Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Agency, Atonement, and same-sex Attraction

"Homosexual orientation can't be biologically caused because that would violate free agency.  Plus, the Atonement can change anything, including sexual orientation."

Below I include 1) an edited excerpt of my responses to some facebook comments similar to this quote, then 2) the lengthy facebook discussion in order to provide context for the benefit of my blog audience that's bereft of access to the facebook dialogue.

Agency


"I thank you and Andy for relying on a fallacy in your comments. By addressing it I hope to resolve one of the most common misunderstandings I observe in discussions among LDS folk about homosexuality. 

The fallacy? That a reduction in available alternatives violates the principle of free agency. Permit an explanation. 

First task: Seth, using nothing but your natural capacities, please jump straight up in the air 200 feet. Can you choose to do it? No. In this scenario you may not choose to jump 200 feet straight up in the air using nothing but your natural capacities. Is agency violated here?

Next task: Compose a 200 page supreme court caliber legal opinion from scratch in 13 seconds. What, you can't choose to do it? I thought "there is always choice"!

Last example: take an infertile couple- say, the man's sperm don't develop because of an inherited double recessive meiosis inhibitor.
Okay, infertile man: sire a child by natural means. What, you can't? What happened to God-given free agency? 

Now let's consider a different scenario which will let me resolve this apparent tension by creating a construct I will call "freedom". 

Say little Johnny has 2 candy bars in front of him. He has 4 alternatives: grab neither bar, both bars, bar A, or bar B. I will term "agency" that power by which Johnny selects from among the alternatives available to him. I will term "freedom" the number of alternatives available to him. To quantify in this situation, Johnny has "full" agency, and a freedom of 4: i.e., 4 alternatives.

Now take away candy bar B. Johnny now has 2 alternatives instead of 4. He may now only choose between grabbing or not grabbing the bar. However, his agency, or power to choose from among the available alternatives, is still "full." His freedom, however, was reduced from 4 to 2. I would further argue that even if no candy bar were in front of Johnny, such that he has 0 alternatives, his agency is still "full-" though that agency would not be discernible until alternatives are available to him. Bottom line: in all four scenarios above, biological/physical limitations of the actor necessarily define his freedom without lessening his agency.

My application of this conclusion? None of us can exercise our agency to choose an alternative that is not available to us. Thus, the question of what alternatives are available is not made irrelevant by acknowledging free agency. Respecting homosexual orientation, one candidate question would be whether the alternative of exclusive romantic/emotional/sexual orientation toward members of the opposite sex is available to individual A. This question cannot be disregarded by an appeal to agency, since the abundance or scarcity of alternatives (freedom) necessarily relies upon the biological/physical capacities and limitations of the actor. Thus, if homosexual orientation is merely chosen, then the alternative of exclusive romantic/emotional/sexual orientation toward members of the opposite sex is available to individual A. If, on the other hand, exclusive romantic/emotional/sexual orientation toward members of the opposite sex is biologically impossible for A, then that alternative is not available to A. The resolution of the scope of A's freedom requires a determination at least of whether exclusive romantic/emotional/sexual orientation toward members of the opposite sex is biologically possibile or impossibile- hence the relevance of evaluating the "evidence" you decry as irrelevant.

I claim that evaluating the evidence is relevant on a second basis as well. Seth's argument that [biological evidence can only speak to biological phenomena + we can't be reduced to mere biology = the evidence or lack thereof as irrelevant] presumes that homosexual orientation is entirely abiological (presumably, instead, it is an aspect of our spirits). What is the evidence for this presumption?  Are you prepared to claim that spirits come into the world homosexually oriented, or that an individual can choose the sexual orientation of his/her spirit during mortality?  Would you also claim a person can choose one's spiritual gender during mortality?  


If homosexual orientation is, on the other hand, caused by a 1) mixture of biology and spirit (e.g. the soul) or 2) only biology, then the question of whether and how much biology contributes to homosexual orientation is again relevant. 




Atonement

Presuming I've established the relevance of the question of the cause(s) of homosexual orientation, I now respond to another of Seth's claims- the oft-used "Atonement argument". Seth notes that the atonement can reverse death, and thus it can reverse sexual orientation, since orientation reversal is certainly less impressive than death reversal. Granted- the Atonement can do so. So what? What matters to a decision maker is what God WIll do, not merely what he CAn do. If you're the only person around for miles except for a child that is drowning in a steep canal, and you CAn throw the kid a rope to save her but DO not, the kid will still drown. The question for a homosexually oriented person, then, turns to the likelihood of God's intervention to reverse his/her orientation. I draw on Seth's comparison to death. I hope it's not an exaggeration to claim that death reversal rates have historically been less than .01%. In most cases we know of, the death reversal was also not readily predictable by the subject. Thus if God's sexual orientation reversal intervention rate is at this same level, a reasonable homosexually oriented person is justified in placing little confidence, not in God's CApacity to reverse his/her orientation, but in God's LIkelihood of doing so for him or her. God's likelihood of reversing homosexually oriented person A's orientation is the relevant question for decision-making A. "A" may also reasonably consider: 

"The pernicious consequence of promoting the idea that homosexuality is a chosen and changeable condition is that tens of thousands of Latter-day Saint homosexuals, believing that the atonement will change their homosexual inclinations, become disillusioned with God and Christ (and the Church) when they make every sacrifice of which they are capable in the belief that they will be free of homosexual feelings—only to discover that their efforts are ineffective. More often than not, they may blame themselves for having insufficient faith and either lose all faith, suspend their belief, or take their lives. Ecclesiastical leaders who have experience counseling with Latter-day Saint homosexuals know the heartbreak associated with such cases."

