Thursday, August 13, 2015

Does the case for same-sex marriage have implicit religious assumptions?

The case for same-sex marriage seems to be based on equality. But one could certainly argue that any argument based on equality has underlying religious premises. The Declaration of Independence says that we were created equal, which, of course would be false if we were not created. And we certainly did not evolve equally, nor would it make sense to say that we were endowed by evolution with certain inalienable rights. So, if atheistic evolution is true, and we were not created, would that not provide a basis for supporting the race, sex, or sexual orientation that one considers to be superior?

26 comments:

Crude said...

The problem this inevitably gets to is that the atheist digs in their heels and insists that, even with atheism and materialism assumed true, they (and their community) can still value this, that or the other thing, and - if you only allow them a few unexamined claims for free - they can derive a value system.

What gets ignored is that, if we're allowing unexamined claims through the door, we can derive damn near any system we want - including opposition to same-sex marriage. People seem to be under the impression that you need full-blown theistic religion to have even a chance at concluding same-sex marriage is wrong or even undesirable, but it's as easy to do that under unrestricted secular reasoning as it is to do anything else.

Put another way: yeah, it does have implicit religious assumptions, for much the same reason Stanley Fish says it does.

John Moore said...

Just to answer the question: No, atheistic evolution does not provide a basis for supporting the race, sex, or sexual orientation that one considers superior. Evolution doesn't improve species or make them superior. It just makes them adapt to their environment. There could be an environmental niche for everyone, so everyone would be "superior" in their own special niche.

And in any case, if we "supported" one race, sex or sexual orientation, that would constitute artificial selection, which isn't evolution. For evolution you'd really need natural selection.

Steve Lovell said...

John Moore,

And in any case, if we "supported" one race, sex or sexual orientation, that would constitute artificial selection, which isn't evolution. For evolution you'd really need natural selection.

That sounds very reasonable, but I keep coming back to the same thoughts ...

If we combine atheism/materialism with evolution, I don't see what grounds there are left for distinguishing natural from artificial selection. We are simply a part of nature. Second, even if we can distinguish them, why should we suppose that either is preferable?

Indeed, it isn't uncommon these days in response to "You shouldn't play God" arguments to hear "Well someone should".

Of course selection, whether natural or artificial, also implies rejection.

Dan Gillson said...

Dr Reppert,

"The case for same-sex marriage seems to be based on equality." ... The case for same-sex marriage is based on equality before the law (or at least, it should be based on it. The logic in Justice Kennedy's position is, according to legal scholar Eugene Volokh, flawed, but that's a different topic for a different day). The inequalities that arise naturally due to circumstances or genes don't influence the way the law regards individuals. That is, someone's being stronger, or smarter, or more attractive doesn't give him or her more legal privileges than someone weaker, dumber, or uglier. Religion is partly to thank for that. After all, passages like, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," and "There is no Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus," have certainly had their influence on political theory, but that doesn't mean that the notion of equality is therefore only the province of religion.

Crude said...

Dan,

but that doesn't mean that the notion of equality is therefore only the province of religion.

There where is it the province? People try to argue philosophy or metaphysics, or appeals to preferential axioms, but ultimately the answer there seems to cash out to be 'just another religion'.

DougJC said...

"So, if atheistic evolution is true, and we were not created, would that not provide a basis for supporting the race, sex, or sexual orientation that one considers to be superior?"

If atheistic evolution is true, human beings have a set of values and goals (which in hindsight led in some way to our thriving today within the biosphere). Society's rules are an attempt to take human values and goals and distill them into propositions that meet those values and goals in order to have a thriving society. One such rule is "we were created equal" which resonates in particular way with a lot of the social instincts we have and also provides a sharp contrast to failed societies that enforced something quite different. The superiority of equality as an ideal in atheist society would be something learned by seeing the failure of inequality to truly meet human values and goals.

Crude said...

If atheistic evolution is true, human beings have a set of values and goals (which in hindsight led in some way to our thriving today within the biosphere).

They don't in any objective sense. And what qualifies as 'thriving' is every bit as subjective and groundless as anything else.

The superiority of equality as an ideal in atheist society would be something learned by seeing the failure of inequality to truly meet human values and goals.

All this cashes out to is 'People say they like equality, and they don't like inequality.' The atheists in the other country will be saying that valuing the genetic caste system / racial purity is something learned by seeing the failures of egalitarian, diverse societies. And, granting atheism and materialism, they'll be just as right as the egalitarians.

