Category Archives: Science

Sexual Science and the Vatican: John Paul II Institute Upgraded

News from Rome is that the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family has been upgraded, to the Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Science. Much of the news commentary about this, has focused on the addition of “theological” to the name. I’m more interested in the addition of “science”.

What is immediately clear from the announcement, is that there is an important broadening of the institute’s field, from just moral and sacramental theology, to include much more of the real world:

With the decision of making it a theological institute, Paglia said, the pope enlarges its scope, from being focused only on sacramental and moral theology, to one that is also biblical, dogmatic and historic, and that keeps under consideration modern-day challenges.

Paglia said that, at this moment, the body of professors working at the institute will remain, with new faculty being added to respond to the enlarged curricula. Among other things, he said, the history of the family will be explored, as well as the many scientific aspects of the family, from anthropology to bioethics.

That alone is to be welcomed. Also to be welcomed, is Pope Francis’ recognition that marriage and family need to be studied in the context of the real world:

We do well to focus on concrete realities, since the call and the demands of the Spirit resound in the events of history, and through these the Church can also be guided to a more profound understanding of the inexhaustible mystery of marriage and the family.

Faithful to Christ’s teaching we look to the reality of the family today in all its complexity, with both its lights and shadows

The question in my mind, is whether this newly minted interest in science and concrete realities of families, will include serious consideration of queer families and the science of sexuality. Some years ago, the theologian James Alison wrote that it was an exciting time to be a gay Catholic – because science was demonstrating convincingly that a same-sex orientation was entirely natural, and non-pathological. In time, he believed, the church would be bound to adapt.

As yet, there has been no meaningful sign of the church is indeed taking account of that science. (Indeed, the Vatican’s attacks on so-called “gender ideology” amounts to an outright attack on the science of gender). In his analysis of the range of LGBT discrimination practised by the Vatican, Krzysztof Charamsa, writing with inside information as a former senior official, notes that far from assessing the science, theologians at the CDF were in effect prohibited from consideration of either the science or the theology of homosexuality.

There was in fact a time when the CDF did pay careful attention to the science. Sadly, that was way  back when the science still regarded homosexuality as a form of mental illness to be subjected to “cure”. Later, it was Cardinal Ratzinger as head of the CDF who dispensed with attention to science, and replaced it with what he saw as the higher truth of the truth from Holy Scripture (more accurately, his own interpretation of that truth).

It is possible of course, that with this new development, things will improve. Pope Francis has replaced Pope Benedict XVI as bishop of Rome, Benedict’s protege Cardinal Mueller is no longer head of the CDF – and just as the John Paul II Institute has been newly upgraded to a theological institute, the importance of the CDF for the understanding and Catholic responses to marriage, family and sexuality has in effect been downgraded.

We shall have to wait and see.

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“God is slightly Gay”: Homosexuality in the Animal Kingdom

Well, OK – not so much GOD, as Her/His creation:

“Just ask the animals. As soon as they stop having all that homosexual sex”

but for what that says about the Divinity, there may not be too much of a distinction.

Mark Morton writes in his column on SFGate about new research in the animal kingdom which shows that some homosexuality occurs in virtually every animal species.  It has long been known  that some animals engage in homosex, but the new research shows that this is in fact far more widespread than previously recognised.  I saw the news reports that Morford refers to when they first appeared, but he writes about them with humour, style and verve, producing a piece which is irreverent but fun, as well as important.

“I am sitting here right now smiling just a little, fondly recalling that famously controversial children’s book, the one about the gay penguins.

Remember? That positively adorable pair of them, at the Central Park Zoo, who had adopted an abandoned egg and then hatched it themselves and were raising the chick together as a couple, even though the chick was clearly not theirs — though of course how penguins can actually tell whose kid is whose is still a question. Never mind that now.

The best part: the story was absolutely true. The book, “And Tango Makes Three,” was beautiful and sweet and touching in all the right ways — except, of course, for the fact that it was also totally evil.

For indeed, the penguins in question, named Roy and Silo, were both males. This meant they were clearly in some sort of ungodly, aberrant homosexual relationship, mocking natural laws and defying God’s will that all creatures only cohabitate with the opposite sex and buy microfiber sofas from Pottery Barn and eat their meals in silent resentment and never have sex.

