Heritability of attitudes: Twin research in religious perspective

The publication of "The Heritability of Attitudes: A Study of Twins" (JM Olson, PA Vernon, JA Harris, and KL Jang, in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology June 2001, embargoed until 17 June 2001 1800EDT), raises profound religious and philosophical questions about human freedom and moral responsibility. Commenting on this research are the Rev. Dr. Lindon Eaves, whose own twin research is cited by Olson, by Dr. Ted Peters, author of Playing God: Genetic Determinism and Human Freedom.

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1. The Reverend Lindon J. Eaves, M.A. (Oxon), Ph.D., D.Sc., Distinguished Professor of Human Genetics and Psychiatry, Director, Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, Richmond, Virginia 23298-0003. Phone: 804) 828 8800. Email: eaves@hsc.vcu.edu

"Olson et al.s paper is one of many studies to address the contributions of genetic and social factors to individual differences in social attitudes. Their samples are relatively small. Details of the data and analysis are sketchy. However, the authors replicate earlier claims that part of the variance in indices of social attitudes is due to genetic factors. The study does not replicate previous estimates of the contribution of the shared family environment and assortative mating ("like marrying like") or developmental change in the role of genetic and social factors.

"What do these findings "mean" religiously and morally? There is no obvious answer. Muddled thinkers have confused genetic influences with "determinism" and environmental influences with "free will". Both views are "determinist". Ask rather what would you rather be determined by your environment which is "outside" you or your genes which are "inside" you? If you choose not to accept either

Contact: Brent Waters
Science and Religion Information Service

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