Do Our Genes Dictate Our Choices?

By Dr. Anjeanette “AJ” Roberts

I have two older sisters, and I love them both, but I am often stumped by how very different the three of us are from each other. Although our ages are several years apart, I still find it astonishing that I am genetically more similar to them than to anyone else on this planet. In fact, only if we were identical triplets would we have greater genetic identity.

At a genetic level, we are 99.9 percent identical to other humans and 98 percent identical to chimps. When we look at similarities and obvious differences in appearance and behavior many find this hard to believe. What does it mean to be 99.9 percent genetically identical to someone who is much more different than I am to my sisters?

Figures like these and a common perception of genes and heredity has precipitated the view that we are simply biological byproducts of our DNA. As a result, many conclude that our DNA dictates our behavior, as popularized lyrics tout, “I was born this way.” This view is broadly known as genetic determinism.

Genetic determinism is a reductionistic view of human behavior and identity. In its extreme, it says that my molecular components and physiology determine my personality, behavior, preferences, reactions, and choices. If this view is right—if we are genetically determined and if we are 99.9 percent identical—where is all our diversity coming from?

As a Christian who is well-versed in the molecular biology of human genetics, I wholeheartedly reject this view of genetic determinism. I believe the core of what makes us human is that we are made in the image of God. This is what makes us unique despite our genetic similarities.

We are not automatons directed by molecular processes according to our genetic and epigenetic architecture. Humans can direct their own actions because we are agents with choice and free will…

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Do Our Genes Dictate Our Choices? | Reflections