On Wednesday, March 4, Dr. Ben Carson answered a question in such a way that it may have not only effectively ended his presidential campaign, but called into question his intelligence as well.
Asked on CNN whether homosexuality is a choice, Carson responded “Absolutely. 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?”
Immediately the media reacted with a vitriol usually reserved for people who say that Obama does not love his country. Jeffrey Kluger wrote at Time.com for example that “If you’re a candidate dreaming of the White House with virtually no chance of actually winding up there, it sometimes helps to say something ridiculous.” Salon.com shared Kluger’s tone by reporting the comment under the headline “Neurosurgeon-turned-GOP presidential hopeful offers further evidence that an MD doesn’t guard against stupidity.” Even Joe Biden simply shook his head and muttered “God. Jesus” to the amusement of his audience in response to Carson’s comment, although it can be noted however that Biden did not publicly invoke the name of the Lord as slang when President Obama spoke about the gay “lifestyle choice” during a YouTube interview.
And it wasn’t just the Left who responded harshly to Dr. Carson’s statement. CATO scholar Walter Olson posted the story on his Facebook page with the heading “Your more-or-less daily reminder that Ben Carson is not and never has been a credible candidate for president.” And Glenn Beck said on his radio show that Carson made “a ridiculous statement.”
Yet as “ridiculous” as Carson’s comment may or may not have been, it is still the view of as many much of great percentage of the American people. According to the Pew Research Center, 42% of respondents believe that being gay is a choice, while 41% believe that gays were born gay.
The American public is so divided over whether homosexuality is a choice in part because the scientists who study this issue are not themselves of one-mind. As Carson said in his apology for his comment on his Facebook page, “Some of our brightest minds have looked at this debate, and up until this point there have been no definitive studies that people are born into a specific sexuality.”
The American Psychological Association for example writes “There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors.”
Similarly, Sarah Knapton, science editor of Telegraph, reports that “Homosexuality is only partly genetic with sexuality mostly based on environmental and social factors, scientists believe. A study found that, while gay men shared similar genetic make-up, it only accounted for 40 per cent of the chance of a man being homosexual.”
Interestingly, many of those people who believe homosexuality is, or at least can be a choice are themselves gay. Actress Cynthia Nixon famously said “for me, [homosexuality] is a choice. I understand that for many people it’s not, but for me it’s a choice, and you don’t get to define my gayness for me.” CNN commentator Sally Kohn wrote “I agree [with Carson], kind of…for me, the idea that people might be able to choose to be gay is a natural extension of eliminating the second-class, lesser-than status of gayness in society.” Author Camille Paglia put it most bluntly of all by writing “No one is born gay. The idea is ridiculous.” Imagine if Carson had said that!
There does seem to be some evidence that homosexuals (particularly male homosexuals) are genetically different from heterosexuals, but so far nothing has been discovered that seems indisputable. Science Magazine published a story in its November 2014 issue about a discovery of “a stretch on the X chromosome likely associated with homosexuality”, but the same story was quick to point out that “not everyone finds the results convincing. And the kind of DNA analysis used, known as a genetic linkage study, has largely been superseded by other techniques. Due to the limitations of this approach, the new work also fails to provide what behavioral geneticists really crave: specific genes that might underlie homosexuality.”
If among the scientists who study this question there is no clear consensus on whether gays are born gay or become gay, or whether it’s a bit of both, is why must there be a clear consensus among the rest of us? Why is it “hurtful and divisive” – as Carson’s comment was called – to have one opinion rather than the other?
Much like with the global warming debate, there is an air of “the science is settled” bullying that permeates the attacks upon Carson, and it originates not from the scientific community, but rather the political community. As J. Bryan Lowder wrote in slate.com, “many critics will argue that appealing to biology is the only way to protect against the attacks of the religious right—if God made me this way, surely you can’t hate me.”
So then to the homosexuals and others attacking Dr. Ben, it is not so much that Carson may be wrong – even if he is, people are wrong all the time, after all – or that they disagree with him; but rather that he expressed an opinion they do not think anyone should any longer be allowed to have.