Philosophy

Calling It What It Is: Homosexuality as Evolutionary Abnormality

I’m well aware that since the early 1970s homosexuality has been more or less excluded from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders due, in part, to the high level of functioning that had always been attained by a vast number of those within the gay community and to what appears to have been an increase in socio-political pressure. I’m also well aware that this apparent gold standard of mental health treatment has long been criticized by some professionals as a “hodgepodge” of “scattered, inconsistent, and ambiguous” research to the point that even the National Institute for Mental Health has distanced itself due to the fifth edition’s lack of scientific rigor. All of this while the other “experts” are still quibbling about the precise nature of normal human behavior; so I trust you’ll forgive me for squinting my eyes and cocking my head in skepticism at the fallacious claim, which I actually heard on at least one occasion, that homosexuality must be a completely normal variation of human behavior, “because,” as they tell me, “the DSM says so.” Sure. 

Very recently I stumbled across Michael Levin’s 1984 article, originally published in The Monist, entitled “Why Homosexuality is Abnormal,” in which (surely you won’t be surprised to hear) he argues for precisely that same conclusion: one which I came to independently and in much the same way. Now, it certainly isn’t any challenge to find a number of thinkers saying exactly the same thing, as recent occurrences make clear, though it has appeared to me that in many cases such individuals are approaching the issue from a religious basis or in a somewhat overly-simplistic fashion, rather than from, shall we say, a more theoretical foundation rooted firmly in evolutionary science. For sure, you’ll hear and read numerous speeches and articles talking about the potential bases of same-sex attraction, all well and good, many quite enlightening. But seldom will you hear any researchers simply calling homosexuality what it is: an abnormality and deviation from normal human functioning. (At most they’ll call it non-adaptive — a spandrel, if you will — but that’s only when they’re in the right mood.) Dig around and you’ll find that some don’t want to even study it anymore. And if you read between the lines, you’ll see it’s because they know exactly where it leads.

As far as I’m aware, it is an obvious truism for those taking Darwinian evolution to its logical ends that sexual intercourse has as its primary function the reproduction of a particular species, in our case the human one ― and please note that I said “primary,” not “sole.” Equally obvious (and painfully so for males) is that females tend to be far more selective in their choice of sexual partners, as confirmed by Hatfield and Clarke in their well-known experiment, wherein of college students propositioned for casual sex not a single female complied, whereas nearly three-quarters of the males were ready and willing. (Surely the remaining 25% must have been gay!) And far from being a mere “social construct” (a term so misused you might consider fleeing, as Joseph from Potiphar’s wife, should it be uttered in your presence) this sort of dichotomy can be observed among other animal populations as well, who can hardly be said to have any advanced notion of culture. And for good reason this phenomenon exists as males have been gifted with a virtually endless supply of sperm, while females are stuck with a limited number of eggs, thus invoking simple economics as the women strive to avoid wasting resources on unfit chaps who may provide unfit offspring.

A strong, vigorous, and resourceful gentleman will do the trick nicely, though, who in turn seeks above all a young, healthy, and attractive lady (it’s really not just what’s inside that counts, you know), both of whom, when they come together, fall in love, have children, and live happily ever after. Cue the olfactory system, and to put it simply, add a measure of dopamine here, a bit of serotonin there; ignore the sweaty palms, and I’m pleased to make your acquaintance. Dim the lights; you know what comes next. The neuroscientists and psychologists tell us of a remarkable system in which hormones and neurotransmitters, such as oxytocin and vasopressin, work to bind the pair and thus equip them for parenting, thereby making sense of that common post-coital awkwardness which often comes to those not seeking commitment. Pedants smart enough to see the excessive simplicity of this example should also be smart enough to see its purpose, namely, that every element of the human mating process can be reduced to biological mechanisms that are also easily explainable in terms of genetic survival via reproduction, from the initial gaze, to the mindless obsession, to every sensation that draws a male and female together. Yet it must be that gays also experience these same emotions and desires, which are, to repeat, emotions and desires that have as their basis the fertilization of an egg and the rearing of offspring, but which are, in the case of those seeking solely same-sex relationships, directed exclusively toward activities that are inherently non-reproductive.

