Friday, January 09, 2009

The Aversion to Homosexual Marriage

[W]ould a Christian's desire to live in a world without homosexual marriage be morally equivalent to the desire to enter a homosexual marriage? It would seem that fulfillment of either desire thwarts the other.

This is one of two questions that I received from a member of the studio audience. I answered the first question, on whether an embryo has morally relevant interests, yesterday.

Again, I am going to get pedantic and add some precision to this question.

The fact that a particular desire is a Christian’s desire does not give it any more weight . . . or any less weight . . . then the same desire held by a non-Christian. The question here is really how we should weigh an aversion to homosexual marriage and a desire on the part of some to enter into homosexual marriage. Is this an irreconcilable conflict?

In answering this question we need to look at a few additional factors.

The first is that morality is concerned with applying social forces such as praise and condemnation to malleable desires. Where two sets of desires come into conflict, one of the questions we need to ask ourselves in determining how to resolve that conflict is to ask which of the desires can be more easily changed.

Evidence suggests that the aversion to homosexual marriage is learned. Homosexual desire itself, on the other hand, is often the result of biochemical reactions that occur during fetal development that influence the properties of the body and brain.

The only thing we really need to do to end (or significantly reduce) this aversion to homosexual relationships is to quit teaching children to acquire and aversion to homosexual relationships. Whereas we are not going to get rid of homosexuality itself – at least until fetuses are developed inside of artificially and carefully regulated wombs.

The second factor to examine is to ask whether we are actually dealing with an aversion to homosexual marriage. In many cases, we are not dealing with an aversion to homosexual marriage per se, but with an aversion to that which offends God, and a belief that homosexual marriage offends God. Or, similarly, we could be dealing with an aversion to that which is intrinsically bad and a belief that homosexual marriage is intrinsically bad (or ‘unnatural’).

In these cases, homosexual marriage is not actually thwarting any desires. Instead, some people have merely acquired a false belief that it thwarts certain desires. The objections to homosexual marriage in this case would be similar to an objection raised by a neighbor because you intend to till your garden. Your neighbor comes over and says, “Do not till your garden because it will harm all of the faeries that live in the garden.”

Your neighbor, in this case, has an aversion to having harm done to faeries and a false belief that tilling your garden will harm faeries. However, here aversion to having harm done to faeries will not actually be thwarted by you tilling your garden. Because tilling the garden does not actually thwart any real desires, there is no real world “reason for action” to prevent you from weeding the garden.

Homosexual marriage is in the same situation. Homosexual marriage does not actually offend God because there is no God to be offended. Nor is homosexual marriage intrinsically bad because intrinsic badness does not exist. So, with respect to these concerns, homosexual marriage is not actually thwarting real desires. Consequently, these concerns do not provide any real-world reason to oppose homosexual marriage. They provide imaginary reasons.

If we imagine that the neighbor shoots the gardener to prevent harm being done to the faeries in the garden (or forces him, through law, to starve when he could have been well fed), we do not have a story of a hero doing great deeds. We have a tragedy born of ignorance and superstition.

19 comments:

anton said...

"We have a tragedy born of ignorance and superstition." And in those nine words, you have summed up religion! Alonzo, you have penned the most intelligent statement that describes most of our world's failures and, yes, tragedies! Now, if we could only get the ignorant and superstitious under control! In the last month I have demanded that those who want to engage me in an argument or debate regarding religion, pass an "intelligence litmus test" first. If one can't pass the test, they have no business arguing the case and I certainly don't wish to waste my time improving their intelligence if they believe they have no need to acquire the necessary knowledge. You pass, Alonzo, and so do plenty of other Atheists. Unfortunately, like the religious, many Atheists do not pass the test.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

I continue to reject any attempt to take a problem with "a religion" and say that it is a problem with "religion".

I can well imagine a case in which a person believes, "God exists. God created a universe in which the propositions of desire utiltarianism is true," and goes through exactly the same moral calculations I would go through (and maybe even do a better job of doing so).

Assuming that the propositions of desire utilitarianism are true, there would be no "tragedy" here.

Assuming that the propositions of desire utilitarianism are false, there is as much tragedy in the desire utilitarian imposing harm on others on the basis of false beliefs as there would be for any theist.

timplausible said...

It seems worth noting that, based on your post about how the existence of God would effect morality, God's existence does not appear to be that relevant.

If a god existed, and homosexual marriage offended him, the desire of other people to prevent this offense by preventing homosexual marriage would appear to be a bad desire. It would be equivalent to wanting to stop homosexual marriage because it offends Bob, the guy who lives down the street. It may offend Bob, but it would seem that discouraging the desire to prevent Bob from getting offended by homosexual marriage would result in more desires being fulfilled and fewer desires being thwarted. Wouldn't it?

