Over the last couple of days, I’ve seen a number of people sharing clips from episode 9 of Bill Nye’s new Netflix show, Bill Nye Saves the World. The videos in question were of two segments of the show. In the first, Rachel Bloom of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend sings and raps rather discordantly about not ‘boxing in’ her ‘sex junk’. She tells people to get off their ‘soapbox’, declaring ‘sex how you want: it’s your goddamn right!’
In the other video from the show, much the same message—that there are ‘lots of flavours to sexuality’—is communicated using anthropomorphized ice creams. Vanilla starts a group for ice cream conversion therapy, declaring that, as vanilla, he feels that he is ‘the most natural of the ice creams’ and that to ‘get right with the big ice cream in the sky,’ the others should change their flavour by wishing to be vanilla. The many other ice creams protest, declaring that his position has no basis in science and that their other flavours and combinations of flavours are wonderful and neither can nor should be changed. Vanilla is shaken in his convictions, suddenly succumbs to temptation and licks one of the other ice creams. The segment ends with all of the ice creams licking each other and jumping into a bowl together.
Curious about whether the episode really was as terrible as these segments suggested, I watched it on Netflix last night and was disappointed to find that it was even worse than I had feared. It was one incredibly preachy segment after another about the ‘spectrum’ of sex, gender, sexuality, and gender presentation. There was a study of androgynous performers in K-Pop overturning conservative Korean gender roles. There was a panel of ‘experts’ on the subject: a gay comedian, a professor of gender and sexuality studies, and a cultural anthropologist. They talked about the social construction of the concept of sexuality and one’s right to identify as you want. The gender and sexuality studies professor shared a story of a woman mistaking his one-year-old son for a girl in the grocery store and later apologizing when she discovered her mistake: ‘I didn’t know he was a boy, I’m so sorry!’ The professor responded, ‘I don’t know that he’s a boy either!’
The most telling feature of the whole show? Reproduction was never once mentioned.
Despite the many claims to be presenting the ‘science’ of sexuality and that opposing viewpoints had no basis whatsoever in science, at no point did the show mention the great elephant in the room. Apparently we can make sense of the human sexes, and human sexuality, gender, and sexual relations without once needing to make any reference to the reality of reproduction. The realm of sexuality is simply one of radical natural diversity, with no apparent natural cause, end, order, or purpose.
The omission of reproduction from the discussion of the realm of sexuality and gender is not accidental. Reproduction is the very last fact that a progressive-friendly show would want to admit; it is the spanner in the works of the progressive vision of sexuality. The fact of reproduction reveals that not all sexualities and identities are ambivalent or equivalent in their significance on the biological level. Men are overwhelmingly gynephiles (persons attracted to women) who are at home in their own bodies and who have predictable forms of gender expression for a reason, and that reason is a biologically rooted one. Human beings have sex for a reason and that reason is a biologically rooted one. Indeed, sexuality, gender expression and identity, sex, and gender all exist for reason and that reason is a biologically rooted one. Certain forms of sex have a significance that other forms of sex don’t have for a reason and, once again, that reason is a biologically rooted one.
As a fact, reproduction is essential to unlocking the scientific basis for all of these realities. However, it is a fact that causes deep problems for popular gender and sexuality theories, as it reveals that the realm of sexuality and gender isn’t one of mere ambivalent diversity, but that, at least on the biological level, there are certain orientations and bodies that are ‘natural’ in ways that others are not.
Within the context of the gender and sexuality debates, the word ‘natural’ is highly contested, of course. A central aim of the Nye episode was the argument that gender and sexuality diversity is ‘natural’ and that these things occur on a spectrum. The term ‘natural’ here is being used in a particular sense, as a reference to those things that occur in nature. Yet, this is a fairly weak way of using the term. By the same measure, the number of human digits is on a spectrum from zero to over thirty. It is not more ‘natural’ to have five digits on each hand and foot, just more common.
LGBT activists have long argued against arguments from the natural order, insisting that the fact that something is biologically natural doesn’t settle the question of what is good socially, or what free individuals should be permitted to do. Yet the very telling thing is people implicitly acknowledge the moral force that nature has in the arena of sexuality when, even while opposing conservative appeals to nature, they invert the argument.
The appeal to nature fallacy is the claim that something is good and morally binding because it is natural. The inverse fallacy, the fallacy that is increasingly popular among progressives, insists that, because something is deemed by society to be good, it must be regarded as every bit as natural as anything else. Another related problem that we see today is the outright denial of natural reality on the basis of ideology. For instance, Nicholas Matte, a lecturer in Transgender Studies at the University of Toronto informs us that there is ‘no such thing’ as biological sex. When you encounter such a quantity of bullshit, you can usually tell that there is a herd of sacred cattle nearby.
Those making such arguments may unwittingly be revealing the fact that, despite their greatest attempts to escape it, nature still carries moral force in their thinking. Loudly as they denounce their critics’ use of the concept of nature, they themselves feel the need either to make appeal to it or to attack established positions that certain realities are natural: they obviously believe that nature gives arguments some sort of genuine moral heft. Despite themselves, they feel the need to make weak and tendentious arguments in favour of radical diversity in human gender and sexuality by referring to different sex systems in other species, to the occurrence of sexual activities between animals of the same sex, or to deny the existence of biological sex altogether.
Watching Nye’s show it occurred to me that the reason why we are witnessing so much revisionist science on the subject is because, deep down, people know that nature matters. Direct attempts to control the scientific message around the biology of sexuality, to attack basic biological truths, and systematically to obscure the great orienting fact of reproduction are to be expected. For all of their apparently assured claims that nature has no bearing upon what we ought to do, the increasingly forceful attempts on the part of progressives to control the biological science of sex and sexuality betray a very different reality. They cannot let nature alone, because nature will not let them alone.
Progressivism has an essentially antagonistic relationship with nature and this antagonism is expressed on a great many fronts. The gender theories of figures such as Judith Butler dissemble any natural reality behind societal structures of power. Nature is denied: both gender and sex are merely stubborn social constructs, with no rootedness in a deeper reality. The fact that men and women are fairly instantly recognizable in their appearance, behaviour, and reproductive activity in cultures around the world and across human history is an inconvenient fact that lies largely ignored. Despite the many variations in the specific forms it takes, a gender distinction between men and women is a human universal. Yet it is denied that what we are seeing is customary and conventional expressions of male and female nature: all of this is merely a social construct.
For those progressives who cannot so easily deny nature’s existence, nature is directly attacked or circumvented. The feminist emancipation of women has been based in no small measure upon a contraceptive war against the natural functioning of women’s bodies. Women cannot achieve equality to men as long as their bodies function as women’s bodies naturally do. Through the radical normalization of contraception we have created a society where artificial sterility is increasingly rendered women’s default mode. Feminists such as Shulamith Firestone, the recent Xenofeminist movement, and various forms of biotransfeminism extend this logic, seeking to overcome the biological imprisoning of women through the pursuit of developments such as the artificial womb and genetic interventions. The fundamental basis of women’s oppression is nature and nature must be conquered by human power.
The circumvention of nature is also pursued. IVF and surrogacy enable two fathers to have a baby. Within the next decade or so, we should expect to see reproductive science enabling such fathers to form eggs from the skin cells of one of them, so that they can have a baby of their own. The natural restriction of reproductive potential to male and female couples represents an injustice that must be rectified by science. Progressivism has a transhumanist logic at its heart—an antagonism to nature—and is only just waiting for the science to catch up.
The war against nature and the knowledge of nature will only become fiercer in the years to come. In our day, progressivism is a force that is fundamentally opposed to nature, not merely ambivalent or indifferent to it. Progressivism is founded in no small measure upon denying the core anthropological truth that humanity is male and female. That humanity is male and female is a truth from which social order (the bodily union of husband and wife being the seed of the family and the societal structure that provides the basis for), human time (the movement from generation to generation through the gift of bodies), social polarity (in two forms of humanity who are situated differently within the life of the species), and the nature of the self all derive. The knowledge of nature and its power must either be actively ideologically suppressed or technologically subdued in accordance with the definition of humanity as indifferently different autonomous individuals, irrespective of their sex, with choice and will being all important. People cannot simply ignore nature’s witness, because they cannot escape it.
This episode of Nye’s show is just one more straw in the wind, just another indication of our society’s struggle against nature and the knowledge of it. Reading Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option recently reminded me of Václav Havel’s famous essay, The Power of the Powerless, within which Havel speaks of the oppressive society which exerts control through ideology. In an especially powerful passage, he describes a greengrocer, who displays a sign reading “Workers of the world, unite!” in his store. It is worth quoting at length:
Why does he do it? What is he trying to communicate to the world? Is he genuinely enthusiastic about the idea of unity among the workers of the world? Is his enthusiasm so great that he feels an irrepressible impulse to acquaint the public with his ideals? Has he really given more than a moment’s thought to how such a unification might occur and what it would mean?
I think it can safely be assumed that the overwhelming majority of shopkeepers never think about the slogans they put in their windows, nor do they use them to express their real opinions. That poster was delivered to our greengrocer from the enterprise headquarters along with the onions and carrots. He put them all into the window simply because it has been done that way for years, because everyone does it, and because that is the way it has to be. If he were to refuse, there could be trouble. He could be reproached for not having the proper decoration in his window; someone might even accuse him of disloyalty. He does it because these things must be done if one is to get along in life. It is one of the thousands of details that guarantee him a relatively tranquil life “in harmony with society,” as they say.
Obviously the greengrocer is indifferent to the semantic content of the slogan on exhibit; he does not put the slogan in his window from any personal desire to acquaint the public with the ideal it expresses. This, of course, does not mean that his action has no motive or significance at all, or that the slogan communicates nothing to anyone. The slogan is really a sign, and as such it contains a subliminal but very definite message. Verbally, it might be expressed this way: “I, the greengrocer XY, live here and I know what I must do. I behave in the manner expected of me. I can be depended upon and am beyond reproach. I am obedient and therefore I have the right to be left in peace.” This message, of course, has an addressee: it is directed above, to the greengrocer’s superior, and at the same time it is a shield that protects the greengrocer from potential informers. The slogan’s real meaning, therefore, is rooted firmly in the greengrocer’s existence. It reflects his vital interests. But what are those vital interests?
Let us take note: if the greengrocer had been instructed to display the slogan “I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient,” he would not be nearly as indifferent to its semantics, even though the statement would reflect the truth. The greengrocer would be embarrassed and ashamed to put such an unequivocal statement of his own degradation in the shop window, and quite naturally so, for he is a human being and thus has a sense of his own dignity. To overcome this complication, his expression of loyalty must take the form of a sign which, at least on its textual surface, indicates a level of disinterested conviction. It must allow the greengrocer to say, “What’s wrong with the workers of the world uniting?” Thus the sign helps the greengrocer to conceal from himself the low foundations of his obedience, at the same time concealing the low foundations of power. It hides them behind the facade of something high. And that something is ideology.
