German Incest Case

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Locksmith Patrick Stübing and Susan Karolewski are a German couple with four children. They are also full biological siblings. “Eeeeewww”, I hear you say. And I agree. Eeeeewww. But why do we feel that way?

The incest taboo is as close to a cultural universal as you can get, and is most likely genetically determined. It is counteradaptive to want to bonk your siblings, as this may lead to the accumulation of harmful recessive alleles in the offspring. But how is this implemented from a practical evolutionary perspective? Humans have no physical way of identifying their biological siblings, usually relying for this information on whatever mom & dad tell them. Instead, it appears that humans are built in such a way that they don’t generally want to bonk people of the same age with whom they have grown up in close contact (the “Westermarck effect“). Historically, this would have kept our ancestors from mating with siblings, cousins and younger aunts/uncles.

Stübing was placed in an orphanage at age four. Three years later, Karolewski was born. When he was 23 and she was 16 the two met for the first time. This means that their anti-incest biological programming never had any opportunity to do its thing. They became a couple, got a home of their own and had four children. So far, so good.

But three of those children have been taken into foster care. And Stübing has received several jail sentences due to a German law from 1871 prohibiting sex between siblings. (I don’t know why Karolewski hasn’t.) Says the federal Constitutional Court in a recent ruling, intercourse between grown-up siblings jeopardises “the family’s vital function in society”. The ruling also refers to the “health of the population”.

This ruling is bad and wrong in so many ways. To be able to discuss this in principle, let’s assume (as appears likely) that all sexual contact between the couple has been consensual and that their children were not taken into custody for any other reason than their parents’ close biological relationship.

  1. This is a victimless crime.

  2. The couple’s children have become the victims of unnecessary state intervention.
  3. People with genetic defects are free to procreate provided only that they are not close relatives, cf. Tay-Sachs and similar effects of religio-ethnic isolation.
  4. The idea that the state should monitor the genetic makeup of the population is a holdover of long-discredited eugenic pseudoscience, which Germany has particular historical reason to distance itself from.
  5. Even if the Stübing-Karolewski children do accumulate genetic defects, then this is a temporary problem lasting only one generation, as they are unlikely to repeat their parents’ procreative stunt.

The whole affair is deeply controversial in Germany, and I’m happy to note that the vice president of the Constitutional Court, Winfried Hassemer, has reserved himself against the ruling in very strong language.

All western countries have legislation to protect children from sexual abuse by teens and adults, all western countries outlaw rape, regardless of biological relationships. And for evolutionary and cultural reasons, the great majority of all people on Earth aren’t remotely interested in bonking their siblings. Adults around the planet are constantly engaging in all manner of consensual sexual intercourse that might make me go “eeeeewww”, but none of them has asked me what I think. It’s none of my business. Besides, looking at Stübing and Karolewski, I would never have guessed that they are related, thus obviating any queasy feelings. To tell the truth, I find all of my six female cousins pretty hot, though we’ve never been that friendly. And my kids are just about as far from inbred as it is possible to be.

In Sweden, I am sad to say, sex between siblings is also a crime, punishable by up to a year in jail. This kind of legislation is outdated and should be overturned. Stübing and Karolewski are trying to use their case to make that happen in Germany.

BBC News, Der Spiegel, Svenska Dagbladet.

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Comments

  1. #1 Gustaf Sjöblom
    March 14, 2008

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Laws like this that impose very subjective morality on others should be removed. For some reason however the motions to remove them fail. It is very embarrassing.

    This law and the part of the constitution that regulates the royal family (Successionsordningen, if you are a swede and haven’t read it, DO!) comes to mind but I’m sure that there are other relics should simply be removed.

  2. #2 Martin R
    March 14, 2008

    Haha, yeah, it’s really embarrassing that we still have monarchy.

  3. #3 Gustaf Sjöblom
    March 14, 2008

    Well, that is one thing. But what is interesting is the fact that our constitution says that the monarch has to confess to the Evangelical-Lutheran Christian teachings outlined at the meet of Upsala 1593 or he/she forfeits the position. (Freedom of religion? WTF??!)

    On a lesser note it says that the hairs to the throne may not marry without the consent of the government or travel outside Sweden without permission from the monarch and other stuff that seems to not belong in the constitution of our country.

    Yay for us! :(

  4. #4 PhysioProf
    March 14, 2008

    Did they know they were siblings when they started fucking?

  5. #5 Gustaf Sjöblom
    March 14, 2008

    “Did they know they were siblings when they started fucking?”

    Most likely, but why would that matter in any way?

    Knowing that love is illegal or frowned upon hasn’t stopped interracial people or homosexual people in the past. If there is love there is love and one thing leads to another.

  6. #6 Jeff Darcy
    March 14, 2008

    I think you underemphasize the most important point here: what about the welfare of the children? How does being forcibly removed to foster care affect them? They are truly blameless, yet the brunt of the punishment being meted out seems to fall on them. It’s hard to imagine that the effect on them is anything but negative.

  7. #7 Martin R
    March 14, 2008

    I agree, that should be emphasised.

  8. #8 Sávon
    March 14, 2008

    There are examples in history, that only siblings were allowed to make a couple. Ruling families. Bob Dylan made a song “Oh sister, when I come to knock on your door…”

    In my fathers background I have two brothers who married two sisters and their children married too. (Doublecousins…) My relatives are handsome so I guess that that was the reason? Or maybe it was to keep the land in the family? Luckily they didn’t have any hereditary illnesses.

  9. #9 dveej
    March 14, 2008

    But what about all that stuff one reads referencing Polynesian and Egyptian royal families? How does that fit into some biological anti-incest imperative (or whatever the proper term is)?

  10. #10 Martin R
    March 14, 2008

    Those cases regard very small groups of people under extreme circumstances. Also, Pharaonic royal heirs most likely didn’t grow up in one happy clutch of kids where the anti-incest programming could work.

    I can definitely see myself lusting after my sister if a) I had one, b) I met her for the first time today, c) she came with the Double Crown of Egypt, d) she was as gorgeous as I am.

  11. #11 Sávon
    March 14, 2008

    Mmmm

  12. #12 Bee
    March 14, 2008

    There’s likely just as much genetic similarity (as between siblings) between cousins in families that have intermarried back and forth over several generations in rural areas everywhere. In my own family, you find an original settlement of five families, all emigrating from the same rural island in Scotland (where they were likely already related), and proceeding to marry back and forth over five/six generations. My parents were several different kinds of cousins on both sides of the family. Mind, with that restricted a gene pool, certain traits, not all of them good, do appear to show up with more frequency.

