Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Thursday, 31 December 2009

Explain This One To Me

This is not a post on homosexuality.  It's just something I don't understand and here it is:
I think it's fair to say that most atheists also feel that evolution is a given scientific fact.  Now, one of the laws of evolution is not only adaptation of the species but survival of the individual and its contribution to the continuance of the species.  The most successful male is the one who has done the most to pass his DNA on to the next generation.  The most successful female is the one who has done the same.  Simply put, the male and female with the most babies are the most evolutionarily successful.  This is basic natural science.
Homosexuality is a dead end, according to this thinking.  After all, male-male and female-female intercourse produces nothing.  It's entirely for self-gratification without any contribution towards the continuance of the species.  It's a profoundly negative behaviour from a genetic point of view.  If the guy with 100 kids is the big winner, the guy who chooses to produce 0 kids is the exact opposite.
What's more, according to strict evolutionists, a human being is just another animal, a well-dressed ape.  So the laws of nature and natural success should apply to us just as much as other animals.
So how does a homosexual atheist who swears by evolution resolve the conflict?


JewishGadfly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JewishGadfly said...


Great question. The thing is, there are two questions here, and I am not sure which you are asking.

The first is, why would evolution produce someone who does not reproduce successfully?

The second is, why would an evolutionist accept homosexuality as a normal variant if it is a "negative" evolutionary step? Why wouldn't an evolutionist be "anti-homosexuality?"

I will do my best to address both. For the first: evolution never says that all variation that arises will promote reproduction. Rather, it gives an algorithm: that in the very long run, those variations that are more successful will, through differential replication, "win out." So in other words, the point might be that in 100,000 years, there could be a lower percentage of homosexuals than there are now. However, since we're not sure how homosexuality works, I'll guess (off the top of my head) that this still may not be true, depending how it does work. We have evidence that there is a genetic contribution to homosexuality. Suppose it involves a mutation on one of many genes, for instance, that could happen at any time--then you might always new homosexuals appearing based on how often that set of gene mutations occur, regardless of reproduction. But I am entirely speculating on that last point, just to say that the answer could depend on the mechanism.

Regarding the second question: I believe this would be an example of what's called the "naturalistic fallacy." Evolutionary theory says that Mother Nature's prime imperative is that we reproduce. That does not mean, however, that a particular human needs to feel the same way, or that we put a negative ethical judgment on someone who does not; it's an anthropomorphization of Mother Nature, of course. In reality, the "imperative" just means that we can ask: in the long run, should there be fewer/no people of a particular trait, barring other factors, if someone with a different trait is better at reproducing? Evolutionary theory says yes, based on the algorithm of differential replication. But again, that does not need to affect the ethics of the matter. It's not our ethical duty to reproduce according, to evolutionary biology; it's just that if we don't (or don't do it well), someone else's traits will spread and last and ours will not.

Where I think it gets stickier is as a possible example of the arbitrariness of definition of mental disorders, where "rare and maladaptive" are often taken into account as criteria. However, one can assume "maladaptive" there refers more to the self (i.e. causing harm to the self), and less to what is adaptive for producing offspring-- because there are many, many normal variations that make someone less likely to produce offspring (including rationally deciding not to).

Garnel Ironheart said...

1) I agree with your answer to the first question. Think about the terms "natural selection" or "survival of the fittest". Both imply losers in the process. According to strict evolutionists, the process can produce genetic losers but they don't last.

2) No, according to the non-religious crowd, it's not an ethical duty to reproduce but it is a biological duty. Survival of the fittest demands each organism strive to survive by detroying its competitors and spreading its DNA to the next generation. It's a natural imperative, not an ethical one.

As for the arbitrariness of defintion of mental disorders, one classic example is the definition of homosexuality which used to be classed as a medical disorder and no longer is. If you don't know the story of how that change was made, then you should look it up. It'll shock you as to how deeply political correctness has gone towards corrupting the pure scientific process.

Izgad said...

“I think it's fair to say that most atheists also feel that evolution is a given scientific fact.”

As a theistic evolutionist I find the notion of conceding evolution to the atheists to be offensive.

“So how does a homosexual atheist who swears by evolution resolve the conflict?”

Homosexuals can be useful to the society around them, which would include their heterosexual relatives who, assuming that there is some sort of genetic factor in homosexuality, would pass on the genes that would make their children more likely to be homosexual. Having adults with no children of their own can be useful as an extra pair of hands to help other people’s children live to adulthood.
I have Asperger syndrome which makes it quite likely that I will never marry and have children of my own. I would like to believe that I am not an evolutionary dead end.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Izgad, I'm not conceding evolution to the atheists. I believe that life has evolved as well although all under God's watchful eye and guiding hand.
I don't know if there's an atheist out there though who doubts the concept of evolution.

As for your second point, you're adding a layer of complexity on that goes beyond my point. Simply put: a homosexual will, by choice or compulsion, never pass on his/her genes to the next generation. However, someone with Asperger's syndrome is under no such constraints. Who says you'll never marry and have kids?

Izgad said...


Part of the beauty of evolution is that it contains a dialectic between brute force and round about means for reproduction. Evolution is not all about who can physically grab as many women as possible and get them pregnant. It also includes the kind caring person, even the self sacrificing person.
I do hope to eventually marry and have children. That being said I am going up against some bad odds. I do not have the stats in front of me, but for an Asperger to get married and stay married is to fight an uphill battle with odds far lower than the average person. Read Mozart and the Whale. Jerry and Mary Newport were also the inspiration for a film of the same name.

