The Deeper Issue in the Marriage Debate

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Troubling though it is, today’s marriage controversy is a symptom of something even deeper and in the end more troubling yet. It is the loss of connection to what is transcendent and true. For each person there is tragedy enough in the loss of life in God that this represents. For the culture it signals the loss of a different kind of life: that of a community united in pursuit of what is true and good.

I do mean that any human society ever attained to an ideal state of unity in that way; far from it. But today we have lost even any conception of what it might mean. We see this in the marriage debate, specifically in that same-sex “marriage” advocates make their case. It’s not based on what’s true about marriage, but on what people feel about relationships.

It’s impossible to be wrong about feelings: we feel what we feel, and that’s it. It’s also impossible for me to persuade another person that my feelings rightly, truly, and justly rule over his or hers, because of course they don’t. There’s nothing really there even to talk about except as statements about ourselves — which provides no basis for discussion, much less agreement, on common principles or beliefs.

So the basis for agreement is being cast aside; and yet we must come to some agreement in order to make and to practice public policy.

Let me state that another way: we must agree, but the way the current debate is being conducted, any basis for agreement is being undermined. So where does that leave us? Read more on this in my current BreakPoint Worldview and You column, “The Deeper Issue in the Marriage Debate.”

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72 Responses to “ The Deeper Issue in the Marriage Debate ”

  1. If you haven’t read the linked article, please do.

    The article is truly special. Maybe as good as anything I’ve read on the subject. Few, if any, of the things I have read are as thoughtful and important and tie together the key issues of this debate as well as Tom has.

    I thought I might post some additional thoughts on the subject and this article. I have none.

  2. I find the thrust of the article a bit confusing.

    You are saying that transcendent truth must guide debate, otherwise we will lose the very basis of civil, democratic decision-making.

    But if the majority don’t hold to this transcendent truth (it might be otherwise in the US, but the majority certainly doesn’t in my country in this case), how can we insist it must guide debate? That’s certainly not very democratic is it?

    As far as I’m aware democracy has never been about transcendent truth, so I’m not sure on what you base your claim that it must be.

    Perhaps for Christians this is a case of tyranny of the majority?

  3. @bigbird:

    But if the majority don’t hold to this transcendent truth (it might be otherwise in the US, but the majority certainly doesn’t in my country in this case), how can we insist it must guide debate? That’s certainly not very democratic is it?

    I am uncertain of what you mean by the antecedent conditional “if the majority don’t hold to this transcendent truth”, but the way I am reading, this *just* means that there can be no debate in the first place; for there to be a debate there must be some proposition P about which opinions are divided, but a proposition P that has a definite truth value and a value that is at least in principle discoverable — e.g. by rational discussion. If there is no such “matter of fact” to be discovered about P, there can be no debate and the whole thing devolves into a mere power struggle.

  4. I can only suggest you re-read it, bigbird.

    I didn’t say our processes must be guided by “this transcendent truth,” as if we have to agree on what is true before we begin; that would be silly. I said rather that a healthy debate pursues the joint discovery of what is true. If one side of the debate is committed to the attitude that there is no truth to be found, then it cannot be healthy. It cannot be a joint pursuit. It can only be a power struggle.

    That’s not good for democracy.

  5. There was also a question in there, “If the majority does not hold to this transcendent truth . . . how can we insist that it guide debate?”

    I don’t recall insisting. That has the feel of stomping my feet if I can’t get my way; or of perhaps trying to employ some authority I do not own.

    The words I would use instead would be like these: ask, implore, urge, cajole, beg, warn, exhort, admonish, encourage, demonstrate, show, argue, reason . . . everything possible within the bounds of honesty, integrity, and effectiveness, to persuade the majority that the pursuit of truth should guide debate. And not only debate, but each person’s entire life, in all ways.

    Do you see why, bigbird? I think you probably do. I’ll be glad to explain it for anyone who asks.

    This is not undemocratic.

  6. If there is no such “matter of fact” to be discovered about P, there can be no debate and the whole thing devolves into a mere power struggle.

    Yes, that’s exactly the situation. We are dealing with moral propositions and moral relativists. Therefore disagreement on the truth value of the proposition is likely, and it is the case here. So we can have a debate, but there won’t be a resolution based on rational discussion.

    I said rather that a healthy debate pursues the joint discovery of what is true. If one side of the debate is committed to the attitude that there is no truth to be found, then it cannot be healthy. It cannot be a joint pursuit. It can only be a power struggle.