I contend that the Atonement's purpose is generally not to reverse physical conditions such as old age, diabetes, homosexual orientation, and disability. That is a mistake many people in Christ's day made, who viewed him merely as someone who could heal their physical bodies (e.g. giving sight to the blind man) and assuage their physical appetites (e.g. loaves and fishes). They missed the point these miracles were supposed to lead them to: that Christ/the Atonement's primary purpose is to heal us spiritually. Though a disabled or homosexually oriented or old person can be exalted, an individual tainted or damaged by sin cannot achieve exaltation without reversing her sinful condition. Guess how often God WIll (not merely CAn) reverse spiritual death of sinners who repent? 100% of the time. 100%! This is a much better ratio than .0001.  Even though God CAn merely speak the word and a hot dinner will appear on your table, that you go ahead and prepare a meal anyway does not evidence your lack of faith.  The primary purpose of the Atonement is to engender salvation and exaltation via the spiritual healing/cleansing of and grace extended to those damaged by sin. Hence, my claim that the Atonement argument is weak/irrelevant- which in turn refreshes the legitimacy of investigating questions of mutability and causation."


Context:


Location:445 MARB (BYU Campus)
Time:Thursday, 23 September 2010 19:00

 Prompting Comments:

















    • Oumar Niane There is no such thing Brad! Come on...
      Yesterday at 13:13 · 









    • Miki Tracy If this guy can prove his thesis, does this mean that the First Presidency will have to revise Church moral teaching? What will this mean for priesthood and Temple service and openly gay members who've been excommunicated or disfellowshipped?
      Yesterday at 13:24 · 









    • Alicia Yost I imagine you are already planning to do so, but I'll be expecting/watching for a blog post about this. Sounds interesting indeed!
      Yesterday at 13:38 · 









    • Nicole Marie Myer 
      Actually, whether a person is biologically hardwired to be homosexual does not make an argument for or against homosexual behavior. And FYI, the Church doesn't teach that it's a sin to have homosexual feelings or desires. The sin is in acting upon them. Personally, I think people ARE definitely born homosexual. Or rather, with the traits that people are calling "homosexual" traits. And as far as who or what someone is attracted to, I would say that has a lot to do with extra genetic factors as well, but it is too narrow a scope to rule out a biological predisposition.
      Yesterday at 13:41 · 









    • Andrea L Bowden It's true. Engaging in premarital or extramarital sexual behavior is taught as sinful, no matter the genders of the persons involved.
      Yesterday at 13:47 · 









    • Miki Tracy Well, considering the Church's teachings on Eternal Progression and Celestial glory, this makes no sense. If the Church accepts what Nicole is saying as factual, then homosexuals are being put in an impossible position: people who are "hardwired" for specific behaviours are not culpable if they act on them--it's no longer an issue of moral right, but of biological necessity, and if that's the case, then homosexuals are screwed in all matters regarding salvation and eternal glory.
      Yesterday at 13:55 · 









    • Alicia Yost I may be hardwired to have a hot temper, yet I am still expected to overcome
      the natural man and not get angry with others. Each one of us has to learn
      to control our appetites.
      Yesterday at 14:06 via Email reply · 









    • Miki Tracy Alicia, I beg your pardon, but that's just assinine. No one is "hardwired" to have a bad temper unless they have brain damage--and that's a medical fact. And were that the case, then the rubrics of diminished culpability would still apply. If homosexuality is inborn, a genetic mutation, etc., then it has nothing to do with \petites". At all.
      Yesterday at 14:24 · 









    • Alicia Yost 
      Maybe I did not explain well enough. Though I have the desire to have sex, I won't (until married) due to the fact that I can control that appetite. So
      it is with homosexuals and heterosexuals alike. Sexual desire is an appetite that can be controlled.
      Yesterday at 14:34 via Email reply · 









    • Miki Tracy Actually, it's not the same. Not even close. And speaking as a veteran heath care professional and mental health advocate, Alicia, you're sounding rather like Pollyanna.
      Yesterday at 14:46 · 









    • Crystal Alvarez Schultz So Miki, you don't believe in free will or choice? Are all actions non-preventative?
      Yesterday at 15:06 · 









    • Peter J Brown 
      Brad, again, what is homosexuality? Is it a proclivity or a behavior? The problem I have with such encompassing discussions is that there are people out there who exhibit gay behavior as a right of passage in college, out of pure lust and perversion, because of it's Spartan, jockish and pranksterish, out of vanity, to pick up on men (in the cases of some lesbian barsexuals), because they were wronged by the opposite sex, because of parental or otherwise abuse, to be cool, out of vanity, because gay sex is easier to get than straight sex. Then there are those who are gay out of a deep emotional/sexual connective need. This is a subsection that may fit the discussion, but people refuse to look at the entire section. Will this be discussed as well, because not all of these motivators fit into the "born with it" discussion. One way to gain the moral high ground, in my opinion, would be if the homosexual advocates would separate the debate in this way. Otherwise, the one subsection will continue to be lumped in with all the rest (who DO need therapy).
      Yesterday at 15:14 · 









