What Causes Sexuality, Dr. Carson?

Benjamin Carson gives a speech with hand cues

Dr. Ben Carson on Wednesday walked back from comments he made saying being gay was a choice, noting in a Facebook post that his “choice of language does not reflect fully my heart on gay issues.”

The about-face come hours after he appeared on CNN, where, when asked if being gay was a choice, Carson said: “Absolutely.”

He explained, “Because a lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight — and when they come out, they’re gay. So, did something happen while they were in there? Ask yourself that question.” [Reported at nbcnews.com 3-4-15]

It’s hard to conceive how a man intelligent enough to be a successful neurosurgeon for children could make such an ignorant statement.

Dr. Carson states that “a lot” of people who enter prison as heterosexuals exit prison as homosexuals. How much is “a lot,” and what’s his evidence for this?

It’s presumably true that some people in prison engage in homosexual sex when they otherwise never harbored any desire to do so. How often this is the case I don’t know, and Dr. Carson offers no evidence, either.

When this does happen, it’s reasonable to assume one of two things. One, the previously heterosexual person is engaging in same-sex activity because there’s no other option available, given that prisons are set up as same-sex institutions. Two, the previously heterosexual person actually was bisexual or homosexual all along, and the experience of being in a same-sex setting provides some opportunity to explore that side of one’s sexuality. (This seems less likely, but still possible).

If you’re going to take a scientific approach to the matter, ruling out these two obvious possibilities seems like a smart step. I’m not aware of any studies or research that has done so. If Dr. Carson is aware of such studies, he should have cited these studies, and defended his position rather than backing down from it as he immediately did. This seems particularly important because he is a distinguished scientist-practitioner, one of the world’s most eminent neurosurgeons. To say that he should have known better is the mildest of rebukes.

However, the very phrase “previously heterosexual” implies that sexuality itself is an exclusively behavioral phenomenon. That’s self-evidently not the case. Sexuality involves a combination of mental, emotional, psychological and biological phenomena all in operation at one and the same time. This is true whether you’re homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual or anything else.

[I’m publishing my article from a few years back entitled, “Gays & Lesbians: Born that Way?” here. In that article, I go into detail on the error of treating sexuality/sexual orientation as an exclusively behavioral phenomenon, an error social conservatives like Dr. Carson repeatedly make.]

When Dr. Carson talks about “entering” prison as a heterosexual and “exiting” as a homosexual, he implies that sexuality is primarily a function of one’s behavior, not a function of one’s biological-emotional-intellectual-mental-psychological being. Put simply, he implies that human beings (at least in a sexual context) are bodies going through the motions, not minds with premises, ideas, deeply held emotions and all kinds of unarticulated notions about the nature of man and existence … all of which come out in one’s sexuality (homosexual or otherwise). One need not be a neurosurgeon or a psychologist to grasp that sex involves more than simply behavior or action.

As a scientist, Dr. Carson undoubtedly understands this. As a potential politician pandering to the lowest common denominator (right-wing or left-wing not the point here), it’s a whole different matter.

Carson’s remarks came shortly after he formed a committee to explore a 2016 presidential bid for the Republican nomination. The former neurosurgeon issued an apology later Wednesday on Facebook, though he noted that “up until this point there have been no definitive studies that people are born into a specific sexuality.”

In order to discover what “causes” homosexuality, we have to be more familiar with what causes and creates sexuality. [Again, check out my article here.]

We do know that sexual responses are not merely a matter of conscious choice. For a heterosexual person, Dr. Carson would probably agree. He’d probably claim that heterosexual responses are essentially a natural given. According to this premise, nobody would ever act contrary to the natural inclination of heterosexuality other than by deliberate choice. In this mindset, there’s no such thing as sexual orientation. It’s all simply a matter of behavior. Either you’re normal and therefore moral; or you choose to act immorally, and unnaturally.

” … I realized that my choice of language does not reflect fully my heart on gay issues,” he wrote. “I do not pretend to know how every individual came to their sexual orientation. I regret that my words to express that concept were hurtful and divisive. For that I apologize unreservedly to all that were offended.”

Well, then why did you speak up about it in the first place, Dr. Carson? Maybe instead of using political forums to probe the causes of homosexuality, we ought to use political (and scientific) forums to probe the causes of what leads otherwise bright people to enter the realm of politics (which in today’s context means: controlling the behaviors of others, whether from a left-wing Marxist perspective, or from a right-wing religious one.)

This is the point where one tries to reconcile science and politics; and it’s positively futile. Dr. Carson might as well be saying, “I don’t honestly know the scientific answers here. I only know that politically speaking, I thought this would serve the purposes of rallying up my constituents.” That would be the honest truth, although of course he won’t admit it publicly.

In the process of this latest but all too familiar fiasco, Dr. Carson has defeated himself as a politician on these very terms. The social liberals who are almost uniformly Democrats would never have supported him anyway. This will only reinforce their notion that anyone who’s not a Democrat progressive (supportive of high taxes, government control of the economy, socialized medicine, and all the rest) is a lunatic and anti-intellectual. Social conservatives (who are usually Republicans) will be angry at Dr. Carson for backing down instead of holding his ground, and sticking to what he obviously believes, i.e., that homosexuality is a choice. Secular, economic conservatives or libertarians will bemoan the fact (correctly, in my view) that we’re talking about what causes homosexuality instead of what to do about ISIS, the national debt, and the impossibility of sustaining Medicare and Social Security — not to mention the end of American republic as we know it, in which homosexuality is the least of anyone’s concerns.

Carson said he supports rights and Constitutional protections for LGBT people plus the right for states to approve or deny gay marriage.

“I am not a politician and I answered a question without really thinking about it thoroughly. No excuses,” he said. “I deeply regret my statement and I promise you, on this journey, I may err again, but unlike politicians when I make an error I will take full responsibility and never hide or parse words.”

Actually, Dr. Carson, you are showing yourself to be a politician. A scientist would never have made such a self-evidently, self-refuting, anti-scientific statement. It’s not an issue of political correctness. It’s a matter of not claiming to have knowledge you don’t have. You wouldn’t have lasted five minutes as even a mediocre doctor on such a premise; you certainly would not have attained the status and recognition you did as a brilliant pediatric neurosurgeon.

If the Republican presidential campaign of 2016 is to focus on issues such as what causes homosexuality, then we might as well cancel the election. Like the last one, it’s over before it begins.

The causes of homosexuality and desperately needed enlightenment on the nature of human sexuality, more generally, require the commitment of scientific rigor as well as philosophical reflection. Dr. Ben Carson has demonstrated, once again, how ill-suited politicians are to that purpose.

It’s no wonder that those same politicians (in both parties) are bankrupting the government, ruining the currency, squandering American credibility and wrecking the economy. Dr. Carson, sadly, would fit right in.


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