It might be best to define the term “normal” in the present context as something like “that which is consistent with an organism’s proper mode of functioning.” I dislike the word “natural” since it’s far too fluid to use in any meaningful way and since I’m entirely cognizant of the homosexual behavior that appears in what we call the “natural world.” What does that really tell us, anyway? Nothing from my view, except that an appeal to the animal kingdom can no longer be used by those arguing that such activity is, as they say, a peccatum contra naturam. After all, animals are subject to physical and psychiatric abnormalities as well, so it’s hardly worth our time to consider them exemplars of health, wellness, and morality. And besides, despite what you may have thought and probably insist on thinking, morality isn’t even the topic I’m attempting to address. My point in all of this is to make the very simple proposition that, from an evolutionary standpoint, homosexuality ― as a primary orientation in particular ― can almost certainly not be considered a normal and healthy variation of human sexuality any more than using other organs primarily in ways which conflict with their essential nature can be considered normal and healthy. Perhaps such use isn’t entirely unhealthy, but it can hardly qualify as what we would call biologically ideal, and to make claims to the contrary, as seems to be the trend, is, at best, misleading and, at worst, harmful.

In case you’re wondering, I’ll tell you. Thus far there is no consensus within the scientific community on the causes of homosexual behavior, and it’s frequently suggested that a combination of genetic, epigenetic, and environmental influences play a role, no doubt partly because it’s not uncommon to find identical twins ― who are virtual clones ― exhibiting different sexual preferences. Yet, if we’re honest with ourselves, isn’t this really just another way of saying that something went wrong? And even if one stubbornly chooses to embrace the “gay gene” supposition ― that most charitable of hypotheses ― we can really only posit that same-sex attraction might be little more than a residual effect of some other selected gene which has certain benefits. But even then it must be admitted that this still can’t necessarily classify as “normal.” Sickle-cell anemia, after all, is precisely just that: an unfortunate accident in the natural fight against malaria. Those with the gene do show an increased immunity to the disease, but only at the cost of numerous other health issues. And if the residual effects could be discarded, so much the better.

Now don’t begin entertaining the idea that homosexuality is on the same level as such things like sickle-cell anemia in consequence and prognosis. Quite obviously this isn’t the case at all. Nor should you conclude that homosexuality as a disordered use of the reproductive organs must be quite as harmful as a disorder of some other bodily system, such as the digestive from which quite obvious and severe damage can come. It’s not. The notion of a completely safe homosexual lifestyle, however, might be open to question on biological and psychological grounds as the persistent use of bodily members solely for unintended purposes could well lead to some measure of psychological strain. Indeed, as recently as 2011, a study in the UK, led by Apu Chakroborty and published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, found once more that gays are indeed at a higher risk for mental health issues, just as older research suggested.

The go-to hypothesis for these findings is almost always that of what is called minority stress, the reduction of which should correspond to a reduction in psychological turmoil. Perhaps. But why must we suppose that the totality of negative experiences within the LGBT community are reducible to little more than social rejection? If, as I’ve already pointed out, homosexuality is largely a deviation from nature’s own selected behavior, then wouldn’t this be enough to warrant equality of consideration for the competing suggestion that at least some of the observed health issues among gays and lesbians stem from their lifestyle instead? After all, a brain wired for reproduction could also plausibly be a brain disturbed at the perpetual and inevitable frustration of its default setting, even if that frustration doesn’t always manifest itself in overtly traumatic ways but instead by producing lesser forms of life satisfaction. 

This last bit of speculation may prove to be false, but that still wouldn’t affect the essence my main contention: a contention which will, no doubt, be contentious to say the least and almost certainly misunderstood by those not willing to understand. In fact, I’ve fully prepared myself for the onslaught of hate mail accusing me of trying to spread bigotry and intolerance of gays, so if that’s what makes you happy, fine. What I’m really attempting to do is to keep anyone from making the very silly assertion that homosexuality proper as a dominant orientation is merely a variation of normal sexual functioning or a form of expression equivalent to heterosexuality: that “underneath it’s all the same love.” It’s simply not. And anyone with a modicum of common sense should know better.

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An Overview of Kurt Gödel’s Ontological Argument

Perhaps I’ve not given it enough thought, but I must confess that I find Gödel’s ontological argument to be one of the most powerful and persuasive pieces of evidence for the existence of God — evidence that really is hard to ignore. I focus on Gödel, by the way, since his is the version I’ve looked at the most, though Leibniz offered a similar one in correction of Descartes’ which, along with Anselm’s, posited existence as a predicate and never wrestled with the question of whether or not the perfect being in question was itself logically possible. At any rate, it does make a good bit of sense, and the objection that positive properties are subjective and undefinable somehow doesn’t sit well with me, though it’s hard to say why. I’m sure there must be an answer, but it seems that we can all intuitively agree with his own explanation that appeals to the moral aesthetic of of such properties.