Ideology is a specious way of relating to the world. It offers human beings the illusion of an identity, of dignity, and of morality while making it easier for them to part with them. As the repository of something suprapersonal and objective, it enables people to deceive their conscience and conceal their true position and their inglorious modus vivendi, both from the world and from themselves. It is a very pragmatic but, at the same time, an apparently dignified way of legitimizing what is above, below, and on either side. It is directed toward people and toward God. It is a veil behind which human beings can hide their own fallen existence, their trivialization, and their adaptation to the status quo. It is an excuse that everyone can use, from the greengrocer, who conceals his fear of losing his job behind an alleged interest in the unification of the workers of the world, to the highest functionary, whose interest in staying in power can be cloaked in phrases about service to the working class. The primary excusatory function of ideology, therefore, is to provide people, both as victims and pillars of the post-totalitarian system, with the illusion that the system is in harmony with the human order and the order of the universe.
We should be under no illusions: such ideologies exist in our day and age and we are increasingly seeing even scientists falling in line with them. Their slogans are no longer those of the old communist ideologies, but new ones that declare that ‘sexuality is a spectrum’, ‘gender is merely a social construct’, or ‘your sex is what you believe yourself to be.’
Havel points out that people don’t have to believe the ideology, just cooperate with it. He writes:
Individuals need not believe all these mystifications, but they must behave as though they did, or they must at least tolerate them in silence, or get along well with those who work with them. For this reason, however, they must live within a lie. They need not accept the lie. It is enough for them to have accepted their life with it and in it. For by this very fact, individuals confirm the system, fulfill the system, make the system, are the system.
We are increasingly facing the choice to be people of the truth, or those who take up craven residence in the lie. Do we have the courage to live as people of the truth, if it means that we will be ostracized from polite society for our hateful beliefs? Will we hold our tongues in cowardice or parrot things that we know to be lies, simply because it allows us to get by? Will today’s scientists show integrity in the face of the lies of a new oppressive ideology, even if this means being left out in the cold, or will they succumb to a new Lysenkoism?
Lest we feel powerless in the face of these cultural forces, we must remind ourselves that both nature and the truth are on our side. Our opponents’ behaviour reveals that there is nothing they fear more.
I’m struck by how closely the progressive narrative and denial of science here parallels both conservative and progressive (though more obviously conservative) narratives regarding climate science. Particularly, it seems that man’s dependence on his lands is not merely convenient, but “natural”, in the stronger sense; whereas fossil fuels, (=dug up fuels) which are not landed, but dug up and carted and piped around, and whose chief “pollutant” is not landed but atmospheric, have been utilized to free human society from these natural constraints, and to create the illusion of a floating economy. I somewhat haltingly, and probably circuitously, address some of the issues further here.
Yes, there are definitely analogies to be explored there. Is nature ambivalent raw material to be wrestled into congruence with human will, or is it something with a directional potential and order of its own that needs to be honoured and addressed on its own terms?
I’m not sure I’m trying to list analogies, but attempting to attend to something more like causes. We shouldn’t only think gender confusion is caused by ideology, but should also expect it to be caused by the sorts of body fostered in our current society–we need to attend to the general habitus, and to the purported virtues (a virtue is a praisworthy habitus) in our society. And though attention to ideology is certainly important in discovering why some habitus are pursued as virtuous, whereas others are not; it is at least equally important to ask what habitus, and what social forms, are required by particular arrangements with material reality.
So for instance, we could ask, following Borgmann, what sorts of habitus, and what gendered differentiation between habitus, is required for the production of a hearth that provides warmth in the winter, and a focus for the life of the family; and what sort of habitus is enabled, and what sort suppressed, by the movement from the hearth to a device for procuring abstract heat. And then, we can note that empirically, if not theoretically (though I tend to think theoretically too), devices, including centralized heating, require fossil energy and especially the portability of fossil energy. Of course, this one example, by itself, doesn’t get us particular far, but it does, I think, help illustrate the sort of direction of inquiry that I think would be helpful.
More generally, we could ask what sort of bodily relationship to material reality is fostered in a fossil economy, and how do the habits formed in that relation to material reality shape the way we relate to that bit of material reality that is our own body. Or perhaps more suggestively, we could ask what sort of bodily relationship to adamah is fostered in a fossil economy, and how do the habitus formed in that relationship with adamah shape the way we relate to that bit of the dust of adamah that is man.
Along those same lines, I’m also not quite sure what you mean by: “is [nature] something with a directional potential and order of its own that needs to be honoured and addressed on its own terms?” Is the directional potential merely internal to nature, without directly affecting human society except inasmuch as we are ethically required to honor the natures of our neighbors; or are you talking about a directional potential in non-human material reality ordered to the creation and preservation of important features of human society? In the second sense, I would agree with your comment, but, at least not without qualification, first. The material reality of say, rivers, and the force, energy, and power materially present in the rivers, not only provide rivers with an internal directional potential and order that needs to be honed and addressed on its own terms, but have a directional potential for human society; and one of the major effects of fossil fuels is that they facilitate an emancipation of the human community from these features of material reality, but also, thereby, unmoor society from forces are ordered to uniting us, across differences, in pursuit of a common good. This unmooring from the directional potential of material reality is not unlike the way devices isolate us from each other when they replace focal practices. Indeed, it seems that before coal and electricity, rivers were focal, in something like Borgmann’s sense.
The terrestrial order is physically and morally humanity’s grounding reality and we cannot properly achieve the fulfilment of our nature in abstraction from it. Our current society is in many senses analogous to the experience of astronauts, who experience muscle deterioration, sleep problems, disorientation, hallucinations, etc. Our natures are wedded to the natural order and we can’t divorce ourselves from it without compromising our own existence. The gravitational pull of the natural order provides the means by which the muscles of virtue can grow aright.
The logic of modern society is a hyper-phallic logic of alienation and abstraction in search of autonomous power. We see this logic in science, which can look through the particular object and reduced the particularity of the material world to generic raw material. We see it in mass production. We see it in the glorification of the abstraction of money. We see it in the elevation of technique. Etc., etc.
This logic, as I have suggested, isn’t gender neutral, but is male. The woman has always been a problem for this logic as the human-earth relationship is homologous to the male-female relationship. The woman is bound to the mater-ial order, while the male—’pater-ial’—order is ‘transcendent’, standing apart. The man’s labour is external, while the woman’s labour is grounded in the particularity of her own body. As such it is inalienable in a way that the man’s labour is not and hence a problem for a society that glorifies the transcendence of human power. One can’t extract value from female labour as effectively as from male labour. Hence the drive towards the ‘manning’ of women in modern society. Women’s bodies must be conquered and they must be reduced to raw and malleable material, rather than beings with a natural orientation.
We currently are haunted by the spectre of imminent human destruction at the hands of our autonomous transcendence (AI, nuclear apocalypse, destruction of Mother Nature, etc.). However, the ‘paterial’ order is unchecked, divorced as it is from the particularity of the material order. We cannot imagine arresting the development of technology, science, capitalism, the state, etc. Our power is autonomous, faithful to nothing beyond itself (in Scripture, Wisdom is relational, about the interaction and marriage between the paterial and material order).
As I was writing up a few notes on this, I realised that in the rush to the abstract, we ‘Conceive of ourselves’ . . . Language can be very illuminating . . . Of course, the use of conceive with regard to thinking comes originally from the sense of something coming to us, Gift, from outside of ourselves. Now it seems to refer purely to self-referential thinking.
Cartesian fundamentalism taken to its absolute extreme in that we imagine that we are self creating.
Thanks for the post Alastair. I think that the elephant in the room is of course the avoidance of Reproduction. Everyone in the debate has one thing in common – the union of a mother and a father . . . It is a sign of the utter nihilism of the era when Life is so denied. Such a Fundamental denial can only be a sign of the death of a society.
as a brief addendum – it is interesting to note that if you use Google to find a definition of ‘conceive’ the definition given is ‘create an embryo by fertilising an egg’
The Reductionist tone of this is hard to avoid – no mention of the human or male and female
And that doesn’t even touch Nye’s flirting with China-esque reproductive policy, trying to resurrect Paul Ehrlich’s incredibly evil and factually wrong predictions and policies.
Wow, what a fantastic read!
‘When you encounter such a quantity of bullshit, you can usually tell that there’s a herd of sacred cattle nearby.’ Well said. Bullshit? Yes, mountains of it!
I had not even heard of Bill Nye before I read your article, Alastair- I was in blissful ignorance of his existence. I did a search and saw him described on Wikipedia as ‘educator’ – I think ‘Pied Piper’ would be more to the point.
‘People cannot simply ignore nature’s witness, because they cannot escape from it.’; ‘…both nature and the truth are on our side..’ Amen.
One of my favourite examples of ‘nature’s witness’, and of God’s transforming power, is the way that strawberries grow in manure. I trust that Nye’s bullshit will be transformed by God into something delightful and edifying, which Nye’s hapless followers will hunger after far more than they currently hunger after Nye’s unappetising offerings.
We can certainly pray that will be the case!
Bill Nye is a defunct kid-show program, who, after run out the gas of do-it-yourself home science projects as popular TV, has jumped on the faux-science express with buffoons like Neil Degrasse Tyson. In someways, this all seems like one big divine joke by our Lord who is shrewd with the shrewd. This is the rooster named Charles G. Finney coming home to roost. One does not need to actually say anything with substance. Instead, be clever, make emotional appeals, and tell jokes, all with subsequent use of signalling, buzzwords, and jargon. This is all just showmanship. I knew Bill Nye was a pop-celebrity, but I am astounded by the blatant media whoring he is doing. He is like a little kid playing doctor, putting on his labcoat, so people will pay attention to him. The truth is that he is a hack and a pervert that is trying to scrape the barrel of this mentally rusted and morally busted epoch.
Anyway, I also thought that we live in an age like the 18th century, which was simultaneously known as the age of moralists and the decadent, decayed, and morally bankrupt age. I can’t help but think, again heralding a Christian past, that these modern people whining for LGBTQIA rights and demonizing their enemies are updated versions of the Society for the Reformation of Manners and the Methodists. I mean, George Whitfield would ride into town and vocally proclaim, or circulated through his diary, who was and who wasn’t reprobate. This is an age of moral seriousness which turns on our collective exhaustion and endless wheel-spinning. We’re called to action, action, action: Change! Fix! Vote! Maybe as atheist Zizek said, this current time doesn’t seem to offer the possibility of alternative, and thus that means we need to stop acting and think. But, this is counter-cultural, and so just like the Christian Victory preachers who clog TBN and CBN, these Progressive preachers of a new cult of Transhumanist Frankensteins clamor, cajole, and castigate their way to moral perfection. I appreciate your patient and rested demeanor in this post, Alistair. The created order can be abused, but Christ is liberating creation for its intended purpose, and it will throw off the heavy yoke in due time.
In addition, I received an off-hand comment from a colleague who is a hackneyed vanilla liberal who, in reference to my having a kid, called me a “breeder”. I sometimes think this is the stop-gap until transhumanists can build something artificial. Depend on troglodyte cavemen like myself to provide the raw material, the children, to be converted later. It may’ve been tongue-in-cheek, but it struck a chord; I felt like one of the street people that bourgeois capitalists made sure not to look at, lest they be polluted with my filthy and uncouth way of life.
