Recent research indicates that cancers are not caused by damage to healthy cells by noxious substances, but rather there is underlying damage already in our DNA which makes us susceptible to cancer under certain conditions.

The classical view of cancer starts with a healthy cell. It acquires more and more mutations in its genetic code, or DNA, until it reaches a tipping point. Then it becomes a cancer and grows uncontrollably.

But there are problems with this idea: cancerous mutations are found in seemingly healthy tissue, and many substances known to cause cancer - including air pollution - don't seem to damage people's DNA.

The researchers have produced evidence of a different idea. The damage is already there in our cell's DNA, picked up as we grow and age, but something needs to pull the trigger that actually makes it cancerous.

Professor Charles Swanton, Francis Crick Institute, London (BBC 10/09/2022)

Does this research support the concept that we are already damaged in our human nature and that this damage is being passed on from generation to generation ?

Other research has come to the conclusion that damaged DNA is already present at birth and 'inherited from our parents' :

Scientists have discovered a handful of ultrarare mutations present in our cells from birth that likely shave years off a person's life. Each of these DNA variants, most likely inherited from our parents, can reduce life span by as much as 6 months, the researchers estimate.

Killer Mutations Present at Birth


I have not said that sin is transmitted in DNA.

I have pointed to genetic defects and asked if this supports the concept that sin is inherited, and therefore death is inherited and therefore we see genetic damage.

My question appears to be misunderstood.

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    I don't think one can really extrapolate from propensity to genetic disorders (natural world) to inherited sin (spiritual world). It ought to make one wonder, however, how, if humans "evolved" from apes, we've manage to survive and advance if the natural order is to accumulate an increasing number of genetic defects.
    – Matthew
    Sep 10, 2022 at 18:37
  • @Matthew, from an evolutionary viewpoint, there are no "genetic defects". Mutations are purposeless, so can't be defective. All that counts is whether, now or centuries from now, one of those mutations will cause their owners to have more or fewer surviving offspring. Anything beyond that is not evolution. ¶ Some people have a "defect" that causes them to have dark skin, so they are prone to rickets if they live near the poles; others have a "defect" that causes them to have light skin, so they are prone to skin cancer if they live near the equator. We advance because of those "defects". Sep 10, 2022 at 20:47
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    @RayButterworth, so cancer is an improvement? Or at least neutral? Sorry, nope, not buying it. Deviations from the genetic code with which God Created us (which includes things like lighter or darker skin) are, by definition, defects. Increased propensity to cancer or other diseases, issues such as Down's syndrome, etc. are defects.
    – Matthew
    Sep 10, 2022 at 21:38
  • @Matthew, I didn't say cancer was an improvement; I said that dark skin, which protects against skin cancer, is an improvement. Whatever genetic mutations caused some genes to produce more or less melanin than the original were simply that, mutations. That over the next few thousand years it enabled some people to fit better into very different environments is simply a side-effect. The mutations were as random and purposeless as any other mutation, so there is no inherent "defect" in them, nor in any other mutation. Sep 10, 2022 at 22:24
  • @Matthew, are sickle-cell anæmia and cystic fibrosis "genetic defects"? These mutations are prevalent because they protect the carriers from malaria and cholera. From an evolutionary viewpoint, that's a good thing, because having half of your children die is better than dying before you even have any children. Calling something a defect is a subjective judgement; evolution is cold reality, without purpose, morality, or judgement. Remember, with evolution, God doesn't enter into the picture. Sep 11, 2022 at 2:35

3 Answers 3


Yesterday I heard a radio news item in Britain that studies indicate that cancers can be transmitted via polluted air. Perhaps that came from yesterday's Crick Institute item you referred to. However, that may be linked to "underlying damage already in our DNA which makes us susceptible to cancer under certain conditions" (otherwise everybody breathing in such polluted air would get cancer, for no other reason.)

A possible generational link related to "mutations present in our cells from birth that likely shave years off a person's life" is worth exploring with regard to "original sin" and I hope to combine all those elements in this answer, if you can bear with me.