Legion of Logic said...

If atheism is a "might makes right" morality due to the majority of a society sharing certain instinctive opinions, then every atrocity ever committed by any society is perfectly moral.

David Brightly said...

It might, if moral principles had to be deduced, like Pythagoras's Theorem, from some set of moral axioms laid down for us. But why accept this? As far as I can tell, my moral formation doesn't work in this linear fashion at all. It might, however, be a religious assumption that it does, or should.

Legion of Logic said...

By what justifiable standard does an atheist express moral outrage at another?

Crude said...

By what justifiable standard does an atheist express moral outrage at another?

Appeal to brute and inexplicable emotion, apparently.

Legion of Logic said...

Whoa...why the triple post? Dumb phone.

Legion of Logic said...

But...but reason...evidence...science...

DougJC said...

Crude,

"They don't in any objective sense. And what qualifies as 'thriving' is every bit as subjective and groundless as anything else."

What I'm saying is simpler than that and not supposed to be controversial. Humans do human things for human reasons, that's what I mean by values and goals. Evolved life fills whatever niche it evolves to fill and humanity's niche is pretty much unlimited; that's what I mean by thriving. There is a direct relationship between organism behavior and its ability to adapt to its niche.

"The atheists in the other country will be saying that valuing the genetic caste system / racial purity is something learned by seeing the failures of egalitarian, diverse societies."

If so, that would be a bad argument, much like arguing vaccinations cause autism. It's something that can be resolved through reason and empirical evidence.

Legion of Logic,

"If atheism is a "might makes right" morality due to the majority of a society sharing certain instinctive opinions, then every atrocity ever committed by any society is perfectly moral."

Moral instincts are expected to be the anchor for social values and goals, something like those described at http://www.moralfoundations.org/, i.e. Care/Harm, Fairness/cheating. These are so universal that if anyone lacks them, we call them sociopaths. So this is not "might makes right", it is pro-social values -vs- anti-social values. Protecting society from anti-society is not "might makes right" it is more like self-defense.

I do agree that most atrocities are committed with the belief that doing so is morally the right thing to do. It can only be with enlightened understanding of human behavior and more sophisticated moral reasoning that one can see that moral instincts can conflict and what is felt moral can be far better understood as immoral. In practical terms, imagine trying to talk someone out of joining ISIS. We must understand that it is a profoundly moral feeling that leads young people to do that but at the same time there is a larger context in which their actions are profoundly immoral.

"By what justifiable standard does an atheist express moral outrage at another? "

Two things could be meant, here. The act of expressing moral outrage is emotion experienced and conveyed, that doesn't change. You see someone being immoral, you get angry, you show anger; you feel contempt, you show contempt. The overall message has little cognitive content other than that "I don't like your behavior because it is bad".

But how does an atheist rationally convince another atheist that something is immoral? By appeal to common goals and values. It is unlikely I'm going to run into an atheist who doesn't share at least some of my goals and values and morality under atheism is a means to bind people together to achieve shared goals and values.

Legion of Logic said...

Instincts aren't truth claims. So there is still no justification in declaring another to be immoral. Moral rationality and moral rationalization are basically the same thing, unless you assume that benefitting society is the brute fact by which all morality is judged...and that brute fact is not actually a fact by any naturalistic moral system. It is merely assumed.

Legion of Logic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Legion of Logic said...

Instincts aren't truth claims. So there is still no justification in declaring another to be immoral. Moral rationality and moral rationalization are basically the same thing, unless you assume that benefitting society is the brute fact by which all morality is judged...and that brute fact is not actually a fact by any naturalistic moral system. It is merely assumed.

David Brightly said...

Much talking to cross-purposes, here, I think. Victor talks about providing a 'basis for supporting' a superior race, etc; Crude talks about 'deriving a value system' from 'unexamined claims'; Legion wants a 'justifiable standard' and finds no 'facts' in a 'naturalistic moral system'; Doug, on the other hand, under pressure to 'justify' valuing equality, says values are acquired empirically and pragmatically.

None of this, I think, is completely right. Hence the endless opportunities for showing the other side is wrong.

