Last week, the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) National Strategist for Gender Issues and Exodus speaker, Bob Stith, weighed in on Ray Boltz’ announcement that he has been gay all his life and that God created him that way. Ray Boltz is a celebrated contemporary Christian musician and his announcement prompted many in the ex-gay and anti-gay world to publicly reinforce their belief that homosexuality is the result of nurture, not nature, and that it can be changed.
As XGW has reported, one of the more recent distortions being used to reinforce that belief is a quote from noted geneticist Francis Collins who headed the massive effort to map the human genome, a task completed in 2003. The quote is from the appendix of his book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief and was used by National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) incoming President Dean Bryd for an article last year which, even according to Collins himself, twisted it’s meaning to make Byrd’s own point. XGW dealt with this when it came out.
In mid-September, in another Boltz aftermath interview, ex-gay activist Greg Quinlan apparently morphed this distortion into an even more egregious one, seemingly out of thin air.
When he says he’s born that way, we know now for a fact that that’s false. In fact, just last year in March, the director of the Human Genome Project, Dr. Francis Collins, said this: homosexuality is not hardwired. There is no gay gene. We mapped the human genome. We now know there is no genetic cause for homosexuality.” [emphasis added]
That last part did not appear in any Google search until after Quinlan gave his interview on September 15, 2008, and Collins himself denies ever saying it at all. When informed that the quote was erroneous, Quinlan accused XGW of lying and claimed that he had found the same one on “professional mental health organization” websites. We could find no such sites, save the related reference at NARTH.
While XGW went about contacting Collins yet again, Stith made his own comments through an article he authored in the Southern Baptist Press on September 25, ten days after Quinlan’s comments. His article contained two areas of particular concern to us:
For example, in 2003, the International Human Genome Consortium announced the successful completion of the Human Genome Project, which, among other things, identified each of the approximately 20,000-25,000 genes in human DNA. The press release read: “The human genome is complete and the Human Genome Project is over.”
That statement, in this context, demonstrates a misunderstanding of the process. Put simply, while it is true that we now know where all the genes are, we don’t yet know what most of them do. It is not possible that genes linked with homosexuality could be excluded based on the current data — the facts here are just plain wrong.
While this accomplishment was widely reported, almost no one reported the words of Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the project. Collins, arguably the nation’s most influential geneticist, said, “Homosexuality is not hardwired. There is no gay gene. We mapped the human genome. We now know there is no genetic cause for homosexuality.” [emphasis added]
In the last few sentences we see the exact same quote as before, a quote which we now know must have essentially been made up by Quinlan. In cameronesque fashion, the false information has multiplied in two weeks. It is now included in this article by Stith and returns sixty-two unique search hits in Google. This is why we spend time to correct such statements by checking with the source if possible, and then making the error known to those repeating it.
Meanwhile, we received a definitive response from Dr. Collins as to whether he ever made such a statement as the one Quinlan, Stith and others have attributed to him. He also addressed the misunderstanding concerning the completion of the human genome project from Stith’s article:
Your understanding is correct. We completed the mapping and sequencing of the human genome in 2003, but the actual functions of the 20,000 genes and their regulatory elements will take decades to sort out.
I certainly never said the quote that the Baptist Press is attributing to me.
If there was any doubt concerning whether NARTH, Quinlan, Stith, One News Now, Baptist Press and who knows how many others at this point have distorted and or attributed false statements to Collins, this should certainly assuage it once and for all.
Quinlan’s response to correction was to falsely accuse us of lying and stop returning our emails. Stith’s response, however, was a pleasant surprise. While he claims not to even know of Quinlan, he does say that the statement he put into the article is not what he had in his original notes He also candidly admitted that he didn’t know there was any dispute about the Collins’ quotes. His complete response follows with permission:
I got back late this afternoon and received your messages. Thanks again for the spirit in which they were written. I’ve re-read my article and frankly, I’m not sure why the quote was worded that way. My notes have the quote saying:
“sexual orientation is not hard wired”,
there is an inescapable component of heritability to many human behavioral traits. For virtually none of them is heredity ever close to predictive…”
Since I don’t know Greg Quinland (sic) and am not aware of ever having read anything he’s written I’m not sure how my actual quote came out the way it did.
At any rate it is clearly not the quote from Dr. Collins book and for that I do apologize.
My understanding of what Dr. Collins said was based on the two quotes above. I tried to find his book while I was away but the one bookstore I looked in didn’t have a copy.
I have always said that I do believe there is something to biological predisposition. However I do not believe that is the same as predetermination.
Having said that, I still should not have altered the quote and honestly can’t understand why I did except for the old canard of tight deadlines and an impending trip.
I also had never heard that there was any question about the quotes until this came out. I certainly would never have used it if I had had any idea this was so. (It is why I do not use the Paul Cameron “statistics.”) So, again, I appreciate that you took the time to find out if I was aware of this. I was not and was shocked to find out.
Finally I would like to say that the responsibility is all mine. Baptist Press accepted my article but had nothing to do with the content. I have written for them several times in the past and there has never been a problem. So, they trusted me to have done my homework and I thought I had.
I will certainly send them a correction.
While one may disagree vehemently with many of his positions, Stith should be given credit for owning up to his mistake in this instance and acting to correct it. While the evidence shows that he must have gotten the quote from either Quinlan or one of the 62 reproductions of his statement since, this writer is willing to accept Stith’s claim that he doesn’t know him and doesn’t remember where he got it. Others may not be so generous, but I do think we should be able to see the contrast between the reactions of Quinlan and Stith.
It is always our hope that incidents like this will help promote the importance of knowing the sources and facts behind such statements before making them available to others. If nothing else, I hope Stith’s correction will help curb the use of this particular erroneous quote. XGW will be watching for the promised corrections and will update readers when and if they materialize.
Greg, are you ready to correct your quote now?