Thursday, July 22, 2004

Pseudo-Philosophy

Wouldn't we think it odd if a science magazine had as their 'top story' a link to a creationist website? Or an article espousing the wonders of astrology? Yet the Philosophy News Service had as their previous 'Top Story' this nonsense about gay marriage, full of straw men, logical fallacies, and pseudoscience.

Consider his portrayal of the liberal argument:
Homosexuals argue they are born this way, they say. Therefore, since we can't change who we are, then we should be just as protected as minorities and females.

That's a stupid argument, and no intelligent liberal should use it. For starters, it's politically foolish to rest our case on such a flimsy premise which could well be disproved by new evidence. More importantly, the argument isn't even valid. If some people are born with a predilection for violence, that doesn't mean we should allow them to commit murders. The "it's natural!" argument is just as idiotic as the "it's unnatural!" argument; neither justifies any moral conclusion whatsoever.

Homosexuality is perfectly acceptable regardless of whether it arises from nature, nurture, or is a freely-made choice. Better arguments will reflect this. For example, one could appeal to J.S Mill's harm principle: that is, the value of liberty, and the utter lack of any decent justification for curtailing it in this case.

But the writer of this article ignores such arguments, preferring to attack the straw man. Remarkably, though, he can't even do that properly.
Why am I so sure that a gay gene "isn't there"? It's a simple matter of (surprise) Darwinism... In the case of homosexuals, same-sex couples cannot reproduce. This is the fatal flaw in the homosexual argument that homosexuality is genetic. Therefore, even if you grant that a "gay gene" did exist at one point, it couldn't have been passed along to future generations since same-sex couples can't reproduce.

There is so much wrong with this I'm not sure where to start. But I'll try anyway. (1) Genetic influences are rarely so blunt as a single "gay gene". [Note: follow the link in the update for my explanation of precisely why this is a problem for his argument.] (2) Recessive alleles can be passed on by 'carriers' who do not themselves experience its phenotypic effects. (3) Gay people can still have children the usual way. (4) Non-reproducing family members can help their relatives to pass their genes into the next generation. It's also rather telling that homosexual behaviour has been observed in other animals.

As I mentioned above, the genetic question is rather irrelevant anyway. But it's worth pointing out that this guy doesn't know what he's talking about. Just look at this fallacy:
If the presumption [in the "liberal argument"] is not true, then homosexuals do not have a right to marry.

Um, no. A false premise invalidates an argument, but it does not guarantee the falsity of the conclusion. There could always be some other argument which establishes the conclusion.

Lastly, there's the usual tripe about homosexuality being "unnatural":
[S]ame-sex sexual relations deviates from the biological standard of male-and-female sexual relations. Any other type of sexual relations (e.g., human-and-animal) is similarly deviant. Pretty black-and-white, folks... As everyone knows, male homosexual relations involves the anus. And everyone also knows that the biological function of the anus is not sexual.

It's pretty stupid to assert that just because an object has some function, it's immoral to use it for any other purpose. The biological function of the mouth is the consumption of food and drink. Does that make kissing immoral? I use my hands to play the piano. I'm pretty sure hands didn't evolve for that specific purpose though. As for the reproductive purpose of sex, I take it that the "biological standard" is fertile male-and-female couples. So does that make it "deviant" for the infertile to have sex? Should post-menopausal women not be allowed to marry either?

This article is no more philosophy than creationism is science. The Philosophy News Service should be ashamed of itself for implicitly endorsing such rubbish.

Update: For more on the first article, see the PNS forum.

3 comments:

  1. [Copied from old comments thread]

    Any other type of sexual relations (e.g., human-and-animal) is similarly deviant. Pretty black-and-white, folks.This wording amuses me because it accidentally implies that black-and-white sexual relations might be like human-and-animal sexual relations.
    Jonathan | Email | Homepage | 23rd Jul 04 - 9:34 am | #

    ------------------

    Dear Mr. Chappell,

    You seem to think that because we link to articles that we endorse them. Good news publications shouldn't be in the business of only posting articles that the publisher or editor endorses. In fact, that's the definition of biased news. We linked to the Tong article because it attempted to lay out the issue regarding gay marriage philosophically. Whether it is successful or not or whether his arguments are bad or not we leave to our reader. We link to many articles that we may or may not endorse. As a publisher, I try to expose our readers to what is being said all across the internet.

    The goal of PNS is to expose our readers to what is being presented on many sides of an issue and hopefully get people engaged in conversation. Tong's article is full of claims that we hoped would engender conversation. The fact that you spent so much time on it confirms our hope.

    Paul Pardi
    Publisher, Philosophy News Service
    Paul Pardi | Email | Homepage | 25th Jul 04 - 9:06 am | #

    ------------------------

    Perhaps my criticism wasn't clear. I certainly was not suggesting that you should only publish articles containing conclusions you agree with (that would indeed be bias).

    But I would expect specialised news services to have some basic standards (appropriate to the area of speciality). Just like science magazines shouldn't (and don't) publish pseudo-science, so their philosophical analogues should not publish articles which contain obviously poor reasoning and numerous logical fallacies. Having methodological standards (e.g. scientific method, or philosophical rigor) is not "bias", despite the claims of Creationists.

    The real problem here is that Tong's article is inherently bad philosophy (for the reasons explained in my post).

    Of course, you are free to employ whatever policy you see fit. It just seems strange to me that a philosophy publication would link to such a sloppy piece of work.
    Richard | Email | Homepage | 25th Jul 04 - 7:13 pm | #

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