Dr. Francis Collins comments on homosexuality and genetics

There is a dust up being reported at ExgayWatch over comments made by Francis Collins, former head of the Human Genome Project. Here is the background.

NARTH Dean Byrd wrote an article for the NARTH website dated April 4, 2007 quoting Collins’ book, The Language of God, on genetics and homosexuality. Byrd’s review provided accurate quotes but implied that Collins believes free will is involved in the development of homosexuality. Subsequently, David Roberts at XGW wrote Collins to find out if Byrd had captured his views properly. Collins responded by saying in an email:

It troubles me greatly to learn that anything I have written would cause anguish for you or others who are seeking answers to the basis of homosexuality. The words quoted by NARTH all come from the Appendix to my book “The Language of God” (pp. 260-263), but have been juxtaposed in a way that suggests a somewhat different conclusion that I intended. I would urge anyone who is concerned about the meaning to refer back to the original text.

The evidence we have at present strongly supports the proposition that there are hereditary factors in male homosexuality — the observation that an identical twin of a male homosexual has approximately a 20% likelihood of also being gay points to this conclusion, since that is 10 times the population incidence. But the fact that the answer is not 100% also suggests that other factors besides DNA must be involved. That certainly doesn’t imply, however, that those other undefined factors are inherently alterable.

Your note indicated that your real interest is in the truth. And this is about all that we really know. No one has yet identified an actual gene that contributes to the hereditary component (the reports about a gene on the X chromosome from the 1990s have not held up), but it is likely that such genes will be found in the next few years.

Collins is certainly correct when he says: “But the fact that the answer is not 100% also suggests that other factors besides DNA must be involved. That certainly doesn’t imply, however, that those other undefined factors are inherently alterable.” There is a pattern in NARTH publications to assume that evidence against genetic factors is somehow proof for reparative ideas. Evidence suggesting that genetics is not determinative does not support any particular alternative view or the view that genetics play no important role.

Then recently, Greg Quinlan, reacting to the news that Christian singer-songwriter, Ray Boltz had come out as gay quoted Dr. Collins as negating any genetic factors. Quinlan said in a 9/15 interview with Onenewsnow:

In fact, just last year in March, the director of the Human Genome Project, Dr. Francis Collins, said this: homosexuality is not hardwired. There is no gay gene. We mapped the human genome. We now know there is no genetic cause for homosexuality.

Well not exactly. The last sentence goes beyond what Collins said. What has made this into a controversy is that Quinlan said in an email to Roberts that the Collins statement was fraudulent and that Quinlan’s statement better captured Collins views (you can read the detail at XGW).

Along the way, David Roberts asked me if he could copy me on correspondence with Dr. Collins in order to have verfication that Dr. Collins had made the statement reported by XGW. Dr. Collins did so and as far as I can tell these are authentic communications. Dr. Collins wrote,

Hello David and Warren,

I am happy to confirm that these e-mail communications from May 2007 and yesterday are indeed authentic, and represent my best effort at summarzing what we know and what we don’t know about genetic factors in male homosexuality. I appreciate your continuing efforts to correct misstatements that seem to be circulating on the internet.

Regards, Francis Collins

For the record, I think the genetic influence might be a little closer to 30% for the trait, but this is a matter of debate and discussion, not dogmatism. Some people may be more influenced by genes than others. In my view, the body of research available provides a picture of complicated and individual factors leading to adult outcomes in ways we simply cannot delineate with specificity.

Regarding statements about research on causal factors, see my unanswered request to NARTH here

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  • Drowssap

    I think huge logical mistakes are being made on all sides.

    Just because SSA isn’t genetic doesn’t mean it’s not completely, 100% biological.

    OSA in men is probably created by a small bundle of specialized neurons. Maybe these cells produce a neurotransmitter that creates OSA or maybe they hold an instruction set for OSA. For some reason gay men don’t have these cells and I highly doubt this has much to do with genes.

    How do I know? Because scientists just found these cells in flies.

    Male-specific Neurons Directly Linked To Gender-specific Behaviors

    Just a few cells create the instincts male’s need to court female flies. Scientists stuck these cells in female flies and they behaved just like the males even though the rest of the brain was feminine.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

    Drowssap – I do not think Collins is saying genetics is the only biological factor, just saying that DNA isn’t the whole picture.

  • Drowssap

    Warren

    I guess I’m disagreeing with the Narth interpretation of Collins statements, not so much about Collins original statement.

    Specific genes probably do create some sort of susceptability to an environmental factor that as of today is completely unknown.

    And speaking of environmental factors….

    Urinary tract infections are a significant contributing factor to Dementia.

    Ten years ago who would have guessed that an infection on the other end of your body could alter the way your brain works? Amazingly it happens all the time.

  • Lynn David

    And I think Collins and you are both wrong and we’ll find that a genetic cause (via gene expression) will be found to be more like 65-70%. But speculation doesn’t get us anywhere.

    What gets me is that people such as Quinlan must have such a dogmatic need for homosexuality not to be genetic. Since 1992 or so the Baptist General Conference has said:

    We believe that a homosexual orientation is a result of the fall of humanity into a sinful condition that pervades every person. Whatever biological or familial roots of homosexuality may be discovered, we do not believe that these would sanction or excuse homosexual behavior….