  13. #13 Christophe Thill
    March 14, 2008

    There’s an obvious lack of simple pragmatism in all this. When something that is not desirable happens, the law should make things easier, not worse. Taking away the children seems to me the very worts measure that could be taken.

  14. #14 Martin R
    March 14, 2008

    Bee, don’t be sad that you’re special. I mean, look, you can spell really well and even use a computer! (-;

  15. #15 Martin R
    March 14, 2008

    Chris T, I can’t really see why anyone should find other people’s consensual bonking desirable or undesirable. The only reason I can see for myself to have an opinion were if I had plans of my own for Frau Karolewski and saw Herr Stübing as a rival.

  16. #16 Dr Eye
    March 14, 2008

    It seems to me this is a bad case to use to support (or at least not be against) sibling intercourse. According to the story on CNN international this morning, two of the four offspring in this case have severe birth defects. To be honest, I don’t know what (or how severe) the defects are, but the enormously increased risk for offspring having defects makes me wonder how victimless this really is.

  17. #17 Luna_the_cat
    March 14, 2008

    Re: the lack of an incest taboo with certain royal families — it seems to me that countries with a strong tradition of “divine blood” mythology which separates the royal family from ordinary families, also suspend a lot of the rules which apply to the rest of society. Suspending the incest taboo is one, and only one of these. In this case, the cultural imperative to preserve a “special” or “divine” bloodline is seen as overriding not only the rules for the rest of society, but also overriding the “ick” factor, is my guess.

    Let’s face it, if there is anything that humans are really good at, it’s convincing ourselves or each other that some people are Really Special, and the rules don’t or shouldn’t apply; hand in hand with that, we are also very, very good at building cultures around some really non-intuitive things.

    In cultures which allow 1st-cousin marriages, more often than not there is an economic component to it (for example, dowries to 1st cousins’ families are generally cheaper than for more distant relatives or non-relatives), and humans also have a tendency to regard short-term economics as being pretty much as important as anything else, and more important than a lot of biological “imperatives”. Elsewhere, of course, it generally is just a response to a limited available population; but a large number of studies have documented “inbreeding depression” from these situations as well as a higher prevalence of congenital defects, including for example a ~5% rate of mental retardation in an inbred population at Hirado, Japan, or dwarfism and congenital blindness amongst, say, Old Order Amish who self-isolate. Not every child born from highly inbred situations has problems, by a long shot — there’s just a much larger chance that they will.

    In this specific case — IS there any indication that these two knew they were siblings before they settled in together? If they didn’t, surely they could appeal on those grounds, but then, that wouldn’t necessarily change the law.

    And yes, geez, those poor kids. What must all this be doing to them?

  18. #18 Bee
    March 14, 2008

    Martin, those *are* examples of some of those traits not necessarily seen as ‘good’, at least in the elementary schools I attended.

  19. #19 Julie Stahlhut
    March 14, 2008

    The law should leave this couple alone. First, they weren’t raised as siblings, so they would have felt no incest-related sexual revulsion towards each other. Second, they’re adults; no one is raping or sexually coercing an underage relative. Third, their kids are already born. If the kids do have any genetic problems, putting them in foster care will do absolutely nothing about that — but removing them from their parents inflicts a needless trauma on them.

    Incest taboos make both biological and cultural sense, but six people are being punished here for something that isn’t their fault.

  20. #20 ArchAsa
    March 14, 2008

    Oh this is such a headache for a post-modern society. As you say in most cases siblings don’t end up in bed together due to the fact that they grow up close together. (Competing for mommy’s and daddy’s attention might also have something to do with it). This was highlighted by the actually quite problematic fact that the kibbutz-system in Israel had a hard time to get new generations. The children in the (old?) kibbutzes grew up very much in a collective and came to be as close as siblings – so they weren’t really attracted to each other.

    The problem with this “victimless crime” idea is that i don’t really buy into it. There is something disturbing about the fact that despite strong cultural taboos they ended up having kids. To be frank, I see this as a couple of emotionally damaged individuals.

    The problem for society is that if we declare it to be allowed, there is a distinct risk that several girls and also boys in dysfunctional families can get pressured into sex with older siblings they trust and depend upon. And if we allow brother on sister, why not uncle on niece, or mother on son? If they claim its consensual? It’s a slippery slope, that fails to take into account that emotionally stable and secure people do not enter into these kinds of relationships.

    Just look at Pitcairn island, where small, isolated population under weird circumstances started allowing not only incest, but gang-rape of barely pubescent girls. We can talk about culture until we are blue in the face, but the fact is only fragile people end up in this type of relationship. They equate intimacy sloley with sex, and also i believe, a wish to control (she was 16 when it started, he was 23 – that is not an equal relationship).

  21. #21 anon
    March 14, 2008

    But what about all of those siblings who avoided sex with eachother because they obeyed the law?

    I agree that this is incredibly stupid of the state to intervene like this in this matter. However, an argument people who agree with the state will use is the fact that it was still against the law, and thus if these people do not get punished it is unfair to all of those other siblings who wish to have sexual relations with eachother and didn’t because it was against the law.

    Regardless, it’s a stupid law and needs to be changed, but probably won’t because there is one thing you learn as you get older: “Laws are easy to create, and almost impossible to get rid of.”

  22. #22 Martin R
    March 14, 2008

    Åsa, in my opinion, breaking cultural taboos without hurting anyone is great and should be encouraged. Don’t be cattle!

    As for the 7-year age gap, it doesn’t shock me the least. My first wife was 20 years older than me and I met her when I was 15. I certainly don’t feel traumatised by that relationship. And I don’t think anybody would argue that I am a cowed or stunted kind of person, now nor while I was with my ex.

  23. #23 Melissa
    March 14, 2008

    ArchAsa’s comments give me pause, but Germany is not Pitcairn Island, an isolated place where dysfunction can spread pretty quickly. I seriously doubt incest will become acceptable just because it is legal. And the dysfunctional relationships you refer to would still usually be classified as abuse under current laws regarding statutory rape, etc. and exist primarily in private abusive situations.

