Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

Hard to know what to make of this, or even if what they propose–to prenatally interfere with sexual orientation–is possible.

Mr. Mohler [president of a Baptist seminary] said in the article that scientific research “points to some level of biological causation” for homosexuality.

That suggestion offended fellow conservatives, Mr. Mohler said. Proof of a biological basis would challenge the belief of many conservative Christians that homosexuality, which they view as sinful, is a matter of choice that can be overcome through prayer and counseling.

But Mr. Mohler said he was criticized even more strongly by supporters of gay rights, who were upset by his assertion that homosexuality would remain a sin even if it were biologically based, and by his support for possible medical treatment that could change an unborn child’s sexual orientation.

Now that above quote was from a write-up in the New York Times. The original piece he wrote on his blog (Is Your Baby Gay? What If You Could Know? What If You Could Do Something About It?) highlights a bit of research on homosexuality in animals, and tells his readers to “brace” for the possibility that homosexuality might be at least in part biological. Gasp!!!

What makes the sheep “sexual partner preference testing” research so interesting is that the same scientists who are documenting the rather surprising sexual behaviors of male sheep think they can also change the sexual orientation of the animals. In other words, finding a biological causation for homosexuality may also lead to the discovery of a “cure” for the same phenomenon.

That’s where the issue gets really interesting. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals [PETA] has called for an end to the research, while tennis star Martina Navratilova called the research “homophobic and cruel” and argued that gay sheep have a “right” to be homosexual. No kidding.

The article is an interesting, if confusing and misguided, quagmire. On the one hand he admits research suggests orientation is biological, yet on the other, states that this doesn’t change what God says about homosexuality. He is against abortion, even in the case of a known homosexual baby, but is all for medical intervention to change that baby’s sexuality in the womb.



  1. #1 Ex-drone
    March 28, 2007

    With recent suggestions that religiosity has a genetic basis, I have a more positive medical intervention to suggest.

  2. #2 Lab Lemming
    March 29, 2007

    What does biology have to do with morality?
    If we ignore sexuality and look at something everyone agrees is wrong, there have been studies that show either genetics or cranial trauma can increase a person’s propensity for violence. But just because doing the right thing is harder for some people than others, does that make hurting people any less bad? Or is it just an indication that life’s playing field ain’t equal?

  3. #3 csrster
    March 29, 2007

    There should be a mantra along the lines of “Professional sportspeople are rarely the best source of information on complex scientific questions”. In this case, Navratilova is talking out of her heavily-muscled behind. Ben Goldacre has the real story on the “ex-gay sheep” controversy:

  4. #4 Will Colvin,Jr.
    March 29, 2007

    Stand your ground, putting on the sturdy belt of truth and the body armor of Gods righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News, so that you will be fully prepared. In every battle you will need faith as your shield to stop the fiery arrows aimed at you by Mr. Mohler [president of a Baptist seminary] and his mindless followers. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
    As you engage in ministry for God, you will be attacked and judged by your brothers and sisters that have lost their way and the true meaning behind sprit and love. I believe that Gods enemy is not , Satan, but rather the misinformed and lazy interpreters of the bible and Gods word.. Everyone needs to search their heart and their soul for the answers that we already know, but have forgotten. I believe your spiritual journey is a long and difficult road and if you are looking for someone to hand you the message on a silver platter, you will always be lost. YOU HAVE TO KNOW YOURSELF AND YOU HAVE ALL THE TOOLS TO DISCOVER AND RECOVER THIS INFORMATION THAT YOU HAVE KNOWN SINCE THE BEGINNING.
    Father, today, in Jesus name, I put on the girdle of truth. I thank you, for I know who I am and that I have the power of the Holy Spirit within me. God is in control of my life.
    Thank you that I can put on the breastplate of righteousness. In all situations, help me to respond from the truth and not from my emotions. I can refuse to receive lies from the enemy.
    Today I strap on the sandals of the gospel of peace. Wherever I go, I can be a peacemaker, helping others make peace with you. Help me to remember that theres a difference between a peacekeeper and a peacemaker and that mercy triumphs over judgment.
    You, my shield of faith, are sufficient to protect me from any arrows and slings the enemy throws my way, and I recognize that my faith comes by hearing the Word of God.
    Thank you that you are giving me the mind of Christ. Because I wear the helmet of salvation, I can receive the truth, and I dont have to think in old, fleshly patterns. My mind is being renewed by the power of God and everyday through the power within myself and credible teachers like Eckhart Tolle and Sam Keen, I find answers through their questions of faith that are mine.
    Lord, I set my mind and heart on you today. I dedicate this whole day to you. I only want your will for my life. Through the name and blood of Jesus, I ask you to help those that do not know your truth and love and I ask for the strength and the knowledge to help ALL my brothers and sisters.
    When you feel a battle brewing, whether it be a temptation or a conflict, remind yourself again of the armor God has given you. When you sense conflict, discouragement, or anxiety this week from the Mohlers of this world, thank God that he is your shield and deliverer.