JewishGadfly said...

"2) No, according to the non-religious crowd, it's not an ethical duty to reproduce but it is a biological duty. Survival of the fittest demands each organism strive to survive by detroying its competitors and spreading its DNA to the next generation. It's a natural imperative, not an ethical one."

Yes, but what I'm saying is, other than describing an innate tendency like sex drive, the language of "biological imperative" is a metaphor for what you see on the macro level, like saying flowers "reach towards the sun," or trees "want their seeds to be spread." The metaphor does not mean every individual has to try hard to reproduce; individuals are totally unwitting agents of evolution 99.99999999% of the time (it's only pretty recently that you get humans, who can reflect on it and think about what they wanted to do). It's a metaphor for the driving force behind what will happen on the macro level in the very very long run given the innate tendencies of the individual--not their conscious attempts at winning.

I think this gets confused by the phrase "survival of the fittest," which Darwin didn't actually use--it was created by Herbert Spencer, and it's a very misleading, because it sounds like biology is about all creatures fighting an arms race to reproduce better than the other ones. While it is helpful to adopt this metaphorical view to see the macro level, it is not true. Evolution is just about lots of creatures living their lives as they are hardwired to, and some being more able to succeed in particular environments due to a competetive edge, and thus their descendants outnumber the other one. Moreover, what is "fitter" in one environment is a disadvantage in the other; neither succeeding species can be said to be "fitter" overall. (If we lived in an imaginary country in which it was strictly illegal to be heterosexual, and only homosexuals were allowed to reproduce via artificial insemination, they would have the advantage in that envrionment.)

So again, the metaphor of "biological imperative" does not actually bear on the ethical standing of a particular person's life.

Jay3fer said...

Okay, you people are too long-winded and too smart for me. Here are humble thoughts based on conversations with my own highly intolerant and ignorant yeshiva-bocher.

Homosexuality and procreation aren't mutually exclusive. It seems to me that in previous generations, more homosexuals probably married people of the opposite sex than they do now - due to greater societal pressure.

(ignorant big-mouth yeshiva-bocher: "I'm all for gay marriage - to women!")

Marriage was a different thing in other times; husbands and wives weren't expected to entertain each other as much. A man could perhaps spend all his time in the company of - and perhaps in relationships with - other men, yet still marry and bear children.

And, of course, what woman wouldn't love her gay BFF living right in her own home?

Perhaps ALSO giving his DNA slight edge... highly conceivable (get it?!) that a gay man might even have married later in life, thus promoting longevity traits.

Anyway, Dr. Laura has been saying the exact same stuff for, what, centuries now? And while she's gotten slammed for it, even she has never stated that homosexual intercourse is "entirely for self-gratification."

Because there is LOVE, which counts. Not evolutionarily, but to some atheists, it transcends almost every other value.

Genetically, it may not pass along the DNA, but neither does intercourse between old people, or straight people using birth control. These are old, trite responses and I'm sorry to resort to them, but your logic is frankly missing here.

Physicality is just one way of many to build and sustain a loving relationship. According to the Torah, there is problem with gay physicality. Maybe according to the atheist evolutionist, there is a problem with gay physicality.

But according to the guy on the bottom (or top), who may or may not eventually pass on his DNA, it is all fine, just fine...

Shalmo said...

There is an easy explanation for this. Check out the changing Jewish perspectives right here:

Garnel Ironheart said...

Hey Jay3fer,

And how is YM doing these days?

"Because there is LOVE"

One must distinguish between love and lust. I would submit that the vast majority of times the phrases "But Daddy, I LOVE him!" or "Boy do I LOVER her" is uttered in the world, the word could be replaced with "LUST" and the phrase would have the exact same meaning. Love based on physicality is really lust because it means that you are attracted to the person because of the positive effect it has on your emotions. The other person is, quite bluntly, irrelevant to that feeling.
Love is far deeper and it is the secret ingredient in successful marriages, along with the fear of how much divorce lawyers charge and it's an entirely different dynamic.

David said...


With much love and respect, if you ever ask a nuttier and more pointless question than that, you'll get honorary smicha.

Evolution is not a political ideology-- it's a scientific theory. An atheist (or a Jew, or a Christian) who believes that evolution is the best scientific explanation of the development of life is not required also to believe that he must participate in it, or that doing so would make him happy.

What makes man as a species successful has nothing to do with what might (or might not) make man as an individual happy. I'm not even sure why you'd conflate the two ideas. Corn is one of the most successful species on the planet-- I tend to doubt that corn is ever "happy."

JRKmommy said...

Natural selection is an observable process, not a theological position.

Traits which do not aid in survival and reproduction continue because:

1. Not all such inborn traits are necessarily genetic. While theories abound, no one has identified a definite "gay gene". Even if the tendency toward homosexuality is present from birth, it could be linked to various prenatal factors.

2. If a "gay gene" or genes exist, they could be recessive (meaning that one could be a carrier without actually having the trait). Natural selection works more effectively on dominant traits than recessive ones.

3. Throughout history, many individuals with homosexual tendencies nevertheless reproduced. The notions that love and physical attraction should be the basis of marriage, and the notion that marriage and childbearing should be totally a matter of free will for adults, are relatively recent ideas.