• Guest post: a request about homosexuality and genetics

    Here is a guest post from someone (a South American who wants to remain anonymous) who contacted me by email asking for help in dealing with the topic of homosexuality and genetics after he read my two posts on homosexuality and Christianity. It seems that there is a prominent Christian author pairing whose work seems to be a concerted effort to minimise the importance of genetic determinism in producing homosexuality. Over to the guest poster:

    About my goal, I believe it is time to settle some questions about homosexuality. This includes the book written by Neil and Briar Whitehead which contest the mainstream view that homosexuality is biological.

    About my background, well, there is nothing much to say. I’m a teenager, I’m from Brazil and I’ve been reading through philosophy of religion for a long time (my fav blogs include the ones at Skepticink, Debunking Christianity and the secular outpost, and my fav book is definitely the straight-out-of-the-oven Christianity Is Not Great), and I’m interested to know what I am and why we are here.

    This includes thinking about my own sexual desires: I have strong homosexual feelings. I don’t believe I have made a choice, although some other homosexuals affirm they’re like that by choice (I’ll get to this later). One day (a long – but not very long- time ago) I simply met a friend and we started talking, later, when I realized, I was in love. I did not stop at any point and said: wow, from now on, I’ll feel extreme affection for this guy. I wasn’t old enough to even think it that way!

    The discussion about homosexuality is usually centered on two main topics. The first one deals with the origins of homosexuality, or how it can be explained. Many people claim that it has a biological basis, be it either genetic, epigenetic or hormonal. Many studies point out to that, including ones made with twins, which are the most popular. However, as it turns out, these studies have received critiques. And a lot of critiques. The second one deals with moral assumptions about homosexuality, which include religion and other things.

    The goal here is to focus on the first topic, about the origins of homosexuality or perhaps of sexual orientation. Most homosexuals claim that, just like myself, they have not chosen to feel attracted for same-sex people. Perhaps it is not even possible to choose that kind of feeling, but this does not constitute the view of all homosexuals. The queerbychoice.com community represents a branch of homosexual people who do affirm to have chosen how they feel.

    However, I believe it is possible to affirm that some homosexuals feel no sense of choice. If that is true, than there is likely something that caused these people to develop homosexual desires.

    It is a widespread view throughout the internet that homosexuality is completely inborn, which means that the factors that determine whether an individual is homosexual or not happen before the individual is born.

    A related view that is commonly accepted is that it’s multifactorial, which means that homosexuality can be caused by many factors, perhaps including social ones.

    Although this view is shared by many scientists, they are, by reasons unknown, forgetting about the criticism it is receiving. Or perhaps they just don’t know about many of them.

    Neil Whitehead is a NARTH author, and a proud Christian writer. His goal, such as the goal of NARTH, is to change the sexual orientation of homosexual people, so that they can be straight. He has a Ph.D in biochemistry and statistics. Some might say that he is obviously biased, but that ad-hominem is known to be surprisingly ineffective.

    The book he wrote with his wife, “My Genes Made Me Do It”, was published in 1999, but got constantly updated, the most recent version being from 2010. Neil and his wife Briar use many studies (literally, many) to build his argument that homosexuality, such as heterosexuality, is almost all completely learned, and by learned I mean influenced by social environment. This book includes critical analysis about mainstream studies who have claimed to find a genetic link to homosexuality, as well as many other studies about the human mind and behavior.

    It is important to note that this book has received little or no criticism at all. However, for those who know about it and have read it, this lack of criticism is troubling, for the author does yes present a significant challenge to the mainstream point of view that homosexuality is biological. By not responding to this book, the geneticists and psychologists who hold this view leave many with the impression that they simply have no means to counter-argue. And look that there has been a long time since it was published!

    What I present then is a challenge. A challenge to the specialists and other people who are interested in the issue and believe science confirms homosexuality is biological to actually address the authors’ argument.

    There has been too much time of silence, and, although I know many homosexuals do not even care to argue, I want to know the truth. No activism bias, no religious bias, just people arguing about science and studies as it should be done. Time to settle who is wrong and who is right, and what current science points out to.

    Perhaps people will need a motivation to do this. Maybe knowing that the discussions over God and homosexuality have different impact on homosexual individuals will suffice. We have homosexual feelings (oh the big surprise). Can you only imagine looking at a person you desire to keep close to you, to hug and do other stuff, and then, on that same moment, thoughts like “it’s wrong” suddenly come from your mind?