Victor et al are right in so far as our values do seem to respond to exposure to rational argument. This not to say that on hearing some argument that A is more valuable than B a listener will say, OK, you have proved to me that A is better than B; from now on I'll value A more than B. It doesn't work like a math proof. Rather, the listener may find that over time his values have moved, and he may not be able to give an explanation of why. But from this susceptibility to argument it doesn't follow that our values need fit into some 'rational system'. How can they, since values so often conflict? Asking that moral attitudes be 'justified' makes no sense to me. If I'm robbed and I get angry people will understand well enough. I don't have to furnish a proof. It's what people do.

Doug alludes to the possibility that some values can be learned. There is a metaphorical sense of 'learned' in which this may be right. Our moral sentiments may have a genetic basis that has resulted from the trial and error of natural selection. Or we may learn in childhood to which behaviours in others to attach our sentimental responses, just as we can learn (and unlearn) to be afraid of spiders. Or both. This is not intellectual learning, of course. But I can't think that we come to value equality through observing the relative successes and failures of societies that have and have not valued it. Our response to inequality seems to be too visceral to be that.

DougJC said...

David Brightly,

"But I can't think that we come to value equality through observing the relative successes and failures of societies that have and have not valued it. Our response to inequality seems to be too visceral to be that."

Oh I agree. I think we have a visceral recognition of equality/inequality except when it is overridden by a visceral deference to authority, loyalty and the feeling that some persons or classes are morally contaminated and deserve their lesser status.

But making equality part of society's laws, as the US founders did, seemed to require a more dispassionate observing of the failures that inequality causes and a conscious decision to demote authority, loyalty and purity as moral forces whenever they conflict with equality.

DougJC said...

Legion of Logic,

"Instincts aren't truth claims. So there is still no justification in declaring another to be immoral. Moral rationality and moral rationalization are basically the same thing, unless you assume that benefitting society is the brute fact by which all morality is judged...and that brute fact is not actually a fact by any naturalistic moral system. It is merely assumed."

Take the pain instinct. The truth claim isn't supposed to be pain itself but the desire to be free from pain, the universal human desire not to suffer. That desire and goal is indisputably objective and true. Where rationality and empiricism comes in is the simulation and projection of possible events that may or may not lead to pain.

It's the same way with moral instincts, except instead of being triggered by physical trauma it can be triggered by social "trauma". Reducing social trauma, then, also effectively achieves the goals that individual's moral instincts drive them towards anyway. They can be argued to be similar goals.

Moral instincts are also triggered by and towards social elevation, desiring uplifted, praise-worthy societies. Enhancing and improving society and means towards those ends also achieves the goals that individual's moral instincts drive them towards anyway. They can be argued to be similar goals.

Crude said...

DougJC,

What I'm saying is simpler than that and not supposed to be controversial.

Too bad - it's controversial. Especially since 'human things', varies. Not everyone thrives in the same way. Or, for that matter, at all.

If so, that would be a bad argument, much like arguing vaccinations cause autism. It's something that can be resolved through reason and empirical evidence.

And assumptions that get snuck in.

You can wax thoughtful about reason and empirical evidence, but the fact remains that history is chock-full of what you would call racist, misogynist, certainly anti-theist civilizations... thriving. 'Diverse' nations? Less so, and usually with what amounted to a caste system in place.

These are so universal that if anyone lacks them, we call them sociopaths.

'We call them sociopaths' doesn't establish we're right or they're wrong, certainly not on the 'values' you choose to uphold. And just as universal is clannishness, tribalism, and more.

At the end of the day, you don't have empirical evidence or even much reason backing your claims about humanity. You just have a very highly subjective view, tinged with optimism about what you think is best. Which is fine, but the fact that you confuse those things for 'having an argument' or 'having evidence' isn't encouraging.

Where rationality and empiricism comes in is the simulation and projection of possible events that may or may not lead to pain.

Neither rationality nor empiricism on their own tell us whose pain we should have any concerns about whatsoever. And that's one part you paper over: 'People like to avoid pain.'? No shit. 'Everyone would like to avoid anything that causes pain, even to others.'? Completely untrue.

Moral instincts are also triggered by and towards social elevation, desiring uplifted, praise-worthy societies.

For the Fatherland!

DougJC said...

Crude,

"Especially since 'human things', varies. Not everyone thrives in the same way. Or, for that matter, at all."

Variability is fine for my point, only complete randomness--chaotic behavior--destroys it. As long as human behavior follows any patterns at all, those patterns constitute information that can be used to shape society in meaningful, empirical ways (under atheistic assumptions).

