Are Homosexuals Born that Way?

Posted: February 29, 2012 by Alan Shlemon in Do the Right Thing
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Lady Gaga’s mega-hit song “Born this Way” sold millions of copies affirming what many people believe: homosexuality is hardwired. In fact, people think that’s as axiomatic as saying the earth revolves around the sun. No rational person rejects the idea. The only hold-outs, it is said, are either ignorant of science, homophobic, or bigots (read: Christians). But before I explain why this view is beset with problems, let me make a tactical suggestion.

Many Christians get defensive when someone says homosexuality is inborn. I understand the temptation to argue against this claim. But it’s a mistake to try to show it’s false, at least initially. That’s because the claim is not an argument. It’s just an opinion and, therefore, not necessarily true. In order for their claim to become a bona fide argument, it must be supported with evidence or reasons.

So, instead of defending your convictions, make them defend their claim. Simply ask, “What evidence do you have that homosexuals are born that way?” Then wait and listen. This is totally appropriate and not just a rhetorical trick. It’s how the burden of proof works. Whoever makes the claim bears the burden to show it’s true. Since they’ve made the claim, it’s their job to back it up, not your job to prove them wrong.

If they don’t have evidence for their claim, then it’s fair to graciously explain that their view is unreasonable – that they don’t hold their view for good reason. If they do offer evidence for their view, only then is it appropriate to respond with a counter-argument.

With that tactic in mind, let’s look at three problems with the born-that-way theory. The first is the most egregious. A simple scientific fact-check demonstrates that no study has proven that homosexuality is biologically determined.

Decades of research to discover a “gay gene” have been unsuccessful. It’s now uncommon for scientists to think that homosexuality is solely genetic. Perhaps the most powerful line of evidence is found in twin studies. Since identical twins have identical genetics, it would follow that if one twin was homosexual, the other would also have to be homosexual 100% of the time. But both twins are homosexual in less than 15% of the cases.[i]

Not only is the genetic effect extremely low, but it also accounts for shared environmental factors. In other words, even saying that the genetic contribution to homosexuality is 15% is not accurate because identical twins are usually raised together and share a similar environment. In order to isolate the contribution of genetics, one would have to study identical twins raised apart. That way you eliminate the effect of their environment.

It was also speculated that homosexuality had a biological basis. But research that correlates brain anatomy/physiology with homosexual behavior doesn’t prove causation. In other words, even if the brains of homosexuals have structural differences from those of heterosexuals, that might suggest their behavior changes their brain, not necessarily the other way around. This is possible due to neuroplasticity– the lifelong ability of the brain to change in response to the environment, behavior, brain injury, or even acquiring knowledge. For example, blind people’s brains have a different neurologic structure because reading braille using fingers is a different behavior than using eyes to read.

What’s surprising is that pro-gay researchers and organizations acknowledge the dearth of evidence for a biological cause to homosexuality. The American Psychological Association (APA), for example, once held the position in 1998 that, there is “evidence to suggest that biology, including genetic or inborn hormonal factors, play a significant role in a person’s sexuality.” However, a decade of scientific research debunked this idea and caused the APA to revise their view in 2009. Their new position reads: “Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors”[ii] [emphasis mine]. A pro-gay group like the APA wouldn’t revise their statement unless there was overwhelming evidence that necessitated a position change.

A second problem with the born-that-way theory is that even if true, it wouldn’t prove that homosexual behavior is moral. Consider that scientific research has discovered genes they believe contribute to alcoholism, unfaithfulness, violence, and even many diseases. Are we to believe that because there is a genetic contribution to these behaviors (or even if they were genetically determined) that they should be regarded as morally appropriate? Of course not. So, proving homosexual behavior is appropriate by appealing to a genetic determinant is equally spurious.

This mistake in thinking is known as the naturalistic fallacy. You can’t get an “ought” from an “is.” Even if homosexuality is natural, it doesn’t prove it ought to be. And scientists who are attempting to prove homosexuality is inborn agree. Harvard geneticist Dean Hamer, himself a homosexual, says, “Biology is amoral; it offers no help in distinguishing between right and wrong. Only people guided by their values and beliefs can decide what is moral and what is not.”[iii] Simon LeVay, a Harvard trained neuroscientist and also openly gay, concurs: “Science itself cannot render judgments about human worth or about what constitutes normality or disease. These are value judgments that individuals must make for themselves, while taking scientific findings into account.”[iv]

A third problem stems from the mere existence of the “ex-gay” community. If homosexuality is, as many pro-gay advocates state, as inescapable as eye color, then how do they explain former homosexuals? Eye color is genetic, something that one is born with and can’t change. But sexual orientation is fluid, as evidenced by the changed lives of thousands of men and women.