Anyway, some food for thought,
Sorry, I meant Alastair.
PS. After the dance routine, Billy Nye was a little too quick to hug all the girls. Did you see how quickly he tried to get out of the man’s hand-shake? He’s just a dirty old-man who likes to touch young girls. But, ’tis science.
Steve Burns stopped hosting the show Blues Clues with jokes that he did not want to live to see himself lose his hair on a kids’ show and moved on to other projects. Would that Nye had done likewise. 😦
Reblogged this on pundit from another planet.
Reblogged this on TheFlippinTruth and commented:
The elitist agenda to drive down the fecundity of the ‘useless eaters’.
The bizarre aspect to this is that evolution requires inherent teleology at least in so far as a biological being has an in-built directedness to survive. Evolutionary theory makes no sense without this postulate and if anything is a sacred cow, it’s naturalistic evolution.
Indeed. If anything, it will be even more insistent on the biological point.
If you haven’t seen it already, this article is relevant to teleology and evolution.
What a superb article. I was in blissful ignorance about Nye.
At the risk of conflating your whole article into one line, for me the last sentence quoted here encapsulates it:
“For all of their apparently assured claims that nature has no bearing upon what we ought to do, the increasingly forceful attempts on the part of progressives to control the biological science of sex and sexuality betray a very different reality. They cannot let nature alone, because nature will not let them alone. ”
Yes, it’s about nature, about reproduction “after their own kind”. No more, no less: it’s as nuanced as that. Anything more nuanced in argumentation doesn’t get past cloth tympanic membranes and
ideologically blocked brains. Or rather, better put by G.K. Chesterton — ‘Do not be so open-minded that your brains fall out.’ And again – ‘Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.
This whole gender enterprise reminds me of a Danny Kaye song of my childhood in the UK “The King’s/Emperor’s suit of clothes” , based on a Hans Christian Anderson tale. Yes, I am that old.
Enjoy this link on 78 rpm :
The King’s New Clothes – Danny Kaye 78
You ignore the comorbidities of LGBT lifestyles, which are scientifically well documented, if not ever provided to the public in actuarial terms. [Because its not a choice, remember, notwithstanding the “spectrum”.]
It strikes me that the best parallel to the LGBT agenda was the cultural agenda of Big Tobacco in the the 40’s and 50’s. Both agendas have co-opted the media establishment to push a potentially lethal product on an unsuspecting public.
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“Progressivism is founded in no small measure upon denying the core anthropological truth that humanity is male and female”
The original progressive movement was not. Louis Brandeis original “Brandeis Brief” was an argument that women are different and thus that laws restricting how many hours women could work were constitutional. They believed that society advanced in part by understanding nature, although the scientific conquest of nature (such as through birth control) was also a component.
Sure, Nye’s program falls far short of science. That said, I do wonder whether the popularity of these issues isn’t the expected reaction against a conservative culture that invested a bit too much in promoting rigid social scripts for normative masculinity and femininity, i.e., under the guise of what sociologists call “compulsory heterosexuality.” So, in reaction to that, we get various counter-scripts that amount to little more than childish reactions against that rigidity.
After all, it wasn’t progressives who first promoted a view of “normal sexuality” that had nothing to do with procreation. It was conservative Freudian social theorists, who sought to define “normal” in terms of sexualized social scripts, which are played out within the context of the inward-facing “nuclear” family.
These discussions often get weighed down because we conflate biology with sociology. It is undeniable that there is a natural diversity in the attractions that people experience with respect to people of the same or opposite sex. But there is no reason why this diversity must be described in terms of the social constructs we have elected, e.g., heterosexual, homosexual, transgender, etc. We need to disabuse ourselves of 19th-century Freudian bunk and stop equating “normal” and “natural” with compulsory heterosexuality. That’s not easily done, as, in my experience, gender-role policing is probably more central to evangelical identity than the substitutionary atonement.
Yes, much of what progressives spout concerning these issues is pure bunk. But I’m not sure that the concept of heterosexuality isn’t just as ridiculous. After all, who we are as people is defined by a lot more than our 23rd chromosome.
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You may be aware of the term “cultural marxism”, an umbrella term , or category for much of what is happening today in Europe and the west generally. Here is link to an interesting short presentation. The whole sexuallity/gender enterprise would seem to come within it’s compass. It is, of necessity, a a broad brush sweep.
I’m sorry, but I’d suggest that there are far better explanations for our cultural moment that anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. The fact that this sort of alt-right bunk has become popular in evangelical circles also says a lot of about how evangelicalism has simply morphed into a subsidiary of the alt-right.
“The fact that this sort of alt-right bunk has become popular in evangelical circles also says a lot of about how evangelicalism has simply morphed into a subsidiary of the alt-right”
You’re significantly overstating the level of popularity of the alt-right among evangelicals and understating the degree to which evangelicalism and the alt-right do not align. I have seen few evangelicals–aside from a few anonymous blog commenters–willing to give the alt-right the time of day.
Hmmm…. It seems people get more out of sex than reproduction.
For the sake of argument, maybe LBGT people are broken reproductively speaking — but you would have that necessarily cascade to their relational side? For what purpose?
People clearly get more out of sex than reproduction. However, if we want to understand why sex or sexuality exist in the first place naturally speaking, reproduction is an essential part of the picture. Men are naturally gynephiles because that serves reproduction. An androphile man lacks, to some extent or other, this natural ordering. If most men shared their orientation, the human race would have a very big problem. This doesn’t settle the moral questions at all, but it is key to the biological account.
From a natural perspective, a population would only need a sufficient number of members interested and participating in reproduction in order to continue the group. Some members could be alternately enabled and not negatively impact the chances of survival. In fact, slowing population growth at certain rates and times could have a positive impact on the health of the overall population. Could populations have mechanisms that work to speed and slow reproduction rates to maximize the overall health of a population?
Surface-level analysis would likely show that human population sizes are not harmed when there is a 1% incidence rate of members never participating in reproduction (no offspring) because they are LGBT. It could also be easily shown that the natural results of traditional treatment of LGBT are devastating to LGBT individuals.
There have been plenty of attempts to present adaptive etiologies for LGBT sexualities and they have generally been found wanting. For instance, the gay uncle theory proposed that gay men are invested in their siblings’ children in way that might lead to reproductive advantages for the genes of their near relatives. However, this theory hasn’t held up.
Other theories offer an adaptive explanation for LGBT persons, but in a way that presents them as side-effects of a process that serves other parties’ fitness. For instance, some explanations account for homosexuality as a result of sexually antagonist selection: genetic traits that increase the fertility of women risk making their brothers gay. However, sexually antagonistic selection is always a tough case to make.
A better explanation, I think, argues that, like something such as autism, homosexuality is the result of mutations in a large number of genes. Although autism or homosexuality may be quite non-adaptive themselves, the conditions don’t die out because the mutations that they are grounded in are advantageous for the vast majority of the population as they are connected to higher intelligence and improved reproductive success. See this, for instance.
Sexuality is a gender difference (men are overwhelmingly gynephiles and women overwhelmingly androphiles). It is also connected more generally with traits of the other sex. More ‘feminine’ men can do better in reproduction in many modern societies and more ‘masculine’ women (who are more likely to adopt a ‘fast life strategy’) likewise.
Others suggest that the etiology of something such as lesbianism is a contingent adaptation to increase pair-bonds with assisting women in alloparenting situations, increasing cooperation. This presupposes sexual fluidity.
Yet others see LGB conditions as ‘diseases of civilization’ like diabetes. It is interesting to notice on this front that homosexuality is unknown in a number of hunter gatherer societies, with no taboo against it either (Hadza and Aka, for instance). See here and here for some recent research on this. Greg Cochran has controversially advanced the theory that male homosexuality is caused by a pathogen.
What largely emerges from these discussions, however, is that, at the very most, LG persons have limited fitness of their own for the sake of society’s higher fitness. However, group selection is a shaky position, and even more so in such a case. It sounds good in principle, but when you try to break it down to mechanisms, it tends to fall apart. Besides, the supposed evidence that might provoke someone to look for a mechanism in the first place is decidedly weak (having a gay sibling would have to have a dramatic effect on their siblings’ reproductive fitness, but there is little evidence of this). Explanations that are even more sexually antagonistic (rather than invoking a sort of altruism on the part of gay men) have many problems of their own. More likely, it seems to me, is that LG persons suffer a fitness hit on account of genetic factors that, in a less pronounced form, advantage their male or female peers.
Nothing approaching a convincing explanation for homosexuality’s natural fitness has been offered, although various adaptive explanations that help to account for the existence of such a condition that limits fitness are out there.
LGB sexualities contrast with transgender and intersex conditions, as they are much more readily and sensibly accounted for as disorders of sexual development. LG conditions are a bit more complicated, as their greater occurrence coupled with their specific non-fitness and low heritability (even homophobia is more heritable than homosexuality) calls for different sorts of explanations.
If we are having a conversation about the science of LGBT sexualities, this is the sort of place we need to focus. We must pay attention to what we know about the biological ends of human sexuality and to questions of biological fitness.
If we want to talk about the social questions of LGBT persons, however, we will be having a rather different sort of conversation. Just as celibate people need not be regarded as disordered, it does not necessarily follow from biological unfitness or disorder that LGBT persons are personally or morally disordered if they engage in same-sex relations or seek to transition (although natural law cases against homosexuality are seldom bare appeals to biology). Nor does it follow that we should try to ‘fix’ such persons, especially using methods that are themselves both scientifically and socially discredited. That doesn’t mean that biology is irrelevant to our considerations, of course, especially when we get into discussions of things such as ‘heteronormativity’.
My concern in the above post was not to suggest that nature settles questions of the morality of same-sex relations and transgender persons. Rather, it was to point out a revealing urge to suppress the science in such areas by LGBT advocates and allies. We should all treat the science honestly, both when it challenges our biases and ideologies and when it supports them. We should also recognize the hiatus that exists between science and the realms of ideology and policy. ‘Ought’ does not directly follow from ‘is’, although reflection upon the ‘is’ will be an essential part of the deliberation process by which we arrive at ought. Many today can overstate the significance of the ‘is’ for determining the ‘ought’ (see various discussions of ‘science-based policy’) and, as I argued above, the movement can go in the other direction too. Many social scientists are deeply hostile to any natural science that might unsettle their egalitarian social visions.
However, such hostility is not altogether without grounds, as, although ‘ought’ does not directly follow from ‘is’, it cannot be adequately determined apart from it. Social campaigns against ‘heteronormativity’, for example, will quite naturally and appropriately be challenged by the ‘is’ of human nature in its ordering around reproduction.
