The Biology of Sin: Baylor Researcher Explores the Biological Basis of Sinful Behavior

Sept. 8, 2010

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What causes our sinful behavior? Is there a biological predisposition for biblically defined sinful behaviors? A Baylor University researcher has compiled years of research into a new book called The Biology of Sin (Biblica Publishing, 2010), which discusses sinful behaviors, including adultery, rage and addiction, asking of each: "What does science say, and what does the Bible say about this behavior?"

Dr. Matthew Stanford, professor of psychology and neuroscience, College of Arts and Sciences at Baylor, discusses the fact that biological predispositions do play a role in behavior which the Bible defines as sinful, while emphasizing the authority of God and the abundant grace God has for those struggling with habitual sin.

"What I wanted to do was look at different behaviors like adultery that people might not have ever imagined has a biological basis," Stanford said. "I hope people recognize sin as a spiritual phenomenon that also has a physical manifestation. We talk like sinful behavior is easy to overcome, but the reality is that sin is pervasive and deeply ingrained in us."

For example, Stanford said studies have shown that men with higher testosterone levels report a lower level of marital satisfaction and are more likely to leave the home because of troubled marital relations, extramarital affairs or spousal abuse. In regards to rage, problems in two areas of the brain are thought to produce a predisposition toward impulsive aggressive behavior.

Stanford said all of the behaviors outlined in the book violate, in some way, the creative order that God has established, yet something biologically occurs in us that causes the behavior. However, biology is not destiny, Stanford said, and when we fully understand the effects of sin on our physical bodies, it becomes clear that "broken biology" can never be used as an excuse for sinful behavior.

As Stanford studied the data, he also noticed that, on average, men and women sin differently. Stanford said men tend to be outwardly manifested and focused on obtaining immediate gratification like aggression or adultery. The sins of women, on the other hand, tend to be more inwardly focused and concern on relational status, privilege or position like envy or pride.

"Because God created men and women physically different, it is understandable that the effect of original sin on our bodies and minds varies between the sexes," Stanford said. "This is not to say that men and women differ in their degree of sinfulness, but simply that they sin in different ways. Men and women are equally sinful and sin is equally destructive in both."

Media contact: Frank Raczkiewicz, Assistant Vice President of Media Communications, 254-710-1964.

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