A Secular Sort of Dominionism

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A Liberal Idea of Civility

A First Things: Evangel commenter who goes by “Remember Rollen” had this to say in the discussion on Hunter Baker’s article on dominionism:

If a “gay rights” law touching basic matters of justice cannot be justified in terms we can reasonably expect others to accept, then we violate a liberal ideal of civility when we restrict the freedoms of others through that law.

But I don’t quite see this with respect to [the overturning of] Prop. 8. (But you are surely here in in a better position to point out something I don’t see.) Maybe you can point to something in the court transcripts that contains the sort of violation you have in mind.

There is an attractive sort of ideal expressed there, one that I could really appreciate, if only it could work. Yes, let’s let our policies be guided by what we can reasonably expect others to accept. Since this came up in the context of dominionism, I take it that for Remember Rollen, this is one of the best ways to head off dangers of the sort represented by dominionism. (Whether there’s anything there that needs heading off is a different question. I do not know where Remember Rollen stands on that question, but it seems he is at least concerned about dangers of the sort that dominionism is supposed to present. I will refer to him as “RR” here, and I’ll accept the risk that I might be wrong in using the masculine pronoun.)

His point in that passage is this: if we can find a way to limit our public policy decisions to principles that can “be justified in terms we can reasonably expect others to accept,” then we can be assured no one’s freedom will ever be limited, except in ways they could reasonably be expected to agree with. That certainly sounds consistent with Western democratic principles. Unfortunately, working out that ideal presents problems that may be insurmountable.

Comprehensive Doctrines

To see why that is the case, let’s take a further look at what RR has to say. How can we identify “terms we can reasonably expect others to accept”? His approach to that relies on the concept of comprehensive doctrines. He presents a full definition of comprehensive doctrines in comment #27 on that thread. The following presents the concept by way of an example:

One can’t reasonably expect, for example, others to believe in papal infallibility, even if it might be a belief within a reasonable enough comprehensive doctrine. Therefore, if a Catholic is looking for a way to respectfully cooperate with non-Catholics, he should not impose rules whose justification, in all honesty, presupposes papal infallibility–even if papal infallibility is true….

What we’re talking about is what we can reasonably expect our fellow citizens to accept as a justification, given that they, reasonable enough, may not share our particular comprehensive worldview.

Again, this seems an attractive ideal. All of us would strongly prefer that our freedoms not be impinged upon by doctrines we don’t agree with. Religious beliefs are the obvious, prime examples of comprehensive doctrines on which not everyone can be expected to agree. Therefore it follows that we might want to maintain a safe and protective distance between religious belief and public policy. Referring now to RR’s first quote above, we can draw a clear application: if non-religious beliefs are insufficient to justify laws against gay “marriage,” then it is illiberal to have such laws on the books.*

Two Key Assumptions Behind the “Liberal Idea of Civility”

Unfortunately there’s more going on in this than may be immediately obvious. What if there is some unrecognized comprehensive doctrine at play in the push to change marriage law—one that we can’t all reasonably be expected to accept? I believe there is such a doctrine. Though it is virtually invisible to public consciousness, it is the ideological powerhouse behind the gay “marriage” movement. Homosexual advocacy is just one piece of it, though, a particular expression of it, if you will; for it is larger—more comprehensive—than that. This doctrine rests at the conceptual core of a movement that appears more like an irreligious analogue to “dominionism”—with aspirations as totalizing as any imagined theocracy—than a liberalizing movement of freedom.

And with that I’m in danger of sounding as much a conspiracy theorist as the dominionismists. Before you conclude I’ve joined the list of the loonies, let me explain what I mean. I’ll continue to use the marriage issue for purposes of illustration. Obviously America is embroiled in a heated dispute over what marriage is and should be. RR’s position appears to be that any law that restrict homosexuals’ freedom to marry each other could be—and probably is—a gross violation of civil liberty. It seems to me, however, that he has missed two key assumptions on which his argument depends. I haven’t asked him whether he accepts those assumptions as his own, but it seems to me it would be hard for anyone to affirm his position without them.

These two critical assumptions are:

  1. The definition of marriage is expandable to include same-sex unions
  2. That expansion can be accomplished through the law

It should not be hard to see how crucial these assumptions are to his position. He has said that it is (or at least it could be) a violation of civil liberty to enact laws that restrict persons’ freedom to marry. But if the definition of marriage were fixed and not susceptible to being changed (Assumption 1), or even if it were expandable but not expandable through law (Assumption 2), then it would be impossible for laws based on traditional marriage, or the enactment of such laws,** to be responsible for any violation of civil liberties, as RR says they might be. Absent these assumptions, marriage is what marriage is, and no law could possibly do anything to change it. We do not hold agents responsible for circumstances over which they have no power. If law cannot define marriage, then it cannot be held to blame for what marriage is or is not. You might as well call the law illiberal for not letting us all do slam-dunks like LeBron James. Apart from Assumptions 1 and 2, we could never sensibly suppose that “we violate a liberal ideal of civility when we restrict the freedoms of others through that law.”

Obviously same-sex “marriage” advocates accept Assumptions 1 and 2. I’d be willing to bet most of them do so implicitly. (I am speaking generally of same-sex “marriage” proponents now, not of RR in particular.) Believing as I do that these are implicit and thus unexamined assumptions for many of them, I also think it likely that few have recognized the possibility that others might not likewise share these assumptions implicitly. Regardless of whether they hold these assumptions implicitly or not, they take it that the form that marriage takes depends on nothing but human choices endorsed through man-made law. “Traditional” marriage is just that: traditional; and traditions are human-determined things. Same-sex “marriage” would on that view be a different thing, but no less and no more human-determined.

Thus (on that view) the struggle over marriage is between two human-defined, legally-endorsed conceptions of marriage. It is just human conception against another. Therefore the most rational principle for settling the marriage question seems to be that of liberty and freedom. It ought to be quite simple, in those terms. No one could see it otherwise unless they were insecure in their sexuality, a hater, a hide-bound traditionalist, or some other form of annoying irrationalist.

And Another Comprehensive Doctrine

From where do these assumptions come, however? Is there some comprehensive doctrine underlying them? I think there is, and ironically it bears striking relationship to Christian doctrines of dominion. I’m not talking about dominionism now, but Christian understandings of the term “dominion” in Genesis 1:26, 28. The term is interpreted in various ways by various Christians. Typically these interpretations start from what it is to be human: that we are a special, unique kind of being, created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27, sandwiched between the two references to dominion.) Though interpretations of dominion differ, they all feature some aspects of reality over which humans are understood to have stewardship or control, and other aspects over which we do not.

The assumptions underlying same-sex “marriage” advocacy also hang on what we understand it is to be human, and what it is we may or may not control. It is of course a secular conception. It tells us in the first place that we are evolved creatures; or more precisely, evolving creatures. Therefore humanness (what it means to be human) has no fixed nature. There is no such thing as the essence of humanness, for evolution does not produce essences, it produces populations in the process of change. What we are is we have evolved to be, but that is only a snapshot along the road. To speak of an evolved species like homo sapiens as if it is some permanent thing is to deny the core of evolutionary theory. Crucially, this is true both for physiology and behavior. Therefore marriage, being a product of evolved and evolving humans, must be an evolved and evolvable institution. There is no fixed nature or essence of marriage.

Now, somehow along the way we humans developed a unique capacity to recognize and thus direct the course of evolution, especially that of human behavioral norms and institutions. This evolutionary insight informs us that marriage is what we humans have defined it to be, and nothing else than that. That being so, we have the freedom to define it differently if we want. It is no stretch of language to say that we have dominion over the definition of marriage. That freedom, that dominion, is limited only by the practical necessity of coming to social agreement on what marriage is, and to enforce that agreement to whatever extent we might find useful. We do that through the law. Therefore marriage is what the law says it is.

It’s About Marriage and More

It’s not just marriage, by the way. It’s also family, and it’s maleness and femaleness. These are no more fixed, unalterable concepts than humanness is. If the law lets you choose your gender, then you can choose your gender, regardless of what the old biology books might tell you about your body. If you want to throw off all concepts of male and female entirely, then you can do that too, as long as the law allows; for these things are in eternal flux, and what authority is there to restrict you from adding your own impetus to that flux?

Let’s put this in context. Assumptions 1 and 2 are absolutely necessary for gay-rights advocacy to make sense; but they in turn require some underlying theory, some doctrine to justify them. They find this in the pervasive Western doctrine of the unfixed, ever-changing biology and behavior of the human species, as described in evolutionary theory. It is a comprehensive doctrine, for mainstream science (the arbiter of such decisions for Western society) has decreed that it is the explanation for all of biology and all of behavior.

Whether It Is True or Not

I do not present this as an anti-evolutionary screed. That’s not the point. RR said that Catholicism should not be imposed upon those who disagree with it “even if papal infallibility is true.” In the same way, we could say that evolution-based views of humans should not be imposed on others, even if it is true. Actually, I don’t claim to know for certain whether evolutionary theory is necessary to ground Assumptions 1 and 2; nor do I need to know for my purposes here. It’s possible there could be other systems of thought that would justify the two assumptions. At the same time, though, it can hardly be denied that given evolution’s widespread hegemony, in practical terms it is the doctrine that actually does support these assumptions.

In summary, then, RR’s proposed resolution of the gay-rights issue, as stated in the first quote above, makes sense only in light of Assumptions 1 and 2; and without those two assumptions, laws that limit marriage to a man and a woman could not possibly be unjust. Assumptions 1 and 2 rest on a comprehensive doctrine; therefore same-sex “marriage” advocacy rests on a comprehensive doctrine.

The Reasonability Clause

But that is not the end of the story; we’re only partway there. RR has not rejected all comprehensive doctrines; he merely says we should not base public policy on any comprehensive doctrine that cannot be justified in terms we can reasonably expect others to accept. (Another version suggests we limit policy to doctrines that reasonable persons are not likely to reject.) Obviously, in light of that, there remains the issue of reasonability. Granted that we all might hold to some comprehensive doctrine or other; the point is to find one upon which we can agree, or at least one to which no one could reasonably object. We can’t expect to agree on all of our beliefs, as RR rightly tells us; but maybe we can find something to work with anyway.

One of the motivations for talking about reasonable comprehensive doctrines is to bypass the controversial question of which one, if any, is true, or even closest to the truth. That’s the sort of question which citizens of a pluralistic society have no prospect of coming to an agreement upon (as I think we must acknowledge); it’d therefore be highly unfortunate if our views of government legitimacy and our respectful cooperation with one another depended upon our coming to such an agreement.

At this point I turn from analysis to question-asking. If it is true (if I am correct) to suggest that:

  1. Same-sex “marriage” advocacy depends rationally upon Assumptions 1 and 2, and
  2. Assumptions 1 and 2 depend (practically, at least, if not necessarily) upon the belief that humanness is essentially an unfixed, ever-changing concept, and
  3. This belief regarding humanness serves is founded upon and serves as part of a comprehensive doctrine,

… then is this a comprehensive doctrine we can reasonably expect others to accept? Is it one to which no reasonable person could ever be expected to object?

I think my answers to those questions should be obvious. If the test for liberty is that no law should be based on a comprehensive doctrine to which persons might reasonably object.

A Couple of Loose Ends

Before I close I want to wrap up what I was saying about “secular dominionism” and its totalizing aspirations. I hope it’s clear that I’m using dominionism analogically. I’m not trying to force-fit theologically-derived language onto secularists, and I’m certainly not a conspiracy theorist. I’ve heard stories (perhaps you have too) of secularizing conspiracy groups, but I’m not much persuaded of them, and that’s not what this is about in any case. The totalizing aspirations of which I speak are also something analogical or metaphorical: not the dictatorial intent of some sinister cabal, but rather the pervasive secular mindset of our culture, without which Assumptions 1 and 2 could not function effectively as unconsciously accepted guiding principles.

*I believe “same-sex marriage” is a contradiction in terms. I prefer not to write in contradictions, so I use quotes around “marriage” in that context. I know some people object to that as tendentious. Take it for what it is, please. I do not use the quotes as scare quotes or for rhetorical effect, but just to maintain personal integrity regarding what I hold to be true.

**I use this language guardedly. I do not mean to support the popular misconception that the reason homosexual “marriage” is illegal is because laws have been enacted against it. Until recently it has simply been regarded as impossible because it is a self-contradictory concept.

Also posted at First Things: Evangel

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65 Responses to “ A Secular Sort of Dominionism ”

  1. Hi — you’ve got your post up there twice.

    Comment: I don’t have any particular love of Hunter Baker’s formulation of how policy and law should work. However, I think you’re really stretching to say that the concept of gay marriage as a civil right is ultimately based on the evolutionists’ alleged conclusion that there is no essence to human nature.

    Let me list some of the many problems, in no particular order.

    1. You will never, ever find a judge or a politician arguing in favor of legalizing gay marriage on this basis. They will instead make arguments based on much, much, *much* more proximate and relevant points like (a) equality under the law, (b) the harm done to gays by prohibiting recognition of gay marriage (visitation rights, insurance rights, tax breaks, etc.) and (c) the lack of harm to others. One can agree or disagree with these arguments, but they’ve got squat to do with evolution.

