What did Francis Collins really say about homosexuality?

In his book, The Language of God: A scientist presents evidence for belief, Francis Collins has this to say about homosexuality on page 260:

An area of particularly strong public interest is the genetic basis of homosexuality. Evidence from twin studies does in fact support the conclusion that heritable factors play a role in male homosexuality. However, the likelihood that the identical twin of a homosexual male will also be gay is about 20% (compared with 2-4 percent of males in the general population), indicating that sexual orientation is genetically influenced but not hardwired by DNA, and that whatever genes are involved represent predispositions, not predeterminations.

On the web, there are a number of sources who have quoted the OneNewsNow report that Francis Collins said the following:

‘Homosexuality is not hardwired. There is no gay gene. We mapped the human genome. We now know there is no genetic cause for homosexuality.’”

The problem is – Dr. Collins did not say this. As I noted here, Dr. Collins confirmed to me that he did not make this statement. He did say this:

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.

Note this part of the quote: “That certainly doesn’t imply, however, that those other undefined factors are inherently alterable.” Sexual attractions may come from the operation of several factors, in different ways for different people. The nature of the cause however, does not directly lead to understanding of how alterable the attractions might be. Perhaps attractions develop with some mix of environment and pre-natal factors. However, once set, attractions for most people seem to be pretty durable.

Go here for the entire post describing the confusion over what Collins said.

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  • Drowssap

    ‘Homosexuality is not hardwired. There is no gay gene. We mapped the human genome. We now know there is no genetic cause for homosexuality.’

    Scientists almost never talk that certain and for good reason.

    For several hundred years every measurement ever taken confirmed beyond any reasonable doubt that Newtonian Physics was the basis of everything in the universe. But eventually Quantum mechanics came along and it proved that Newtonian Physics was completely wrong.

    Good scientists know to keep their minds open.

  • Lynn David

    Why does this bear repeating again, Dr Throckmorton? It seems that you may be preaching to the choir on homosexuality anymore. Since you’ve become “Switzerland” your views on homosexuality seem to be verging in the superfluous by much of the Christian right. If you’re not toeing the repara-therapy line they don’t listen to you. As one commentor on the Boltz article said:

    It is a well know FACT that those who identify themselves as gay had a “disconnect” with the same sex parent while growing up. Now, not all children who have this disconnect will become gay but if you spend the time to delve into the past of anyone identifying themselves as gay you will find that they had this problem. Same thing goes with being sexually abused. A disproportionate number of those calling themselves gay have been sexually abused.

    And most of them were expressing that idea or that of “choice” in one form of the English language or another. But hey, that might have been a member of NARTH who said that or even Nicolosi himself. I mean when you have claims such as the following, what good should a Christian make of Sexual Identy Therapy?

    “Homosexuality is a spiritual problem, not a physical one even though it is carried out in the flesh. As a minister who regularly helps homosexuals to come out of their lifestyle, I have helped many in the past seven years, and it is not counseling that is required as much as deliverance from evil spirits. The sex act, both hetero and homo, is spiritual. It can either be caused by being molested as a child, or through experimental sex with the same gender. It may also be caused by the use of pornography. There is much more I could say but it would take much space to say it. Suffice it to say, that those who come to me for help, are set free in an hour or less, and it is permanent.”

    That’s certainly cheaper than a series of meetings with a counselor/psychologist.

    It seems to me that the Christian sects should come to a determination about homosexuality and stick with it. It seems that most don’t know squat about it.

    But heck neither do I…… more simply, I am.

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

    Lynn David – You may be right but changes have occured in some quarters and especially among the young. NARTH is actually a very small group whose influence is waning, as far as I can tell.

    However, these ideas die hard because they provide an explanation for something that seems hard to explain.

  • Ann

    Is there a resistance within the scientific/psychological arena to research the causation of homosexuality? If so, why?

  • Drowssap

    Ann

    Is there a resistance within the scientific/psychological arena to research the causation of homosexuality? If so, why?

    In the western world the problem is Identity politics. Asia doesn’t have this problem and they’re becoming wealthier and more influential by the day. Don’t be surprised if 10-20 years from now the answers come from Asia.

    Scientists are probably much closer than they are letting on. Nobody wants the heat until they’ve got the concrete answers.

  • Ann

    Scientists are probably much closer than they are letting on. Nobody wants the heat until they’ve got the concrete answers.

    Drowssap,

    This makes a lot of sense and I really hope it is the case.

  • Evan

    Is there a resistance within the scientific/psychological arena to research the causation of homosexuality? If so, why?

    This is the big taboo. The political, social, religious stakes are very high on this topic. It’s worth researching to support some small, self-identified groups. Other than that, no one wants science to predict orientation (attractions) with a high degree of precision in any given individual. That would intrude on someone’s private world and would affect other people’s attitudes to that person. It would create a domino effect on identities. Studying homosexuality depends a lot on who’s homosexual relative to whom. That can show a bit people’s attitudes to their own feelings.

