Sunday, January 01, 2006

"Just for Fun?"

Several friends recommended a book to us during our engagement entitled Intended for Pleasure by Ed Wheat.  If you’ve never heard of it, one of the key ideas the author argues for is that sex is not merely a utilitarian reproductive chore, but rather is meant to be enjoyed.  Many Christians have been accused, over the centuries, of treating sex as a necessary evil.  Wheat argues that this view is fundamentally flawed and unbiblical.  The pleasure associated with sex is God’s way of saying, “Have fun!”  (By the way, while I agree with Wheat whole-heartedly, I’m hesitant to endorse his book for other reasons.)  

Scientists and philosophers, however, are in disagreement over the role of a particular form of sexual pleasure in the evolutionary story – the female orgasm.  They’ve puzzled, in recent decades, over how it could possibly be linked to natural selection, given that it is not a universal experience among women.  What evolutionary purpose could it serve?  Consensus eludes academia.  

I’ve been intrigued by the work of Dr. Elizabeth Lloyd, a philosopher of science and professor of biology at Indiana University, who argues that the female orgasm has no evolutionary function whatsoever.  She suggests that they are a left-over of embryonic development, similar to the case of male nipples.  The female orgasm, she said, "is for fun."  (I won’t even go into the purpose-laden language that Lloyd employs here – something completely foreign to evolutionary biology.)

Now, you may ask yourself, “Where is Chris going with this?”  OK – here are two points:

  1. In my view, the existence of the female orgasm could be seen as evidence for intelligent design.  Evolution doesn’t seem to be able to account for it.  Women don’t have to have an orgasm in order to produce offspring.  Now that’s putting it rather crudely, but you can check out the counter-arguments in an excellent piece from the New York Times.  (You may have to register to view the article, but it’s free and worth it.  Wait, I mean it really is worth viewing, not worth nothing.)  To slightly amend one of my favorite quotes from Benjamin Franklin, “Female orgasms are evidence that God wants us to be happy.”   Franklin, in the original quote, was referring to beer.

  2. Could we advance a similar argument for the existence of male nipples?  Evolutionary biology predicts that vestigial organs will prove to be just that – purposeless left-overs.  ID biology predicts that truly vestigial organs are highly unlikely.  Everything about us has a function, even if we don’t know yet know what it is.  Are male nipples intended for pleasure?  Are they just “for fun?”  

Do we stop researching the mechanics and function of the female orgasm?  No.  Just because I currently believe that the best explanation is design does not imply in any way that we should end our quest for understanding.  This is what ID critics fear – that talk of God will halt scientific progress.  We have nothing to fear but fear itself.  If ID is bad science, let it discredit itself.     


Anonymous Joel said...

I can't believe no one took the opportunity to comment on your views on the female orgasm and the male nipples. Allow me.
To begin with, a few thoughts on the female orgasm and how it might be helpful from an evolutionary standpoint. First, while the female orgasm is not necessary for reproduction, it does assist with sperm motility. Thus, it is beneficial to procreation. Second, orgasm results in a chemical released in females that is also released during nursing. So, one benefit of the female orgasm could be the establishment of nursing as a reinforcing activity. In more primative times (or settings), nursing was (and, in some settings, is) a necessary event for survival of the species. Third (and this is pure speculation), the female orgasm might assist with couple bonding, ensuring (or at least encouraging) the establishment of a stable diad, agin assisting with survival of the species. Thus, I'm afraid that the existence of the female orgasm does not fly in the face of natural selection.
And now, for something completely different, male nipples. Okay, you have a point here. I can't think of any evolutionary benefit of the male nipple. However, I also don't think that it is anyone's position that evolution/natural selection has ended. Perhaps, over many generations, the male nipple will, in fact, no longer be with us.
Ok. Those are my thoughts. Oh, one last point. In my very limited understanding of natural selection and Intelligent Design, I am not quite certain why they are treated by both camps as mutually exclusive. I understand the debate regarding the Scientific Merit of ID. Whether ID is ultimately judged to be a scientific approach to explaining the origin of life on this planet has no bearing on whether or not natural selection occurs. Just my two cents. Congratulations if you made it all the way through.

8:01 PM  
Blogger chris said...

Thanks for the great response. The NY Times piece mentioned some of the same competing explanations you brought up. Lloyd, who is considered quite the authority in her field, feels that none of those studies were adequate. So, for now, I'm siding with her.

The ID/evol. thing -- in some cases, they will yield contradictory predictions. (And by evol., I mean naturalistic evol.). I think evol. happened, but I think God was more involved than we are comfortable talking about.

11:06 PM  

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