Will Proof against a “Gay Gene” Reduce Genetic Determinism?

As reported by Michael Cook at BioEdge, a very large scientific study has pulled the rug out from under the argument that some gene or targeted set of genes causes people to engage in homosexual activity.

The implications of the study go far beyond concerns about the protections and dignity of the homosexual – or “gay” – community. On another score, it encourages faith in free will (and the associated rights and responsibilities) and deals a severe blow to our society’s increasing willingness to point to genetic determinants of human nature as relief from personal accountability – or as excuses for manipulation of others.

Whatever one might feel about homosexual activity, this study’s results suggest that each self-identified “gay” person will need to take greater moral, social, and even legal responsibility for their choices to engage in such activity. A genetic explanation, at any rate, will not be available as an alternative.

A Powerful Note of Caution about Genetic Determinism

Stubborn belief in the myth of a genetic basis for homosexuality is only one example of genetic determinism or reductionism, the exaggerated belief in genetic factors as determinants of our human nature.

Research studies and stories in the popular media appear almost every week to convince the public that one or other characteristic of human DNA has a determining effect on our personalities, behavior, and even thoughts.

Some researchers have tried to link various genetic traits to individuals’ happiness or “virtuous character”. Others see a connection between genetics and political orientations. Tentative indications that a particular gene influences a person’s ability to multitask led to hasty calls for performing a new gene therapy on drone operators. Numerous, conflicting studies try to find the genetic basis for income level or staying in school.

Whether or not the structure of a person’s DNA – with about one billion trillion genes in the human microbiome – correlates slightly with a person’s nature and tendency toward specific behavior, what all these studies have in common is a cynical attitude toward the free will inherent in human nature.

The evils of denying the depth of human beings’ free will are many. Will our government elites someday take action against citizens who seem to have a genetic predisposition toward political opposition to certain policies? The German Nazi regime decimated Europe and grew incredibly powerful upon the idea that Jewish and other genetic races gravitated toward unwelcome political, intellectual, and cultural attitudes.

We have also witnessed, since at least the 1920s, the disastrous consequences of discrimination against the poor in helping to drive eugenics in Western societies. Edwin Black, in War Against the Weak, tells of the raids by police into the poor communities of America’s Appalachian mountains, nabbing children and forcibly sterilizing them because they had the misfortune of being born into multi-generational poverty. The eugenics-minded police assumed that such children were doomed to a genetic inheritance of sloth, low intelligence, and promiscuity.

For the same reasons, the government-enforced minimum wage policy, promoted today as a compassionate service to low-wage workers, was originally intended by progressives to drive unwanted populations out of the work force and to their early deaths.

Will our militaries use aggressive and highly premature genetic therapies to craft the perfect soldier, with insufficient protection of individual soldiers’ rights or the damage caused by unintended effects?

Will our societies endorse an ever-growing host of genetically-based excuses for irresponsible, antisocial, and immoral choices? Or will professionals who hope to encourage different behavior be villainized?

We have already seen this tendency in the widespread insistence on a genetic basis for homosexual behavior leading to shrill attacks on psychologists, priests, and Christians who try to lovingly counsel individuals away from unnatural and damaging homosexual behavior.     

As Michael Cook wisely asked, “If homosexuality is not largely genetically-based, why is it wrong to try to modify sexual orientation, if a person requests help in doing so?”

There will be few such opportunities to educate a public that will increasingly make private judgments about the genetic character of children. We are rapidly entering an age in which parents will have the ability to alter the genetic characteristics of their children at the embryonic stage.

The recent increase in proof against a “gay gene” will shock many. It will produce controversy to no end.

This is therefore an excellent time to remind our citizens that neither scientists, nor teachers, nor governments have anything close to the ability to predict human behavior according to genetics.

Now is the time, and this new research study is a great opportunity – before it is too late.