Formally, the argument is written thusly:

Ax. 1.    {[Pφ ⋄ ▢(∀x)(φx → ψx)] → Pψ}
Ax. 2.    {P~φ ↔ ~Pφ}
Th. 1.       ∴ {Pφ →♢(∃x)φx}
Df. 1.     {G(x) ↔ (∀φ)(Pφ → φx)}
Ax. 3.     P(G)
Th. 2.       ∴♢(∃x)G(x)
Df. 2.     {φ ess. x ↔ [φx ⋄ (∀ψ)(ψx → ▢(∀y)(φy → ψy)]}
Ax. 4.     {Pφ → ▢Pφ}
Th. 3.       ∴G(x) → G ess. x
Df. 3.     {E(x) ↔ (∀φ)(φ ess. x → ▢(∃y)φy)}
Ax. 5      P(E)
Th. 4.       ∴▢(∃x)Gx

All of these formulas can be restated in more colloquial English, however, so that one doesn’t need to know the symbolic language to understand the argument.

Ax. 1. If a property is positive and the instantiation of that property entails the instantiation of another property, that other property is also positive.
Ax. 2. A negation of a property is positive if and only if the property itself is not positive.
Th. 1. Therefore, if a property is positive, it is possible that such a property exists.
Df. 1. A thing is Godlike if and only if that thing has all positive properties and only positive properties.
Ax. 3. Being Godlike is a positive property.
Th. 2. Therefore, it is possible that something Godlike exists.
Df. 2. A property is an essential feature of something if and only if that property entails every other property that thing has.
Ax. 4. If a property is positive, it is necessarily positive.
Th. 3. Therefore, if something is Godlike, being Godlike is an essence of that thing.
Df. 3. Something necessarily exists if and only if every essential feature of that thing necessarily exists.
Ax. 5. Necessary existence is a positive property.
Th. 4. Therefore, something Godlike necessarily exists.

If that still seems like a bit much to handle, don’t worry. It took me a while to understand it too. Keep in mind, also, that philosophy has its own language so that those who haven’t been acquainted with that language might find some of the arguments difficult to grasp. That sounds a bit demeaning perhaps, but I only say it so that no one feels stupid if they’re having a hard time following along. Oftentimes philosophers use very common words in very precise ways so that most of us think their sentences are incoherent mumbo jumbo until we realize that they’re actually defining words differently than we expected. I’ve tried to be relatively straight forward in my interpretation of the argument that I wrote above while remaining true to the premises as they were written formally, and I think I’ve been successful, even though the argument itself is a bit dense and abstract. It might be worth keeping in mind, however, that the words “necessarily” and “possibly” carry with them certain connotations so that they refer to things that are logically necessary or logically possible in some possible world. Or, to put it another way, something is logically possible if, in some hypothetical world, it can exist without logical contradiction. For example, it is conceivable that in some possible world the continent of North America is shaped like a perfect triangle. Bizarre though it may seem, there is no inherent contradiction in this idea, meaning that it is logically possible and not an absolute impossibility. On the other hand, in no possible world is there a triangle that has any more or less than three angles, since a triangle is by definition something with three angles. If it has four angles it would be a quadrilateral and no longer a triangle. This is, then, a necessary truth since in all possible worlds triangles will always have three angles — no more; no less. And while we’re at it, I might as well clarify what is meant by the term “essence” or “essential.” The essence of something is that which makes a thing what it is. A triangle, to use the last example, is a geometrical figure of three angles, and these three angles are the essence of that geometrical figure called the triangle. It may be a blue triangle or a green triangle or even a metal triangle used to make noise, but these are not essential properties of the triangle since they don’t define what it actually is. So, if what I’ve written doesn’t make sense, try reading it with these ideas in mind and see if it doesn’t help.

To boil it all down, though, the core of the argument goes like this:

1. Something that is Godlike has all positive properties and only positive properties.
2. We can prove that these so-called “positive properties” are at least logically possible.
3. Furthermore, since being Godlike is a positive property, we can conclude that something Godlike possibly exists.
4. Now, if something is Godlike, then this Godlike thing entails all positive properties, since positive properties are the essence of being Godlike.
5. Necessary existence is a positive property.
6. Therefore, something Godlike necessarily exists. This is because being Godlike entails all positive properties and necessarily existence is a positive property, meaning that something Godlike necessarily exists.

