Friday, May 26, 2017

Is there a scientific answer to the question of same-sex marriage?

What can repeatable scientific investigation show?
One group of people believe that homosexual relationships should be treated as marriages by the government. Another group believes that this ought not to be done. Demographically, there are more conservative religious people on one side as opposed to the other, but this, I contend, is neither here nor there. The question is whether, by use of the scientific method can determine whether the government should marry gay couples or not. 
The answer seems to be that science can't tell us a whole lot here. It can  maybe tell us, to what extent, people with homosexual inclinations have the power to choose to enter into heterosexual marriages. Maybe. Maybe it can figure out whether gay couples can be as successful as straight couples in the role of adoptive parents. But then what? 
The argument for same-sex marriage is based on the principle of equal treatment, the idea that people who are not relevantly different should not be treated differently.  That is based on what scientific argument, that all men are created equal and were endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights? Oops, that sounds a little creationist to me, doesn't it, and creationism is a no-no in science. 
Survival of the fittest? That sounds like a scientific principle all right. And being a gay couple is certainly a recipe for Darwinian disaster, right? Can't get any kids that way, right? So, maybe science shows that we shouldn't allow gay marriage because gay couples aren't doing their Darwinian jobs and aren't repopulating the species. 
Don't like this argument? Maybe you are going to remind me that you can't get moral imperatives out of scientific facts. EXACTLY. Science cannot prove that gay marriage is justified. Or that it isn't. 




21 comments:

Jimmy S. M. said...

" Maybe you are going to remind me that you can't get moral imperatives out of scientific facts. EXACTLY. Science cannot prove that gay marriage is justified."

Not going to disagree with that.
However, one more data point you've excluded, if you were trying to make this case, which in my opinion is the most compelling, is the psychological health and well being of the people involved in same sex marriages. The love and companionship it affords them, and the security and acceptance that legal acknowledgement confers. A study conducted by psychologist and prominent ex-mormon Dr. John Dehlin bears this out http://www.johndehlin.com/summary-findings-of-our-mormonlgbt-research/.

Victor Reppert said...

I don't know that it is great news that gay couples are happier when they have marriage licenses.

Hugo Pelland said...

This is a non-issue. Why should the government care about the gender of 2 individuals getting into a marriage contract? The government doesn't care when 2, 3, or more people start a company; it should be the same thing with marriage under the law. It's just a legal contract between 2 people, regardless of gender. It's really that simple...

Hugo Pelland said...

And we discussed that 2 years ago btw so I will personally not add anything more to that conversation, I think... unless someone has something interesting to say, but I won't hold my breath.
http://dangerousidea.blogspot.ca/2015/10/marriage-and-limiting-government.html

Victor Reppert said...

That wasn't my point. My point was that nothing about the rightness or wrongness of gay marriage follows from scientific fact. Scientific facts do not entail the principle that people ought to be treated equally. In fact, scientific facts can never entail any such thing. If anything, survival of the fittest says that nature undermines this principle.

Here is what Russell had to say:

While it is true that science cannot decide questions of value, that is because they cannot be intellectually decided at all, and lie outside the realm of truth and falsehood. Whatever knowledge is attainable, must be attained by scientific methods; and what science cannot discover, mankind cannot know.

Bertrand Russell Religion and Science (1935), Ch. IX: Science and Ethics

It follows from Russell's statement that a statement like "Legalizing same-sex marriage is a good thing to do," is something we cannot know.

My claim was epistemological. Some people have a scientistic epistemology, but they also claim to know that we ought to allow same-sex couples to marry. That, I am arguing, is an incoherent position.

Hugo Pelland said...

Well you also didn't get what my point was then, because I did get what yours was and my answer was that it's an irrelevant point. Not that you are wrong, nor that those who would claim scientific knowledge on this topic are right. It's just not relevant to discuss gender here and thus makes it a non-issue, unless you want to impose some religious dogmas like some of your readers wish to do...

Victor Reppert said...

The reason I mention this particular issue is that a lot of people who believe in the kind of scientistic epistemology that I mention are very morally passionate in their defense of same-sex marriage. But their rejection of moral realism entails that someone can oppose gay marriage just because they don't like gay people, pure and simple.

The argument that same-sex marriage is a non-issue involves an implied acceptance of a principle that says that people should be treated equally without a relevant difference. But that principle cannot be established by science, and therefore is not a possible piece of knowledge.

In fact we can look at this kind of statement:

"It is wrong to impose your religious dogmas on others through the power of the state."