    Ok , that does clarify what you are saying. But does it make any difference? Both sides are going to characterize their point of view as based on the truth, not based on “feelings”. One side insists on their version of the truth and the other side insists on another. The end result is the same – and it is a power struggle as you say.

    everything possible within the bounds of honesty, integrity, and effectiveness, to persuade the majority that the pursuit of truth should guide debate

    I don’t think anyone is going to disagree with you that the pursuit of “truth” should guide debate.

    But as I’ve said above, when dealing with moral relativists, that really isn’t much help because of a fundamental disagreement about the nature of moral facts.

    I don’t have any answer to this issue myself. As a Christian, I believe God instituted marriage, and that being the case, it is obviously best for individuals and society to support marriage between a man and a woman only. So the foundation of my view on marriage is what I regard to be transcendental truth. But that is entirely unpersuasive to those who don’t share my regard for that truth, and despite reading realms of Christian literature on the topic, I can’t say I’ve come across anything that looks like it would be persuasive.

  7. bigbird, you say,

    Ok , that does clarify what you are saying. But does it make any difference? Both sides are going to characterize their point of view as based on the truth, not based on “feelings”. One side insists on their version of the truth and the other side insists on another. The end result is the same – and it is a power struggle as you say.

    That’s not quite accurate. You’ve portrayed it as if it were symmetrical: “we claim to be arguing for truth, they claim to be arguing for truth, it’s a power struggle to see who wins.”

    I don’t think they’re arguing in the pursuit of truth concerning marriage. I think that in the main, what you hear from them are statements about persons and their feelings and preferences: the very thing on which there can be no debate.

    I think on the other hand that the defense of marriage is a matter of what is true about marriage; or (hypothetically) if it were not true about marriage, it is at least about what is or is not true about marriage.

    So what to do about it? It’s obvious, to me. Engage, cajole, exhort, persuade, all within the bounds of honesty, integrity, and effectiveness. I should add mutual respect to that list; I was wrong to leave it off earlier.

    If nothing is persuasive, then I have at least stood for what is true, in a true way.

  8. @Tom Gilson:

    If nothing is persuasive, then I have at least stood for what is true, in a true way.

    That just about sums up the Christian calling.

    We are strangers in a strange land; passers-by. But our time in this World counts, truly counts, for in this World, His creation, we forge and mold ourselves. We are called to stand in Truth, with The Truth, in Charity, our ultimate Hope and Faith resting on Him.

  9. If nothing is persuasive, then I have at least stood for what is true, in a true way.

    There’s one Truth, but many different ways of expressing that Truth in a given culture, particularly one that is hostile to the Truth.

    Divorce is immensely harmful to society, and yet Jesus sanctioned its use. He was obviously standing for what is true in a true way too.

  10. You just changed the subject.

    My topic was the underlying problem of which the current form of the SSM debate is symptomatic: the loss of a truth-orientation in our culture.

    Jesus never sanctioned that.

  11. My topic was the underlying problem of which the current form of the SSM debate is symptomatic: the loss of a truth-orientation in our culture.

    Perhaps this is something you might be interested in.

  12. There is yet a deeper issue than this deeper issue: whether human beings are responsible to some non-human entity- a God or a platonic metaphysical entity. Christians and non-Christians are stuck at the first point and that blocks any further deep issue. Non-Christians can be at odds over the metaphysical question. There is no way to convince someone who has not been taken in by a holy spirit explanation for some experience that we must find the answer outside of ourselves (as a community). We are the masters of our language, we decide what the word ‘marriage’ means, we decide what kind of society we want, we do that in a democracy. We don’t need “agreement”, we just need 51% of the vote.

  13. You started out on a good track there, Stephen, when you said that the existence or non-existence of God, and our relationship to him (or not), are the truly deep issues. I agree entirely.

    Of course I disagree with your language of being “taken in.” I think you’ve been deceived from your side, and tragically so.

    And I think that it shows in the callous, offhand way you reject the importance of pursuing truth about marriage. You say it’s merely a matter of language, as if there weren’t anything else true or important or enduring there. This is really quite sad, if you ask me. I’m sorry you don’t see something more to it than that. Of course it’s wrong, too, but I think I’m more impressed with the tragedy of it than with its error.

  14. And with what means will you suppress the opinions of the other 49%, Stephen? Will you say we are wrong? You can’t. You can’t say you’re right, either. You can only say we lost; which is to say, you can only say your power prevailed.