    It is simply horrifying when, from the simple thought about hugging someone you like, reflections about eternal condemnation, about how this is unnatural and how this should be changed pop into your mind and take over. It is like having someone whispering to you that you’re an abnormal thing of nature every time you simply think about the comfort a hug from someone of your same-sex would bring at that cold evening.

    I (and certainly many others) have been through this some time ago, and it gets worse when the arguments coming from those opposing homosexuality seem to be true and make activists look like simply biased people.  It is time to settle these issues so I and others can know whether we’re wrong or not to claim the things we claim. And considering the work of Neil and Briar Whitehead is a crucial point in this journey.

    So if you are an expert on genetics, or know of a good critique of the work, let me know! [JP]

    Category: ScienceScience and religionSexuality

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    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce

    • Vandy Beth Glenn

      As formatted, I find this post unreadable.

      • Roger Cavanagh

        It’s perfectly fine when I use reader view in Safari.

      • Hi Vandy – I’ve sorted it out. Sometimes it says it is paragraph format but it is not, when copied from, say, an email.

        • Vandy Beth Glenn

          Much improved!

    • mikespeir

      Well, obviously, homosexuality doesn’t have to have an altogether biological cause. Whole cultures — I’m thinking Spartans and Celts — practiced it as the norm, and it can hardly be maintained that every Celt man, for instance, had a biological inclination to homosexuality. I’m guessing that the rare, bona fide success story of these reparative therapy groups probably invovled people who were straight by nature but somehow got caught up in the gay lifestyle. Such “cures” probably can’t really be considered cures at all. This doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s never a biological cause, though.

      • I think causality with homosexuality is complex and can be for a variety of reasons, some concurrent. But I am also pretty sure that at least some cases are strongly genetic. Whether that means genes contributing to an intrinsic sort of homosexuality, of contributing to other characteristics which themselves contribute towards a h/s phenotype is perhaps an interesting question.

        • Marcus Ashes

          I believe I can relate what you are saying about phenotypes to mental illnesses. Now do not take me out of context here I don’t mean to equate homosexuality as a mental illness. In my opinion though with the advancement of drugs I do believe one day it may be possible to chemically manipulate one’s sexual orientation however controversial that sounds. Which I suppose would blur the lines between it being a disease and normal behaviour within human range. But isn’t that what determinism does with all behaviour?

          Now that tangent aside I have notice a correlation between physical characteristics and the presence of a certain mental disorder in people. Specifically schizophrenia. But not as a universal rule. It usually affects coincidentally people with an odd/eccentric appearance.

          But I mean I also strongly believe you can judge a book by its cover. If someone looks like a bad/rough and ready and aggressive person they generally are I have learned.

    • Shirley Knott

      A critical question to ask as part of any discussion on ‘the cause of homosexuality’ is the parallel question on ‘the cause of heterosexuality’. Shaping the discussion as if heterosexuality could be ‘taken for granted’, that it is, in some foundational sense ‘uncaused’ or ‘a-causal’ renders the entire discussion suspect. Exactly what is it we are seeking the cause of? What sorts of things would, and would not, count as answers? All too often the discussion boils down to the banal and unhelpful “why are people different from me not like me?”
      It seems highly suspect to me to treat the biological origins of sex as identical to the origins, whether biological or not, of sexuality. This is particularly true in light of cultural differences, perhaps most vividly on display in the world of the Ancient Greeks. Sparta and Athens both had culturally approved, culturally encouraged, and culturally supported ‘homosexuality’, albeit in rather different ways. If nothing else, this should point up the problem that sexuality is highly complex and subject to wild variation of form and expression.

      • Really good points. I don’t know if you read my recent post on paedophilia?

        http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/2014/11/27/paedophilia-other-sexual-preferences-and-free-will/

        The idea being that none of us wake up one day and say, “Ooh, i think I will fancy boys/girls/men/women today” as if it is purely some kind of freely willed decision. These desires are innate.

        Granted, picking out the causality is a minefield, though even if certain aspects are environmental, they are still out of control of the agent at such points, and the reaction to the environment is itself a product of the phenotype, and thus the genotype.