    • Alicia Yost Pardon me for not using an example that was not sound, however, I do stand
      by the fact that acting upon sexual desires is, indeed, controllable.
      Perhaps I am a bit "Pollyanna", as you say, but that is really beside the
      point.
      Yesterday at 15:29 via Email reply · 

















    • Brad Carmack ‎@all: I plan to respond a bit more later. In the interim, please be civil and refrain from personal attacks. I don't think the dialogue has gotten there quite yet, but I request restraint lest this forum becomes a vehicle for aggression. Thanks,
      Yesterday at 16:12 ·  ·  2 people









    • Nicole Marie Myer 
      TO MIKI: Can you cite some specifics regarding the following quotation? "people who are 'hardwired' for specific behaviours are not culpable if they act on them--it's no longer an issue of moral right, but of biological necessity." My questions are these: 1) What is the biological necessity that you refer to? 2) For what actions would homosexual people be inculpable, assuming they are "hardwired" to perform said actions? 
      Along with my questions, a comment. We're talking about human beings, not animals, and not machines. What makes us human? Or rather, what makes humans different? That needs to be taken into account when discussing this topic. 
      TO PETER: I think the whole point of this discussion is to ask, "Is it proclivity vs. behavior, or some combination of both?" I submit that it is the latter. Culture should be taken into account as well. I'm interested to know what role homosexuality takes in certain cultures. It's a hot topic in American culture. What are homosexual people experiencing in other places around the world?
      TO BRAD: This is one of my favorite topics to discuss. Thanks for bringing it up and sorry for posting such long comments...
      Yesterday at 16:38 · 









    • Peter J Brown Nicole: Yes, culture AND history - great add.
      Yesterday at 17:24 · 









    • Andy Westover 
      Like was described earlier, people are born with (or learn - it's difficult to draw the line here, so I won't) certain behaviors. Some are naturally inclined toward aggression, or toward overeating, or whatever. In my opinion, homosexual feelings/identity/etc are much the same. Some may become attracted by the same sex, just as some are more inclined toward violence, or perhaps even love and service. Just because there is an inclination (again born or learned), they still have the ability to choose at some point in the process. There is always choice.
      Yesterday at 18:21 · 









    • Andy Westover 
      Like was described earlier, people are born with (or learn - it's difficult to draw the line here, so I won't) certain behaviors. Some are naturally inclined toward aggression, or toward overeating, or whatever. In my opinion, homosexual feelings/identity/etc are much the same. Some may become attracted by the same sex, just as some are more inclined toward violence, or perhaps even love and service. Just because there is an inclination (again born or learned), they still have the ability to choose at some point in the process. There is always choice.
      Yesterday at 18:21 · 









    • Miki Tracy 
      Yes, Crystal, I do "believe" in free agency--for people who are of sound mind. But, Nicole, brains are great electrical carrier computers, and they have been clinically proven as such. The proof that not everyone is in the control of their urges and behaviours is spelled out in fine detail in the DSM IV (look under "personality disorders" first) and thousands of brain-mapping studies....particularly those that targeted anti-social personality disorder. There's a reason the psychiatrists loathe treating such patients: personality disorders cannot be effectively treated longterm.
      Yesterday at 18:38 · 









    • Nicole Marie Myer Miki: So are you considering homosexuality to be akin to a mental disorder?
      Yesterday at 20:48 · 









    • Seth Melling 
      wow, brad. You've done it again. Must be nice to have a following. Ok soooo...Here it is. Don't feel constrained to believe "evidence". Not all evidence is created equal, and in this title could be substituted with "argument or perspective". Before there is a rebuttle, I would say this no matter what the biological evidence supported. Biological evidence can only speak to biological phenomena. As we can't be reduced to mere biology (and biology is a reductionist science), we shouldn't be too distracted by arguments in this arena. When biology can escape some of the methodological concerns, then we can appeal to it with greater impunity. Until then, please stop with the nature v. nurture arguments. They manifest that you've already boughten the falsehood that there can ever be a organism independent of one's environment. All this being said, which I believe preempts most of the concerns above, let me state publicly my defense of current church doctrine and policy. Andy brings in really good points. Let's take Elder Oaks opinion that verbs/adjectives shouldn't be confused with nouns. Current categories are really flawed, we aren't mere biological creatures, agency is more pervasive than ANY of us want to admit, and the same atonement which can conquer death (a biological phenomina) can certainly conquer any biological issues relating to sexuality. Sexuality is flexible.
      Yesterday at 21:20 ·  ·  1 person









    • Peter J Brown Seth, sexuality is NOT flexible. The American Psychological Association says so, so there!
      22 hours ago · 









