DNA As Our Soul: Don’t Believe the Advertising

The ad for Ancestry.com’s DNA testing company is not only selling me a service, it is selling me an ideology: Submitting my DNA, it said, you would “answer, once and for all, what it is that makes you, you.” Really? DNA makes me me? This is pseudo-scientific garbage. DNA is the score, not the performance. Who we are – as opposed to what we are – depends on upbringing, education, what’s in the environment, opportunities for physical and intellectual growth, and just plain luck.

Twins start off with the same DNA, but they can become be quite different. I was present when Stephen J. Gould filmed a television broadcast in front of the death cast of Eng and Chang Bunker, the “original” Siamese twins. Eng and Chang were very different people – Chang became an aggressive fellow who liked strong drink, while the Eng was a mild-mannered teetotaler. And these two businessmen shared not only a liver and a circulatory system; they shared their genomes (they were identical twins) and, by force, they had to share the same environment. What makes us “us” is a very complex mixture of genes, environment, and experience.

But we hear over and over again, “DNA makes us who we are.” We are even told this by our car ads! We hear that “superior handling is in the DNA of every German sport coupe“! The “red-blooded attitude” of the Jeep Compass is “genetically engineered” to take that DNA places no one has seen before. A decade ago, the ad for the midsized Hummer had the tagline, “Same DNA. Smaller Chromosomes.” In other words, the size may be smaller, but the essence hasn’t changed. Biologically, this makes no sense. DNA had become our essence, —> Read More