August 29, 2012 | David F. Coppedge

Genes Make People Support Abortion

If this political scientist is right, your genes and the environment make you liberal or conservative.

Peter Hatemi’s paper in Trends in Genetics was summarized on PhysOrg, “The role of genes in political behavior.”

In the past, social scientists had assumed that political preferences were shaped by social learning and environmental factors, but recent studies suggest that genes also strongly influence political traits. Twin studies show that genes have some influence on why people differ on political issues such as the death penalty, unemployment and abortion. Because this field of research is relatively new, only a handful of genes have been implicated in political ideology and partisanship, voter turnout, and political violence.

Future research, including gene-expression and sequencing studies, may lead to deeper insights into genetic influences on political views and have a greater impact on public policy.

Instead of mere social determinism, Hatemi now argues for social plus environmental determinism.  “The emergence of this research has sparked a broad paradigm shift in the study of political behaviors toward the inclusion of biological influences and recognition of the mutual co-dependence between genes and environment in forming political behaviors,” the abstract explains.  How Hatemi (a political scientist and molecular biologist at the University of Sydney) exempts himself from these influences enough to write about as if detached from them it is not clear.  It’s not clear what constitutes “insight” in such a view. Nor is it clear whose genetically-determined leanings should have sway on public policy.

Those who think these are easy questions should look at Douglas Heaven’s entry on New Scientist, “Location of the mind remains a mystery.”  Science Daily tries to offer an explanation for how the brain generates consciousness and introspection, but in so doing, reveals the difficulties: “Clearly, neuroscience is only beginning to understand how the human brain can generate a phenomenon as complex as self-awareness.” Any theory that cannot give an account of the location of the mind is surely not ready to explain how genes or the environment influence that mind.

Another cure for determinism is David Chalmers’ video posted at Evolution News, where the noted philosopher of mind claims that the “hard problem” of consciousness (how neural circuitry produces conscious experience) will never be solved by science.  See also our 8/18/2012 entry, “Mind Your Brain.

Determinists are proud people with a Yoda complex, thinking they live on an exalted plane above their fellow beings, analyzing and explaining them in terms of the materials inside and outside their brains.  Pay them no attention; evolution makes them think that way (see Self-Refuting Fallacy and think about it).

 

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Comments

  • rockyway says:

    A helpful analysis of the kind of reductionist thinking expressed by Hatemi, is ‘Aping Mankind; Neuromania, Darwinitis and the misrepresentation of Humanity’ – by Raymond Tallis.
    – although Tallis is an atheist and accepts Evolution he gives a good overview of modern neuroscience.

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