  24. #24 Susan
    March 14, 2008

    No one has mentioned another reason people inbreed. To preserve the racal “purity” of their blood. I’ve seen photos of people in Afrikaaner villages in South Africa where the idea of preserving their pure bloodlines was important. And they look pretty inbred. People who breed animals like show dogs are well aware of the negative effects of inbreeding. Of course the couple above are a one off example, but I don’t believe people are as affected by the incest taboo as much as we might think. Having sex with a sib is one thing, but having children with them is another ball of wax. It’s taking stupid risks with your kids. The government taking the kids away is maybe extreme but I also believe they shouldn’t have had the kids in the first place.

  25. #25 Barn Owl
    March 14, 2008

    Clearly the best thing for the guy to do is to slay a monstrous wicked dragon named Glaurung, and then fall on his sword.

    Oh, no, wait…that’s The Silmarillion.

    I remember seeing a weird movie years ago that dealt with incest in a family living on a dairy farm, in a very isolated region of the Alps. It was called Alpenfeuer, or something like that; I just remember that the German guy I was with kept complaining about the strong Swiss, or southern German, accents of the actors.

  26. #26 Colugo
    March 14, 2008

    Sciencebloggers and sciblogs commenters, listen to yourselves. Just a few months ago there was a long thread on Pharyngula in which most commenters favored legalizing bestiality. (Just on principle, not that anyone on the thread was interested in participating in it themselves. Anyone here have an opinion on that?) Now brother-sister sex and marriage?! C’mon! Please. Let’s the draw the line somewhere. Nothing closer than first cousins should be permitted. It’s not about eugenics; it is just nuts to allow brothers and sisters to be sex partners and produce biological children. What next?

    However, one thing that several science bloggers and many of their commenters agree should be banned is infant male circumcision. But engineering of the human germline is OK (your views on the latter, Martin?).

    Circumcision is a crime against humanity, human genetic experimentation is OK, brother-sister incest is OK, legalize bestiality. How do you think most members of the general public – whether they think of themselves as liberal or conservative – are going to regard such views? No offense intended, but just try to step outside of your rarefied bizarro-land for a moment.

  27. #27 Martin R
    March 14, 2008

    Colugo, my reputation among typical members of the US public is not one of my priorities as a blogger.

    I’m a liberal. That means, among other things, that I believe everything should be legal except stuff we want to discourage actively. It’s legal to listen to [insert your least favourite music here]. That certainly doesn’t mean that you encourage it or wish to do so yourself.

    Looking at your questions from this perspective, I think that:

    * Sibling marriage is OK

    * All genital mutilation of minors should be forbidden

    * Engineering of the human germline is OK if approved beforehand by standard medical ethics committee

    * Bestiality is OK as long as animal is not physically harmed

    More questions?

  28. #28 Azkyroth
    March 14, 2008

    The problem with this “victimless crime” idea is that i don’t really buy into it. There is something disturbing about the fact that despite strong cultural taboos they ended up having kids. To be frank, I see this as a couple of emotionally damaged individuals.

    Other than your personal sense of what “must” happen to overcome your personal sense of ickiness, do you have a single argument to back that up?

    The problem for society is that if we declare it to be allowed, there is a distinct risk that several girls and also boys in dysfunctional families can get pressured into sex with older siblings they trust and depend upon. And if we allow brother on sister, why not uncle on niece, or mother on son? If they claim its consensual?

    1) this already happens. Criminalizing it does not stop it from occurring, further stigmatizes those involved, and creates the risk of both the “instigator” and “victim” in your analysis being punished equally as “participants.”
    2) these are adults. Applying that kind of paternalistic handholding to entire classes of adults strikes me as a very bad precedent, especially since
    3) it’s inconsistent. Are we also going to be criminalizing relationships between nonrelatives where one or both partners are “emotionally damaged indivdiuals” or from “dysfunctional families?” The logic is the same.

    It’s a slippery slope, that fails to take into account that emotionally stable and secure people do not enter into these kinds of relationships.

    Actually, since the siblings weren’t raised together, the anti-incest programming didn’t have a chance to kick in, so the visceral objection to sex together wasn’t there. Read the post, it helps. Ironically, there seems to be a fair amount of evidence that closely related people who have not grown up together are more likely to be attracted to each other. And again, do you have a single fact to back that up? Is that just another “everyone knows?” (Or did it really not occur to you that, given the enormous stigma and taboo nature of incest, there would logically be an immense reporting bias against any cases of psychologically healthy relationships among relatives?)

    By the way, am I really the only person here who isn’t grossed out at all by this? I see a happy, affectionate couple and hearing about what they’re going through makes me sad.

  29. #29 Azkyroth
    March 14, 2008

    Having sex with a sib is one thing, but having children with them is another ball of wax. It’s taking stupid risks with your kids. The government taking the kids away is maybe extreme but I also believe they shouldn’t have had the kids in the first place.

    I’m inclined to agree, assuming they knew they were siblings before they started, but according to one statistic I heard from a professor the risk of birth defects for a child of two siblings in their 20s is about the same as that for an unrelated couple where the mother is in her 40s (it may have been first cousins rather than siblings). Anyway, I would expect this issue to gradually disappear as we become more able to correct for genetic damage and deleterious mutations.

  30. #30 ringo
    March 14, 2008

    First off, there are biological cues that prevent sibling incest – women prefer the scent of men who have compatible HLA profiles – http://www.uchospitals.edu/news/2002/20020120-aroma.html

    Second, that tiny age gap isn’t going to make a difference if they were raised apart, though it might have if they were raised together and the older was acting as a babysitter (my mate is 10 years older, never been an issue).

    Third, the Hawaiian royal family was decimated by MEASLES. So that inbreeding thing probably wasn’t so hot from a genetic diversity standpoint.

    A more convincing argument might be the social-network one. Siblings are siblings for life. Mates don’t have to be if they are incompatible. Once you have mated with a sibling, the cost of “breaking up” could be complete loss of family, with all the social cost that that entails.

    That said, there is a case in the US of a similar couple, who moved to another state that permitted first-cousin marriage to get married (to explain their same last names), and who adopted children. THEY were acting responsibly. Having a second kid after one with severe birth defects is not.

  31. #31 Martin R
    March 14, 2008

    Azk, I felt eeewww when I first heard of the case, but I think they look perfectly fine too as I hint in the blog entry.

  32. #32 Colugo
    March 14, 2008

    Martin R: “More questions?”

    Sure.

    What do you think of genetic engineering to produce male children born without foreskins, or foreskins that slough off a few days after birth?

