Materialism and genetics

Abstract: Advances in genetic science is one of the most exciting developments of our time.  There arises from this great hope to cure many crippling maladies whose quiddities have eluded us so far.  But, so long as these advances occur in an environment of scientism and materialist reductionism, progress in the study of genetics will continue to carry clear and substantial social dangers.

Dominic Lawson, in his October 31, 2010,  Times of London piece entitled, “Gene by gene, we turn back into brutes,” provides a most readable exposition on matters that should trouble many somewhere deep down.

He describes the:

dispiriting reductionism in the high fashion of popular science, which now seems to amount to little more than a concerted attempt to explain every action we take in terms of our genes

His article and observation responds to the publication followed by “breathless American newspaper reports” from four researchers from the University of California and Harvard, led by Professor James Fowler claiming to have unearthed “the liberal gene”.

Their claim was published in the peer-reviewed paper: Friendships Moderate an Association between a Dopamine Gene Variant and Political Ideology, that argues a connection between those declaring themselves to be “liberal” and “the 7R variant of the dopamine receptor D4 gene (DRD4), which has previously been associated with novelty seeking”.

While it is inviting to respond to costly science of this sort with a shrug, or to imagine an appropriate scene from the Marx Brother’s, too much is at stake to react so mildly.

Lawson puts the potential horrors of this materialist reductionism in plain view in a mad pendulum swing across two short paragraphs:

The notion of homosexuality as genetic destiny won plaudits among those who thought that described the origins of their own sexual identity; but the discovery or belief that there is a simple and identifiable genetic cause of certain behavioral traits can have deeply unpleasant consequences.


In 1997 Professor James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, declared: “If you could find the gene which determines sexuality, and a woman decides she doesn’t want a homosexual child, well, let her [abort].”

Toward the end of Lawson’s article in which he makes clear his critique and counterpoint is a paragraph remarkably consonant with the critique of scientism found in New World Encyclopedia‘s original statement of purpose:

Increasingly, what was once moral discourse is being superseded by a form of scientism, which manifests itself in the notion that the only truths worth knowing are those which have been peer-reviewed in scientific publications. This tendency has also seen neuroscience annex the territory that was once the province of philosophy, in a hubristic attempt to describe everything about human consciousness in purely chemical terms.

No balanced thinker should disparage the magnificent progress and human benefit anticipated by contemporary genetic research.  But until there is a repair of this intellectual environment dominated by the errant ideological and philosophical impulses of scientism and materialist reductionism, dangers will continue to outweigh potential benefits.

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