    Which is part of the point I was making in this essay.

  15. Who are being oppressed here? Seriously, think about that. The constitution is our mechanism for protecting minorities from majority oppression by voting. That is why we need a supreme court ruling over whether gays are being suppressed by a majority (Christians).

  16. And I think you also ducked most of the rest of what I said. You decided not to address anything related to marriage’s enduring or deeper reality — which I’m sure you reject, so I’m not surprised at that. But I am surprised you had no response to the conclusion I put forward later, which was that by your way of thinking, SSM opponents aren’t wrong and proponents aren’t right. The issue isn’t determined by right or wrong (by your way of thinking) but by who exercises power most effectively.

    I’d really like to know how you can be comfortable with that, when it’s so obviously repugnant to any sensible person that “right” would be decided by might.

  17. I wonder if conservative (bible-based) Christians REALLY are supportive of “the American way” – democracy. If a Christian thinks that these issues are rightly solved by consulting a deity, (as though that produces agreement – laughter) rather than by voting on it, is that Christian really signed up for “America”?

    One look at the history of Christianity tells us that if we are after agreement, don’t look to “Christianity” for that. I can hardly think of any vein of thought or culture so balkanized. If achieving “agreement” has become the critical issue, we find that goal far better achieved in science.

  18. And I think you also ducked most of the rest of what I said. You decided not to address anything related to marriage’s enduring or deeper reality —

    I did not duck this. This is addressed by my point of the deeper than deeper issue. You assume that there is some non-human entity (you call it “reality”). That is an assumption you make that I do not accept.

  19. You say it’s merely a matter of language, as if there weren’t anything else true or important or enduring there.

    Actually, I said it is “merely” about human beings, and not about some non-human entity. Language is our invention, yes, but I’m not reducing it down to that. I saying WE decide.

  20. You decided not to address anything related to marriage’s enduring or deeper reality

    More appeal to that non-human entity that we are suppose to be responsible to, that we are suppose to “discover”. You make these statements without any concern for supporting them. It is as if you think that just by saying it is so, it is so, so nothing more is required. What does that say about your orientation to “language”.

    Note, that Christians have been trying to “discover” the “truth” that you keep referring to but also have not yet found agreement, even on important points about Christian doctrine. It is an observation that Christians have no way to tell if other Christians are closer to “The Truth” than themselves, and conversely, no way to tell if they are closer to “The Truth” than other Christians. Don’t you see the futility? You see that all we “REALLY” have is humans trying to hammer out a way to live together.

  21. I’d really like to know how you can be comfortable with that, when it’s so obviously repugnant to any sensible person that “right” would be decided by might.

    Actually, a vote is not “might”. It is not forced by tyrant or military power, when people cast a vote. It is a hallmark of liberal democracy that we have a mechanism based on persuasion, not force (might).

  22. Another way to describe the conflict here, another “deeper issue” is whether our discourse about gay marriage is going to be a first century discussion or a twenty-first century discussion. We can describe our conflict as your insistence that we keep this a first century discussion – any mention of thoughts that derive from human invention after that are mere “uppity” human thought – the wisdom of man, you call it “sad”. The case is made that humans have progressed in their ability to work out a like together, American liberal democracy has created a larger, happier, more comfortable population of people than any in the history of human societies (unfortunately the period when Christianity ruled marked one of the most massively miserable societies human history has known). This argues for openness to the products of human thought over the last twenty centuries.

  23. One look at the history of Christianity tells us that if we are after agreement, don’t look to “Christianity” for that. I can hardly think of any vein of thought or culture so balkanized.

    That depends on what the agreement or disagreement is about. Christians actually have quite a remarkable agreement on what they regard as key doctrines – and have agreed for 1500 years. Christians also agree on the big questions: How did we get here? Is there right and wrong? How should I live my life? Is there meaning to life? Where are we going?

    If achieving “agreement” has become the critical issue, we find that goal far better achieved in science.

    Science isn’t even able to tackle the big questions, let alone reach agreement on them.

    American liberal democracy has created a larger, happier, more comfortable population of people than any in the history of human societies

    I’d like to see some evidence for this claim. Americans have a lot of stuff, yes. Are they happier than all other societies, past and present? That I doubt. I certainly doubt I would be happier living in the US than Australia – you have longer working hours, less holidays, and more guns.

