Alan answers this week's question...If homosexuality is observed among animals, doesn’t that mean it’s
natural for the human population?
The first “museum dedicated to gay animals” opened in 2006 at
the University of Oslo (Norway). It was called Against Nature? An Exhibition on Animal Homosexuality and claimed
to prove that animals develop “long-lasting [gay] partnerships.” The creators
hope to “de-mystify homosexuality among people” and debunk the belief that gay sex
is a “crime against nature.”[i]
Lesbian star, Rosie O’Donnell, makes a similar claim that “In
every animal kingdom and every species, 10 percent of the population is
homosexual,” and that’s “a fact of nature.”[ii]
(You can see my response to the claim that 10% of the human population is gay here).
The argument is that since animals engage in homosexual
behavior that is instinctual, it must be natural for them and, consequently,
natural and moral for humans since they are animals too.
There’s something wrong with this line of reasoning. In fact,
a simple question composed of a two-letter word gets right to the heart of the
problem: So? Even if animals exhibit
homosexual behavior, so? What does that prove? It proves nothing.
Do advocates of this view really want to say: Because animals engage in X behavior,
therefore X is natural/moral for humans? This claim is literally absurd. Here’s
There’s a Latin term in logic called reductio ad absurdum that means “reduction to the absurd.” At Stand
to Reason we call it “Taking the Roof Off.” It’s a simple way to disprove a
claim by showing that it leads to an absurd conclusion. In fact, I’m confident you’re
already know this tactic.
Imagine a father asks his daughter, “Why did you start
smoking?” She answers, “Because all my friends were doing it.” The father’s
response is obvious: “If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you do that
too?” Notice the father’s reasoning. He accepts his daughter’s rational, for
the sake of argument, and then asks himself a question: If I apply my daughter’s rationale to jumping off a cliff, that would
mean she’d jump of a cliff too. But that’s absurd! That means her rationale is
also absurd. And then he asks a question that exposes the absurdity of her
thinking. That’s reductio ad absurdum.
With the claim about animal homosexuality, this tactic works
equally well. The rationale for the argument is that if animals engage in a
behavior, it must be natural and moral for humans do it too. Let’s apply that
logic to some other animal behavior: cannibalism. Animals eating their own kind has been observed in over a thousand animal species. Following
the logic of the view would mean that cannibalism is natural and moral for
humans. But that’s absurd! And so is the rationale that led to that absurd
Indeed, animals engage in all sorts of selfish, violent, and primitive
behaviors that humans would almost universally categorize as immoral. That’s
why taking moral cues from the animal kingdom is absurd. Yes, humans are an
animal of sorts, but we’re more than that. We are rational beings with a
capacity for free will and a rich intellectual life. To reduce our behavior and
relationships to instincts, stimuli, and urges ignores a major component of
human nature. I like how Richard Umbers puts it:
“Homo sapiens is an
animal, but not merely an animal. We have a lot in common with
parasitic worms, but there are some differences, too. Our bodily nature is
subject to intellectual direction. A human being unites the intellectual and
the corporeal, what is rational and what is animal. We get a distorted picture
of man when we focus on one aspect to the exclusion of the other. They can
never be separated.”[iii]
When humans have conflicting instinctive reactions, our
intellect can reason between them and determine the most expedient or moral course
of action. Animals, however, behave according to their strongest instinct given
what they see, smell, hear, taste, and perceive. These natural impulses aid in
their protection, survival, and reproduction.
But internal or external stimuli can cause their instincts to
clash or get confused, leading to unusual behavior. Sometimes a cat will kill
his kittens. Unlike females whose strong maternal instinct protects her babies,
the predatory instinct of a tom cat can confuse his offspring for prey. Are his
hunting impulses natural? Yes. Can they be misdirected? Sure. Should we declare
filicide or cannibalism as natural or moral for humans? No.
The same is true for allegedly homosexual acts among animals.
Their sexual drive and instinct to mate is extremely strong and can be
confused. When animals are in heat, they release pheromones that trigger an
instinctual behavior by males. According to an expert in the field, this inborn
impulse is so strong, that it can “instigate a frenzy of mounting behaviors.
Even other females who aren't in heat will mount those who are. Males will
mount males who have just been with females [in heat] if they still bear their
scent…And males who catch wind of the estrus odor may mount the first thing (or
unlucky person) they come in contact with.”[iv]
I’ve even seen a dog mount a couch. One might have good taste in sofas, but I
doubt it’s so good that your dog is sexually attracted to it. The poor pooch is
Plus, sexual activity among animals is known to be used for
purposes other than reproduction. Although humans can express themselves by
speaking, writing, gesturing, and a multitude of other ways, animals are
limited. Consequently, they are known to use sexual behavior to express a range
of sentiments: social dominance, aggression, avoiding conflict, and many other
emotions. That’s why many researchers think it’s naive to impose a human
understanding of homosexuality onto animal behavior.
“Properly speaking, homosexuality
does not exist among animals.... For reasons of survival, the reproductive
instinct among animals is always directed towards an individual of the opposite
sex. Therefore, an animal can never be homosexual as such. Nevertheless, the
interaction of other instincts (particularly dominance) can result in behavior
that appears to be homosexual. Such behavior cannot be equated with an animal
homosexuality. All it means is that animal sexual behavior encompasses aspects
beyond that of reproduction.”[v]
But we can’t infer homosexuality when a male chimpanzee mounts
another male any more than we can infer sofaphilia when a dog mounts your
couch. Yes, I made up the word “sofaphilia.”
Animals behave according to their instincts. That’s
appropriate. When humans do the same, we don’t applaud them. Instead, we often
put them in jail. That’s because humans have the capacity, and therefore the
responsibility, to use principled self-restraint when their instinctual
response is to act like an animal.
[iv] Jacque Lynn
Schultz, C.P.D.T. at http://www.petfinder.com/pet-training/stopping-dog-humping.html?page-index=3&.
A short bio on Jacque Lynn Schultz can be found here: http://www.avianwelfare.org/aboutus/schultz_jacque.html
Pardo, "Aspectos médicos de la homosexualidad," Nuestro Tiempo,
Jul.-Aug. 1995, pp. 82-89; as quoted in Luiz Sérgio Solimeo, “The Animal
Homosexuality Myth,” at http://narth.com/2010/09/the-animal-homosexuality-myth/
Think Christianly with Jonathan Morrow
Labels: Alan Shlemon, Ethics, Homosexuality, same sex marriage, Sexuality, Tough Questions - Homosexuality