Documenting the Coming Singularity

Thursday, March 01, 2007

One More Thing God Got Wrong

This post may be controversial. That's fine. If there's one thing a writer must do, it seems to me, it is to try to be honest about his or her thoughts. Here are some of mine.

In the news recently were two stories about transgendered folks losing their jobs over changing their sex. First there was the firing of John Nemecek, who had been living as a woman, from a Christian university in Michigan, when he legally changed his name to something more feminine. Then today there is the story of the City Commission of Largo moving to fire its city manager, Steve Stanton, after he announced his intention to undergo a sex-change operation.

These stories started me thinking about the fierce and ongoing debate between Bible-based religion and those who want society to accept homosexuality as a legitimate sexual preference. Of course there are many people who are Christian and homosexual. However, those who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible are correct in saying that the Bible condemns homosexual activity as sinful. This is where I think the Bible has it wrong. Again.

Anyone who studies the history of western civilization can see that the Christian church has been forced to retreat on doctrine after doctrine as science has progressively cast its light upon the nature of reality. From its assertions that the sun revolves around the earth, to the belief that the universe was created only 6,000 ago, to the account of man's creation, the church has had to rethink things, attempting to rationalize its teachings with scientific discovery. What then about homosexuality?


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What is science discovering about sexual preference? Essentially this: it is not a choice. I did not choose to be heterosexual. At no time in my life did I ever consider my options and choose to be sexually attracted to women. Further, considering the stigma associated with it, why would anyone choose to be homosexual? A very recent discovery sheds some light: It has been found that a mother's body reacts to the presence in the womb of a male fetus as "other," and that "a prenatal mechanism may affect men's sexual orientation" (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

If a certain percentage of the population will develop a sexual preference for the same sex, and if that orientation is as powerful and intrinsic as is my preference for the opposite sex, how can it be morally wrong? And how can its condemnation be justified? No one would tell a straight person that he or she can never marry and never express express their sexuality. So how can it be acceptable to demand this of homosexuals?

What do I conclude? That once again, the biblical authors spoke from their own prejudices and those that pervaded their own era. And once again, the religious will find themselves having to retreat in the face of discovery.

Finally, I say Who cares if your city manager is a women instead of a man? What difference could that possibly make?

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12 comments :

Spaceman Spiff said...

Let's start by dealing with the question "Can something be 'morally wrong' even if it wasn't the result of choice?"

I would suggest that the answer is yes. Why would wrongness or rightness depend upon choice? I would suggest rather than what you're trying to get at is the responsibility of that person for the moral rightness or wrongness of the action.

We all have dispositions or bents that are not morally right. They aren't our fault, but are nonetheless morally wrong.

So the argument from science that homosexuality isn't a choice really has little bearing on whether it is right or wrong morally.

Indeed, if choice is required for something to be wrong, then can materialistic science claim that *anything* is wrong at all? What *does* science claim is the result of choice in any way that would make a person responsible for it?

The answer of course has to be nothing at all, since materialism has to relegate "choice" to be illusory, merely the result of inevitable chemical reactions inside your brain.

But if we take a view that there is in a fact a right and a wrong, (which materialism unfortunately can't) then things can certainly be wrong without having been chosen.

Barry Mahfood said...

Good points.

My replies:

1. My point is that the Bible teaches that a sexual desire for someone of the same sex is detestable, when we are understanding now that some people, for the most part, are created that way. To hold someone morally responsible for a predeliction that is not their choice is what I find fault with.

2. Because we are empathetic creatures, we have an innate sense that anything that causes suffering in another person is "wrong." It is not "wrong" before an all powerful God, but rather it is condemned by people as wrong because it violates our empathetic capacity to feel the pain of other people.

Spaceman Spiff said...

1. As I said there is a distinction between it being morally wrong and them being held responsible for it. It would be very hard to demonstrate that the Bible teaches that they are to be "held responsible" for "feeling sexual attraction to someone of the same gender." On the other hand, I think you are right that the Bible teaches it to be morally wrong.