  • Evan

    Drowssap said

    Scientists are probably much closer than they are letting on. Nobody wants the heat until they’ve got the concrete answers.

    I think they have more ideas and data to work on than they actually publish, but their projects depend a lot on how much money they can muster. Surveys, brainscans, genetic analyses — these things cost big $.

  • Ann

    Other than that, no one wants science to predict orientation (attractions) with a high degree of precision in any given individual.

    Evan,

    I am not sure if science can really predict orientation. If there is a genetic component to it, then it is only a component, not a pre-determination or hard-wired. It would be valuable to many, and society in general, to have some resolve as to why we have two distinct orientations and one that includes both.

  • Evan

    Ann,

    I’m sure there’s no genetically hardwired orientation, maybe in a few people who had some degree of gender identity disorder. I asked many friends and people I chatted with over the internet what sex were they attracted to before the end of puberty and it’s always the same principle: if you had primary attractions to the opposite sex you’ll continue mostly that way during adulthood, unless some traumatic event intervenes. But for the few guys who were only attracted to their sex before adulthood, it seems that opposite sex attractions don’t show up any later, maybe other types of bonds, like attachment to a particular person. I don’t know what girls/women experienced, but for guys this is pretty much the model.

    But I think scientists won’t find the borders between orientations between people. They’ll find that nature is a very messy stuff, producing many types of gendered people inside one gender group and many types of attractions between genders. Maybe evolution wanted people not to lay on their backs and relax.

    I also think it’s necessary for society to come to terms with this issue. People need to get it off their chest and move on. There won’t be major changes in behaviours. But we might see some unusual developments like some of today’s “gays” growing dissatisfied with their parcelled identity and joining the rush to live in life-giving relationships. We’re hardwired for that.

  • Evan

    Ann,

    LOL, my example contradicts what I said. :) I meant that I think it’s not genes that dictate orientation, but whatever happens to genes – imprinting, silencing, environment, stuff like that.

  • Ann

    I also think it’s necessary for society to come to terms with this issue.

    Evan,

    Do you think this would be better facilitated if society had some of the answers that have puzzled and troubled so many for so long?

  • Ann

    I meant that I think it’s not genes that dictate orientation, but whatever happens to genes – imprinting, silencing, environment, stuff like that.

    Evan,

    I understood what you meant :-) I think society would greatly benefit from any further understanding of this as it would remove the heretofor assumptions that have always caused contention.

  • Evan

    Ann asked:

    Do you think this would be better facilitated if society had some of the answers that have puzzled and troubled so many for so long?

    I think the answer is not in biology. People try to produce some meaning for it in order to be able to integrate this somehow. Science might go some way in helping with that, but it won’t be able to explain why there is any degree in any given person. It’s like trying to explain why there’s life on earth instead of nothing. I don’t know, it might be that conflict can push living beings to seek their desired goals. In some people, this may have gotten out of hand, due to environmental factors (culture, pollution, rejection).

  • Ann

    Science might go some way in helping with that, but it won’t be able to explain why there is any degree in any given person.

    Evan,

    Yes, and that is why we should never mandate what a person can or cannot do regarding this. Science might be able to give us indications and components as to why we have the orientations we do, however, it is our physical and emotional environment, and how it affects our minds and bodies personally, that can tell us more. If there is an environmental factor that affects our genes, that would really answer the question as to the differences in orientations. It would also lay to rest all the assumptions – which I think would be a very good thing.

  • concerned

    This is only my own opinion, but I have been observing this debate for some time now and have been living through the struggle also, the problem lies in the way nature works in general. We so often have a need to put things into neat little compartments to fit our own models, while nature is never that neatly packaged. If we look to Kinseys ideas of a continuum once again it would suggest that there are many different expressions of ones orientation and that there are infact even more than 3 basic ways we might express our orientation. For some this might be completely OSA and in a few it may be completely SSA, but in between these there are many levels. What might feel perfectly comfortable for one person may cause extreme discomfort for another. However, the greater issue here is that we must learn to accept any person where they are at and keep our own judgements out of it. If we are trying to place others who have some level of SSA into the box that we have created for ourselves I believe we are doing that other person a disservice, regardless of which side of the political fence you may be comig from. It is human nature to justify the choices we make for ourselves by try to attract others to our camp, even if the choice we are making may not be a good one for us or for anyone else. All we can say at this time is that different people have different attractions for different reasons. This in no way implies that there is any hard-wiring going on, but it also does not imply that a person must change the way they have come to see themselves. So much of this debate center around where we find love and a sense of acceptance by others, or more precisely, where we feel a sense of belonging.

