So now it is time to return to the idea of homosexuality and Christianity about which I posted the other day.
Having looked at biblical issues concerning the position of deeming homosexuality (h/s) morally wrong, let us now look at what makes people h/s and whether it is fair for an all-loving god to judge them.
Historically, h/s has been seen as a behavioural choice. However, over recent years, more and more research has been carried out into the causality of h/s. Here, it is worth referring to the paper “Scientific Communication about Biological Influences on Homosexuality and the Politics of Gay Rights“:
In recent decades, Americans’ thinking regarding the causes of human behavior has changed considerably. In particular, there has been a swing toward attributing a variety of behaviors to biological factors, and perhaps nowhere is this more evident than for sexual orientation. In this paper, we draw on two overtime survey datasets to argue that new scientific evidence on the biological bases of homos exuality in the 1990s rapidly changed commonly held beliefs. However, because these scientific explanations were perceived to be relevant to gay rights, persuasion tended to be conditioned on citizens’ political values. In short, liberals were considerably more likely than conservatives to embrace biological attributions for homosexuality during this period. Furthermore, these changing—and diverging—causal beliefs about homosexuality appear to have contributed to both increasing support for, and left–right disagreements over, gay rights.
Which is very pertinent to the commenter that has inspired the posting of these articles.
H/s is seen as being “an enduring pattern of or disposition to experience sexual, affectionate, or romantic attractions” primarily or exclusively to people of the same sex; “it also refers to an individual’s sense of personal and social identity based on those attractions, behaviors expressing them, and membership in a community of others who share them.” (“Sexual Orientation, Homosexuality,and Bisexuality”, Page 30 “Case No. S147999 in the Supreme Court of the State of California, In re Marriage Cases Judicial Council Coordination Proceeding No. 4365(…) – APA California Amicus Brief — As Filed”)
I would like to give a good synopsis of the current state of biology and sexual orientation. First of all, it is interesting to note that the drivers for male and female h/s are understood to be often very different. It is not one rule fits all. Furthermore, there are also a whole host of reasons that can lead to h/s – biological, genetic (and epigenetic), and environmental and social.
Let us look firstly at the biological causes and theories.
Twin studies, as ever, have been useful. Langstrom et al (2010) have found that, in a study of some 7600 twins, same-sex behaviour was
explained by both heritable factors and individual-specific environmental sources (such as prenatal environment, experience with illness and trauma, as well as peer groups, and sexual experiences), while influences of shared-environment variables such as familial environment and societal attitudes had a weaker, but significant effect. Women showed a statistically non-significant trend to weaker influence of hereditary effects, while men showed no effect of shared environmental effects. The use of all adult twins in Sweden was designed to address the criticism of volunteer studies, in which a potential bias towards participation by gay twin may influence the results.
Overall, the environment shared by twins (including familial and societal attitudes) explained 0–17% of the choice of sexual partner, genetic factors 18–39% and the unique environment 61–66%. The individual’s unique environment includes, for example, circumstances during pregnancy and childbirth, physical and psychological trauma (e.g., accidents, violence, and disease), peer groups (other than those shared with a twin), and sexual experiences. […] In men, genetic effects explained .34–.39 of the variance, the shared environment .00, and the individual-specific environment .61–.66 of the variance. Corresponding estimates among women were .18–.19 for genetic factors, .16–.17 for shared environmental, and .64–.66 for unique environmental factors. (found here)
Other twin studies have shown a genetic component to h/s.
Genetic research through chromosomal linkages have yielded a variety of results. Korean scientists have altered the sexual behaviour of female mice by removing a single gene. Dean Hamer of the ‘God gene’ fame made his name by locating a gene (alleles in the region Xq28) which were of higher rates in fraternal gay brothers. Hamer et al. found that the gay men had more gay male uncles and cousins on the maternal side of the family than on the paternal side. Gay brothers who showed this maternal pedigree were then tested for X chromosome linkage, using twenty-two markers on the X chromosome to test for similar alleles.
Other tests have found statistical differences in allele types between homosexual subjects and heterosexual subjects.