    • Miki Tracy 
      Nicole, practising psychiatrists have *never* abandoned the understanding that homosexuality *is* a mental health disorder "akin" to schizophrenia; they just don't announce it publicly any longer. So, yes, given my education and clinical experience, I do think that homosexuality is an organic brain disorder. Historical note: the only reason that homosexuality was pulled from the DSM and other clinical manuals in the '90s was because militant GLB groups were burying the APA and the European psych. assns. in so many law suits and civil claims that the entire psychiatric establishment was in danger of folding--a situation that would have left tens of thousands of SMI patients without any accredited services at all if the latter had not given in. The only thing that has changed in the twenty subsequent years is that the same militant advocates have used that same extortion in all quarters of public and private life--including gaining "right" that don't exist. A travesty that has helped no one at all, and normalized relativism, immorality, and the growing, enraged, misynthropic culture of death. One cannot posit that homosexuality is normal whilst asserting that homosexual behaviour is somehow disordered or sinful--it's an eggregious oxymoron.
      21 hours ago · 









    • Seth Melling 
      sheesh, just started to reread my own comment and I got bored and quit. I think the issue of 'mental disorders' is mute. All disorders get their classification virtually solely from the fact that they occur outside of normalcy (independent of whether the phenomena can be curred or not or if it was learned/genetic). Therefore, to the degree to which homosexuality isn't normal (average, popular, accepted) it is a disorder (out of the ORDERnardy.) Miki is correct about the political pressure of gay advocates being responsible for APA's removal of homosexuality-though if my memory serves me well, the DSM dropped homosexuality in the mid 70s not 90s. I don't mean to dance around the issues in my comments; I hope I am actually exposing areas in which two sides often talk past each other and offering some commonly agreed upon ideas. If I can be provocative for a moment.,,Do we believe pediphilia (both the sexual arousal of and the behavioral action against children) can be treated in any degree? If not, why do we treat them? It is because of a fundamental belief (and a correct one) that sexuality is flexible. It changes from childhood to adulthood--what arouses/attracts the virgin will differ from a parent; what is found attractive changes even based on your mood. Recent research even indicates that women judge "manly men" (beard, big muscles, etc) as being more "sexy" at certain monthly periods (definately pun intended) than at others where they have significantly less discrimination for 'manly men' as sexy. Is all of this so foreign to this debate? Why!!!!?
      20 hours ago · 









    • Miki Tracy 
      Seth, the first lawsuits were filed against the APA between 1975 and 1979-80. It wasn't until almost a decade later after a series of class-action lawsuits came about that tried to link the APA to the rabid prejudice attached to the AIDS epidemic that the APA members were finally forced to vote during a special session of their annual conference to remove the clinical biography and definition for homosexual spectrums from the DSM. This was a legal issue, not a clinical change in thought or practise. Interestingly enough, however, *all* of the paraphilias that were attendant to homosexual and fetishist practices were retained in the current clinical literature. As pedophilia, hebophilia, and more severe, dangerous disorders such as apotemnophilia are still (and even more numerously reported, anecdotally) understood too be seat defects of personality inherent to brain dysfunction, they are no longer pretended to be treatable or curable. For this reason, and the growing realization that sex offenders cannot be successfully curbed in the longterm, California recently did one of the best things they could have ever done to protect the public; they have passed new legislation that will put many sex offenders (especially child predators) behind bars for life. I can't wait to see the lawsuits on this one....Most of the historical documentation on this issue (much of which I have read myself) is on file in the medical archives at the Columbia University School of Medicine.
      20 hours ago · 









    • Miki Tracy ‎...And on a personal note, I think it's wonderfully brilliant that Brad is engaged in such great discoursive work! After all, when I first knew him, his one scientific endeavor involved Legos. : ) I suppose I should have expected as much--his parents were two of my favourite people as a young adult precisely because they were both wicked smart, funny, and exuded empathy and compassion for all people....even the difficult. Good to know that this apple is stuck to the tree!
      20 hours ago · 









    • Nicole Marie Myer 
      Miki, your train of logic seems to read this way: homosexuality belongs in the same category as pedophilia, hebophilia and apotemnophilia. Later this group is termed as sex offenders, followed by the statement that they are best curbed by being put behind bars. So it seems to imply that homosexuals should be arrested, or have some kind of legal restraint, because they don't have the ability to restrain themselves? Really? I'm not buying it. Okay, another thing. Science can be helpful in gaining a better understanding of things, but it never claims to be absolute and inflexible. Part of what makes it science is that its theories can be tested and adjusted as evidence is brought forth. My policy is to trust revelation because pretty much consistently science ends up supporting what revelation told us a long time ago. So I think the Church is taking a pretty good stance on the issue, myself. Which is, "no, you're not crazy/deformed/maimed somehow because you're attracted to the same gender. Just curb your desires and find a constructive outlet because life is NOT just all about sex." Well, and get help if you need it. I think help can be found, and it doesn't have to be legal restraint. And of course, the moral question is- Is homosexuality in fact something that needs to be fixed? Practicing homosexuals say no. That's a tricky question because the next one is- How do we decide what kind of legislation is in order in response to homosexual behavior? The answer that I support is that marriage be reserved for heterosexual couples. Other than that, I don't see how it can be ethical for the government to legislate further on the issue.
      19 hours ago · 