It occurs to me that a treatment of what constitutes “acceptable” sexuality is really out of place on Nye’s show, since it’s essentially a moral question. That is, not something “science” can answer one way or the other. Science can demonstrate diverse sexual practice in the animal kingdom. Social scientists and sex researchers can document the variety of sexual practice among modern humans. Historians can document the same among humans of ages past. At the end of the day, though, if the question you’re trying to answer is, “Is it okay to do X?” then it’s not a question for “science”.
Not neccessarily. Science can be utilized to study the effects of certain behaviors. Epidemiology can be used to determine what contributes to human flourishing. Science, particularly physics contributes to theological questions as well, such as questions of origin, time, and eternity.
Granted, science can begin to explain the “effect” of certain behaviors. But that’s not the same as concluding the “rightness” or “wrongness” of those behaviors.
That’s true (in reply to your last comment – I cannot seem to post below it). However, it does seem apparent that when the natural order (God ordained I’d argue) is defied, the consequences, which science can study, are always negative. This should tell us that the actions are, in fact, wrong (i.e.: against the natural order).
Sometimes the consequences are obviously so, and other times it might appear in more subtle ways. An example is sexual promiscuity and the obvious consequences to the body (disease, infertility potential, etc), and to the soul (diminishment which can be felt by depression, etc.).
Hello Wiiliam and Buddyglass .Excuse me chipping in here but I am finding your conversation interesting. I think it is true that something that we think of as morally wrong,(such as your example of sexual promiscuity, William), can also be documented scientifically as being bad for our health. I suppose the question is whether or not practising something that is bad for our heath is also morally wrong. Along with several people I know, I live on a low-cholesterol diet. I think it would have been wrong of me to ignore my GP’s advice about this, not only for health reasons, but because of this: ‘ Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies.’ I know this was written in the context of sexual immorality, but maybe we can also dishonour God in what we eat and drink, especially if we eat and drink things that scientists have said are bad for us? I was interested in the theme of eating and flavours in the Bill Nye ice-cream video. It was suggesting that ‘ a little bit of what you fancy does you good.’ To some extent this may be true, but to apply this to sexual preferences… well, I suppose that would appeal to people who think that sex is nothing more than just an appetite!
You make good points. You said “I suppose the question is whether or not practising something that is bad for our heath is also morally wrong.” I think this is the crux of the matter, and I believe that the answer has to be yes. There is a lot of scripture (including the excellent verses you mentioned) and tradition to back that up.
Thank you, William – and thank you again for the point you initially made about this.
By the way, on a different subject – I am not surprised that you addressed me as ‘Quinn’ because my twitter handle here gives no clues about what my name actually is! My surname is actually Quinn-Jones and my first name is Christine – but I rather liked being called ‘Quinn’ 🙂
You might as well say that the nature of sexuality is not a question for theologians!
In reality we are much better off when one subject informs another.
You might set up a system where everyone who blasphemes is stoned to death, but what happens when a man with Tourette’s comes along? Without science you might well execute an innocent man.
I just had another look at the title of Nye’s show : ‘Bill Nye Saves the World’
I think there are probably many people in the world who are in need of a saviour – I just haven’t worked out yet why Bill Nye seems to have nominated himself for that role!
Natural law theorists must employ the concept “nature” precisely and carefully. If “natural” means “existing in the biological world independent of human manipulation” than homosexuality as well as gender misalignment with sex are natural; they have been documented in most human societies as well as in nonhuman animals. Theorists cannot rest in making arguments from nature in this way; progressives have the upper hand.
Thank you for your comment. It is true that homosexuality has been documented in human societies as well as in nonhuman animals, and that some people believe that homosexual relationships are therefore natural. However I do not think that progressives have ‘the upper hand’ in ‘making arguments from nature’, because they are often inconsistent in their attitudes to ‘nature’. For instance, some progressives use artificial means to achieve the lifestyles and ‘quality of life’ that they desire. Many who do not use these artificial means themselves applaud others who do use them. A significant example is the way some homosexual and lesbian pairs use artificial insemination to produce offspring for themselves. The only way that a human embryo can come into being naturally is when sexual intercourse takes place between a man and a woman. I also think that it is no coincidence that many who favour artificial methods of procreation also support the artificial prevention of procreation (by using contraception/being sterilised), and the artificial termination of life (by having and/or supporting abortions, and by campaigning for assisted suicide).
Indeed. That said, those who criticise natural law arguments along such lines generally aren’t very well acquainted with the actual arguments that are made. Also, natural law, it should always be remembered, is not primarily a theory but simply reality.
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Great post. Yes, we Christians can lay claim to a natural order and attempt to live more attuned to creational norms. My question is how? Even in the church, modern marriage is a primarily a hedonic model of two careerists sharing the same bed (to paraphrase that incredible Wenddell Berry). What does Christianity have to offer to combat this pandemic specifically? Is it the Wendell Berry model where a couple eschews modernity and birth control and lives more closely attuned to the realities of nature? Is it one of escapism? In other words- economic, social, and technological realities have all led to Bill Nye Saves the World. You wrote of these forces in your article, Before Obergefell: Some Thoughts on How We Got Here.
We’ve diagnosed the problem but it seems Protestant Christians have little to offer in terms of a solution (e.g. a quick word search ‘gender’ on The Gospel Coalition website will reveal plenty of ink spilled on transgenderism and precious little on the creativity of living life as man and woman in a post-industrial society). This is where I find men like Douglas Wilson or Ivan Illich, for all their faults, tremendously attractive as they have been two of a handful of men and women to try and navigate this path intelligently (if not reactively and awkwardly). It is difficult to fight the battle on a Bill Nye special without first addressing medical, technological, economic and social realities. And a Christianity that tries to fight the battle on the front of this swirled ice cream video will already be beaten. So how does one live more attuned to these realities without retracting from society in toto?
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You’ve dipped your toes into shallow waters here Alistair, with simplistic responses in errors of category, equating evangelicals with the alt right,, omitting definitions.
What is the evangel, the Good news of Jesus Christ, if it does not contain the “expulsive power of a new affection”. Jesus, as God incarnate, dwelling, by the Spirit, in us: an intimacy, a love supreme, we all long for. But it is a Holy Love and if we don’t desire Him, He gives us over to our own lesser desires of the heart, which are ultimately cracked and unfulfilled incomplete, as a contemporary, but continuing judgement .
Our desires are a replacement and displacement of our desire for union with God. We will never be complete, till we are complete in Him, in whom we get our identity, safety, acceptance and significance.
And if we don’t want that, want Him, He’ll let us go your own way, with all the hellish consequences , still living off, gorging on, arguing over good and evil, all the way to spiritual and moral bankruptcy, to vacuous, vapid, meaninglessness.
Huh? Where exactly have I done the things you are saying?
I think he’s responding to Evan773
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That’s correct Cal.
Superb essay. CS Lewis’ “Abolition of Man” would be a good read along with this. This line is key….”Through the radical normalization of contraception we have created a society where artificial sterility is increasingly rendered women’s default mode. ” Contraception led to the enslavement of women and the objectification of women by men. Contraception led to the modern holocaust of abortion. Catholics always saw it as an offense, although that too is changing as we “progress”.
How do you approach answering people who invoke the appeal to Nature fallacy to defeat traditional morality? I’ve been running into that lately at the school I work in, specifically regarding Humanities classes taught by some of my colleagues, and I’ve not had time to think it through as yet.
This might help Tim…..http://undpress.nd.edu/books/P03271
It depends. In many cases it is important not to belabour arguments for natural law. Natural law is not principally a matter of speculative reason, but a concrete reality in the world that is unavoidable, to which we ought to comport ourselves through the proper exercise of practical reason. Natural law isn’t discovered at the end of an argument, but is simply a fact of creation. Everyone experiences this reality to various degrees, even though they may suppress the knowledge of it. Arguing too much for it can weaken our case. However, it can be helpful to alert people to the fact that they give nature weight in their thinking (as I do in the post above), even when they deny it.
In combating such arguments, one will also generally find oneself needing to make elementary distinctions between nature as brute facticity and nature as possessing a teleological order. Nye’s position is a fairly routine example of an attempt to escape the knowledge of a teleological order that is visible within creation itself.
One will also often have to recognize that such arguments often rest a significant part of their weight upon the distinction between the good and the right, and upon the fact that the latter does not simply follow from the former (for instance, I know that marriage is a good thing, but that doesn’t itself settle the question of whether I ought to get married, to whom, and when). Yet the fact that the right does not immediately follow from the good does not mean that reflection upon the good is not an essential dimension of the deliberative process by which I determine the right thing to do in my situation. Nature doesn’t settle the question of the right, but it is a necessary part of settling that question.
One will also notice that most people who make such arguments don’t deny that nature is a good, but simply want to argue that it is ambivalent when it comes to questions of the right. This is helpful to recognize, because the belief that nature is a good is often inconsistent with their other beliefs (e.g. on the interchangeability of the sexes or of same-sex and male-female relations). Yet they aren’t prepared to say that the fundamental order of nature (and not just its brute facticity or contingent expression) is bad.
I don’t actually typically appeal to nature as a basis for moral claims in my arguments, so much as I highlight the stubborn realities of nature as matters that must feature in any proper process of moral deliberation. In fact, much of the time nature doesn’t even have to be given moral authority in order to carry weight in our determination of what is right. It just has to be recognized as a fact.
I will occasionally develop such an argument further, demonstrating the goodness of the natural order and the threat the going against nature presents to a range of goods.
I’ve been struck lately by the disjunction between feminism’s demands for women’s equality and its denial of the equality of the unborn human person. This seems to be because women often base their own right to fair treatment on their claims that they are equally smart, equally strong, equally powerful, equally capable. Which they often (or even always, to grant a point) are. But that is not the basis for rights or equality. Human rights are based in simply being human. The weak, the incapable, the powerless, the criminal, the sick, the brain damaged, the ugly stupid fat moronic useless losers – all have equal dignity as human persons. The illusion is that the “patriarchy,” or whoever it is, has denied women rights because it misperceives women as being somehow “less” – so women clamor to be more, to be able to compete on a level playing field, to be shed of vulnerability so as to prove themselves the equal of men. But the reality is that the patriarchy-or-who/whatever-it-is has denied women rights because it systematically has denied rights to everyone, because it does not see in the human person the inalienable dignity with which it is endowed. It has valued health, wealth, power, influence, force, control, recognition, success, independence. And feminism too often has taken these “ideals” on board and striven to seize the same kind of power, even at the expense of the lives of women’s children. However, I’m heartened by some new Millennial feminists such as Destiny Herndon-Delarosa, Aimee Murphy, and others, who seem to have their heads very much screwed on straight. Also Germaine Greer – God bless her – is usually very good at noticing when the Emperor is naked.
Yes, there definitely is a key disjunction here. I suspect an important part of the problem is that feminism is about equality TO MEN, within the liberal paradigm of the person as the autonomous, gender neutral, choosing individual. However, this paradigm of the person is male-focused and tends to require some degree of ‘manning’ women.