Other tests still have found sex linkage, whilst there have been some tests that have also found no linkages.
A recent study suggests linkage between a mother’s genetic make-up and homosexuality of her sons. Women have two X chromosomes, one of which is “switched off”. The inactivation of the X chromosome occurs randomly throughout the embryo, resulting in cells that are mosaic with respect to which chromosome is active. In some cases though, it appears that this switching off can occur in a non-random fashion. Bocklandt et al. (2006) reported that, in mothers of homosexual men, the number of women with extreme skewing of X chromosome inactivation is significantly higher than in mothers without gay sons. Thirteen percent of mothers with one gay son, and 23% of mothers with two gay sons showed extreme skewing, compared to 4% percent of mothers without gay sons. (found here)
One area of finding with regards to birth order is something I find particularly interesting, as wiki says:
Blanchard and Klassen (1997) reported that each older brother increases the odds of a man being gay by 33%. This is now “one of the most reliable epidemiological variables ever identified in the study of sexual orientation.” To explain this finding, it has been proposed that male fetuses provoke a maternal immune reaction that becomes stronger with each successive male fetus. This maternal immunization hypothesis (MIH) begins when cells from a male fetus enter the mother’s circulation during pregnancy or while giving birth. Male fetuses produce HY antigens which are “almost certainly involved in the sexual differentiation of vertebrates.” These Y-linked proteins would not be recognized in the mother’s immune system due to the fact that she is female, causing her to develop antibodies which would travel through the placental barrier into the fetal compartment. From here, the anti-male bodies would then cross the blood/brain barrier (BBB) of the developing fetal brain, altering sex-dimorphic brain structures relative to sexual orientation, increasing the likelihood that the exposed son will be more attracted to men than women. It is this antigen which maternal H-Y antibodies are proposed to both react to and ‘remember’. Successive male fetuses are then attacked by H-Y antibodies which somehow decrease the ability of H-Y antigens to perform their usual function in brain masculinisation. However the theory has been criticized because symptoms which would be typical of such effects are rare compared with prevalence of homosexuality.
Female fertility also has interesting correlations, as wiki continues:
In 2004, Italian researchers conducted a study of about 4,600 people who were the relatives of 98 homosexual and 100 heterosexual men. Female relatives of the homosexual men tended to have more offspring than those of the heterosexual men. Female relatives of the homosexual men on their mother’s side tended to have more offspring than those on the father’s side. The researchers concluded that there was genetic material being passed down on the X chromosome which both promotes fertility in the mother and homosexuality in her male offspring. The connections discovered would explain about 20% of the cases studied, indicating that this is a highly significant but not the sole genetic factor determining sexual orientation.
One fascinating study with regards to pheromones also shows a marked difference between homosexuals and heterosexuals in what appears to be our arousal programming:
Recent research conducted in Sweden has suggested that gay and straight men respond differently to two odors that are believed to be involved in sexual arousal. The research showed that when both heterosexual women (lesbians were included in the study, but the results regarding them were “somewhat confused”) and gay men are exposed to a testosterone derivative found in men’s sweat, a region in the hypothalamus is activated. Heterosexual men, on the other hand, have a similar response to an estrogen-like compound found in women’s urine. The conclusion is that sexual attraction, whether same-sex or opposite-sex oriented, operates similarly on a biological level. Researchers have suggested that this possibility could be further explored by studying young subjects to see if similar responses in the hypothalamus are found and then correlating these data with adult sexual orientation. (found here)
There has also been a good deal of evidence to show that the brain differs between homosexual and heterosexual men both in size and structure (for example, the size of the INAH3 group of neurons in the hypothalamus).
Garcia-Falgueras A, Swaab DF (2010). “Sexual Hormones and the Brain: An Essential Alliance for Sexual Identity and Sexual Orientation” reported rather crucially,
The fetal brain develops during the intrauterine period in the male direction through a direct action of testosterone on the developing nerve cells, or in the female direction through the absence of this hormone surge. In this way, our gender identity (the conviction of belonging to the male or female gender) and sexual orientation are programmed or organised into our brain structures when we are still in the womb. There is no indication that social environment after birth has an effect on gender identity or sexual orientation.