    2. It’s not at all clear that the justification of marriage in various religious and secular traditions depends on human nature, anyway. I think the argument could be made, but this is a form of naturalistic ethics where moral principles are derived from the structure of human nature, which IIRC you and most evangelicals are against. If the real justification of the rightness of marriage is that “God says it’s good, so it is”, then human nature technically doesn’t matter. One could even argue that it is human nature to stray from marriage, and it is God’s commandments that put us back on the right path.

    3. Even when accepting evolution, it is perfectly possible to be essentialist about humans, e.g. by arguing that they have some unique defining feature or combinations of features that makes them different from other life forms in an important way.

    4. Even if one were to accept that evolution, if true, means that human nature isn’t fixed, this still wouldn’t provide support for flexibility in human institutions, since the timescale of change is so incredibly slow. Humans now are basically the same as those 50,000 years ago, and perhaps 100,000 or 200,000 years ago (it gets hard to argue for sameness past that). Amongst other things, this means that even the allegedly “evolving and flexible” human nature is, well, vastly more constant than every human language, every country, every society, every human institution, the entirety of recorded human history put together, etc.

    5. If, hypothetically, one *wanted* to argue for the rapid flexibility and changability of human nature and human institutions, evolutionary history is the last place to look. The real place to make the argument would be based on biological variability right here in the currently-living human population. Amongst other things, we have direct observation of numerous forms of physical sexual ambiguity due to diverse genetic, environmental, and developmental causes. Even ignoring homosexuality completely, not everyone fits into the biological categories of “male” and “female” — even though you more or less claimed the opposite. This is just a directly observed biological fact, it exists whether or not one accepts evolution. Can these folks get married? Or is this institution permanently banned for them?

    6. An even more directly relevant resource for someone arguing for flexibility in traditions like marriage is the observed cultural variability in the institution around the world, which I gather is considerable. Again, nothing to do with evolution.

    So, basically, these things aren’t nearly as connected as you seem to think they are. Not that I particularly want to help you out, but I suspect it would be a lot more promising to just argue that evolution undermines the literal interpretation of the Bible, which in turn undermines the argument that the Biblical commandments on marriage should be supported with the force of state law.

  2. Oh, and: homosexuality is, frankly, pretty puzzling from an evolutionary point of view, or at least from a simple-minded adaptationist standpoint. Fortunately, most people who are well-educated in evolutionary theory reject extreme adapationism (the view that every feature of every organism must be at a functional optimum), and acknowledge that various traits that are neutral or even reproductively harmful can occur at low frequencies in populations for numerous reasons. Humans have even more of these reasons than most species, due to our culture, radically changed environment, etc.

  3. Good morning, Nick,

    I had a long answer for you earlier, and you may have seen it in your mailbox. I’ve decided to quarantine it at least for now, to focus on the essentials instead.

    Your answer seems to me to reflect two themes. One is that there are other ways to view the relation between evolutionary theory and human nature. That’s fine as far as it goes; but there are other ways to view lots of things. You have not shown how those alternatives impinge upon my argument. There are a whole lot of links missing there.

    Second, you do this with an underlying tone that says, “please don’t think badly of evolution because of this” or something broadly like that. I want to draw your attention to the fact that I didn’t say anything here about the way I feel about evolution, or how anybody should think about it. I said, “These are some implications of evolutionary theory,” and I noted the social and logical effect these implications have on RR’s justice theory, whether or not evolution is true.

    There’s no need this time for you to defend evolution. If you want to contest the implications I drew from evolutionary thinking, then please try to see just how I drew those implications and how I fit that into the flow of my argument, and try not to bring up irrelevant side issues. Thanks.

  4. My 30 cents.

    RE: Nick’s arguments. I find these arguments interesting and useful to consider but largely irrelevant to Gilson’s article which was a focused analysis of RR’s thinking.

    RE: Gilson’s piece. I was a bit disappointed. I found most of the analysis sound but your final rebuttal left me wanting a little more juice. As I see it, thinking like RR’s rests entirely on an appeal to “reasonability.” It is important to break down the assumptions and underlying doctrine so that the conversation is fair, but in the end, he (and others) will claim that the pervading doctrine of fluid human custom (probably tied to evolutionary theory) IS a) superior in inherent reasonableness. b) widely assumed.

    Regarding point b) Can theists present a case for an equally widely assumed doctrine (shared across religion and culture) which competes with the secular idea that “marriage and culture is what we say it is?” To do this, theists will have to show basic underlying principles common to billions of theists around the world. Unless this is the case, the secularist doctrine of fluid definitions will be able to set itself up as the doctrine with the widest support base. (The agreement of the masses is a common short hand for “reasonableness.”)

    And I don’t even want to touch the topic of “inherent reasonableness,” (point A above). Suffice to say, that the concept of reasonableness being used by “fluid secularists” must rest on the assumption that reality does not have an objective measuring stick. This IS an assumption about what makes for “inherent reasonableness” but it is a strong position in that it is an extreme corner.

    As soon as one appeals to a measuring stick minds are divided into different doctrinal camps, disputing about who’s measuring stick to use. RR and friends have claimed the territory of the “most open mind” for their definition of reasonableness. But I think your challenge must be to present an alternative definition of reasonableness which is equally consistent.

    Brian

  5. Brian,

    That’s a fair point you’ve raised on how I ended the article. I’ll be honest–I thought I’d gone on long enough, and I had committed to RR that I would get it published at First Things by yesterday. I had run out of space, I had run out of time, and I was running out of steam. So you’re right: I left the question of reasonability open and virtually unaddressed. We can deal with it here—that’s what I intended when I put it in a question form—or maybe later I’ll decide to post a separate article on it.

    Now, regarding your point (b), the answer is certainly yes in the case of biblical theists. The short version of that doctrine is that male/female and marriage are not what humans say they are, but what God has created and designed them to be. There is also an historical/anthropological case to be made for this, and there are natural law arguments that do not depend on Scriptural support, too.

    If “the most open mind” is any person’s standard of reasonableness, that’s the wrong standard. Open minds are great and essential for taking in evidence and for assessing reasons in light of the evidence. We have to be open to all possible lines of information, and to go in whatever direction the evidence might lead us. But an open mind is no virtue if it allows us to remain open to decisions toward which evidence and reasons do not lead. An open mind with respect to evaluating evidences and reasons can be very unreasonable, which also implies that an open mind with respect to decisions can be very unreasonable, if our decisions do not proceed out of a sound reasoning process. So a standard that says, let’s treat all outcomes with an open mind, is one that is highly susceptible to unreasoning, unreasonable sorts of errors.

    My own definition of reasonableness in this context would be something along these lines: Comprehensive Doctrine (C) is reasonable enough for social policy purposes in this context if (C) is widely held by persons who generally display reasonableness in their daily course of life, and (C) can be defended by cogent, intelligent arguments.

    Not that that solves much. There are a whole lot of secularists who think Christianity fails miserably on the second count, and there are some who think it fails on the first, too. Meanwhile many thinkers, myself included, consider materialistic atheism (one highly influential branch of secularism) utterly incapable of being defended by cogent, intelligent arguments.

    So I don’t have a way to suggest that we move forward with RR’s approach. I think it’s a failure from the start, actually, and we ought to drop the project. That means that we can also forget the charge RR raised that existing marriage laws violate civil liberties. There’s no basis for it. Not that he couldn’t back up and try again from a different angle, but this approach fails.

    So then what do we do to settle our social policy problems? I suggest we live with the reality that we have differences, and rely on our constitutional democracy as the means of navigating through those differences.

  6. I’m not sure how any reasonable person could seriously maintain either position – 1 or 2 – in the context of legal marriage. And legal marriage is what the same-sex marriage argument is all about.

    Even if one believes marriage is some kind of platonic ideal (or something similar), or that it has an immutable essence not subject to human law, one must recognize the existence of marriage in a legal context as something (mostly) separate, mutable and not necessarily reflective of any “pure essence” of marriage, whatever that may be.

    It would be rediculous to suggest to a good Catholic that…

    1) The definition of marriage is expandable to include divorcee unions
    2) That expansion can be accomplished through the law

    … IFF you are talking about marriage as recognized by Catholic doctrine (and God). Legal marriage is another matter. I don’t know of any Catholics who would maintain 1 and/or 2 with respect to divorcees and legal marriage (at least not in this day and age). This is perfectly analogous to same-sex marriage.

    Its just a fact that legal marriage is defined through laws. Its a fact that legal marriage can be changed through laws, to just about any conceivable form we may so desire. So I would have to disagree that any reasonable person could maintain 1 or 2.

    Now of course, whether we should change legal marriage (and to what forms) is another matter – and a thorny one.

  7. d,

    This is unsupported in your comment and I think obviously false as well:

    one must recognize the existence of marriage in a legal context as something (mostly) separate, mutable and not necessarily reflective of any “pure essence” of marriage, whatever that may be.

    What form does that “must” take? Whence comes the obligation? From society? Hah! From God? I certainly don’t think so! From the nature of the law? Who determines that?

    But I don’t know what you’re referring to by positions 1 or 2. If you mean assumptions 1 or 2, then you’re contradicting yourself. Feel free to clarify if you wish.

  8. Oops, somewhere in assembling the reply (which was done sporadically while multitasking) I was very careless. The two assumptions I pasted are correct. What I think I meant to address was your paragraph below them in the OP, which contains their negation (I’ll call them your “counter-assumptions”). Here it is:

    Tom Writes:

    “But if the definition of marriage were fixed and not susceptible to being changed (Assumption 1), or even if it were expandable but not expandable through law (Assumption 2), then it would be impossible for laws based on traditional marriage, or the enactment of such laws,** to be responsible for any violation of civil liberties, as RR says they might be.”

    I’ll try to elaborate as to why its impossible to reasonably hold either of those two “counter-assumptions”.

    Marriage, first and foremost, is a word. Like all words, it’s elastic – it can (and probably will) change with time. Marriage laws are also subject to change. They have been changed in the past, they can be changed again. We’ve seen them change in regards to this particular issue in other countries as well, like Canada.

    Laws can change. Definitions can change. No comprehensive doctrine is required. These are facts on the ground. I know “standards of reasonableness” is a fuzzy, problematic, ill defined concept, but if anything should fail the test of reasonableness, it would be a denial of the elasticity of (human) law and words.

    If you claim that marriage also refers to some “essence or institution” whose nature is not subject to the whims of human law or convention, well that’s fine. But it’s irrelevant to the debate.

    The same-sex proponents aren’t out to change or alter that thing, whatever it may be, they’re out to change human law and/or definitions. There would be no need for organized same-sex marriage opposition, protests, votes, etc, because no matter how much we changed law or definitions, the nature of that thing would still remain the same. It would be as futile as trying to change the nature of Pluto, by altering the definition of “planet”.

    But again, its not what same-sex couples want – they want legal recognition, they want the term “marriage” as defined by human convention to include same-sex relationships. If those two things are not “marriage” to somebody, well, they’re talking about something else completely.

  9. I’m sorry, but @8 is some of the dumbest most confused nonsense I’ve read in a long time: the essence of something is irrelevant to the debate? Really? Then what is it that we’re talking about? And, is reasoned discourse even possible in the context of such a disordered understanding of language? Doesn’t d appeal to the stability and non-malleability of the definitions of his own words to assert that definitions change?

    It never ceases to amaze me how these folks are forced to contort their minds to try to manipulate reality to fit their unsubstantiated presuppositions and emotionally-laden ideological commitments… What we’re witnessing here are the first steps down the path of controlling and manipulating language in order to manipulate people: these folks are the most intolerant and ultimately most totalitarian in their views of people with whom they don’t agree.

  10. d, you say,

    Marriage, first and foremost, is a word.

    Care to defend that proposition? Caution: don’t use any words. They’re just words. They’re elastic; their meanings change. But hey, what if we set that aside and actually allow you to use words. Still care to defend that proposition? How are you going to do that? First question: do words have meanings? Do nouns (like marriage) refer to things or not? Suppose we wanted to talk about one of those things. Is it possible we might use words? Nah, they’re just words.

    Laws can change. Definitions can change. No comprehensive doctrine is required.

    Do you have the slightest clue that it takes some comprehensive doctrine to undergird your supposition that the definition of marriage can change? (Answer: no, apparently you don’t.)

    If you claim that marriage also refers to some “essence or institution” whose nature is not subject to the whims of human law or convention, well that’s fine. But it’s irrelevant to the debate.

    Holopupenko covered this. I just want to second him. If there is some essence or institution whose nature is not subject to the whims of human law or convention, then it follows that there is some essence or institution whose nature is not subject to the whims of human law or convention. (Logic, you see.) And if you think that’s uninteresting or irrelevant, then you don’t know what the words in that conditional and consequent mean.

    The same-sex proponents aren’t out to change or alter that thing, whatever it may be, they’re out to change human law and/or definitions.

    Well, I’m relieved you’re not out trying to change timeless transcendent realities that are of the essence of being human under God’s design. Just think if you took on that project. Just think if you succeeded! No, you’re just saying that even if there is such a thing as the essence of being human under God’s design, so what, we can do with ourselves as we please and do even better than God! Maybe if you’re that smart I should hope you succeed in changing God’s eternal mind. He needs your advice, apparently.