This liberal paradigm of personhood can’t give a robust account of the bond between the woman and her unborn child, although they clearly register the tension between this relationship and the autonomy and choice of the woman. Pregnancy is an anomalous and often pathological state for liberalism as a result. Not only does it compromise women’s personhood (according to the liberal definition), it also stands in the way of women’s realizing their full potential in the realm of the economy.
Furthermore, it is incredibly difficult to perceive the humanity of the unborn in terms of the liberal model of personhood. They aren’t autonomous choosing individuals, but radically dependent filiated beings. Beyond this, as liberalism’s anthropology also depersonalizes the sexual act to a mere consensual bodily interaction between detached individuals, rather than a deep one flesh union, the child is no longer personalized by the context within which they are conceived to the same degree.
Thank you for your thoughtful article. I particularly appreciate your highlighting of the idea that in order to achieve true equality with men, women are conditioned/taught/harassed into being “manned”. It’s exhausting. I live in Manhattan, NY, and one of the nicest things about my church, where more simple, natural behavior is allowed to occur, is that I can hold babies and like it, and not have to feel like I have to be assertive and aggressive all the time.
Anyway, I also wanted to ask you if perhaps you have seen the wildly popular BBC series “Call the Midwife”? It is remarkably subtle and nuanced in its treatment of the complexities of power/lack of power of women, expressions of maleness and femaleness, and the profound acknowledgement of the inherent worth and dignity of the weak, powerless, or dependent (plus the acting is more subtle and nuanced, indicative of its Bristishness, but that’s another matter). Thank you again for your thoughts – much appreciated!
Thanks for the comment, Mary!
Yes, I have seen Call the Midwife. I am currently in a long distance relationship and one of the things that my girlfriend and I have really appreciated over the last few months is watching through episodes of Call the Midwife together on Netflix, while chatting on Skype.
It is such a remarkable portrayal of a world, not just of a past age, but a world that belongs to women, where women’s concerns and labour can have a distinct salience that they so often lack in society more generally. It is an interesting experience relating to such a world as a man. In some ways it can be akin to attending a liturgy in a Christian tradition quite different from one’s own and in a language you don’t completely understand. There is a clearly apparent profundity to proceedings, but you also know that you are an outsider witnessing something whose full import you’ll never fully be able to process!
In a fiercely gender neutralizing context, it is wonderful to see a show that explores a world that is so distinctly womanly and, without whitewashing the past, portrays something of its goodness, rather than viewing it with a purely jaundiced eye. Watching it I am also reminded of Luce Irigaray’s description of a sort of ‘horizontal transcendence’ that can exist between the sexes as our differences are allowed expression. The other sex can be encountered, not just in terms of envy or competition, but with a sense of wonder at a beautiful mystery of humanity that is at once so close at hand, and never so distant as to be alien, yet so inassimilable to one’s own mode of being in the world that your own horizons are expanded by the encounter.
One more thing – I am struck by the utter capriciousness of the ideology du jour on where a woman’s worth lies – in this (leftist, post-modern) case – in her total autonomy and self-determinism, completely free of any biological or relational constraints; in traditional cultures – in her ability to produce children and her total definition in relation to males; C.S. Lewis’ “All that is not eternal is eternally out of date” comes to mind here. When my mom decided to be conceptionally-open and have five children and invest her life into raising them in the ’70s, this was considered backward and repressed, as she did not conform to the ideology of the feminist revolution. Yet certainly, was she not being a true feminist by deciding for herself what would make her the most happy, and doing it, regardless of societal opinion and social constructs? The double-standard of what passes as conventional “feminism” is blatant.
My conclusion is that my mom was the true badass.
I have a piece coming out soon on the push for the artificial womb that explores many of these themes more directly.
I think the argument that gay attractions are always unnatural because we cannot have children naturally only holds water if
A) Everything natural has a purpose
B) The only possible purpose for love/attraction is to produce babies
I am gay. I can assure you with a certain degree of confidence that my experience of attraction from puberty on has been pretty similar to yours, except that everything you felt towards females, I feel towards males (assuming you are straight). Therefore to call my attraction unnatural, don’t you have to call all attraction unnatural?
I would say that for something to be natural it has to be something that has occurred not as a human choice, or consequence of a human choice. I can assure you that I did not choose my orientation!
I think progressive attitudes towards sexuality are prevailing in the west, because there is no alternative coming from conservative voices.
Can I also ask a plea that you remember that we are *real* people who didn’t actually ask Bill Nye to make a programme about us! Some of us will not like being labelled “unnatural”, others would have wanted children – so please consider that when you write about us.
Thanks for the comment, Pete.
To clarify things a little, my argument in the post above was narrowly framed as a consideration of same-sex attractions biologically considered. While I believe that these considerations should inform whatever position we arrive at on the moral and social questions, it really doesn’t settle them. The fact that we are biologically ordered around reproduction does not mean that as persons we have a moral duty to reproduce, nor is such a claim anything like sufficient basis for a moral argument against same-sex relations.
My argument is not that same-sex attraction is a choice. While the jury is still out on the etiology of same-sex attraction, I think it is pretty clear that people don’t choose their sexuality. Furthermore, there is a great deal of suggestive evidence for some sort of biological basis, so my claim is not that it isn’t biological or something that occurs in nature. That said, there is a biological basis for a vast range of conditions we consider to be a departure from the natural order. When someone is born without sight, for instance, there is most likely a biological explanation, but that doesn’t mean that blindness is natural in the sense that sight is.
My claim is that we know the purpose of sex, sexuality, and sexual relations and it has to do with reproduction. Biologically considered (again, a narrow framing), homosexuality is contrary to the natural telos of the organism. Infertility or the lack of a sex drive could also be regarded as contrary to the natural telos of the organism, again considering things in narrowly biological terms. If we are talking about the science of sexuality, reproduction is the central part of the picture, around which all fits.
It is a very significant jump from the claim that a particular condition results from a failure of the natural biological order to the claim that particular persons are ‘unnatural’. That is not a claim I made, or would make, for that matter.
The moral questions around sexual attractions and relations are not detached from questions of nature, but nor are they settled by them one way or another. My concern, like yours it seems, is that honest science inform our moral thinking, rather than expecting science to conform to some prevailing social or religious orthodoxy.
I think we probably have a very different understanding of the word “natural”.
I would also disagree that the only purpose of attraction, love or sex is to produce babies.
Sorry if I am repeating myself!
Pete, you’d think you might show the courtesy of reading a response that is multi-paragraph before you offer a repetition that is foolish. No where in any of that was it anywhere hinted that the “only purpose” is to produce babies. And it would help to give a counter definition of “natural”. But I suppose rudeness goes hand-in-glove with illiteracy and uncritical thought.
I think this is a little harsh, Cal. As I mentioned in the post, the word ‘natural’ is a heavily loaded one in the context of current debates. In my experience, a word so freighted with preconceptions can seldom be laden with its proper cargo without considerable patient labour.
Pete seems to have misunderstood my position at key points, but I really don’t believe that anything in his responses was rude.
Yes I do not understand!
You seem to me to be using the term “natural” to mean desirable (id have thought very few gay or lgbti people desire to be so) or perhaps “desirable for the species”?
How are you defining natural?
In the limited context of the discussion of biological nature, ‘natural’ refers to more than simply ‘things that occur in nature.’ Nature has an order and various purposes and some things that occur are at some degree of odds with that nature or purpose. It is to natural purpose and order that I am referring when using the term ‘natural’.
An ear, for instance, isn’t merely a physical organ that exists, but an organ with an order and a purpose. It is situated in a particular place on the body, relates to the larger organism in various ways, and has specific functions. There are plenty of cases of people born deaf, or who lose their hearing early on. In these cases, we recognize that something has gone wrong, as the body isn’t fulfilling its ‘natural’ purpose.
When someone is born intersex, for example, we can recognize their condition as a ‘disorder’ of sexual development. We know how sexual development is supposed to go and in most such cases we can have some idea of how it went wrong.
Although such conditions occur ‘naturally’ and some may even occur as a result of sexually antagonistic selection or something similar for traits that benefit the majority enough to make disorders in a small minority non-dysgenic in general, it is clear that the disorders themselves are highly disadvantageous and contrary to the natural purpose of the individual organism.
When it comes to sex and sexuality, we know that the natural order of the sexed body, sexuality, and sexual relations has the purpose of procreation as its end. We know, for instance, that infertility is dysgenic and at odds with the natural order and purpose of the sexed body, even though a great many forms of infertility naturally exist, likely largely as a result of sexual difference in genetic selection. Infertility is not as natural as fertility, even though it is not uncommon. Rather, infertility in those of reproductive age is a dysgenic disorder, an example of something having gone wrong, at least with regard to the individual biological organism.
These principles extend to sexuality. Transsexuality is a dysgenic condition, something that prevents the body from fulfilling its natural functions and which reveals some compromise of its order. This would be true, even if we were to find that a deep biological account of many transsexual conditions could be offered. Something has gone seriously wrong when we feel alienated from our own bodies.
Likewise, sexuality is a deeply rooted gender difference: men are naturally gynephiles and woman are naturally androphiles. This isn’t the case for a small minority of the population. In such cases, we know that something has gone wrong on some level, as the natural end and order of the organism has been compromised in a manner that undermines the capacity of the body to achieve one of its primary natural biological purposes, much like an eye that lacks the power of sight.
As I have stressed, this isn’t anything like a sufficient basis to declare those who are attracted to persons of the same-sex to be morally disordered. However, it does seem to present serious problems for those seeking radically to normalize LGBT identities, to treat them merely as ambivalent natural variation, like the difference between being left handed and right handed. The natural purpose of reproduction reveals that, on some level, something has gone wrong in such cases. This doesn’t mean that LGBT people are ‘unnatural’. However, it does rather dampen the party for some, as it strongly suggests that LGBT persons are exceptions that should probably be treated as such, and that some form of ‘heteronormativity’ is probably healthy and important for society. Likewise, there is a great asymmetry between the reality of being ‘cisgender’ and that of being ‘transgender’.
This doesn’t mean that science have anything to say to us about unhealthy forms of ‘heteronormativity’, about the ineffective and cruel character of conversion therapy, for instance. However, it really stands in the way of the flattening out of sexualities and forms of sexual relation.
Cal, I did define what I believe the word “natural” to mean – please see my original comment.
So you’re argument is something like
Natural things have a purpose. The purpose of attraction/love/sex is reproduction. Gay attraction/love/sex does not (naturally) fulfil this purpose. Therefore gay attraction/love/sex is unnatural.
Is that broadly correct?
If so then I am right in saying that you *are* making the assumptions that everything natural has to have a purpose and the only (or primary) purpose of attraction/love/sex is reproduction.
Given that LGBTI people in total make at most 10% of the total population, I think heteronormativity is a given and I doubt even Bill Nye was contesting that.
I think most of the disagreements in debates over sexuality come down to semantics so thank you for explaining what you mean.
Thanks for the response, Pete.
I am wary of agreeing with those statements, as they are framed in a manner that might risk circularity: I am not entirely sure of the sense in which the word ‘natural’ is being used within them.
