Thursday, June 19, 2008

Reverends for choice, against God

A recent study has apparently conclusively found there are distinct brain structure and activity similarities between lesbians and straight men, as well as gay men and straight women.

The most likely explanation is gender incorrect exposure to androgens during gestation.

Which makes medical intervention to ensure straight sexual orientation is an eventual possibility.

In response, a couple clergymen recommended doing just that:
Last year, the Rev. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote: "If a biological basis is found, and if a prenatal test is then developed, and if a successful treatment to reverse the sexual orientation to heterosexual is ever developed, we would support its use." Mohler told the Associated Press that morally, this would be no different from curing fetal blindness or any other "medical problem." The Rev. Joseph Fessio, editor of the press that publishes the pope's work, agreed: "Same-sex activity is considered disordered. If there are ways of detecting diseases or disorders of children in the womb … that respected the dignity of the child and mother, it would be a wonderful advancement of science."


"Same sex activity is considered disordered ..." Hmmm.

As ever, beware the passive voice. By whom is it considered disordered? If God, then that is surpassing odd, since God has created the disorder in the first place, in order for men to punish it in the second.

On the other hand, if it is considered disordered by humans, then isn't just that little but hubristic to be messing with God's plan?

Never mind, of course, that religion has long treated homosexuality as a moral phenomena, when it turns out to have been nothing of the sort.

Finding an in utero treatment to prevent homosexuality is indeed a great advancement for science. But, unmentioned by the august theologians, this makes a mockery of yet another religious moral claim.

Also, one suspects this will gather no congratulations from the LGBTs among us.

13 Comments:

Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I won't disagree with your point, but let's back up a minute.

The study is just 21st c. phrenology.

Hard to believe anybody thinks he can identify/predict something as complex as human sexuality via gross brain morphology.

Next thing you know, researchers with MRIs will claim to separate out people with 'criminal tendencies.'

Sheesh

June 19, 2008 9:41 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

The study is just 21st c. phrenology.

Wrong.

Unless, that is, you are willing to postulate there is no difference in brain structure or activity between men and women.

Presuming you are not willing to assume such an easily refutable position, then you are left with maintaining there is an absolute identity between brain structure and chromosomes.

Should you do so, then you are imposing a determinism just as easily refutable as the other alternative.

Men and women do, in fact, have different brain morphology. Which, it is becoming increasingly clear, does drive gender affiliation. If, as seems abundantly clear, gay men share morphological and functional characteristics with straight women, why is it such a surprise that the gender affiliation is the same?


BTW -- IIRC, there are XYY males.

Who do have pronounced criminal tendencies.

June 19, 2008 4:30 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

The criminal tendencies of XYY men were overstated, but that's irrelevant.

Being XYY is not determinable through gross brain morphology.

Among many, many problems with modern phrenology is the phenomenon of the late-blooming invert. I mean, if you yourself don't know you're homosexual until you are past 40 (as a friend of mine claims of himself), who would?

A doctor looking at your MRI? Not likely.

There must be a lot of overlap between male/female brains, right? If it's a continuum, where's your dividing point?

And where do bisexuals come from?

There's actually some experimental evidence about what happens when you remove one or both amygdalas from men. It isn't an acceptable surgery now but it used to be.

Men with a missing amygdala become unaggressive. Men with none become unable to defend themselves at all.

But they don't become homosexuals.

June 19, 2008 8:47 PM  
Blogger Selena Dreamy said...

“Never mind, of course, that religion has long treated homosexuality as a moral phenomena, when it turns out to have been nothing of the sort. “

Concepts of good and evil are never arbitrary, but derived from a frame of reference. What is conducive to that frame is considered good, what is inimical to it is held to be evil. Homosexuality was traditionally deemed destructive to morally upright society, hence considered to be evil.

Today, as Raymond Chandler already said in The Long Goodbye: "The queer is the artistic arbiter of the age. The pervert is the top guy now."
Converting “queer” into “gay”, was the antidote to arguably the most notorious and certainly the most ambiguous sex-related moral phenomenon of the last century. And if gay is an insult that has reversed its meaning, it seems mildly ironic, to have it unacknowledged that, occasionally, our virtues are inseparable from what appeared to be, in the eyes of the past, our vices.

