The focus of this second chapter is on genes, and despite the euphoria in the press in recent years, Jones seems to adopt a rather cautious approach, realizing, I suspect, following the Human Genome Project, that 'it is not all in the genes' after all - and, that, like the rainbow, the pot of evolutionary gold that seemed so close has now receded beyond grasp.
what does pushing p mean clever chapter title, clearly a play on the famous playing fields of Eton, seems a bit irrelevant, except for the section dealing with intelligence, IQ, and education - and the parts played by nature and nurture in social mobility, which again reduces to another deep mystery.
Cells and Genes
When cells, then chromosome, then genes and then DNA were discovered, and found to exist in every cell of every organism, it was assumed that genes controlled the morphology of all organisms and the growth of an embryo in the womb. This seemed pretty obvious when scientists discovered that by mucking about with the genes of fruit flies, their offspring could be deformed, perhaps growing extra eyes or legs in the wrong places on their bodies.
Then, when the structure of DNA itself was worked out and the gene components, the C, G. A and T bases identified, it was assumed that soon we would be able to 'read' the 'genetic code' and then be able to explain 'everything' - growth, health and disease, intelligence, and, of course, evolution... Hmm, well not quite.
The Mystery Deepens
As Jones points out, there appears to be some kind of link between defective or modified genes and various illnesses. Such harmful genes can even be detected in an unborn foetus, perhaps showing a serious disposition to future health problems. At the same time, it has been realized that 'it is not all in the genes', because the genes simply do not contain the 'positional' information required to act as the blueprints for any tiny part of any organism. So what is going on?
Perhaps the answer lies in Rupert Sheldrake's attempts to resurrect the old 'morphic field' theory, which says that the design and development of every organism is controlled by an invisible, non-physical 'field', which he compares to that around a magnet that can push and pull particles of iron filings into patterns and shapes.
The idea seems to parallel the Biblical statement quoted previously, that there is a 'spirit' in man (Job 32:8), and also animals, so perhaps Sheldrake is correct. An important implication of the morphic field theory is that the function of the genes found in every body cell, is not to provide as master plan of design, but to manufacture, on demand, the range of body-building materials required to implement that plan. If so, what an astonishing and miraculous set-up he has discovered. Which helps explain why the stem cells of a growing embryo are equipped to create bone, muscle, blood, nerve materials, etc., where and when required to go on the palette of the invisible artist who wields the morphic paint brush. Sadly, however, if some of the genes are defective, the intended masterpiece is going to be flawed.
The implication seems to be that many illnesses are the result of faulty 'building materials', but not all - for Jones tells us that gene scans of thousands of people with high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes have detected no genetic defects that could be implicated.