Letter: Genetics and faith

Sir: It is becoming widely appreciated that man's understanding of the human genome, and knowledge of ways in which that understanding can be exploited, have advanced in recent years at a much faster pace than was anticipated.

I believe that many people would today accept that our genes determine not only our physiological nature, including susceptibility to particular diseases, but also our psychological make-up, such as shyness or ambition, as well as our intellectual abilities, for example mathematical or artistic aptitudes, and also our moral characteristics, including compassion or selfishness.

These latter areas, in which psychological, intellectual and ethical qualities are linked to our genes, would appear to pose a dilemma for Christianity on a scale far more significant than that following the discoveries of scientists such as Galileo or Darwin, and I wonder what arguments theologically informed individuals would adduce to explain how the God-given imperatives inherent in our genomes can be reconciled with basic Christian concepts such as free will or even with the Church's teaching about the process leading to redemption and so to salvation.

As both a Christian and a professional physicist, I have always maintained that there was no logically demonstrable conflict between science and religion. But I am becoming concerned that recent understanding of the human genome and the whole practical field of genetics is forcing theology into a situation in which new interpretations of long-held Christian beliefs are urgently required if science and religion are to remain arguably compatible.

The recognition of a dichotomy between the two would be absurd, since both have their origin in God himself, and would also pose insurmountable difficulties for the Church in the next century.


Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire