11 comments for “Gay Penguins in the New York Times

  1. Kaimi
    February 7, 2004 at 5:58 pm

    In an original version of this post, I added what I thought was a funny satire. I guess my sense of humor is a little odd; anyway, the satire bugged some of our readers, and I decided to remove it. I have now reset the comments.

  2. Kristine
    February 7, 2004 at 7:34 pm

    Kaimi, you’re too diplomatic. As you pointed out, there’s precedent for not-completely-tame satire here. We could all work a little harder at not taking offense where none is intended.

  3. Matt Evans
    February 7, 2004 at 9:09 pm

    Birds are gay, spiders kill their mates, male lions abandon their children, and sows disregard their weak offspring.

    None of this tells us anything useful for human beings. It’s impossible to derive any moral imperatives from nature.

    Ok — I just went and read the NYTimes article. They finally get to the above point at the end, but not before saying that the homosexuality of penguins has some bearing on the gay rights debates. They even say the American Psychological Association used this evidence in it’s amicus brief to the Supreme Court in Lawrence. (We already knew the APA was a political organization; now they prove they can’t think clearly.) But the article’s author doesn’t get the irrelevance herself, or she wouldn’t have spent so much time dreamily suggesting that it buttressed her opinions about gays.

    It’s impossible to derive any moral imperatives from nature. Remember that next time you run into this kind of nonsense.

  4. Kaimi
    February 7, 2004 at 9:49 pm


    At least some versions of the argument against homosexual rights is based on ideas that

    (1) Homosexuality is not “natural”;
    (2) Homosexuals are the product of conscious choice, and are not born with a particular sexual orientation.

    This evidence undercuts (1), and could undercut (2).

  5. Jeremiah J.
    February 7, 2004 at 10:37 pm

    “You have this idea that the animal kingdom is strict, old-fashioned Roman Catholic,” she said, “that they have sex just to procreate.”

    While some people in this political debate may invoke a crude understanding of what is “natural”, having something to do what “what is animal”, this is hardly the position of any considered ethical naturalist argument. Even the most doctrinaire Stoic or medieval natural law argument would not attempt to derive any human normative conclusion from typical behavior in the animal kingdom. Much less do mainstream Catholic natural law arguments claim that humans do or ought to “have sex just to procreate.” The Catholic position is not that every sex act should expect offspring, but rather than sex should be open to procreation.

    On the other hand, the idea that homosexuality is “against nature” (in some, not necessarily vulgar sense) is not just the view of some people, but the explicit teaching of the apostle Paul. But one can make sense of Paul’s teaching while admitting the fact the homosexuality is indeed a common phenomenon in the human or other species.

  6. Matt Evans
    February 7, 2004 at 11:31 pm

    People frequently assert that virtue is natural: “a parent’s love for their child is natural.” Of course, the facts that every day infants and children are killed by their parents, and animals desert their children to die, argue that this virtue isn’t “natural” in the sense that it is a trait manifested universally throughout nature.

    “Nature” in this sense signifies “the usual or expected course”. This is the sense I think most people use the statement “it’s only natural that she’s depressed about the news” or “homosexuality is unnatural.” I don’t think people are making an empirical statement about nature, but a statement about a thing’s “natural” _purpose_.

    The purpose a person ascribes to a thing shapes their perceptions of its “natural” course. If a person thinks the purpose of sexuality is procreation and the creation of families, they will think heterosexual activity is “natural”. If a person thinks the purpose of a family is to care for its members, they’ll speak of parental concern being “natural”.

    I do not think people are claiming there are no counter-examples in nature. They are making a moral assertion based on the purpose of the thing. This moral assertion doesn’t depend on the facts of nature, only upon the things purpose. Perceptions of a thing’s purpose are never, and cannot be, based on observations of nature. Perceptions of purpose are socially constructed, revealed, or whatever, but they do not come from nature. Nature is the province of *what is*; purpose the province of what *should be*. (Before challenging this point, please read the excellent summary of naturalism at http://www.skepdic.com/naturalism.html — note that telos — the root of teleology — means “purpose”.)