    • Miki Tracy 
      Wrong, Nicole. Not only have you completely misinterpreted my statement, only rape, pedophilia and hebophilia involving minors under the age of 16 (in some states and other countries, the age of consent is actually lower) are criminal. As for your "policy" of abiding revelation, divine revelation is very clear: any deviant sexual practise is an abomination to GOD--this includes, according to Holy Scripture, transvestitism. So, if this is *really* where you stand, pick a team and stop vascillating. you can't have it both ways. Isaiah 5: 20, 24
      18 hours ago · 









    • Miki Tracy Oh, yes, and by the by, Nicole, you might want to consider making your next service project volunteering for a month at a state hospital. Whilst you're there, keep a running tally of how many patients you meet who think they "don't need to be fixed." It'll be an eye opener....
      18 hours ago · 









    • Miki Tracy 
      Oh, and one other thing: as a Latter-day Saint, Nicole, if you say that "marriage is reserved for heterosexual couples," then you have, in effect, answered my first question with your assertion that homosexuals are "born this way." If the purpose of life is to come to earth, gain a body, and experience before returning to our Heavenly Father's Kingdom, then you *are* in effect stating that homosexuals are damned. Only marrieds sealed in the Temple will achieve Celestial Glory--at least that's what the Church has always taught. It's this kind of hypocrisy that made me doubt the truth of the Restoration to begin with; if we are all our Heavenly Father's children, it makes absolutely no sense that some should be so unfairly cursed in Eternity. Thank you for finally answering my original query.
      18 hours ago · 









    • Peter J Brown 
      Brad, another question to ask is an environmental one, meaning air, food, and water quality affecting the biology. There have been some studies in fish and animals lately that indicate an androgynous trend for male species due to chemical infiltrations in the environment. This has caused greater sterility, infertility, etc. as well (human studies note this too). Does this also affect hormones, glands, etc. that dictate attraction? Could this mean that there is a possibility of a pharmaceutical cure, or a preventative cure for people that don't want gay kids? What are the moral and political implications if science attempted to develop a hormone therapy that "cured" homosexuality either in the individual or a pregnant mother? Is that the same as selecting a gender or eye color, or worse . . . or better?
      11 hours ago · 















  • Brad Carmack 
    Ah, time to respuesta at last! I really hope that's Spanish for "respond." Anyway, I'll admit I really didn't expect the comment firestorm- I merely posted the time and place of a lecture! Nonetheless, I shall select some comments to respond to in a mostly sequential order. 

    I note at the outset that I have already composed a more thoughtful, complete, and insightful article about these and related issues than is constituted by my responses here. If you are interested in that article (which I am in the process of reorganizing into a four-part series to provide greater structure and readability), please take some time to read and consider it. http://bradcarmack.blogspot.com/2010/02/i-support-heterosexual-members-of-lds.html

    @Oumar- there's no such thing as a biological origin for homosexuality? Inasmuch as homosexuality = homosexual orientation I would claim that biology (e.g. genes, prenatal hormones) is at least partly the cause of homosexual orientation. If you care to open mindedly study some of the reasons why, consider reading https://docs.google.com/Doc?docid=0AYd4HeuA_ceTZGRndnJ4NGJfNjNmd21qbmdmMw&hl=en. Even with an open mind, you might not find the evidence persuasive- but if you've already concluded, presented evidence will likely only result in polarizing further the stance you've taken. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias) Thus, absent an open mind, I'd advise against reading the document. 

    @Alicia- I may post about it. I'm planning to post later about the causation and mutabilty of homosexual orientation, though, so I may hold off. I put the link to Bill's 45 pager (the basis for his presentation) in my response to Oumar if you want it. If anyone wants it in pdf form let me know.

    @Nicole and Andrea- yes, there is some consistency in the teachings about the sinfulness of extramarital sexual relationships, i.e. they are sinful between both homo- and hetero- sexual partners. 

    @Peter- though the US Supreme Court has recently refused to recognize a distinction between orientation and behavior when it comes to homosexuality (noting that with respect to sexual orientation the court has "declined to distinguish between status and conduct" and offering the parallel from an earlier case: "A tax on wearing yarmulkes is a tax on Jews."), partly because of the reasons you cite I find the distinction helpful. The distinction is useful at least in discussion with stereotypical LDS folks (I would include myself here) who, per the Oaks/Wickman homosexuality address, put a lot of stock in separating the two. 

    @Nathan- thanks for posting the link- it is both recent and relevant.

    @Nicole- I am also curious about the contribution or lack of contribution culture makes to both homosexual conduct and homosexual orientation.

    @Andy- your opinion that homosexual feelings/identity is comparable to overeating and inclination toward aggression is testable. In a later post I may address the predictive value of your opinion. 
    I respond to about your claim that "there is always choice" in my response to Seth below. 

    @Miki- the conclusion that not everyone is in control of their behaviors seems to directly contradict Elder Wickman's statement in the Oaks/Wickman press conference on homosexuality: "One of the great sophistries of our age, I think, is that merely because one has an inclination to do something, that therefore acting in accordance with that inclination is inevitable... we know we can control how we behave, and it is behavior which is important." Interesting.
    19 minutes ago · 








  • Brad Carmack 
    ‎@Seth- I thank you and Andy for relying on a fallacy in your comments. By addressing it I hope to resolve one of the most common misunderstandings I observe in discussions among LDS folk about homosexuality. 