Many cancers seem directly linked to selfish, greedy humans - what Christians point to as part of the sin nature we all have, in every generation. The two links below claim that in southern Italy some firms legally obtained government contracts to dispose of toxic industrial waste, including nuclear sludge from Germany, but then disposed of it illegally, on farmland, on the edge of towns and along the coast. The Italian Senate then investigated a possible link between this and almost 50% of tumours found in the inhabitants of several towns around Naples. A super-grass apparently told police how the Caselesi clan ran "a military-style operation" to dump this material by the millions of tons.

See http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/mafia-dumping-toxic-waste-blamed-high-cancer-rates-article-1.1505218 & http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2483484/Toxic-nuclear-waste-dumped-illegally-Mafia-blamed-surge-cancers-southern-Italy.html

"The wonder of DNA is that it deals with organized information. Randomly formed information DNA molecules would have no information stored within them. They would be blank media. They could contribute nothing towards life-processes. It is not the chemistry of DNA that underwrites life but the information stored in the DNA - information encoded by the meaningful sequence of base pairs and which spells out instructions that the living cell can read, translate and use. Life, therefore, consists not in molecular chemistry but in the information stored by the molecular chemistry." Who Made God? Searching for a theory of everything, Edgar Andrews, chapter 13 & pp 244-246 (EP Books 2009)

Link this now to chromosomes and telomers which directly relate to physical benefits and living longer. Sources, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telomere#Shortening & http://www.yourgenome.org/facts/what-is-a-telomere :

A telomere is a region of repetitive nucleotide sequences at each end of a chromosome, which protects the end of the chromosome from deterioration or from fusion with neighboring chromosomes. In humans, average telomere length declines from about 11 kilobases at birth to less than four kilobases in old age, with average rate of decline being greater in men than in women. Telomere shortening is associated with aging, mortality and aging-related diseases. In 2003 Richard Cawthon discovered that those with longer telomeres lead longer lives than those with short telomeres.

Telomerase is also found in high levels of cancer cells. This enables cancer cells to be immortal and continue replicating themselves. If telomerase activity was switched off in cancer cells, their telomeres whould shorten until they reached a 'critical length'. This would prevent the cancer cells from dividing uncontrollably to form tumours. Blocking telomerase activity could affect cells where tolomerase activity is important, such as sperm, eggs, platelets and immune cells.

Few would say that those "scientific findings support the concept of inbred sin being passed from generation to generation" - certainly scientists would not say that because science can say absolutely nothing about sin. However, for those who take the biblical statements about all humans having sinned, death being their 'wages' for that (Romans 3:23 & 5:12 & 6:23 & 7:5), modern scientific discoveries about DNA, cancer, and the inevitability of death make real sense and provide support for such theology (albeit unwitting support).


It could perhaps be used as an analogy to help explain the doctrine, but analogies provide only a circular argument when used as proof or support.

And even then, it isn't a great analogy.

As the quotation states: "The damage is already there in our cell's DNA, picked up as we grow and age".

That is, even though the damage is already there when the cancer is triggered, it developed within the individual over time, it wasn't already there at conception.

I might add that as an analogy, it could actually be used to explain how propensity to sin develops within us over time, is triggered by external temptation, and is not intrinsic to us as birth.

  • You answered before I added the further research which takes the matter deeper into inheritance.
    – Nigel J
    Sep 10, 2022 at 15:55
  • @NigelJ, are you saying that the point of your question is that genetic mutation is the means by which God ensures that each individual will eventually die? (I'm neither agreeing nor disagreeing (I honestly don't know), I'm simply asking for clarification.) Sep 11, 2022 at 2:43

St. Augustine defines sin as

something said, done, or desired contrary to the eternal law.

Thus, sin is not something material that can be in our DNA; though, as St. Thomas says in his explanation of how original sin is propagated (Summa Theologica I-II q. 81 a. 1 co.),

some bodily defects are transmitted by way of origin from parent to child, and […] even some defects of the soul are transmitted in consequence, on account of a defect in the bodily habit, as in the case of idiots begetting idiots; nevertheless the fact of having a defect by the way of origin seems to exclude the notion of guilt, which is essentially something voluntary.

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