    Should biological parent-child sex and marriage be legalized, as long as both parties are consenting and competent adults?

    Is the production of viable human-animal hybrids/chimeras acceptable? (With major portions of both the human and nonhuman animal’s genes contributing to the organism – I’m not talking about just a few genes or cell lines.)

    Should people be allowed to control the breeding and raising of animals for the purpose of grooming them to be sex partners? How about engineered animals with human genes and/or cell lines?

    To be sure, these are all slippery slope arguments and some involve technologies not yet available. But they eventually will be.

  33. #33 Azkyroth
    March 14, 2008

    Colugo:

    What arguments would you advance for criminalizing any of those things?

  34. #34 Azkyroth
    March 14, 2008

    Azk, I felt eeewww when I first heard of the case

    Odd. I didn’t. Wonder why. O.o

  35. #35 Martin R
    March 14, 2008

    What do you think of genetic engineering … foreskins

    I think that’s science fiction. If it ever comes to pass, I’m sure my great-great-grand daughters will happily mate with the poor bastards until the modification gets drowned out of the gene pool.

    Should biological parent-child sex and marriage be legalized, as long as both parties are consenting and competent adults?

    Yeah, why not? If they want to have consensual sex then they’ll do it regardless of marital status.

    production of viable human-animal hybrids/chimeras

    Tricky, since you wouldn’t be able to develop the technology to a working level without producing a lot of botched jobs. BTW, it’s irrelevant to me where the mods come from, animal or just synthetic.

    control the breeding and raising of animals for the purpose of grooming them to be sex partners

    You have an intriguingly fertile imagination! Yes, if we allow people to kill animals, then we should allow them to bonk them in a non-painful way as well. BTW, I define an animal as anything too stupid to talk, use fire and make Oldowan-level tools.

    I gather from your questions that human genetic material has some kind of sacred status to you. I disagree. Intelligent life is sacred to me.

  36. #36 Colugo
    March 14, 2008

    “wouldn’t be able to develop the technology to a working level without producing a lot of botched jobs.”

    Exactly; that is unavoidable in any major germline modification project as well as hybrid/chimera projects. And would seem to violate current ethics on biomedical experimentation on human subjects without their consent.

    Also, the production of hybrids raises issues of competence and rights. Should the organism be under the protection of animal standards or human standards of welfare, consent, etc.? Assessing whether an organism had passed a Homo habilis-like rubicon of cognitive humanity might not be easy.

    “I think that’s science fiction.”

    Hardly. Congenital lack of foreskin (aposthia) can be heritable.

    Aposthia: a birth defect or normal quantitative recessive human genetic trait? M. Amin-Ud-Din, A. Salam M.A. Rafiq, I. Khaliq, M. Ansar and W. Ahmad. WHO Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal. Volume 13 No. 2 March – April , 2007:

    “From the study of our families, it seems that aposthia and hypospadias are 2 independent quantitative recessive traits. But the co-inheritance of these traits stresses that the loci of both traits are closely linked.

    It is concluded that aposthia trait is under genetic control in the 3 studied families. However, confirmation of our finding would require more extensive molecular studies that depend on cooperation of families, availability of facilities and accumulation of reasonable data.”

    If that is the case, how can there be a consistent argument against infant circumcision that does not also prohibit “genetic circumcision”? (Unless the objection is not based on the modification of the body by eliminating parts but of the pain of unnecessary surgery.)

    Never mind notions of “sacredness.” This is what makes changing the human germline different: it not only affects a nonconsenting individual, but also that individual’s potential descendants. (And we all know it’s not like age-old sexual selection or the passing down of memes. It is the insertion of novel functional genes or the elimination of genes.)

  37. #37 Jim
    March 14, 2008

    Colugo
    “How about engineered animals with human genes and/or cell lines?

    This is being actively pursued at the University of Missouri, just think how nice it would be to have a pig with a kidney you could use to replace yours if it fails. Beats stealing them from third worlders.
    (but would you eat the bacon or does that make you part cannibal?)

  38. #38 Colugo
    March 14, 2008

    Jim: I don’t have a problem with pigs with human cell-derived kidneys. I meant that in reference to the breeding animals for sex partners question. What if some entrepreneur creates a somewhat human-appearing organism with the IQ of a sheep? Fair game? (That’s also why on the hybrid/chimera question I specified that the organism would have major portions of both human and animal.)

    I used to be a hardline anti-bioLuddite, totally opposed to people Kass and Rifkin. I still don’t agree with them, but now I think that bio-Luddites or bioconservatives have some valid concerns. There seems to be a rising ethos that could be called biolibertarianism (or perhaps biolibertinism), and that’s what links decriminalization of bestiality and incest with acceptance of human germline experimentation and human-animal hybridization.

    These kinds of scenarios are no longer just flights of fancy. They are realizable in the near future.

    Mark Morford, SF Gate, June 20, 2007:

    “There are only two real options. One is to hold tight to the leaky life raft of inflexible ideology (hello, organized religion), to rules and laws and codes of conduct written by the fearful, for the fearful, to live in constant low-level dread of all the extraordinary changes and radical rethinkings of what it means to be human or animal or male or female or hetero or homo or any other swell little label you thought was solid and trustworthy but which is increasingly proven to be blurry and unpredictable and just a little dangerous. …

    (A)ll the insane, incredible possibility as merely more evidence that we are, in the end, just one big karmic science experiment. …

    Because, baby, the changes are coming, harder and faster than ever, with all sorts of juicy, terrifying, delightful implications.”

  39. #39 Martin R
    March 14, 2008

    Sheep-brained humanoids bred as sex toys is an icky thought, but what’s really the problem with them? Very few people will be into that sort of thing, and those who are into it will be exceedingly unlikely to pose any kind of sexual threat to a thinking person.

    I find it much ickier to think that thinking people are being paid to have sex with strangers.

  40. #40 kai
    March 14, 2008

    Perhaps going off slightly at a tangent, I have lately been thinking about the idea of “consent” and I find it not as straight-forward as it tends to be presented. Probably we have all at some point(s) done things “against better judgement” due to peer pressure, insistent nagging, desire to please, fear, illness, intoxication or just plain inability to foresee the full consequences.

