Epigenetics – The Sins of the Father

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When I was a boy, my dad would tell me I received all my good behavior from my mom, and all my bad behavior from him. At times, as a teen, I would reflect on my parents and consider my character, thinking what my dad said was more often true than not. He was joking of course, but by the time I was in my late teens, any traits I did see of my dad within myself, I wanted nothing to do with. Little did I know, the die was cast for a large part of my character.

I saw the results of his poor health, stress at work, and years of smoking and drinking turn into heart attacks and a series of strokes. Thankfully, I never actually witnessed any of the smoking or drinking behavior, because he cleaned up his act years before I was born. Nevertheless, that lifestyle took its toll. When I was 9 years old, my dad had a massive stroke and had to be cared for, for the rest of his life.

Some of the strongest memories I have as a teen are of helping my dad to the bathroom and having to wipe him clean. Now of course, I can only imagine how humiliating that would be for a father, but as a teenaged boy, I was angry, embarrassed, and resentful. When he passed away, I was kicking my heels for joy because I felt trapped at home and could not leave till he was gone. My mother, of course, was heart broken, but three months after he died, I was out of the house, free at last.

When I left, and well into adulthood, I never forgot the promise I made to myself. I would never drink, do drugs, get fat and out of shape because I never, absolutely never, wanted to put my own children through what, (at the time, I looked at as), my dad put me through.

Just how much the genetics of our parents influence our life has been a question researchers have been investigating since Gregor Mendel, father of modern genetics, began experimenting with peas in 1856. Nature vs nurture could be how you heard this question phrased. Nature, (genetics), vs nurture, (environment). Are we born as a blank slate, tabula rasa, and all our personality traits, behavior, and intelligence come from our environment, or does genetics play a significant part?

In recent years, the role of genetics in our lives seems to be taking a front seat as science continues to find evidence that it plays a much more significant role than previously thought. Researchers in the Oxford Journals put it this way, “Environmental factors can have a strong effect on some phenotypes, but evidence from both animal and human experiments suggests that the impact of environment has been overstated and that our views on the causes of phenotypic differences in genetically identical organisms require revision.” 1

Our men’s group at church has been watching a DVD series about addictions men struggle with. It looks not only at environmental factors, but the part genetics play in how men behave and react to the world around them. One episode mentioned epigenetics, and how there are alterations that can take place within our biological system, without changing our DNA, that influence who we are and how we behave.

I had not heard of the term epigenetics before and was skeptical regarding much of the information they were sharing in that particular episode. After each session, we break up into smaller groups of 3-5 and discuss the topics for that particular meeting. Within our small group, I shared my skepticism and that I wanted to research some of the claims. In a nut shell, claims of generational curses. I have heard of generational curses before and have seen it in the form of grand parents, or parents who raise children in a drug and alcohol environment. Those children, (some former students come to mind), continue with that behavior, and their lives are destroyed by drug abuse, just as their parents and other extended family members destroyed their own lives.

So I went home and looked up generational curses in scripture, and researched epigenetics. One example I came across was some research done at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Researcher Brian Dias was studying epigenetics on mice, and how imprints could be passed on from generation to generation.

Here are a few places the Bible mentions generational curses: Exodus 34:7, Numbers 14:18, and Deuteronomy 5:9.

Dias exposed male mice to acetophenone, a sweet smelling almond chemical and at the same time giving them a mild electric foot shock. He did this five times a day for several days. After this treatment, the mice obviously became fearful, freezing whenever they would smell acetophenone. No surprise there, but then ten days later he allowed the male mice to mate with female mice who had not experienced any acetophenone or shocks of any kind.

Then things became interesting, “When their young grew up, many of the animals were more sensitive to acetophenone than to other odours, and more likely to be startled by an unexpected noise during exposure to the smell. Their offspring — the ‘grandchildren’ of the mice trained to fear the smell — were also jumpier in the presence of acetophenone. What’s more, all three generations had larger-than-normal ‘M71 glomeruli’, structures where acetophenone-sensitive neurons in the nose connect with neurons in the olfactory bulb.” 2

Specifically, there are chemical changes to our genes that affect how DNA is packaged and expressed, but does not change the DNA code. The prefix ‘epi’ is Greek and that means to go around, hence, ‘epi’genetics. So there are modifications that alter how our genes are expressed, but our DNA is unchanged and these changes can and do carry from one generation to the next and can alter structures within our biological systems, without changes in our DNA.

