Let’s start at the beginning of this story.
On April 4, 2007, Dean Byrd posted an article on the NARTH website titled, “‘Homosexuality Is Not Hardwired,’ Concludes Dr. Francis S. Collins, Head Of The Human Genome Project” In this article, Byrd quotes from Collins book, The Language of God, citing Collins views of the genetics and homosexuality. In it, Byrd wrote:
As Dr. Collins would agree, environment can influence gene expression, and free will determines the response to whatever predispositions might be present.
Dr. Collins succinctly reviewed the research on homosexuality and offers the following: “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.”
Dr. Collins noted that environment, particularly childhood experiences as well as the role of free will choices affect all of us in profound ways. As researchers discover increasing levels of molecular detail about inherited factors that underlie our personalities, it’s critical that such data be used to illuminate, not provide support to idealogues.
On May 17, 2007, the editor of Ex-gay Watch, David Roberts, wrote an email to Collins asking him if Byrd’s article accurately represented Collins’ views. (The entire correspondence can be reviewed at this link.)
On May 20, 2007, Collins wrote back to Roberts saying about the Byrd article:
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.
On September 15, 2008, Greg Quinlan of PFOX told OneNewsNow that the human genome had been mapped and there was no genetic cause for homosexuality. Quinlan attributed this information to Francis Collins, seeming to paraphrase the NARTH article.
On September 19, 2008, Roberts again wrote to Collins to ask him to verify that the prior statement about Byrd’s misleading use of his views was indeed given by Collins.
On September 20, 2008, Collins wrote back to Roberts saying
Thanks for the heads up. I am truly sorry to hear that there is a continuing effort by Mr. Quinlan and others to distort this information about genetic factors in homosexuality. The facts have not changed since the e-mail message I sent you on May 20, 2007.
Regards, Francis Collins
On September 21, 2008, Collins wrote back with the following message:
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
This background is important in order to put NARTH’s response to Collins into context. Earlier this year, NARTH posted an article attacking David Roberts with the charge that Roberts misled Collins. NARTH did not like Collins response to Roberts and NARTH blamed Roberts for Collins’ response.
After the NARTH article came out, Roberts conducted a Freedom of Information Act request to find correspondence between the NARTH and Collins. As the result of his request, he received an undated letter sent from NARTH’s President Julie Hamilton to Collins. The letter is here and is summarized at XGW.
In this letter, Hamilton blames Roberts and me for Collins response to Byrd’s article. Is it really possible that Roberts and I persuaded the Director of the National Institutes of Health and one of the premiere scientists of our time to misread Byrd’s article? About NARTH’s letter, Roberts says,
In it, Collins is treated more like a doddering old man than the head of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Even though we sent a link to the original article with our email to Collins, and it is clear from his reply that he read it, Hamilton encloses a copy noting “Although Warren Throckmorton [see this post to see where he comes in] and David Roberts led you to believe otherwise, your statements were not misrepresented by NARTH.” No, Dr. Collins, regardless of what you think, you do agree with us — sheer arrogance.
What is NARTH saying about Dr. Collins when they tell him that he was persuaded to misunderstand his own book? It appears that NARTH will not accept that Collins means what he says. Counting his response to the American College of Pediatricians (several NARTH board members are affiliated with this group), he has spoken out three times about the way NARTH has characterized his views. NARTH’s response is to his continue to blame the messengers.
For more, see