There are women who have had long-term, lesbian relationships with other women and then changed and became attracted to men. There are also men who have had same-sex attractions since puberty, spent a decade in gay relationships, and then developed attractions to the opposite sex. Many of these people have gone through some form of counseling or therapy, but many have not.

The fact that even one person has changed is evidence that homosexuality is not hard-wired. But that there are thousands of individuals who share this experience is significant counter-evidence against the born-that-way theory. I know many of these people. They can’t all be lying about their life.

Instead, what they offer is hope. Since many people are dissatisfied with their same-sex attractions, these changed lives represent an opposing voice to the cultural chorus that claims homosexuals are born that way.

[i] Bailey JM, Dunne MP, Martin NG. 2000. Genetic and Environmental influences on sexual orientation and its correlates in an Australian twin sample. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 78:524-36.

[iii] Hamer, Dean & Copeland, P. (1994). The Science of Desire (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994), 214.

[iv] LeVay, Simon, “Sexual Orientation:  The Science and its Social Impact,” in Reverso, 2000, p. 12.

  1. dwickizer says:

    Alan, what a well written and well researched article. Thank you!

  2. Have Faith says:

    Christians should be very careful about insisting on proof of anything. After all, there is absolutely no proof that God exists.

    A better question: What’s with your organization’s obsession with homosexuality?

    • dwickizer says:

      @HF: Why should Christians, specifically, be careful about insisting on proof of anything? Are you singling out Christians? That seems like a rather sweeping statement. Should Christians not, for example, insist on proof of ownership before they buy something from someone; or should they not insist on proof of evidence if they are serving as a juror. I don’t understand your statement.

      Also your statement: “there is absolutely no proof that God exists” also confuses me. To make that statement implies that you have all knowledge of everything in the universe (discovered and undiscovered) and you absolutely know there is no proof of God’s existence. Having all knowledge is called “omniscience”, an immutable quality of the very thing you just said doesn’t exist. That seems very self-contradictory.

      • Have Faith says:

        Because Christians believe in God, the Holy Spirit and the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth, all things that can’t be proven scientifically. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, I think that that’s one of many beautiful things about Christianity. I do think it’s basis enough for Christians to not question another’s belief as visceral as the belief that homosexuals are born that way.

    • Karl Heintz says:

      @HF: See Anaximander’s argument for the infinite and boundless.

  3. @HF: I think what you are trying to say is that the only evidence that counts as “proof” is scientific evidence. Since there is no scientific evidence for God’s existence, there is no “proof” that he exists. However, have you stopped to consider why you decided that science is the only valid measure of evidence? In fact, the belief that science is the only measure of true knowledge cannot itself be proven scientifically.

    Science is the study of the material world. God is an immaterial being. Therefore, I’m pretty sure science is the wrong tool for assessing whether or not God exists. That’s not to say there isn’t ample evidence however. STR Place dealt with this challenge in this video:

  4. […] Maybe Lady Gaga’s intention with this song was to celebrate how diverse we all are and that we should appreciate our unique personalities and talents that God has given us. I think she sincerely wants to have everyone love each other for who they are. I don’t have a problem with that. I do believe that we do need to love everyone. Jesus in the New Testament told us to love one another over 20 times. (And he did mean everyone.) Love isn’t the issue here. I believe Lady Gaga’s main (maybe a bit more discreet) message is that you should love who you are because you were born a certain way. I believe she specifically wants to address homosexuals with her song. Now, I am not going to dive too deeply in this, let me just say that it is uncommon for scientists to think that homosexuality is solely genetic. There are many factors as to why someone is homosexual. But even if it was, I would say, so what? Does that automatically mean it is morally appropriate? Yes, there are those who are genetically predisposed to be an alcoholic when they grow up. Do we still condone the act? There are those who are predisposed to become a sexual addict. Do we approve of that just because they were born that way? To learn more about this, click here. […]