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All Things are Yours

"… whether Paul, Apollos, Cephas, the world, life, death, the present, or the future— all things are yours, but you are Christ's…" (I Cor 3)

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Epigenetics and “Generational Curses”

I ran across a video today posted by a friend on Facebook about how science is “proving the Bible” – in this case, “proving the Bible” was synonymous with affirming the charismatic belief in “generational curses.”

Now I know many of my readers are not part of the charismatic movement and as far as I know, most versions of Christianity outside of the charismatic church do not teach such a concept even exists, but to give a quick primer version of what this belief is about, I’ll just simply say that some Charismatic churches teach that if one’s great-grandparents, grandparents, or parents indulged in any of a variety of sins in their lives that one can inherit a curse in their family line for these actions. This belief is based on verses such as this one:

The LORD is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.
(Numbers 14:18 ESV, see also Exodus 20:5, 34:7, and Deut. 5:9-10)

Now, I must disclose that I personally am somewhat undecided about what I think about this (even though I am a card-carrying charismatic myself) as I also consider the contrasting view presented in Ezekiel 18 on this very topic. That said, I have also prayed according to recommended charismatic wisdom about the sins of my family, known and unknown, and asked the Lord to break off any curses from me, should they exist. But as the goal of this post is not to debate the validity of “generational curses” in and of themselves, none of that is really what I wish to discuss here – so for the sake of this post, I’ll proceed from this point forward with the hypothetical position that generational curses really are, well, real – and that they are the Biblically accurate concept about how this sort of thing works. The question then I am exploring here is the validity of the scientific assertions that this video presents, and whether epigenetics is in fact, as the video says, synonymous with the charismatic belief about “generational curses.”

And, so, here’s a preview – my position on this video is that while epigenetics is an exciting science that is SOMEWHAT explained in this video, overall this is an intensely misleading, twisted example of Christians doing bad PR for the faith…and the only thing I think can be rightly done for this video is to “burn it with fire.” So in hopes that more misleading PR won’t be perpetuated, here comes the fire.

Oh yeah, I guess you’d like to see the video first. It is only right to give some free promotion for those I am about to take to task. Ok, so here it is, and then I’ll proceed with the fire:

Now, I must say that first of all I can’t fault the creators of this video for exhorting people to live a holy life – and to care about the effect that their decisions might have on others. That in and of itself is a noble exhortation, even though I may disagree with the details. And yes, as you are well aware at this point, I do emphatically disagree with the details. So on with my disagreements, below:

1) The concept of a Biblical “generational curse,” as I understand it, does not require the person receiving the curse to be as-yet unborn in order to receive the curse. For instance, if a 50-year old grandmother commits adultery, and she has a grown daughter who has a 2-year-old son, from what I understand about generational curses, her daughter and grandson (and grandson’s future children) could receive that curse, even though her daughter and grandson are already born at the time the adultery is committed and any great-grandchildren would not be able to receive epigenetic results from her life decisions at that point in time. If instead, epigenetic changes are presumed to be the normal way that these curses are transmitted through the family line, then the family line is not able to be cursed in this situation – because the daughter and grandson (and, by extension, grandson’s future children) can’t inherit genes from the grandmother when they’ve already been born.

2) If epigenetics is believed to be the way that Biblical generational curses are transmitted through a family line, then all prayer counseling and repentance to “break off” generational curses is relatively pointless. If you alter your chromosomes through epigenetics, then getting saved, confessing sins, breaking off generational curses, etc., has no effect on those changes. In the charismatic movement, we know this is not the case regarding generational curses – a generational curse, if it actually exists, is reversible – it is breakable through repentance and confession in prayer. But if we blame “generational curses” on epigenetics, we are saying there is no hope, at least not by merely praying about the issue – once you’ve sinned, your genetics are altered and there is no way to break the curse off yourself or your children short of a really huge inventive miracle or a dose of methylizing chemicals either injected or ingested into your system in the right way to alter the epigenetic changes….

3) Epigenetic modifications are not all bad. For instance, if your parents are addicted to watching porn before you were born (an example from the video) despite what the video forewarns with carefully edited ominous music, the actual epigenetic effect on your genes is not necessarily going to make you addicted to porn. (And to my knowledge, there is no scientific study on the books that actually says anything to this effect.) The epigenetic changes to one’s genome are not the way the video is describing them – it’s not like, “Your parents did this so now it’s written in your genes that you will be even more predisposed to do the same thing.”
In fact, in regards to cocaine addiction, there is substantial evidence at least through a mouse model that if a mouse develops a cocaine addiction, its offspring are substantially LESS likely to ever become addicted cocaine than a normal mouse would be – in this case, epigenetics has a protective effect. See article here.

