One of the major critiques of traditional natural law theory is that it attempts to derive “ought”–moral responsibility–from the “is” of essences.

While speaking at a youth group last Sunday, the topic of homosexuality arose. The students intimated that they didn’t think it was wrong because of the biological basis for the behavior. They were at a loss to explain how something could be “natural” and yet be considered wrong.

But if the “is” doesn’t entail “ought” for natural law theorists, then neither does it entail ought for those who contend that homosexual practices are morally permissible. David Powlinson, a Christian psychologist, submitted this entry to Justin Taylor’s inestimable blog Between Two Worlds:

Myers’s biological data on homosexuality was admittedly rather dim light, not something that could drag a researcher along who was not otherwise willing. But let me offer another “unscientific” comment about data that might yet be discovered. When or if the “homosexuality gene” is discovered, I predict that the facts will be of the following kind. Among people without the H-gene, say 1.5% are oriented towards homosexuality, while among people with the H-gene, say 15% are oriented towards homosexuality. That would be a very significant statistical difference. But what would it prove? Only that characteristic temptations differ, that our bodies are one locus of temptation, that nothing is deterministic either way. It will be analogous to finding any other “gene for sin.” Those with the “worry gene,” the “anger gene,” the “addictive pleasure gene,” or the “kleptomania gene” will be prone to the respective sins. Such findings cause no problem for the Faith. They do trouble a Pelagian view that defines sin only as conscious “choice.” But sin is an unsearchable morass of disposition, drift, willful choice, unwitting impulse, obsession, compulsion, seeming happenstance, the devil’s appetite for souls, the world’s shaping influence, and God’s hardening of hard hearts. Of course biological factors are at work: we are embodied sinners and saints. That some people may be more prone to homosexuality is no more significant that that some may be more prone to worry.

While I might quibble with Powlinson’s rejection of sin as a “conscious choice,” the substance identifies the issue exactly. The substance of his comments, however, capture the issue. Every Christian needs to reflect on this argument, not only to accurately respond to claims that homosexual practices are no different than heterosexual practices, but also to recognize that homosexuality as a sin is no worse than other sins toward which we ourselves might be inclined.

It does make Paul ahead of his time, though. It’s no surprise as Christians we eagerly await our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23).

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.


  1. […] Matthew Anderson on “is” and “ought” at Mere Orthodoxy. […]


  2. Very interesting discussion. Lewis talked about the idea that if there is a such thing as severity of sin then carnal sins should rank among the lowest. I am inclined to agree.

    Oddly enough, I tend to defend homosexuals to their detractors, and attack them to their apologists. Ostracizing them as we do in this society is unhealthy for all involved. Yet I somehow feel that it is a disservice to pretend that nothing is wrong with the behavior at all.

    If the Eternal can make me as an arrogant and prideful man while expecting me to overcome that, then I have to believe that the same could be true for sexuality.



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