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Letters
October 22, 2001

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Dear Editor,

Recent contributions to Presbyweb contain information that is in need of additional social scientific perspective. I will leave the theological discussion (which should actually carry far greater weight) to others more knowledgeable than I. First, I need to briefly refer back to my earlier
letter to Presbyweb (12/26/00) in response to Tricia Dykers Koenig's belief that, "When we deny the possibility of any legitimate homosexual relationship we inadvertently encourage promiscuity." I earlier observed and do so again here, "If lack of access to formal marriage linked in a simple cause and effect relationship with homosexual promiscuity, then one would expect to find similar levels of promiscuity between lesbians and gay men. But in fact, this is far from the case. Another, and I think more parsimonious explanation for these statistics, is that what has historically constrained men from promiscuous behavior and served to enable human civilization is the marriage of one man to one women. In this way, the woman's nature uniquely functions within the marital covenant to constrain the man's natural proclivities toward multiple sexual partners." Additionally, I still await a definitive word on what the Covenant Network affirms regarding bisexuality, which by definition involves sexual behavior with both sexes. Should the bisexual be forced to contain his or her sexual desire to one man or woman in a monogamous relationship? If so, is not this less than "compassionate" in that it would require that the bisexual person not indulge in "natural" sexual contact with a person of the opposite sex of his or her partner? I suspect that most in our denomination perceive the Pandora's Box here.

In another correspondence, Jack Harrison states that, "No matter how much one wishes to deny modernity or the growing body of scientific evidence pointing to the biological determinism of sexual orientation--like race and gender...." I wish Mr. Harrison would cite his references for this conclusion. My impression of the literature is that most scientists and even many gay apologists are now distancing themselves from a strict biological deterministic view of sexual orientation. For example, as early as 1993, Byne & Parsons concluded (p. 228), "Critical review shows the evidence favoring a biologic theory to be lacking. In an alternative model, temperamental and personality traits interact with familial and social milieu as the individual's sexuality emerges." Much was made of the Bailey and Pillard (1991) study that found higher rates of homosexuality among identical twins than for either nonidentical twins or nontwin biological siblings. However, as Byne observes (Horgan, 1993), "The increased concordance for homosexuality among the identical twins could be entirely accounted for by the increased similarity of their developmental experiences. In my opinion, the major finding of that study is that 48% of identical twins who were reared together were discordant for sexual orientation" (p. 131). Byne (1994) also noted that, "Bailey and Pillard found that the incidence of homosexuality in the adopted brothers of homosexuals (11 percent) was much higher than recent estimates for the rate of homosexuality in the population (1 to 5 percent). In fact, it was equal to the rate for non-twin biological brothers. This study clearly challenges a simple genetic hypothesis and strongly suggests that environment contributes significantly to sexual orientation" (p. 54). Follow up research has found that the genetic influence on homosexual development may be dramatically less than Bailey and Pillard's earlier study projected. Jones (1999) reported that Bailey has since refuted his earlier estimates and noted that, "So even in his [Bailey's] earlier flawed study, it turns out, his 52% concordance for identical male twins did not mean that half of the twin pairs had both twins homosexual. Rather, it appears that the earlier, biased research actually found about one-third of the identical twin pairs to be concordant for homosexuality" (p. 53).

Another line of research attempts to base biological determinism in a difference in brain structure between homosexual and heterosexual men (LeVay & Hamer, 1994). However, serious methodological problems exist for this type of examination and replication of these findings has been lacking (Horgan, 1995; Rice, Anderson, Risch, & Ebers, 1999). There is also the possibility that "promiscuous behavior and associated lifestyle likely to have been common among homosexual men who die of AIDS [the subjects in LeVay's study] may cause selective shrinkage of a subset of hypothalamic neurons or increase the calibre of anterior commissural fibres" (Harrison, Everall, & Catalan, 1994, p. 815). Indeed, as animal research has suggested, "It is possible that differences in sexual behavior cause, rather than are caused by, differences in brain structure" (Breedlove, 1997, p. 801). Unfortunately, this type of news seems never to find it's way into a prominent place in the newspapers or news magazines (if it gets noted at all). All in all, Mr. Harrison's attempt to compare the straightforward genetics and biology of race or gender with something as incredibly complex as human sexuality appears destined to fail empirically.