  5. #5 Greg
    March 29, 2007

    What happened to the premillenial dispensationist view of the imminent, second return of Christ bringing to the world the “sinless” kingdom of God? Is Mohler now suggesting that Christians support the use of SCIENCE to bring in this kingdom? [GASP!]

    Jesus, if you don’t hurry up, Mohler’s got other plans!

    A Christian master race? Kinda scary.

  6. #6 PeterC
    March 29, 2007

    What I find scary is that if the hormonal patch can change the babies sexual orientation then what effect will it have on the mother? If it did have an effect then would people use them to alter their own sexual orientation.

  7. #7 jvarisco
    March 30, 2007

    Why is it so problematic to make babies straight? If you had a child and were given the choice, what would you pick? I know what I would. Obviously we’re not there yet – but assuming we could make our children heterosexual – why would this be a bad thing?

  8. #8 Suzanne
    March 30, 2007

    Jvarisco, I guess my answer would be, because diversity is good for us. We gain something from being confronted with people who are different from ourselves, even if it’s not always comfortable. I wouldn’t want to live in a world that only contained straight people, any more than I’d want to live in a world that only contained atheists or Australians (and I’m a straight Australian atheist).

    Shelley – I’ve been reading your blog for a while now, really enjoy it, thanks!

  9. #9 Greg
    March 30, 2007

    I am a gay Christian who spent the first 26 years of my life giving myself to the conservative Baptist cause. As a former Southern Baptist youth minister, I was asked to leave and never return to the church upon knowledge of my sexual identity. So, I understand the mentality from which Mohler is speaking. Of course, any loving parent would want her or his child to live a life as free from discrimination and hardship as possible. And, obviously, being gay is not an easy road in conservative arenas – who would CHOOSE to be the object of discrimination and hatred? However, Mohler is speaking from a worldview that selects isolated verses from a contradictory Biblical text to support his ideas as “Biblical authority,” thereby implying that they are God’s absolute truth. He is speaking from a mentality that suggests the US should be a Christian Empire where all who do not conform to some “Christian standard” are punished in some way (Jerry Falwell already wants to extend the walls of his Lynchburg bubble to the boarders of the United States!). That is SCARY!
    I totally agree with the previous post – diversity is good. We are enriched through our experience in diversity. Sadly, some would rather remain in stagnate, muddy waters of static non-growth.

  10. #10 jvarisco
    March 30, 2007

    Diversity is fine, I suppose. But only in some things. We hardly want deaf people, or obese ones, or ones with larger risks for certain diseases – diversity is only a good thing when we view the two options as being equivalent. I don’t think that argument necessarily holds for homosexuality; surely it is a hardship not to be able to create a child with your partner that has both your DNA? Or even having bodies that are so clearly made to fit each other (as men and women do). It’s not that homosexuals are bad people, or that they should be discriminated against – but given the option to change a less than ideal state for your child, what parent would do anything else? And this is relevant even when (probably not for a very long time) discrimination disappears. If it ever does.

    I’m quite skeptical that we are close to altering sexual orientation; we don’t even understand what causes it. But that shouldn’t obfuscate the moral issues.

  11. #11 pough
    March 30, 2007

    We hardly want deaf people…

    I’ve met some deaf people who would very much like to kick you in the nuts and not hear you whimper. Chances are, the ones I haven’t met would like to do the same.