As far as I can tell, all of this is a very solid piece of reasoning (far better than the moral argument, which simply doesn’t hold up, or even the Kalam Cosmological argument, which has some pretty clear weaknesses), making it hard for me to seriously deny the existence of some Godlike being.

Automatism, Sleepwalking, and Philosophical Zombies

If, as Chalmers and others argue, the conceivable existence of philosophical zombies entails a total, or at least partial, rejection of physicalist monism, then the next and most reasonable step would be to substantiate the central idea of such a hypothetical world, in which humans lack conscious awareness yet resemble ordinary humans in every way. For my part, I have a difficult time imagining how this is even possible, since it seems highly unlikely that our ordinary course of action can be separated from the sense perception which so strongly influences our everyday behavior.

Even so, as I was considering this problem throughout the course of the work day it struck me that certain forms of automatism, such as sleepwalking, potentially provide real-life examples of situations in which ostensibly conscious humans act and speak as their truly aware counterparts without experiencing any significant form of consciousness themselves. Why this line of reasoning isn’t more common I don’t know, though I must grant that the possibility of being entirely off-base may be a reason that more philosophers haven’t brought this point up. Nevertheless, if the more extreme forms of automatic conditions are taken in their entirety (such as sleep driving, somniloquy, sexsomnia, etc.), then it would seem that the plausibility of the dualistic arguments based on philosophical zombiism is at least somewhat strengthened.

Dual Scalar Situationism

Joseph Fletcher once said, “If the ends don’t justify the means, then what does?” Personally I find this to be a very pithy question and for some time now I’ve tended to agree with him on the basic utilitarian premise that consequences are to be considered the determining factor in assigning a moral value to a particular act. In Fletcher’s case the well-being of humanity was to be the end of each action, hence his focus on agape love, while in the case of Bentham, Mill, and other classic utilitarians happiness was the desired result of all our choices.

The problem with these systems in their earliest forms, however, is that they generally tend to stress only one right option in any particular case. “The greatest good for the greatest amount” is said to be the proper goal, which of course leads one to wonder about good acts that don’t necessarily provide the greatest good for the greatest amount, but only some good for some. Obviously it’s quite counterintuitive to consider these lesser acts as morally blameworthy, and one can’t help but notice that the absolute precision needed to achieve the greatest good in each scenario is far too impractical for virtually all of us in our everyday lives. Furthermore, these systems also often fail to take into account the heart and motives of the doer, which is clearly crucial to any moral judgement as we all know deep down. That Mother Theresa did many wonderful things there is no doubt; but if she had confessed before her death that all the good she had done was simply for the sake of recognition and admiration, most of us would be willing to condemn her as a fraud, even though we would still continue to recognize the general goodness of what she did.

Now, there have certainly been many corrections made to utilitarianism over the years as these questions have been seen and addressed by a variety of philosophers, but I’m going to offer some of my own thoughts, however flawed and dependent on others as they might be. As I see it, though, in each case regarding moral acts we make two judgements: one regarding the deed and one regarding the doer. The moral value of a particular act, I say, is based on the consequences of that act (I agree with Fletcher that love and the well-being of humanity are in focus and prefer to avoid using the term “happiness”, as it appears too fleeting and transient), while the moral status of the actor is determined by something intrinsic, such as motive.  In the first case, then, we can say that there is a scale on which a gradation of goodness and badness exists on each side, with morally neutral acts in the middle. The greatest acts which bring the greatest good for humanity are at the one far end, while the worst acts are at the other. Classic utilitarianism would say that only this greatest act on the one end is acceptable in any particular circumstance, as I mentioned earlier; but assuming this gradation of moral value, why should we consider only one option to be the right one? Could it not be that there are a variety of right choices, some better than others, but none morally blameworthy insofar as they remain on the good end of the scale or at least in the neutral zone?

This eliminates the rigidity and impracticality of the classical system by allowing a greater degree of freedom in the choices that can be made but still doesn’t provide criteria for determining the moral status of the one doing the act, which is a key element; but in this case too I think there must be a scale of motivation or something of the sort. The better the motives, the more morally praiseworthy the individual; the worse the motives, the more morally blameworthy. Unfortunately, at this point I haven’t yet determined what constitutes a good motive and what a bad; and explicating the subtle interplay of desire and intention proves to be more difficult than one might at first think. Nevertheless, I believe the general thrust already mentioned still stands: the moral value of an act is determined by its consequences and is to be kept as a distinct judgement from the moral status of the actor, which status is determined by the goodness or badness of his/her motives. This I shall call dual scalar situationism.

