Can Gay Bonobos Be Saved?

Jim Naughton at The Lead links to a Psychology Today blog which shares an e-mail from a pastor uncomfortable with bonobo behavior.

Although the pastor in question seems to believe that after Adam and Eve ate a literal fruit from a literal tree of knowledge, God intervened in the world to force tectonic plates to shift and bonobos to start having homosexual intercourse, I think there are far simpler and more satisfactory ways to make sense of the available evidence. But for those reading Romans 1 in English, and assuming that  Paul meant by “natural” what we today mean by “natural”, evidence such as that from observing bonobo behavior leads naturally (if you’ll forgive the expression) to the conclusion that Paul was wrong. For whether you think they are right or wrong, one thing homosexual acts clearly are not is “unnatural” in the sense that that word is used in modern English.

In my opinion, gay (in the classic English sense, of course) bonobos can offer natural revelation to Christians, and hopefully challenge us to dig deeper than a superficial understanding of the Bible as well as of science.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12509596389764649667 Jay

    Homosexual behavior in animals as observed is quite different than the gay orientation status given to humans by humans. What I mean is that animals are not monogamous in their homosexual relationships. Actually, they don't seem to have any sexual morality and I don't know if the oxytocin induced monogamy of the prairie vole can be considered morality. I have yet to have someone convince me what natural law constrains humans, whether gay or heterosexual to be monogamous.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    Well on that point, Jay, you're in agreement with the Bible. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12509596389764649667 Jay

    Thom, I'm glad you see I am such a Biblical kind of fella. :-) But the problem is that my natural or sometimes maybe unnatural mind still has too many questions, for example why can't I marry my sister like they do it in the Discovery Channel?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    Inbreeding causes birth defects. Morality need not enter into it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12509596389764649667 Jay

    Thought you might say that Thom, but nevertheless inter-sibling sexual behavior among humans and animals has been quite common in nature. Homosexual unions don't exactly produce (healthy) life, but does that mean they are morally wrong?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18402976407308180059 Jason Hammer

    Thom, on Fb, you posted that test on politicalcompass.org. (result: left libertarian) One statement was, "People with serious inheritable disabilities should not be allowed to reproduce." I disagreed with statement at the time but now I'm trying to reconcile that with your latest comment about inbreeding. Even though the results will most likely be the same, that being birth defects, would you really think that be reason enough for no inbreeding? What about people with serious disabilities?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18402976407308180059 Jason Hammer

    After reading this io9 article, http://io9.com/5403595/one-gene-tweak-could-make-chimps-talk, I jokingly asked some friends, "Once we flip the switch and have talking chimps, how are people going to continue to defend a literal fall of Adam and an inherited sin nature?"I guess after reading that pastors response, I now have my answer.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    This is an interesting thread. So the question becomes, "Can incestual bonobos be saved?"In that light, the "natural revelation" of gay bonobos takes on a different cast. It reminds me of a visit my high school biology class took to Harlow's famous (and highly controversial) primate lab at the UW-Madison. One of the experiments they were doing at the time involved crowding chimps into a confined living space. What is the result, we asked. The grad student deadpanned, "the rates of sexual abuse, aggression, homosexuality, and incest go up." Perhaps that too is an example of natural revelation.A couple of other notes. Natural law and equivalents thereto are not about a constraining force. It's about right and wrong. Ronald Dworkin, a member of the same philosophical and metaphysical tribe grosso modo as James, Thom, and Jay, said the following in the context of the debate about euthanasia."We believe that a successful human life has a certain natural course. It starts in mere biological development – conception, fetal development, and infancy – but it then extends into childhood, adolescence, and adult life . . . It ends, after a normal life span, in a natural death." Dworkin goes on to say that the termination of life at any stage before "natural death" is "a kind of cosmic shame."Three cheers for Dworkin. But on that same basis – natural law in the classical framework – it makes sense to speak of abortion as a cosmic shame, not just suicide "before one's time." Not that Dworkin understood that. Since D does do not do ethics on the basis of something he saw in a cave (like Plato and most of Western philosophy through Kant and Hegel up to MacIntyre) or on Mt. Sinai, Dworkin is forced to argue from what "is" – human lives often do in fact follow a typical course – to an "ought" – as if Dworkin never read Hume.It's hard to take this seriously. Put another way, the natural law argument which sees homosexuality and incest as intrinsically disordered is easy to follow, whether one accepts or not. But natural law is not a constraining force in these instances, any more than it is in the case of teen suicide.Finally, I have no idea how one can do ethics without challenging the status quo. The only question is: what aspects of the status quo are most in need of challenging?

  • JeremiahBailey

    I guess, based on observations in nature, that I should eat other people's babies, and generally kill and eat people when I am hungry.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Um, JeremiahBailey, I don't think anyone here suggested that humans should do anything they observe done in nature. In fact, you'll find very few people who insist on walking around naked simply because it is natural.The point was that homosexual acts are "natural" in the sense in which we use that term today: observable in nature outside of the human sphere.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13762457754800411233 beowulf2k8

    "But for those reading Romans 1 in English, and assuming that Paul meant by 'natural' what we today mean by 'natural', evidence such as that from observing bonobo behavior leads naturally (if you'll forgive the expression) to the conclusion that Paul was wrong."The only conclusion I am led to is that you missed the point of Romans 1, which is that by worshiping creatures rather than God people became debased. If you want to worship bonobos rather than God then I guess you'll be debased into being homosexual.When it comes to the term natural Romans 1 clearly means natural for humans, not for bonobos, as JeremiahBailey's comment so brilliantly explains."I guess, based on observations in nature, that I should eat other people's babies, and generally kill and eat people when I am hungry."LOL.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    Paul also calls men with long hair "against nature" (same word he uses for homosexuals). And as for killing and eating, humans do that every day! We kill and eat animals, animals sometimes kill and eat us. So nice try.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    As for eating our own young, ask Yahweh about that one. That's one of his favorite things to make his covenant people do.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12509596389764649667 Jay

    So as this discussion goes, is there any basis for a sexual morality beyond mutual consent?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    Yeah, plenty. Sexual conduct can be morally evaluated according to a number of criteria: cost/benefit, virtue ethics, etc. All that is being said here is that "arguments from nature" can work both ways and so they are not as valuable as other criteria for moral reasoning.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12509596389764649667 Jay

    Could you please give some specific examples Thom?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    It would probably be more beneficial for you if you were to ask that question to a gay couple. I can't bring myself to believe that you can't actually think of any examples yourself. Ask what is moral about a heterosexual relationship, then take those same considerations and apply them to a homosexual relationship. There's a start.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12509596389764649667 Jay

    I am certainly not thinking only about hetero and homosexual morality. The problem with this sexual morality question is it always gets too sensitive and people take it as a personal attack, I am not meaning anyone on this string, but in general. Since we agree that we are not binding ourselves to the Levitical law, nor any assumption of monogamy, I think what I already proposed, that is the sexual activity between consenting people is as far as we can push it. It was you, Thom that had a problem with incestuous relationships. If you are concerned about the genetic problems, sterilization is an easy solution. But I guess you said that morality need not enter that equation so just where are we?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    I see. I misunderstood you. Some relationships can be destructive or immoral for this or that reason, but I don't think it's possible to make blanket statements about certain categories of relationships.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15643595412184843553 Jason Hughes

    "I think what I already proposed, that is the sexual activity between consenting people is as far as we can push it."I'm wondering why it needs to go further than this? And is it necessarily a "moral" issue, as so many seem to be assuming here?I should go back and reread everything, granted, but lunch breaks are only so long…