    If those two things are not “marriage” to somebody, well, they’re talking about something else completely.

    No, they’re not. That’s either dishonesty or willful ignorance on your part. SSM proponents are talking about the thing we have always called marriage. TThey’re not trying to say there’s some Marriage-A (hetero) and some Marriage-B (homo), with no relation between them except their accidental sharing of all eight letters in their names. No, they’re saying that SSM is a form of marriage.

    d, you probably don’t know the history of this blog. Sometimes I have taken Holopupenko to task (though he is a friend) for what I have considered his overstating of the rational and moral deficiencies of some people who hold opposing viewpoints. This time he is right on the money.

    Find yourself some place to learn how to think, with reason and with integrity. I suggest a good book. Luke is a good place to start.

  11. Holopupenko:

    The debate about same-sex marriage frequently gets caught up in confusions about definition, as it is here.

    Failures to recognize the Use-Mention Distinction are epidemic (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Use–mention_distinction), and they cause all sorts of problems which result in people talking past one another.

    So clearing up the mess is paramount. Perhaps my post wasn’t as clear as it could be, but I still think its in the right ball park.

    Tom claims that a critical assumption underpins the secular same-sex marriage argument:

    1. The definition of marriage is expandable to include same-sex unions

    Furthermore, he claims that all sorts of conventional doctrines that fail RR’s test of reasonableness are required to support that assumption.

    But that assumption ONLY says something about the word “marriage”, not the object, entity or whatever, that the ordered string of symbols “m-a-r-r-i-a-g-e” generally refers to. Like it or not, words get their definitions purely by mutually agreed upon human convention. Those human conventions may enjoy some stability over certain periods of time – and you are right point out that discourse would be impossible if they didn’t – but the fact remains, they are malleable.

    So with that in mind, we can restate (1) a little differently:

    1. The mutually agreed upon human convention for the word “marriage” is expandable to include same-sex marriage.

    Well, looking at it like that, the assumption becomes quite uncontroversial. And I would actually say that its so uncontroversial and self-evident, that we can appropriately call the assumption a “fact”.

    Now, whether you think the definition of “marriage” should be expanded to include certain committed same-sex relationships is another matter – and that’s where the important part of the debate lies.

  12. d:

    Stop appealing to words! Stop writing comments: the definitions of your own words are malleable and changing, which means your comments are nothing more than hot, emotional air…

    … and yet you continue your emotionally impositional nonsense: Like it or not, words get their definitions purely by mutually agreed upon human convention. You don’t know what you’re talking about… really. Do you not understand just how stupid and self-referencing (yet self-immolating!) your assertion is?!? Do you not realize that you invite “might makes right”? (Which, I strongly suspect, is exactly what you want.)

    Truth isn’t objective for you: it’s an “agreement” rather than a reflection of reality. You don’t just want tolerance of morally-repugnant acts (memo: the DEFINITION” of tolerance = putting up with something BAD), you want, demand, and eventually will impose lock-stop acceptance of what you propose. Why anyone would waste time carrying on a shifting-meaning conversation with you is beyond me.

  13. FWIW, the secular arguments for whether the definition of “marriage” should be expanded, MAY include many conventional doctrines of the type that fail RR’s test for reasonableness.

    So, Tom, if you can aim an argument in that direction, it may still succeed.

  14. Stop appealing to words! Stop writing comments: the definitions of your own words are malleable and changing, which means your comments are nothing more than hot, emotional air…

    … and yet you continue your emotionally impositional nonsense: Like it or not, words get their definitions purely by mutually agreed upon human convention. You don’t know what you’re talking about… really. Do you not understand just how stupid and self-referencing (yet self-immolating!) your assertion is?!? Do you not realize that you invite “might makes right”? (Which, I strongly suspect, is exactly what you want.)

    Truth isn’t objective for you: it’s an “agreement” rather than a reflection of reality. You don’t just want tolerance of morally-repugnant acts (memo: the DEFINITION” of tolerance = putting up with something BAD), you want, demand, and eventually will impose lock-stop acceptance of what you propose. Why anyone would waste time carrying on a shifting-meaning conversation with you is beyond me.

    I haven’t argued that definitions of words have no stability at all, so I don’t know why you guys are going this route. But they are malleable – go read some Shakespeare, if don’t believe me.

    If I walk into a convenient store in the US and ask, “Where are the fags?”, I’m liable to get punched. If I do that in the UK, the clerk might kindly point to the rack containing the things we in the US call “cigarettes”.

  15. I haven’t argued that definitions of words have no stability at all, so I don’t know why you guys are going this route. But they are malleable…

    You are confused and a liar:

    [@ #8] Marriage, first and foremost, is a word. Like all words, it’s elastic – it can (and probably will) change with time… Definitions can change.

    The word “fag,” like many monosyllabic words, tend to be equivocal terms: a “pig” is a bacon-producing animal or a pejorative for police officers; a “pen” is a writing instrument or a place where animals are kept. But there are univocal words and their definitions (e.g., neutrino) that are vitally important to the precision of the modern empirical sciences–without them, the sciences fail. There are also analogical terms: “father” can mean my biological parent or George Washington as the father of our country–they both share some fundamental, unchanging, underlying concept.

    By personal choice and emotional commitment, you inhabit the strange, disordered, and chaotic world in which all terms are equivocal, i.e., you equivocate in order to gain power over others. In the afterlife that place is called Hell.

  16. d, you done it ag’in.

    First of all, you have gratuitously mentioned the Use-Mention Distinction, but you haven’t begun to explain what you brought it up for. It has nothing to do with this discussion. Really.

    Furthermore, he claims that all sorts of conventional doctrines that fail RR’s test of reasonableness are required to support that assumption.

    But that assumption ONLY says something about the word “marriage”, not the object, entity or whatever, that the ordered string of symbols “m-a-r-r-i-a-g-e” generally refers to. Like it or not, words get their definitions purely by mutually agreed upon human convention.

    This is massively silly. Really. Let’s put it this way. Suppose the definition of the string “m-a-r-r-i-a-g-e” is subject 100% purely to human convention. Suppose we chose to define it in some manner other than it is currently. We could choose to define it as “the unique proportion of chemical elements that comprise the moon.” We could do that. It’s infinitely malleable. But would it not then refer to something different than it does now? And what would that do to its current referent? Would my wife and I say, “we used to be married, but now we’re not anything because they took away our word”? English-speakers could come up with a different word for it, I suppose, say, “Vegan.” Then my wife and I would be Vegan. Now, that’s confusing, because people might think it means we’re aliens from a planet around the star Vega, or that we won’t eat any animal products. Note carefully that word “means” in there. It will come up again.

    Those human conventions may enjoy some stability over certain periods of time – and you are right point out that discourse would be impossible if they didn’t – but the fact remains, they are malleable.

    So? While they mean what they mean, they mean what they mean. (Logic, you see. And don’t say I didn’t warn you about the word “mean.”) If you change what they mean, they no longer mean what they meant. (That’s logic plus a little human experience for you.) When they no longer mean what they meant, then they mean something different. (Shall I explain again?) When they mean something different, then their meanings have changed, and it is the meaning of marriage that is at stake here. I don’t give a rip how we spell or pronounce the word. What I care about is what it means.

    The problem with SSM is that its advocates suppose the meaning behind the word “marriage” is as malleable as you rightly tell us the word is. The problem with your own logic is precisely the same: you suppose that because we can re-define the word at will, the meaning behind it is ours to re-define at will. That just doesn’t follow. (Logic, you see.)

    You propose,

    1. The mutually agreed upon human convention for the word “marriage” is expandable to include same-sex marriage.

    Well, looking at it like that, the assumption becomes quite uncontroversial. And I would actually say that its so uncontroversial and self-evident, that we can appropriately call the assumption a “fact”.

    Okay. Let’s stipulate that. Let me add, on the same principles you employ,

    1. The mutually agreed upon human convention for the word “marriage” is expandable to include same-sex marriage and the unique proportion of chemical elements that comprise the moon.

    Why not expand it? Sure. We have, quite uncontroversially, the ability to do that, too. It’s a fact. We can change the meaning of the word. But let’s not pretend after we’ve expanded the meaning that we must therefore still be referring to the same thing with that 8-letter string. Which is the very thing SSM advocates want to pretend.

    FWIW, the secular arguments for whether the definition of “marriage” should be expanded, MAY include many conventional doctrines of the type that fail RR’s test for reasonableness.

    So, Tom, if you can aim an argument in that direction, it may still succeed.

    If you hadn’t noticed, I already did aim an argument that direction. If it failed, it certainly did not fail for any reason you have articulated so far!

    If I walk into a convenient store in the US and ask, “Where are the fags?”, I’m liable to get punched. If I do that in the UK, the clerk might kindly point to the rack containing the things we in the US call “cigarettes”.

    Oh. Fags are cigarettes. (I knew that.) I think that means that homosexual men, referred to pejoratively, are cigarettes, right?

    Well, no, and there’s a reason. Have you ever heard of the fallacy of equivocation? Do you know why it’s a fallacy? It’s not because a word’s definition can be different from one context to the next. I mean, yes, that’s part of it but it’s not the nub of it. It’s because its meaning can differ from one context to the next. (Logic lesson for you once again.) Think of the meaning behind the English usage. Now think of the meaning behind the American usage. Are you able to distinguish them? Is there a change from one context to the next? Does the difference matter? Now, how would you express that difference? Through a definition, certainly.

    If you change a word’s definition, you change the expression of its agreed meaning. You can’t do that successfully without a change in its agreed meaning. It is the agreed meaning behind “marriage” that is at stake here.

    Holopupenko was right: Quit talking about words! That’s not what’s at stake here. It’s the meaning that matters.

  17. … the secular arguments for whether the definition of “marriage” should be expanded… [YOUR emphasis]

    Why “should” it… because YOU want it that way? Can you provide a reasoned and sound argument that supports your proposed moral imperative? Oops! You can’t, can you? You’d have to rely on stable definitions of words, wouldn’t you?

    And, what if I and others are not impressed by your empty appeals to your opinions and emotional hang-ups? You’re left with nothing but imposing upon others… which is becoming increasingly clear that force is exactly what you want.

  18. You may have jumped the gun on that last one, though, Holo. In that one sentence was a rare moment where d committed no fallacy. He just mentioned that there are such arguments, which is true. He didn’t commit at that point to their being good arguments.

  19. @d:

    Failures to recognize the Use-Mention Distinction are epidemic (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Use–mention_distinction), and they cause all sorts of problems which result in people talking past one another.

    Ah the irony, the irony…

    But that assumption ONLY says something about the word “marriage”, not the object, entity or whatever, that the ordered string of symbols “m-a-r-r-i-a-g-e” generally refers to. Like it or not, words get their definitions purely by mutually agreed upon human convention. Those human conventions may enjoy some stability over certain periods of time – and you are right point out that discourse would be impossible if they didn’t – but the fact remains, they are malleable.

    Oh brother, a self-contradicting nominalist… Do you even listen to yourself? If the assumption only says something about the word “marriage”, that is the string of 8 tokens “marriage” as printed in the computer screen or in a piece of paper, then the assumption is literally:

    1. The string of 8 characters “marriage” is expandable to include same-sex unions.

    Can you enlighten us on what this can possibly mean?

    But then next, you seem to be saying that the assumption about the word “marriage” is really an assumption about a “mutually agreed upon human convention”. So if all words are malleable, why should I accept *your* definition of it? I think you are being tyrannical and imposing *your* biased definition of “marriage” on us. That will not do. In fact, I woke up today on what strange humour I know not and propose that the word “marriage” refers to what we otherwise commonly refer to as “peacock”. I just like it more that way. On your own account, what “marriage” refers to is irrelevant to the issue, so you cannot possibly object to my redefinition. I will battle to the death for my right to redefine the word “marriage” to actually mean “peacock”. My Will is sovereign. You *will* be assimilated.

  20. G. Rodrigues, I throw down the gauntlet. Peacock? Peacock? Never! See #18. “Marriage” means (what was formerly referred to by) “the unique proportion of chemicals that comprise the moon.”

    And you wanna play tyrannical power games? You don’t stand a chance. Who’s the admin here, after all?

    Resistance is futile.

    😀

  21. Firstly, I am puzzled by all the accusations of “tyranny”, “liar” and the rest.

    On the actual topic of same-sex marriage, I do believe I have good reasons for my position that I presently feel should persuade others, but I am all in favor of letting them be judged in the arena of ideas with all the same fairness and due process that other opposing ideas are considered, in the context of the democratic process. Never have I indicated otherwise. Obviously, I’m pushing some peoples buttons and am not quite sure exactly why – sorry for that… but anyhow…

    The posts are getting longer and more keep coming, so I’m finding it difficult to respond, point-by-point, but I’ll do my best to defend my position.

    Despite the objections, I do believe the Use-mention distinction is relevant in light of the way assumption (1) was originally formulated:

    1. That the definition of “marriage” is expandable to include same-sex marriage

    Now, Tom is right to ask: if its expandable to include things like same-sex marriage, could it also be expandable to include any old arbitrary thing, like the chemical composition of the moon? Well, my answer would be a resounding “yes”. Now that would seriously dilute the usefulness of the word and I can think of no good reason to expand the definition thusly, but it still remains possible. So in that light, I think assumption one is uncontroversial and factually correct. I’m open to hear a clear argument as to why it is not.