    (unfortunately the period when Christianity ruled marked one of the most massively miserable societies human history has known).

    What period were you thinking of in particular?

  24. In considering this issue of gay marriage, we can take lessons from history as to how to value the Christian side of the argument verses the secular voice. Let’s take witch burning for starters. Witch burning emerged directly from the Christian world view and the Christian way of explaining our world. Hundreds of thousands (mostly women) were burned alive due to Christians evaluating causes of misfortune and fearing God’s wrath, trying to figure out how best we should deal with it and fashion a life together. It took Descartes to snap people out of this bewildered frame of mind, not Christians taking a closer look at their bibles. Shall we talk then about slavery and how the bible worked for or against abolition? Note that I’m referring to the direct consequences of Christian doctrine. We don’t have to make unwarranted assumptions about how witch burning emerged from the Church. On these major issues, history has preferred the secular response to these moral questions and humans a few hundred years from now will similarly side with the secular position today. That is about as close to something like ‘truth’ as we seem to get.

  25. bigbird says that science can’t help us with big questions like

    How did we get here? Is there right and wrong? How should I live my life? Is there meaning to life? Where are we going?

    So say that Christianity has important contributions to answers to these questions is simply cliche. It is at least begging the question to just say so
    Note that you have to present your defense in such abstract terms that anything can be plugged in. This is how astrology works – don’t ever make a specific claim. Name as many denominations of Christianity and you get the specifics that support my claim: name the wars fought over differences over the specific answers to the questions above and you get the specifics of my claim. You have to cherry pick big time to create a picture of agreement within Christianity.

    Science isn’t even able to tackle the big questions, let alone reach agreement on them.

    I take it that your examples are examples of these “big questions”. Science doesn’t tell us about how we got here? You mean you just dismiss the answer science has for that, like I dismiss the Christian answer to that one. “How should I live my life”? You don’t think that science informs how you should live your life? Science has profoundly impacted our decision making about how we best live. You just don’t think it comments on important features of living, or you take them so for granted that they don’t reach consciousness. How about how you think about sanitation? The psychology of human development, raising children (or do think taking a belt to a child is better than what science says?). How to think of others, especially those that are different, what science does to dispel bigotry and help us to get beyond our ingroup/outgroup thinking and see other human beings as just like ourselves? You are in charge of what you take away from it. “where are we going”? Do you see how you and I both simply decide what makes a better answer to these questions. I do not see Christianity offering much at all in answering these questions.

  26. Let’s take witch burning for starters. Witch burning emerged directly from the Christian world view and the Christian way of explaining our world. Hundreds of thousands (mostly women) were burned alive due to Christians evaluating causes of misfortune and fearing God’s wrath, trying to figure out how best we should deal with it and fashion a life together.

    Did you actually consult any sources before writing this? Everything you’ve written is wrong. During the peak of the European witch trials between 1580 and 1630, about 50,000 people were executed for witchcraft. These were in secular courts – in places like Spain, controlled by the Inquisition at the time, there were almost no executions for witchcraft.

    It took Descartes to snap people out of this bewildered frame of mind, not Christians taking a closer look at their bibles.

    Ah, that famous Christian philosopher, Descartes.

    Shall we talk then about slavery and how the bible worked for or against abolition?

    The abolition movement was almost entirely evangelical Christians. Without Christianity, we’d probably still have slavery in Western countries. So you should probably avoid the topic.

  27. Bigbird says in response to “American liberal democracy has created a larger, happier, more comfortable population of people than any in the history of human societies”

    That I doubt. I certainly doubt I would be happier living in the US than Australia

    I’m thinking American liberal democracy as something that has become essentially Western Democracies, I’m not talking about little differences.

    Big bird responds to

    (unfortunately the period when Christianity ruled marked one of the most massively miserable societies human history has known).

    What period were you thinking of in particular?

    The 5th century through the 13th century, roughly the “dark ages”. It was a sociological experiment in what happens when a culture becomes more concerned with “the other world” than this one.

  28. Bigbird

    Did you actually consult any sources before writing this? Everything you’ve written is wrong. During the peak of the European witch trials between 1580 and 1630, about 50,000 people were executed for witchcraft. These were in secular courts – in places like Spain, controlled by the Inquisition at the time, there were almost no executions for witchcraft.

    WOW! I’m sorry, but I’m unable to carry on a conversation with you.

