If we think that what occurs in nature is compatible with a divine view, then it appears She may be a bit more flexible than religious leaders sometimes think. Not only do we have gay penguins, but now it turns out that virgin births, in which a female gives birth to genetically identical offspring, can be found in Komodo dragons and other species:
Virgin birth, known to biologists as parthenogenesis (from the Greek, “parthen” meaning virgin or maiden and “genesis,” beginning), has been seen in other species over the years. Some lizards occasionally produce offspring in this way. So do several species of fish, including a female hammerhead shark at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha that produced offspring without a male last year.
Cloning is one of many mechanisms species use to survive in a dangerous world. Indeed, the diversity of reproductive strategies seen in animals staggers the imagination. Some reptiles do not determine sexes genetically, but rely on different incubation temperatures to determine the development of males and females. Other creatures can actually switch sexes during their lifetimes, being born male and developing as females. Still others can switch sexes based on behavioral cues in the social group. There is no one way that creatures start development, grow and form sexes — there are many varied ways.
Unfortunately, humans seem to forget this fact when we find ourselves turning to nature to guide us through difficult choices, such as arguments about whether life begins at conception, or over the proper structure of the family. Or, more recently, regarding the morality of cloning. Whether we’re talking about raising bigger cattle or growing life-saving organs or trying to “live forever,” both sides like to stress their abilities to judge what is “natural.” Judging from Komodo dragons, lizards and sharks, the answer seems to be that for reproduction, almost anything goes.
Thanks to Neil Shubin for the lesson that we should not assume nature meets our sense of what is natural. The article seems to me a good example for teachers of various philosophy courses, and I’ve stressed the parts that describe a problematic kind of reasoning philosophy profs will find familiar and the passages with Shubin’s general challenge to it.