Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Should atheists be homophobes?

Typically they aren't. But consider this argument:

Premise 1: If God does not exist, then something like Blind Watchmaker Neo-Darwinian Evolution (hereafter just “evolution”) is a fact.

Premise 2: If evolution is a fact, then, objectively, my only purpose in life is to survive, reproduce, and spread my genes to the maximal extent (this premise is taken, essentially, from the mouth of Richard Dawkins).

Premise 3: Homosexuality makes it impossible to reproduce and pass on our genes. 

Premise 4: Therefore homosexuality prevents us from achieving my only purpose in life. 

Premise 5: Therefore homosexuality is wrong, and should be discouraged. 


Aragorn said...

Premise 2 is hardly uncontroversial.

John Moore said...

About the last part of premise 5: Even if homosexuality is wrong from an evolutionary perspective, does it make any sense to "discourage" it?

Schizophrenia is also "wrong," but it doesn't do any good to shame people or stigmatize them or deny them basic human rights.

John Doe said...

Premise 3 is obviously false. Even a person who is 100% exclusively attracted to the same sex could metaphorically hold one's nose and have heterosexual sex to conceive; or just do artificial insemination. At most, premises 1+2 entail that homosexuals are obligated to take this course of action.

Kathen said...

Does 'purpose' in Premise 2 mean 'moral purpose'? Does it imply some kind of obligation?

If it does not then where does the obligation in Premise 5 come from? If it does then it is certainly, as Aragorn says, controversial. In fact, I am not sure I can think of anyone who would agree with it. Richard Dawkins certainly would not and he has said he would not many times.

zillipede said...

You're misrepresenting Dawkins. He is clearly aware of (and writes a lot about) the difference between the pseudo-purpose of our genes, and what is actually meaningful to people. That is, the (practically tautological) fact that genes that promote reproduction reproduce more does not in any way mean that people have to want or care about spreading genes.

Victor Reppert said...

I suppose you would have to distinguish between biological purpose, and the purpose one chooses for oneself. I suppose you could say that this argument shows that there is a serious problem with any attempt to marry natural law ethics with atheistic evolution.

Angra Mainyu said...


In addition to other problems, the argument is invalid.

For example, even if agent A's only goals are to reproduce, survive, and spread their genes, and homosexuality makes it impossible for an agent to reproduce and spread their genes, it does not follow either that homosexuality is morally wrong, or that agent A should discourage homosexuality in others as a means of acquiring their goals.

For example, it may be that agent A is a man who will be more likely to spread his genes if a number of other men in his community (potential competition for mates) are gay. So, if A's discouraging or encouraging homosexuality actually would likely have an effect on whether some other men in his community are gay, then he means-to-end ought to encourage homosexuality in the case of (some, or many) other males (all other things equal).

Or it may be be that in a given situation, agent A's attempt to discourage or encourage homosexuality would not likely impact whether other men in his community are gay. However, an homophobic display in a failed attempt to discourage homosexuality would likely bring social condemnation upon him, thus diminishing his social standing, and as a result likely reduce his shot at reproductive success.

And so on.

So, even if one is talking in the means-to-end sense of "ought", and even if one is only considering the goals in question, it does not follow - nor is it plausible as a general claim - that a human agent should discourage homosexuality. Maybe he or she should encourage it in some cases, discourage it in others, and remain silent in others. But that also depends on the specific situation of each agent.

Moreover, even if agent A has goals such that A should discourage homosexuality, it does not follow that homosexuality is morally wrong (furthermore, the previous "should" is a means-to-ends "should", where the ends are not moral ones, and so it does not entail moral statements).

The argument would not even be good as a probabilistic argument, even if the premises were true.

But that aside, it is false that the only goals of human beings are those stated in the consequent of premise 2 - in fact, some people do not even have some of those goals -, so if "purpose" in premise 2 means the goals or some of the goals of an agent, then its consequent is false when it comes to nearly all if not all humans, and in fact the premise is also false (regardless of what Dawkins may have meant, and of whether or not he was correct).

On the other hand, if "purpose" means something else in premise 2, then whatever "purpose" might be, such "purpose" does not warrant any assessments about what an agent should do, in a means-to-ends sense (since we do not know the ends of the agent, which are different from this "purpose").

Edward T. Babinski said...

Vic's argument is simplistic

He forgets that Dawkins also knows that humans do more than reproduce but also spread culture and ideas, it's called social evolution. Gays can find their purpose there.

Dawkins even knows that a single bacterium will continue to eat and reproduce in an agar-coated petri dish until it dies in its own excrement, and that's evolution too, and something that does not promote continued evolution. Knowing that there are natural limits to growth is part of cerebral social evolution, and gays seem to have that covered, naturally.

The Bible however, does not. It gives the same command to humans and bacteria, "be fruitful and multiply" without any warnings or proposed limits. God even tells humans they have dominion over everything that moves. But now we know it's better, healthier for the planet if humanity leaves large tracts of nature alone.

IlĂ­on said...

But their own world-view, 'atheists' should be "homophobes" about homosexuality amongst *their own* descendants, assuming they even have any, but homophiles about homosexuality amongst *your* descendants (no matter who 'you' are).

J. Paul said...

I have thought about this argument before and I think it is valid. Another argument could be made from the natural evolution perspective, that homosexuality is either a recent genetic mutation or it is completely psychological in nature. The argument might go something like this:

1. Homosexual relations cannot produce offspring.
2. Homosexuality is a genetic mutation that is hereditary.
3. Therefore, homosexuality can not be inherited genetically, because it would have become extinct.

A possible counter-argument might be, the genetic mutation is only recent. If that is the case, then it is doomed to extinction at some point in the future, with the only possible alternative being that it is a mutation that people are continually going to be susceptible to, until an eventual time that even it would eventually become extinct under the guidance of survival of the fittest.

Another counter-argument might be, homosexual tendencies are the results of outside forces that may either play on our brain development or alter our development in some other way, such as psychological. In any case, it would be a denial that it is a genetic inheritance rather than an idiosyncrasy.

In any case of the above, under nature's laws, it is only logical to think of homosexual tendencies as either an abnormality of the brain or a dysfunctional mutation of the genes, that is unless you want to admit that it is a choice after all.

J. Paul said...

Technically speaking, Edward Babinski, the above is not a direct argument about the Bible. However, the nature of dominion over the earth, is not to destroy it, rather it is to take care of it. The Bible offers the warning that God will destroy those who destroy the earth.

You may be confusing consumerism with the popular Christian understanding of capitalism and its ties to the industrial and technological revolutions. While it may be said that both are the product of Christianity, the same certainly cannot be said of consumerism. Consumerism is largely the product of hedonism and the lust for more goods, which I would like to point out, run absolutely contrary to Biblical teachings.