I don’t believe that everything that is according to natural biological order—and, again, it is important to stress that biological order is my focus here—has to have a purpose. Some natural realities are spandrels or otherwise epiphenomenal. Other natural realities might be ambivalent, not mattering one way or another, merely being variation.
However, we can generally discern a purpose for biological realities. When we discover a particular feature of a new species, for instance, our initial instinct is to ask ‘what is it for?’ Once we know what something is naturally for—which isn’t usually hard to discover—we can also discover occasions when something has gone wrong.
The primary natural purpose of sex and the many phenomena associated with it is reproduction. Reproduction is the fundamental means by which the race is continued. It is also the means by which the individual human being passes on its genes. Reproduction may not be the only biological purpose of sex and sexuality, but it is the overriding purpose. Biologically speaking (and there are good empirical reasons to believe that sexuality has biological underpinnings), anything that compromises our ordering towards reproduction is dysgenic and disadvantageous.
It should be noticed that I have never used the word ‘unnatural’ in articulating my own position. I generally reserve such a term for things that aim against the natural order, rather than to cases where something has gone wrong in nature.
Considered biologically, same-sex attraction as such is not necessarily at odds with natural purpose, or might in some cases might just be a minor impediment. For instance, same-sex attraction doesn’t stop bisexual people from bearing offspring. There is a great deal to which natural purpose is ambivalent. Where it becomes a problem is in the case of more exclusive same-sex attraction.
It should be clear that reflections upon the biological aspect of nature doesn’t settle much by itself. Biological purposes are not the same thing as personal and moral purposes either. The purpose of reproduction isn’t as prominent when it comes to the purposes human persons pursue in sexual relations than it is when sexual relations are considered biologically. It would be weird if it were.
However, the biological purpose is nonetheless significant for the human act that is taking place. For instance, sexual relations between men and women have a particular weightiness and significance that sexual relations between two persons of the same sex do not, as the former naturally hold the possibility of bringing new life into the world. That society has accorded particular significance to the sexual relation between men and women, institutionalizing them and surrounding them with norms, is largely a result of this fact. The bond between man and woman is the place where new life is welcomed into the world and society, so human societies have almost without exception given a social significance and status to such relations that it hasn’t given to any others, because other relations naturally lack this significance. They fall more into the realm of private relations, with little significance for the wider social realm.
There are three key terms that we need to distinguish: norm, normal, and normative. ‘Norm’ refers to commonality or frequency. You seem to be referring to ‘heteronormativity’ in this sense. ‘Normal’ refers to conforming to some standard and is contrasted with abnormal. Something can be very uncommon, yet still be normal. Riding a unicycle isn’t the norm, but it is perfectly normal.
‘Normative’ is a term that carries more moral and prescriptive weight, suggesting an ideal. It is normative not to use vicious foul-mouthed attacks in the comments of this blog, for instance.
When talking about same-sex attraction, it is clear that it is not the ‘norm’. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it is ‘abnormal’: it could be like being left-handed, which is entirely normal, just less common. Even something abnormal may be ambivalent relative to normative order, however.
The main problem is that the natural connection of sexual relations with child-bearing and parental bonds has led almost every human society, even when same-sex relations have been treated as benign exceptions, to treat sexual relations between men and women as somehow normative, as an ideal to protect and encourage. This is the sort of thing that people attack as ‘heteronormativity’. It is why the natural ordering of sexuality to reproduction is unwelcome, not just because it suggests the ‘abnormality’ of exclusive same-sex attraction biologically considered, but because it highlights the natural weightiness and significance of relations between men and women that has led society to hold them forth as an ideal to be protected and celebrated.
Thank you for your reply, Alastair.
You have left me wondering if you were defining “natural” as meaning “having biological purpose” why you didnt just use “biological purpose” -it would have been much clearer what you meant! I haven’t seen Bill Nye’s film (and nor do I want to), but given he was communicating to a general audience, I doubt that he was using the specific definition of “natural” that you are. I suspect this is where the confusion lies.
To me, things can be natural without having an obvious purpose and attraction, love and sex have other purposes than just reproduction. (I’m not just talking about myself or even just gay people here.)
I dont want to get into the issue of morality because that isnt what your blog is about. However I do disagree in the strongest (and most personal) terms that acceptance of gay attraction as “normal”, or at least as not a negative thing, is an attack on heteronormativity or family life. The thing that *is* an attack on family life is when gay people are cut out of their family because they are seen as unnatural and dangerous.
This will have to be my last comment in this discussion, for the next few weeks at least. Thank you for the interaction, though: I have appreciated it!
The meaning of ‘natural’ I used is hardly an odd one in a more scientific context (and Bill Nye is presenting these topics as a scientist). If you are talking about the nature of sex and sexuality from a scientific perspective, you will necessarily be looking for its natural order, purposes, manner of functioning, phenomena, etc., much the same as if you were discussion the nature of the heart. The rules of such scientific enquiry don’t suddenly change because we are talking about something controversial.
If we are speaking in terms of natural science (which I have continually stressed is the framing context of my points), what other purposes for attraction, love, and sex are there? I can think of a few purposes, but all of them are subordinate to the purpose of reproduction (and child-rearing), or have to do with the reasons why we reproduce sexually, rather than asexually.
This does not mean that, viewed in moral and personal terms, attraction, love, and sex don’t have many other purposes beyond reproduction. I quite happily affirm this. However, that is quite a different discussion, a discussion that I am not engaging in here. The question here is how a scientist such as Bill Nye should interpret and present same-sex attraction.
By the definition of ‘natural’ that you seem to be using—’for something to be natural it has to be something that has occurred not as a human choice, or consequence of a human choice’—a whole host of things are ‘natural’: severe congenital defects, mental illness, disability, disease, etc., etc. By such a definition, these realities are no less natural than what we consider healthy and whole.
However, I suspect you are equivocating in your use of the term. You wouldn’t so readily refer to paedophilia or infertility as ‘natural’. Paedophilia is clearly related to acts that are profoundly morally disordered, even though it is ‘natural’ in your sense of the word. Infertility is also ‘natural’ in your sense of the word, yet is clearly a case where something has gone wrong biologically, even though there may be nothing wrong with it personally or morally. As you use it, the term ‘natural’ seems to carry the sense of ‘perfectly OK’: ‘natural’ is not just a descriptive but an implicitly approving term.
My suspicion—I might be wrong—is that your actual operative definition is something along the lines of ‘a benign reality occurring apart from human choice or intervention.’ I suspect people like Bill Nye are operating with a similar definition. There is definitely a case that can be made that same-sex relations are a benign and even a positively good reality socially and morally. Yet the term ‘natural’ lays claim to some deeper than this, implicitly claiming that, since something is positive socially and morally, it is a positive thing biologically considered too. However, same-sex attraction, intersexuality, and transgenderism are not positive realities biologically considered. They exist in antagonism with the natural reproductive end of the human organism.
It is quite possible to celebrate acts or ways of life that are in some tension with the natural end of the body. The claim that something is social or morally benign or positive does not need to be grounded in a claim that it is ‘natural’. Indeed, something like religious celibacy may be explicitly undertaken in order to break with the natural norm. In ancient Greece, same-sex love was viewed by some to be higher, precisely because it is ‘unnatural’.
Yet same-sex attraction can seemingly neither aspire to be unnatural, nor to be truly natural. On the one hand, it isn’t an ascetically chosen way of life like celibacy or a form of life pursued as a higher philosophical mode of existence, but is all too clearly rooted in unchosen desires and inclinations, with a probably biological etiology. On the other hand, viewed on the biological level, it is clear that same-sex attraction (and especially exclusive same-sex attraction) is at odds with the natural purpose of the organism.
While celibacy can present itself as something to be celebrated as an ascetic discipline, pointing to the elevation of the human telos over mere reproductive ends and the costly commitment of the person to this pursuit, same-sex relations have pursued acceptance precisely through insisting upon a naturally occurring (and benign) sexual inclination that cannot be overcome or resisted. The celebrated ‘unnatural’ vocation is typically celebrated precisely insofar as it is expressive of a human telos as, through determination, discipline, and the choice of fitting objects, a person aims at something higher than nature and its attendant appetites and ends. Yet same-sex relations have consistently sought their justification in natural desires that cannot supposedly be consistently denied or overcome.
While marriage can present itself as something to be celebrated on the basis of the natural ordering of man and woman to each other as a central reality of human nature and the weightiness of sexual relations between a man and a woman on account of the reality of procreation, same-sex relations can claim no such thing for itself either. In making its appeal to nature, same-sex relations are appealing to something that is clearly disordered on the biological level.
Indeed, same-sex relations would seem to be simultaneously less expressive of a natural good and less expressive of a higher human good than the marriage of a man and a woman. They cannot express the natural purpose of the union of man and woman and the bringing forth of offspring. In lacking this natural purpose they seek rationale, not in a higher ascetic or philosophical vocation, for which the disciplined practice of same-sex relations have been discovered to be the means, but in the natural insistence of same-sex attraction and the incapability of overcoming this.
Marriage between a man and a woman has often been attended by a host of social norms and disciplines, calling, for instance, for lifelong sexual fidelity, exclusivity, and the avoidance of sexual relations outside of and prior to marriage. This has rendered marriage akin to an ascetic discipline in some key respects, ordering it, in its fulfilment of the natural end of bringing forth children, to higher human ends of the discipline of lifelong fidelity and tarrying with the mystery of the ‘horizontal transcendence’ of sexual difference. However, same-sex relations have sought social sanction apart from the determination to submit to such discipline: gay commentators themselves claim that open marriages are the norm, promiscuous sexual relations outside of marriage are celebrated, and no general expectation of chastity outside of marriage exists.
Advocates for same-sex relations insist that being gay is not a choice (‘we can’t help it!’). Yet that is a telling line of argument, as it implies that, if it were a choice, it would not merit celebration. Unlike celibacy, its ‘unnaturalness’ cannot readily be commended as a good thing in itself, so it must appeal to nature. Besides, if same-sex relations were celebrated on such grounds, the celebration would be fairly exclusive to those relations that submitted to the ascetic disciplines that ordered them to the achievement of the higher telos being pursued. For instance, the asexual person could become a committed celibate, but celibacy is not a celebration of some natural condition of asexuality, but the disciplined ordering of the person to a higher purpose.
However, by forgoing appeal to a higher telos and resorting to nature, same-sex relations face the problem that both their orientation and their forms of relation are in some tension with the natural purpose of sexuality and the sexed body. Nature provides no grounds for celebration either.
This, I suspect, is much of the reason for the constant equivocations around terms such as ‘nature’. Same-sex relations cannot truly make a compelling case for their celebration in either the court of natural purpose or the court of higher moral purpose, so they must strategically vacillate between the two. When in the scientific court of nature, the social goodness of same-sex relations must be insisted, because it is clear that they don’t serve the purposes of nature itself. When in the moral court of human society, the unchosen naturalness of same-sex attraction must be insisted upon, because it is clear that same-sex relations do not readily conform to a higher human telos. If we strategically moved between asexuality and celibacy in such a manner, I suspect that people would recognize that there was a problem.
