You are here
Home > Culture >

Sunday Thoughts: Do Genetics Predestine Our Behaviors? Can We Breed Civility?


In Christian theology, predestination is the divine foreordaining of all that will happen, especially concerning the salvation of some and not others. It has been particularly associated with the teachings of St. Augustine of Hippo and of Calvin. But this is a religious view. Predestination has made its way into the secular world. This is the notion that our personality, character, intelligence, or behaviors are primarily of genetics and not so much our environment. The age-old question with the notion of secular predestination – are we nature or nurture? And to what degree?

Can genetics determine intelligence or temperament? A 1986 study that was part of the larger Minnesota study found that genetics plays a larger role on personality than previously thought. Environment affected personality when twins were raised apart, but not when they were raised together, the study suggested. Another study, commissioned by the editor of the journal Science, looked at genetics and IQ. The Minnesota researchers found that about 70 percent of IQ variation across the twin population was due to genetic differences among people, and 30 percent was due to environmental differences. The finding received both praise and criticism, but an updated study in 2009 containing new sets of twins found a similar correlation between genetics and IQ. Other scientists estimate that 20 to 60 percent of temperament is determined by genetics. So pick your study that supports your belief.

Dmitri K. Belyaev, a Russian scientist, maybe the man most responsible for our understanding of the process by which wolves were domesticated into our canine companions. The result of this breeding program conducted over more than 40 generations of silver foxes was a group of friendly, domesticated foxes. These domesticated foxes, which were bred on the basis of a single selection criterion, displayed behavioral, physiological, and anatomical characteristics that were not found in the wild population, or were found in wild foxes but with much lower frequency. So can we breed civility? Or are humans different than animals because we have a metaphysical soul?

This becomes problematic in politics, depending on your ideology. You can cherry-pick which things are predestined and which ones are not. But then it becomes a problem of explaining the inconsistency in your belief systems. For example:

  • Race and IQ – are certain races just born more stupid than others? Society today says the correct answer is no.
  • Homosexuality – are people just born gay? Society today says the correct answer is yes.
  • Political ideology – Society today says the correct answer is mixed, though some even question this.
  • And what other behaviors would be nature or nurture? 
  • Is it possible to alter human character or personality via genetic engineering?

Was Hitler born evil (bad genes), or did he become evil?  Most of these assertions can be debated and can twist people believing in only the natural world into a pretzel to meet a political agenda. For religious folks, many believe in the blank soul at birth. Your choices in life make you who you are. You are not born anything! Perhaps genetics may give you tendencies but do not primarily make up who you are as a person. The whole point of religion is to develop a “righteous character” in this temporary physical life … for some eternal spiritual life later, via a selected resurrection of the “good.”

Concerning politics, it is no accident that religious people tend to side with the political spectrum of individual responsibility or personal choices – the conservatives. It is also a more consistent view of the dominance of nature vs. nurture debate. Siding with the dominance of nurture (behaviors of the metaphysical soul), your value is what you develop with your own choices that are not predestinated.

Those that believe that nature (genetics) as a significant dominant role (or at least a mix), are fascinated with genetics and behavior – Identity Politics. It also gives cover for anything bad they may do – it’s not my fault, I was born that way, and now you must accept me the way I am. Who are you to judge who I am? Identity Politics (genetics) decides your value and who you are as a person – predestinated.

Today Identity Politics focuses mostly on outward physical appearance and partially on behavior. As this progresses, how many more “desirable” or “undesirable” behaviors will be discovered? It has a smell of eugenics – something tried in the early 1900s. This sets up an epic debate in politics, grounded in the base beliefs of your vision of the world. Please note that we are not trying to preach God at you, merely laying out some arguments to consider. Please give your comments on whether you side with the predestinated (nature) or non-predestinated (nurture) belief system.

 RWR original article syndication source.

Leave a Reply

3 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
3 Comment authors
BobsucesfuloserBekah Lyons Recent comment authors
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Bekah Lyons

I loved reading this article it made me think!


Life has lost its preciousness, and became a mere flush away, why should these kids care about anything, they are worthless, without meaning..


I wish the author had taken a more American perspective in this article. By invoking the framework of our social contract one could side-step the religious and moral/ethical aspects and reduce this to a debate regarding duty. There’s no need to invoke good vs evil or intelligence or capability or anything like that. Equal MEANS interchangable. Literally. If two are truly equal, I can swap them with no one able to discern or distinguish. We, the American people are either equal in both liabilities AND surpluses, or we are not equal. We are equal in both rights AND responsibilities, or… Read more »