    There are types of heterosexual relationships that exhibit certain properties, and we choose to both call those “marriages” and we recognize them legally as such.

    Now there are also same-sex relationships that exist and exhibit many of the same properties as those heterosexual relationships.

    So the question is, do we want to categorize those as “marriages” both legally and linguistically. I think there are many good reasons to categorize them that way.

    Including things like the “chemical composition of the moon” in the definition would be confusing and useless, but “certain relationships between people of the same-gender” causes no such confusion, nor is it useless. In fact, several countries around the world seem to get along just fine under that expanded definition. That simply doesnt rise to the level or arbitrariness that the “chemical compisition of the moon” does.

    Why wouldnt we call a relationship which exhibits all or many the same properties as a quintessential marriage, with the exception of the genders of the participants, a marriage? In times past, many would have disputed the belief that any interracial relationship could be called “marriage”.

  22. Let’s just refer to all nouns as “thing” and do away with the silly word games. Man-woman, man-man, dog-cat, woman-bird, man-buffalo-man-cheese-tree…they’re all the same thing.

    Children around the world seem to get along just fine under that expanded definition.

  23. Wow, d. You showed up with a lot less fallacy that time. I’m impressed, genuinely, at the difference in tone and skill this time.

    You say you think “marriage” could be expanded to include same-sex couples. Now I wonder whether you noticed something in the way you expressed that. Although you have improved considerably by quantitatively reducing your fallacious arguments, you have not quantitatively increased your arguments in favor of your position. You say that there are other relationships that exhibit many of the same properties as marriage, and that these also deserve the term marriage. You give no reason to think that might be true, and you give no basis for deciding which relationships would be included in or excluded from that categorization. You pay no attention to the uniqueness of the male-female relationship. You pay no attention to possible moral implications. You offer nothing.

    Still, it’s an improvement.

  24. SteveK makes good sense. If we’re going to let the meaning of “marriage” be malleable, let’s just say “marriage” shall henceforth be some thing entered into between two things. (I’m not sure why just two, but that seems to be the prevailing sentiment. So far.)

  25. Well thank you for the (reluctant?) praise. 😛 Sometimes it takes a few rounds before things get clear, as I recognize and adjust for failures in my delivery. Thanks for the patience (however, strained it may be;) )

    You wrote:

    You give no reason to think that might be true, and you give no basis for deciding which relationships would be included in or excluded from that categorization.

    Yes, you are right, I definitely have not, as I was really just trying to keep my posts more relevant to the specific points in the OP about assumptions (1) and (2).

    I thought a full blow argument in that direction same-sex marriage itself might be too off topic. If not, I’m happy to go down that road though, if you feel it would be potentially interesting and relevant.

  26. I’m probably not interested (but thanks, d), given your lack of progress in what you came here intending to do, and in view of my attention being highly absorbed with a discussion on the parallel post at First Things.

  27. One final note that addresses Holo and also somewhat SteveK, then I think I’ll call it a day.

    Holo wrote:

    There are also analogical terms: “father” can mean my biological parent or George Washington as the father of our country–they both share some fundamental, unchanging, underlying concept.

    I do agree.

    But to use another example, it would be pretty silly to expand the definition of something like “bachelor” to include married males. “Unmarried male” pretty much encompasses the entire meaning that the term is used to express.

    Marriage is not quite that simple though – marriages are relationships that can include quite a wide range of properties: romatic love (or not), sexual monogomay (or not), emotional commitment (or not), political alliance (or not), intent to raise children (or not), combining of assets (or not), convenience (or not), participants only of a certain age (or not, depending on country and culture), genders of the participants (or not, depending on the country and culture), number of spouses, spiritual beliefs, etc – and much more.

    Which of those are essential to the term before it looses its usefulness as a meaningful designator, in the same way that bachelor loses its meaning per my above example, is up for dedate. I do and I think that debate ultimate goes to the favor of those on my side of the aisle when it comes to gender, naturally – but nowhere am I committed to sorts of reductios and self-defeat that you and others have suggested, namely that all words are infintely elastic in all circumstances, and no dependable definitions are possible.

  28. I am grateful to hear you are not committed to the fallacious directions your arguments would have taken you had you continued with them.

    I hope you do not conclude from your list of variations on marriage that there must be something essentially impossible to capture about the meaning of marriage. We did quite well at it for thousands of years. We could keep going for thousands more just as easily.

  29. @d:

    Despite the objections, I do believe the Use-mention distinction is relevant in light of the way assumption (1) was originally formulated:

    It is not. The use-mention distinction is what in mathematics is known as the syntax-semantics duality and is largely irrelevant to the issue at hand.

    Now, Tom is right to ask: if its expandable to include things like same-sex marriage, could it also be expandable to include any old arbitrary thing, like the chemical composition of the moon? Well, my answer would be a resounding “yes”. Now that would seriously dilute the usefulness of the word and I can think of no good reason to expand the definition thusly, but it still remains possible. So in that light, I think assumption one is uncontroversial and factually correct. I’m open to hear a clear argument as to why it is not.

    You are conflating two issues.

    1. Human language is of necessity a product of all sorts of human conventions, so it is trivially true that we can take the Humpty-Dumpty position and say that words mean exactly what we say they mean.

    2. The referent of the 8-letter word “marriage” is likewise a product of human convention, and thus it can be expanded to cover same-sex relations.

    2. is completely different and does *not* follow from 1. — this is why it is highly ironical that it was *you* who brought up the use-mention equivocation. You have to provide an argument to substantiate 2. Warning: it is *much* harder than casual thought may indicate.

    Including things like the “chemical composition of the moon” in the definition would be confusing and useless, but “certain relationships between people of the same-gender” causes no such confusion, nor is it useless. In fact, several countries around the world seem to get along just fine under that expanded definition. That simply doesnt rise to the level or arbitrariness that the “chemical compisition of the moon” does.

    The issue is not one of confusion, although you do seem somewhat confused, arbitrariness or even usefulness of definitions, whatever “usefulness of a definition” means. The crux lies in the status of what the word “marriage” refers to. You want to argue that it is expandable and thus, effectively say that it has no essence, being purely a human construct, a fiction of the law it is entertained for all sorts of muddle-headed purposes. But mere assertion by fiat does not suffice, an argument is needed to substantiate it. Warning: it is *much* harder than casual thought may indicate.

    Why wouldnt we call a relationship which exhibits all or many the same properties as a quintessential marriage, with the exception of the genders of the participants, a marriage? In times past, many would have disputed the belief that any interracial relationship could be called “marriage”.

    This invites the obvious retort, why would we? Unless we are already predisposed and biased towards same-sex marriage, that is.

    Above, you argue that there are no essential properties of the referent of the word “marriage” now you seem to say that there are when using the expression “quintessential marriage”– you really should make up your mind. On a Christian view there are indeed, but why on earth are there on your view? More to the point, why is gender an essential property of marriage on your view? Why is species an essential property of marriage on your view? Why is number of participants an essential property of marriage on your view? In fact on your view, they are *not*, since you are effectively denying that there are any essential properties of what we call “marriage” and that we are free to redefine it anyway we want. And if I want to marry my dog, why should I not be allowed to do it? Why is that not an infringement of my rights? Why two gay people get to adopt a child and me and my dog and my parrot do not have that right? I love my dog and my dog loves me. Ok, I do not even have a dog or a parrot, but I have 5 chairs and I love my 5 chairs and my 5 chairs all love me, so I want to marry all of them in one happy blissful union. No divorce will happen, I can guarantee you that much. How on your view can you *consistently* expand the referent of the word “marriage” to accomodate same-sex relationships on the argument that there is no real essence to marriage and yet in the same breath deny that I can marry my dog and my parrot and my chair?

    Those are the answers you have to provide. I am not asking for your arguments, I am just pointing out some of the hurdles you have to surmount and make a warning: it is *much* harder than casual thought may indicate.

  30. Good words, G. Rodrigues. I retract my challenge issued in #23.

    d, I urge you to pay special attention to G. Rodrigues’ repeated warning about casual thought. One who would advocate for such a huge and sweeping change in culture should have good reasons for doing so, and to come up with good reasons is, as he said, *much* harder than casual thought may indicate.

    Casual thought is so easy to engage in when the culture sweeps one’s thoughts along the way it does. It is, however, no challenge—and no virtue, either—to think what everyone else thinks. Challenge your culture’s way of thinking, and challenge your own! Think through the issues G. Rodrigues just outlined. Think through the social implications of dismantling core structures of society. Think through whether you hear a fair and balanced presentation of this topic in places you frequent.

    Above all, think through whether it’s smart to dismiss the place of God—your Creator—from this discussion.

    Think courageously, my friend. And think well.

  31. To expand upon G. Rodrigues’s excellent comment.

    Signs are things that, above and beyond any sense impressions they produce, bring to mind something other than themselves. Stated another way, signs are those things which represent something other than themselves to the knowing power (rational agent).

    Natural signs are not man-made (i.e., they are not artifacts) yet nonetheless indicate something beyond themselves: smoke indicates fire.

    Conventional signs owe their signification to human reason, and hence there is a deliberate (intentio, i.e., purposeful) formation of the sign by the human will. They are artifacts of human reason actualized by human will: traffic lights and stop signs are conventional signs for the flow of traffic; the sound of bells for the beginning and ending of class periods.

    Formal signs are interior to the knowing intellect (rational agent), and there are two: images (at the level of sensory knowledge) and concepts (at the level of intellectual knowledge).

    A footprint in the sand is a natural sign representing the former presence of an animal, but it is also a physical object itself. We grasp this physical object by means of an image and a concept. The image and concept of the footprint are formal signs; the footprint itself is a natural sign. Note that we grasp all natural and conventional signs through formal signs, but we do not thereby confuse the different kinds of signs.

    Words are NOT concepts. Words are conventional signs indispensable for the communication of thought: any intellectual communication between human beings must in the end be through words–even for Helen Keller. Whatever shorthand efficiency and advantages symbols may have, they nonetheless acquire meaning and are communicated by words. A word is therefore a conventional sign imposed by humans (i.e., they are artifacts) to signify a the formal sign known as a concept. We do NOT understand concepts (except in direct reflection upon them as second intentions): we understand the thing by means of the concept.

    NOTA BENE: words never directly signify objects or things but signify them only via concepts. A given word conventionally (and sometimes even arbitrarily) signifies the concept of the object or thing we know. The word “race” can signify the concept of a contest of speed and the concept of a nation of people.

    We do not possess immediate and complete knowledge of things outside ourselves like angels do: we must employ our senses to learn of the world, we must employ concepts (signs) to signify universals, and we reason through concepts to things that are not sensory accessible: the concept of marriage is not something accessible to the senses, but it is a concept with a very special and precise meaning. To suggest, as d does that essences of things are relevant to the debate is to utterly shut debate down because it closes communication down. Period. Dog means “dog”. Marriage means marriage.

    To manipulate the meaning of words means to alter the sign to point to something else–not to the original thing. That is the game d plays. It is therefore totally disingenuous for d to claim the following [@ #8]:

    … same-sex proponents aren’t out to change or alter that thing, whatever it may be, they’re out to change human law and/or definitions.

    Another bloody lie. That is precisely the intention of same-sex marriage proponents: to intentionally and with force manipulate the thing (marriage) through the manipulation of words/meanings. Power over others to accept their morally repugnant ideology and to hate those who dare to disagree.

  32. Aaaan its another day… so I’m going to give Rod a response (sorry for the length)

    Quick note. Since I refer to Toms numbered assumptions so much, I’ll just refer to them as (A1), (A2) or just (A) for both.

    A1 = That the definition of marriage can be altered to accomodate same-sex marriage
    A2 = That this alteration can occur through law.

    … and SSMP = Same-sex marriage proponents

    It is not. The use-mention distinction is what in mathematics is known as the syntax-semantics duality and is largely irrelevant to the issue at hand.

    Whatever it may be in mathematics, in logical discourse, a failure to recognize the use-mention distinction occurs when properties of a word are conflated or confused with properties of the thing to which the word is supposed to refer (or vice verse), which is precisely the pitfall contained in (A1). (A1) was worded to refer to the definition of marriage, not it’s referrant.

    And I do believe its *still* causing confusion in this conversation.

    Perhaps one way Tom might have avoided it, is with wording like so (I’ll call this (D1))

    (D1) = It is possible for the metaphysical essence of marriage to be altered to accomodate same-sex marriage.

    Given the ensuing arguments, it seems like (D1) is the proverbial fire that SSMP’s feet are being held too. But (D1) is vastly different than (A1) and doesnt really work for Tom’s original argument against RR – at all.

    And also thanks to the use-mention confusion… Its being supposed that *I* am under some burden to demonstrate that marriage is NOT a metaphysical essence, or (A1) is false. Again, (A1) says nothing of metaphysical essence, or the like – but lets explore that for a minute.

    To accept (A1) its only necessary to recognize that the definition of marriage has at least a legal/social component and/or definition subject to human revision. And as it just so happens, that statement is factually true.

    But no claims beyond that need to be made about the ultimate ontological status of marriage. One could simply decide to withhold judgement on any of those claims and still affirm (A1).

