Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Nature vs. Nurture: Who decides?

Scientist, psychologist and sociologist alike would agree--we are all a product of nurture vs. nature.  In a course I am currently taking, Violence and Human Nature, this concept has been heavily reinforced.  Scientists can predict with 99% accuracy, the 8-year olds that will be displaying violent behaviors by age 18.  Cynical?  Perhaps.  But with odds such as these, the profile is difficult to ignore.  The terms for such identification are based on race, family structure (nurture) and specific genetic profiles (nature), composed of variations on about 27 genes.  The age-long debate surrounding such profiling revolves around the fear attached with such arbitrary profiling.  The argument is that humans are not robots.  Although influenced by, we are neither controlled by fate nor circumstance, even if science seems to prove otherwise.  The hope is that humans are still the deciders of their own fate.  And the fear is that perhaps we are not.  

Yet, in the midst of both lofty and depressing presentations of the human, I cling to hope.  For, the gorilla may not be able to change his fate.   His environment coupled with his genome will determine the kind of life he will live.  And his influences are as inextricable as ours.  Yet, the human brain has undergone such extreme evolution that has developed our frontal lobe to be able to think about abstract concepts, analyze sensory input, and assess value decisions.  This ability sets us apart from the gorilla in a way that our DNA composition may never reflect.  Suggestively, this development has offered humans an out.  

Consider the 2002 movie, Minority Report.  A new technology has been developed that is able to offer evidence of a murder before it happens.  Precogs, humans exposed to certain chemicals at birth, have violent "previsions" of murder.  These images are extracted and saved under case files.  In decoding the evidence of the murder, the Pre-Crime unit investigates the case, hoping to be able to identify the location and identity of the murder.  Before he murder.  Using this technology, the Pre-Crime unit convicts citizens before they are able to commit their crime.  For a year, the city survives without a single murder.  However, a turn of the events predicts that the lead investigator, John Anderton (played by Tom Cruise), will commit murder.  Notably, the Precogs do not "predict" murder, they actually see events yet to occur.  Yet a circularity develops as Anderton discovers his pending crime.  He steals one of the Precogs, to eliminate evidence and assist his investigation to track his victim with the hopes of proving his innocence.  As the plot leads Anderton on a renegade search, Anderton finds himself at the apartment of his victim.  No one appears to be there, so he breaks in to find it empty, except for a bed and a briefcase with hundreds of pictures of children.  The eerie mood, mixed with Anderton's frantic rummaging through the photos leads the audience to realize that the murderer of Anderton's son and wife several years prior must live here.   And then, Cruise sees a picture of his son.  He mourns over the picture, as he bares the emptiness that his son's death has left him.  But his cries quickly turn to hate.  A wild and powerful rage.  At this point, murder is within him.  And the very quest which leads Anderton to prove his innocence, fabricates perhaps the only circumstance under which Anderton would commit murder.  He waits for the owner of the apartment.  And as the keys jingle at the door, Anderton is imminently a victim of his predetermined fate.  The man enters, shocked to see Anderton.  And as Anderton begins to pull the trigger, the Precog offers him hope.  She tells Anderton that he is not bound by fate, for he has the knowledge that others did not have.  He can choose another outcome.

In light of the earlier discussion, this sentence rings such hope in my heart.  The very capabilities humans have developed or been given that allow us to decide, offer the power to overcome our influences.  For we may never separate from our genes and environment, but I do believe that there is hope to overcome them.  Perhaps, by giving the predetermined "assailants" knowledge of their tendencies and offering them hope and a path to another future, we will not be face with same fate of the Pre-Crime Unit.  Those accused never had the opportunity to change their fortune or misfortune.  True, some would still commit murder and violent acts, but could we really condemn an entire class of people based on statistics without offering the opportunity to supersede?  I certainly could not.  

And hope offered with knowledge does not end with violence.  We are all crippled by our genetic make-up, our upbringing, or the opportunity life has brought us, but just as Anderton was able to choose his fate, we too can overcome ours.  Admittedly, the road to victory may be more difficult for some, there is a road and there is a way.  We are not victims.  Yet so many are unaware of their choice.  They have been deceived and believe themselves to be outcomes of their environment or heredity.  For them, this is probably true.  But in the moment they realize the power of the decision before them, victory is within their reach.  By God, we have been offered free will and at every single moment, life is ours to be chosen.  We can choose Good or we can choose the lesser.  But whichever we decide, we must realize that we have written our own fate.  We create ourselves.  


  1. This article is interesting because it has a broader application to ANY generic marker that predisposes ANY human to ANY inherited "weakness." When applying this concept to God's Truth, through a person's FATIH, God can create a NEW creature and tear the statistics of science into shreds. That is The Good News of Jesus. Amen! Gaynor

  2. and a spider chooses to weave a web