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Dennis V. Dahle, John P. Livingstone and M. Gawain Wells, in "Religion, science and same-sex attraction" (Opinion, Feb. 25), suggest that science and religion have joined to show that because it is not rooted in biological mechanisms, same-sex attraction is not innate and is subject to change. They thus infer that gay and lesbian people choose their orientation.
This proposition is severely flawed.
First, the authors' manipulations of quotations from Dr. Francis Collins distort and misrepresent his views. They first cite Collins about possible genetic influence on homosexuality. After several intervening paragraphs they introduce separate comments about "individual free will" and "playing the hand dealt to us," which they represent as his "additional insight on homosexuality."
This juxtaposition is a deception. The "free will" comments actually refer to genes and intelligence or criminal and antisocial behavior, not homosexuality. Collins has responded to this corruption of his statements by A. Dean Byrd as incoming president of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, or NARTH.
Collins sets the record straight as follows: 1) "The words quoted by NARTH ... have been juxtaposed in a way that suggests a somewhat different conclusion than I intended"; 2) The fact that there are other factors that influence how information in DNA is expressed "certainly doesn't imply that those other factors are inherently alterable"; 3) Even though the actual genes contributing to SSA have yet to be identified, "it is likely that such genes will be found in the next few years."
Here is the full text of Collins' unequivocal denunciation of others who, like Byrd and the three authors, have recently misappropriated his scientific views: "It is disturbing for me to see special interest groups distort my scientific observation to make a point against homosexuality. The American College of Pediatricians pulled language out of context from a book I wrote in 2006 to support an ideology that can cause unnecessary anguish and encourage prejudice. The information they present is misleading and incorrect, and it is particularly troubling that they are distributing it in a way that will confuse school children and their parents."
Relying entirely on quotations, Dahle, Livingstone and Wells make no reference to empirical evidence, the linchpin of scientific inquiry. They neglect the enormous body of data in the biomedical literature demonstrating that sexual orientation is under biological control. This evidence from neuroscience, anatomy, molecular biology, endocrinology and psychology shows that gay men and lesbians are anatomically, physiologically and cognitively atypical for their sex. Moreover, these differences are often in place prenatally or shortly after birth.
The authors propose that evolution would eliminate gay genes over time. This argument is invalid. Cystic fibrosis (lung), Wilm's tumor (kidney), and Retinoblastoma (eye) are life-threatening for children. But the responsible genes persist because their normal variants control necessary biochemical processes.
In support of the malleability of same-sex attraction, the authors quote Robert Spitzer, but omit the many professional commentaries that recommend caution about his methodology and conclusions, and his own admission that orientation change is likely to be rare.
This 2009 statement by the American Psychological Association represents the overwhelming consensus of the mental health community: "Contrary to claims of sexual orientation change advocates and practitioners, there is insufficient evidence to support the use of psychological interventions to change sexual orientation."
Upon reflection, heterosexuals will acknowledge that their own romantic attraction to the opposite sex was inborn and spontaneous, not a willful decision. It is inconceivable that fully committed Latter-day Saints (or those from any other faith tradition) would intentionally abandon their most deeply held spiritual aspirations and invite the disapproval and sometimes virulent animosity of their religious community and society at large by assuming a sexual identity that was not natural to them.
In addition, family members and other close associates will offer compelling testimony about the Herculean, but unsuccessful, efforts of their LGBT loved ones who have attempted, through force of will, professional therapeutic guidance or fervent supplication to deity, to change their sexual orientation.
No matter what the source, the assertion that a homosexual orientation is a choice is at once wrong, unkind and harmful.
A model of homosexuality, which out of good intentions attempts a reconciliation of science and religion, but disregards crucial experimental and experiential evidence is unlikely to promote the sensitivity, equality and Christian charity which we ought to extend to God's LGBT children.
Wiliam S. Bradshaw is professor emeritus of molecular biology at Brigham Young University; David G. Weight is professor emeritus of clinical and neuropsychology at BYU; and Ted Packard is professor emeritus of educational psychology at the University of Utah.