The Bible also teaches that is morally wrong to be "hot-headed" or "prone to lust and infidelity" and yet we have very little choice about those things, and it doesn't exactly teach that we are to be "held responsible" for them.

I think its much safer to say the Bible teaches these things to be results of the Fall, and therefore deplorable and morally wrong, without being something the person should be punished for.

2. It would be difficult to demonstrate that the human race is empathetic as a whole and more often than it is un-empathetic. Clearly there have been humans who couldn't be characterized as empathetic. What makes being empathetic any better than being unempathetic?

You seem to be saying, "Because most of us feel that way some of the time." Under this view, all we have to say to the Nazis is "stop that because it makes most of us feel bad to think of you doing those things!"

And again, since the Nazis were merely acting in the way they inevitably had to due to chemistry and neuropsychology, there's no way in which you could claim that they shoud be "held responsible" for their actions.

Barry Mahfood said...

1. The Bible allows for the expression of heterosexual desire within the context of marriage, while it condemns and forbids a similar expression among homosexuals. Neither group chose their orientation. To forbid the one as detestable and laud the other as sacred is not rational.

2. Do you think that the Allied soldiers vomited and wept at the sight of the extermination camps because of their religion? It was a visceral, human reaction to the extreme suffering in view, not a religious response to something the Bible says is wrong. At least that is my view. Slavery was not primarily condemned from a religious perspective, but rather from a human reaction that allowed people to see that the slaves were suffering, and to feel that suffering in their own consciousness. I, who do not believe in God, would become incensed at the sight of someone abusing a child. Again, the reason for that reaction is not because of a religious doctrine, but the ability to feel another's suffering.

Spaceman Spiff said...

1. I don't see why there should be a relationship between choice and whether something is right or wrong. This is distinct from whether they should be "held responsible" for it.

Let's take an example. Say a guy had a sexual desire (that he didn't choose) for his mother. Is that wrong? Society wouldn't allow them to express that desire in a marriage, even though neither of them chose that sexual desire.

According to your reasoning, their desire cannot be wrong/incorrect because it cannot be chosen, but I think you'll agree that this desire would in fact be morally wrong. They shouldn't be punished for it, but they certainly wouldn't be allowed to marry. Are you defending the mother and son who want to marry as well?

2. I never made the claim that people without religion don't feel empathy. I only claimed this:

A) You argued that someone cannot be held responsible for something they did not choose.

B) Materialism implies that choice is nothing but neurochemistry/neuropsychology, and thus isn't really meaningful.

C) Therefore, materialists cannot hold anybody responsible for anything, since their choices only resulted from chemistry, etc. and they couldn't have done any different.

Christianity doesn't teach, nor did I argue, that people should feel like something is wrong only because it is written. On the contrary, I believe that both the fact that I feel its wrong and the fact that it is written are because it is in fact wrong.

The materialist cannot make such a claim. In fact, as I said, no matter how strongly they feel, all they can say is "I don't like that, it makes me feel bad!" The unempathetic materialist can yell right back "Well I DO like it!" and neither is in a position of greater or lesser strength morally.

We both acknowledge that humans have feelings that some things are good and some things are bad, but the theist can explain that by saying, there is a real Good and Bad that we're talking about, while the materialist has to confess the only reason he can really give is that he doesn't like it.

Sure you can say its because you don't like human suffering. So what? Someone else does like to see people suffer. On what grounds can you claim to be right while he is wrong if there is no such thing as right and wrong except inside your own heads?

Is it wrong because society *says* its wrong? What if the majority was in favor of hurting people? Would that make hurting people right?

I would say not. The theist can say there is a right and wrong bigger than both of us, which neither of us grasps perfectly, but which nonetheless we are both held to. The materialist can only claim the intensity of their emotions.

Barry Mahfood said...

