Who's in Control?

Do you think that you are in total control of your body? Let me show you a simple experiment that is maddening and will show you that you are not. Sit on a kitchen chair with your legs comfortably on the floor in front of you. Lift your right foot and start making circles with it in a clockwise direction. After you have made a few circles take your right hand and write the number 6 in the air over and over. Look at what has happened to your foot! Is it still making the clockwise circles?

 I am sure there may be someone who can do this, but I have never met anyone who could. Either the foot quits making circles and goes up and down, or it goes counterclockwise, the same direction that your hand moves in making the 6 in the air. If you make a backward 6 with your hand in the air you have no trouble, but when you try to get the foot to go clockwise and the hand to go counterclockwise it just plain and simple will not work. There is a function hard- wired into our brain which just will not allow two competitive motions to take place in the body at the same time.

One of the major debates that has been going on in the scientific community for a long time has been over how humans do the things they do. Do we worship God because we have a gene or a section of our brain that is hardwired to force us to worship God? There are those in the scientific community who are convinced that this is in fact the case. Are people who are alcoholics doomed to be alcoholics because of an alcohol gene or a chemical deficiency in the brain? How about homosexuality? Is it a mutation that programs certain people to be gay while others are straight? Is domestic violence a genetic characteristic that is imprinted on certain males especially, so they have no choice but to abuse and subjugate the women who are a part of their experience? Is the desire to change the TV remote a gene that is male sex linked or is it something men learn from their fathers?

Some of these questions are humorous and some are tragic. The scientific evidence has been warped because people with a certain social problem have a vested interest in finding some kind of evidence that exonerates them from a destructive behavioral pattern. A man who is threatened with prison time because he assaulted his wife may wish to excuse his behavior as something he has no control over because he has a violence gene that prevents him from abstaining from that abuse. Many of the studies that have attempted to prove that homosexuality is genetically driven have been done by homosexuals who wish to give a genetic base to their sexual preference. Many atheists are now maintaining that people who worship are only doing it because they have a gene that programs them to worship, and if they had any control over it they would not go to church. There is no question with the fact that your right foot will not continue to circle in a clockwise direction when you move your hand in a counterclockwise direction. Is the same thing true of these other cases?

The first thing that we need to point out is that no one knows the scientific answer to the influence of genetics and environment. There is no question about the data. Alcoholics tend to have alcoholic children. Violence tends to run in families. Worship seems to be a universal characteristic of humans no matter what the culture or political system. The problem is that in all of these cases there are several interpretations of the data. Alcoholics may have alcoholic children because the dependency on alcohol is the only thing that children have seen that works for their parents, so they assume it is the only thing that will work for them. Violence may run in families because fathers tend to educate their sons as to what is the manly thing to do. Worship may be universal because the culture forces its members into certain things that have to be done to stay in good standing in the culture. Most religions have a history of violence which was used to keep dissidents in line. Even the foot going the same way as the hand may be a learned thing that comes about because if your foot goes one way and your hand goes the other you may end up flat on your face.

The second thing that needs to be observed is that accountability is not popular in today's world. It is not hard to tell why someone wishes to excuse his behavior on the basis that he had no choice as to how to behave. We live in a world where accountability is a rare commodity. Finger pointing is an old art, and children learn to do it early. Even Adam and Eve justified their disobedience to God by blaming someone else--Eve, the serpent, and Adam, Eve. The American court system has capitulated to the notion that if we can find any excuse for a person's behavior, that person is not guilty. It is not hard to understand why finding a genetic or chemical reason for aberrant behavior is a popular thing.

The third thing that needs to be pointed out is that the Bible clearly presents a hard line on accountability. The Christian system holds the individual responsible for his own life in every way. Even one's salvation is presented in the scriptures as an individual thing. The writer in Philippians 2:12 says. "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." Also, 2 Timothy 2:15 tells us to "study to show THYSELF approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." When the Gospel was preached the statement made was, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." Over and over the emphasis of the teachings of Jesus are on individual responsibility and accountability. This is one of the reasons why many people reject Christianity. It is much more comfortable to know that I am not responsible for what I do--or what I am called upon to be a part of by God.

The fourth thing we need to understand is that, no matter what my genes or brain chemistry are, I am still able to choose and control my own destiny. If my parents are alcoholics and if I am very likely to become an alcoholic because of a gene that I have inherited, there is one way that I can avoid the curse I have inherited, and that is to never take the first drink. If I am genetically programmed to madly push the TV remote every time it gets in my hand and if that is going to cripple my marriage, then I simply will not pick up the remote. Having a genetic tendency does not mean that we are programmed and have no control over the outcome of what we do. If there were a gene for worship and if there was no control over our behavior in worship, then there would be no such thing as an atheist. Someone may say, "well, the atheist simply substitutes something for the worship activity like becoming an environmental activist, a club participant, or involved in a political cause!" My response is "Bingo!" What you are saying is that there is a choice, and the tendency to do something can be expressed in a way that is not destructive to the person or to others!" We are able to choose our own destiny, and none of us is programmed to any behavior. If you do not want your foot to go counterclockwise, then do not make sixes in the air with your arm!

The applications of all of this are important. It is obvious that there are some people who tend to be more masculine or feminine than others. That does not mean that there is no choice about how one's sexuality is expressed. I have a number of friends who are males and are very effeminate, with interest in things that are considered feminine activities. They are normal, well-balanced people with high moral standards and no involvement in destructive lifestyles. I have friends who have had enormous alcohol problems and have found ways of redirecting their behavior so that their lives and the lives of others are not shattered by this destructive drug.

The title of this article is easily answered. Who is in control? I am. That does not mean I can do everything I would like to do. I have been given a mind and an ability to choose. I am not programmed to worship or to be an alcoholic. I may have a tendency toward any number of things, but I choose what I do and what I do not do. What God calls us to is to make choices which benefit others as well as ourselves--to be constructive, serving, caring, compassionate people who are "the light of the world." It is not always easy, but it is always rewarding.

--John N. Clayton

Back to Contents Does God Exist?, SepOct05.