    The libertarian ideal is that this is OK and everybody should just accept the consequences of one’s actions (because nothing really bad is going to happen to me, right?), but western European nanny states tend to apply some kind of collective wisdom (good judgement comes from bad judgement, but better learn from someone else’s bad judgement) to this and usually have legislation trying to minimise the effects of bad decisions, such as allowing us to return items bought from insistent sellers, not allowing people to operate cars and other heavy machinery while intoxicated, permitting abortions, and so on.

    Undoubtedly this can go too far in relieving people of personal responsibility, but I think it should be realised that we are working a trade-off between different needs. From that starting point one can then adjust the trade-offs as is found needed.

  41. #41 windy
    March 14, 2008

    How do you think most members of the general public – whether they think of themselves as liberal or conservative – are going to regard such views? No offense intended, but just try to step outside of your rarefied bizarro-land for a moment.

    Did you miss the part where it said that the case was “deeply controversial” in Germany? Not “unanimously condemned” in Germany? How do you explain that – has Scienceblogs Germany already managed to corrupt large parts of the German public by spreading bizarro views? Since it seems that the legality and acceptability of sibling incest is already being discussed by the German “general public”.

  42. #42 Mattias
    March 14, 2008

    If one were to have only one rule for what is morally acceptable in sexual practice it would have to be one of equality – this would rule out the practices of bestiality, pedophilia and prostitution but not sibling activities or homosexuality. An interesting side-effect of this priniciple is that it rules out also a fair amount of heterosexual relationships with non-related parties.

    / Mattias

  43. #43 Martin R
    March 14, 2008

    A lot of people would find their consensual sex lives dramatically impoverished if equality in the sense of “power balance” became the rule. Surrendering to one’s partner, or wielding power over one’s partner, can be pretty damn hot. Or so I’m told.

  44. #44 Gary Turnquist
    March 14, 2008

    Back to anthropological reality. I lived for 23 years in the Appalachian Mountains of western North Carolina, and was interested in the individuals who studied geneology.
    These were specialists in the culture that made sense of family lines, (my joke of course, was that they wanted to be sure their family tree had limbs!) Since moving to Virginia’s Eastern Shore, another rural area, I have found the interest in geneology just as strong. I tend to downplay geneology as contributing little to historical understanding, but as regulators of cultural practice, these specialists may play a role in buffering appropriate marriage alliances. But then, I now live on an Island where sharing a limited gene-pool, years ago, seems to have been the norm.
    While biological restraints on sibling mating may deal with closness in early formative years, what can we learn, in general, about cultural restrains, or expectations, from this example? Everyone, so far has had an opinion on it.

  45. #45 Azkyroth
    March 14, 2008

    What if some entrepreneur creates a somewhat human-appearing organism with the IQ of a sheep? Fair game?

    Why would some entrepeneur want to create an artificial cheerleader? Aren’t there enough natural ones?

  46. #46 Azkyroth
    March 14, 2008

    If one were to have only one rule for what is morally acceptable in sexual practice it would have to be one of equality

    How would you propose enforcing this? Would this require people to be subjected to a battery of tests and making sure their results are within a certain small margin of error of each other before they’re allowed to screw?

  47. #47 Colugo
    March 14, 2008

    “If one were to have only one rule for what is morally acceptable in sexual practice it would have to be one of equality”

    There goes the sex lives of a lot of college professors. No more boinking grad students. I kid. Well, not really.

  48. #48 DuWayne
    March 14, 2008

    Hi Martin, this is a very interesting conversation to read as my first time here.

    I find it much ickier to think that thinking people are being paid to have sex with strangers.

    Ironically, this is the fourth time today, that I have had to defend prostitution. What pray tell, is so icky about someone wanting to get paid for having sex with strangers? I realize that many prostitutes get exploited, often in horrible ways. I also realize that in many places, prostitutes get into it because of some trauma or another. But given that it is legal, regulated and safe, I think these problems become much less prevalent. I imagine that the primary motivations for becoming a prostitute, would then become a great liking for Teh Sex and probably a “healthy” dose of narcissism.

    I should note that I agree with you on the issue of incest. But when it comes to consenting, relatively sound adults, what is the problem with one adult paying another for sex acts?

    Colugo -

    There seems to be a rising ethos that could be called biolibertarianism (or perhaps biolibertinism)…

    I think this is very much caused by the hysteria that people get up, whenever the word eugenics comes up. It’s not so much that biologists have this inherent belief that they should just be able to do as they wish, it’s just that when the conversation comes up, the majority start having visions of cimeras or mass exterminations. So they just try not to talk about it much, for fear of being castigated by society, sometimes legislatively.

    …and that’s what links decriminalization of bestiality and incest with acceptance of human germline experimentation and human-animal hybridization.

    How exactly? Your basically making a slippery slope argument and not an impressive one. I mean certainly, we need to set boundaries. There are going to be things that as a society, we will find unacceptable. That doesn’t mean our children, or their’s will, nor should they. Who’s to say that it won’t be possible for sibs to reproduce without much risk of birth defects? Who’s to say that bad things have to be allowed for research to go there?

  49. #49 Lynn
    March 14, 2008

    The actual meaningful point is that these laws are meant to protect children from predatory relatives. All other arguments are completely specious pedantry.

  50. #50 Azkyroth
    March 14, 2008

    The actual meaningful point is that these laws are meant to protect children from predatory relatives.

    How do laws restricting sex between two adults serve that end?

  51. #51 windy
    March 15, 2008

    If the laws are meant to protect children from sexual predators, then why is incest only punishable after the age of 18?

  52. #52 Mattias
    March 15, 2008

    “How would you propose enforcing this? Would this require people to be subjected to a battery of tests and making sure their results are within a certain small margin of error of each other before they’re allowed to screw?”

    Azkyroth, I had no plans to enforce this. Moral principles works on the individual level where secular power has, and always will have, little authority.

    / Mattias

  53. #53 MH
    March 15, 2008

    I don’t think making marriage between siblings legal would cause many problems because of the Westermarck Effect. The vast majority of siblings are raised together, and thus sexual attraction is rarely an issue.

  54. #54 Pierce R. Butler
    March 15, 2008

    I read somewhere about a sort of reverse Westermarck effect, such that family members “separated at birth” but reunited as adults often experience immediate, intense, irrational sexual attraction to each other. (In one case, involving two heterosexual brothers, this was expressed by “sharing a woman together”.)

    Does anyone here know more about this, and whether it has a name? (I hope not “Stübing-Karolewski Effect” – that’s too polysyllablic for us Americans.)