  29. Name as many denominations of Christianity and you get the specifics that support my claim:

    Christian denominations all hold the same basic beliefs – that’s why they are called Christian. They have differences in church government, liturgy and so on. What’s your point exactly?

    name the wars fought over differences over the specific answers to the questions above and you get the specifics of my claim.

    How about you name them? You’re the one making the claims.

    How about how you think about sanitation?

    You think better sanitation is what science tells us about how we should live our lives? That’s not what I meant. I’m talking morality, not washing your hands.

    The psychology of human development, raising children (or do think taking a belt to a child is better than what science says?).

    What does science say?

    How to think of others, especially those that are different, what science does to dispel bigotry and help us to get beyond our ingroup/outgroup thinking and see other human beings as just like ourselves?

    What, science tells us that racism is wrong? News to me. Where’s your citation?

    I don’t think you should explore science and racism too carefully. It doesn’t reflect very well on science. Aware of the Tuskegee experiments for example? Universities need ethics committees because scientists aren’t very good with their ethics.

    Science is very good at some things. It is not so good at others. It is much better at the “is” than the “ought”.

  30. WOW! I’m sorry, but I’m unable to carry on a conversation with you.

    Sorry to intrude with some historical facts.

    The 5th century through the 13th century, roughly the “dark ages”.
    It was a sociological experiment in what happens when a culture becomes more concerned with “the other world” than this one.

    The “dark ages” if it is used at all nowadays, refers to the paucity of historical records available for that period. You appear to be referring to the common caricature of the period, which is a misconception.

  31. Because there are other readers (hopefully) I’ll say this Bigbird

    During the peak of the European witch trials between 1580 and 1630, about 50,000 people were executed for witchcraft. These were in secular courts – in places like Spain, controlled by the Inquisition at the time, there were almost no executions for witchcraft.

    There are only estimates on the number of people put to death as witches but the number you site is the low end and assumes that all such executions were documented. I prefer the accounts with take the documented cases to be a percentage of the total, and this is justified by knowledge of how well events were documented in general at the time.
    People who hold the beliefs that you call “secular” weren’t called “secular” in those days. They were called “heretics”. They were tortured when found out. The causal connection between Church doctrine and power and thinking that people can be witches (largely sorcery) and therefore must die is clear. Try reading some history that isn’t colored by someone that is trying to keep themselves from looking absurd for holding the beliefs that they hold.

    The drop off in science, art and literature during the rule of the church is stunning. And where there was production the range of expression was painfully limited. The pressure to stay within accepted bounds is real, real people were burned at the stake just for positing an unconventional idea (Bruno). And Galileo barely escaped execution. Face it, you are siding with a history that is embarrassing and you are doing your best to cover it up.

  32. There are only estimates on the number of people put to death as witches but the number you site is the low end and assumes that all such executions were documented.

    No, the low end estimate is 35,000 (William Monter). Documented is 12,000. Still a lot of people of course.

    The causal connection between Church doctrine and power and thinking that people can be witches (largely sorcery) and therefore must die is clear.

    No, it isn’t clear at all. This was a very superstitious period in European history. That doesn’t mean the church was innocent of involvement of witch burnings, but it wasn’t solely due to the church either.

    For example: “Belief in witches and praeternatural evil were widespread in medieval Europe, and the secular legal codes of European countries had identified witchcraft as a crime before being reached by Christian missionaries. Scholars have noted that the early influence of the Church in the medieval era resulted in the revocation of these laws in many places, bringing an end to traditional pagan witch hunts.”

    The drop off in science, art and literature during the rule of the church is stunning.

    Rather than bothering to debate this, I refer you to David Lindberg’s *The Beginnings of Western Science* for an unbiased, modern view on this by a reputable historian (who is not a Christian).

  33. Stephen,

    Your facts are wrong and your argumentation is terrible.

    For example, “The Christian side of the argument verses [sic] the secular voice.” There is no such thing in deep history, for the first secular government, America, was made that way because of Christian and deistic thinking on religious liberty. There was no particular difference between the Christians and the deists on this. Secularization of government (not of private life but of government) was a Christian/religious idea.

    Second, you tendentiously and illegitimately bring out negatives from Christian history, some of them based on what we euphemistically call “false facts,” as bigbird has already shown you, and without any reference to comparative positives from Christian history or comparative negatives from secular governance in history. That’s just thoughtless on your part. I could go on and on with these missing comparatives, showing you how Christianity has been good for the world in many, many ways; but first I’d like you to be aware of the failure in your method. It’s a way of proving your point with no regard to actual evidence. And I’ll bet you think we are the ones who believe without evidence!

