Theists like to argue that design—especially the complex design we see in organisms—is proof there must be a Designer. And theists denigrate evolution precisely because it provides an alternate explanation for design. If evolution suffices, then not only does there exist a viable competitor to God, but it is a competitor without the contradictions and supernaturalism of theism.
It follows that the debate between atheism and theism is to a significant extent a debate about which viewpoint—God or evolution—provides a better explanation for the design we see around us.
One prominent observation about organisms is that they often come in sexes. Pretty much all complex animals have male and female sexual organs and engage in a variety of sexual behaviors. I will now proceed to look at which explanation—God or evolution—better addresses this aspect of animal design.
Does God Like Sex?
One thing about design is that it is a two-edged sword. Although design may be asserted as evidence of a Designer, it also follows that the design chosen reveals a lot about the Designer who chose it. So it is with sex and God.
Why did God create sex?
And in particular, since it is what most interests our species, why did God create human sex?
For the vast majority of animals, including mammals, sexual intercourse is closely tied to reproduction. Most mammals have sex only when the female is in estrus, that is, when the female is capable of getting pregnant. Not so with humans. Whereas the females of most species send out chemical signals that they are ready for sex only during estrus, women send out signals throughout their cycle: they are biologically ready for sex anytime, and so are men.
Why would God do this? Or more pertinently, what kind of a God would do this?
Quite obviously, a God who likes sex, and likes it a lot.
A sex God.
Because it is not just that humans are ready for sex anytime. Much more stands out about human sexuality: consider our preening and dating behaviors, our generous erogenous zones; our large, exquisite organs of sexual arousal & pleasure, the great variety of our sexual positions and practices, and (to top everything off) orgasm. All exist to tug humans into sexual wonderland even at those times when it is impossible for pregnancy to occur.
Why was God so into sex? And why—Catholic Church be damned—did God decouple human sex from reproduction?
Why is procreation part-time, and sex full-time?
The Evolution of Sex
But before we pursue this line of thought, let’s take a look at the evolutionary explanation for sex. This way we’ll have something to compare when evaluating the theistic outlook.
Prior to the evolution of sex, scientists tell us, reproduction occurred asexually, through mitosis (cloning) of the parent genome. Cloning allows rapid reproduction. But when organisms and their environments become particularly complex, cloning’s disadvantages come to the front. For one thing, mitosis tends to insure a relatively stable genome and therefore does not allow quick adaptation to changes in the environment.
Furthermore, copying errors can accumulate over time when the genome is cloned. A few of those errors or mutations will turn out to be beneficial, but most will not. And that is where another disadvantage arises: copying errors (good or bad) accumulate, but cloning provides no effective way to decouple beneficial errors from harmful ones.
Sexual reproduction does.
The evolution of sexual reproduction allowed complex organisms to adapt rapidly to a changing environment, a trait especially important in fending off bacterial and viral invaders. Sex accomplishes this, in part, because it creates greater genetic diversity within a species by seeding novel combinations of genes in each individual. (Such individual variability within species was one of Darwin’s key observations in developing the theory of natural selection.) Sexual reproduction, therefore, enhances the ability of more complex species to adapt and thrive over time. Indeed, moving from mitosis to sexuality was probably essential to their evolution.
Now let’s take a quick look at the evolutionary explanation for why sex is “always on” in human beings.
Bear in mind that, like evolution itself, evolutionary explanations are always evolving. That said, the current scientific picture of human sexuality focuses on the huge investment of time and energy which the human species must put into a relatively small number of offspring. A human baby requires a decade or more before reaching an age where it can survive on its own.
In other species which have small numbers of offspring which take years to reach maturity, pair-bonding has been observed to be a common solution. So it is not surprising at all that we find pair-bonding in humans. Indeed, it is evident to scientists that human sexuality is largely about forming relatively enduring pair-bonds so that children can be raised safely to adulthood.
It is also clear that in humans the pleasure and drawing power of sexual intercourse is used to make those pair-bonds enduring. Or to put it another way, orgasm is the glue that binds a couple together and creates a family.
But this is probably not the whole story, as we learn from observing our nearest genetic relatives, the bonobos. Bonobos, like humans, seem to revel in sex. And like humans, they engage in both straight and gay sex.
Bonobo sex, like human sex, is about forming pair-bonds, but bonobos also use sex to reduce conflict and tension. For example, when unacquainted bonobo groups bump into each other at a feeding ground, matters can become extremely tense. This tension is broken when a female or two from each group gregariously advance and begin having sex with each other. Afterwards they engage in sex with males from the other group, and—to be brief about it—a sexual orgy ensues.
As might be expected, this breaks the tension. The two groups of bonobos become friendly and the result is that they are able to coexist without warring over who owns the feeding ground. Bonobos, it seems, take to heart the injunction “make love not war”.
Although not to the same extent as bonobos, it appears likely that humans also use sex to develop group cohesion. Certainly, sex as a diplomatic tool is something which has been observed throughout human history. This brief survey shows us that from a scientific perspective, sexuality is something coherent and understandable.
God & Orgasm
So much for the evolutionary explanation. How well does God serve as an explanation for sex?
