Is Homosexuality Catching?

  Is depression caused by a virus? Well, some scientists think so. So are schizophrenia and other mental illnesses, they say. But here's the real surprise: These scientists suspect even homosexuality is caused by a virus. So says the cover story of February's Atlantic Monthly. It describes an audacious new claim that many things once thought to be genetically based are in fact caused by germs. There's a widespread consensus these days that ulcers, for example, are actually caused by a virus. But some biologists think there may be evidence of a viral cause for heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's, psychiatric illnesses—and yes—even homosexuality. Biologist Paul Ewald of Amherst College says the idea came from considering the Darwinian idea of "evolutionary fitness." If Darwin was right, then genetic traits that reduce the chances of an organism's survival or reproduction would be wiped out by natural selection. But why have some diseases lasted so long and become so common? If natural selection were doing its job, the genes that predispose people to heart disease and cancer ought to have been weeded out long ago. No, that idea was discredited, and the failure of the standard Darwinian paradigm is now causing biologists like Ewald to search for alternative causes to these diseases. And yet, the new germ theory seems just as preposterous as the old genetic theory. A virus for depression? For homosexuality? There's virtually no evidence for such a theory. The frequency and distribution don't even come close to fitting the pattern of an infectious disease. Only someone totally committed to scientific naturalism would even think of reducing complex moral and psychological conditions to a viral infection. And that's the real weakness of the new germ theory. Biologists are being pressed to come up with such strange theories, not because of the evidence but, because they are already committed lock, stock, and barrel to a form of reductionism that refuses to see human beings as anything more than part of material nature. Therefore, if genetics fails to explain something, there must be some other natural cause—say a virus. There's simply no room in today's scientific world for the idea that human beings are more than nature—that depression or homosexuality might have a spiritual component. Yet you and I know that a person may be depressed because he's lonely or he feels there is no meaning in life. It's time to make the case that the spiritual dimension is real—that it can even have scientifically measurable effects. David Larson of the National Institute for Healthcare Research has collected several studies showing that people with strong religious commitments suffer less depression and stress and mental disorder than those without such a commitment. In one Gallup survey, they were twice as likely to describe themselves as "very happy." And my friend Armand Nicholi, a psychiatrist at Harvard, argues from life-long experience that Christians are far less likely to have mental disorders than their secular counterparts. The latest scientific explanation bandied in the Atlantic Monthly is just the latest fad—an attempt to explain all of our existence by natural causes. But the time has come for scientists and researchers to look beyond genes and viruses and finally admit what their own research shows: Humans are spiritual and responsible beings.


Chuck Colson



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