"You can wax thoughtful about reason and empirical evidence, but the fact remains that history is chock-full of what you would call racist, misogynist, certainly anti-theist civilizations... thriving."

We could also say that history is chock-full of civilizations thriving without modern medicine but that wouldn't tell us anything that interesting. We have to do comparisons across all metrics of well-being to measure the relative benefits of social structure, technology and moral advancement on individuals. If we do so, I think we find that modern egalitarian societies set the bar for individual well-being.

"'We call them sociopaths' doesn't establish we're right or they're wrong, certainly not on the 'values' you choose to uphold. And just as universal is clannishness, tribalism, and more."

I don't think sociopaths should be called wrong. Moral judgments need moral capacity and I doubt sociopaths possess it. But society still needs to be protected from them. Regarding tribalism, I would call that one of the moral instincts that is declining in importance on a generational scale and you can see the first steps towards that in Jefferson's "all men are created equal". While he could write that phrase and own slaves, shaping society around that phrase has had the long-term effect, I feel, of promoting the moral instinct of fairness and demoting the moral instinct of tribalism and loyalty.

"You just have a very highly subjective view, tinged with optimism about what you think is best"

I disagree of course. The argument I've made so far is intended to be completely objective and I welcome any criticism to the contrary.

"Neither rationality nor empiricism on their own tell us whose pain we should have any concerns about whatsoever. "

I have never argued otherwise. I have argued that moral instincts in the form of desirable and undesirable ends must exist to want anything whatsoever.

"And that's one part you paper over: 'People like to avoid pain.'? No shit. 'Everyone would like to avoid anything that causes pain, even to others.'? Completely untrue."

I have never argued otherwise. What the moral instincts do is redefine pain and pleasure at the social perspective; when I see unfairness, I feel a sense of "wrongness" that is painful but there is no physical trauma I'm experiencing. The pain is in my perception of the way people treat each other-- how society acts toward itself. When I see great self-sacrifice, I feel a sense of "elevation" that is pleasurable but there is no physical source of that pleasure, I'm again perceiving how people treat each other-- how society acts toward itself. Moral instincts are "nerves" communicating pain and pleasure between individual and society. Evolution is, essentially, not necessarily inventing something new in humanity, just another kind of super-organism. Morality is the cellular protocol of the humanity super-organism (again under the atheistic assumptions that Victor posed for the OP).

"Moral instincts are also triggered by and towards social elevation, desiring uplifted, praise-worthy societies.

For the Fatherland!
"

Or for the Church. Or for Christendom. Or for all of Humankind.

Crude said...

Doug,

Variability is fine for my point, only complete randomness--chaotic behavior--destroys it.

No, what destroys it is the acknowledgment that on your view, nothing undergirds that variability, nor judges it. It's simply not interesting. Go ahead and pull morality out of dice throws while you're at it.

We could also say that history is chock-full of civilizations thriving without modern medicine but that wouldn't tell us anything that interesting.

Sure it would: it shows just what kinds of societies are capable of thriving. 'Modern medicine', by the by, was also invented by those monolithic, typically racist and misogynistic societies.

Which again highlights your problem. You claim that your position is informed by evidence - empiricism and reason! - but then you show, very quickly, that yours is a brand of empiricism and reason that automatically excludes evidence you dislike from the outset. Which means that 'empiricism and reason' isn't in the driver's seat after all.

I don't think sociopaths should be called wrong. Moral judgments need moral capacity and I doubt sociopaths possess it.

Of course you do. Because if they did - just a vastly different moral capacity and different moral judgments from yourself - it would introduce yet more problems. Just as you ignored the variety of thriving societies that rejected your values, you ignore them too.

Instead, your data set is apparently limited to incredibly blinkered, highly subjective, willfully blind views of cherry picked western civilizations in the past 10-20 years.

I disagree of course. The argument I've made so far is intended to be completely objective and I welcome any criticism to the contrary.

It's been demonstrated repeatedly that it's not 'completely objective'. I haven't merely criticized you - I've actually killed your argument dead in the water. That you won't admit it, and in fact can't see as much, isn't a concern.

I have never argued otherwise. I have argued that moral instincts in the form of desirable and undesirable ends must exist to want anything whatsoever.

If you've 'never argued otherwise', then you're pretty well conceding that, contra yourself, your views are not 'complete objective' after all. To say nothing of your expectations.

