Sexuality and Gender

Homosexuality, Heredity & Biological Determinism

Author Greg Koukl Published on 03/17/2013

I want to reflect on this new research that has been in all of the newspapers the last couple of days and has dominated the air waves on talk shows all over this fair city. I responded a little bit to the issue yesterday when Craig and I were together at Anchor Bible Bookstore. I want to be sensitive not to be redundant and not to pound this whole issue to death, but I want to make a couple of remarks on this issue, not so much to give you a concerted opinion on the research because part of my concern is that the whole issue of research is in a stage of flux. We don’t have all of the details. We have some suggestions coming from different sources.

Even the researchers themselves have encouraged us to be careful of drawing quick conclusions on this issue because in the past researchers have reported genetic links to such mental disorders as schizophrenia and manic depression, only to have that link disappear when more data was compiled or the original data was re-analyzed. They give this warning in the LA Times in the article “Studies Strongly Link Genetics and Homosexuality.” So I would extend that caution as well and listen more carefully to the cautionary statements, the guarded statements that relate to conclusions that come from the scientists involved, as opposed to the less guarded and more aggressive political conclusions that those who are involved in political groups are stating.

In the articles that I’ve read we see both the scientists’ assertions and the political, sociological applications that some groups are making. Don’t pay attention to the political statements because the significant statements are those made by the scientists who are not politically involved. They are drawing some guarded conclusions but they are also warning us not to go too quickly, wait for corroborating evidence, wait for the research to be reproduced and wait for the scientific community at large to produce a body of evidence looking at this from a number of different angles that will allow them to draw the kinds of conclusions that some are drawing very rapidly based on little evidence because these conclusions play into sociological and political issues that important and dear to them.

One of the things that I want to underscore is the difficulty in drawing causal connections. My understanding is that in this particular situation they were looking at forty pairs of identical twins that were homosexual. Of the forty, thirty-three seem to have this marker at one particular part of the X chromosome that is contributed by the mother. Now that raises the obvious possibility and allows someone to legitimately make the inference that there is something in that X chromosome at this particular location that may relate to the development of homosexual desires. One of the reasons that we should move cautiously here is that we see this marker on thirty-three of forty pairs. One could well ask why in roughly 25% of the cases the marker is absent from those who are practicing homosexuals. It’s hard to establish a one-to-one correspondence such that incident A causes behavior B if in a significant number of cases we have behavior B and we don’t have incident A.

Here is another thing to keep in mind. All of the studies here are done on twins that are homosexuals. I would be interested to see how many non-homosexual people have this same flag on the X chromosome in the same place. I’m speculating but I’m using it to make the point. It’s difficult to immediately draw causal conclusions about this and additional evidence can actually controvert what seems to be very solid evidence in favor of a constitutional or a genetic link to homosexuality. In these twins, thirty-three of forty had this flag on the X chromosome and it seems to imply a relationship. But what happens if we test identical twins across the board? What if we take a hundred identical twins and out of that hundred who are heterosexual we find the same relationship, some 75% of these heterosexual twins have the exact same marker on their X chromosome. What that would indicate is that this is a natural variation among identical twins and it has nothing to do whatsoever with genetic development. From what I’ve read I’ve seen no reference to the same kinds of studies being done on non-homosexual identical twins so that we can see that this is a flag characteristic only of homosexual identical twins and not of heterosexual identical twins. I don’t know one way or another. I’m simply raising the question because here is an example of how a non-scientific person can raise a potential problem with this study that would need to be explored before anyone could trust the conclusions that has identified a causal genetic connection to homosexuality.

Do you understand what I’m saying here? This may mean absolutely nothing whatsoever, but I just identified a condition that could obtain that would render this latest study absolutely meaningless in its conclusion of the relationship of heredity to homosexuality. The court is still out on that issue.

My second point principally has to do with the moral point and I’ve made this point frequently. I don’t need to spend much time on it again. This moral point simply is that just because one has a natural inclination, an impulse, a tendency towards a certain behavior doesn’t mean that that behavior is morally benign.

One could argue that all moral restrictions are specific restrictions in place in our society to prevent people from doing what comes naturally. When a man gets angry at his wife and he has the impulse to strike her we hope and trust that his impulse is checked by a moral rule operating in society and embedded in his conscience that men ought not strike women. So here we have a moral rule that limits behavior that comes naturally. In fact, all moral rules seem to function on that level.

That’s why it becomes a non-issue that the homosexual impulse is a natural impulse. It still remains to be seen whether it is morally appropriate for us to pursue that behavior. Again, the moral discussion is a separate discussion. We need not pursue it at this time, but there are different ways to argue for a moral principle or a moral rule.