Alonzo Fyfe said...

timplausible

Yep

Luke said...

"In these cases, homosexual marriage is not actually thwarting any desires. Instead, some people have merely acquired a false belief that it thwarts certain desires."

Wait - so does your theory differentiate between desires based on true beliefs and desires based on false beliefs? Whether or not a false belief is the cause of Christians' desires to ban gay marriage, they nevertheless HAVE those desires to ban gay marriage.

On what basis would you differentiate the moral value of desires based on false beliefs and desires based on true beliefs?

This would also bring up an epistemic problem, because there are millions of beliefs that we cannot confirm or disconfirm... at least not yet. How would we judge the moral value of desires that come from those beliefs?

(Of course, this last point does not threaten the ontology of those moral values, only our ability to know their value.)

Have I misunderstood you?

And, did you get my four-comment/question email I sent a while back?

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Luke asked, Wait - so does your theory differentiate between desires based on true beliefs and desires based on false beliefs?

Desires are not based on beliefs.

Or, more precisely, desires-as-ends (which are the morally relevant desires) are not based on beliefs.

There is a type of desire - desires-as-means - that are combinations of desires-as-ends and beliefs. That is to say, if I have a desires-as-end to make it to work by 8:00, and a belief that if I take I-70 I can make it to work by 8:00, I would have a desire-as-means to take I-70. However, if my belief is false, then my desire-as-means is mistaken.

However, morality is not concerned with desires-as-means. All motivation comes from desires-as-ends. Even the motivation for a desires-as-means comes from the desires-as-ends that the agent (perhaps falsely) will be realized by those means.

A "desire that P" is fulfilled in any state of affairs in which P is true. (Not, "in any state of affairs in which P is believed to be true" but "any state of affairs in which P is true in fact").

Beliefs do not figure into it.

And I probably did get your email, though it might have gotten buried. I will look for it.

Luke said...

Alonzo,

So, why is morality not concerned with desires-as-means?

Also, how can we tell if a desire is desire-as-means or desire-as-ends? There are probably many Christians who will say their desires to thwart gay marriage are desires-as-ends, and others who will say they are desires-as-means (to fulfills God's desires).

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Luke

So, why is morality not concerned with desires-as-means?

Desires-as-means are redundant. A desire-as-means is a collection of (motivationally neutral) beliefs and (motivationally potent) desires-as-ends. A desire-as-means is simply a way of talking about groupings of beliefs and desires-as-ends.

Say, you are bringing sandwiches into a meeting. You are told that there are ten people total: five women and five men.

Later in the conversation you also talk about the "four people from Company C who are attending the meeting".

This does not imply that you now have to consider what these four people want for lunch in addition to the lunches you planned for 5 women and 5 men. The 4 members of Company C is included in the set of 10 people.

In addition, all desires-as-means are included in the set of beliefs and desires-as-ends. It is just a convenient way of talking about certain subgroupings of this set - like talking about "the four people from Company C".

Also, how can we tell if a desire is desire-as-means or desire-as-ends?

In all cases, looking at beliefs and desires, you are looking for the best theory to explain a range of observed phenomena (behavior). You look at a set of behavior. You postulate a set of beliefs and desires to explain that behavior. you make predictions based on your theory. You then observe future behavior. If that behavior conforms to your preditions then you have a good theory. If not, then your theory needs to be revised.

we do this every day with respect to the people around us. Assuming you have a life-partner, you have a theory of what that person believes and desires. You use that to predict behavior (e.g., how the life partner will react if you did X).

Assuming you have a boss, you have a theory about what your boss believes and desires that predicts his behavior, which you use to predict how your boss would react to certain actions on your part.

Pay attention to your interactions with other people. You will discover that you almost subconsciously form theories on the beliefs and desires of others, use them to explain and predict behavior of others, and revise those theories as you test them against new observations.

Steelman said...

Alonzo, your comparison of learned behavior vs. natural behavior, and argument for which is more easily malleable, seems to be headed for the naturalistic fallacy. There are many natural desires (e.g. selfishness, anger) that civilized human beings have developed learned behaviors (self-control, rule making) in order to thwart. So I think the first part of your essay doesn't help your case.

"Evidence suggests that the aversion to homosexual marriage is learned. Homosexual desire itself, on the other hand, is often the result of biochemical reactions that occur during fetal development that influence the properties of the body and brain."

Yes, but isn't aversion to homosexuality itself also a result of fetal biochemistry as well? That's part of what makes an exclusively heterosexually oriented individual exclusively heterosexual, isn't it? So it's not just a false belief about an offended god (although I agree that that is a large part of the problem, considering where the greatest financial support for California's Prop 8 originated), but also an actual, innate aversion to homosexuality.