Dreamy

June 20, 2008 11:51 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

I'd be more interested in what the Catholic "worship of suffering" set who oppose any tinkering with God's plan to improve Man's condition, and who also subscribe to natural law theory which holds homosexuality to be disordered, would say.

Skippper, the other side of that coin is whether the LGBT community would be justified in arguing that the use of such treatments to prevent homosexuality is morally wrong. This is similar to some members of the deaf community who think it immoral to try to cure deafness, and who even wish to have deaf parents cause their children to become deaf so that they can fit in to their community. Since genes aren't determinative until they are expressed through development, should a fetus with a "gay gene" be considered gay before his brain structures have been developed? Is this treatment "robbing them" of their gayness, or is the refusal of such treatment robbing them of their straightness?

June 21, 2008 7:15 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Harry:

No, being XYY isn't determinable through brain morphology. That wasn't my point. Rather, there are innate characteristics that have behavioral consequences.

Perhaps I should have used left-handedness. I have no idea whether we have any real notion as to the exact cause of left-handedness, but I have am certain that, when we do discover its cause, it will be in brain structure.

What alternative is there?

Never mind that. The study is not "gross brain morphology"

Ninety subjects [25 heterosexual men (HeM) and women (HeW), and 20 homosexual men (HoM) and women (HoW)] were investigated with magnetic resonance volumetry of cerebral and cerebellar hemispheres. Fifty of them also participated in PET measurements of cerebral blood flow, used for analyses of functional connections from the right and left amygdalae. HeM and HoW showed a rightward cerebral asymmetry, whereas volumes of the cerebral hemispheres were symmetrical in HoM and HeW. No cerebellar asymmetries were found. Homosexual subjects also showed sex-atypical amygdala connections. In HoM, as in HeW, the connections were more widespread from the left amygdala; in HoW and HeM, on the other hand, from the right amygdala. Furthermore, in HoM and HeW the connections were primarily displayed with the contralateral amygdala and the anterior cingulate, in HeM and HoW with the caudate, putamen, and the prefrontal cortex. The present study shows sex-atypical cerebral asymmetry and functional connections in homosexual subjects. The results cannot be primarily ascribed to learned effects, and they suggest a linkage to neurobiological entities.

The position you are taking, essentially, is that of humans as blank slates.

Among many, many problems with modern phrenology is the phenomenon of the late-blooming invert. I mean, if you yourself don't know you're homosexual until you are past 40 (as a friend of mine claims of himself) ...

Key word: claims. If he was to undergo MRI and PET scans, which found the lack of asymmetries noted above, then your friend was always homosexual.

There must be a lot of overlap between male/female brains, right? If it's a continuum, where's your dividing point?

Obviously there is a lot of overlap, but just as obviously, there are distinct characteristics. A forensic scientist, presented with nothing but a brain, could tell you whether that brain belonged to a woman or a man. Increasingly, that forensic scientist could, given a representative sample of brains, make statistically valid predictions as to which belonged to gay men.

Just because there is a continuum doesn't mean we can't make useful distinctions. There is a continuum between red and green, after all ...

++++

Selena:

Concepts of good and evil are never arbitrary, but derived from a frame of reference.

I don't think that assertion holds. First, at least some concepts of good and evil are arbitrary -- see Leviticus for a list. Also, those concepts are often not derived from a frame of reference, but instead are arbitrarily revealed. Again, see Leviticus.

The notion that gives the game up is the long standing insistence that homosexuality is immoral -- now shaded by Catholics to "disordered".

In order for the concept of morality to have any meaning whatsoever, there must be an element of choice. It is possible to view homosexuality as immoral only so long as one views it as a deliberate choice. The moment it becomes innate, like eye color or handedness, then the rug is pulled right out from under all the religious fulminations about homosexuality.