    If we can just track down whatever’s responsible for the type of people who say things like this, we can cure it like the disease that it is. No more anyone like you.

  12. #12 sauce
    March 30, 2007

    in the context of homosexuality, statements such as “bodies that are so clearly made to fit each other” contain an underlying assumption that the main motivation for a relationship is reproduction. i like to think that humans, what with our huge prefrontal cortex and ability to write blog comments, have moved past such basic instincts.

  13. #13 sauce
    March 30, 2007

    oh, two more comments – i think the issue of people aborting babies after determining a non-lethal characteristic (while exaggerated in Mohler’s post in order to support his view on those crazy pro-choice folks) is just as serious, and more imminent, than genetically modifying your child.

    and for the love of Allah, people, correlation does not equal causation.

  14. #14 Lab Lemming
    March 31, 2007

    There is an letter discussing testing for deafness here:

    It addresses the issue that some- about a quarter- deaf parents want to use testing to ENSURE that their child is deaf, as they see hearing as a disadvantage.

    Is there any reason that people who like diversity can’t be allowed to make their kids gay, while those who aren’t so keen on it can use technology to do the opposite? Rather than bicker about specific instances, though, a more fundamental question is this:

    Who should have the power to determine what prenatal technology is used for, and what are the consequences of delegating that power to those folks?

    As for abortions based on non-lethal characteristics, both centralized governments and uneducated rural individualism have already effected population modification by doing this.

  15. #15 Shelley
    March 31, 2007

    Oh my gosh – are gay babies the only thing we Christians have to worry about? And why is the gay gene the one we want most to eradicate? Aren’t there more important things to try and prevent – like maybe mass murderers or something?

    As a Christian, it makes me sick to think of the money that was spent on this research, and to know how many people it could have helped in a real and tangible way. I have a hard time believing that Jesus is on board with this one.

  16. #16 Greg
    April 2, 2007

    I like to think the fact that there are creatures that harbor an innate homosexual drive means something other than sin or abnormality. Could it not be a natural/evolutionary attempt at controlling population overload? Sure, a desire to eliminate certain disease is present in society, but what if human beings actually WERE able to eliminate all possibility of disease by tampering with the child in the womb? Where would everyone live? The natural course of things has a pretty good way of taking care of some otherwise serious problems we would have on our hands.

    Indeed, a relationship is more, much more, than a mere means for reproduction; well, at least it is for me. There is so much more to “fit together” than physical bodies. Emotion, intellect, spirit, are a few other fit-worthy connections that come to mind. Even when considering only the physical elements of a relationship, I personally enjoy creativity and imagination.

    There are already numerous children in dire need of a home and loving parents. Personally, I don’t care about passing my DNA along; I’d be happy adopting offspring with someone else’s DNA who is already on this earth, rather than breeding, adding yet another being to the already rapidly growing population. By no means am I suggesting this is what everyone should do; I simply point out the diverse needs and options.

  17. #17 jvarisco
    April 3, 2007

    I’m not suggesting that all gay fetuses should necessarily be altered. But why is it so threatening to allow parents that option? While the crazy fundies are certainly wrong in that loving Jesus makes you straight, too many gay rights proponents offer the equally absurd notion that sexuality is somehow entirely genetic. ALso, whether something is natural or not says nothing about if it is good or bad. Many natural things are bad, while quite a few unnatural things (modern health care?) are good.

    In response to Shelley, why is is so bad to research sexuality? This is a relatively major part of how people work that is not understood. Objective scholarship on such an important part of human interaction should be lauded. I doubt that studies like this are sapping resources from AIDS or Cancer research. As to the actual research, I think it’s pretty clear he misunderstood it; the authors of the study were quite clear that they were not in fact trying to make the sheep straight (see the NYTimes article here). One might equally criticize research into genetically modified crops.

    Finally, in defense of the (obviously misguided) minister, I don’t actually see how the cause of homosexuality would make that much of a difference. If the only purpose for sex is procreation, natural or not, homosexuality remains a sin. In fact this might allow Christians to be more accepting – even though they believe such behavior is wrong, it is not necessarily a punishment from God that will disappear if the person prays to Jesus.

