So here’s a little bit of inside information about how your hardworking staff here at PubTheo comes up with topics week after week, seven years or so and running: We subscribe to a weekly newsletter of potential topics.
Now the truth of the matter is that we almost never adopt those topic suggestions. I often find them too specifically or narrowly “Christian” to encourage a wider conversation that can include people from a variety of faith backgrounds. For example, at various times over the years we’ve had mainline Protestant Christians, Roman Catholics (active and lapsed), Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, and atheists taking part in our discussions. So far no evangelical Christians, as far as I know, but I remain hopeful!
Sometimes the the topics are too “political,” and while we don’t shy away from such topics, we also don’t want to rely too heavily on church-state kinds of issues. And sometimes they’re just not very interesting. I will say, though, that after checking the suggestions something usually gets sparked and I go out and find other, sometimes related, material to build our conversation around.
But sometimes, I actually kind of like one of the suggested topics, and this is one of those weeks. As you might guess from the title for this post, we are delving into the intersection between science and religious belief that we’ve explored in various ways before. This week we’re going to talk about whether our destiny is encoded in our genes, and what that means for things like free will and whether God maintains an active hand in the workings of the world. Consider and compare these quotes:
- “The lot is cast into the lap; but its every decision is from the Lord.” ~Proverbs 16:33
- “Our DNA determines our fate to a large degree.” ~Rosslyn Smith.
- “Therefore we see at once that there cannot be any such thing as free will; the very words are a contradiction.” ~Swami Vivekananda, Hindu mystic
Together, these challenge us to ask whether our futures are hardwired into our DNA, our genetic makeups. If we think about it this way, are genetics God’s way of exercising sovereignty over our lives while preserving in us the illusion of free will? Take, for example, this now nearly 20-year-old article from Wired magazine about the then-emerging science of full DNA screening to determine the probabilities of developing, and dying from, inherited genetic defects. The article makes clear there’s both promise and peril in such science:
Physicians will forecast illnesses and prescribe preventive drugs custom-fitted to a patient’s DNA, rather than the one-size-fits-all pharmaceuticals that people take today. Gene cards might also be used to find that best-suited career, or a DNA-compatible mate, or, more darkly, to deny someone jobs, dates, and meds because their nucleotides don’t measure up.
Or are we actually the masters of our own fate, able to overcome whatever genetic hand we are dealt? That’s one implication of psychologist Steven Heine’s recent book DNA is Not Destiny. In it, He makes three straightforward and interconnected points: that there is rarely a one-to-one correspondence between a gene and a behavior; that people assume that an individual’s genes define the essence of their being; and that the public is breathtakingly ignorant about genetics in general.
So this is what we’re going to talk about in our conversation this week, DNA, destiny, and all that goes into to thinking about those ideas. Join us for the virtual discussion tomorrow evening, Tuesday Feb. 2, starting at 7pm. Click on the link below to join the session on Zoom.