By Dean Floor
While sitting in my genetics class, I couldn’t help but notice how scientists celebrate the possibility that aspects of human behaviour can be accounted for by physiological processes which our genes control. The science is fascinating, but it troubles me to think how society’s notion of love is possibly being influenced by the assertion that humans are nothing more than complex chemical signalling systems further along in the evolutionary timescale. In a world of instant gratification, is it possible for there to be a deeper kind of love beyond the chemistry?
Love cocktail for two please
I’ve heard it said that love is nature’s way of keeping a species alive. Some say that what drives this ‘system’ of reproduction, from initial attraction to long-term commitment, is just an irresistible chemical reaction. Scientists have actually shown that the suppression of vasopressin in prairie voles may influence parental commitment. So, no doubt, this has a role to play and, after all, we are physical creatures, but is this all that humans are?
Is faithfulness to a spouse or partner governed only by hormonal levels? You might think I’m making this sound way too simplistic, and maybe I am. I am no neuroscientist. But this is exactly the sort of reductionist thinking many hold about love.
Psychologist Professor Arthur Aron proposed three simple steps to fall in love. 1) Find a complete stranger, 2) reveal intimate details about your lives, and 3) stare deeply into each other’s eyes without talking, altogether taking just forty-five minutes. While I don’t dispute that our feelings are definitely factors, there has to be more to love.
Imagine you’ve been married to the person of your dreams for a couple of months. You learn that living with someone isn’t easy. That exhilarating romantic feeling you had on your honeymoon soon fades. You’ve drifted apart, you’re currently fighting, and divorce is looming. You try and be rational, saying to yourself: “Surely if I fell in love so easily, I can fall out of love just as easily if things aren’t working out and I’m not feeling it anymore?” But, as I’m sure you’ll agree, it’s a bit more complicated than this. At the end of the day, it comes down to a decision that needs to be made – do I care first about satisfying my own desires, or will I choose to do what is best for my significant other?
If we’re just amazingly complex organisms dancing to nature’s music then maybe that’s all that love is: a function of physiology, a nice feeling.
You see, if you and I are completely at the mercy of our physiology, then what are the moral implications? Some propose that there is no transcendent moral code, that ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are governed merely by pragmatism – what I think is best for me. Now I don’t intend to go into the topic of morality, but it’s worth considering what impact a relativistic, pragmatic view of right and wrong has on our idea of love. If being faithful to one’s spouse is chiefly for the purpose of ensuring that you transfer your genes to your offspring, once my genes are on their way, why stick around? Is it just for emotional, mental and physical benefit?
If we’re just amazingly complex organisms dancing to nature’s music then maybe that’s all that love is: a function of physiology, a nice feeling. Do you see the problem in this logic? The sacredness of love is gradually being lost because we have lost touch with that part of who we are that makes us fully human. By refusing to believe that true love is as much physical as it is also spiritual, we have removed God out of the equation.
Doing the unimaginable
Jesus taught, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless and do not curse, pray for those who mistreat you…be merciful just as your Father is merciful.” This is a radical kind of love. It goes against how we think we should treat those who harm us.
There’s a story I read about a woman in India whose husband threw a bottle of acid onto her face, disfiguring her for the rest of her life, and abandoning her to raise the family on her own. Decades later she heard that he was dying of cancer. She took him in and cared for him before he died. Her embittered daughter could not understand what would make her do such an outrageous thing. It was because the mother was a follower of Jesus Christ.
We were made to know and experience the everlasting love of God, which has the power to make us who are spiritually dead in our sin come alive. It is only because God has done the unimaginable in sending Jesus to die for us that we can do the unimaginable and live to share this good news with others.
 Sex and Species Differences in the Vasopressin Innervation of Sexually Naïve and Parental Prairie Voles; Bamshad et al. 2006
 The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness: A procedure and experimental findings; Aron et al. 1997
 Luke 6: 27-28, 36
 Threads of a Redeemed Heart, Ravi Zacharias, 2013.