Worst of all, the book depicted this relationship, this “family,” as perfectly OK, as no big deal, as even (shudder) normal. After all, Roy and Silo didn’t seem to give much of a damn. Tango sure seemed happy, what with not being left for dead and all. As of this writing, the Central Park Zoo has yet to be swallowed into a gaping maw of sinful doom. Unless you count those parents.

I am right now amused at this because it turns out Roy and Silo were not really so much of an anomaly at all. Nor were they some sort of unholy freakshow, an immoral mistake in the eyes of a wrathful hetero God. Far from it. Turns out they were, in fact, far more the norm than many humans, even to this day, want to let on.

Behold, the ongoing, increasingly startling research: homosexual and bisexual behavior, it turns out, is rampant in the animal kingdom. And by rampant, I mean proving to be damn near universal, commonplace across all species everywhere, existing for myriad reasons ranging from pure survival and procreative influence, right on over to pure pleasure, co-parenting, giddy screeching multiple monkey orgasm, even love, and a few dozen other potential explanations science hasn’t quite figured out yet. Imagine.

Are you thinking, why sure, everyone knows about those sex-crazed dolphins and those superslut bonobo monkeys and the few other godless creatures like them, the sea turtles and the weird sheep and such, creatures who obviously haven’t read Leviticus. But that’s about it, right? Most animals are devoutly hetero and straight and damn happy about it, right?

Wrong.

New research is revealing so many creatures and species that exhibit homosexual/bisexual behavior of some kind, scientists are now saying there are actually very few, if any, species in existence thatdon’t exhibit it in some way. It’s everywhere: Bison. Giraffes. Ducks. Hyenas. Lions and lambs, lizards and dragonflies, polecats and elephants. Hetero sex. Anal sex. Partner swapping. The works.

Let’s flip that around. Here’s the shocking new truism: In the wilds of nature, to not have some level of homosexual/bisexual behavior in a given species is turning out to be the exception, not the rule. Would you like to read that statement again? Aloud? Through a megaphone? To the Mormon and Catholic churches? And the rest of them, as well? Repeatedly?

Would you like to inform them that such behavior is definitely not, as so many hard-line Christian literalists want to believe, some sort of poison that snuck into God’s perfect cake mix, nor is it all due to some sort of toxic chemical that leeched into the animal’s water supply, suddenly causing all creature to occasionally feel the urge wear glitter and listen to techno and work on their abs?

And so we extend the idea just a little bit. Because if homosexual/bisexual behavior is universal and by design, if gender mutability is actually deeply woven into the very fabric of nature itself, and if you understand that nature is merely another word for God, well, you can only surmise that God is, to put it mildly, much more than just a little bit gay. I mean, obviously.

But let’s be fair. That’s not exactly true. God is not really gay, per se. God is more… pansexual. Omnisexual. Gender neutral. Gender indeterminate. It would appear that God, this all-knowing and all-creating and all-seeing divine energy that infuses and empowers all things at all times everywhere, does not give a flying leather whip about gender.

Or rather, She very much does, but not in the simpleminded, hetero-only way 2,000 years of confused religious dogma would have us all believe.

God’s motto: Look, life is a wicked inscrutable orgy of love and compassion and survival instinct, shot through with pain and longing and death and suffering and far, far too many arguments about who did or did not pay the goddamn mortgage.Life on Earth is messy and bloody and constantly evolving and transmuting and guess what? So is sexuality, and love, and connection, and what it means to exist. And if you uptight, hairless bipeds don’t soon acknowledge this in a very profound way, well, it ain’t the damn penguins who will suffer for it. You feel me?

This, then, is what science appears to be trying to tell us, has been telling us, over and over again: Nature abides no narrow, simplistic interpretation of its ways. Nature will defy your childish fears and laughable behavioral laws at nearly every turn. God does not do shrill homophobia

Of course, until very recently, science was also beaten with the stick of right-wing fear for many, many years, told to keep quiet about those damnable facts, or else. Homosexuality is a lifestyle! A choice! And you can be lured into it! Seduced by the evil rainbow! Just like those poor penguins! Right.

Let us be perfectly clear. Not every individual animal necessarily displays homosexual traits. But in every sexually active species on the planet, at least some of them do, for all sorts of reasons, and it’s common and obvious and as normal as a warm spring rain falling on a pod of giddy bottlenose dolphins having group sex off the coast of Fiji.

