New gay change group cites Francis Collins to mislead readers

One would think a scathing criticism on the National Institute of Health from NIH director Francis Collins would be enough to stop misuse of his book, the Language of God. However, not so for a relatively new Latter Day Saint sexual reorientation organization called Foundation for Attraction Research. Writing in the Salt Lake City Tribune, FAR Board members Dennis V. Dahle, John P. Livingstone and M. Gawain Wells provide the same quote that led Collins to rebuke the American College of Pediatricians.

As to science, contrary to a source cited by Hansen that same-sex attractions are of purely biological origin, Dr. Francis S. Collins, former director of the National Human Genome Research Institute and the current director of the National Institutes of Health, reached a very different conclusion. Collins, in addressing the etiology of homosexuality in his book, The Language of God, offers the conclusion that homosexuality is “genetically influenced but not hardwired by DNA and that whatever genes are involved represent predispositions, not predeterminations.”

Exgaywatch first reported on the misuse of Collins’ words back in 2008. At that point, Dr. Collins wrote to me in order to verify his communication with David Roberts, editor at XGW.

Then, the American College of Pediatricians cited Collins in an effort to establish the mutability of sexual orientation. Collins did not take kindly to their citation and wrote the following on the NIH website.

Statement from NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., in Response to the American College of Pediatricians

Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.


April 15, 2010

“It is disturbing for me to see special interest groups distort my scientific observations to make a point against  homosexuality.  The American College of Pediatricians pulled language out of context from a book I wrote in 2006 to support an ideology that can cause unnecessary anguish and encourage prejudice. The information they present is misleading and incorrect, and it is particularly troubling that they are distributing it in a way that will confuse school children and their parents.”

Now the Foundation for Attraction Research takes up the same line of argumentation, although in a somewhat more subtle manner. While the first quote from Collins is clearly about homosexuality and represents Collins views about that specific trait, the second one is not. The FAR authors write:

Collins offers the following additional insight on homosexuality: “There is an inescapable component of heritability to many human behavioral traits. For virtually none of them is heredity ever close to predictive. Environment, particularly childhood experiences, and the prominent role of individual free will choices have a profound effect on us. Scientists will discover an increasing level of molecular detail about the inherited factors that undergird our personalities, but that should not lead us to overestimate their quantitative contribution. Yes we have all been dealt a particular set of cards, and the cards will eventually be revealed. But how we play the hand is up to us.”

While the quote is in Language of God, the statement leading up to it – “Collins offers the following additional insight on homosexuality” – is not. In the book, Collins makes a general statement about the role of genetics and environment but does not offer this view specifically about homosexuality. He does not suggest that “free will” or “childhood experiences” have anything to do with homosexual attraction. The authors want you to think that he does but he does not.

Regarding sexual reorientation which seems to be the real issue for FAR, Collins said this to Roberts and me in the earlier correspondence:

The evidence we have at present strongly supports the proposition that there are hereditary factors in male homosexuality — the observation that an identical twin of a male homosexual has approximately a 20% likelihood of also being gay points to this conclusion, since that is 10 times the population incidence. But the fact that the answer is not 100% also suggests that other factors besides DNA must be involved. That certainly doesn’t imply, however, that those other undefined factors are inherently alterable. (emphasis mine)

No one knows what sexual attractions to be directed toward the same sex. Collins does not opine on these factors in his book beyond saying that they may not be strongly related to genetics. There are other biological factors besides genes that could be involved. Whatever those factors turn out to be does not mean that they are alterable.