4) Epigenetic changes are not necessarily due to “sin.” If one of your parents goes through a car accident, a traumatic experience, the trauma is possibly going to cause epigenetic changes that you will inherit. Your parents didn’t sin by experiencing a traumatic event – so why would we consider the resulting epigenetic changes to be a “curse?” Experiencing trauma does not curse your family line, but it can cause epigenetic changes… Again, epigenetics is not necessarily “good” nor “bad” – but to sum up the way epigenetics works in really loose laymen terms, whether an epigenetic change is “good” or “bad” for an organism is not really related to the morality of what prompted the change. Many times what we consider “bad” habits do tend to create some negative epigenetic changes; but bad things do not always result in bad epigenetic changes. For instance, a study done in Sweden showed an epigenetic disadvantage towards diabetes and heart disease for the offspring of people whose fathers had ample food between the ages of 9 and 12, whereas people whose fathers faced famine during those ages inherited better health. But this result also only held true if the father experienced famine in that age range – experiencing famine at a different age had no effect.

5) I’m not sure why anyone would say this is a proof against evolution. That doesn’t follow from the science of epigenetics at all. And there’s the rub: the guy in the video seems to go out of his way to give a blatant, but subtle misrepresentation of the science.
A recent, actual study done on Darwin’s finches relative to epigenetics states, “As environmental factors are known to result in heritable changes in the epigenome, it is POSSIBLE that epigenetic changes CONTRIBUTE to the molecular basis of the evolution of Darwin’s finches.” But, somehow video guy leapt from the words “possible” and “contribute” and he instead paints a much different picture using the words “science has now PROVED it is epigenetic modification” making it sound like it is much, much more than a “possible contribution.” Realistically, whether or not epigenetics is involved (and it is likely that it is) doesn’t change whether or not the finches on Galápagos island, or any other species, evolved for millions of years or not. The theory of evolution has always recognized that small changes -whether those changes be mutations, or now, epigenetic changes – occur and in one way or another, lead to evolution – whether this be by punctuated evolution (spurts of time in which many changes occur relatively rapidly) or otherwise.

6) The video names a number of sexual things that are implied to cause epigenetic changes in humans, without any concern for God’s approval of sexual acts done within marriage. For instance, “cyber sex” and “masturbation” are displayed as examples of things that will change your genes (and thus far in my searching, it seems that this is completely imaginary with not a single study to support it.) But, if we allow such a thing as a hypothetical, then assuming typical evangelical/charismatic Christian morals regarding what is sexually appropriate behavior, the question becomes: are your genes going to be epigenetically marked differently if you have “cyber sex” with some stranger, in contrast to what will occur if you are away from home on a business trip and have “cyber sex” with your spouse long distance? How? Or again, will masturbation alone contrasted with masturbation with your spouse as part of foreplay markedly affect your genes in profoundly differing ways? And if so, how?
If so, the assertion the video is making that the pleasure center of someone’s brain is somehow distinguishing between holy acts of sexuality and yet cursing someone with epigenetic changes if they do unholy acts with similar amounts of pleasure, but if someone who was raised to not feel guilty about these acts performed outside of marriage, are we really to believe that they are experiencing destruction of their genome in the one situation and health of their genome in the other? If so, again the question would be: how? What is the mechanism of action?
One side note: it should be mentioned that sex addiction is not universally regarded by the health field as even existing – while the video is maintaining that science has demonstrated sex addiction causes epigenetic damage. Again, the question must be asked: if a married couple has an extremely high libido and together they enjoy unusually frequent sex by mutual consent, is this damaging to their genes – and can we prove it? And would charismatic Christians really want to start teaching that the marriage bed is made impure somehow in this way?

7) Finally, the singularly most detestable thing in my mind about this video is the absolute attempt to deceive people using the visual graphics of the presentation. For instance, starting at about 2 minutes into the video, various sexual activities are written on the screen and underneath are written such things as “Genome: Up to 97%”. For each sexual activity, the percentage listed is different, but they are all extremely high percentages, and it appears that the suggestion being made to the viewer is that these activities alter an incredibly high percentage of someone’s genome. In reality, any epigenetic change that we have ever studied involves only a ridiculously miniscule amount of one’s genome. Small genetic markers can have large effects, but to suggest that sexual conduct is changing vast amounts of one’s genome – when there’s not even a single study to substantiate that sexual behavior is changing ANYTHING in one’s genome, is deception of a pretty high degree – maybe even something like, 97%, give or take.

sexaddiction
Science fiction jibber-jabber, designed to look like something real

But that’s not all. Reading the fine print on these graphics reveals…complete gibberish. Not a single line of any of these graphics says anything scientifically real at all. It’s all nonsense, designed to make the viewer think that there are actual scientifically precise encodings of genes taking place, that are known and measurable – using words and numbers that don’t even describe the process as it would be described if it WERE known to be taking place. And that is incredibly yucky, at least to me.