    The fallacy? That a reduction in available alternatives violates the principle of free agency. Permit an explanation. 

    First task: Seth, using nothing but your natural capacities, please jump straight up in the air 200 feet. Can you choose to do it? No. In this scenario you may not choose to jump 200 feet straight up in the air using nothing but your natural capacities. Is agency violated here?

    Next task: Compose a 200 page supreme court caliber legal opinion from scratch in 13 seconds. What, you can't choose to do it? I thought "there is always choice"!

    Last example: take an infertile couple- say, the man's sperm don't develop because of an inherited double recessive meiosis inhibitor.
    Okay, infertile man: sire a child by natural means. What, you can't? What happened to God-given free agency? 

    Now let's consider a different scenario which will let me resolve this apparent tension by creating a construct I will call "freedom". 

    Say little Johnny has 2 candy bars in front of him. He has 4 alternatives: grab neither bar, both bars, bar A, or bar B. I will term "agency" that power by which Johnny selects from among the alternatives available to him. I will term "freedom" the number of alternatives available to him. To quantify in this situation, Johnny has "full" agency, and a freedom of 4: i.e., 4 alternatives.

    Now take away candy bar B. Johnny now has 2 alternatives instead of 4. He may now only choose between grabbing or not grabbing the bar. However, his agency, or power to choose from among the available alternatives, is still "full." His freedom, however, was reduced from 4 to 2. I would further argue that even if no candy bar were in front of Johnny, such that he has 0 alternatives, his agency is still "full-" though that agency would not be discernible until alternatives are available to him. Bottom line: in all four scenarios above, biological/physical limitations of the actor necessarily define his freedom without lessening his agency.

    My application of this conclusion? None of us can exercise our agency to choose an alternative that is not available to us. Thus, the question of what alternatives are available is not made irrelevant by acknowledging free agency. Respecting homosexual orientation, one candidate question would be whether the alternative of exclusive romantic/emotional/sexual orientation toward members of the opposite sex is available to individual A. This question cannot be disregarded by an appeal to agency, since the abundance or scarcity of alternatives (freedom) necessarily relies upon the biological/physical capacities and limitations of the actor. Thus, if homosexual orientation is merely chosen, then the alternative of exclusive romantic/emotional/sexual orientation toward members of the opposite sex is available to individual A. If, on the other hand, exclusive romantic/emotional/sexual orientation toward members of the opposite sex is biologically impossible for A, then that alternative is not available to A. The resolution of the scope of A's freedom requires a determination at least of whether exclusive romantic/emotional/sexual orientation toward members of the opposite sex is biologically possibile or impossibile- hence the relevance of evaluating the "evidence" you decry as irrelevant.

    I claim that evaluating the evidence is relevant on a second basis as well. Seth's argument that [biological evidence can only speak to biological phenomena + we can't be reduced to mere biology = the evidence or lack thereof as irrelevant] presumes that homosexual orientation is entirely abiological (presumably, instead, it is an aspect of our spirits). What is the evidence for this presumption? If homosexual orientation is, on the other hand, caused by a 1) mixture of biology and spirit (e.g. the soul) or 2) only biology, then the question of whether and how much biology contributes to homosexual orientation is again relevant. 

    Presuming I've established the relevance of the question of the cause(s) of homosexual orientation, I now respond to another of Seth's claims- the oft-used "Atonement argument". Seth notes that the atonement can reverse death, and thus it can reverse sexual orientation, since orientation reversal is certainly less impressive than death. Granted- the Atonement can do so. So what? What matters to a decision maker is what God WIll do, not merely what he CAn do. If you're the only person around for miles except for a child that is drowning in a steep canal, and you CAn throw the kid a rope to save her but DO not, the kid will still drown. The question for a homosexually oriented person, then, turns to the likelihood of God's intervention to reverse his/her orientation. I draw on Seth's comparision to death. I hope it's not an exaggeration to claim that death reversal rates have historically been less than .01%. In most cases we know of, the death reversal was also not readily predictable by the subject. Thus if God's sexual orientation reversal intervention rate is at this same level, a reasonable homosexually oriented person is justified in placing little confidence, not in God's CApacity to reverse his/her orientation, but in God's LIkelihood of doing so for him or her. God's likelihood of reversing homosexually oriented person A's orientation is the relevant question for decision-making A. "A" may also reasonably consider: 

    "The pernicious consequence of promoting the idea that homosexuality is a chosen and changeable condition is that tens of thousands of Latter-day Saint homosexuals, believing that the atonement will change their homosexual inclinations, become disillusioned with God and Christ (and the Church) when they make every sacrifice of which they are capable in the belief that they will be free of homosexual feelings—only to discover that their efforts are ineffective. More often than not, they may blame themselves for having insufficient faith and either lose all faith, suspend their belief, or take their lives. Ecclesiastical leaders who have experience counseling with Latter-day Saint homosexuals know the heartbreak associated with such cases."