And either humankind is part of nature and the wanton animal kingdom, a full participant in the messy inexplicable glories of the flesh and spirit and gender play, or we are the aberrant mistake, the ones who are lagging far behind the rest of the kingdom, sad and lost in the eyes of a very, very fluid and increasingly disappointed God.”

This discovery in the animal kingdom ties in well with the simple fact, wilfully ignored by so many, that in human societies too, some degree of homosexuality is commonplace.  It is not homosexuality that is perverse and “against nature”, but exclusive heterosexuality.

Read the full article here.



Transgender children: the parents and doctors on the frontline | Society | The Guardian

In 1989, when the Gender Identity Development Service (Gids) at London’s Tavistock Clinic opened, it received two referrals in its first year of operation. As Dr Polly Carmichael, current director of the service, observes, it was considered a career-limiting option for a clinical psychologist to specialise in the field of gender identity in young people – there weren’t enough patients. That is not how it has turned out. Last year, 1,400 children under 18 were referred to Gids, double the number the year before. Of these 1,400, nearly 300 were under the age of 12, with some as young as three years old.

The reasons for this exponential increase are obviously complex. One factor seems to be a huge shift in awareness of transgender individuals in wider culture. The attention paid to Caitlyn Jenner in America, and Kellie Maloney here; a transgender actor, Riley Carter Millington, playing a transgender role in EastEnders; the historic tragedy of the story told in The Danish Girl and the many public controversies about respect for trans rights have all informed this awareness.

Source: Transgender children: the parents and doctors on the frontline | Society | The Guardian

Study: Gay Adoptive Parents as Capable as Traditional Heterosexual Parents in Raising Children : News : Nature World News

Controversies surrounding the ability of same-sex couples in raising well-adjusted children have been under fire in the last few years. Conservatives argue that having same-sex individuals for parents have a negative impact in the development of a child. Nevertheless, it seems like scientific research negate this assumption.

sted children have been under fire in the last few years. Conservatives argue that having same-sex individuals for parents have a negative impact in the development of a child. Nevertheless, it seems like scientific research negate this assumption.

Source: Nature World News

The Science of Sexual Diversity (Assaf Report)

Diversity in Human Sexuality

Produced by the Association of Science in South Africa, this is an accessible but comprehensive interdisciplinary  guide to the science of sexuality, freely accessible on-line in PDF form.

The introduction to the report notes that while two thirds of the world no longer prohibits LGBTI relationships, some countries in Africa, and also Russia and India, are introducing new laws to prohibit homosexuality or its “promotion”. As much of the political push in Africa against homosexuality makes an appeal to science for support, its important that science investigate and accurately present the evidence.  It finds, as others have done, that these findings do not in any way justify social opposition.  On the contrary,

There is evidence that such new laws precipitate negative consequences not just for LGBTI persons and communities, but also for societies as a whole, including the rapid reversal of key public health gains, particularly in terms of HIV and AIDS and other sexual health programmes, increases in levels of social violence, some evidence of reduced economic growth, and the diversion of attention from sexual and other violence against women and children.

Criminalization of homosexuality thus does not protect society – it endangers it!

These findings are important too, to counter religious opposition from the Catholic Church, which claims to “respect” the findings of science – but totally ignores the science of sexuality and gender, which is that same-sex relationships are entirely natural and not in any way pathological or “abnormal”. Science also contradicts the Catholic Church’s presentation of human sexuality in simplistic binary terms:

Examining the biological factors, including genetic, neurohormonal and other factors, the report concludes that contemporary science does not support thinking about sexuality in a simple binary opposition of hetero/homosexual and normal/abnormal. Rather, it favours thinking in terms of a range of human variation, very little of which can justifiably be termed abnormal. As variation in sexual identities and orientations has always been part of a normal society, there can be no justification for attempts to ‘eliminate’ LGBTI from society.

