Science & Sexuality
[Ed. note: The following two discussion postings are from the More Light Presbyterian e-mail list serve.]
My friend Adam <ChiRhoPrss@aol.com> wrote:
As a Gay man who is a Christian I am disturbed by any formulation that affirms me as a person but not my sexuality. This notion stems, it seems to me, in part from the opinion that my sexual orientation is a choice on my part. I consider my sexual orientation a good gift from God, in much the same way your sexual orientation is. The only choice I had was whether or not to honor God's gift.I am currently engaged in an e-conversation with Christians on a pastors' list, and this is what I wrote in response to one comment:
I realize there was a great deal of publicity about a study that seemed to show homosexuality/lesbianism was a biological bent, and therefore could not be an individual choice. But that study has been discredited. The biological evidence still rests on the side of hetersexual behavior as natural, leaving homosexuality/lesbianism as choices made by iindividuals.I recall a lot of hoopla attending a report by two researchers about 5 years or so ago, that a small portion of the brain (if I recall correctly) was larger in homosexual persons (or was it just gay men?) than in general society, and that their findings did not stand up to further examination by others. I do not know if this is the case to which the writer refers, but it certainly did generate a lot of media attention.
But the discrediting of one flawed (too few samples, as I recall, from which to draw valid general conclusions) study does not mean that the premise they were speaking to is incorrect.
One argument frequently put forth is that homosexual persons choose to be that way, instead of choosing to be heterosexual. A reply often heard is: When did you ever make the conscious decision for your sexuality? The answer is moot; of course, no-one has. But many who disfavor homosexuality refuse to accept that truth. I cannot prolong this line of thought; I can only offer my personal experience.
If I ever chose to be homosexual, I must have made that grave and life-determining decision when I was four or five years old. I have clear memories from before I started school, of having engaged repeatedly in visual activities which can have no explanation other than a homosexual orientation. And in first grade-- at age six-- I was so attracted to one boy in my class that I strove to visualize him naked. I had no such interest in any of the girls.
To my mind, this obviates the question; it is patent that a child of such age would be incapable of making such a decision, since the child has absolutely no intellectual grasp of the concept. The thought, the question, could never arise in the mind of a child so young.
I am homosexual; I have never considered whether or not I wanted to be so. But I did spend almost fifty miserable years --especially in high-school and college-- desperately wanting, deciding, willing myself to be like all the other boys: interested in and attracted to girls. In my late twenties, I married a young woman largely on the notion that married life would "cure" me. That notion proved false, despite years of agonized struggle, all my prayers and counselling with my pastor. In the long run, that notion, in its failure, did much damage to my former wife and three children.
I am homosexual; but I never chose to be so. The only choice I made was to stop living a life of hopeless pretense which was causing so much pain to my whole family, and to accept what God had given me from, if not birth, a very early age.
"I am who I am,"
From: "Alan L. Kiste" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: Is sexual orientation a choice?
on 4/8/2000, Phil G wrote:
I am currently engaged in an e-conversation with Christians on a pastors' list, and [this is what one correspondent wrote]:Phil,I realize there was a great deal of publicity about a study that seemed to show homosexuality/lesbianism was a biological bent, and therefore could not be an individual choice. But that study has been discredited. The biological evidence still rests on the side of hetersexual behavior as natural, leaving homosexuality/lesbianism as choices made by individuals.
Just read your post on the MLP list and wanted to respond.
First, some specifics. Not to criticize you at all... my vocation is science education and I just wanted to give you some specifics. The research you referred to was conducted by Simon LeVay. He found that on average, one section of the hypothalamus was almost three times smaller in homosexual men than in heterosexual men. The study has not been discredited. There are important critiques of the study that should be acknowledged, but it has not been discredited. (The mantra "that study has been discredited" is bandied about by certain religious political extremists all the time.)
Critique #1: All of LeVay's homosexual male cadavers died of AIDS, so perhaps the virus altered the size of this small part of the brain. However, LeVay answered this critique by noting that there was no size differential that depended on how long the men had AIDS, some of the heterosexual men in the study had AIDS and showed no decrease in size, and an additional subject studied after the original study who was homosexual but did not die of AIDS did show a size differential.
The major difficulty with LeVay's study is that it only works "on average". Which is to say, there were [some] homosexual men with larger neuron groups than some of the heterosexual men in the study. There was no clear cut off, ie. larger than this size the guy's straight, smaller than this and he's gay. So, you can't do the study in reverse and predict whether an individual was gay or straight based on the size of this neuron group in the brain... it only works as an average.
LeVay's study does not show a hard and fast correlation, but it is suggestive of some type of correlation. But frankly, if that correlation exists it creates more questions than it answers.
In addition to LeVay's study there are at least 3 other studies showing a possible genetic influence on sexual orientation: a study on twins, a study on genes, and a study on fingerprints. All of these also have some important critiques, but have not been refuted (in my opinion.)
I think, (and I'm not the first to suggest this) that if one objectively looks at the Earth and its human inhabitants, one must conclude that homosexuality IS natural. That is, homosexuality occurs. It continues to occur. Any judgement that being gay is unnatural (as the quote above [implies]) is a value judgement, not a scientific one.
I think though, as you've obviously realized, defending homosexuality on the basis of biology is tenuous. The answer is always, "Who cares if you were born that way, you still have a choice whether or not to act on your nature." If someone wants to object to another's behavior, they will do it regardless of how irrational their objections. I think your approach, to get them to understand that their orientation is not a choice [as] the way to start them thinking, is a good one. From there, we might be able to get them to realize that there is no reason why homosexuality needs to pass any stricter moral standard than heterosexuality.
It isn't a happy thought, but it IS enlightening... the inherited nature left-handedness was known for decades before [people] stopped stigmatizing lefties.
Anyway...hope this wasn't too long...just wanted to give you a little more info on the science of all this.
Peace, -- alan
Alan,As for which study was discredited, of the 4 or 5 studies that have been done (which is a painfully small number), most of them have been published in "Science" or "Nature", the two most prestigious scientific journals in the world. Of course, the editors of these journals can and do make errors in judgement, but usually the work in those journals is either extremely topical, or innovative, and in all cases very well done.
I think that many people have heard some of the critiques of these studies and either a) not understood the critiques because of the technical nature or b) changed "critique" to "discredited" in their religious fervor.
Contrary to popular opinion, though, science is as subjective a business as any other. My belief that these studies are well-done, but VERY preliminary, is just that -- my BELIEF. Personally, I think that people who rely on science to resolve the controversy surrounding homosexuality do so because they do not understand the nature of science. I think they see it as being a firmer foundation than religion or philosophy.
Peace! -- alan