  55. #55 decrepitoldfool
    March 15, 2008

    What if some entrepreneur creates a somewhat human-appearing organism with the IQ of a sheep?

    That’s been religion’s explicit goal since day one.

  56. #56 Salvador T. Cordova
    March 15, 2008

    It is counteradaptive to want to bonk your siblings, as this may lead to the accumulation of harmful recessive alleles in the offspring.

    I’m not so sure:

    Inbreeding, also, by its tendency to secure homozygous combinations, tends to bring to the surface latent or hidden recessive characters…..Existing legislation against the marriage of near-of-kin is, therefore, on the whole, biologically justified. On the other hand, continual crossing only tends to hide inherent defects, not to exterminate them; and inbreeding only tends to bring them to the surface, not create them. We may not, therefore, lightly ascribe to inbreeding or intermarriage the creation of bad racial traits, but only their manifestation. Further, any racial stock which maintains a high standard of excellence under inbreeding is certainly one of great vigor, and free form inherent defects.

    The animal breeder is therefore amply justified in doing what human society at present is probably not warranted in doing, — viz., practicing close inbreeding in building up families of superior excellence and then keeping these pure

    Genetics and Eugenics: A Textbook for Biology Students

    Is that observation still accurate?

  57. #57 Martin R
    March 15, 2008

    Sweet Dawkins, Salvador, what a stinker you’ve found! Nobody’s believed in “families of superior excellence” since 1945. Humans attain excellence through education, not breeding.

  58. #58 Joshua Zelinsky
    March 15, 2008

    What is wrong with the government being concerned about the genetic makeup of its population? Just because there’s a bad history that being associated with racism and genocide doesn’t mean the idea is itself bad. Would we for example object to a law that mandated that people with Hunttington’s disease use in vitro fertilization to make sure that their offspring don’t have the allele?

    Or another situation-there have been cases of people with certain non-standard genotypes deliberately engaging in genetic selection so their children have the same type. This might be ok with the more healthy forms of dwarfism but it has also occurred with deaf people. Would we object to a law outlawing deliberate selection of deaf children?

    Claim 4 is thus very weak.

    Claim 5 is very hard for me to understand. It seems to be an argument that since in this particular case we will only have a few kids who end up with awful lives as a result that it somehow makes it ok. If we knew that a certain type of child abuse would not last more than a generation would that make it acceptable?

  59. #59 Azkyroth
    March 15, 2008

    Sal, as applied to humans, the conclusion promoted never was accurate, and you know it, you lying hack. The rest of the world has moved on. Why are you still trapped in the 1920s?

    For the honest readers: as I understand it, anti-Holocaust backlash after World War II quite rightly killed the last vestiges of public support for eugenics; when you hear about it, it’s either from a tiny minority of crackpot holdouts, or from people like Sal who seem to have a bizarre obsession with the idea that’s almost impossible to account for if they really disapprove of it as they claim.

  60. #60 windy
    March 15, 2008

    The part where it says “continual crossing only tends to hide inherent defects, not to exterminate them; and inbreeding only tends to bring them to the surface, not create them.” is nearly accurate, except that of course selection works to eliminate “defects” even in outcrossing populations. But this is not in conflict with Martin’s statement, since I assume he knows that inbreeding does not create deleterious genes: the wording about “accumulation” is just a bit ambiguous.

  61. #61 ringo
    March 15, 2008

    Sweet Dawkins, Salvador, what a stinker you’ve found! Nobody’s believed in “families of superior excellence” since 1945. Humans attain excellence through education, not breeding.

    Yeah, but if you don’t have the hardware to run the software, that excellence isn’t gonna happen.

  62. #62 Martin R
    March 16, 2008

    Said Josh, Would we for example object to a law that mandated that people with Huntington’s disease use in vitro fertilization to make sure that their offspring don’t have the allele?

    I’d picket in the streets against a law like that. We should make the information and the medical tech available as part of a good universal health care system, not make their use mandatory.

    As for people selecting for dwarfism and deafness, society should not assist them through e.g. IVF, but nor should it be forbidden.

    Both of these examples are BTW tiny minority cases that wouldn’t have any measurable impact on “racial health”. Thus they are not good arguments that the government should monitor the gene pool.

    The stated rationale of those laws isn’t “poor kids”, but “Purity of Essence”.

  63. #63 Martin R
    March 16, 2008

    Sang Ringo, but if you don’t have the hardware to run the software, that excellence isn’t gonna happen, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

    Don’t worry. Everything humanity has accomplished so far has come about thanks to people whose genetic makeup was the result of their parents bonking whoever happened to be available. You could kill every single descendant of Nobel winners, and humanity’s gene pool as a whole would still not become measurably less excellent. Need I say “Stephen Hawking”?

  64. #64 ringo
    March 16, 2008

    I’m not sure why you would say ‘Stephen Hawking’, since ALS isn’t really genetic (at least, not in the way that Tay Sachs is).

    Nobel winners (and I know a few) aren’t a good example of genetic excellence, despite Shockley’s claims to the contrary. His sperm bank recipients also suffered from a bad case of regression to the mean.

    But there *are* some genetic markers for intellect. And even some bloodlines that show consistently higher intellectual achievement. We’re just not allowed to talk about them.

  65. #65 Joshua Zelinsky
    March 17, 2008

    Martin, whether the stated rationale of these laws was originally “Purity of Essence” doesn’t change that one can make a decent argument based on “poor kids”. You assert that the cases of dwarfism and deafness that “society should not assist them through e.g. IVF, but nor should it be forbidden” – could you explain why? And what is the logic of saying no to the Hunttington’s situation?

  66. #66 mary e
    March 17, 2008

    65 comments–Martin, you have to do more sex stories.

    “families of excellence” –i come from a long line of Scots Ulstermen marrying cousins, and look at me. I don’t blame my ignirince on my genetic background, but purely on environment. All that stuff in 19th, 18th, 17th, 16th…centuries was because they had way too many offspring, and to keep any sized scrap of land, a cousin was the one to marry. The catolic church came up with the lists of prohibited marrieages so that more estates would fall into their hands, and the protestants perpetuated them out of habit, not thought. And as my father says, “Come evening you were tired and the mule was tired and you didn’t want to go furthern over the next hill to do your courting.”

