In today’s spotlight I would like to address the notion often referred to as “sins of the father.” The Bible informs us according to Exodus 20:5, “You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me.” However, later in the Bible we can find many verses such as this one from Deuteronomy 24:16, “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.” So what is the story here? Are we to think that only those who hate God are to be visited by the sins of their father?
What does science have to say about all this? Epigenetic research informs us that experience is passed down to our offspring. For example, “Where one’s ancestors lived, or how much they valued education, can clearly have effects that pass down through the generations. But what about the legacy of their health: whether they smoked, endured famine or fought in a war?”1
“Biologists first observed this ‘transgenerational epigenetic inheritance’ in plants. Tomatoes, for example, pass along chemical markings that control an important ripening gene. But, over the past few years, evidence has been accumulating that the phenomenon occurs in rodents and humans as well. The subject remains controversial, in part because it harks back to the discredited theories of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, a nineteenth-century French biologist who proposed that organisms pass down acquired traits to future generations. To many modern biologists, that’s “scary-sounding”, says Oliver Rando, a molecular biologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, whose work suggests that such inheritance does indeed happen in animals. If it is true, he says, “Why hasn’t this been obvious to all the brilliant researchers in the past hundred years of genetics?”2
According to research carried out at RMIT University, “. . . dad’s diet before they conceive could be genetically passed onto the next generation, with a subsequent impact on those childrens’ mental health.”3 And that’s the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
Many scientists argue that criminality is largely inherited. Indeed, “After examining the DNA profiles of almost 1,000 criminals, two particular genes were found to be associated with violent, but not non-violent, behaviors.”4 Like many issues of this nature, scientists are quick to balk at the idea that it’s in our genes—genetics made me do it. The subject is somewhat like the free-will argument for where most scientists today believe, as Frans de Waal put it when speaking to me about free will, “It’s a grand Illusion.” The problem is that when we discuss things like genetics and free will in this context, it provides a defense for bad behavior and no one wants to go there.
The ideas of original sin, something Lamarck argued as present in our genes, together with the behavior, environment, and even memories (or memes in the words of Richard Dawkins) of the parent, are gaining momentum today. So, what if our genetic make-up predisposes us in certain ways—does that necessarily mean that our genes have absolute control?
Identical twin research has led to some remarkable discoveries. Take Jim Lewis and Jim Springer who were raised apart from the age of 4 weeks. “When the twins were finally reunited at the age of 39 in 1979, they discovered they both suffered from tension headaches, were prone to nail biting, smoked Salem cigarettes, drove the same type of car and even vacationed at the same beach in Florida.”5
Interestingly, this pair of twins is not unique. Study after study of identical twins reared apart has revealed substantially the same genetic influence. Despite this, twin research also shows a good deal of variance. The fact is, as geneticist Carl Bruder of the University of Alabama at Birmingham puts it, “I believe that the genome that you’re born with is not the genome that you die with—at least not for all the cells in your body.”
We all have opportunities to improve our lot in life and we all can work toward doing just that, and for that reason, I am convinced that we are not destined to live out a life limited by our inheritance. I for one know first hand, that you can change your lot in life. Indeed, when we sense anxiety we have the ability to recognize and verbalize it.
In my conversation with Mark Wolynn, an expert on this matter and the author of It Didn’t Start With You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle, once you recognize the inherited nature of genetic memory and it’s influence, you can identify these anxious feelings and desensitize them. In other words, you have the ability to save yourself and your children from suffering.
I have used the patented technology InnerTalk for years. Verbalizing a realization is the first step in desensitizing and then changing that inner talk to self-talk that is fully supportive really makes a difference! As such, my advice, dare to dream big, set goals, and move forward toward becoming the very best version of you!
My thoughts anyway, what are yours?
- Hughes, V. 2014. “Epigenetics: The Sins of the Father.” Nature. Vol. 507.
- RMIT University. 2015. “Sins of the Father Could Weigh on the Next Generation.” Science Daily.
- “Scientists Identify Genes Associated With Violent Crime.” IFLScience.
- Lewis, T. 2014. “Twins Separated at Birth Reveal Staggering Influence of Genetics.” Live Science. August 11, 2014.