Many theists will say that the explanation is right there in the Bible, in Genesis. Men and women desire to have sex all the time, and find it so enjoyable, because sexual pleasure is one of the punishments God handed down for eating the apple. God condemned Eve to feel an “urge” for Adam.
Before the fall, presumably, the first humans were capable of having sex in order to procreate—after all, they had sexual organs. But it would have been intercourse without arousal or passion, and it would have occurred only when pregnancy was possible.
So we are told by Saint Augustine, who argued in The City of God that before the fall Adam could have mentally willed himself to have an erection without experiencing any feelings of desire or arousal. Furthermore, Augustine claimed that Adam would have ejaculated and impregnated Eve without the slightest drop of passion or pleasure in the process—no different than squirting ketchup on a hotdog. (That last is my analogy, not Augustine’s, who was not familiar with hotdogs or ketchup, I believe.)
To summarize: before the fall we were pure. Neither Adam nor Eve was capable of experiencing an orgasm. The vast network of blood vessels and nerve endings surrounding the genitals, although anatomically present, served no purpose. Penis and clitoris, although anatomically present, could provide no pleasure.
The orgasm, like desire itself, was God’s punishment for disobedience.
And until the very moment of that punishment, the clitoris lacked a purpose. It was a bit of Godly design with no reason for existing, no rationale.
What divine foresight, to realize He would need the clitoris in order to punish Eve!
Given such punishment, it’s little wonder humans are sinners. Indeed, if this is God’s approach to punishing people it establishes him as the most lenient and liberal of judges.
“I’m going to punish you by making your life pleasurable,” God apparently told Eve and Adam. “I’ll condemn you to ecstasy and orgasm. Yes, I will throw in the death penalty, but not until after you’ve had a long and fruitful life. And just in case you misbehave in the future, I’ll provide further punishment after you are dead, so be warned!”
It is remarkable that religious conservatives who complain about liberal judges and delayed punishment never complain about God’s almost unfathomably greater liberality.
In short, this particular Biblical explanation for human sexual pleasure doesn’t make much sense. Pleasure as a punishment for disobeying God is something that only someone with an odd outlook—someone like Saint Augustine—could find convincing.
The Biblical Origin of the Penis
Setting aside the theory of orgasm as punishment, let us ask if sex is the sort of thing we might expect the eternal God of the universe to invent.
The pre-requisite for sex, it goes without saying, is that there must be sexes. Yet God’s existence, obviously, is a sexless one. God has no penis or vagina, we can be pretty sure; no need for a companion, and certainly no need for any biological system of reproduction. For God, it makes no sense to talk about sex or gender. God is not He or She, but It.
Traditionally, theists refer to God as He. This has served, undoubtedly, as a support for patriarchy. But it serves also to disguise the gulf between God and sex. In order to strip off that disguise, I will from this point refer to God by the more accurate pronoun: It.
Supposedly, God is complete in Itself, and misses out on nothing of importance by being sexless. And yet when peopling earth with Its creatures, God put sex into the design. Why?
The Bible gives no clue. True, Genesis does tell us that after creating Adam, God realized that the first human needed a companion or mate. But neither Adam nor God appear to have recognized, at first, that the companion needed to have a vagina to match Adam’s penis. Thus God paraded all the animals of the creation before Adam, who named them, but found none suitable for a mate. Only then did God get the idea to create Eve, and bring a vagina and clitoris and orgasm—in short, human sex—into the picture.
Still, we must ask, why did Adam have a penis in the first place? Was Adam created in God’s image—is that why? But if God does have a penis, what for? Lacking a divine partner, does God masturbate?
We have to give up on the Bible for a coherent explanation of sex.
Yearning for Love
Yet we are forced to go further and admit that, Bible aside, God simply had no good reason to create beings split into sexes. The best that theists can do is to speculate that God wanted to provide Its creatures with love, and love takes more than one. But still, why the duality of sex? Why not 3 sexes, or 4, or a trillion? And why was sex necessary for love, anyway?
The implication is that God was not satisfied with Its own divine lot. That is really the only explanation that can be given. God was eternally lonely, bored, sick with yearning for something pleasurable and bodily, something carnal.
And there you have it: sexual organs and desire and arousal and orgasms, everything God yearned for.
But then, why didn’t God create sexuality for God? Why didn’t God transform from an It into Him and Her? Why didn’t God split into God & Goddess, and go to town? The Greeks said so, but modern theists deny it.
Instead, God bestowed sex on humans, and prefers to watch. A Divine Voyeur.
If you are scientifically minded, this quick look at sexuality has probably made you smile. You know that in the context of evolution sex makes perfect sense. You are aware that for any given species, its sex practices tend to fit well with its survival needs and reproductive strategy. You know that sexual reproduction replaced cloning in more complex animals as a means of staving off the cumulative damage to the genome which results from copying errors. You know that sexuality enhances a species’ evolutionary fitness by providing a means of decoupling good genetic mutations from bad. You know that in humans sex is always on even when pregnancy is not possible, and that sexual pleasure serves to draw humans into pair-bonds for the benefit of raising offspring who require a considerable number of years to become self-sufficient.
In short, you know that evolution makes sense of sex.
You also know that God doesn’t.
And that is where we end up. Theism cannot explain in any adequate way why sex is part of the human design. On the other hand, evolution provides a very cogent explanation.