  18. #18 Suzanne
    April 3, 2007

    I like Lab’s question: who should control this technology? I’m not aware of an ethical framework that gives a satisfying answer to that question. You can’t harm a child that doesn’t exist yet: so how can it be a crime to make the child you want instead of leaving it to chance? It’s clearly not a crime against the non-existent child; its impact on society as a single act is negligible, and if you’re willing to go to all that trouble, presumably it’s very important to you.

    What worries me is that the long term outcome of allowing this will be a world full of charming, athletic, straight PhDs who look like Britney Spears. As much as we’d like to think people would maintain their own unique groups (gay parents making gay babies), it’s not realistic to expect this of any but the most ardent extremists: most people will do *anything* to improve their little darling’s chances. So if we go this way, we are heading for homogeneity, and I don’t like that idea.

    But I also have to agree with jvarisco, diversity isn’t always worth it. I personally would be very happy if someone wiped out the gene that causes the disease that’s slowly killing my best friend. Sure, the diversity of going through hell adds something to human experience, but if you’ve ever been close to someone experiencing that level of suffering, well… it’s hard to say it’s worth it.

    In short, I don’t have a good answer. I wish I did.

  19. #19 Greg
    April 3, 2007

    Indeed, it’s a complex issue with no easy answer. I certainly support research aimed at eradicating fatal disease. I would not feel that I could call myself a Christian if I didn’t – working for a compassionate betterment of humanity is at the heart of the gospel message of Jesus. By no means, however, does being lesbian or gay equal to a fatal disease (that is, unless you’re asking a religious fundamentalist).

    I believe human beings are lovers of extremes, and gay rights activists have been known to go too far to the opposite extreme of the religious right. I don’t necessarily believe that sexuality is entirely genetic either; I presume it is something that develops throughout the lifespan. However (and by no means am I a scientist), I presume that biological predispositions have a definite influence on the development of one’s sexual orientation. But enviornmental and developmental factors also come into play.

    I suppose a biological/genetic basis for homosexual may cause SOME Christians to be more accepting. But from my 27 years of experience with Christian fundamentalism, they are SET in their ways. They’re afraid of loosing their soul if they think outside their interpretation of the Bible box.

    I’m still shocked that Mohler would even suggest a biologcial basis for homosexuality because the ex-gay movement (which is mostly Christian in nature) staunchly argues that homosexuality is strictly due to developmental factors – it says lesbian and gay individuals are merely heterosexuals with a homosexual “problem.” I’m sure Mohler has received lots of guff from both sides of the continuum. Accroding to reparative therapy and ex-gay movements, homosexuality (in men, because men seem to be the primary subjects in their writings – how typical) is pathological – boys have a distant father and an overbearing mother; they also feel “less than” a man for whatever reasons, and have a negative image of their father. In order to fit some pre-set religious and/or societial gender and sexual roles, many enter into ex-gay therapy only to engage in a lifetime of behavior modification and sexual oppression, and then they call it “change.” (I’ve done it and seen others do it.)

    Two brothers (who I know) grow up in the exact same household. One turns out to be homosexual, the other heterosexual. The father was distant from both children due to work and other concerns. The mother was very nurturing and somewhat overbearing. If homosexuality is strictly pathological, why did not BOTH boys turn out to be homosexual? There could be a number of arguements, but I suggest a predispositional, biological factor.

    Ok, I’m getting of track…

    Research has a long way to go if parents are to be able to decide their child’s sexual orientation. It may be found to be impossible. Until then, if then, parents must choose to accept or reject their post-womb homosexual offspring.

  20. #20 Suzanne
    April 3, 2007

    Oh, sorry Greg, perhaps I should make clear: my comment was intended to be abstracted away from the gay issue. Obviously different people experience being gay very differently. And we have no way of knowing what their experience would’ve been like if they weren’t gay. But from what I’ve seen, the negative impact of being gay comes almost entirely from other people’s prejudices. And there are also advantages. I mean, if I were gay, I could watch Pride and Prejudice with my partner, she’d help with the housework, and we could share clothes. How cool would that be! Sure we’d need a little help with reproduction – as do lots of straights – it’s hardly the end of the world.

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