    Third, I see later that you complain of bigbird’s “abstract defense.” Hah! (Sorry.) You claim he’s not making any specific claim; at least he’s not making false ones! And at least he’s not making comparative claims sans the comparisons! Besides this, the claim he’s making are not empty. He’s not saying, “Christianity says this and this and this are right and these other specifics are wrong,” such that you could argue with him about those specifics. He’s saying, if you want to have some conception of right and wrong, of what it could possibly mean to be right rather than wrong about some specific moral belief, then you have to have something like Christianity rather than secular atheism to explain how that can be. That’s not an empty claim; it’s a very live and important philosophical point of debate.

    Fourth, you speak of “the direct causes of Christian doctrine.” Could you show us where that doctrine is found, please? Could you show us, too, who it was who brought “witch-“burning to an end, and on what doctrine they did it? If you’ll take the time to do that, you’ll discover for yourself that this was no direct result of Christian doctrine; in fact, it has nothing to do with Christian doctrine but with pagan syncretism falsely introduced into Christianity.

    Fifth, in your insistence that science tells us how we got here, you forget a couple of important things: where did the universe come from, why is it the way it is, and where did life come from? Also, what is consciousness, what is the self and why does it endure, and what is the mind?

    Sixth, science doesn’t dispel bigotry. It provides information for moral reflection, but that moral reflection is not a matter of science. For example, science shows us that all the races are essentially human. It shows us that whatever differences there may be there, they are on the surface. It does not tell us that it is immoral to discriminate on the basis of surface differences. That’s a moral issue, not a scientific one.

    Seventh, historians who know what they’re talking about see the “Dark Ages” (if they use that term at all) as a sociological experiment in what happens when barbarians destroy a civilization. You got that entirely wrong.

    Eighth, you’re also wrong on the “dropoff” in arts, literature, and science. I mean, wow! are you wrong. Byzantine art, Gregorian chant, the cathedrals, the development of technology, miracle and mystery plays, the minstrels, all of these and much, much, much more were advances, not delays or backward movements. It advanced more slowly after Roman civilization was crushed by barbarian invaders, but it still advanced.

    Let’s put this all together.

    You are mightily convinced of your correctness on a number of matters that turn out to be demonstrably false. You are also mightily convinced that Christianity’s history is dark and dim, when you have no picture in mind whatever of the good it has done.

    I challenge you. I challenge you personally as one who I think would claim to be a person who bases his beliefs on evidence.

    I challenge you to publicly drop your false beliefs on these points one through eight, at least provisionally, until you’ve taken a look at another side of the story. I challenge you to say, “It’s possible I’ve jumped to a conclusion ahead of the evidence, so for now at least I’ll back off from my firm convictions until I’ve had a chance to find out for sure.”

    If you can’t question yourself like that, Stephen, you have no business calling yourself a person who follows the evidence where it leads.

    I challenge you to state publicly right here that you’ll examine the contrary evidence.

    Let me suggest a source for you to look into: Vishal Mangalwadi’s The Book That Made Our World. Or Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason or The Rise of Christianity.

    If you refuse to read them, then as a matter of honesty, please also refuse to call yourself a person who seeks out and follows the evidence.

  34. There is far too much for me to respond to, but basically I have been declared wrong by fiat. I will respond to this:
    Tom says

    science doesn’t dispel bigotry. It provides information for moral reflection, but that moral reflection is not a matter of science. For example, science shows us that all the races are essentially human. It shows us that whatever differences there may be there, they are on the surface. It does not tell us that it is immoral to discriminate on the basis of surface differences. That’s a moral issue, not a scientific one.

    If we give up on the idea that morality is a matter of obedience to a God or otherwise a responsibility to a non-human entity, then what we have are humans grappling with how to live together in a way that works for all concerned. All that we feeble moral agents have then, are criteria such as these upon which to reflect and possibly be changed and grow by. The key difference is that WE are the moral agents that are doing to tough work, we can’t defer that job to someone else. Doing so, hardly makes us “moral”

  35. There is far too much for me to respond to, but basically I have been declared wrong by fiat.

    This is a Christian website, and so naturally, when you spray around a bunch of derogatory statements about Christianity that Christians on this site have seen and responded to many times, you can expect to be corrected.

    That doesn’t mean you are necessarily wrong – you are perfectly free to present your sources that demonstrate your point of view.

