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Is there a gay gene?


Last week in Australia a conservative Christian school chaplain was sacked for agreeing with and posting a quote on Facebook by a liberal lesbian activist. Feel free to read that sentence again to try and understand this very unusual situation, before reading on to find out what actually happened and the details of this truly bizarre news story. 

Troy Williams, a public school Chaplain in Tasmania, Australia, posted on Facebook the picture below.




He did not comment on it, he did not like it, he did not do anything with the picture other than 'share' it on Facebook. The post caused quite a stir in the gay community, so much so that Scripture Union, Mr Williams' employer, suspended him pending investigation. Mr Williams apologised for his 'inappropriate use' of the Internet and things almost went back to normal, until he actually did make a reference to the picture on an entirely separate website (namely Bill Muehlenberg’s “culturewatch” blog) in which he said among other things on the topic: 


“I am happy (and brave enough) to field any questions your bloggers may have. Please pray with me that this may become another opportunity for the Gospel to go out.
 Troy” 

He then wrote the following (which is the real clanger in the debate): 


“I will probably be fired from both these jobs for encouraging young people in that they have a choice in who they are and that they shouldn’t be bullied by someone telling them their lot is predetermined (by someone other than God)”. 

He was then sacked. Apparently not for sharing the picture, and not for the comments that he made, nor that they were made on another blog, but for a breach of contract. Scripture Union claimed that he was sacked because while an investigation was being carried out for one particular action (his alleged inappropriate use of the Internet by sharing a picture), he repeated the very same action (an inappropriate use of the Internet by commenting on another blog). 

I have struggled to understand the logic of the last part of this decision, because to my mind if someone does something which turns out not to be wrong, does it matter whether the person did the 'not wrong' thing once or twice or ten times? 

In any event, he was sacked, and regardless of whatever you think of the details of this story, it leads to the the very interesting issue that has almost been entirely missed in the reports, namely the actual content of the picture Mr Williams shared on Facebook. It quite 'naturally' leads to the question which is the heading of this post - Is there a gay gene? 

Before you immediately dismiss me as some sort of uninformed Christian bigot or assume what I am about to say, please note that while I do not claim to be an expert on the subject I do hold a Science degree, majoring in genetics, which I completed before I was a Christian. However, my thinking in relation to the issue of a gay gene changed very little when I became a Christian (so any bias you think I may have exists regardless of my status as a Christian). Perhaps you find this surprising, but here's why. 

When I studied genetics at university, Richard Dawkins (who was and is no friend to Christianity) was a leading academic figure who was often cited, quoted, and referred to for the quality of his genetic research and general scholarship in the field of genetics. He was virtually unheard of outside the science world, and I read many of his papers and books with pleasure, (at that time he had not ventured into any of his more shallow and popularist works on theology). It was pure theoretical writings on genetics that I found fascinating, again not because I agreed with it all, but his scholarship and writing were in my view brilliant. 

In particular I remember reading one of his most famous books "The Selfish Gene", and loved a fascinating chapter on a newly coined term, namely 'memes', the idea that ideas could replicate and spread through human communities (the word has proved itself, with entire websites now devoted to nothing but memes such as Grumpy Cat, Gangnam Style and LOLcats). 

I also remember pondering over the main thesis of the book, namely that the genes that get passed on are the ones whose evolutionary consequences serve their own implicit (selfish) interests (that is to continue being replicated), not necessarily those of the organism. Perhaps ironically, the book specifically excludes commentary on the idea of a 'selfishness gene', but focuses on how altruism can be explained at an individual level, primarily because the book looks at the gene centred view (as opposed to the organism or group centred view). 

While I don't want to get into the idea of evolution as a whole, theistic or otherwise, the book raises some fascinating ideas about whether altruism could be genetic, but leaves the reader wondering about the possibility of there being a selfish(ness) gene (at least that's where it left me). 

What if there is such a thing as a selfish gene or even an altruistic gene? Are some people pre-disposed to be altruistic and others selfish? Would the presence or absence of either gene allow or excuse our behaviour? Is our lot pre-determined by something other than God? (or by the way God has created our genetics?) 

However, here is (and was) my thinking on the matter: 

  • If there is such a thing as a selfish gene, that would still not excuse our behaviour, nor should it encourage us to be more selfish than what we already are, nor is it something to aim for, or a goal for our society or for individuals to achieve - to be the most selfish within a selfish community. 
  • If there is no such thing as a selfish gene, how do we explain the fact that selfishness exists in each and every community known to man (and God), or the fact that there is so much selfishness around. In this situation, it is even less of a goal, and by no means should people be encouraged to embrace their selfishness. 

Here is the controversial part of this post. Go back to the last two paragraphs and replace the idea of a selfish gene with the idea of a gay gene. Whether there is or there isn't a gay gene in my view says absolutely nothing about whether it excuses behaviour, is conduct to be encouraged, makes anything more or less moral other than some people may be predisposed to it more than others. Even Dawkins pointed out that he is only describing how things are under his view of evolution, not endorsing them as morally good. 

Therefore, in the same way the fact that some people are more pre-disposed to having diabetes, or putting on weight, or being taller, or running faster, or being more violent, or insert any characteristic that has a genetic disposition, says absolutely nothing about the morality of such an action, but simply what some people may be more or less likely to do (assuming the characteristic has a genetic component). 

So why is this being posted on a site called Christian Funny Pictures. Because I, like everybody else in the world, from time to time, enjoy a good rant and a rave. But also because I find the following idea not only funny, but also hilarious and completely ludicrous - it is an inappropriate use of the Internet for a conservative Christian chaplain to share the view of a liberal gay activist on an issue that perhaps makes no difference morally to an issue of whether someone's genetics may or may not make them more or less likely to act in a particular way. 

Is there a gay gene? I have no idea but in my view whether there is or there isn't, makes, or should make, no difference to the debate and discussion that is so desperately need on this topic. 

What do you think? Do you dare to leave a comment below? Or have you been silenced in the name of tolerance as well?





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