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← Does Religious Liberty Equal Freedom to Discriminate?

Gregory Penn's Avatar Jump to comment 22 by Gregory Penn

In the spirit of science and reason, I take issue with two elements of Dr. Krauss's essay: one dealing with science, the other with reason. I want to state clearly at the outset that I am in whole-hearted agreement with the main point of the essay. I raise these issues because I value Dr. Krauss's contribution to the public forum of ideas and I do not wish to see that contribution undermined. The issue of science concerns the misuse of the term "maladaptive" in the context of evolutionary biology; perhaps it is trivial if you are not a biologist. The issue of reason addresses the assertion that homosexuality is involuntary, and the implications of that assertion.

The claim that homosexuality is not a choice is often central to arguments that it is not morally wrong and therefor homosexuals should not be targeted for discrimination. The problem is essentially a naturalistic fallacy: the claim that something is "good" if natural and "bad" if unnatural. Homosexuality is clearly natural; it is widely observed both in mammals and other animals. There are many natural behaviors--like violence, involuntary for some individuals--that we should suppress, however. So the argument that homosexuality isn't immoral because it is natural is unsound. There is also a deeper problem with it.

If the morality of homosexuality is predicated on whether or not it is a choice, then are we to pass judgement on the vast number of the world's bisexuals who do choose among possible relationships with women and men? Furthermore, are we to think of gays, "it's not really their fault," suggesting some flaw for which they can't be held responsible? Such an argument would be offensive to basic human dignity because it clings to the pathological notion that some manifestations of consensual and even loving sexuality are morally wrong.

Now for the issue of scientific vocabulary, which results in a patently false statement and promotes a fundamental misunderstanding about biological evolution. The problem is in the following statement: "Whatever the evolutionary basis of religion, the xenophobia it now generates is clearly maladaptive."

Maladaptive is being used here in the sense of something that isn't desirable, a sentiment with which I whole-heartedly agree. However, in the context of evolutionary biology maladaptive means that within a particular environment a trait results in a decreased probability that an individual's genes will be passed to future generations. More intuitively, maladaptive means something genetic that makes an individual likely to have fewer children than average. This is not clearly the case for religiosity. Religious and xenophobic individuals may have just as many children as atheists and secular humanists. In fact, religious individuals probably have more children on average. Fortunately, this unlikely to be the result of heritable traits.

These issues are important because we are promoting to roles of science and reason in public debate and we are not immune to mistakes in these areas. The value of science and reason lies largely in self-correction--the ability to revise our stance based on new observations of evidence or reasoning.

Tue, 29 May 2012 15:08:51 UTC | #944236