Are you a genetic fatalist?

Definition of a genetic fatalist: If I have genetic markers for _____, then I will have _____ problem.

Maybe this doesn’t happen to you but I find that when I have conversations about a wide variety of counseling related issues, they end up hitting upon the genetic question? Whether we are discussing anxiety, depression, alcoholism, sexual identity or similar concerns, I can count on being asked,

“Do you think it is genetic?”

The questioner seems to think that if the answer is “Yes,” then the individual in question has no responsibility for the situation–or no control over what is taking place. “If my alcoholism is genetic then it wasn’t my fault.” “If my son’s sexual identity confusion is genetic then he can’t do anything about it.”

Here’s what I want to say to most of these questions:

1. Probably but we don’t really know. There are lots of researchers trying to discover genetic markers and how our genes express themselves. Some we understand really well (like eye and hair color) and others we understand less well.

But even if tomorrow we discover that your husband’s OCD is genetically based, what does that mean? Is he forever trapped in acting on his OCD?

2. Thinking about genes this way doesn’t really help us right now. We all have genetic markers for various cancers and diseases but not all of us contract the problems. Women may have markers for breast cancer but never have the disease. How can that be? It can be that way because disease states or mental health matters are multifactorial in their origination. There may be genetic markers as well as environmental insults as well as psychological stressors that all work together to either protect from the disease or cause it to get started.

So, are you a genetic fatalist? Do you give your deciding vote to genetic markers when considering responsibility and control regarding behavioral issues, mental health problems, personality?


Filed under christian psychology, counseling, News and politics, personality, Psychology

4 responses to “Are you a genetic fatalist?

  1. I agree with your post. We cannot be drawn into materialistic and deterministic thinking (especially as Christians).

  2. Lou Buses

    We have one adopted and three homemade children. We were surprised at the impact of nature over nurture. It seems to be evident that genes leave us with a predisposition to certain behaviors and preferences…who knows what else. It is also true that the way we are nurtured predisposes us to behaviors and preferences… who knows what else. However, the most dominant element is our human heart, which is inherently sinful and without Christ will dominate both nature and nurture. Try to understand the influence of genetics and nurture (circumstance) but concentrate on heart issues. Lk 6.45; Mt 15.18

  3. william

    I know that different genetic issues will be different, but I suppose I could say that, given my build etc I am genetically predisposed to being overweight, but that does not eliminate my role and responsibility. I watch what I eat and exercise.

    I guess the question would be, is depression or alcoholism, or _____ more like being overweight or eyes color?

    If the former, than perhaps noting a genetic pre-disposition, rather than eliminating responsibility should heighten it. If my dad, mom, and their parents were all alcoholics doesn’t that mean I need to be extra aware of the danger of me becoming one?

  4. Tee

    I think genetics certainly plays a role but isn’t as extreme as determinism. I read one report that proposes that if the mother has PTSD and raised cortisol the child is much more likely to have anxiety, leading a couple of researchers to propose that stress ‘turns on’ genes that lead to anxiety.

    We don’t want people to use their suffering as an excuse to sin; but a lot of biblical counselors seem to swing too far the other way and place the cause on the shoulders of the person suffering.

    Until there is a lot more information and research into mental illness I think it’s safer to explain that genetics, environment and choices we make can all play a role in mental illness.

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