  • Evan

    Ann,

    Let me make my case very clear. I think genes code for some very basic components of human males’ and females’ biologies. Men are more secure and aggressive, women more insecure and sensitive; their bodies are different too based on genes and hormones: the hairy guy likes the smooth skin woman, the “small voice” woman likes the “deep voice” man, etc with odours, posture, face structure, body size. It’s sexual difference that makes men and women attracted to each other. But there are no special genes that make one more or less attracted. It’s the very basic components of what a man and woman are that make them attracted. I don’t expect some genes to have a specific program to fix the visual focus on a certain gender. It’s the whole make-up that creates attractions. Whatever messes with that, messes with attractions, whether it’s genes for olfaction or for aggressiveness. That’s something very basic.

  • Evan

    concerned,

    What might feel perfectly comfortable for one person may cause extreme discomfort for another.

    Interesting you said that. I once chatted with someone who said that even if he was attracted to same-sex guys, his same-sex experiences with those people were not pleasant. If I remember well a sex researcher, Michael Bailey, used this phrase about attractions in his book on gender bending: “the hopeless nature of attractions.” Sexuality may not be just about attractions.

    So much of this debate center around where we find love and a sense of acceptance by others, or more precisely, where we feel a sense of belonging.

    I agree. But could someone identify as straight because they were rejected by gays?

  • Ann

    It’s the whole make-up that creates attractions. Whatever messes with that, messes with attractions, whether it’s genes for olfaction or for aggressiveness. That’s something very basic.

    Evan,

    Yes, I agree. I know so little about science, etc. that I look at every possibility and angle that might yield some understanding about what has perplexed so many for so long. My basic and consistent premise is that we all can experience the same thing, yet so differently. Sexual attraction/desire is one of those many things. When there is discontent regarding this, I am grateful for another perspective that offers an expanded way to perceive oneself and how they want to live.

  • Lynn David

    Warren….. I should hope you are right. But if NARTH as a group is waning in influence there are others out there who seem to be popping up to take their place. Witness one Dr. Trayce Hansen, who seems to be passing off her opinions as science to create her own form of reality. She’s started to make the rounds with the media, from Prager to Dr Laura, and she’s willing to go that extra yard with her message (the message such as that is desired by most posters to the Boltz OneNewsNow article).

  • Drowssap

    Evan

    I think they have more ideas and data to work on than they actually publish, but their projects depend a lot on how much money they can muster. Surveys, brainscans, genetic analyses — these things cost big $.

    Yep, and that’s another reason the answers will probably come from Asia. The Chinese, Japanese and Koreans aren’t politically correct and they are increasingly wealthy and scientifically advanced.

  • Evan

    Drowssap,

    I don’t know about Asians working on this kind of research. I’d keep track of these guys. The people from the lab come from many parts of the world, including Asia. I know some of them are very motivated.

  • Ann

    I know some of them are very motivated.

    Evan,

    What do you think their motivation is?

  • Drowssap

    Evan

    I think everybody around the world is interested in gender. Japanese researchers just discovered the exact neurons that make male flies act like males.

    Google: Male-specific Neurons Directly Linked To Gender-specific Behaviors

    The problem I have with the UCLA Gender Department (or anything done in the USA or Western Europe) is that these guys are in a politically correct straightjacket. The department itself is probably filled with activists. I doubt they’ll even be allowed to ask the good questions.

    But, I hope I’m wrong.

  • Evan

    Ann,

    Basically, it’s about finding out what could help people have a better reproductive life. ;)

  • Evan

    Drowssap,

    You’re right. Actually there’s a host of Asian researchers who published papers on that, but most of them are based in the developed world. I think activism is on the wane or is headed in that direction. Scientists are a bit ahead in mentality compared to ordinary people, they are some of the stealthy heros of the day. And many of them like challenges, going beyond just simply fencing oneself in behind biological excuses. The whole thing becomes pathetic if people start looking for their life in their genes. Life is what one does with their genes, not what genes tell them to do.

    The smartest gay authors you could find say that it’s a cultural phenomenon that never took place in a similar way before. Of course, researchers like Bailey hate this kind of messages because they’re into biological explanations and evolutionary theory, but who knows? Maybe biology is not used in the same way in each epoch. You might be right about environmental quirks.

  • Ann

    Evan,

    Do you mean productive or reproductive?

  • Drowssap

    Evan

    I think activism is on the wane or is headed in that direction. Scientists are a bit ahead in mentality compared to ordinary people, they are some of the stealthy heros of the day.

    I hope 100% that you are right. This field needs a hero.

  • Evan

    Do you mean productive or reproductive?

    Both. 8)

  • Ann

    Both.

    Evan,

    That is what I thought – just wanted to claify and make sure though.

    Basically, it’s about finding out what could help people have a better reproductive life.

    That is a great motivation! I really hope nothing or no one interferes with this progress.

  • Evan

    Drowssap said:

    This field needs a hero.

    They’re more like smart bees. What’s going on in human bodies cannot be understood by one mind. It takes so much time to find something truly important in science, however small that finding might be. You know, it’s kind of lame that in the 21st century when we already build nanotechnologies atom by atom we’re still talking about this stuff. It should have been already sorted out in the 90′s. They’re well lagging behind other fields!

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