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Epigenetics and the Image of God

Think Christianly: Epigenetics and the Image of God

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Epigenetics and the Image of God

I recently came across an article in the Huffington post that caught my eye. It dealt with genetics and the image of God. To be honest, I was expecting the typical reductionism that seeks to reduce humanity to our genetic information. But I was pleasantly surprised to find something else going on. Here is an excerpt:
"The reality is that recent genetics research has continued to move steadily away from any notion of genetic fatalism, highlighting the sheer complexity of the genome, and providing some fascinating examples of the ways in which our choices impact upon our own genomes. There is no gene "for" any complex human trait because in fact genes encode proteins or other types of information-containing molecules, and thousands of genes collaborate together during human development in interaction with the environment to generate the unique human individual that each person represents....Epigenetics adds further layers of variation and complexity. This refers to the chemical modifications of the DNA that cause genes to be switched on or off. It is such epigenetic modifications that generate the 220 specialized tissues of our bodies." 
Now there are many things to comment on in this article, but let me just make two brief but crucial observations.

First, DNA is not destiny. Dr. Francis Collins (former head of the human genome project) has said as much. Genes don't tell our whole story--environment and our choices matter. Genetic Fatalism is false.

Second, the mention of Epigenetics is important. There must be something beyond (epi = over) DNA that is doing the work that is programmed with the design-plan or body-plan of organisms. DNA is the paintbrush. But the epigenes (which don't seem to be a physical substance) serve as the painter. It will be very interesting to watch this field develop. Some sort of organizing principle is necessary to arrange the DNA and turn the genes on and off at the "right" times. In my view, this is yet another example of design at work. Teleology was banished from biology thanks to Charles Darwin. But could these epigenes indicate that there is a design plan after all? Stay tuned...

Think Christianly with Jonathan Morrow

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