    When President Kimball said homosexuality is a “sin against nature,” I think he meant it in this sense — homosexuality is contrary to the purpose of sexuality.

  7. Kaimi
    February 8, 2004 at 12:16 am


    This news may not affect your particualr views, which apprently do not rely on nature ideas (in fact, you seem to spefically step away from those ideas). However, at least some variants of arguments against homosexuality explicitly rely, at least in part, on the idea that there is no analog in nature to homosexual behavior. To the extent that that idea is part of the basis for a person’s opposition to homosexuality, this news casts doubts on their position.

  8. Matt Evans
    February 9, 2004 at 12:07 am

    Hi Kaimi,

    Yes, I agree people who believe there are no examples of homosexuality in nature are mistaken. My gripe was with the author’s attempt to hoodwink these people into thinking their opposition to homosexual behavior was similarly mistaken. She wove currents from the gay rights debate through the story, until the end, when she finally provides examples showing the irrelevance of animal behavior to human ethics.

    I would feel similarly if a journalist wrote a story about the 4,000 changes to the Book of Mormon, interspersed the column with comments that a book with 4,000 changes can’t be perfect and speculations on the effect this news will have on the growth of the church, only to concede at the end of the column that Joseph Smith never said it was a “perfect” book, but the “most correct book” to “get nearer to God.”

    The journalist could respond by noting that some arguments for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon rely in part on the idea that the Book of Mormon is perfect, and that to the extent a Mormon bases their testimony on this idea, the 4,000 changes casts doubt on their position.

    None of this is false, but it is unethical for a professional journalist to knowingly take strawman pot-shots at less-informed Mormons or marriage defenders.

  9. February 10, 2004 at 2:07 am

    The story is interesting, in a sophmoric sort of way, but it certainly isn’t applicable to people at all. The vast difference between humans and pengiuns (outside of Bloom County, at least) makes it so.

    Now, homosexuality among primates does have more bearing, for those who subscribe to the ‘nature’ side of the debate. But no evidence to date has found the ‘born gay’ proof, be it genetic, uterine, or a combination.

    Certainly, biology plays a role, as we are biological creatures. But predetermined? We humans have cognitive capacities that outstrip anything in the animal kingdom. We have a capacity for morality (that fruit from the tree of good and evil thing) that makes us responsible. That’s why the ‘natural’ argument is invalid. Otherwise, someone might start arguing that we should go au’ natural.

  10. Kaimi
    March 2, 2004 at 3:56 pm

    I just noticed that Gregg Easterbrook commented on this in the usual, humorous way (See http://www.tnr.com/easterbrook.mhtml?pid=1380 ) in the context of mocking the National Zoo for their strange assertion that the zoo animals have a constitutional right to privacy.

  11. student
    April 22, 2004 at 12:17 am

    I didn’t read this article, but have been studying homosexual brain behavior for the past four days. So, take these science facts with a grain of salt. The findings in scientific literature are that homosexuality is most likely to develop early in life. One possibility has bee findings of an X linked gene, within the Xq28 region of the chromosome, found in pedigree studies (Hu et al. 1993). Studies with twins also find it could be genetic (Bailey & Pillar, 1995).
    One interesting finding is that male homosexuality could be determined by how many brothers one has. A mom makes antigens against a male embryo, due to Y-linked antigens (stuff the body thinks is foriegn). The more baby boys a mom concieves, the stronger the mom’s immune system, and the more antibodies ready for the next male embryo. Researchers beleive this maternal immune response may affect the development of the baby’s brain, especially the hypothalamus, which develops at a young age and is responsible for most of our other sexual behaviors. Younger brothers have a 38% of being homosexual, statistics show, (Blanchard and Blogaert, 1996b).
    So when a homosexual says I was born with it, and that they are “naturally” attracted to the same sex, I believe them. They are only titled unnatural because they are the minority.

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