This gives the game away:

Mohler told the Associated Press that morally, this would be no different from curing fetal blindness or any other "medical problem."

The decision to prevent homosexuality is a moral one, because we have the ability to choose one way, or the other, and that choice is open to moral assessment.

In contrast, homosexuality is no more a choice than is heterosexuality. Hence, there is no moral component to either.

The religious opprobrium heaped upon gays -- the consequence of divine revelation -- turns out to be based upon nonsense.

One might as well punish people who are left handed. Oh wait ...

++++

... the other side of that coin is whether the LGBT community would be justified in arguing that the use of such treatments to prevent homosexuality is morally wrong.

Of course they will, for the same reason zealous deaf advocates do.

Their fundamental error, of course, is presuming that a community can demand people belong to it. The error becomes worse when one realizes the cause of homosexuality is almost certainly not genetic, any more than is cleft palate.

It is the consequence of some gestational perturbation that caused the phenotype to deviate from the genotype. As a particularly graphic example, Jamie Lee Curtis is (probably) in fact XY.

It makes no more sense to prevent the gestational abnormalities underlying homosexuality than it would to do the same for cleft palate.

June 21, 2008 1:10 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

'your friend was always homosexual.'

I dunno what that means. In his case, he came out after his wife died.

What if she had outlived him and he never realized he was homosexual?

There are whole communities (notably the classical Greeks -- at least the rich ones -- and a tribe in New Guinea) where virtually all the men behave homosexually.

I have to suspect a social component to that.

If there can be a social component, then it cannot very well be that there is some platonic ideal homosexuality embedded in brains.

We have to leave some room for education to function.

June 22, 2008 12:38 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

What if she had outlived him and he never realized he was homosexual?

If the study is correct -- and its independent confirmation of other evidence gives reason to believe that is not entirely out of the question -- then your friend's brain is not built like, nor does it function like most men's.

Denial is more than just a river ...

There are whole communities (notably the classical Greeks -- at least the rich ones -- and a tribe in New Guinea) ...

Which is approximately two of all the communities that have ever existed.

Is there some room for "education", or a social component? Sure; no doubt. However, I suspect your exceptions prove the rule; otherwise, the blank slate really exists.

I think the evidence is clear: homosexuality, just like heterosexuality is innate. In and of itself, there is no moral component. Religious objections, ostensibly based upon God's diktats, are really resting upon sand.

While we may not know the details, the innate nature of sexuality leaves those claiming to be moral arbiters with a sucking chest wound, as the quote I pulled above shows: it is now up to man's choice to fix God's intent.

June 22, 2008 9:40 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Hey, I'm not suggesting it has a moral component.

But if a guy with an MRI can separate the gays and the straights, I want him also to point out the shoe fetishists, and, if he's really, really good, the left shoe fetishists.

I really don't see shoe fetishism as an evolved trait.

June 22, 2008 11:45 PM  
Blogger Selena Dreamy said...

Dreamy: “Concepts of good and evil are never arbitrary, but derived from a frame of reference.”

Hey Skipper: “I don't think that assertion holds.”


Hey Skipper, I am puzzled by your rejoinder.

A frame of reference is the only complete and essential form of knowledge (about itself), in relation to which all moral inquiries are partial and subordinate. Of course, if you are saying that Leviticus applied moral values arbitrarily, then, that has nothing to do with my contention.

The argument that choice is open to moral assessment does not invalidate the fact that such an assessment is invariably derived from its (social, cultural, religious) frame of reference. The frame of reference may change. The act itself has no moral connotations.

June 23, 2008 9:17 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Selena:

Dreamy: “Concepts of good and evil are never arbitrary, but derived from a frame of reference.”

Hey Skipper: “I don't think that assertion holds.”

The reason I don't think that assertion holds is that you are assuming a fact not in evidence: the the frame of reference is not, itself, arbitrary.

Saying that [a] frame of reference is the only complete and essential form of knowledge (about itself)... scarcely helps matters, as it also assumes a fact not in evidence: there is such a thing as knowledge that is both complete and essential.