In the final analysis, the field of epigenetics DOES demonstrate that what parents do affects their unborn children and grandchildren. It DOES give us an extra reason to take care of our bodies and make good choices. But the science is extremely complex, and it is nowhere near as cut and dry – nor “moral” as this video wants us to believe. And it definitely does not “prove” the Bible, nor the concept of “Generational Curses” in any way that the video is suggesting – or demanding – that we believe.

For more reading on this topic, check out:
http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/epigenetics-it-doesnt-mean-what-quacks-think-it-means/

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Non-historical Adam and Eve, and original sin

I got in an unplanned discussion with a friend today about Adam and Eve and not taking Genesis 1 and 2 literally.   I’ve written about my views on that before but there are some rubber-meets-the-road questions about how the gospel segues with that viewpoint, that I am asked pretty routinely.   The difference is that today I took the time to write out some replies, which I thought I would share here.

My friend asked the million dollar question (or posed the million dollar objection, whichever 🙂 ) which was:

When you remove the idea that there was a literal Adam and Eve from the picture, you set up a scenario that says Original Sin does not actually exist. In other words if there were other human beings who had been born before the Fall, then there’s still a race out there that hasn’t fallen potentially and therefore does not need a savior?”  

Image

My first reply to my friend was thus:

“This is somewhat off the main topic of what you are bringing up, but just for the record: “original sin” is a term that is somewhat modern compared to antiquity, and postdates the break of the eastern church from Catholicism – the entire Eastern Orthodox church doesn’t believe in “original sin” but something called “ancestral sin” which is a somewhat different spin on the topic – not particularly relevant to a discussion of whether or not Adam and Eve are the first humans, but worth mentioning nonetheless. (http://www.stmaryorthodoxchurch.org/orthodoxy/articles/ancestral_versus_original_sin)

Since that has next to nothing to do with the main discussion here but is offered just as an informative freebee, I just thought I’d throw it out there, hit send, and then reply to what you’re actually writing about.   I’m not mentioning this because I believe in the Eastern Orthodox perspective per se, but simply to point out that there are a lot of unexamined ideas that we inherit as Christians about something even as seemingly straightforward as our belief in “original sin” which turns out to be not so straightforward as we’d like it to be, after all.  ”

Then I hit send, and wrote my next post, the one that everyone wants to dig into anyway: 

I personally don’t believe that removing a literal Adam and Eve from the picture sets up a scenario that original sin doesn’t not actually exist, at least, not in a way that would deny the purpose of Christ’s sacrifice – because I think the Adam and Eve story is parable, it’s meaning is to reveal truth – truth about Gods reasons for sending His son. Just as like 2 chapters later in Genesis we read stuff like, “Jubal was the father of all who play the pipe” and “Jabal; he was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock” I don’t take to means that anyone who ever played the pipe, or lived in a tent and has livestock, is literally the descendants of one of these two guys (and why? because when the [literal,  proportedly worldwide]  flood came, everyone would have been wiped out except Noah’s descendants, and unless Noah was descended from all three guys…this isn’t talking about NATURAL descent, but spiritual descent. )

If we’re going to interpret scripture with scripture, then we need to look about how scripture interprets what it means to be “the father” or “the mother” of someone – and if two chapters after Adam and Eve, we see scripture speaking metaphorically about what it means to be someone’s descendent, that should give us something to chew on. Sin is transmitted through spiritual descent, just as righteousness is transmitted through spiritual descent. Sin resides in the flesh, but so also can righteousness reside in the flesh (the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.) Just as in Christ, “all are made alive” through yes, “one man” – one is not a physical descendant of Christ in order to inherit His righteousness. Neither does one have to be a literally physical descendant of the “one man Adam” to inherit his spiritual unrighteousness. This is one of the reasons that Jesus could rail at the pharisees and tell them that they weren’t children of Abraham when push came to shove:

John 8 38-39, ESV: “I speak the things which I have seen with My Father; therefore you also do the things which you heard from your father.” They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. “But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do.…”

Sure, they were physically literal descendants of Abraham, but what counts in the spirit realm is who one is spiritually descended from. To be a descendant of Abraham is to descend from the faith of Abraham, not from the flesh of Abraham.  Likewise, Adam *means* man, Eve means *woman*: He represents the condition of the flesh which is not choosing the tree of life (Jesus) to eat from but rather the knowledge of good and evil (earthly morality/the conscience without the Spirit of God.) – the Adam and Eve story, among other things, is revealing the condition of a human without a vital connection by the Spirit to the life of God in the Heavenlies.

So, there was my answer.   I didn’t really get into the issue of whether or not there were other people around before “Adam and Eve” although I think the age old question of “Who did Cain marry?” hints at that.   But it wasn’t important to go there, because the main idea of why it even matters is in the above material.   Of course, I find that I learn the best as I discuss my viewpoints and others viewpoints together, so feel free to add or question or tweek or say anything at all as long as it is respectful and civil, below 🙂

For more reading, I appreciated this post:
http://tamedcynic.org/do-you-have-to-believe-in-original-sin-to-be-a-christian/