"The only thing we really need to do to end (or significantly reduce) this aversion to homosexual relationships is to quit teaching children to acquire an aversion to homosexual relationships."

Exactly what Prop 8 supporters complained about, and what the California Teachers Association promised wouldn't happen. Those who oppose same-sex marriage don't want their children to think homosexuality is acceptable!

This seems to me very similar to the problem of molding the attitudes of children born to racist parents toward acceptance of interracial relationships. Even so, I really don't see how non-homeschooled children (especially in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live) can avoid seeing Jimmy's "two mommys" at school functions. I do think that legal same sex marriage would have furthered the social legitimacy of homosexuality in general, and that's why there is such an effort to deprive homosexuals of their civil rights.

I think that the impossibility of same-sex marriage to thwart the desires of a non-existent god is a good argument...for convincing socially liberal atheists. However, I think any arguments against an aversion to same-sex marriage, directed at those who have such an aversion, must hinge on a principle of harm to actual persons. Telling Christians that they and their children won't be harmed by legalized same-sex marriage, due to the facts that homosexuality is natural and there probably is no god, isn't going to win the hearts and minds of those who were recently influenced by a moral panic, but are not themselves dogmatic religious fundamentalists.

I know you didn't write this as a propaganda piece aimed at the above group, but what do you think would work to change minds? I think the path being taken is the same one followed to end anti-miscegenation laws: law suits and marching in the streets. Perhaps this is the best that can be done?

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Steelman

Well, I reject this so-called "naturalistic fallacy." There is no such fallacy. The argument for it - the "Open Question Argument" is itself a fallacy known as the "Masked Man Fallacy". I have written about it in The Naturalistic Fallacy.

Now, while heterosexual desire is formed in the womb in much the same way that homosexual desire is, heterosexual desire does not imply an aversion to other people entering into a homosexual marraige.

The same way that I can hate sports, yet be utterly opposed to legislation to ban sports, I can have an absolute aversion to participating in a homosexual relationship while also being opposed to a ban others entering into such a relationship.

In fact, the large numbers of people who are straight and still comfortable with allowing others to enter into a homosexual marriage, a large number of incidents in which people have "changed their mind" on this issue, and the fact that culture is a reliable indicator of whether one has such an attitude, all indicate that this is a learned aversion.

Finally, regarding the statement, I think that the impossibility of same-sex marriage to thwart the desires of a non-existent god is a good argument...for convincing socially liberal atheists..

I do not measure the quality of an argument by its effect in convincing people. There are a great many fallacies that are very effective when it comes to convincing people of things. The quality of an argument is measured by whether the premises are true, and whether the conclusion follows from those premises.

Steelman said...

Hello, Alonzo.

You said: "Well, I reject this so-called "naturalistic fallacy." There is no such fallacy."

I can see where there may have been some confusion by my reference to the naturalistic fallacy" since I meant it specifically in the "appeal to nauture" sense. Mea culpa.

The reason I said the first part of your argument seemed "to be headed for the naturalistic fallacy" was because you said:
"Where two sets of desires come into conflict, one of the questions we need to ask ourselves in determining how to resolve that conflict is to ask which of the desires can be more easily changed." Why should the innate desire receive greater ethical consideration as correct, vs. the learned desire, simply because its innateness makes it the more difficult desire to avert? That sure sounds like the arguer is flirting with the naturalistic fallacy (i.e., something is judged as good, or better, simply because it is natural). I still think that sentence, and the brief line of argument that follows, is detrimental to making your case.

"The same way that I can hate sports, yet be utterly opposed to legislation to ban sports, I can have an absolute aversion to participating in a homosexual relationship while also being opposed to a ban others entering into such a relationship."

I think one can certainly hate sports, be opposed to legislation that bans sports, and also be opposed to legislation that gives sports a greater standing in society, such as tax revenue being channeled to build a local stadium or more sports programs in schools. The racist is convinced that the desire for interracial marriage should be averted because society would be better off if the "races" didn't mix. I think part of that is learned, and part of that is an innate, evolved tribalism. There's a natural propensity for forming in-groups and out-groups, out of which this country's anti-miscegenation laws grew.

"In fact, the large numbers of people who are straight and still comfortable with allowing others to enter into a homosexual marriage, a large number of incidents in which people have "changed their mind" on this issue, and the fact that culture is a reliable indicator of whether one has such an attitude, all indicate that this is a learned aversion."

I just don't think the aversion to homosexual marriage is solely a learned behavior, but a mix of nature and nurture (with variability among individuals allowing for a shift to either extreme of that spectrum). There's an innate "yuck factor" in there that initiates and perpetuates the anti-homosexual dogma. Certainly, there are many who do not necessarily have that aversion, but are influenced by peer pressure and religion.