For more biological, as opposed to genetic, theorising, the early fixation hypothesis claims that hormone levels that prenatal foetal brains are subject to in the mother’s womb (as some studies have shown) can be the primary influence of sexual orientation.
This hypothesis is supported by both the observed differences in brain structure and cognitive processing between homosexual and heterosexual men. One explanation for these differences is the idea that differential exposure to hormone levels in the womb during fetal development may change the masculinization of the brain in homosexual men. The concentrations of these chemicals is thought to be influenced by fetal and maternal immune systems, maternal consumption of certain drugs, maternal stress, and direct injection. This hypothesis is also connected to the fraternal birth order research which I mentioned earlier. (found here)
There is also the theory called exotic becomes erotic.
Daryl Bem, a social psychologist at Cornell University, has theorized that the influence of biological factors on sexual orientation may be mediated by experiences in childhood. A child’s temperament predisposes the child to prefer certain activities over others. Because of their temperament, which is influenced by biological variables such as genetic factors, some children will be attracted to activities that are commonly enjoyed by other children of the same gender. Others will prefer activities that are typical of another gender. This will make a gender-conforming child feel different from opposite-gender children, while gender-nonconforming children will feel different from children of their own gender. According to Bem, this feeling of difference will evoke physiological arousal when the child is near members of the gender which it considers as being ‘different’. Bem theorizes that this physiological arousal will later be transformed into sexual arousal: children will become sexually attracted to the gender which they see as different (“exotic”). This theory is known as Exotic Becomes Erotic theory.
The theory is based in part on the frequent finding that a majority of gay men and lesbians report being gender-nonconforming during their childhood years. A meta-analysis of 48 studies showed childhood gender nonconformity to be the strongest predictor of a homosexual orientation for both men and women. Fourteen studies published since Bailey & Zucker’s 1995 also show the same results. In one study by the Kinsey Institute of approximately 1000 gay men and lesbians (and a control group of 500 heterosexual men and women), 63% of both gay men and lesbians reported that they were gender nonconforming in childhood (i.e., did not like activities typical of their sex), compared with only 10–15% of heterosexual men and women. There are also six “prospective” studies—that is longitudinal studies that begin with gender-nonconforming boys at about age 7 and follow them up into adolescence and adulthood. These also show that a majority (63%) of the gender nonconforming boys become gay or bisexual as adults. There are very few prospective studies of gender nonconforming girls. In a group of eighteen behaviorally masculine girls (mean age of assessment: 9 years), all reported a homosexual sexual orientation at adolescence, and eight had requested sex reassignment.
William Reiner, a psychiatrist and urologist with the University of Oklahoma has evaluated more than a hundred cases of children born with sexual differentiation disorders. In the 1960s and 70s, it was common in developed countries for doctors to castrate boys born with a micropenis and have them raised as girls. However, this practice has come under attack, because even though these boys were raised as girls, they nearly all report as adults that they are sexually attracted to women. This suggests that their sexual orientation was determined at birth.
For the purposes of this piece, it is not necessary to get too stuck in to looking at environmental factors. Suffice it to say that wiki offers a useful synopsis here.
What we can ascertain is that genetic and environmental factors (some scientists class some of the biological influences as environmental) can both be at work independently to at least influence and probably entirely determine the sexual orientation of homosexuals.
The reality is that people can be influenced from, say, 1% to 100% towards being h/s. There is almost certainly, statistically, someone who has all of the above variables working within and with them who would be, one would assume, determined to be gay. It only takes one person to be determined by variables outside of their control to call into question the judgement of an all-loving God. In fact, any influence over and above a normal control or null influence calls into question the motives of an all-loving God. One doesn’t have to agree that a person can be wholly determined. Even to be partly influenced to be homosexual begs the question as to how they can be judged fairly next to someone with no influence. Even if one accepts that is somehow wrong, the moral responsibility is hugely diminished by the mitigation of anywhere up to full determination of the orientation.