Or for the Church. Or for Christendom. Or for all of Humankind.

Which is yet another concession of my point.

As for 'for all of Humankind', what's amusing about that is the track record of that view is pretty well null.

DougJC said...

Crude,

"nothing undergirds that variability, nor judges it.

Not in moral terms, no, since that would be circular. But what does undergird everything that humans do is what humans *want* to do. We are extremely social organisms with brains massively devoted and fine-tuned for social behavior; we come equipped at birth with complex behavior patterns that we *want* to use to enhance social function around us, both through positive and negative reinforcement.

Hume recognized that our deepest primitive instincts (passions) could not be rationally justified, but further that they did not need rational justification. Pleasure or pain receives its justification in the experience itself and is valid on that account as far as it needs to be for any being capable of experience. Indeed, how could it be any other way? Do we require a rational explanation to avoid pain? No, the experience carries all the justification needed. In the same way the moral instincts do not also require a rational explanation to heed, they're completely valid in themselves as motivating factors. Shame, guilt, pride, gratitude, contempt, anger, admiration, for example; all made valid by the power and force of the experience itself; all essentially discovered by natural selection and mutation along a random walk to an extremely social, extremely successful species, given the atheistic evolution premise.

Moral instincts are part of the many internal forces that push and pull human nature simultaneously in multiple directions in conceptual goal-space. Predicting and projecting human behavior is extremely complex, certainly. It's an N-body problem except the bodies are neural network programs ultimately designed by evolution. But complexity alone is a long ways a way from declaring atheistic morality incoherent.

" just a vastly different moral capacity and different moral judgments from yourself "

Your objection that atheist morality has nothing to say to the sociopath is true but it misses the point. Having moral instincts at all means that people other than the individual matter to some extent. But if people don't matter, as in the sociopath's case, there is no morality and no moral values to refer to. There is nothing a theist or atheist can say to the sociopath except threats of punishment, and threats of punishment isn't a moral argument.

[continued in next comment]

DougJC said...

Crude,

" just a vastly different moral capacity and different moral judgments from yourself "

Different moral concepts and judgments are a different story. But I'm not suggesting here that an atheist approach would take a normative approach at all (i.e. label those concepts "naughty"). I've pointed out before the futility of trying to shame people into accepting same-sex marriage, for example. But moral conflicts create social problems and that is the reason to look for solutions. I think a reductionist approach to morality has proven fruitful, breaking down moral instincts into categories as suggested by Haidt and other moral psychologists. Findings there seem to show that it isn't moral subjectivity at all that's the problem in serious moral conflicts, not taste or preference or whim, but which human moral instincts come to the forefront in the individual in each situation. I've stated before that everyone understands fairness and care as moral directives except when loyalty, authority and purity (as defined in moral instinct subclasses by Haidt and others) override. This provides a tentative solution: diminish the influence of the latter three moral instincts by appealing to the first two.

As Victor noted in a different post, the Christian tradition weakened the moral instinct of loyalty, by expanding the class of "neighbor". This is exactly the strategy atheistic morality would use as well to reduce moral conflict: appeal to the moral instincts that bring people together instead of the moral instincts that separate people. Is it coincidence that the moral instincts of loyalty, authority and purity seem to have steadily weakened over the generations in modern societies? I don't think so. People of all faiths and moral concepts have recognized that certain moral instincts are more prone to creating social conflict and things have subtly been allowed to change over time. Heck, exhibit A right now is legalizing same-sex marriage. That's undermining the moral purity instinct in society right there.

"Instead, your data set is apparently limited to incredibly blinkered, highly subjective, willfully blind views of cherry picked western civilizations in the past 10-20 years."

Where are you getting all that? My point is that moral law (anchored by common moral instincts experienced by the vast majority) improves over time just like technology improves. But the word "improve" isn't supposed to be normative, I'm not saying morality has gotten morally better over the years, that would be circular. I'm referring to objective standards, the same objective standards you would use to judge, say, a Tesla superior to a Ford Model-T in terms of human goals and values. Use that to to judge whether moral law today is superior to moral law in the past. So, no, there's nothing blinkered or subjective, blind, etc.
If you would like to make the argument that there are past civilizations that were more advanced morally by some objective standard related to human values and goals, I'd like to hear it. But I think the task is as difficult as arguing that an iPhone is inferior to, say, a Commodore 64.

Edgestow said...

The explicit religious assumptions of Marriage