    I contend that the Atonement's purpose is generally not to reverse physical conditions such as old age, diabetes, homosexual orientation, and disability. That is a mistake many people in Christ's day made, who viewed him merely as someone who could heal their physical bodies (e.g. giving sight to the blind man) and assuage their physical appetites (e.g. loaves and fishes). They missed the point these miracles were supposed to lead them to: that Christ/the Atonement's primary purpose is to heal us spiritually. Though a disabled or homosexually oriented or old person can be exalted, an individual tainted or damaged by sin cannot achieve exaltation without reversing her sinful condition. Guess how often God WIll (not merely CAn) forgive and cleanse those who repent? 100% of the time. 100%! This is a much better ratio than .0001. The primary purpose of the Atonement is to engender salvation and exaltation via the spiritual healing/cleansing of and grace extended to those damaged by sin. Hence, my claim that the Atonement argument is weak/irrelevant- which in turn refreshes the legitimacy of questions of mutability and causation.
    11 minutes ago · 








  • Brad Carmack 
    ‎@Miki- if one cannot posit that homosexuality is normal while asserting that homosexual behavior is sinful, then resolution of the normalcy of homosexual orientation will resolve the question of the sinfulness of homosexual behavior. According to this reasoning, if homosexuality is normal, then homosexual behavior is not sinful. If homosexual orientation is not normal, then perhaps the conduct is sinful. Though I wouldn't assert this reasoning, I note that it makes the sinfulness of homosexual conduct threatened by evidence leading to a conclusion that homosexual orientation is a "normal minority variation in humans the origins of which are biological." That is exactly the conclusion Bradshaw's paper reaches. Once again, I assert that the support of this conclusion deserves careful, analytical, and open-minded consideration.  Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why : the Science of Sexual Orientation by Simon LeVay (copyright 2011!) also contains a well-supported analysis of the subject.  
    As to the personal note, thanks! And I still play with Legos occasionally. :) I also share your favorable view of my parents.

    @Nicole- great point about science never claiming to be "absolute and inflexible." I find the tentative and falsifiable nature of scientific claims incredibly attractive epistemologically. Also, your point about evidence supporting revelation would be expected if 1) the evidence is sound and 2) truth can be encircled in one great whole. However, I would part ways with you as to the pretty goodness of "no, you're not crazy/deformed/maimed somehow because you're attracted to the same gender. Just curb your desires and find a constructive outlet because life is NOT just all about sex." More on that in a later post.

    @Miki- On its face, the reality of homosexual orientation does seem to evidence a Designer flaw, since according to the doctrines homosexual orientation/behavior and the heterosexual/opposite gender, family-based plan of happiness are incompatible. God created us, and He doesn't make mistakes, right? How about the truth that God created man, male and female created He them? What do you do with intersex persons, who are gender ambiguous? I quote:

    "Because spiritual gender is binary (either male or female and nothing in between) and unchangeable, in order to be reliable [a test of physical gender] must also place every individual it is applied to correctly into one of the two categories. This infers two requirements: 1) the test must place every person (i.e. none can be ambiguous) and 2) there must be no false positives or false negatives. What are the criteria for the test of physical gender? (for support of the examples cited below see e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klinefelter's_syndrome, 
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/True_hermaphroditism, 
    http://www.isna.org/, and the references section ofhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intersex) I present several commonly proposed phenotypic and genotypic criteria:

    a. The “pull your pants down” test (genitalia)- take a look and see if they have a uterus or a penis. This test fails because there are some people that have both. There are some that have partial penis/partial clitoris. Some have both ovaries and testicles. Plus, people can undergo a sex change operation. This test violates both requirements 1 and 2 above.
    b. The genetics test (XY is male, XX is female)- this will help by separating those with ambiguous genitalia, and is testable through genotying. However, this test also fails because some people are XXY or XXYY. Also, some have XY but the SRY gene either isn’t expressed or is damaged (so the XY individual is phenotypically female, the default gender in the sexual differentiation of humans). This test doesn’t tell the judge how to come down in these cases (violating 1 above). 
    c. Brain gender- though largely alike, as Brizendine (author of The Male Brain and The Female Brain) summarizes, there are distinct structural differences between the average male and the average female brain. The exceptions here are 1) those who exhibit intermediate brain phenotypes, 2) those who have a male brain but female genotype and female genitalia, and 3) those with a female brain and female genitalia but male genes. Thus, requirements 1 and 2 are both violated.
    d. Sexual orientation- assign the gender opposite the sexual orientation of the subject (e.g. if the person’s attracted to men, conclude the person is a female). This test fails both because it is counterintuitive and because sexual orientation is spectral rather than binary (e.g. what about bisexual people?), thus at the least violating requirement 1. 

    Given our real-world situation where... it seems gendered spirits are sent into ambiguous gender bodies. Unless and until a reliable and ubiquitous test of physical gender is identified, the reliance on physical gender to discern spiritual gender necessarily fails."

    I bring up the intersex example to demonstrate that there is more to the "Designer Flaw" story than meets the eye- and some of that story is persuasively presented in Bradshaw's 45 pager. 

