Mini-lecture: Homosexuality, morality & nature (UCL)

Uploaded by UCLTV on 23.06.2010

My name is Volker Sommer. I'm a Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology
at University College London and as such I study humans and other animals.
I often come across an argument, which goes, 'Oh,
God created
Adam and Eve,
but He didn't create Adam and Steve,
and for that reason, homosexuality
is against nature
and very wrong.'
African politicians,
Catholic priests, Muslim clerics and alike will
make that argument, and I examined it
together with a colleague of mine, Paul Vasey,
and we looked into what's happening in nature. And we found that homosexual
in animals
is actually quite common.
You can see it in
in geese
cats and bison and dolphins and monkeys and apes such as gorillas or
the famous Bonobo chimpanzees.
Here females will engage
in what it's called 'G-G rubbing'.
They rub their
against each other, and they seem to really like it.
Like in Bonobos,
in many other animal societies, sex is used as a social tool. It's
not always a
function of
It is also
a means
of making friends, of giving texture
to the social fabric
rewarding friendship
and so on because sex, if it's good sex at least, is pleasurable.
those who criticise however homosexuality
based on their idea of nature will say, 'Oh, hang on a second, clearly
these animals which do it they must be deprived of access to the opposite sex' - which is simply
not true.
For example
Japanese macaques, a certain
type of monkey,
here females will in the presence of motivated and available
males choose to have
homosexual sex with females of
their group by rubbing
their genitals
along the back
of their group mates.
The other counter argument would be, 'Clearly it's not a lifelong relationship'
which again,
is not true
because, for example, in geese
there are certain male pairs who will stay together for life.
Finally, the argument is, 'Oh, yes, but that has nothing to do with human homosexuality because
that is only homosexual behaviour.
These animals are clearly not
about having sex with members of
their own sex.'
it's unlikely that this argument
is true because, for example, in the cattle-rearing industry,
there is a phenomenon called
the 'Buller Steer Syndrome,'
and it means that there are certain males who will
only get sexually excited if they see other males. And if you put them in front of
an artificial vagina
so that they can deposit their sperm, they will not do it.
And I always suggested they should have some proper male porn - a real big stud
on the screen and then maybe they will do
the hetero thing
without realising.
Now what about
the argument that homosexuality is against nature
and those
who may be willing to listen to
the facts found by science. Well, they will often not listen.
They will just
turn it around and they will say, 'Well,
yes, maybe homosexual behaviour is found in nature but humans are not animals. After all,
we should rise above
our primitive
drives and we should
be cultivated beings
and get rid of our animalistic roots.'
however you present the argument, those
who want to argue against
homosexuality and use nature, they will find a way.
You could also, of course,
homosexuality, and you could say, 'Yeah,
now science tells us that homosexual behaviour occurs
animals other than humans, so
it's a good thing. Dolphins do it. Bonobos do it. Let's do it.'
Whether or not behaviour occurs in nature doesn't tell us
if we should morally condone it or condemn it.
There is a lot of stuff, which let's say we like,
like mothers taking care of their infants, food-sharing cooperation, but there is a lot of
stuff, which
our current, our contemporary moral code wouldn't
condone, such as rape,
infanticide, war-like conflicts between groups.
David Hume the philosopher made this argument a long time ago,
and he called it the naturalistic fallacy.
If people say
that there is a straight
root from
the natural 'is'
to the moral 'ought'.
He said, well, there isn't.
Whether something occurs in nature or not doesn't tell us
whether or not it is good or bad.
at least we can say
that those who say that
homosexuals act against nature,
that those who make that argument,
that they are wrong.
Of course we can also say that same-sex sexual behaviour is one of
the multiple colours of nature's rainbow.
Whether or not we do not like a certain colour or we like a certain colour, well that's really
up to us.