    Perhaps, though, it would be better if you confined yourself to just one or two points, or even the topic of the thread. The only reason there is too much for you to respond to is because you made many different claims.

  36. References to a contrary argument on the “middle-ages” see “The Closing of the Western Mind” Freedman

    Just took a quick scan of “The beginnings of Western Science”. Note in just the titles:
    Chapter 9: “The Revival of Learning in the West “(mostly takes up around the 13th century, the beginning of the Renaissance.) “Revival”?From what? From what I’m talking about?
    sub headings “The Rise of Universities” (could have said the “reinstatement of Universities” as we know they were dismantled centuries prior.
    Chapter 10: “The Recovery of Greek and Islamic Science” Recovery? From what? From what I’m talking about?

    The above is what I see over and over again with reference to the disputed period. The hard question is whether the period in question was culturally impoverished compared to periods prior and after, it is the causes.

  37. Second, you tendentiously and illegitimately bring out negatives from Christian history

    I’ll admit that. Perhaps Bigbird would similarly confess to reworking history to make Christianity look better and thereby make his own world view look less embarassing?

  38. Just took a quick scan of “The beginnings of Western Science”.

    I can only suggest you read the text itself instead of reading into the chapter titles what you think you know.

    In particular, I suggest you read p148 onwards, entitled “The Role of Christianity”. One quote:

    “How did the presence and influence of the Christian church affect knowledge of, and attitudes, toward nature? The standard answer, developed in the 18th and 19th centuries and widely propagated in the twentieth, maintains that Christianity presented serious obstacles to the advancement of science, and indeed, sent the scientific enterprise into a tailspin from which it did not recover for more than 1000 years. The truth, as we shall see, is dramatically different, far more complicated, and a great deal more interesting”.

    You are simply repeating what Lindburg calls “the standard answer”.

  39. Stephen, you haven’t been declared wrong by fiat. You’ve been pronounced ignorant by someone who knows better.

    The university system was the product of the Catholic Church. There was no university before Bologna, Paris, Cambridge…

    The revival of learning of which you speak was from the period of barbarian destruction.

    Besides this, I’m really not impressed by a list of chapter titles. Please. You might as well have played google scholar. Maybe you did.

    Look up the chapter titles in the books I recommended if you want to be a real chapter-title scholar.

  40. Eighth, you’re also wrong on the “dropoff” in arts, literature, and science. I mean, wow! are you wrong. Byzantine art, Gregorian chant, the cathedrals, the development of technology, miracle and mystery plays, the minstrels, all of these and much, much, much more were advances, not delays or backward movements.

    And all within a stifling narrow range of expression unseen prior to or since this age. There is, after all, a reason why it has been called “the Dark Ages”, and it goes something like how I’ve attempted to portray it.

    Look neither of us is going to amass a knock down argument. There is a reason why this era has been called (and still is as I google it) “the dark ages” My personal belief system doesn’t get damaged by whether my claim is true. I don’t think that this is true for Tom and Bigbird and your take on these questions, on history, tilts in the direction of making your cherished beliefs look better. It smacks of personal bias. I don’t have any “cherished” beliefs at stake in whether my claims are true or false. I just want to do what I can to make the Christian world view less appealing to some.

  41. Tom

    I challenge you to publicly drop your false beliefs on these points one through eight, at least provisionally, until you’ve taken a look at another side of the story

    You think too much of your “arguments”. Everything I just said above is plenty of reason for you to do the same.

  42. That fact that this era has been called the “Dark Ages” since the renaissance, and for good reason, is the most concrete, less rhetorical argument above. So who should concede?

  43. They weren’t intended as arguments in depth. They were intended as indicators to you that you don’t know what you’re talking about, and that you would do well to quit acting as if you do until you’ve done some further reading.

  44. The era was dark, Stephen. Not as dark as some have claimed, but certainly not bright. It wasn’t because of Christianity. That’s the point I’ve been pressing.

  45. There is, after all, a reason why it has been called “the Dark Ages”, and it goes something like how I’ve attempted to portray it. Look neither of us is going to amass a knock down argument. There is a reason why this era has been called (and still is as I google it) “the dark ages”

    Of course you can google “the dark ages”. And the very first result (from Wikipedia) notes that ” medieval historians today usually avoid the phrase “Dark Ages””. Why don’t you read what you google?

    It is now generally referred to as the Middle Ages – p193 of Lindberg for details.