Content

Executive Summary

1 Introduction and Background
1.1 Terms and Concepts used in this Report
1.2 Understanding Sexual Orientation
1.3 Ethical and Human Rights Considerations

2 What is the Evidence that Biological Factors Contribute to Sexual and Gender Diversity? To what Degree is the Wide Diversity of Human Sexualities Explained by Biological Factors?
2.1 Family Studies
2.2 Twin Studies
2.3 Genetic Linkage and Full Genome Studies
2.4 Epigenetics: Early Evidence and Promising New Leads
2.5 Evolution and Genetics
2.6 Choice and Immutability
2.7 Pervasiveness and Frequency
2.8 Neurohormonal and Other Biomedical Theories: The State of the Science in 2015

3 Do Environmental Factors such as Upbringing and Socialisation Explain the Diversity of Human Sexuality?
3.1 The Development of ‘Homosexuality’ as a Category/Condition
3.2 Prominent Theories about the Role of Upbringing and Parenting in the Development of Same-Sex Orientation

4 Is there Any Evidence for Same-Sex Orientations being ‘Acquired’ through Contact with Others, i.e. through “Social Contagion”?

5 What Evidence is there that Any Form of Therapy or ‘Treatment’ can Change Sexual Orientation?

6 What Evidence is there that Same-Sex Orientations Pose a Threat of Harm to Individuals, Communities, or Vulnerable Populations such as Children?

7 What are the Public Health Consequences of Criminalising Same- Sex Sexual Orientations, and Attempting to Regulate the Behaviour/ Relationships Related to Some Sexualities Orientations?

8 What Research can be Conducted to Address the Most Critical Unanswered Scientific Research Questions Regarding the Diversity of Human Sexualities and Sexual Orientations in Africa?

9 Conclusion
9.1 Role of Biological Factors
9.2 Role of Environmental Factors
9.3 Acquisition of Sexual Orientation through Social Contagion
9.4 Change of Same-Sex Orientation through Therapy
9.5 Threat Posed by Same-Sex Individuals
9.6 Public Health Consequences of Criminalising Same-Sex Orientations

Gender and “Ideological Colonialism”

In Washington D.C. for a National Prayer Breakfast, Cardinal Robert Sarah has escribed gay marriage as “poison” and attacked transgender rights as a form of ideological colonialism.

“[T]hrough a demonic ‘gender ideology,’ a deadly impulse that is being experienced in a world increasingly cut off from God through ideological colonialism.”

Cardinal Sarah, is an African, as am I by origin. I leave aside here his lamentable disregard for the Catechism’s plain instruction that homosexuals (and, by extension, transgender people) should be treated with “respect, compassion and sensitivity”. Instead, I simply draw attention to the cardinal’s woeful ignorance of our continent’s history, of the the nature of colonial ideology – and of basic biology. Continue reading Gender and “Ideological Colonialism”

‘Crucial’ study of transgender children links mental health with family support 

Transgender children who are allowed to present their gender identity and change their names have good mental health outcomes, according to a study released on Friday and hailed as “crucially important”.

The study, published in the March issue of the journal Pediatrics, shows the positive impact family support can have on the lives of transgender children, a group long hidden from public view.

Researchers found normal levels of depression and only slightly elevated anxiety levels in transgender children who were supported by their families.

Such support included the use of pronouns that matched the child’s gender identity, calling them by the name of their choosing and, often, and allowing them to change their hairstyle and clothing to reflect their identity. Such children are also known as “socially transitioned” children.

Source: ‘Crucial’ study of transgender children links mental health with family support | Society | The Guardian

 

Gender and the tyranny of the ‘normal’  , Guardian cif




Pope Francis: ‘God is not a magician’

Making news headlines in many publications, is that science and Catholicism are not incompatible. Well, of course not- I was taught this about evolution at least, nearly 50 years ago in Catholic high school religion class.

Now, if only the Vatican would pay as much attention to the science of sexuality and gender!

‘God is not a magician’

Pope says Christians should believe in evolution and Big Bang

The “Big Bang” and evolution are not only consistent with biblical teachings, Pope Francis told a Vatican gathering – they are essential to understanding God.

“When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything — but that is not so,” the pope told a plenary assembly of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

“He created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one so they would reach their fulfillment,” Pope Francis said.

The earth’s origins were not chaotic, the pontiff said, but were created from a principle of love, reported Religion News Service.

“He gave autonomy to the beings of the universe at the same time at which he assured them of his continuous presence, giving being to every reality, and so creation continued for centuries and centuries, millennia and millennia, until it became which we know today, precisely because God is not a demiurge or a magician, but the creator who gives being to all things,” the pope said.

via Rawstory