Nature Nurture and God

What Would I Have Become?

When I was about two years old, my parents got a divorce. Dad got custody of my brother and me, and Mom soon moved back to Kansas never to contact us again. In later years, Dad would tell me that when I was a baby, a rich old Indian (Native American) man wanted to buy me from my parents because he had no heir; but Dad would not sell. After that, from time to time, the question would come up in my mind: what would I have grown up like if I had been raised by a rich old Indian?

Then when I was about 18 years old, my brother found my natural mother. By this time, she had two girls from subsequent marriages. She was a working mother and the girls, in stark contrast to my strict upbringing, had very little supervision – they were allowed to do just about whatever they felt like. Later, my brother moved down to Oklahoma to spend his last couple of years of High School with Mom and was essentially allowed to do whatever he pleased. This again sparked my interest in how I would have “turned out” under different circumstances.

My Thoughts on The Nature Vs. Nurture Argument

I don’t think that any thoughtful person could attribute 100% of our characteristics to either nature or nurture alone. “You need nature to be able to absorb nurture” (Ridley, 2003, p. 173). The extent that each affects us will probably be debated until Jesus returns. Which is a great segue into my next thought: There appears to be very little mention of spirituality and probably none about how the Holy Spirit and the “Renewing of the mind” in psychological circles. I can attribute much of my mental foibles to genetics as well as my environment. But since I was about age 20, the Holy Spirit has been renewing my mind into something that I could never have accomplished myself. Many emotional diseases could be attenuated or eradicated by the Holy Spirit if people would seek Him. I’ve worked with alcoholics and addicts for years, and have seen several be able to completely rid themselves of antidepressant medication after they stay sober for a while and let God do His work.

The History of the Nature Vs. Nurture Issue

The concept has been around even before Shakespeare’s time (Ridley, 2003, p. 71). Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911), a half-cousin of Charles Darwin, was credited with coining the phrase: “Nature versus Nurture” (University of Indiana, 2007). Some people strongly affirm that genetics influence what people become, while the other side favors “nurture”. Ridley (2003, p. 69) says that “it was Galton’s fate to ignite the feud in 1864”. Since then, the discussions have often been very passionate. The feud has raged for over a century. And by all appearances, it will not be over in my lifetime.

What are The Most Essential Characteristics of This Issue?

Psychologists want to know to what extent our traits are genetically inherited from our parents, and what is the influence of our environment (i.e. upbringing) on who we become. Certainly some physical features are exclusively inherited (I have blue eyes because my ancestors had blue eyes.). Some, like a propensity to gain weight, are partially inherited, and partially influenced by our environment (Myers, 2010, p. 460). But since this is a psychology paper, I’ll be concentrating on the psychological aspects.

What do we inherit from our ancestors, and what role does our environment play?

Some traits are more inheritable than others are. For example, a person’s temperament is almost exclusively biological (inherited) (Myers, 2010).

Personality

David Myers (2010) says that personality is virtually 100% inherited: “The environment shared by a family’s children has no discernable impact on their personalities.” (p. 139). And I know this to be true. My brother and I are 21 months apart. We were raised almost as twins. We both got nearly identical clothes, and same treatment. We were grouped together as a unit. It was “The kids” as though we weren’t even individuals. But we have always been as different as night and day in personality. My biological mother affirms that I was easy-going, and my brother was “wild” even from birth. And to this day, despite nearly identical upbringings, we are still very, very different.

Beliefs

There are a few things that are not so strongly tied to genetics. Among those are “attitudes, values, manners, faith, and politics” (Myers, 2010).

Nature in the formative years

Matt Ridley (2003) shows how complex the issue really is:

Nurture is reversible; nature is not. That is the reason responsible intellectuals have spent a century preferring [environment over genes]… But what if there was a planet where it was the other way around? … [A] world in which lived intelligent creatures whose nurture they could do nothing about, whereas their genes were exquisitely sensitive to the world in which they lived.

Search no more… You live on precisely such a planet. To the extent that people are products of nurture… they are largely the products of early and irreversible events. To the extent that they are the product of genes, they are expressing new effects right into adulthood, and often those effects are at the mercy of how they live. (p. 151)

If a person is exposed to certain environmental factors while in the womb, or during critical phases in childhood, there can be irreversible catastrophic consequences. A girl named Genie was raised chained to a potty chair or a crib most of her childhood. She was finally found and freed. But tragically, the only words she learned to speak were “stopit” and “nomore” (sic). She was deprived of appropriate verbal input at a critical age. (Ridley, 2003, pp. 169-170)

Jensenism: The heritability of intelligence.

Arthur R. Jensen (1923-) became the focus of a very emotional controversy when in 1969 he published an article saying that intelligence was a result of genetics, followed by biological environmental differences. He asserted that socioeconomic status (SES) had little or no influence on intelligence. This was published at a time when it was popularly believed that the 15 point IQ difference between blacks and whites was attributed to financial status. People were outraged that Jensen suggested Black people were genetically less intelligent. (Miele, 2002, p.18)

So, was Jensen right? Is intelligence inherited? Intelligence seems to be a product of genetics. But perhaps not as much as Jensen thought. David Myers (2010) says that the heritability of intelligence runs about 50 percent (p. 429) though he then goes on to explain (p. 434) that there is a “stubborn” ethnic gap in intelligence scores. But that has been narrowing since 1970.

Conclusion

“Mental similarities between adopted children and their adoptive families wane with age, until the correlation approaches zero by adulthood” (Myers, 2010, p. 428). I could expect my native intelligence and personality to be about the same after I grew to adulthood. What I would do with this mind would certainly be influenced by my environment. I could not imagine that if I had been whisked off to Libya or the Soviet Union as a child that my life would be much the same, for instance.

Like Bandura’s reciprocal determination (Myers, 2010, p.577), my genes most certainly affect what I am interested in. So discounting an environment of inadequate resources, I would still have been interested in paleontology as a child and not so interested in math. Genes ultimately control who we become, but our experiences add shades of hue to our genetic dispositions. “Our genes shape the experiences that shape us” (Myers, 2010, p 429).

So, all secular things considered, with similar advantages, I probably would still have grown up to be just about what I am today. And Jesus would have had to step in and mould me into someone He can work with. Because left to my own devices, I did not do very good!

 

References

Miele, F. (2002). Intelligence, race, and genetics: Conversations with Arthur R. Jensen. Boulder, CO: Westview Press

Myers, D. (2010). Psychology. New York: Worth Publishers.

Ridley, M. (2003) Nature via Nurture. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. Published again in 2004 under the title: The agile gene: How nature turns on nurture

University of Indiana (2007). Human intelligence: Francis Galton Retrieved June 16, 2011 from http://www.indiana.edu/~intell/galton.shtml

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