It is possible to accept that same-sex attraction is benign or even normal, while still accepting heteronormativity. Where this becomes a problem is in the pursuit of marriage by same-sex couples. That is an attack on heteronormativity, a flattening out of both the natural and the social differences between same-sex relations and relations between men and women. It disguises the ideals and purposes of marriage in order to suggest it is interchangeable with relations between two persons of the same sex.
The problem is that marriage is held in high regard precisely because of the purposes and ends to which it is ordered. It is held in high regard because it is the context where the natural union between man and woman is expressed and its end of childbearing is most fully served (as a stable context is provided, within which children can receive a welcome into the world within the framework of the loving bond by which they were conceived). It is also held in high regard because it is ascetic discipline in key respects, shaped by the virtues of chastity, fidelity, and exclusivity.
Same-sex relations don’t have the same natural virtues to commend them. However, nor do they seem to exhibit the same level of commitment to an ascetic discipline and a higher end to which appetite and desire are sacrificed and re-ordered. Consequently, same-sex unions do not readily invite high social approbation comparable to the union of man and woman in marriage when viewed on their own terms. Instead, the appeal has consistently been made to a principle of ‘marriage equality’, which insisted upon the interchangeability and parity of the two forms of relationship rather than arguing it. The question was begged precisely because the actual case is so weak and because, without a direct claim upon the social currency of marriage, insisting upon legally enforced parity of value, it would never command comparable social respect. This is a direct attack on heteronormativity.
I agree that the cutting of LGBT people out of their families is at odds with the sort of love that should naturally characterize such bonds (and I’m speaking here as someone who has a very close and positive relationship with an LGBT sibling).
Anyway, I had best leave things there. Thank you very much for your time and patience in this conversation, Pete. It has been a pleasure. Blessings!
So let’s define what we mean by “natural” so we can be on the same page.
As I have said before, the disagreement is over the meaning of individual words, not the substance. I am pretty sure Nye was using the more common usage because he was talking to a general audience – otherwise his usage wouldn’t have made any sense to 99% of the audience…or the TV execs!
I think I would call paedophilia natural, yes… if you are talking about someone who is *by nature* attracted to children. I don’t know much about the subject, but I understand, however, that most active paedophiles are probably not motivated by attraction. Something being natural does *not* mean desirable or good – as I’ve already said at least once! Again I might agree that infertility was natural – *if* it was from nature. I’ll agree that it would be a curious way to describe infertility, but then I find the discussion of whether gay attraction is natural or not to be curious – to me, it obviously *is* natural!
I think there are many purposes for attraction, love and sex. Forming intimate bonds helps overcome challenges, improves health (physical and mental), makes use of resources more efficient and generally improves pretty much every aspect of life. Attraction, for people who are attractive, can also boost their popularity and help them rise to the top. Natural variation/mutation is, of course, a biological purpose in itself.
I think I would agree with you that LGBTI conditions are not biologically positive *if* there was only one pair of humans left alive – because the imperative would be to continue the human race, but that is not the biological situation we are in. We can work together.
I really do not want to get into the morality of being gay – it is very naughty of you to do so and then say this is your last comment! However I would like to correct a few of your statements that I believe you are mistaken on.
I do think that you are wrong to say that an argument for same sex relationships/sex is that “we can’t help it” – I’ve never heard anyone say that in terms of relationship or sex. I have heard it in terms of allowing gay people (whether in a couple of single) protections, rights and acceptance. I have heard it in explaining why opposite sex marriage is not very helpful for gay people – although some people do, indeed, choose this route.
I think you are wrong to say that a large number of same sex marriages are “open” (although perhaps in older generations). I actually think that marriage, and even having the possibility of marriage, is encouraging faithful monogamy amongst gay people.
I don’t agree that same sex marriage is harming opposite sex marriage, but I don’t want to get into that either now. I also don’t agree that by accepting gay attraction, love or sex as “natural” you are necessarily approving of same sex marriage. Lots of gay people do not approve of same sex marriage, but they will tell you that they did not choose to be gay and/or their attractions are natural.
I want to finish by repeating my claim in my original response because it is pertinent here – what is the alternative? Progressive attitudes are winning on this issue *because* there is no alternative coming from conservative voices. The “orientation change” project of the 90s has been roundly rejected, even by most conservative voices, as a disaster. There has been nothing since, except, frankly, sniping. Rather than just criticise same sex marriage, why not present an alternative? Rather than just criticise acceptance gay attraction, why not present an alternative to accepting it?
You say you are not arguing for gay people to be cut out of their families, but then in rejecting gay attraction as “not natural” what are you arguing for?
You have asked several questions in your most recent post here. I wanted to ask you a question about a comment you made in an earlier post but I held back because I did not want to interrupt the flow of your conversation with Alastair, but I will ask you that question now. You said that you did not watch the videos of the Bill Nye programme and that you did not want to watch them. Would you mind outlining why you did not want to watch them?
I’m not overly fond of popular science programmes. I prefer to have some cheery escapism and – although I think science programmes are good introductions, they often frustrated because they create more questions than they resolve.
Having said that I’ve heard that this particular programme did not have much scientific content.
It’s also likely I’d disagree with him on something and I don’t like being talked about without right-of-reply.
For example one of the issues that he apparently mentioned is the sexuality ‘spectrum’. I dislike this concept as it can be taken to mean ‘everybody is attracted to both sexes to a greater or lesser extent’. That encourages people to ignore the fact that actually most people are exclusively attracted to a single sex. I’d say that this was little more than a mild irritation for me, though.
“……to me, it obviously *is* natural!”.
Is it? Or could it be the cultural milieu, your experiences growing up, or possibly a host of other (what I would classify as negative) factors that has created this attraction?
Furthermore, I believe that there are now a significant amount of data from the social sciences that show that the gay lifestyle has is damaging physically and emotionally. For example, with regard to rates of depression, suicide, and relational violence.
This is as one would expect if it was “unnatural” or outside of God’s purpose for man.
I grew up in a conservative Christian home and my “lifestyle” is probably no different to your own, but thank you for your prejudice! Do you have any substantive points to make or is it just abuse?
Thank you for your comment. I appreciate your reservations about the videos of Bill Nye’s show- they don’t have much scientific content. I also take your point about you having no right-of-reply in the context of Bill Nye’s show – unlike Alastair’s comments section, it is not a forum.
I saw that you were bowing out, but I wanted to ask anyway just in case you are still around. I wanted to follow up on your repeated remarks that something being unnatural in the sense of being disordered in terms of its evident function and purpose is not a sufficient grounding for a moral claim against it. (Much earlier on the thread, I had asked you how you would respond specifically to the claim that a moral claim based on an appeal to “nature” is logically fallacious.)
I’m trying to connect the dots, but am not quite seeing it yet. I want to say that “moral” is the same as “virtue” (in the classical sense, which is the tradition I’m rooted in), and that since virtue, or excellence, pertains to something being used in terms of the work it is evidently meant for, a successful argument that sexual morality has to be rooted in indisputable biological norms would have to entail that departure from those norms is by definition “immoral.”
This is how it seems to me, and I don’t see otherwise what to do with Romans 1’s condemnations, where Paul uses the words “vile passions” and “shameful” on the one hand, and “what is not fitting” on the other. Isn’t this moral language, and isn’t it rooted precisely in nature (την φυσικην)?
Well (according to Alastairs definition) being infertile or being deaf are not natural, but we don’t normally consider these things immoral. NB the religious in Jesus time did consider being deaf as immoral (or at least unclean)
I would argue that Paul is not talking about gay people in the modern sense. The only aspect of this passage linking it to gay people is the sexual activity (and with very different motivation) and theres quite a lot in the passage to suggest these are not gay people.
It looks like Alastair’s too busy to answer, so perhaps I can comment?
The issue Alastair’s addressing here isn’t quite whether homosexuality is disordered in terms of the evident function and purpose of our reproductive organs, but whether it is disordered in terms of the biological purpose of our reproductive organs–that is, whether the inclination from sex with the opposite sex, and for sex with the same sex is the result of something like a physical illness. When we are ill, parts of our bodies are prevented from their evident function and purpose–for instance, as Pete mentioned, the ear of a deaf person is not able to function according to its biological purpose, namely, hearing–but this failure of a part of our body to function according to its evident purpose is not a moral failure or a vice (though it may come about as the result of a moral failure, it is not itself morally problematic). Likewise here: If Alastair is correct, and a homosexual inclination is the result of something like an illness, that inclination is not itself in any way a moral failing or a failing in virtue–and indeed, like e.g. deafness, it may itself be central to the identity of the the individual (and legitimately so), and may have real potential benefit to society.
Nor even, here, is the question whether same-sex sex is moral or immoral (virtuous or vicious), but whether, in same-sex sex, the the sex organs are used naturally or, for lack of a better term, artificially. To illustrate the distinction I’m trying to draw: When I use my ear to hear, I am using the ear naturally, that is, according to its evident biological purpose; but when I use my ear to hold a pencil, I am using it “artificially”, in a way that is different from its evident biological purpose, but, in this case, not inimical to its use for its biological purpose either. That is, use of the sex organs in non-contraceptive heterosexual sex is something like using the ear to hear, using the sex organs in contraceptive heterosexual sex or same-sex sex is something like using an ear to hold a pencil. (Though the “artifical” ends we pursue in contraceptive heterosexual sex, and in same-sex sex, are much more important than the ends we pursue in holding a pencil with our ear.) That contraceptive opposite-sex sex and same-sex sex use the sex organs “artificially” not “naturally” does not itself prove that engaging in such sex is contrary to virtue any more than the fact that when we hold a pencil behind our ear we use the ear “artificially” and not “naturally” proves that holding a pencil behind our ear is contrary to virtue. (And neither Alastair nor I object, in principle, to contraception–and, I believe the objection would apply to celibacy as much as to contraception and same-sex sex, and not even Catholics object to celibacy.)
As to the virtuousness of same-sex sex: It seems to me (though Alastair may disagree) that because analyzing the virtuousness or viciousness of a particular sort of act requires a detailed reading of the specifics of a situation, it isn’t possible, based on natural revelation alone, to say, in advance of analysis of the specifics of different societies, that same-sex sex is wrong–to do so is to equivocate. Analyzing, for instance, the virtuousness of tribal elders sharing tribal seed with boys as a part of their becoming men authorized to beget children for the tribe requires an extremely different sort of analysis from analyzing the virtuousness of homosexual sex today. We can, it seems to me, rule out same-sex sex before engaging with the specifics of a particular culture, but we do so on the basis of special revelation, believing, in faith, that a careful analysis of the practice in any given culture would show it is vicious there. Part of what we need to resist, however, is the equivocation required to claim that same-sex sex is “natural”, and the denial of biological sex.
Is that at all accurate?
I am reminded of the apocryphal story of when scientists believed that it was physically impossible for the bumblebee to fly. The bumblebee wasn’t unnatural and nor was their understanding of physics wrong, they had just made a number of false assumptions before they began their calculations.