    Most cases I ever heard of siblings marrying, it is upon meeting after separation at birth or early childhood, overruling your ikkygirl conditioning. I am not sure how much basis that proposition has anyway. I have seen an awful lot of people who were consistently attracted to someone with their family’s phenotype. You think you are pretty, but yellow-haired, long-nosed, blockheaded giants don’t do a thing for me, but I find short, stout, snub-nosed and moon-faced cute even if they are red, yellow or brown skinned.

    If there are not any bad recessive traits floating around, what the problem with them breeding, besides the fact that the earth is neck-deep in humans of all types already? Inbreeding has been used to create all existing strains of humans, as it has been used to create breeds of plants and animals. You just have to start with good stock and weed carefully.

    Lots of people with all sorts of defects are allowed to reproduce at will, one defective after another, freaking Russian Roulette at the taxpayers expense. I guess when you say “religio-magical” or whatever swell phrase it was, you refer to all the genetic problems of Ashkinazim and Amish, e.g., who are allowed and encouraged to breed away at full steam. That fact alone should do away with any laws against incest as protection of society from ill effects of inbreeding.

  67. #67 Martin R
    March 17, 2008

    Josh: You assert that the cases of dwarfism and deafness that “society should not assist them through e.g. IVF, but nor should it be forbidden” – could you explain why? And what is the logic of saying no to the Huntington’s situation?

    Not forbidding an action is one thing. Offering publicly funded aid with the action is quite another.

    The Huntington’s case is a question of disabled people’s rights. We allow people with all kinds of genetic glitches to reproduce. We should definitely not single out certain ones and forbid them to do so. What we should do is offer them a) information so they can make an educated choice, b) aid in the form of embryo screening.

  68. #68 Martin R
    March 17, 2008

    Mary E, baby, I am crushed to learn that you don’t desire me! Would it help if I pointed out that such hair as I still have is actually dark brown?

    Anyway, good comment, I agree.

  69. #69 windy
    March 17, 2008

    Most cases I ever heard of siblings marrying, it is upon meeting after separation at birth or early childhood, overruling your ikkygirl conditioning. I am not sure how much basis that proposition has anyway. I have seen an awful lot of people who were consistently attracted to someone with their family’s phenotype.

    The conditioning is not supposed to be on looks alone (and in prehistoric times it was probably counteradaptive to wait for very exotic-looking partners to turn up) One idea is that animals (incl. humans) learn to recognise siblings by smell.

  70. #70 Joshua Zelinsky
    March 17, 2008

    Martin, the argument isn’t that we forbid the people with Huntington’s from reproducing; that I agree with you would be highly problematic. But I don’t see anything wrong with requiring them to use in vitro fertilization as long as society is willing to pay for the cost of the IV procedure. IIRC, Huntington’s is homozygous lethal so this wouldn’t stop anyone from reproducing since every person with Huntington’s must have one ok allele.

  71. #71 Martin R
    March 18, 2008

    Josh, think of the practicalities. You are suggesting legislation that would make it illegal for Huntingtons patients to have sex without a contraceptive, or introduce mandatory abortion into the judicial system. Wrong way to go about it.

  72. #72 Joshua Zelinsky
    March 18, 2008

    Martin, I agree with you it would be hard to implement practically. I’m strongly against mandatory abortion and requiring people to use contraceptives when they have sex would be unenforceable in any reasonably free society. But that’s an important distinction; this proposal fails on the practicality grounds, not on the moral grounds. That could be taken to imply that the moral issues with eugenics are not as black and white as you initially described them as.

  73. #73 bernarda
    March 19, 2008

    Brother-Sister incest goes back to Osiris and Isis, doesn’t it? They even had a child, Horus.

    As to the law, is brother-brother or sister-sister sex illegal?

  74. #74 ringo
    March 20, 2008

    From a practicality point of view, the only country that has successfully prevented people from reproducing is China, and that was for population control, not eugenics. On the other hand, people who can afford to pay the massive fines for having more than one child are doing so, which means China is effectively selecting for the ability to amass wealth (ironic on so very many levels).

    On the other hand, the Jewish community’s reaction to Tay Sachs has been widespread and effective – there are free tests offered by a number of charitable agencies (one had a table at the student center every year when I was in grad school), and the rate has dropped to almost nothing. All with no coercion.

  75. #75 Joshua Zelinsky
    March 21, 2008

    Ringo, the Tay Sachs example isn’t such a good one since Tay Sachs is a recessive trait. They’ve made no effort to eliminate the Tay Sachs allele from the gene pool (which is good because there’s some evidence that the heterzygotic case has some advantages) they’ve merely avoided having people marry each other if they have the allele. And in fact, some of this has been essentially coercive, at least among certain ultraorthodox groups. I’ve been told that in some charedi communities the matchmakers insist that potential clients be tested and will not match up people who have the allele. Now, that’s a small fraction of the people in question, but is a non-zero fraction.

  76. #76 ringo
    March 21, 2008

    True in the ultra-orthodox community (there’s actually an elaborate anonymous testing system that will tell you if a potential mate is incompatible, without telling you why. Canavans and some others are also kept track of).

    Among the less observant IVF is more common. If only one member of a couple is a carrier, it’s true, nobody bothers. But why is this a problem?

    The deaf and LP (little person) communities are more interesting examples. And yes, there are members who prefer to breed true. There’s a wonderful documentary called “Sound and Fury” about the deaf community and cochlear implants, though this is getting tangential.

  77. #77 Joshua Zelinsky
    March 22, 2008

    Ringo, it isn’t a problem per se. It just means that it isn’t a very good example compared to what was under discussion. We aren’t then talking about eugenics as much as we are talking about just avoiding specific genetic pairings (although that does in some ways make it closer to the original topic of the thread).

  78. #78 ringo
    March 22, 2008

    It looks like there are three parts to the discussion – autosomal dominant, autosomal recessive, and “we don’t know what you have but you’re too closely related”. The first two can be further subdivided into severity of problem. (And I guess the third can too).

    There was a time when you had to get tested for syphilis before getting married (back when marriage and making babies actually had something to do with each other). So, if you want to take the long view, this is really nothing new.

  79. #79 Jan
    March 24, 2008

    There is simple reason why the government has no business regulating the genetic makeup of “its population” in any way. In a republic, we, the people, are the sovereign of the country, which means that we have to care about a desirable government not the other way round. The government doesn’t get to choose its citizens, it is elected to serve the existing ones not to create “better ones”. (For the same reason public education may not force a specific political ideology or religion on children).