    Burden of proof belongs to anybody making any such grand claims about the ontological status or essence of marriage. The burden is made heavier if specifics are mentioned about it’s properties (ie, that same-sex marriage is not part of this essence, and that its fixed, etc). And whatever the answers, there’s bound to be some fundamental epistemelogical issues to deal with (divine revelation, etc), along with who knows how many other wormholes..

    In short – if one wants to claim that marriage is an essence which is unchangeable and excludes same-sex relationships, well.. lets see the proof. Demonstrate the claim decisively, using arguments and doctrines with which it is not reasonable for anyone to disagree (ie, no papal infallibility, no “its in the bible”). Either do that, or come up with a refutation of RR’s reasonableness criterion, which is actually successful.

    You are conflating two issues.

    1. Human language is of necessity a product of all sorts of human conventions, so it is trivially true that we can take the Humpty-Dumpty position and say that words mean exactly what we say they mean.

    2. The referent of the 8-letter word “marriage” is likewise a product of human convention, and thus it can be expanded to cover same-sex relations.

    2. is completely different and does *not* follow from 1. — this is why it is highly ironical that it was *you* who brought up the use-mention equivocation. You have to provide an argument to substantiate 2. Warning: it is *much* harder than casual thought may indicate.

    You are right that (2) does not follow from (1). But again – we’re running into the use-mention problem again. I’ve never argued that (2) follows from (1). I’ve argued that (A1) follows from a premise like your (1).

    Your (2) is pretty much just like (D1). To reiterate, (D1) and (2) are not the assumptions that are the claimed prerequisites to support same-sex marriage – it is (A1) and (A2).

    The issue is not one of confusion, although you do seem somewhat confused, arbitrariness or even usefulness of definitions, whatever “usefulness of a definition” means. The crux lies in the status of what the word “marriage” refers to. You want to argue that it is expandable and thus, effectively say that it has no essence, being purely a human construct, a fiction of the law it is entertained for all sorts of muddle-headed purposes. But mere assertion by fiat does not suffice, an argument is needed to substantiate it. Warning: it is *much* harder than casual thought may indicate.

    I addressed this in the first section of this post, but I’ll just reiterate again: (A1) does not require me to make any positive claim about the ontology of marriage, beyond recognizing the basic fact that, either in whole or in part, has some legal/social form amenable by human revision.

    For the time being, I can leave my mind open about the metaphysical essense of marriage. If you want to claim there is something beyond the legal definition, that *definatley* requires argument.

    And as I said, I’m willing to bet all of those arguments will include conventional doctrines of the sort that RR deems unacceptable in matters of public policy! And his argument hasn’t been refuted yet!

    This invites the obvious retort, why would we? Unless we are already predisposed and biased towards same-sex marriage, that is.

    Actually, I don’t think I’m “predisposed” to favor same-sex marriage for any reason. I’m happily married to a sexy lady, and don’t plan on switching teams. More foundational beliefs about the nature of civil rights, morality, etc, inform my beliefs about same-sex marriage.

    And ironically, its at these deeper points where I think Tom has a better chance to find the vulnerable spots in RR’s argument. But I don’t think he’s done it yet.

    Above, you argue that there are no essential properties of the referent of the word “marriage” now you seem to say that there are when using the expression “quintessential marriage”– you really should make up your mind. On a Christian view there are indeed, but why on earth are there on your view? More to the point, why is gender an essential property of marriage on your view? Why is species an essential property of marriage on your view? Why is number of participants an essential property of marriage on your view? In fact on your view, they are *not*, since you are effectively denying that there are any essential properties of what we call “marriage” and that we are free to redefine it anyway we want. And if I want to marry my dog, why should I not be allowed to do it? Why is that not an infringement of my rights? Why two gay people get to adopt a child and me and my dog and my parrot do not have that right? I love my dog and my dog loves me. Ok, I do not even have a dog or a parrot, but I have 5 chairs and I love my 5 chairs and my 5 chairs all love me, so I want to marry all of them in one happy blissful union. No divorce will happen, I can guarantee you that much. How on your view can you *consistently* expand the referent of the word “marriage” to accomodate same-sex relationships on the argument that there is no real essence to marriage and yet in the same breath deny that I can marry my dog and my parrot and my chair?

    Those are the answers you have to provide. I am not asking for your arguments, I am just pointing out some of the hurdles you have to surmount and make a warning: it is *much* harder than casual thought may indicate.

    Do believe me when I say I have given these examples much more than casual thought. I’ve encountered them all, many times over.

    I’m not going to answer them all individually, but… I lean strongly towards consequentialism. I think there are plenty of powerful consequentialist reasons to reject all of these proposals, but no such reasons against same-sex marriage.

    Now I do recognize that it is totally possible for all kinds of reasonable people everywhere, to reject the ethical theory that I hold – and possibly accept some other competing theory. Well, gee.. How about that?

    If Tom can manage to find some position required to support same-sex marriage… like one which really can only be supported by a controversial ethical theory – then maybe he has a shot to defuse RR! But he hasnt done it yet, because…

    (A1) is a tautologically true fact, it requires no conventional doctrine (certainly no sort of ethical theory) to hold.

    Phew..

  33. Well, d, I can at last see why you brought up the use-mention distinction. Your proposed alternative, D1, is better, though not quite the way I would prefer to go, however. Rather the corrected version assumptions would be,

    A1b: That which is signified by “marriage” is expandable to include same-sex unions, and
    A2. That expansion can be accomplished by law.

    The difference between D1 and A1b is that I don’t want to imply that SSMP’s must assume there is an underlying metaphysical essence to marriage. There just have to be some “that which is signified.”

    I could argue that my use of “marriage” in the original A1 was aimed at the signified, and wasn’t incorrect as you claim. That’s how I was thinking about it, most assuredly. But you would be able to come back and say my wording was ambiguous at best, and that your interpretation was a possible one, which I would have to grant. So I’ll yield the point and chalk it up as a learning experience.

    Still it’s not clear to me why you think this does nothing at all to undermine RR’s position, although I think that here you might be trying to explain:

    Burden of proof belongs to anybody making any such grand claims about the ontological status or essence of marriage. The burden is made heavier if specifics are mentioned about it’s properties (ie, that same-sex marriage is not part of this essence, and that its fixed, etc). And whatever the answers, there’s bound to be some fundamental epistemelogical issues to deal with (divine revelation, etc), along with who knows how many other wormholes..

    In short – if one wants to claim that marriage is an essence which is unchangeable and excludes same-sex relationships, well.. lets see the proof. Demonstrate the claim decisively, using arguments and doctrines with which it is not reasonable for anyone to disagree (ie, no papal infallibility, no “its in the bible”). Either do that, or come up with a refutation of RR’s reasonableness criterion, which is actually successful.

    Which proof are you referring to? Which claim about unchanging essences? I’m not trying to prove that here. (I might elsewhere, but not here.) My point rather is that SSMP’s must assume A1b and A2, or else they cannot rationally justify their support for “legalizing” SSM.

    That’s the first step in an argument that carries on from there, which I will not repeat. Let’s see how we do with that much and leave it at that for now.

  34. Guess I could have saved everybody some time, myself included, by quickly pointing out that (A1) is in fact a tautology.

    Oh well:P

  35. A tautology? I think you meant something else, like perhaps “trivially true,” based on your reading of it, which I granted in my last comment. It’s not a tautology.

  36. @d:

    Whatever it may be in mathematics, in logical discourse, a failure to recognize the use-mention distinction occurs when properties of a word are conflated or confused with properties of the thing to which the word is supposed to refer (or vice verse), which is precisely the pitfall contained in (A1). (A1) was worded to refer to the definition of marriage, not it’s referrant.

    Sigh… you persist in the same mistakes. Referring to Holopupenko’s exposition, a word is a conventional sign that signifies, points or refers to a concept and thus the use of expressions such as the “referent of a word”. The definition of marriage *is* what the word “marriage” refers to, what else can it be? Or will you also argue that since definitions are conventions, the very definition of “definition” is conventional and thus you are using a different definition of “definition”? This is getting surreal.

    Now, your (A1) (“the definition of marriage can be altered to accomodate same-sex marriage”) can be read in two ways:

    (1) You can take the word “marriage” and re-point it to something else. This is the Humpty-Dumpty position and as I have already conceded, it is trivially true that you can do that.

    (2) You are arguing that marriage, that is, the concept that is referred by the word “marriage”, can be expanded to accommodate same-sex relationships.

    I insist that (2) above is exactly the same as (2) in my earlier post. In particular, your charges below that I am confusing (2) with your (D1) reformulation are simply *incorrect*.

    (D1) It is possible for the metaphysical essence of marriage to be altered to accomodate same-sex marriage.

    Given the ensuing arguments, it seems like (D1) is the proverbial fire that SSMP’s feet are being held too. But (D1) is vastly different than (A1) and doesnt really work for Tom’s original argument against RR – at all.

    As far as I am aware Tom Gilson never presupposed that there is any metaphysical essence to marriage and while I would argue (and I would assume he also) that there is, I did not do it in my post, so you are misreading it if you think that I read (A1) as (D1).

    And also thanks to the use-mention confusion… Its being supposed that *I* am under some burden to demonstrate that marriage is NOT a metaphysical essence, or (A1) is false. Again, (A1) says nothing of metaphysical essence, or the like – but lets explore that for a minute.

    No, again you are misunderstanding. What you are obliged is to demonstrate (A1) (or (2) above), that the concept of marriage can indeed be expanded to include same-sex relationships.

    To accept (A1) its only necessary to recognize that the definition of marriage has at least a legal/social component and/or definition subject to human revision. And as it just so happens, that statement is factually true.

    The fact that marriage has a legal and social component does not mean that it does not have other components or that the legal and social considerations override every other consideration. Arguments are needed. Even more modestly, appealing *only* to the two principles you state in the quoted paragraph, the conclusion still does *not* follow. If it did, it would apply to *every* social fact that falls under the law that you care to name: slavery, murder, whatever. Thus by your own account, we could redefine the *concept* of slavery and say that it can be expanded in reverse to only cover, and thus be punishable by law, if the enslaved have white skin, red hair and blue eyes. Can we do that? If you respond yes, then you are deeply, deeply confused and I am afraid that you are not fit for rational discourse.

    But no claims beyond that need to be made about the ultimate ontological status of marriage. One could simply decide to withhold
    judgement on any of those claims and still affirm (A1).

    Surely you jest, Mr. d, to suppose that I will swallow such disingenuousness. This is the proverbial, tyrannical wolf in the sheep’s clothing of “withholding judgment”. That is simply unacceptable, because I for one, will *not* withhold judgment. Or in other words, you have to provide an argument for why we actually should withhold judgment. To presume that the ontological status of marriage is irrelevant to the matters at hand is so preposterous, that I am at a loss at how to properly qualify the people who make it without resorting to insults. How can what a thing, in this case the concept of marriage, *is* be irrelevant to questions pertaining to it?

    Burden of proof belongs to anybody making any such grand claims about the ontological status or essence of marriage. The burden is made heavier if specifics are mentioned about it’s properties (ie, that same-sex marriage is not part of this essence, and that its fixed, etc). And whatever the answers, there’s bound to be some fundamental epistemelogical issues to deal with (divine revelation, etc), along with who knows how many other wormholes.

    Burden of proof? I will gladly take it and with no appeals to the Papal infallibility or the Bible, but do not for once think that you can come here, advance a sweeping change to an institution that is prior to the state and state-law, and then have the gall to handwave and make some vague appeals to redefinitions, “withholding judgments” and other nonsense and expect us to swallow your poison and “say thank you, straighten up, look proud and pleased / Because we’ve only got the symptoms, we haven’t got the whole disease”. No thanks. You yourself also have a burden of proof, and until now you have diddly-squat.

    You are right that (2) does not follow from (1). But again – we’re running into the use-mention problem again. I’ve never argued that (2) follows from (1). I’ve argued that (A1) follows from a premise like your (1).

    No, no, no, no, no, thousand times NO. First, your (A1) *is* my (2) — either that or you do not know what a definition is. Second, only in your imagination does (A1) follow from (1) above. It does NOT. I repeat, the fact that you can re-define words and make them signify, point or refer to some other concept does not mean that the concept of marriage itself is expandable. An argument is needed. Amazing. You keep bringing up the use-mention distinction and you *keep* equivocating the two by asserting that (A1) follows from (1). Sheesh, is this really so hard to get?

    And if you are going to appeal to (1) then we fall back to the silly re-definition power plays we have already contemplated in earlier posts. I thought you had gained some sense and already rejected that; guess not.

    I’ll just reiterate again: (A1) does not require me to make any positive claim about the ontology of marriage, beyond recognizing the basic fact that, either in whole or in part, has some legal/social form amenable by human revision.

    And I will reiterate again: (A1) or (2) are the same. (A1) does not follow from the fact that marriage has a legal / social component. If you use (1) to support (A1), then the only thing you deserve is to be laughed at. (A1) *is* a positive claim about the concept of marriage — that it is expandable to cover same-sex relationships — and thus it carries metaphysical force. In the measure that it denies a property — restricted to people of different genders — it is a positive claim so you have to substantiate it. Even more so, because this has been the prevalent opinion of humanity for the vast, vast majority of its history. To quote G. K. Chesterton:

    Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes — our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking around.