To assert that is to accept a version of moral realism. If moral realism is false, then you have no answer to the question "Why the hell shouldn't I shove my religion down your throat. It is not as if the God who doesn't exist is going to punish me for shoving my religion down your throat, right? In fact, it is not even a fact that ought not to do anything like that.

Doestoyevsky once said "If there is no God, everything is permitted." At the very least,
if moral realism is false, then everything is permitted. That includes racism, sexism, homophobia, and forcing others to accept your own religion through the power of the state. The most you can say about any of these things is that you don't like them. Not a very impressive argument in my book.

A few posts back I asked people to come up with evidence for the existence of human rights in much the way atheists demand that religious believers provide evidence for their God. To my surprise, two atheists immediately responded by saying that they were skeptical of human rights as well. But the case for gay marriage is a human rights argument. If there are no human rights, the case for gay rights, and gay marriage, evaporates.

Hugo Pelland said...

Ok well there is some interesting things here it seems after all! But I apologize in advance if it sounds confrontational; it's just my honest opinion and I hope you don't mind:

"a lot of people who believe in the kind of scientistic epistemology [...]"

I already told you that I find them as irrelevant as you are when it comes to discussing the topic of government defining laws. Marriage is nothing more, nothing less, than a contract between 2 people, 2 individuals, 2 adults, 2 citizen... their gender is completely irrelevant. Historically, it had a lot to do with sexual orientation, yes, but we are way passed that. Even most religious people, in the so-called West, are passed that. Now that we know that homosexuality is just some innate preferences that nobody chooses, just like nobody chooses to prefer vanilla over chocolate, it is completely irrelevant to discuss gender when drawing up marriage-related rules and regulations, as it involves 2 consenting adults entering a contract with each other. It has nothing to do with anybody else but them.

"But their rejection of moral realism entails [...]"

And I also think that this is absurd. It makes no sense to reject moral realism, objective morality. If one believes in such a thing as truth, then there is necessarily some form of moral truth as well. What's really difficult and complicated is that nobody agrees on what these moral truths are but there is no doubt in my mind that relativists are completely wrong. Yes, moral judgement are relatives to the situations, contexts, and so many other things, but there is only 1 moral truth to every single scenario we can think of.

I just finished an ethics class, nothing super advanced as it was just under 20 hours of class time, but I was shocked to hear the lack of defense from the relativist side, yet such a huge percentage of agreement. (There was a lot of class participation involved and the topic did come up many times.) I almost got into a fight with 2 fellow students who had the most absurd defense, from otherwise super smart people, the kind that would follow the scientific approach you talk about. But who cares what they are saying as soon as they reject moral realism? Why don't you just point out that they are wrong on that and that's it? If they imply that there is no objective morality, then they are in no place to make any judgement on anything at all, given that they literally state that anyone opinion is just as good as anyone else's. But it is simply not the case. Just like for truth in general. In doesn't matter that everyone believed the Earth was flat 3,000 years ago, they were all wrong. Just like it doesn't matter that so many religious people believe that homosexuality is something evil, especially the less educated ones (now let's include non-Western countries). They are wrong, demonstrably wrong.

"A few posts back I asked people to come up with evidence for the existence of human rights [...] To my surprise, two atheists immediately responded by saying that they were skeptical of human rights as well."

Ya I read that, *smh*, and moved along. One has to pick and choose their battles, right?

But you are contradicting yourself here. How can you be 'surprised' that they were skeptical of universal human rights when you keep assuming left and right that most, if not all, Atheists are necessarily rejecting moral realism?

In other words, on the one hand you attack a position of moral realism that many do hold, and on the other hand you are surprised when these same people whose position you attack do show a leaning against moral realism? So are you saying that you are trying to trick people into admitting to a position that they do hold, but do not really know they hold? Or what about individuals like me who clearly state that they do not hold that position you are attacking? I obviously not alone...

David Brightly said...

Victor: One group of people believe that homosexual relationships should be treated as marriages by the government.

Is it really a question of belief or knowledge, scientific or not? I doubt many gay campaigners see it as a question in moral realism, but some might.

Victor: The argument that same-sex marriage is a non-issue involves an implied acceptance of a principle that says that people should be treated equally without a relevant difference. But that principle cannot be established by science, and therefore is not a possible piece of knowledge.

Maybe not, but it's a principle both parties are likely to agree to. Where they differ is in what might count as a relevant difference.

Victor: If moral realism is false, then you have no answer to the question "Why the hell shouldn't I shove my religion down your throat...?"

The answer, regardless of the truth or falsity of moral realism, is, "Because if you try I may well shove my fist down yours." That's the only possible response to someone who can't see how objectionable his proposal is.