Another article by Danielle Simmons Ph.D. looked at the medical records for several generations of families in Sweden from the 1890’s to the present. They crossed this information with the annual food harvests and food prices, which would suggest how much food was available to families. What they found was if a father did not have enough food in the years prior to puberty, his own sons were less likely to die from heart disease. On the other hand, if the father had plenty of food in the period prior to puberty, his sons had a much higher risk of death related to diabetes. The article goes on to say, “These findings suggest that diet can cause changes to genes that are passed down though generations by the males in a family, and that these alterations can affect susceptibility to certain diseases. But what are these changes, and how are they remembered? The answers to questions such as these lie in the concept of epigenetics.” 3

John Lennox in his book, God’s Undertaker – Has Science buried God, explores the origin of life.
“Between a living cell and the most highly ordered non-biological systems, such as a crystal or a snowflake, there is a chasm as vast and absolute as it is possible to conceive. Even the tiniest of bacterial cells, weighting less than a trillionth of a gram, is a veritable micro-miniaturized factory containing thousands of exquisitely designed pieces of intricate molecular machinery, made up altogether of 100 thousands million atoms, far more complicated than any machine built by man and absolutely without parallel in the non-living world.” 4

Lennox goes on to explain, by example, that a cell contains hundreds of millions of proteins with over twenty thousands types, and all have a specific purpose in their design. These cells are so small that hundreds could be placed in a row and fit within the dot at the end of this sentence.

“Molecular biology has also shown us that the basic design of the cell system is essentially the same in all living systems on the earth from bacteria to mammals. The meaning of the genetic code is also virtually identical in all cells. The size, structure and component design of the protein synthetic machinery is practically the same in all cells. In terms of their basic biochemical design, … no living system can be thought of as being primitive or ancestral with respect to any other system, nor is there the slightest empirical hint of an evolutionary sequence among all the incredibly diverse cells on earth.” 5

Now don’t misunderstand me. I am not implying that every claim within scripture can be, or will eventually be, proven by science, but simply that generational curses, seem to have a biological element that support it. I believe there could be, and probably is, a spiritual element to generational curses that science has no possible way to detect.

Let’s face it, the definition of a miracle is something that occurs out side rules of science and can’t be explained, ever, by the laws of our universe. Walking on water, raising the dead, instantaneous healings, are all documented in the Bible, but can’t be explained by science. Neither can science explain the origin of life, yet here we are.

SmokingmomSome of you may be thinking this whole generational curse thing is unfair. Why would or could a just, fair, and loving God curse generations of children for the sins of the parents? As I said above, and have seen first hand if a parent is in a sinful lifestyle, it is likely the children will continue in that sin. Who has not seen that? Got Questions put it this way. “Implied in the warning of Exodus 20:5 is the fact that the children will choose to repeat the sins of their fathers. A Jewish Targum specifies that this passage refers to “ungodly fathers” and “rebellious children.” So, it is not unjust for God to punish sin to the third or fourth generation – those generations are committing the same sins their ancestors did.” 6

The study of epigenetics has a long way to go before we understand just how strong the role of our parents or grandparents DNA play in our lives. But, if someone ever tells you that generational curses is rubbish and that is just one example of how wrong the Bible is, ask them if they have ever heard of ‘epigenetics’.


Next time that somebody tells you that something is true, why not say to them, ‘What kind of evidence is there for that?’ And if they can’t give you a good answer, I hope you’ll think very carefully before you believe a word they say. – Richard Dawkins, Atheist


1. Wong, Albert. Gottesman, Irving I. Petronis Arturas. “Phenotypic differences in genetically identical organisms: the epigenetic perspective” Oxford University Press. Oxfordjournals.org, 26 January 2005. Web 10 January 2015.
2. Hughes, Virginia. “Epigenetics:The sins of the father” Nature. Nature.com, 5 March 2014. Web. 9 January 2015.
3. Simmons, Danielle. “Epigenetic Influences and Disease” Nature. Nature.com, 2008. Web. 12 January 2015.
4. Lennox, John. God’s Undertaker. Oxford: Lion Books, 2009. Print
5. Ibid.
6. “What does the Bible say about breaking generational curses?” Got Questions Ministries, n.d. Web. 11 January 2015.



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Epigenetics – The Sins of the Father by James Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://www.dev.christianapologetics.blog/.

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