    So why not Quinlan? I guess I won’t give my science-formed opinion of such a belief or Warren would wipe out my post forthwith.

  • Drowssap

    Lynn David

    we’ll find that a genetic cause (via gene expression) will be found to be more like 65-70%.

    You could be right and time will tell. But why guess that SSA is created by some sort of complicated group benefit, gender antagonism or gene expression? Why not guess something simple?

    SSA might be triggered by the bodies immune response to a common ear infection that occurs around the age of 1 or 2. The FBO suggests an immune response could be the trigger and immune responses seem to be implicated in just about everything these days.

    Since we don’t know why not go simple?

  • Lynn David

    LMqAO!! Let’s not go around on this again.

    I just happen to think that gene expression in gay men as a consequence of increased fertility in women is a rather simple and elegant solution and also as it appears that a same-gendered orientation crosses species boundaries in mammals.

    I can’t imagine an immune response to be as elegantly simple. I might as well as fallen off the teat and started bawling at the wrong (right?) time a synapse was being made.

  • Lynn David

    Drowssap…..

    I was going to let it slide but I’m wondering what FBO means? Federal Bureau of Obfuscation? Faith-Based Organization? Makes sense in this era of Bushite hatred of real science.

  • Evan

    Lynn David,

    I think it’s Fraternal Birth Order.

  • Lynn David

    Ah… Fraternal Birth Order – that makes sense. The idea of an “ear infection that occurs around the age of 1 or 2” precluded my thinking about an immune response in a woman effecting her unborn in the womb during the first trimester.

    I think the article on FBO says that only 7% of all same-gender oriented men might have been so effected. Small amount, but I inflated Francis Collins 20% to 66.6%, so I guess I could inflate FBO to the other 33.3% of biological gay men.

  • http://mylifeishidwithchrist.vox.com Judy S

    Lynn David wrote: What gets me is that people such as Quinlan must have such a dogmatic need for homosexuality not to be genetic. Since 1992 or so the Baptist General Conference has said:

    We believe that a homosexual orientation is a result of the fall of humanity into a sinful condition that pervades every person. Whatever biological or familial roots of homosexuality may be discovered, we do not believe that these would sanction or excuse homosexual behavior….

    So why not Quinlan?

    ———————— If he were to admit genetics as part of the answer, it could alter his job.

  • Drowssap

    Lynn David

    I think the article on FBO says that only 7% of all same-gender oriented men might have been so effected. Small amount, but I inflated Francis Collins 20% to 66.6%, so I guess I could inflate FBO to the other 33.3% of biological gay men.

    The Fraternal Birth Order Effect (assuming it’s true) shows that an immune response can turn OSA into SSA. Right there scientists know to look for various immune responses. There could be a few main ones and because twin concordence is so low most of these events probably occur after birth.

    That’s a safe, simple guess that an average college biology student could make.

  • Evan

    Lynn David wrote:

    What gets me is that people such as Quinlan must have such a dogmatic need for homosexuality not to be genetic. Since 1992 or so the Baptist General Conference has said:

    We believe that a homosexual orientation is a result of the fall of humanity into a sinful condition that pervades every person. Whatever biological or familial roots of homosexuality may be discovered, we do not believe that these would sanction or excuse homosexual behavior….

    You never know. >60% of environment contribution could be Satan’s work.

  • Boo

    Okay Warren, so Quinlan mischaracterizes Collins, and you do a whole blog post on it.

    I know you chastized me for bringing this up earlier, but remember this lil thread?

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/2008/05/12/apa-issues-statement-regarding-gid-and-the-dsm-v/

    J. Michael gets all huffy and indignant about people mischaracterizing Zucker’s views on preventing homosexuality, but then, whoops, Jenn Burleton shows up in the comments with the quotes to prove Bailey was talking out of his butt. You have no response regarding Bailey’s slander of Transactive, so I have to try this once again:

    Why the double standard with your pal J Michael?

  • Marty

    Regarding the twins studies, i’ve often wondered — why does a 20% prevalence automatically point to a genetic influence? Don’t twins almost always grow up in a remarkably similar environment?

  • ken

    Marty asked in post 130187:

    why does a 20% prevalence automatically point to a genetic influence? Don’t twins almost always grow up in a remarkably similar environment?

    It is because they were raised in the same environment that the twin studies are important. Since the environments are similar, the significant variable becomes the genetics. So when you compare identical and non-identical twins and see a significantly higher concordance with the identical twins, then that suggests a genetic factor. It doesn’t prove a genetic factor because there may be other variables involved. Further, the twins studies do show that it isn’t only based on genetics, because then the concordance between identical twins would have been much, much higher.

  • Jayhuck

    “You never know. >60% of environment contribution could be Satan’s work.” – LOL :) :)

  • Jayhuck

    I’ve said it before, but it would be interesting to someday do a similar study involving heterosexuals. It would be MUCH for difficult, I think, to compensate for the social desirability factor though.

  • Ana

    Tem um comentário de uma pessoa aqui ,que diz que a maioria dos homossexuais foram abusados na infância, ele só esqueceu de pesquisar que também tem muitas pessoas que hoje héteros que foram também abusas.Tem muitos pedófilos que também foram abusados.Nada

    ver ser homossexual com abuso sexual.Abuso sexual atinge qualquer classe social e sexual.