There are some concepts of good and evil that appear not to be arbitrary, to the extent they are culturally invariant. For instance, so far as I know, there are no cultures that encourage in group murder, deceit, or discourage reciprocity.

My argument is that where there is no choice, there is no possibility of moral assessment. If you doubt that, then consider the verdict "not guilty by reason of insanity or mental defect".

Theists of the Abrahamic stripe have long excoriated homosexuality, by reason of divine revelation, as if it was a matter of choice.

It is not.

Which leaves those theists straddling both sides of a chasm. Either the revelation is faulty, thereby rendering suspect all other revelations; or, God specifically "disorders" some humans in order that others may excoriate them.

The former makes a mockery of revealed texts, the latter leaves not much other than the Good German defense for worshipping a God that, by normal moral calculations, is no less a monster than someone who tortures kittens.

The frame of reference may change. The act itself has no moral connotations.

Somehow, my pedantry aside, somehow I get the feeling we are in violent agreement here ...

++++

Harry:

But if a guy with an MRI can separate the gays and the straights, I want him also to point out the shoe fetishists, and, if he's really, really good, the left shoe fetishists.

Why? You have accused this study's results as being nothing more than phrenology. In order to do so, that must mean the cited evidence is completely wrong.

There is no denying that people with the appropriate expertise can, absent a body, discern whether the brain in the jar is male or female. Given the appropriate equipment, it seems equally clear that it is possible to tell whether the living brain in question functions more like a stereotypical female, or male, brain.

I have no idea why, in order for that presumption to be true, MRIs must also detect fetishes (or color preference, for that matter).

A trait need not be "evolved" to exist.

June 23, 2008 8:31 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Could be. However, if there is one and only trait (OK, two male/female and gay/straight, although it appears they are linked, so maybe one and a half) that MRI can distinguish, I call shenanigans.

Special pleading.

Where is the avarice gene? How many dendrons going where signal that one?

The brain changes need not be evolutionary, they could be developmental.

There certainly seem to be developmental effects on maleness/femaleness. What do MRIs say about that?

I am not so sure that MRIs as such can detect male/female brains. They are usually, I think, distinguished by size, related to body mass.

June 24, 2008 12:50 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

I am not so sure that MRIs as such can detect male/female brains. They are usually, I think, distinguished by size, related to body mass.

Actually, no.

Scientists working at Johns Hopkins University, recently reporting in the "Cerebral Cortex" scholarly journal (1), have discovered that there is a brain region in the cortex, called inferior-parietal lobule (IPL) which is significantly larger in men than in women. This area is bilateral and is located just above the level of the ears (parietal cortex).

Furthermore, the left side IPL is larger in men than the right side. In women, this asymmetry is reversed, although the difference between left and right sides is not so large as in men, noted the JHU researchers. This is the same area which was shown to be larger in the brain of Albert Einstein, as well as in other physicists and mathematicians. So, it seems that IPL's size correlates highly with mental mathematical abilities. Morphological brain differences in intellectual skills were suspected to exist by neurologists since the times of phrenology (although this was proved to be a wrong approach), in the 19th century. The end of the 20th century has witnessed the first scientific proofs for that.

...

Another previous study by the same group led by Dr. Godfrey Pearlson (9) has shown that two areas in the frontal and temporal lobes related to language (the areas of Broca and Wernicke, named after their discoverers) were significantly larger in women, thus providing a biological reason for women's notorious superiority in language-associated thoughts. Using magnetic resonance imaging, the scientists measured gray matter volumes in several cortical regions in 17 women and 43 men. Women had 23% (in Broca's area, in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) and 13% (in Wernicke's area, in the superior temporal cortex) more volume than men.

These results were later corroborated by another research group from the School of Communication Disorders, University of Sydney, Australia, which was able to prove these anatomical differences in the areas of Wernicke and of Broca (3). The volume of the Wernicke's area was 18% larger in females compared with males, and the cortical volume the Broca's area in females was 20% larger than in males.


And that was in 1997. (Time to head for the airport; research is correspondingly rushed.

June 24, 2008 4:06 AM  

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