Just to put such genetic research in perspective, it's worth noting that a recent twin study also concluded that the propensity to engage in casual sex (referred to as "sociosexuality"--note how antiseptic sin can sound in science) was also primarily genetically determined (Bailey, et. al, 2000). The authors summarize their findings by stating, "Given the apparent strong additive genetic influence on sociosexuality, which causes increased resemblance between parents and offspring, it seems most likely that the correlations between parental marital status and offspring sociosexuality is primarily due to genetic factors. This interpretation is also consistent with the finding that divorce is moderately heritable" (p. 543). While scientific research is somewhat more objective than personal opinion, findings such as these should point to the limitations of the empirical approach in social science. It is vulnerable to sociopolitical interests and to the propensity for humans to seek rationalizations for their behavior. Speaking as a psychologist, I find attempts to base the moral status of behavior on the degree of genetic or biological determination to be a rather frightening prospect. Scientific research can, at best, inform our discussions on controversial social issues. I hope the reader can see from this analysis that the authority given to such research must be placed far below that of the Scriptures.

Finally, I appreciate Craig Tenke's fair clarification of the Spitzer study. Evangelicals must be careful not to read too much into this research, important as it is. I would note for the sake of balance, however, the following words that Spitzer also said, according to the notes from his power point presentation given at the APA convention in May: "We conclude that, contrary to conventional wisdom, some highly motivated individuals, using a variety of change efforts, can make substantial change in multiple indicators of sexual orientation and achieve good heterosexual functioning. Subjects that made less substantial changes still believed that such changes were extremely beneficial. Complete change--which is generally considered an unrealistic goal in psychotherapy--is uncommon, particularly in male subjects." I would also agree with Mr. Tenke that the controversy over the study is primarily political. In my view, however, the Spitzer study is not tainted by this; rather, it simply highlights the sociopolitical involvement present in much of social science. Moreover, the fact that it was denounced so stridently by gay researchers and academicians has to be considered somewhat of a barometer of it's potential to upset politically correct thinking about reorientation efforts.

I am much more skeptical than Mr. Tenke regarding the ability of the empirical method to ultimately decide the issue of change in sexual orientation. The first and foremost reason for my skepticism has to do with practicalities, i.e., who is going to fund and conduct research in this area? I don't see any inclination for governmental agencies, academic institutions, mental health associations, or foundations to fund studies that might lead to conclusions that were not gay-affirmative. I will consider changing my mind when I see clear statements from such organizations offering or at least calling for funding of research that involves both opponents and proponents of change efforts.

To sum up: Let us appreciate science. Let us worship Christ alone.

Sincerely,

Christopher H. Rosik, Ph.D.
Member & Psychologist
First Presbyterian Church
Fresno, California

References:

Bailey, J. M., Kirk, K. M., Zhu, G., Dunne, M. P., & Martin, N. G. 2000). Do individual differences in sociosexuality represent genetic or environmental contingent strategies? Evidence from the Australian twin registry. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78(5), 537-545.

Bailey, J. M., & Pillard, R. C. (1991). A genetic study of male sexual rientation, Archives of General Psychiatry, 48, 1089-1096.

Breedlove, S. M. (1997, October 23). Sex on the brain. Nature, p. 801.

Byne, W. (1994, May). The biological evidence challenged. Scientific American, pp. 50-55.

Byne, W., & Parsons, B. (1993). Human sexual orientation: The biological theories reappraised. Archives of General Psychiatry, 50, 228-239.

Harrison, P. J., Everall, I. P., & Catalan, J. (1994). Is homosexual behavior hard-wired? Sexual orientation and brain structure. Psychological Medicine, 24, 811-816.

Horgan, J. (1993, June). Eugenics revisited. Scientific American, pp. 122-131.

Horgan, J. (1995, November). Gay genes, revisited: Doubts arise over research on the biology of homosexuality. Scientific American, p. 26.

Jones, S. L. (1999, October 4). The incredibly shrinking gay gene. Christianity Today, p. 53.

LeVay, S., & Hamer, D. H. (1994, May). Evidence for a biological influence n male homosexuality. Scientific American, pp. 44-49.

Rice, G., Anderson, C., Risch, N. & Ebers, G. (1999, April 23). Male homosexuality: Absence of linkage to microsatellite markers at Xq28. Science, 284, p. 665-667

 



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