"I do not measure the quality of an argument by its effect in convincing people. There are a great many fallacies that are very effective when it comes to convincing people of things. The quality of an argument is measured by whether the premises are true, and whether the conclusion follows from those premises."

I agree. I was not inviting you to expediently commit fallacies to promote your views, but to provide persuasive, yet truthful and logically coherent, rhetoric for convincing those whose minds need to be changed. And, again, I know this was not the intended purpose of your post, but I think proponents of homosexual marriage need to focus their (sound and valid!) arguments toward convincing the more reasonable members of the cultural opposition that legalizing this type of union will not actually harm their way of life.

martino said...

Steelman

You pre-empted me in querying the preference for modifying a learned over an innate disposition simply because we can modify, more easily, learned dispositions. However I think the innate/learned distinction, whilst useful, is just distinction not a hard and fixed dichotomy - certainly for the needs of DU. Even Dawkins argues for us to overcome our genes which he would only say if he thought we could).

Now the capacity to "yuck" might be innate, but what it is directed at can be modified. When I was a kid I "yucked" over spinach, but now as an adult I love it. Tastes change and so does what we find "yucky". Basing morality on what people find distateful is an unsound argument IMHO. One may not be able to update such distates but one can certainly argue that these are insufficient to count in moral considerations, and so use social forces to encourage people to ignore their distates in making their moral determinations - such as by coherently and consistently condemning those who do.

martino said...

Alonzo

I also query whether the innate/learned distinction is a sound basis to determine which of two mutually thwarting desires to inhibit.

I am thinking along the lines of that it is the desire that requires, as part of its conditions of fulfilment, the proactive thwarting of other desires?

And in this case the desire to ban homosexual marriage is specifically aimed, regardless of any other considerations, at thwarting the desires of homosexuals. By contrast, allowing homosexual marriage has nothing specifically or necessarily to do with thwarting the desires those, for whatever reason, are against this legislation. That is thwarting those desires, this is not part of the conditions of fulfilment of this desire - to get married. (For sure some homosexuals might feel this but that is highly unlikely to be the deciding factor in getting married! It certainly is not necessary)

martino said...

Alonzo

Another issue with innate/leaned based reasoning as what is regarded as innate can change, indeed arguments over the innateness of homosexuality are quite recent and still challenged (even by some homosexuals).

Steelman said...

Martino said: "Tastes change and so does what we find 'yucky'. Basing morality on what people find distateful is an unsound argument IMHO."

I fully agree with your two points, Martino.

web designer,web design India said...

Thanks u r information

its very useful

bollywood girls said...

i like your blog ....

ruff said...

an honest atheist, won't have any problem, at all, with gay marriage, or even polygamous marriage for that matter. Once You take religion out of the picture, there is nothing wrong with gay marriage at all. I imagine an atheist can also remove much of patriarchy from concepts of relationships as well, and would be more open to the possibility of their own bisexuality. Remove the extreme training, and maybe everyone is gay!

"The aversion to homosexual marriage" as you titled it, might have more to do with how men are trained to believe they have to act with one another. Remove all the trained aversion, and maybe more men would choose to be in related groups with other men, including sex, then trained to become prince-charming, to save the female victim.... Freedom of desire turns the whole concept of marriage inside out.

The churches are fighting gay marriage, because they have to keep to what they have been saying for so long, regardless if it's true or not. And since they are locked into it they have to fight to remain in power. At one time many US churches did not want to include people of color. Once that was outlawed, they were forced to have to marry someone in their church or temple regardless of race. They don't want to have to be forced to to marry gay people in their churches, so they are fighting marriage, but are mostly silent about civil-unions.

It's fine... The Separation of Church and State works well. But then ALL unions are civil for the state... No state marriage for anyone.

oh... and just a thought about how Christians are treating gay marriage... "Jesus Christ did NOT get MARRIED, thus ALL MARRIAGE MUST be OUTLAWED!

Eneasz said...

Hello Steelman. I'm basically just further commenting on what Martino said here - From what I've read, all humans have an instinctive aversion to contagions, instilled evolutionarily. However, what actually counts as a contagion must still be taught. Children will often put things we consider completely disgusting into their mouths. The problem comes from the fact that some people will teach their children that things which do not constitute harm (like homosexuality) actually do.

While I'm here, I'd like to throw my two cents into towards the side that says "a natural desire shouldn't necessarily carry any more weight than a learned desire". I believe it's been pointed out that a desire to rape (by males anyway) is somewhat naturally instilled, and yet we have many strong reasons to alter this desire, and are pretty successful at doing so.