Brief Thoughts on the Zimmerman Trial

The way I understand it — and I could be very wrong  — the American legal system has been set up in such a way so as to prevent anyone from being convicted should there be a reasonable doubt as to their guilt. In other words, neither hunches nor emotions count, and whether or not you’re inclined to believe that such and such a person is guilty really makes no difference. The jury’s job is to determine if the evidence is strong enough to convict, not strong enough to be persuasive, not strong enough to satisfy one’s own curiosity.

Regardless of your personal thoughts on Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, those six women in Florida decided that there was some level of reasonable doubt which precluded a conviction of murder or even manslaughter. The same thing happened with Casey Anthony a few years ago. You might not think that’s fair; but I dare say you’ll be loving it should you or someone you love be wrongfully accused.

What is Love? (Baby Don’t Hurt Me)

Not surprisingly my last entry on pornography proved to be more popular than any other post I’ve written thus far, which means I’ll probably pursue the topic of sexuality more extensively in the future — something I planned to do anyway, but even more so now that I realize it helps the numbers. Until then, however, I think it’s crucial to address some more fundamental issues that will help set the stage for what’s to come, not only with regard to sex, but also with regard to all other ethical issues that confront us from day to day.

The fact is morality isn’t always as clear-cut as we would wish it to be; and I speak from experience when I say that conventional wisdom doesn’t usually answer the questions many of us are asking, at least not as thoroughly as we would like. For some, choosing to accept certain standards of behavior because “that’s the way I was raised” or because “my pastor said so” might be the right choice. Everyone has their own particular interests, and some are content with accepting the traditions that have been passed down over time, and that’s okay. Some of us, however, are a bit more restless and want to know “why?” What rational reasons lie behind these rules, constraints, and customs of society and religion that so many of us take for granted? I’m not saying I have all the answers. Far from it; but I am making progress in gaining some level off understanding.

At this point I think one of the key factors in any ethical theory, any system of morality, is the very basic concept of love — the love of the neighbor as expressed in the teachings of Jesus, most thoroughly in the Sermon on the Mount. It really does sound overly-simplistic and unfortunately cliché, but I do think that making this principle the foundation of one’s behavior is what humans are truly called to do, whomever or wherever they may be. The question immediately becomes, however, “what is love?”

Most people don’t really seem to understand this, probably due to the many uses of the word “love” that have been employed throughout history, even today; but the Greek concept of agape is most accurate to these purposes, which is essentially nothing more than the desire for the well-being of others, not just family and friend, but foe as well, or, to put a more Hebraic spin on it, the shalom of all humankind. As St. Paul says in his epistle to the Romans, “whatever command there might be…it is fulfilled in ‘love your neighbor as yourself'”. For some things, this is pretty much obvious. Murder, rape, and theft are all clear violations and can almost never be done in a loving manner since they always harm members of humanity and desecrate the rights of individuals, though, admittedly, one could conceivably argue that, in certain instances, terribly heinous acts could be done to accomplish the greater good, such as in the case of murdering one to save twenty or stealing to provide for a family. These, however, aren’t the questions I’m trying to address right now, and virtually any ethical system is going to have its difficulties, so at this point it’s not wort placing too much emphasis on these matters. What I do want to clarify, though, is that the ends do indeed justify the means. contrary to what many would say. What comes of our actions is what makes our actions right or wrong, and it is this consequentialism that has significantly influenced my thinking. I’ve taken a page from Joseph Fletcher’s Situation Ethics as well as from the works of David Brondos, whom I so thoroughly praise whenever I get the chance. A part of me is also attracted to certain forms of virtue ethics and natural law, which I don’t see as necessarily contrary to a love-based ethics as such, but rather supplementary, depending on how one sees it. At the end of the day, what we’re all seeking is the good of humanity, and to be ethical, we must direct our actions in such a manner.

My ways of thinking will no doubt evolve over time, and I hope no one considers me the final authority on anything, since I no doubt will change my mind on many things and don’t consider myself an expert on these topics. But be that as it may, I do think I might be able to contribute something of value and I hope whatever I write will be given due consideration by those reading.