Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Biblically correct and Darwinally correct

"The way I answered may have been offensive. With that question specifically, it's not about being politically correct. For me it was being biblically correct."-- Carrie Prejean, Miss California.

When controversies erupt about gay marriage, or even gay rights, as they have in the wake of Perez Hilton's question for Prejean at last weekend's Miss USA pageant, and when the inevitable mention of Scriptures arises, I'm always struck by a profound irony.

Namely this. As I write, I've got two books on my desk, a pair of volumes that belong in every home as far as I'm concerned. One is the Bible; the other, having its sesquicentennial this year, is Charles Darwin's Origin of Species. Now clear away all your preconceptions and answer this question: which of these books more logically leads to a notion of tolerance for homosexuality?

I'd say it's the Bible, and it's not a particularly close call.

Yes, I know about Leviticus 17:13, "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination," and how this has been used by some zealots to argue that gay people are eventually going someplace hotter than Atlanta in August. Of course, Leviticus also says you can't eat pork (11:7); I've never heard anybody suggest gays are going to hell for eating ham sandwiches.

But beyond Leviticus 17:13, look at all the passages in the Bible that implore tolerance and compassion towards everyone, without regard to who they lie next to. Take Matthew 22:39, for instance: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." Or Matthew 25:40: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." And most famously, Luke 6:31: "And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise."

Doing unto others as you'd like done to you is, it seems to me, something Perez Hilton and his ilk could cite in favor of allowing gays to marry.

Does Darwin's master work offer any powerful ammunition to the cause of homosexual rights? Not so much; it's coldly logical and scientific. In fact, The Origin of Species is arguably a better case against homosexuality than Leviticus 17:13. Look at what Darwin says in the final chapter, summing up the book:

"The struggle for existence inevitably follows from the high geometrical ratio of increase which is common to all organic beings... The slightest advantage in certain individuals, at any age or during any season, over those with which they come into competition, or better adaptation in however slight a degree to the surrounding physical conditions, will, in the long run, turn the balance... With animals having separated sexes, there will be in most cases a struggle between the males for the possession of the females. The most vigorous males, or those which have most successfully struggled with their conditions of life, will generally leave the most progeny."

It doesn't take a degree in biology to understand a couple of basic facts inherent in these words. Humans are animals having "separated sexes" at least outside of San Francisco. The perpetuation of the species is dependant on sexual reproduction--all six billion people on earth are the result of the unification of a sperm cell, produced only by males, and an egg cell, produced only by females. There has never been, nor will there ever be, a case of humans propogating by Perez Hilton getting it on with another guy. If all human sex was between same sex partners, the human race would eventually die out. This is a reality that even the strongest critics of Darwin's theories would acknowledge.

And so, by Darwinian theory, you've got one behavior, heterosexuality, that has a good chance of helping an individual to pass on his or her genes, and a second behavior, homosexuality, that affords no chance to pass on genes.

So if you're going to be coldly logical about it--if you're going to put all your eggs in the scientific basket and none in the morality/religion basket--then there is no sound argument for gay marriage, or even for gay behavior being legal.

This is essentially why it's so silly to get all worked up over whether people are born gay or not, as though if you could scientifically prove that such was the case that it would end all debate. Pastor Rick Warren made a not unreasonable point in that regard: it's biological for heterosexual men to be attracted to multiple women, but that doesn't mean we as a society condone adultary in married men. And if it is acceptable for a society to say, in essence, that we don't care what a heterosexual man's urges are, we expect him to maintain a certain standard of behavior, there really isn't any reason that the same policy shouldn't hold for the urges of homosexual men.

Unless, that is, we as a society decide it's okay for a man to marry another man, that the analogy to a married man's urges is irrelevant. I think we're well on our way to making that judgement--but the point is, if we are traveling down that road, it's a position grounded in morality, of which the Bible is a canonical text, and not of science, of which The Origin of Species is a canonical text. That's the irony of Pastor Warren's comments--he's a preacher, not a scientist, and yet his view of gay marriage is less love thy neighbor than survival of the fittest.

Which takes me back to my thesis here, that the Bible makes a better case for tolerance of homosexuality than science does. So why isn't the case made? Or going the other way, if Darwinian theory is a powerful argument against homosexuality, why don't the opponents of gay rights ever use it?

I think it's pretty obvious why. People who support gay marriage tend to be liberal, those opposed tend to be conservative. If liberals started citing New Testament verses in support of gay rights, they'd then have to answer charges of being inconsistent when they fight to prevent a public high school football team from saying a few words of prayer before the big game. And if conservatives pointed to Darwin to argue that homosexuality is contrary to natural selection, they'd then be asked why they don't believe that same process of natural selection could take you from Australopithicus to man in a few million years.

Sometimes people will ignore a potential argument in their favor because they just can't stomach the source.

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