Here we have the assumptions that
Attraction is only for sex
Sex is only for procreation
The only thing necessary for the human race to prosper is procreation
Human attributes can only have purpose in individuals and not as groups
Natural attributes must have a known purpose etc etc
Id like to add an essential point, which many people miss when they deny the existence of biological sexes (as e.g. Nicolas Matte did in that YouTube clip).
The point is that evolution only developed sexes for one purpose, which is reproduction. There is no other need for having sexes, other than for creating advantageous mechanisms for genetic recombination of highly complex organisms (as put forward by the Red-Queen-Hypothesis).
The majority of organisms (and cells in general) on earth do not express sexual diversification; they reproduce by cloning themselves. Simply put, most organisms use mitosis (or the prokaryotic equivalent) for reproduction. And they (e.g. Bacteria or Archaea) are very sucessful doing so.
However, nature developed meiosis which creates cells with only half the genetic material, ought to once meet another haploid cell to recombine their genomes. This has advantages and disadvantages, but the major point is that nature created exactly two types of these gametes (which makes sense given that DNA is double stranded). Moreover, it made it almost impossible that two gametes of the same type fuse to form a diploid cell.
Given the existence of a binary gamete-based system of reproduction, every other view on biological sexes fall apart, for example the notion that atypical karyotypes exist, such as XXY, thus invalidating the notion that only two sexes exist. However, individuals with these unusual gonosome combinations do NOT form new gametes. Either they fail to do so (as we see the vast majority of these individuals being infertile) or they produce normal gametes.
How many fingers does a human being have?
Yet, noone is arguing about the oppression of those individuals with atypical finger counts, e.g. by the lack of adequate gloves in most if not all shops.
I don’t think it is inadequate gloves that LGBTI people have a problem with.
I obviously can only speak for myself, but I would say the main problems are when we face violence, abuse, discrimination or exclusion because we are attracted to the “wrong” sex or because we do not experience being the same gender as our physical sex or because we don’t experience being the same gender as our physical sex or because we were born not distinctly one sex or the other.
I think we will only start to be treated well when there is general recognition that there are real people behind the alphabet soup. Real people who did not ask to exist and who recognise that our existence is a problem for some people, but nonetheless have worth.
I think it is possible to make most of these points without needing to reject Biology 101, which is the point here.
I thought the point was to explain why LGBTI people weren’t “normal” (whatever that might mean) and *shouldn’t* be accepted or acceptable?
No, it wasn’t. The question of how to regard and treat LGBTI persons socially was one the post left open. The point of the post was that, on a biological level, LG(B)TI identities are all in some degree of tension with the natural (biological) order of sex and sexuality. Despite protests about appeals to nature, LGBTI activists repeatedly seem to try to deny this biological fact. My point was that this suggests that, despite common protests that the biological order has no bearing on how we should act as persons in society, the biological order nonetheless represents some threat to them.
But what do you mean by “in tension” except to say that our existence is less acceptable than yours? How can people’s existence by “in tension” with nature?! Either we exist or we do not!
I don’t buy your claim to be neutral (or even positive) on the issue of treatment of lgbti people. The default implication of your argument is that any acceptance of us is to be avoided. If you hadn’t meant this then you could, and should have said so. Other commenters on your blog have directly made comments suggesting that this is what you have meant and you have not sought to correct them.
As I have said before if your intention is benign towards LGBTI people, why not write a blog offering something positive from a conservative point of view? It would be refreshing and it would demonstrate that not all conservatives hate lgbti people for existing.
I already said that I had weighed in for the last time in this particular discussion, but very briefly…
I have already made clear that I believe LGBTI persons exist and that I believe that, in many cases, their conditions arise from biological factors. However, I have also made clear that ‘nature’ isn’t simply that which exists, but is also the order according to which and the purposes around which nature is structured.
It is in this respect that LGBTI identities are ‘in tension’ with nature. They are exceptions to the rule of nature, not a rule of their own. The tension here is similar to the way in which a ‘naturally’ occurring blind eye is in tension with the natural purpose and ordering of the organ of sight. None of this means that a blind person is sinful or even unnatural. But nor does it mean that the blind eye is just another less common sort of eye, just as normal as a seeing eye. No, it is generally a result of natural processes having gone wrong.
If we are answering the question of why LGBTI persons exist in the first place, the answer to that question will often tend to be found in some natural process that has gone awry. Again, it doesn’t directly follow from this that LGBTI persons themselves are ‘unnatural’ or sinful, still less that they should be persecuted and stigmatized. However, it does unsettle notions that they simply represent ambivalent forms of diversity, or that society should treat such sexualities as interchangeable in significance with those forms of sexual identity and sexuality that are congruent with male and female union.
I have moral objections to same sex relations. However, my arguments here are nowhere near a sufficient basis for such objections and weren’t designed to support them. Rather, my points were about the discomfort that LGBTI activists exhibit around the biology of sex and sexuality, a discomfort that suggests that they recognize that the natural biological reality is not friendly to their cause.
Please re-read what you have written and see how contradictory it seems to me.
Leaving aside the notion that you claim we are here by natural cause, but that we are in “tension” with nature(!), you also say that that it doesn’t naturally follow that we should be stigmatised (hardly a ringing endorsement of our right to life!), but then claim that LGBTI “activists” exhibit discomfort around the biology of sex and sexuality!!!
I have discomfort around discussing straight sex, which Is analogous to the discomfort most straight people feel around discussing gay sex or thinking about your parents have sex, but I don’t think that’s what you mea.
I would say actually what we have discomfort about is when people make obviously false claims that we are somehow unnatural or less natural than they are, particularly because such claims are nearly always used to justify violence, abuse, exclusion and discrimination.
The discomfort that I was speaking of arises from the fact that the study of nature makes clear that, while homosexuality is almost certainly a ‘naturally’ arising condition, it is also a dysgenic one, a condition that is patently detrimental to the biological fitness of the organism, a condition that is at odds with the natural ends and ordering of sex and sexuality. It is natural in the sense that it occurs apart from human intervention in nature, but it is also apparent that it is a case of nature going wrong.
Although we try not to stigmatize people with dysgenic conditions as a society, we also don’t normalize such conditions. Where we have the knowledge and ability, we also generally try to eradicate dysgenic conditions. If we knew the conditions in the womb that led to homosexuality and had a means of preventing them non-invasively, a majority of parents would probably choose to do so, much as they would treat other dysgenic conditions, even those conditions that can be integral to people’s forms of subjectivity.
Our recognition that people have dysgenic conditions, including dysgenic conditions that powerfully shape their subjectivity (like autism, for instance), doesn’t prevent us from recognizing them as persons with dignity and treating them as such. We may even recognize particular beauties of the forms of personhood that bear the mark of such conditions (the characteristic joy of many persons with Down’s Syndrome, for instance). However, while recognizing such things and valuing the persons with such conditions, most of us would also welcome ways to prevent such conditions from occurring in the first place.
Many people with autism, for instance, fiercely oppose the quest to find a ‘cure’ or way to avoid autism. Autism is a crucial part of their identity and a sort of group identity that is profoundly meaningful to them. In a similar way, a number of deaf people have challenged cures for deafness as an assault upon their shared deaf culture. However, most parents, given the choice, would welcome a way to avoid such conditions. They would also welcome ways to avoid intersex conditions in their children and transgender children. Almost all of us have a sense that something is seriously wrong when children are born sexually ambiguous or grow up with gender dysphoria. Such conditions are examples of nature going wrong.
The issue is that LGBTI persons in our society don’t want their group identities to be associated with things like deaf culture or shared autistic identity. They wish to present their conditions as symmetrical to and interchangeable with those of ‘heterosexual’, ‘cisgender’, or unambiguously sexed persons, to be socially celebrated and regarded accordingly. The fact that nature does not underwrite but challenges the status that they want for themselves is a problem.
Anyway, we’ve been around this a few times and you still really don’t seem to have quite grasped my point, so this will have to be my final point. Thanks for taking the time for the conversation, though.
Thank you for your reply. I can obviously only speak for myself and the people I know, but I think you have completely the wrong end of the stick. I haven’t ever come across anyone who is seeking for LGBTI issues to continue into the future. Many of us have experienced pretty horrific situations, we all have experienced challenges and we all are aware of the horrendous treatment of LGBTI people in places like Nigeria and Chechnya. We would not wish this on anyone. The only thing that I’ve come across that is anything near people wishing to suppress a cure is that some gay people do not want researchers to find genes which influence orientation. They are worried that it may become a reason to have an abortion.
Most of us who are gay did not want to be so when we first discovered it in our early teens. Compared to the rest of the world, we have luxurious protection in the UK, but I suspect I am nothing like alone even in this country in saying that if you were able to offer me a cure then I would gladly take it.
But do I still want to be treated as well as a “normal” person? Absolutely! I don’t want to be sacked for being gay, or be refused accommodation, be yelled at in the street or denied cake!
In any case, whether LGBTI people want to partake or suppress a cure is academic, because there isn’t even a whiff of a cure for these things.
The efforts at normalisation are actually an attempt to educate the public so that the discrimination, exclusion and violence is reduced. I know from personal experience, for example, that many people believe that a gay person is essentially a straight person who has sought extreme sexual experiences. I know many people believe that trans people have also chosen their gender and are completely oblivious to the existence of intersex people altogether! I think education leads to better understanding and less hostility.
There’s a pretty good documentary on BBC3 (iplayer and YouTube) called “Does God hate Queers”. You can judge for yourself whether you think any of the young people featured want the next generation to go through what they’ve been through.
No, that wasnt the point. LBGT people are natural in a way that they exist in nature. They are just outliers; even in gaussian terms.
The point was that people denying the existence of biological sexes (and their binary nature) deny very simple principles of biology. Biology hasnt produced many principles – this is one of them.
I don’t think anyone is denying the existence of biological sexes?!
Bill Nye is suggesting that biological sexes exist on a spectrum. Which really is a tremendous obfuscation of the reality. Same with sexuality. Sexuality is a gender difference, and not really a ‘spectrum’. Men are typically gynephiles and women are typically androphiles. Explanations for the very small minority of exceptional cases where this isn’t so are explanations of nature going awry, as every serious biologist knows that sex and sexuality exist to serve the purpose of reproduction. Where they fail to do this, we know that something has gone wrong.
I don’t like either sex or sexuality being discussed in terms of a spectrum as it seems to me to imply a uniform distribution across it, which isn’t true (and isn’t what the speaker is intending to communicate). However it is true that distinct males and females exist and it is true that people exist who are partly male and partly female. This will be what Nye means by a spectrum. He isn’t denying the existence of males and females. He is just saying that not everyone is distinctly male or distinctly female.
It also is not true that orientation is defined by biological sex. My biological sex is male – I have no reason to believe otherwise – and yet my orientation is towards males. I’ve had several other theologians try to tell me I’m not male because I’m gay. In other words, not a “proper” man. No medical doctors, biologists or geneticists have questioned my sex.
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