Victor: But the case for gay marriage is a human rights argument. If there are no human rights, the case for gay rights, and gay marriage, evaporates.

Is the case dependent on the existence of human rights? If it were then gay campaigners have missed a wrinkle. For they could claim that their rights had been denied them and they could demand compensation. As far as I know this isn't happening. They are asking to be granted the same rights that society grants to straight married couples. Of course, in doing so they may be appealing to our sense of fairness and hoping this will over-ride any consideration that traditional marriage rights are granted precisely because of the consequences of heterosexuality.

Hugo: ...it is completely irrelevant to discuss gender when drawing up marriage-related rules and regulations, as it involves 2 consenting adults entering a contract with each other. It has nothing to do with anybody else but them.

If this were true then gay couples could obtain all they want by freely entering such contracts. But this clearly isn't enough. What they would like is the right, for example, for partners to be recognised as next-of-kin. This imposes an obligation on others, such as medical staff, probate officials, pension companies, etc. Even on a narrow legal conception (leaving out spiritual considerations) marriage is not simply a contract between two individuals.

Hugo Pelland said...

"What they would like is the right, for example, for partners to be recognised as next-of-kin. This imposes an obligation on others, such as medical staff, probate officials, pension companies, etc. Even on a narrow legal conception (leaving out spiritual considerations) marriage is not simply a contract between two individuals."

What you described is precisely what contracts are for...

Victor Reppert said...

Hugo, you actually agree with me on this. If I were in your argument with the relativists you ran into, gay marriage would have helped you, simply because it is something I strongly suspect both you and they agree upon. But on their own view, support for gay marriage, which you and they would agree is a matter of justice. And you can't say that denying gay marriage is unjust and at the same time say things like this:

The theory which I have been advocating is a form of the doctrine which is called the "subjectivity" of values. This doctrine consists in maintaining that that, if two men differ about values, there is not a disagreement as to any kind of truth, but a difference of taste. If one man says "oysters are good" and another says "I think they are bad," we recognize that there is nothing to argue about. The theory in question holds that all differences as to values are of this sort, although we do not naturally think them so when we are dealing with matters that seem to us more exalted than oysters.-Bertrand Russell

http://www.personal.kent.edu/~rmuhamma/Philosophy/RBwritings/scienceEthics.htm

David Brightly said...

Victor: And you can't say that denying gay marriage is unjust and at the same time say things like this: [assertion of subjectivity of value]

Why not? Surely we can say that some practice is just or unjust relative to some prevailing set of values. Our problem is that Western societies are evolving away from a homogeneous value system inspired by Christianity and becoming more heterogeneous, making the subjectivity of value more apparent to us within our own societies.

Psychological science may be able to tell us something of the structure of our moral sensibilities, eg, Haidt. It may be able to predict an individual's attitude to some moral question on this basis. But this doesn't get us far and it's easier to ask the individual directly. Nor can it help decide what is good for society 'as a whole'. That would be a kind of historicism.

Hugo Pelland said...

Victor, we do agree yes, and I wonder where exactly Russell would disagree. Because we can draw a parallel between the values he mentions and truth, or objective facts. I don't know and need to read more on that...

David Brightly said...

You are missing the essential point, Hugo. A mere contract between two people creates rights and obligations on the signatories, and no-one else. A marriage, in contrast, places duties in addition on everyone else, to recognise the pair as a couple, to eschew sexual entanglement with the partners for example, and in the case of medical, legal, and other professionals, to recognise the partners as next-of-kin.

Hugo Pelland said...

Right I haven't addressed your point David, but I did get it. It's just that I don't see relevant examples here regarding gender, specifically. Any contract can imply others too, not just marriage, and not much regarding marriages concern anybody else.

To take 1 of your examples, the notion of sexual entanglement has nothing to do with the legal marriage the government regulates, thankfully! Married couples can do whatever they want, and non-married couples are mostly monogamous despite not being married.

Another example was next-of-kin, something any individual is, and should be, free to choose. This doesn't affect anybody else, and it's actual awful to suggest that others' opinion matter here! Is that really what you think?

Every example would be like these, so that's why I had not addressed your main point directly; the gender of the participants in marriage contracts is, or should be, completely irrelevant to others. Nobody has a right to not be offended by how others choosr to lobe ther life, and nobody should be forced into a different lifestyle because it offends some.

David Brightly said...

Well, Hugo, what do you think gays want from marriage? Is there something positive and desirable that the institution offers that is over and above a mere legal contract between two people? Apparently not. Is it then as a symbol of equality and acceptance? Or is it the undoing of wrongful discrimination, the establishment of a right denied? What, exactly, is all the fuss about?