>>Let's take an example. Say a guy had a sexual desire (that he didn't choose) for his mother. Is that wrong? Society wouldn't allow them to express that desire in a marriage, even though neither of them chose that sexual desire.<<

In most cases there would be harm to others, indeed to themselves and by extension to others. The genetic weaknesses would certainly but any offspring at risk, and the mother and son would damage each other psychologically.

>>You argued that someone cannot be held responsible for something they did not choose.<<

I didn't mean to imply that as a blanket amnesty. I only applied it to the case at hand where no one is harmed.

>>Someone else does like to see people suffer. On what grounds can you claim to be right while he is wrong if there is no such thing as right and wrong except inside your own heads?<<

It is objectively wrong because people are harmed. It is subjectively wrong because I can empathize.

>>What if the majority was in favor of hurting people? Would that make hurting people right? <<

There have indeed been cases where the majority wanted to do harm with no redeeming value to their actions. Such acts will be judged wrong in the larger context of history.

I don't claim that these decisions are simple. This is why ethics is such an important field of study.

>>while the materialist has to confess the only reason he can really give is that he doesn't like it.<<

In the end this is all we have: our own judgment about doing harm to others. Even the religious person is left, in the final analysis, with the fact that he does not like it. Sure, he may claim the Bible as his guide, but he will not condemn things the Bible says are wrong unless he agrees. Take materialism for example. To what degree is it wrong to want material things? People disagree about that all the time.


There are things that we believe are wrong, not because they are written, but because of our empathy. Slavery is never condemned in the Bible, and yet society has moved past that age.

CinnamongirlFla said...

Study, schmutty....all you hafta do is looks at peoples' plumbing parts and see where they fit and that tells you what is intrinsic...God got it right...it's all in the design.

CinnamongirlFla said...

*look*

Spaceman Spiff said...

There are several points here that we're hung up on, but this seems to me to be the most important. I don't see how from a materialist worldview there can be any objective right or wrong. Do right and wrong come from particles? Why is human life *objectively*? Of course I see why humans would value other humans, but how do you make the leap to saying harming people is *objectively* wrong?

Barry Mahfood said...

objective: undistorted by emotion or personal bias; based on observable phenomena; "an objective appraisal"; "objective evidence"

We have decided that causing suffering or harm to other humans is wrong (exceptions do exist, obviously). We can sit in a courtroom and dispassionately judge a murderer to be deserving of punishment. We do not need to cite scripture to do this. I believe, or speculate, that a society that had no Bibles would nonetheless condemn the murderer in this same way.

Spaceman Spiff said...

Ok, how can you claim that "We have decided..." is "undistorted by emotion or personal bias"? Anytime your justification is "we have decided..." that is what we call subjective: with reference to a subject, not objective, which would mean true independent of whether anyone ever believed it, or history ever judged it to be wrong.

To claim objective morals, you would have to be able to say "suffering *is* bad" not "we have decided suffering is bad".

Once again, the claim to objectiviity of morals in theism has very little to do with whether or not something is in the Bible or whether people have moral feelings with or without religion. The point is that religion *explains* and gives a fundamental *grounding* for the fact that we believe some things are just wrong, and would be wrong whether or not anybody believed it to be.

Materialism has to explain this as merely a functional adaptation. We only believe things are wrong because those beliefs are better adapted to survival, which is of course not what anyone means by the word "true."

Barry Mahfood said...

>>Once again, the claim to objectiviity of morals in theism has very little to do with whether or not something is in the Bible or whether people have moral feelings with or without religion. The point is that religion *explains* and gives a fundamental *grounding* for the fact that we believe some things are just wrong, and would be wrong whether or not anybody believed it to be.<<

I agree with this assessment. However, I believe that in the real world, the morals that are actually operative are not "objective" ones, but human ones. If things are right or wrong independently of human thought, then how can one ever know the rules? If you say they are put in our souls by God, then we are back to however humans interpret these inner rules. If you say we know them from the Bible, you are still relying on human interpretation and you are forced to ask, what about other sacred books?