By Samuel W. Anderson

from GeneWatch 26-4
Aug-Oct 2013

s.w. anderson / genewatchThis issue focuses on intersections and interactions between religion and genetics. It's one of those topics that, when you start pitching it to potential contributing writers, can begin to sound absurdly broad and open-ended. As you might expect, we ended up with articles all over the map, where "genetics" could refer to anything from medical genomics to human evolution and "religion" could refer to anything from Christianity to Islam to the field of genetics itself. Although taking on a topic as expansive as "religion and genetics" presents some behind-the-scenes challenges, I think it also produces a particularly accessible end product. I like to point out in this space when an issue of GeneWatch has "something for everyone," and this time around it's particularly true.

A couple of the more specific topics covered in this issue were rather close to home for me. I won't pretend it's a coincidence; when Jeremy (Gruber, Executive Director of CRG) and I first discussed doing a religion issue, Christian Creationism and Amish genetics both came quickly to mind. I grew up in Ohio's Amish country and had read some news articles covering the prevalence of genetic disorders in the Amish community in what I thought might be an overly simplistic way (as so often happens when non-Amish people comment on the Amish, from CNN to Weird Al Yankovic songs to, worst of all, reality TV). That led to an interview with Hal Cross, who, having worked on genetic disorders in the Amish community since the 1960s, would have to be considered the leading expert on the subject.

The subject of Christian Creationism, especially the aggressive sort which opposes the basic principles of natural selection, hits especially close to home. I grew up in an area where conservative Evangelical Christianity was mainstream. I had friends whose parents used "free thinker" as a derogatory term, and it was common to describe oneself as a "fundamentalist Christian." I remember people saying "The Theory of Evolution" the way that many of the same people would later say "Barack Hussein Obama." My parents had taught me about evolution, so I was never under the impression that there was any actual scientific "debate" about the merits of natural selection, even when one of my junior high science teachers openly begrudged that they weren't allowed to teach Intelligent Design as an "alternative theory." (See Glenn Branch's article for more on this juicy subject.) But when your pastor rails against the teaching of evolution and when even the science teacher seems uncertain about it, you can see how a lot of kids would be skeptical about the factuality of evolution.

By later on in high school, I was one of the handful who willingly took up the torch and openly defended natural selection as fact. This usually came in the form of arguments with Creationist classmates who, having found out that I believed in evolution (it was often couched that way, as a "belief"), came to me to try out their latest argument against evolution, usually in the form of pointing out one thing related to evolutionary theory which was possibly flawed (carbon dating was a favorite target) and therefore meant the whole thing was obviously a house of cards. It was maddening at the time, but I actually credit those arguments for teaching me not just how to stand up for what you believe in, but the importance of knowing why you believe what you believe.

Samuel W. Anderson is Editor of GeneWatch. 

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