The point I’m making is simply this: why the big fuss about the constitutional connection? The fuss is going on because many people think that if we can demonstrate a connection between homosexuality and heredity then we can remove the moral restrictions from it that some have placed on it. My response is that one has nothing whatsoever to do with the other. It is a non-issue.

My third observation, there is something about this whole discussion that I’m a bit uncomfortable about and it’s something that is actually related to not just homosexuality but with human sexuality in general. If you’ve looked at a copy of this week’s US News and World Report (July 19, 1993) the cover story is on sexual chemistry. It says “Science Takes a New Look at the Ancient Game of Love.” It’s subtitled when you turn to the text itself on page 57 “The sophisticated sexual strategies of modern men and women are shaped by a powerful Stone Age psychology.” What this article seems to be exploring is the idea that our sexual desires and preferences are formed by the process of evolution, and then they identify some of those things that were characteristic of our existence maybe a couple of million years ago as primitive human beings and describe how those circumstances have developed our sexual desires.

The way this connects with the hereditary link to homosexuality is that both of these things are subtly arguing for a mechanistic kind of relationship of man (generic, men and women) to sexuality. It is a type of biological determinism suggesting we are programmed to behave in a certain way.

This way of thinking finds very fertile ground in a very materialistic way of thinking about the world. If there is nothing in the world but flesh and bones, molecules crashing in the universe, energy, forces like that, and there is no unseen, unquantifiable human forces like the soul, human will, morality, transcendent ideas, an after life, if physicalism is true and only physical things exist then one can argue based on biology that we are determined to behave in a certain fashion. Homosexuals are determined by their biology to behave homosexually. Heterosexuals are determined by chemistry that has evolved for millions of years to react in a certain way. If we are biologically programmed and there are no willful actions involved, and these are things that are suggested in both of these articles, then there is no moral content to our behavior because we are in fact determined.

So what’s really to some degree at the heart of this discussion is not simply a discussion and a question about sexuality but a question and discussion about what is man and what is the nature of the universe. Is man soulish? Does he have a will that he can exercise in spite of his sexual chemistry or is he determined to do what he does by his chemistry?

If man is determined then the moral question is decided because there can’t be any moral conversations unless there is a willing individual inside a body to choose one thing over another. If there is a willing individual then there can be a moral discussion. If man is determined then not only is the discussion about morality pertaining to sexuality meaningless, which I think is part of the point about these kinds of articles—to persuade us that our moralizing is nonsensical, but it strikes a death blow not just to sexual moralizing but all moral conversations entirely. So this kind of argument, if it’s true, actually proves too much. It proves that there is nothing called morality and there is no human being that can choose moral things.

Some of the other thoughts I have are a little bit more esoteric. Craig mentioned that he doesn’t like doing philosophical work just for the mental gymnastics, it’s really just to get down to the truth of God, and that may be true for Craig. But I kind of like the mental gymnastics sometimes, and you never know what you’re going to discover just by doing the work. Something might occur that is really helpful.

A couple of things occurred to me as I’ve been thinking about this topic. It has to do with a problem that results if it’s true that homosexuality is natural and therefore all the moral restrictions about it ought to be removed. Any moral statement must be founded on a moral law or moral principle, and is a kind of moral statement. When we examine this statement we find underneath it the moral principle that which is natural is what is right and that which is unnatural is wrong. That’s why there’s been so much discussion that is in favor of the notion that homosexuality is natural and therefore it’s right. If one tries to dissuade a person from being homosexual then he is asking them to do something unnatural and therefore that is wrong.

Well, if we accept that unspoken, underlying rule to this moral argument that it seems we’re being asked to accept, if we did accept this we’re faced with another problem and I don’t know if homosexuals are willing to accept it. The problem is that it is natural for homosexuals to be childless. In other words, if they pursued their natural inclination to homosexuality obviously they’d produce no children. That would be the natural state of affairs and therefore the right state of affairs. To go against nature would be to do something unnatural and therefore wrong. So one would have to argue then that homosexuals who sought to have children would be doing something that is against their nature and therefore it would be wrong. If we were to argue based on nature the appropriateness of homosexuality we’d also have to argue in the next breath that it would be unnatural, immoral, inappropriate, wrong for homosexuals to raise children. Artificial insemination of lesbians, adoptions by homosexual males, all of that would be wrong, against nature. Nature has dictated childlessness for them. It seems to me that the two ideas go together.

At least that’s the way I see it.