It is indeed the same conundrum as for any genetic, biological or environmental influence outside of the agent’s control for a behaviour deemed ad religiously morally bad. For one person to have a predisposition for a morally bad characteristic or behaviour in comparison to someone else who doesn’t only goes to show that God has dealt his cards incredibly unevenly around the people of the world. There is no parity, no fairness.
And it doesn’t work to claim that God knows this all and takes it all into account, or that God sets it all right in heaven. This just goes to show the pointlessness of the whole test and invalidates any such reference to a free will defence for the Problem of Evil.
Now, back to Colin’s position (from the previous piece), it is obvious that his morally judgemental God, and his worldview, demands free will to exist and determinism not to be so efficacious. As I have set out in my very first book, Free Will?, this is clearly not the case. Colin needs to establish that we have free will in order to make his theory work. Not only this, but it is clear from his position that he accepts at least a healthy dollop of determining influences, so, as mentioned before, this leaves us with a problem of arbitrating when someone is full responsible or not. So with an assumption, a mere assertion, that we DO have a mechanism for free will in a world of causal laws, he then has this further hurdle to jump in order to address the problem of influence, if not total determination.
It certainly does appear that h/s is not merely a choice. The empirical evidence is stacked up against such an old-fashioned ideal. After all, who would choose to go through adolescence or adulthood adopting a position where they are often ridiculed, attacked physically and verbally, prejudged and discriminated both in the workplace and in law? Remember, homosexuals exist in every culture of the world, from under-developed countries to developed ones. They don’t all have such progressive laws as here in the UK, and even here they cannot yet be married (in a church). There is civil partnership, but no marriage. For people to willingly choose such discriminated-upon positions begs the question as to whether it is a choice. And speaking to gay people, although I am sure that sometimes it can be, it most often is not.
The way I understand sexual orientation is very similar to how gender can be understood – as a continuum. With orientation, everyone sits somewhere along the line from homosexual to heterosexual. And yet they are judged by an all-loving God dichotomously (well, according to many believers). With gender identity too, it can be said that men and women actually sit on a continuum affected by all sorts of variables. Male and female isn’t always the best way, though it seems the most obvious, to define people (I know of a child who is gender dimorphic, for example, so a simple male / female delineation is not necessarily helpful).
In conclusion, it appears that not only biblically, but also scientifically, Colin and other Christians do not have a coherent approach to their worldview that homosexuality is wrong and would be judged so by an all-loving God. Bear in mind that I have left out deeper investigations into the philosophy and psychology, merely needing to concentrate on the biblical and scientific analyses to show the incoherence of such a position.
(Much of the science in this piece was gleaned from the decent overview here)
Notes and references
Bailey, J.M.; Zucker, K.J. (1995). “Childhood sex-typed behavior and sexual orientation: A conceptual analysis and quantitative review”. Developmental Psychology 31 (1): 43–55.doi:10.1037/ 0012-16184.108.40.206.
Bem DJ, Herdt G, McClintock M (December 2000). “Exotic becomes erotic: interpreting the biological correlates of sexual orientation”. Arch Sex Behav 29 (6): 531–48.doi:10.1023/A:1002050303320. PMID 11100261. PDF
Bocklandt S, Horvath S, Vilain E, Hamer DH (February 2006). “Extreme skewing of X chromosome inactivation in mothers of homosexual men”. Hum. Genet. 118 (6): 691–4.doi:10.1007/s00439-005-0119-4. PMID 16369763.
Långström N, Rahman Q, Carlström E, Lichtenstein P (February 2010). “Genetic and environmental effects on same-sex sexual behavior: a population study of twins in Sweden”.Arch Sex Behav 39 (1): 75–80. doi:10.1007/s10508-008-9386-1. PMID 18536986.
Garcia-Falgueras A, Swaab DF (2010). “Sexual Hormones and the Brain: An Essential Alliance for Sexual Identity and Sexual Orientation”. Endocr Dev. Endocrine Development 17: 22–35. doi:10.1159/000262525. ISBN 978-3-8055-9302-1. PMID 19955753.
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