    And by the way, since you demand that we use “arguments and doctrines with which it is not reasonable for anyone to disagree”, then the same standard applies to you, so you should only use arguments and doctrines with which we Christians, a sizeable portion of the human population, can reasonably agree with.

    And as I said, I’m willing to bet all of those arguments will include conventional doctrines of the sort that RR deems unacceptable in matters of public policy! And his argument hasn’t been refuted yet!

    I refute it thus: in matters of public policy, I deem unacceptable RR’s conventional doctrine that “conventional doctrines of the sort that RR deems unacceptable in matters of public policy” are indeed unacceptable. Another pill that we are supposed to swallow; another poison whose covert objective is to drive off religious people from the public square. I vote with my feet.

    I’m not going to answer them all individually, but… I lean strongly towards consequentialism. I think there are plenty of powerful consequentialist reasons to reject all of these proposals, but no such reasons against same-sex marriage.

    How surprising… If you “withhold judgment” on ontological status and deem metaphysics irrelevant, then utilitarian and consequentialist views are basically the only game in town. How sad.

  37. Good words, G. Rodrigues.

    Your closing caught my eye. If consequentialist views are all d has to talk about (which is essentially what he wants to say with respect to social decisions), then I wonder whether massively high rates of syphilis and AIDS are consequences. Very few of even the most committed homosexual male couples are monogamous and “marriage” will not make them so; so let’s not suppose that “marriage” would slow their rate of STDs noticeably. I wonder whether d’s consequences take into account the massive confusion the homosexual insurgency has thrown into teenagers’ same-sex friendships. I’ve seen that one at first hand. I wonder whether his consequences take into account Christians’ civil liberties being violated–I have a friend who has been dismissed from two contracts just because off the job he has expressed disagreement with the homosexual insurgency. I wonder if he has taken into account the slippery slope this puts us on toward “marriages” involving pedophilic, bestial, and polyamorous relationships. (And d, before you lecture me about the fallacies of slippery slope arguments, be sure to check for when they’re fallacious and when they are not. This one is not.) I wonder if he thought through the effects on the world of cutting off the birth of the next generation.

    I’m just getting started but I had better stop. It’s off topic anyway.

  38. d,

    I was a little confused earlier when you addressed a comment to “Rod.” There is no one identifying himself or herself as “Rod” in this conversation. I do know who you had in mind.

    I have a policy of mutual respect here. If someone addressed me as “Gil” I would ask them not to do that, because it’s not my name; it’s not even a standard Internet short form of it; and there’s something more than vaguely demeaning in it because of that. The person you addressed as “Rod” should feel free to let you know if he feels the same way.

  39. @Tom Gilson:

    Your closing caught my eye. If consequentialist views are all d has to talk about (which is essentially what he wants to say with respect to social decisions), then I wonder whether massively high rates of syphilis and AIDS are consequences.

    Exactly. First note that the argument outlined in the penultimate paragraph of my post #31 is not a slippery-slope argument, but the pointing out of a fundamental inconsistency in the view of same-sex marriage advocates. But, a posteriori, it can be used to show what will be the predictable *consequences* of laws permitting same-sex marriage. How can a consequentialist respond to this? How can a consequentialist evade and respond to the stark *empirical* evidence of the massive high rates of STD’s among the homossexual community? Damned if I know. The same for all the other consequences you listed.

    The person you addressed as “Rod” should feel free to let you know if he feels the same way.

    I also noticed that. My last name is “Rodrigues” but it is common to see it spelled in the Spanish form “Rodriguez” and I never bother to point out the typo. The G. stands for “Gonçalo”. The “ç” does not exist in the English language and in fact, it is my experience that English-speaking people have difficulty with it, since the nasalated “ss” sound followed by an open “a” is quite rare (non-existent?), so much so that most of the times it is our Spanish neighbors form “Gonzalo” that is used.

    While I do not bother myself in pointing out the misspellings of my name and am not in the least offended by the use of such terms as “Rod”, I do think that proper netiquette should be observed, and I myself make an effort to address people in the proper and respectful way.

  40. My apologies on the name thing, “Rod” was just the short hand I was using while I was typing up my post to separate your own bits from mine, before I went back and added the blockquote tags, and ended up addressing you that way. Didn’t even think about it.

    Sigh… you persist in the same mistakes. Referring to Holopupenko’s exposition, a word is a conventional sign that signifies, points or refers to a concept and thus the use of expressions such as the “referent of a word”. The definition of marriage *is* what the word “marriage” refers to, what else can it be? Or will you also argue that since definitions are conventions, the very definition of “definition” is conventional and thus you are using a different definition of “definition”? This is getting surreal.

    Well, I hate to keep beating this horse, but I don’t think this is correct.

    Definitions have the same relationship to their referents, as single words have to their referents. Referents are the territory, while words and their definitions are the maps. That is to say, the string “a 4 legged piece of furniture upon which I sit”, is no more the real world object upon which I sit, than the word “chair” is.

    In fact, definitions are just expressions of logical equivalence, just like the expression A = B. Definitions may allow us to say, as a matter of convention, that A and B have the same referent, but neither A or B are the actual referents.

    So I’m afraid my contention that (A1) is distinctly different from your (2) holds.

    Now, your (A1) (“the definition of marriage can be altered to accomodate same-sex marriage”) can be read in two ways:
    (1) You can take the word “marriage” and re-point it to something else. This is the Humpty-Dumpty position and as I have already conceded, it is trivially true that you can do that.
    (2) You are arguing that marriage, that is, the concept that is referred by the word “marriage”, can be expanded to accommodate same-sex relationships.
    I insist that (2) above is exactly the same as (2) in my earlier post. In particular, your charges below that I am confusing (2) with your (D1) reformulation are simply *incorrect*.
    As far as I am aware Tom Gilson never presupposed that there is any metaphysical essence to marriage and while I would argue (and I would assume he also) that there is, I did not do it in my post, so you are misreading it if you think that I read (A1) as (D1).

    (D1) was my best guess as to what Tom and yourself could have possibly meant. Its how it was appearing to me.. but I’m glad for the clarification. Tom has refined his wording too, so things are a little clearer now.

    No, again you are misunderstanding. What you are obliged is to demonstrate (A1) (or (2) above), that the concept of marriage can indeed be expanded to include same-sex relationships.
    The fact that marriage has a legal and social component does not mean that it does not have other components or that the legal and social considerations override every other consideration. Arguments are needed. Even more modestly, appealing *only* to the two principles you state in the quoted paragraph, the conclusion still does *not* follow. If it did, it would apply to *every* social fact that falls under the law that you care to name: slavery, murder, whatever. Thus by your own account, we could redefine the *concept* of slavery and say that it can be expanded in reverse to only cover, and thus be punishable by law, if the enslaved have white skin, red hair and blue eyes. Can we do that? If you respond yes, then you are deeply, deeply confused and I am afraid that you are not fit for rational discourse.

    Well, I’m sorry then to say that I must be unfit for rational discourse, according to your criteria. But I’ll go ahead and presume that we can continue anyhow, if you don’t mind.

    So, yes, I do claim that we could define “slavery” in that manner, if we all agreed to the convention.

    But again, this is use-mention distinction and map-territory confusion rearing its head again. Theres nothing morally wrong with the word “slavery”. You can’t apply the word “slavery” to any old thing and carry its referent’s immoral properties with it. Nor can you detach the word “slavery” from its referent, and remove those immoral properties. There’s something morally wrong with the referent; the moral wrongness stays with the referent. Properties of referents stay with referents no matter how we define the words we use to refer to them. I think we all agree there.

    But what is possible, is to redefine “slavery” legally, and add or remove its legal properties. Since you brought up slavery, lets illustrate this point with a hypothetical:

    Imagine our laws defined slavery as “forced, unpaid labor of a white man, at the threat of death”, and was highly illegal. The law specifically makes mention of “white men” in the definition, so its presumed that its quite legal and permissible to extract forced and unpaid labor at the threat of death from anybody whose skin was not white. Now, a contingent of activists arise, and they want to end what they refer to as “non-white slavery” – “the forced, unpaid labor of *any* man, at the threat of death”.

    Well, not everybody agrees with their beliefs, and their opponents issue arguments and challenges like:

    “Non-white slavery is a contradiction in terms!”

    “You cannot demonstrate that the definition of ‘slavery” is expandable to accommodate ‘non-white slavery’!”

    “You cannot demonstrate that the thing to which ‘slavery” refers, is expandable to accommodate ‘non-white slavery’!”

    and so forth…

    The small contingent replies with something like:

    “Well, I know you may have some differing theories and ideas about the full nature of that to which “slavery” refers, but at the very least, can we all agree that, either whole or in part, it has some existence as a legally institution that is amenable to human revision? I don’t claim to know anything about the theories or ideas you have about the existence of “slavery” beyond its legal and social existence, but I do know that we can change our laws. Our arguments only appeal to our ability to change legal definitions, not anything else.”

    Well, if the reasoning that you and Tom seem to be wielding in this discussion holds, unfortunately that small contingent hoping to outlaw non-white slavery is crap out of luck! Properties, referents, definitions, etc are getting confused in the above case, and the replies of the small contingent are exactly right. It would be absurd to suggest that they are under some burden to prove or demonstrate that “slavery” can be defined legally as something else, or that they are relying on some conventional doctrines which reasonable people should not be expected to hold.

    This is analogous to the debate happening now. Same-sex marriage proponents can wield the exact same reply to all these arguments, thus showing that they do not rely on an conventional doctrine about same-sex marriage.

    I’m running out of time, so I’ll skip most of the rest, but I think my previous points adequately address most of the omitted arguments from G. Rodrigues, since they mostly all encircle my explanations of definitions.

    I refute it thus: in matters of public policy, I deem unacceptable RR’s conventional doctrine that “conventional doctrines of the sort that RR deems unacceptable in matters of public policy” are indeed unacceptable. Another pill that we are supposed to swallow; another poison whose covert objective is to drive off religious people from the public square. I vote with my feet.

    That’s not really a refutation, but mere foot stomping. Perhaps you can elaborate as to why you feel your particular doctrines should hold weight over those who reject them in the public square in a manner that doesn’t presume some rather harsh and fairly insulting things about those who believe otherwise.

  41. d, I suggest you get off that horse. You’re confusing yourself. If a definition is an expression of logical equivalence, in fact, you are contradicting yourself:

    def(“marriage”) == that to which the term “marriage” refers

    That is decidedly not a use-mention fallacy in operation. It is saying that if we change the definition of “marriage,” then that to which it refers also changes. Of course the question of A1 or of A1b is whether that to which marriage refers is subject to change. You can ride the trivially true train (switching metaphors, but I like the alliteration) called “we can change definitions all we like” from Toronto to Tupelo. But why don’t you just accept that we’ve heard your point and get on a more interesting journey than that one? Aren’t you getting bored with that by now? (I am, in spite of fun with alliteration.)

    You want us to talk about referents, we are talking about referents; and besides, I’ve told you that you can use my A1b instead of A1 if you want. Would you like to go there with us, or do you want to keep trying to convince us that was never what we were talking about? A hint on that: no matter what you may think, it was.

  42. Obviously, much digital ink has been spilled over the word “marriage”. The discussion has so far focused on two ways in which this word is being used (both in this thread, and in the broader public discourse):

    M_E: the fixed essence of marriage — i.e. what marriage is. (Some people do not believe that M_E exists… fair enough).

    M_L: legal marriage, as shaped by laws and legal definitions. (This sense includes all the tax benefits and legal rights associated with marriage)

    It is fair to make this distinction, but it is crucial to note that there is also third sense that is relevant:

    M_S: the social institution of marriage, as shaped by the public’s attitudes and beliefs about marriage.

    You might say M_E is what God (if you believe in Him, as I do) thinks of as marriage, M_L is what the law/government thinks of as marriage, and M_S is what people think of as marriage.

    When SSM advocates, such as d, argue that changing M_L will not change M_E, they are correct (as we Christians readily acknowledge). It is, however, false for them to claim that changing M_L will not affect anything else about marriage. It is impossible to change M_L without changing M_S — that is, the law not only reflects the public’s beliefs and attitudes, it also shapes them. The law is, so to speak, pedagogical.

    In fact, I strongly suspect that the primary goal of many (perhaps even most) SSM advocates is actually to change M_S, via a change in M_L, and not simply to gain the legal rights and benefits of marriage by changing M_L.

    If their primary goal were simply to gain legal rights and benefits, then wouldn’t most SSM advocates be lobbying for civil unions, rather than same-sex “marriage”, considering that the former would face significantly less public opposition than the latter? Why wouldn’t they choose the path of least resistance to their goal, unless their goal were something other than tax breaks and hospital visitation rights?

    It seems clear, in other words, that many SSM advocates want to use the law as a sort of bully pulpit (as they have used the arts, the entertainment industry, the APA, and now schools and business culture) to get people to believe what they believe about marriage, instead of what society has traditionally believed about marriage.