    The argument that it is for the protection of their potential children that certain genetically high-risk couples should not be allowed to reproduce doesn’t hold. Weighing the benefit of not being born against the disadvantages of an inherited disease is absurd on at least two levels.
    A) Many people die a very unpleasant death, so by that rationale they would all be better of if they had never been born.
    B) Nonexistent entities like not yet conceived hypothetical children do not have any rights that could be weighted against the rights of their potential (very real) parents to procreate. Once the kids are there and do have rights it is too late to worry about preventing their existence.

  80. #80 David Harmon
    March 27, 2008

    Surrendering to one’s partner, or wielding power over one’s partner, can be pretty damn hot. Or so I’m told.

    Bad example Martin — whatever superficial “scripts” are involved, consensual Dominance & Submission actually represents a power exchange, not a true power imbalance.

  81. #81 JJR
    April 2, 2008

    “Did they know they were siblings when they started fucking?”

    Actually, it’s my understanding that they DID NOT KNOW.
    Which is the tragedy at the heart the story.

    I watched the original German newscasts (Tagesschau, RTL, etc) on an iTunes video podcast awhile back–just reportage, without commentary or editorializing. From what I remember the two didn’t know, it was only revealed later.

    I wish the Chancellor or President would grant a pardon, at least…the jail sentence is just overly harsh, especially in light of the circumstances of this particular case.
    A bit of mercy and pity seems due here, at the very least.

  82. #82 lol
    July 12, 2008

    gay used to be taboo too. So in the future, I won’t be surprised if they allow this too.

  83. #83 M. Fox
    January 5, 2009

    I’m sorry. Are you people actually saying that incest is ok? Cause that’s what it sounds like. Are you insane?? Have you gone so far off the intellectual deep-end that you’ve drowned your common sense? (As to this couple, if they didn’t know they were related it’s a totally different issue and one for the courts to consider.) And I hope the self-described “liberal” who also condones bestiality was being sarcastic. How do you know the animal is consenting? How sick are you people? This whole thread is an illustration of the saying, “a liberal is a man whose mind is so open, his brains have fallen out!”

  84. #84 Martin R
    January 5, 2009

    Well, Mr. Fox, being an intellectual means (among other things) that you’re willing to consider unusual ideas, and being a liberal means that you demand justification before you accept anything as forbidden. Maybe there are very good arguments to forbid sex with animals? If so, then let’s hear them!

    And before you flip your lid, let me remind you that this is a discussion of principles. I am personally only interested in sex with adult women, and whether or not you might wish to bonk ponies is not relevant to the discussion either.

  85. #85 dd2
    June 9, 2009

    ihr schweine incest opfer

  86. #86 Martin R
    June 9, 2009

    My colloquial German isn’t very good. Did that guy just say “You pigs incest victims”? Or “You pigs incest sacrifice?”.

    Kind of weird to first insult someone and then call them a victim. “You pigs, you traffic-accident victims.”

  87. #87 vijay v
    June 23, 2009

    how safe is marriage between siblings & producing a child?

  88. #88 Martin R
    June 23, 2009

    As I understand it, the real problems with recessive alleles start after several generations of inbreeding. If a pair of siblings doesn’t have much inbreeding in their immediate ancestry, then the children of their union should be OK.

  89. #89 kate
    November 14, 2010

    I am madly in love with my fiance. But if I found out that him and I were siblings I would leave him and never look back. Genetically speaking it IS unhealthy no matter what to have sexual relationships with your sibling. This stuff about generation to generation. It can get messed up in the first grouping of kids BTW. It all depends on the parents DNA. If one of the siblings has one of the same RNA strands as the other sibling, their kids will experience birth defects. They continue to have sexual relationships even though they know they could accidentally produce and egg and sperm that result in two identical RNA strands. There have to be deeper psychological problems present that caused them to stay together after they found out they were siblings.

  90. #90 Weaselspleen
    December 1, 2010

    Kate’s comments are quite disturbing.

    “There have to be deeper psychological problems present that caused them to stay together after they found out they were siblings.”
    No, there don’t. They fell in love.

    Had you actually read the article, you’d know that they grew up apart, not knowing each other, and therefore never developed the inherent sexual revulsion for each other that most siblings develop while growing up.

    They may know intellectually that they are siblings, but they can’t go back in time and undo what happened. More importantly, their relationship does not FEEL wrong to them. That’s what makes this such a terrible situation for everyone concerned.

    You can’t understand their feelings because you have never been in the position yourself.

    “I am madly in love with my fiance.”
    Okay…
    “But if I found out that him and I were siblings I would leave him and never look back.”
    Bullshit. You might leave him, but no normal person could simply turn off their emotional attachment to another person that way. If you really could do that (which I highly doubt) then either you’re a sociopath, or you were never “madly in love” with him to begin with.

  91. #91 Samantha Vimes
    January 5, 2011

    How about granting them a pardon on the condition that they stop having children (if half the kids are severely disabled, they really are proving the genetic reason for the taboo). Yes, this is interfering with their choice, but because they have broken a valid law meant in part to prevent the very consequence of inbreeding, making the pardon conditional seems fair. I know it’s disturbing, but I can’t think of any way to handle this that isn’t disturbing, and I’m trying to look at the principle of least harm.
    The other part of the reason for anti-incest laws is probably to protect the partners against special psychological concerns, but as they were raised separately, I don’t see psychological issues involved.
    Also, their kids *really* need to be raised under the same roof so they don’t make the same mistake mommy and daddy have.

  92. #92 BoNo
    January 12, 2011

    According to both Bible and Darwin there have been a “first” of men and women.

    Doesn’t that mean that the first family of human beings have been siblings – all of them?

    Then – how would the first reproductive human beings reproduce? If Adam and Eve were siblings or even twins, would not that imply that the first generations of human beings were bred from a couple formed by a brother and a sister…?!

  93. #93 KG
    March 2, 2011

    What if some entrepreneur creates a somewhat human-appearing organism with the IQ of a sheep? – Colugo

    Already happened, but using cultural rather than genetic means.

    The entrepreneur in question is called Rupert Murdoch, IIRC.

  94. #94 KG
    March 2, 2011

    According to both Bible and Darwin there have been a “first” of men and women. – BoNo

    Nonsense; only the Bible contains such a claim. There is no reason to think that if you took a modern person, and could line up their mother, mother’s mother, mother’s mother’s mother… indefinitely far back, there would be any point at which you could say “Well this one’s human, but her mother isn’t.”