60 Second Summary: Same-Sex Science

Articles you need to know about, summarized in 60 seconds (or less).

The Article: Same-Sex Science

The Source: First Things

The Author: Stanton L. Jones, a provost and professor of psychology at Wheaton College.

The Gist: The social sciences cannot settle the moral status of homosexuality.

The Excerpt:

Is homosexuality biologically determined at birth? A pervasive understanding is settling into Western culture that homosexual orientation, indeed any and all sexual orientations, has been proven by science to be a given of the human person and rooted in biology. Why does this falsehood—that homosexuality has been proven to have an exclusively biological cause—matter? It is the basis for asserting that sexual orientation is the same sort of characteristic as race or skin color, which has become, for instance, the foundational metaphor in the push for the right to marry someone of the same sex.

[. . .]

Recent studies show that familial, cultural, and other environmental factors contribute to same-sex attraction. Broken families, absent fathers, older mothers, and being born and living in urban settings all are associated with homosexual experience or attraction. Even that most despised of hypothesized causal contributors, childhood sexual abuse, has recently received significant empirical validation as a partial contributor from a sophisticated thirty-year longitudinal study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. Of course, these variables at most partially determine later homosexual experience, and most children who experienced any or all of these still grow up heterosexual, but the effects are nonetheless real.

The Bottom Line: Jones explains that when it comes to homosexual orientation, biology does appear—contra the view of many social conservatives—to play a modest part and psychological and environmental variables also appear—contra social progressives—to play at least a modest part. While Jones believes it is possible for homosexuals to experience a change in orientation, what we know about sexual orientation is dwarfed by what we do not know. What we know for sure is that “it is remarkable how little scientific humility is in evidence given the primitive nature of our knowledge.”

YSK Rating: Although the article is highly recommended, it should be read in the context of Professor Sam Williams’ discussion on the differences between having same-same attraction, same-sex orientation, and being “gay” or “lesbian.”

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  • http://www.thinkpoint.wordpress.com Steve Cornell

    Occasionally (when discussing this topic) someone will ask me if I chose to be heterosexual. The aim of the question is to trace the origin of sexual orientation. But even if I could prove that I was born genetically preconditioned to be sexually attracted to women, it wouldn’t mean that acting on the attraction would always be the ethically right decision.

    What we need to see is that answering source questions for behaviors will not necessarily lead to moral assessments of those actions. Morality has to do with right and wrong; source questions are more complex. There are many possible sources behind behavior (genetic, cultural, experiential, social). But sources cannot necessarily force me to behave in a certain way. They can exercise strong influence over me but, I must choose to act in relation to those influences. The judicial system (for example) depends upon deep commitments to volitional responsibility and culpability. Sources cannot be used to define right and wrong.

    Consider an adulterous woman who complains that her act of adultery (i.e. her wrongful heterosexual behavior) was because of her distant and uncaring husband. Sympathy toward her for being in a troubled marriage is understandable but it doesn’t mean that her act of adultery was the morally right choice.

    Although I am not equating homosexual behavior with pedophile actions, as a form of sexual behavior, if a pedophile feels driven to sex with children based on what he identifies as a natural urge of genetic origin, or if he argues that he has a wonderful nurturing relationship with the children he sexually molests, we cannot approve his behavior on either account. No matter what reason he offers, his sexual conduct must be condemned as morally reprehensible. And, he must be held culpable for his sexual choices.

    When resolving ethical and legal questions, a person’s choice must be considered as a primary factor in sexual conduct. Arguments for sexuality based on genetic predisposition do not advance discussions about right or wrong or what is best for society. It is possible to be physiologically inclined toward many different types of behavior. But we must be very careful about using such impulses to define personhood or to justify behavioral choices.

    I do not think it is best to speak of any type of sexual desire outside of the context of human choosing. And it is especially misleading to compare civil rights battles regarding race and gender to battles for sexuality. This is a false comparison that removes human choosing from sexual behavior. It also gives people the misleading impression that those who desire certain sexual lifestyles face mistreatment comparable to the wrongful ways African-Americans were treated during the civil rights battles. This is a highly offensive comparison and using it to gain support for sexual lifestyles is a form of emotional manipulation.

    If people are wrongly treated because of their engagement in lawful sexual lifestyles, we have sufficient existing laws to protect them. Creating new laws to support their sexual lifestyles is unwise and sets a dangerous legal precedent.

    A society that intends to condemn certain forms of sexual conduct as illegal (i.e. rape, incest, child pornography, etc), must treat all sexuality in the context of human choosing – not predetermined condition.

    • Kevin

      Regarding your thoughts on the “offensiveness” of connecting civil rights and gay rights, I wanted to bring up two similarities that I feel are important, if only to try to ensure we are seeking truth.

      There is a legitimate scientific and sociological basis on which to allow that sexual orientation has innate components. There are many examples in current biological research that demonstrate dimorphism in sexual behavior can be regulated by genetic factors. A particularly well studied factor is studied by a lab down the hall:
      I believe the evidence does not exclude or even weigh against the possibility that sexual orientation can be innately determined, and in this sense, it can be seen as similar to other genetic and physiological traits, such as race. Similarly as with the culture surrounding race, homosexual people are targeted for violence, hate, and marginalization. I don’t think it is wrong for gay rights groups to draw connections to the civil rights movement on those points for the purpose of pointing out injustice and asking for humane treatment. By refusing to acknowledge that violence and hate directed against a group identity exists, I feel further perpetrates the notion that this hurtful attitude is tolerable, or at least below noticing.

      Whether or not orientation is the result of genetics, however, does not address the great point you bring up about responsibility for the expression of sexual orientation. On this point, I am curious about your perspective on the connections between human law and God’s law. When you say “sufficient existing laws” exist to protect engagement in “lawful sexual lifestyles”, do you mean “lawful” in the sense of human law or God’s law? For example, I cannot arrest my friends for engaging in sex outside of marriage, or even adultery within marriage, as those lifestyles are not prohibited under human law. And yet, by God’s law, we know those things to be wrong. On a perhaps related note, it is PROTECTED by human law that we allow people to become practicing Hindus, Muslims, and Scientologists, even though we know those things to be wrong by God’s law. How do you reconcile these facts with the perspective that we ought to oppose any deviation of human law from God’s law regarding gay rights?

      • http://www.thinkpoint.wordpress.com Steve Cornell

        If violence is committed against any group, it should be dealt with by existing laws for protecting people. My problem is with those who demand special laws and particularly laws that read motives of hate into actions. I think we should deal with the wrongful acts themselves with the existing laws. As to the God’s law/man’s law discussion, God is not calling His people to institute a Theocratic rule. Laws meant for Israel are not meant to be transferred to nations today. This does not mean that I personally support deviant sexual behavior of any kind — whether heterosexual or homosexual. But more importantly, we are all sexual deviants, if only in our hearts. We all need grace and forgiveness from God and each other.