      • And, of course, we can see a clear evolutionary biological reason as to why heterosexual sex is beneficial to sexually reproductive species; thus, such desire would likely be innate.

        I think this might lead some to think that homosexuality might be a cognitive, volitional desire to overcome this innate ‘rectitude’. But it seems more likely a misfiring of other genes, or biological influence of some kind or another (who chooses a supposedly ‘subversive’ behaviour which ends up getting the agent discriminated against!).

    • Travelman

      I’m a lawyer and banker, not a scientist, but this Whitehead stuff annoys the hell out of me.

      Firstly, their independence has to be questioned, being that they are strongly christian in their beliefs. A judge would say that their book was ‘self serving’. More than that, their expertise is in other areas of science, not biological. The same judge would probably refuse to consider their evidence were they to appear as expert witnesses, or at least to exercise considerable caution in considering it.

      The limited reading I’ve done on the subject suggests that all sexual tendencies are genetic. Environment is of almost no effect. Even prisoners engaging in it do so for many reasons, and only a small percentage are actually acting on their normal inclinations. When released they are unlikely ever to indulge in such behaviour again, unless of course, that is the way they were born.

      In any event, common sense tells me that the environment thing can’t possibly be normally true. No matter how hard a heterosexual person tries to empathise, they are unlikely ever to truly understand same sex attraction. Surely the same must go for the reverse?

      • Yes, though his clear bias does not invalidate his case as it should stand or fall on its own merits, it does leave eyebrows to be raised, right.

        Just to clarify, this seems like a contradictions…?:

        “The limited reading I’ve done on the subject suggests that all sexual tendencies are genetic. Environment is of almost no effect. Even prisoners engaging in it do so for many reasons, and only a small percentage are actually acting on their normal inclinations.”

        • Travelman

          Yes, perhaps my wording is slightly confused.

          I was trying to say that prison is one of the ultimate environments in which to test sexual behaviours. Prisoners will engage in homosexual behaviour because of coercion and lack of alternative, other than self stimulation. Yet there is little evidence that prisoners, after release, alter their underlying sexuality in any way, though there does seem to be possible evidence that weaker individuals may continue the behaviour for a variety of reasons, but without their underlying sexuality actually having changed.

          I’m trying to recall the article I read on the subject a few years ago, so perhaps the research has been updated. I remember the article distinguished ‘insertors’ from ‘insertees’ but I think that was in connection with the coercion element.

        • Marcus Ashes

          I would agree with travelman that given how creationists twist the facts and playing field to try and sneak ID into the equation combined with a well documented propensity to use convoluted and circular logic to amaze and stun laymens their methods and ideas are highly suspect and do not stand on or fall on their own merits. The science could be right but not the whole truth or out of context which would be motivated by a fanatical desire to spread Christian thinking to all. What if they are being funded by Christian sources and affiliates. You can’t say it’s not personal when they want you to be their fellow brothers and sisters.
          Now this may sound like I’m not fully supporting your side but I am. I’m just stating an observation to arm and equip the opposition of which I am clearly a part.

          • Marcus Ashes

            But I would wholeheartedly say that the Christians on this subject matter are very very wrong

    • Marcus Ashes

      Well if homosexuality is a choice then every single heteorosexual male and female should be able to switch it on and off at will with no effort. I have consciously tried to do this with no reservations and misgivings and I tell you now categorically IT IS IMPOSSIBLE!!!. I just DO NOT get turned on by men when thinking about sex and also like I’ve said before on the topic of free will and all emotions if loving someone is a choice then it loses it’s function and meaning. Again I have tried to consciously turn that on and guess what…..I still don’t even know what love feels like.
      This is absurd. My sister is a lesbian. She tried to have boyfriends from a young age and never enjoyed it in any way whatsoever. In fact she tried to ignore the feelings and carry on but that did not work. She kept it quiet for ages because she couldn’t change.
      At the end of the day though all of those who believe it is a choice get your head out of your ass and consciously try to become intensely aroused over the same sex (or opposite if you are gay) Bet you anything it doesn’t work.
      Ad hominem attacks are used by the other side in a derogatory manner toward homosexuals so one that is merely an observation of practicality and utility is perfectly acceptable especially when they are mild and toned down descriptively speaking.

      My sisters case debunks the social cause theory.