Sin in the Double Helix
And now, in the case of the sports gene, you can even test your children to see whether or not they have the genetic aptitude for certain athletics. (Consider it long-term planning for the college scholarship search.) For the past few years, some parents have been availing themselves of a mail order do-it-yourself genetic test that indicates the presence of a gene variant linked to some athletic feats. For less than $200, the test can supposedly indicate whether or not your child has the genetic makings of a sprinter, jumper, kicker, lifter, or batter. The test centers on the gene ACTN3, known as the "speed gene," which influences production of a protein involved in certain muscle activity. Knowing a child's genetic predisposition for certain athletic qualities (or lack thereof) is seen by some parents as a way to channel their children to the activities in which they are genetically predetermined to have the most success.
Scientists, physicians, and other experts are rightly concerned about the tests, arguing that it's better to allow children to develop their skills and pursue their passions regardless of genetic makeup. A commentary published this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association cautions physicians, "In the 'winning is everything' sports culture, societal pressure to use these tests in children may increasingly present a challenge."
Besides, researchers say, the genetics behind athletic ability are much more complex than the appearance of one particular variant. Apparently, most people have this gene variant, linked to "explosive force," but obviously most people don't become high-performing athletes. On the other hand, one researcher pointed to an Olympic long jumper who lacks the protein, thus demonstrating that athletic success arises from much more than what's in the genes.
In some respects, there's nothing new here. The nature vs. nurture debate is as old as scientific research itself. And as far back as Gregor Mendel's experiments in the 19th century, we've had a basic understanding of some inherited characteristics, whether in peas or humans, well before the discovery of the genetic code in the 1960s.
Yet with each new discovery of a something-or-other gene, our modern tendency is to seek refuge in the cave of fatalism. (Perhaps there's a gene for that.) Indeed, biological determinism is becoming the Holy Grail for understanding our present conditions, explaining our pasts, foreseeing our futures, and explaining complex, real-life problems using mere biological phenomena. Just yesterday, a team of Louisiana researchers announced a study that links good exercise to DNA snippets called single-nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs. The study, part of "exercise genetic research," attempts to explain why aerobic workout routines benefit certain people while leaving others unaffected."
The discovery of genes linked to moral behaviors presents a challenge to Christians attempting to accommodate new scientific knowledge to biblical teaching. Take, for example, the longest-standing and most controversial of these debates on the role of genetic determination: homosexuality. The idea that homosexuality is not a choice has become the prevailing meme for just about everyone except religious conservatives. And the debate has now transcended a dichotomy of gays vs. God. Even Lady Gaga's song declares a dissolution of the longstanding conflict between God and homosexual behavior: "It doesn't matter if you love him, or capital H-I-M … 'cause God makes no mistakes." Evidence suggesting the possibility of a genetic link to homosexuality is taking what's been considered a moral issue out of the moral realm.