ argument has been used to justify a refusal to take responsibility. I didn’t choose to want to do that. So it must be in my genes. So it must be natural. So it must be good. So you have no right to criticise me for what I do. Or even, this is part of who I am, so it must be part of God’s plan for who I am, so you should support me and celebrate my gayness, laziness, whatever it is.
So I enjoyed this post on Maggie’s Farm. A collection of news headlines from the last three about the latest fat gene, friendly gene, bad driving gene.
Here are a couple:
One of the things this demonstrates is how easily, if it makes good headlines, a mere suggestion by a group of scientists can suddenly become ‘settled science.’