    But attempting to change M_S through M_L is not only an abuse of the law, it is also dangerous. Recent history has shown that i) the law has the power to shift (and especially, to weaken) social marriage norms, ii) when marriage norms shift, bad things happen to communities, children, and adults, despite the best predictions of social scientists to the contrary. When states started legalizing no-fault divorce, sociologists predicted that it wouldn’t really change the divorce rate (“legalizing divorce won’t make existing marriages any less happy/stable”), and that children would actually benefit from easier divorces (“better to be raised by a single parent, than by two parents who are always fighting”). Well, unfortunately, the divorce rate really did go up, and later sociological studies found that divorce really is bad for kids (even worse than a rocky marriage between their biological parents). Oh, and these effects were more pronounced in poor communities than rich ones.

    So, d, I have two questions for you: i) would you be willing to accept civil unions, as opposed to legal marriage, for same-sex couples? and ii) if not, then as a consequentialist, how would you justify changing M_L, given that the consequences of the concomitant change in M_S are uncertain at best, and harmful at worst (especially to children and the poor).

  43. Tom:

    Yes, quite a bit bored, since these confusions occur in nearly every single debate I’ve had on the topic. But in each case, deliveries and thoughts often become more refined or tricky pitfalls are discovered, so something of value is usually gained (for me), despite the boredom. Again, I apologize if this is not the type of discussion you prefer to have on your blog.

    And I didn’t miss your reply or your reformulation, I just got into answering the other first.

    But:

    def(“marriage”) == that to which the term “marriage” refers

    redefines the idea of definitions itself. I know this whole conversation has been about redefining a particular word, but goodness, we don’t need to go this far! I’m not contradicting myself, unless I slipped up somewhere (entirely possible), because I haven’t been claiming that definitions are the same as that to which they refer.

    And please note: If def(“marriage”) is equivalent to “that to which the term “marriage” refers”, then your reformulation of (A1) wasn’t actually a reformulation at all, you just used different words to say the same exact thing.

    But really, things should be more like this:

    def(“marriage”)
    == a formal description of that to which the word “marriage” refers
    == logically equivalent statement to the word itself

    The terms in there “description”, and “statement” are vital to unravelling the confusion here.

    But, to be sure, we are running afoul of deep seated issues with our brains, language, how we conceptualize things, and how those conceptions correspond to the world at large, so confusion is expected – and its wildly frustrating sometimes – but darn it, we have to sort it out if we’re to make sense of anything. The very nature of our language, how we construct sentences, etc, trick us insidiously, all the time. Yes, its tedious to sort out… but it is what it is.

    Definitions (as they are defined) really do just express alternate, but logically equivalent strings for words. We have to put our feet on the ground at some point and connect these words and definitions to real world stuff, but we can’t confuse the real world stuff with our descriptions or the words we assign to them.

    We can point to stuff and say “that is what I’m defining” – but my definition at no point and time becomes that thing. Not even the term “definition” can become the rules of logical equivalence that it describes. We could refer to those rules by any name, or any set of strings. We could be sure that we are talking about the same thing – even if we use different words – so long as they are tied appropriately to the real world thing which seems woven into the fabric of reality – logical equivelence.

    Anyhow, moving along… how that all relates to marriage, is that we appear to have competing ideas about some aspect of the real world relating to human relationships, and how those are woven into the fabric of reality.

    But no matter what our claims in that respect, its my contention that *at the very least* we can all agree some factually true aspects of of those relationships, just like slavery per my hypothetical above, have a component rooted in the legal/social conventions of man, and that this is a fact which no reasonable person can deny. One culture’s conventions permit polygamy. Others permit adolescent marriage. We have fashioned quite a different set of conventions – and whether they reflect something more about the fabric of reality more so than the others, well I cannot say.

    But what is not debatable, is that we, through our legal system, and through the ever-present possibility of agreeing to new conventions – can change those legal and social conventions in any way we desire. Preferably, we should have very good reasons to do so, just as the “non-white slavery” advocates have good reasons for their desired change. But whether good reasons exist or not, either change is possible.

    And with that premise in mind, I claim that to endorse same-sex marriage, one only has to affirm that we can change those particular legal or social conventions… not that we have the power to alter some fundamental aspect of reality itself. And so I claim that this is all that a SSM argument has to depend on.

    So even with your re-wording, I think it fails to be a requirement for all SSM
    arguments. SSM arguments can happily stick with (A1), and (A1) for reasons I have already described at length, requires no conventional doctrine – (A1) is simply factually true.

  44. Bill R.

    So, d, I have two questions for you: i) would you be willing to accept civil unions, as opposed to legal marriage, for same-sex couples? and ii) if not, then as a consequentialist, how would you justify changing M_L, given that the consequences of the concomitant change in M_S are uncertain at best, and harmful at worst (especially to children and the poor).

    To answer your questions:

    i) Sure. Actually, my ultimate preference is to adopt what seems to be quite a popular libertarian position these days, to abolish *all* marriage at the federal and state level, and convert them *all* to civil unions. Number one, it gets the government out of all these thorny issues about the essence of marriage, and the nature of the sexual relationships between couples… but just grants the legal rights of marriage, and I think encourage a particular type of human relationship (lifelong pair bonding) that promotes social stability. The moniker “marriage” would remain for those social institutions which choose to use it, like churches, etc.

    But, I think the chances of that ever happening are essentially zero..

    And note, the one problem with civil unions (and SSM at the state level, thanks to DOMA) is that states are not required to recognize them. Some states have SSM, some have civil unions – but if the couple moves, it might be irrelevant. But that’s not so for marriage, and hence the national push for SSM.

    ii) So, in the interim, SSM is the next best thing, and actually appears to have some probability of happening. As for the social consequences, number one, I see no plausible case that SSM will have any harmful effects on our social structure. In fact, I find it plausible that the opposite is the case. What does a prolonged social marginalization of certain sub groups do the culture and psyche of those people? Well, they might lash out, rebel and attempt to tear down those institutions that reject them. Were they invited in, it might actually make things better for them, and us.

    And we don’t have to rely on pure speculation – other countries have been boldly undertaking the experiment for quite a while now, and so far, armageddon hasn’t occurred – at least not in any way plausibly connected to SSM.

  45. d, you say, in your 5:25 pm comment,

    these confusions occur in nearly every single debate I’ve had on the topic.

    There are two common factors, one or more of which is to blame: the topic, and you. But for all your protestations, I don’t think Holo, G. Rodrigues, or I are confused on this topic, so that leaves just one common factor.

    For example:

    But:

    def(“marriage”) == that to which the term “marriage” refers

    … redefines the idea of definitions itself.

    Interesting. I took your words and placed them in a somewhat symbolic form, and you pronounced it wrong.

    Yes, its tedious to sort out… but it is what it is.

    It’s a lot more tedious doing it your way than it needs to be. Not only have we had to correct your misunderstandings of our position, now it seems we need to help you correct your misunderstanding of your own position.

    we appear to have competing ideas about some aspect of the real world relating to human relationships, and how those are woven into the fabric of reality.

    Ummm, d, that’s not exactly news…

    its my contention that *at the very least* we can all agree some factually true aspects of of those relationships, just like slavery per my hypothetical above, have a component rooted in the legal/social conventions of man, and that this is a fact which no reasonable person can deny.

    Bill R. covered that quite nicely, I think.

    One culture’s conventions permit polygamy. Others permit adolescent marriage. We have fashioned quite a different set of conventions – and whether they reflect something more about the fabric of reality more so than the others, well I cannot say.

    Then if you don’t know about the fabric or reality, quit opining about it. Sure, we can agree to new conventions. Trivially true. Boring. I’m all done hearing you say that over and over again. The question is how that impinges on the reality of marriage. And that is something about which you have emphatically informed us you have no opinion.

    And with that premise in mind, I claim that to endorse same-sex marriage, one only has to affirm that we can change those particular legal or social conventions… not that we have the power to alter some fundamental aspect of reality itself. And so I claim that this is all that a SSM argument has to depend on.

    Premise: We can change our legal definition of “marriage.”
    Premise: We have no power to change the fundamental reality of marriage, if there is any such thing.
    Conclusion: Therefore we should endorse SSM.

    Do you see any gap between your premise and your conclusion? Would you like to borrow my binoculars to help you see from one side to the other?

  46. Re your 5:58 pm comment,

    I see no plausible case that SSM will have any harmful effects on our social structure.

    You need more than binoculars to help you with your vision.

  47. @d:

    Well, I hate to keep beating this horse, but I don’t think this is correct.

    Well, I hate to break it to you, but you are flogging a dead horse. Most of your post, is just *agreeing* with what I have been saying all along. Proof? Here are three bits from your post:

    Definitions have the same relationship to their referents, as single words have to their referents. Referents are the territory, while words and their definitions are the maps. That is to say, the string “a 4 legged piece of furniture upon which I sit”, is no more the real world object upon which I sit, than the word “chair” is.

    Definitions may allow us to say, as a matter of convention, that A and B have the same referent, but neither A or B are the actual referents.

    Theres nothing morally wrong with the word “slavery”. You can’t apply the word “slavery” to any old thing and carry its referent’s immoral properties with it. Nor can you detach the word “slavery” from its referent, and remove those immoral properties. There’s something morally wrong with the referent; the moral wrongness stays with the referent. Properties of referents stay with referents no matter how we define the words we use to refer to them.

    Correct. But where in God’s name do you got the impression that I disagreed with any of this that you felt the need to lecture me, again, on the use-mention distinction? Do I need to sift through my posts and quote myself to show you just that?

    Now for the howler:

    So I’m afraid my contention that (A1) is distinctly different from your (2) holds.

    Here we go again… There must be some failure in communication here. I will do a most shameful thing, quote myself:

    Now, your (A1) (“the definition of marriage can be altered to accomodate same-sex marriage”) can be read in two ways:

    (1) You can take the word “marriage” and re-point it to something else. This is the Humpty-Dumpty position and as I have already conceded, it is trivially true that you can do that.

    (2) You are arguing that marriage, that is, the concept that is referred by the word “marriage”, can be expanded to accommodate same-sex relationships.

    Read it again. What do you mean by (A1)? It is either (1) or (2). If you say (1) — that I concede, for the third time, that it is trivially true — then, to quote myself again:

    And if you are going to appeal to (1) then we fall back to the silly re-definition power plays we have already contemplated in earlier posts. I thought you had gained some sense and already rejected that.

    Do you really want to go down that road again? If (2) then, may I suggest you read people’s posts with more care? And no, there is no third option because (A1) is “the definition of marriage can be altered to accomodate same-sex marriage”. For there to be a third option, there would have to be a definition of “definition” that is hitherto unknown to the rest of mankind.

    About your hypothetical case of slavery, whatever thin veneer of plausibility you imagine it has, is due to a feigned, but not real, resemblance to the historical case. The supposed burden of proof is incorrectly formulated: if you want to parody what I have said, you should put in the slaver’s mouths “Show me that what we call slavery also applies to non-white people”. Guess what: it was precisely this that happened in the historical debates. In fact, your illustration reinforces my point: the crux is over what slavery *is* not about legal fictions with which all reasonable people can agree. Even more preposterous is that you think that the reply made by the small contingent of freedom fighters carries any persuasive force. If they actually did made that stupid argument, you *bet* they were crap out of luck.

    I refute it thus: in matters of public policy, I deem unacceptable RR’s conventional doctrine that “conventional doctrines of the sort that RR deems unacceptable in matters of public policy” are indeed unacceptable. Another pill that we are supposed to swallow; another poison whose covert objective is to drive off religious people from the public square. I vote with my feet.

    That’s not really a refutation, but mere foot stomping. Perhaps you can elaborate as to why you feel your particular doctrines should hold weight over those who reject them in the public square in a manner that doesn’t presume some rather harsh and fairly insulting things about those who believe otherwise.

    Can you read? Please, show me where I argued that my “particular doctrines should hold weight over those who reject them in the public square”.

    Since I am in a good mood (Portugal won Cyprus 4-0 at soccer, although we played miserably), I will translate the argument for you in a more palatable form. RR’s argument rests on two crucial notions: that of comprehensive doctrine and reasonable agreement. Both are ambiguous. In the measure that RR’s argument in practice evicts some comprehensive doctrines to have their say in the public square, it is itself a comprehensive doctrine hinging on public matters that many people cannot reasonably accept. Thus, by RR’s own standards the argument is refuted.

  48. I’m going to borrow Bill R.’s clear and helpful nomenclature in this post, on the various aspects of marriage (M_E, M_L, M_S). I’ll add my own too (SSM_E, SSM_L, SSM_S).

    There are two common factors, one or more of which is to blame: the topic, and you. But for all your protestations, I don’t think Holo, G. Rodrigues, or I are confused on this topic, so that leaves just one common factor.

    I would be more receptive to this possibility, if say, my posts on this blog hadn’t been met with what seems like suspiciously motivated hostility which rose to the level of personal insult almost immediately. Granted at times, you have called for some to tone it down, but at others, you have seemed to support it. I do know that on a blog like this, you probably get tons of non-theist trolls just trying to stick it to you, get a rise out of you, and in the process just destroy any possibility of civil conversation, so I’m acutely aware of possible sensitivities and worries you may have in that respect… but I like civil disagreement, putting my beliefs up to the test, and seeing how others view them – I can do it civilly and respectfully, as I think I have shown.