    @Peter- We are so on the same page here! I've been reading Theo Colburn's book, Our Stolen Future, and have also learned about chemicals (some unknown, others such as Bisphenol A, Phthalates, DDT, and Alkylphenols better documented) thought to affect sexual development. The hypothesis that sexual orientation is a subset of sexual development, which development is caused almost exclusively by [genes + prenatal hormones], is a reasonable one. If the data were available, I would LOVE to mine it to test whether incidence of homosexual orientation in both genders has varied in the last century significantly more than in the last 20 centuries (which might indicate whether the named chemicals, which have only been around abundantly in more recent times, contribute to the prevalence of certain sexual orientations). Plants have been using hormone mimics and inhibitors for a while, though, which might frustrate the inference.

    Anyway, as to the question of pharmaceutical cure, it is a possibility- careful monitoring and control of the prenatal hormone profile and environment (i.e. the womb), combined with a better understanding of the genetic component of sexual development/sexual orientation development, might indeed allow parents to select the sexual orientation of their offspring. The moral and political implications- well, that'd probably take a rather lengthy book to tease out.


    Miki Tracy Very good, Brad! Fascinating argument--and one that I will be very interested in following as you develop it further. You've given me a great deal to think about. Thank you. ; )
    Yesterday at 04:00 ·
    Brent Kerby Brad, looks like you've prompted some interesting discussion again! :-)

    At the Evergreen conference last Saturday, Shirley Cox told a story of an LDS person who was born with both male and female genitalia. She explained that the parents rai...sed him as a boy, that he adjusted relatively well to this identity and eventually, as an adult, with the counsel of his Church leaders, undertook surgery and hormone therapy to complete the assignment to male gender. I think sometimes God may have a different view from us about what is a mistake on His part. There may be reasons or purposes to things that we don't yet understand. Maybe God wants us to open our a hearts a little bit bigger in these situations.

    I think we don't yet know solid answers about what exactly is going on biologically or otherwise when it comes to homosexuality; I appreciate the efforts of those who are trying to understand and learn more about it. It has been hurtful at times when some people have assumed that someone's orientation was matter of choice, or the result of bad parenting or bad influences, etc. As the son of wonderful parents, and having grown up in a fairly sheltered LDS environment (and I've always been active in the Church and still am), none of those explanations have made any sense in my life.

    I knew essentially nothing about "gay" and didn't feel that anything was unusual when I excitedly recorded in my journal at age 12 about how much I admired a certain boy I had recently met, how spiritual I thought he was, how excited I was to make eye contact with him, how I thought we must have known each other in the pre-existence! I felt that way about a number of guys as a teenager and in my years at BYU, feelings of caring so much about them, wanting to be close to them emotionally and physically. So many times it broke my heart when it would become clear that they didn't feel the same way and I couldn't understand why. Unlike what some might assume, it wasn't sexual attraction; I'm actually asexual and don't experience sexual attractions to people of either gender.

    It took a long time for me to understand these things in my own life; I knew that I didn't experience attractions to girls (on any level: romantically, physically, or sexually), but I was always thinking I was just a "late bloomer" and that the right hormones would kick in someday. When I was at BYU, I even went and got my hormones checked because I wondered if something was wrong. l kept praying that things would change. For several years at BYU, I went on lots of dates with girls, hoping that would spark something; there was never the slightest spark, but I didn't give up. For years I wasn't ready to directly confront the issue. Even though every week I could look around the room in sacrament meeting and see all the cute guys, knowing I didn't ever see cute girls, I still just reasoned to myself that it was just brotherly love and that I was still a late bloomer (age 26!), and that things would change when I met "the right girl". It wasn't until last December that I was ready to understand, and Heavenly Father metaphorically whacked me over the head and then gently let me know that what I was wanting and struggling to make true wasn't what He wanted.

    Since then, I've become very happy about how God has created me; I think there may be reasons for it I don't completely understand, but I want to do my best in life. I don't feel it is an evil thing to feel love for another person, to care deeply about him. It is so hurtful when some people have conflated love and lust and insinuated that gay people only feel lust. I've opened my heart here because I hope it may help someone understand what it's like to be a gay member of the Church; I hope it will help someone love their brother, their sister, their son or daughter, a little bit more, and not judge them too harshly. I have two gay LDS friends who I know have tried to kill themselves, and others who I worry about, because they have felt so hurt and so conflicted after having failed to change their orientation. I know several who joined the Church and were baptized as young adults, hoping and expecting that this would change them and make them straight. I know many others who served missions for the Church, hoping the same thing, who were so disappointed when they found that it doesn't work like this. I have other friends whose orientation falls somewhere in the middle (having some attractions to both genders), some of whom have married heterosexually, with varying degrees of success in their marriage.

    Most of my gay LDS friends don't go to Church anymore; they often don't feel there is a place for them there. I cringe a bit when at Church there are sometimes unkind and uninformed things said about gay people. I and a few of my gay friends still go, because it is our faith and home, and we love the values of the Church and the people there. I hope that, going forward, there may be more bridges of understanding built, and that eventually more people will feel welcome in the Church.


    https://docs.google.com/leaf?id=0B1u3K43P-3JoYTUzNjYwMGEtNzNmYi00ODkwLTllMzYtNjRlOTVlMWUwYTM2&hl=en

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