Hugo Pelland said...

David, I think you are asking the wrong question at the beginning, but the correct one at the end. It's not about what gays want from marriage; it's about what gays were prevented from getting because they are gay. It is in fact a right being denied. Legally, that's really all there is.

The point I am making when it comes to marriage really is just about the legal framework and it has nothing to do with the morality aspect of homosexuality. In other words, even if start with the notion that homosexuality is wrong, I would ague that there is still no reason to include gender in the definition of a legal government-sanctioned marriage between 2 individuals. It could be 2 friends who decided that they want to be married for tax and next-of-kin purposes say. It's a weird example but it's just to illustrate the point that it's a contract that 2 people decide to get into, for their own personal reason, and nothing else.

Of course, I am not denying the much more complex reality of gay rights battles over the last few decades, or centuries... but again I am just making a point about marriage that actually decouples the issue from homosexuality, and thus makes it much simpler to address in my opinion.

David Brightly said...

OK, Hugo, let me see if I can bring out what I see as an inconsistency in what you are claiming. You say that marriage is nothing more than a contract between two people which is illegal when made between two men, just to be specific. So suppose you and a male chum go to an attorney and ask to have a contract drawn up. You explain what you want put into the contract. The attorney says, I'm sorry, gentlemen, but I can't do this, it would be illegal. Now it can't be illegal just because you are two men. A contract for a property sale or setting up a business partnership between two men is perfectly OK. So there must be something in the contract, plus the fact that you are two men that makes it illegal. What might that be?

Hugo Pelland said...

Yep, you are correct, that's how it works now. 2 friends could not be married, no matter how serious they are bout it. But I think that's wrong... and I thought it was clear that I was sharing my opinion, a very uncommon one. I have actually never heard anyone mention it like that.

Because marriage laws were created after a long history of marriages implying a union between a man and a woman who have the intention to form a family, we are still stuck with this idea that marriage is not just a legal contract, and it even has obvious religious undertone, even when we pick a "minister"-of-the-day, as I did when a friend married my wife and I... why did she need to have that title instead of just a witness? And we already need witnesses so they could just increase the number required, I don't know... but the point is just that it goes to show how the legal action of getting married still has a lot of unnecessary overlapped with the notion of a religious wedding, or of a secular personal love bond between 2 people who chose to spend their lives together.

I will add 1 more personal example, the other way around. My sister has 2 children, has been with their father for over 12 years, they bought a house together, and got both kids baptized, but... never got married. Yet, in the moral or religious sense, I would argue that she is more 'married' than many couples who did get married. So why did they not get married legally then? Well, it doesn't matter, that's the point. She has her reasons and it's her decision to keep that legal aspect off the table. But if she were with another woman, and anti-gay-rights folks had their way, it would not be an option, she would be forced to take that route of not getting married, while heterosexual couples could decide.

David Brightly said...

Thanks, Hugo. I see your point of view more clearly now. But you take my point, I think, that as currently conceived and made concrete in law the institution of marriage is more than a mere contract, even though you might prefer to see it reduced to that. With Western societies becoming ever more 'fluid' it seems we may yet get there! But as I've grown older I've become more socially conservative. Traditionally, the state has regulated marriage because we all have an interest in the children that tend to result from it, and marriage is a convenient legal framework for achieving this. But with more couples deserting marriage, more divorces, more single parenthood, we have had to decouple our arrangements for children from the institution of marriage anyway. I do find it rather strange that just as the institution seems to be dwindling away there are people for whom it wasn't designed coming forward and demanding to be let in! One of the things we are getting wrong in the West, in my view, is that we don't explain to ourselves why we have the institutions we do, how they work, why we need them and should be proud of them. But this is a deeply conservative view and times are changing fast. I'll stop there.

Hugo Pelland said...

Sure, I'm glad I made myself clear, and I agree with the notion of wanting to encourage an environment that's best for children. It saddens me that there are more divorce and single parents than ever before, when it affects children. The stats always show negative correlations with kids' wellbeing and life success.

At the same time though, I believe Liberty and Equality under the law has to come first and we should not force people into arrangements they don't want nor denying rights to others for unjustifiable reasons. When it comes to gay marriage it certainly was the case before it was legal in the western world and it still is a struggle, if not a death sentence, in other parts if the world.

Also, one last detail is that if we forget children, there are tons of other reasons for gays to want to get married, legally. Hospitals visit, immigration, tax deductions, inheritance, etc... and these are really why I say we should see it as nothing more than a contract between 2 willing individuals.