    And with that in mind, I’ve re-read the entire discussion a couple times now, and am earnestly attempting to figure out if and where I might be making mistakes. I honestly see something about your rebuttal to RR that seems fundamentally wrong, and if anything comes of this, I only hope its only that your argument is refined – as I’ve already said, I think RR’s argument probably has some extremely vulnerable points – I just think you’ve missed them.

    For example:

    Interesting. I took your words and placed them in a somewhat symbolic form, and you pronounced it wrong.

    There must be some confusion then, because I don’t think I’ve said any thing like that at all. I’ve re-read the entire discussion and so far I haven’t seen anything like it. My points have consistently reflected that I see a genuine difference between the def(“marriage”) and that to which it refers.

    Bill R. covered that quite nicely, I think.

    Then if you don’t know about the fabric or reality, quit opining about it. Sure, we can agree to new conventions. Trivially true. Boring. I’m all done hearing you say that over and over again. The question is how that impinges on the reality of marriage. And that is something about which you have emphatically informed us you have no opinion.

    Premise: We can change our legal definition of “marriage.”

    Premise: We have no power to change the fundamental reality of marriage, if there is any such thing.
    Conclusion: Therefore we should endorse SSM.

    Do you see any gap between your premise and your conclusion? Would you like to borrow my binoculars to help you see from one side to the other?

    Well, yep there is a huge gap there, but that’s never been my argument. The question has never been how anything impinges on M_E – its been concerning the types of conventional doctrines an SSMP must hold, if any, as prerequisites for his position.

    You claimed that they must hold (A1), later refined to (A1b), and that these positions must be supported by all kinds of doctrines regarding the essence of man, marriage, evolution, etc. Well, they might be if you mean (A1/A1b) in the deeper sense – but (A1/A1b) in the deeper sense is not a requirement to be a SSMP! I’m saying its possible to be a SSMP just according to (A1/b – trivial).

    But lets try and make formal argument out of my position, maybe this will cut through all the crap:

    p1. Any human convention is something that could be made to accommodate an alternative human convention (trivially true)

    p2. M_L is a human convention (trivially true)

    p3. M_S is a human convention (trivially true)

    c1. Therefore, M_L and M_S could be made to accommodate alternative human conventions.

    p4. SSM_L and SSM_S are alternative human conventions.

    c2. Therefore, M_L and M_S can be made to accommodate SSM_L and SSM_S

    So… the question is, can we call somebody an SSMP if they simply restrict their expectations of change to M_L and M_S? Yes, because that’s what an SSMP generally is! M_E doesn’t even enter into it. In fact, I know a few Roman Catholics here and there who not only hold that there is M_E similar to you, but that M_L and M_S can and should be changed to support SSM_L and SSM_S, irrespective of their beliefs about M_E.

    One can be a SSMP and believe any of the following….

    1) M_E really does exist and is unchangeable
    2) M_E really does exist and is changeable
    3) M_E does include SSM_E
    4) M_E does not include SSM_E
    5) M_E could exist
    6) M_E doesn’t exist

    … since SSMP can be strictly concerned with M_L and M_S and only be dependent on (A1/b – trivial), and isn’t necessarily dependent on any beliefs about M_E or (A1b – deep)

  49. d,

    You write,

    For example:

    Interesting. I took your words and placed them in a somewhat symbolic form, and you pronounced it wrong.

    There must be some confusion then, because I don’t think I’ve said any thing like that at all. I’ve re-read the entire discussion and so far I haven’t seen anything like it. My points have consistently reflected that I see a genuine difference between the def(“marriage”) and that to which it refers.

    I got my symbolic representation of it from this:

    In fact, definitions are just expressions of logical equivalence, just like the expression A = B. Definitions may allow us to say, as a matter of convention, that A and B have the same referent, but neither A or B are the actual referents.

    If that means something other than

    def(“marriage”) == that to which the term “marriage” refers

    … then there certainly is confusion here—confusion for which I do not take responsibility.

    Again, you say this was never your argument:

    Premise: We can change our legal definition of “marriage.”

    Premise: We have no power to change the fundamental reality of marriage, if there is any such thing.
    Conclusion: Therefore we should endorse SSM.

    I didn’t make that up, I assure you. Here is where I got it from:

    But whether good reasons exist or not, either change is possible.

    And with that premise in mind, I claim that to endorse same-sex marriage, one only has to affirm that we can change those particular legal or social conventions… not that we have the power to alter some fundamental aspect of reality itself. And so I claim that this is all that a SSM argument has to depend on.

    In there we have
    a, change is possible
    b. to endorse SSM, one only has to affirm that we can change those … conventions
    c. and we need not make any claim about reality.
    d. and that is all a SSM argument has to depend on.

    That’s logically equivalent to

    Premise: We can change our legal definition of “marriage.”

    Premise: We have no power to change the fundamental reality of marriage, if there is any such thing.
    Conclusion: Therefore we should endorse SSM.

    You said it. If there is confusion here (and there certainly is), it might be because you wrote something you don’t agree with.

    Again, you say,

    You claimed that they must hold (A1), later refined to (A1b), and that these positions must be supported by all kinds of doctrines regarding the essence of man, marriage, evolution, etc. Well, they might be if you mean (A1/A1b) in the deeper sense – but (A1/A1b) in the deeper sense is not a requirement to be a SSMP!

    On this you are just mistaken. First, I did not say one must affirm A1 or A1b. I only said that one must affirm A1(b) if one wants to be rational about supporting SSM.

    Thus, to quote you…

    So… the question is, can we call somebody an SSMP if they simply restrict their expectations of change to M_L and M_S?

    One who restricts their expectations of change to M_L and M_S is one who assumes the definition/referent of marriage is expandable to include same-sex unions. How do I know? Because when M_L and M_S are changed, in that person’s mind the definition/referent of marriage has been changed to include same-sex unions. Do you still want to try to persuade us that person is not affirming A1(b)?

    Now it is possible that some person S holds
    a. M_L and M_S are infinitely variable by human decision, and
    b. There is or at least might be some M_E, and
    c. Whether there is an M_E or not, we have all the justification we need to change M_L and M_S.

    There might be such a person. It is theoretically possible. But I’ve never met him or her. Have you? Sure you say you have. But the near-unanimous clamor is that marriage just is M_L and/or M_S. M_E never, ever comes into the conversation except from SSM opponents who have a clue what an “essence” might be.

    If you want to argue about the theoretical possibility of some person S’s existing, fine. S could theoretically exist. As far as I know, S doesn’t exist. You say have some Catholic S-type friends. Well, if that’s true, then we would have opportunity to start another debate over whether S’s position is rationally justifiable. I doubt it; and I doubt your Catholic S-type friends’ Catholicity. Seriously doubt it.

    So here’s what you’ve accomplished:

    In your first comment here you admittedly mixed everything up by careless multi-tasking.
    You’ve insisted that “marriage is first and foremost a word,” as if that were the only thing that matters about it.
    You’ve treated the term “marriage” as infinitely elastic while continuing to use other language as if it meant something.
    For a long time in this conversation you deflected all discussion about “marriage” actually meaning anything. You moderated your position on that later, I think.
    You’ve incorrectly identified the fallacy of equivocation as an indicator that words have no set meaning.
    You’ve misused language (like “tautology”).
    You have supposed that the use-mention distinction is logically different in math than in logic.
    You have charged me with failing to prove a point that I manifestly did not attempt to prove.
    You have blindly (in my strong opinion) denied that you see any harmful effects to come from approving SSM.
    In your most recent comment you contradicted yourself at least twice.
    You’ve demonstrated the logical possibility of an immensely illogical person, one that I’ve never met or encountered in debate.

    And you’ve complained about confusion.

    I see confusion here, too.

  50. I think what we as Christians are saying is that M_E is in fact, something designed by our Creator – in other discussions we have brought up Genesis 1:26-28 as part of the original Creation Mandate for human beings. We are saying that this is an absolute; in that case, M_L and M_S are accountable to God’s definition of M_E. If there is an M_E as defined by the Creator, then it could be the epitomy of human sinful rebellion to suggest that we are at liberty to define M_L and M_S contrary to it – the potential negative consequences, both temporal and eternal, have to then be considered . As I said elsewhere in the blog, those who would claim ‘biblical support’ for SSM have to show that the design ideal as expressed in Genesis 1:27 is somehow wrong or no longer binding.

  51. BTW, though this probably means I’m a cultural nitwit, I’ve never heard the phrase “splash the bogey” in my life, and I had to pretty much guess what he meant by it. I have no idea how friendly or pejorative it is in other usages.

  52. i) Sure. Actually, my ultimate preference is to adopt what seems to be quite a popular libertarian position these days, to abolish *all* marriage at the federal and state level, and convert them *all* to civil unions.

    This option isn’t my first choice, but it is preferable to SSM for me. If it becomes clear that M_L will change in America, then I can live with the above option.

    As for the social consequences, number one, I see no plausible case that SSM will have any harmful effects on our social structure.

    Well, take your pick:

    i) Legalizing SSM would steer M_S towards the idea that marriage recognizes romantic love and primarily serves the desires of adults, as opposed the idea that marriage protects and incentivizes a stable commitment that serves the needs of children and society. This change in M_S might plausibly cause adults to behave in ways that weaken the stability of their own marriages or committed relationships. Because stable marriages (and relationships in general) benefit society, this change in M_S would be bad.

    ii) Alternative family structures, such as two cohabiting parents, a single parent, or two divorced/remarried parents, are demonstrably worse for children than the traditional family of two married, biological parents (especially when they are in a low-conflict marriage). Legalization of SSM might plausibly legitimize alternative family structures and, thus, lower the barrier to couples (heterosexual or homosexual) intentionally raising children in non-ideal environments.

    iii) Scenarios i and ii are only about the message that legalized SSM sends to society, and have nothing to do with the actual behavior of same-sex couples compared to heterosexual couples. But what about behavior? Are same-sex relationships just as stable and monogamous as heterosexual relationships? This question is hotly debated all over the place, but it is at least plausible that the answer is “no” (and plausibility is what you requested). If it turns out not to be the case, then expanding M_L to include a population that tends to have less stable and monogamous relationships than the population that is currently eligible for marriage would further weaken the norm of stable, monogamous marriage that is best for society and children.

    You may not be persuaded to agree with any of these scenarios, but are none of them at least plausible to you? Doesn’t the case of no-fault divorce, in which advocates were all too cavalier about the resilience of society to changes in marriage norms, give you the least pause?

    Continuing…

    In fact, I find it plausible that the opposite is the case. What does a prolonged social marginalization of certain sub groups do the culture and psyche of those people? Well, they might lash out, rebel and attempt to tear down those institutions that reject them. Were they invited in, it might actually make things better for them, and us.

    First of all, nobody is advocating the marginalization of people. Let us all affirm here that gays and lesbians are human beings, equal in worth to straights, and deserving of the same protections against hate crimes, job discrimination, etc. as anyone else. The debate is about whether all relationships are equal, and should be equally recognized by the law. There is nothing inherently immoral about treating different classes of relationships differently, as long as there is good reason for doing so. If some people stomp their feet and threaten to cause havoc because they don’t like it, is that a good reason to accede to their demands and embark on a course with unknown, and potentially disastrous, consequences? Appeasement is not the answer, especially when the cost is potentially very high.

    And we don’t have to rely on pure speculation – other countries have been boldly undertaking the experiment for quite a while now, and so far, armageddon hasn’t occurred – at least not in any way plausibly connected to SSM.

    First of all, this argument cuts both ways, with respect to your previous point about the possibility of homosexuals lashing out and tearing down institutions that supposedly reject them. To paraphrase, “We don’t have to rely on pure speculation – other countries have been boldly standing firm on traditional marriage for quite a while now, and so far, armageddon hasn’t occurred – at least not in any way plausibly connected to the lack of SSM.”

    Second of all, as someone who daily deals with statistical analysis, when I hear someone use a comparison between two countries as the basis for predicting the effect of a law or social policy, I get a big headache. There are so many confounding variables, and such a lack of experimental control, that it is impossible to draw any conclusion from country-to-country comparisons. America is different from either Sweden or Saudi Arabia.

    Third of all, the range of social effects that are “plausibly connected to SSM” may be much broader than you think. The behavior of people in a society is shaped by many things, including the type of family in which they were raised. Family norms shape — and are shaped by — communities, cultural forces, economic forces, political forces, etc. So it is entirely possible that, for example, shifting marriage and family norms could contribute to people’s poor spending habits, which could lead to financial trouble on a national scale. Society is just such an interconnected web that we rarely know what causes what! So why would we go messing with marriage?

  53. Tom,
    You’ve never seen one of the Navy’s most successful recruitment campaigns that just so happened to be a movie? Great balls of fire!

    My cousin saw that movie a dozen times prior to join the Navy. He just made Captain. 🙂

  54. Yes, Victoria, I do need the speed. It takes my breath away. Unfortunately, my ego is writing checks my body can’t cash. I probably need to hit the brakes and let others fly by before my Goose is cooked. I’m a bit of a Maverick, I guess.

    Phew! That took some work. 🙂

  55. My son is attending the Naval Academy… and can’t make up his mind whether he wants to pursue cyber defense, Marine Aviation, or the Seals. He IS speed!

  56.