Books > The big book of life: A challenging but rewarding guide to the nature and nurture debate

29 November 2017 | by Nick Spencer

The big book of life: A challenging but rewarding guide to the nature and nurture debate


Genes, Determinism and God
Denis Alexander
(Cambridge University Press, 392 PP, £26.99)
Tablet Bookshop Price £24.30 • Tel 01420 592974

Did you know that there is a gene for reading The Tablet? It’s just between the gene for being intelligent, thoughtful and slightly too clever, and the one for being moral, upright and gently ­herbivorous. You might have it. Its book reviewers usually do.

The absurdity of such an idea has not prevented many a journalist penning an article entitled “Scientists discover gene for X” when X equals binge-drinking, being a caring person, believing in God, happiness, exam success or impulsivity (all genuine examples). It seems that now we have decoded the human genome, we are indecently keen to say what it actually does.

Alas, the answer is considerably more complex than headlines, articles or even scientific papers might suggest. Indeed, perhaps the only honest response is that we just don’t know, despite the advances of the last 10 years. The problem, as is so often the case, is that the more we know, the more we realise there is to know.

Denis Alexander, having been chairman of the Molecular Immunology Programme and head of the Laboratory of Lymphocyte Signalling and Development at the Babraham Institute, Cambridge, knows the field from the inside. Moreover, as founding director of The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, he not only knows the science but has a lively and informed understanding of its historical, cultural, philosophical and theological context and implications. Genes, Determinism and God touches on all of these. It is a thorough, measured and rewarding, if demanding, read.


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