    You are partially right – you are not amassing a knock-down argument.

  46. Look at the cases of Giordano Bruno and Galileo just to site famous instances of unusually brave men. What would it be like to be a creative thinking person in an era where you knew you could be the next Bruno? Try to imagine how easy it is to see the self deception at work if you don’t admit that for centuries scholars have been calling the dark ages the dark ages for good reason and that the cause of “the dark ages” was this threat of torture and death by really bad people.

    If you want to argue this point, just point out where the academic world did the 180 degree turn around on this term, how they, en mass, finally saw how they were completely wrong to have ever called this era by that term, that all of their reasons for doing so have now been shown to be completely wrong. Simple!

  47. Stephen, medieval historians no longer use the term the “dark ages” because they have concluded that earlier historians were unnecessarily biased about that period. Even the sources returned from a google search (as you recommended) state this. There’s no point debating it further, and I see no point in engaging you on Galileo et al either.

    No Christian familiar with history considers the church or Christians have conducted themselves blamelessly. There are plenty of things we wish hadn’t happened – and we use Christianity’s standards to make that judgement. But we are also interested in knowing the truth about history, as best as it can be determined – and popular misconceptions such as yours need to be corrected.

  48. Bigbird, you are suggesting that the change in tone over this period and some correction is equivalent to invalidating ALL of the reasons for calling this period the dark ages. Just the shocking literacy rates are a fundamental fact that hasn’t changed just because we have change some of our views.

  49. Bigbird says

    No Christian familiar with history considers the church or Christians have conducted themselves blamelessly. There are plenty of things we wish hadn’t happened

    And what if Christians haven’t REALLY figured out just what went wrong? Or what if the the solution does so much damage to the heart of Christianity that it just has never really been able to face the issues? For example, what if it is the very notion of “Truth” that I have criticized in this essay, the very notion of “Truth” that Christianity trades on? What if THAT is the problem? What kind of stance on Truth would a society HAVE to have to put Bruno to death for having ideas on the physical world that ran contrary to accepted Church doctrine? Has THAT notion of truth persisted in the Christian world? Would we really be able to trust Christian sensibilities in deciding issues such as the Gay issue presented in this essay?

  50. Stephen, throughout history the church has done more to spread literacy than any other organization. During the early Middle Ages, monasteries were the sole reason literacy was preserved after the collapse following the fall of the Roman Empire.

  51. I’d like to point out that I don’t think the dichotomy, that some have forwarded, necessarily holds up: That if there is no pre-legal, essential truth to marriage, then the law could never get marriage wrong (and therefore, all positions about marriage law just reduce to arbitrariness).

    Could you imagine saying the following in a debate about patent or copyright law? “What are the truths about copyrights and patents, that our laws ought reflect?”. Well there are none. They are defined into existence by our laws.

    But they were made in service to a real human interest.. namely to protect the fruits of our intellectual labor and creative efforts, being things that have few natural safeguards, in a lawless land. Therefore, we can say that laws which that thwart those human interests “get it wrong”, and laws that protect them “get it right”, even though there are no metaphysical depths to plumb, regarding the “truth of copyright/patents”.

    One can easily say the same for marriage… that even if there are no pre-legal facts of the matter about marriage, marriage laws that further certain human interests do get it right, and those which don’t, get it wrong.

  52. G. Rodrigues,

    I don’t see that there was any time in the past where we seemed, as a whole, better at moral debates.. what’s special about the same-sex marriage debate in that regard?

    Ever tried arguing even a *very* moderate pro-choice position among pro-lifers? A few words into the exchange, and you’re lucky if you haven’t been called “murderer” – bigot is nothing…

  53. @d:

    Could you imagine saying the following in a debate about patent or copyright law? “What are the truths about copyrights and patents, that our laws ought reflect?”. Well there are none. They are defined into existence by our laws.

    No one but you would say that, so your analogy is a flawed one. The laws do indeed come into being; but they merely recognize the natural extension of property rights to the intellectual domain (and a whole host or practical considerations, such as incentive to innovation) and there is a matter of fact to be discussed about intellectual property rights. Copyright law, just to stick to one of the examples, is not exactly a modern invention, but, in inchoate forms, it arises with the appearance of the printing press.

    I don’t see that there was any time in the past where we seemed, as a whole, better at moral debates.. what’s special about the same-sex marriage debate in that regard?

    Even assuming you are correct about the historical point, what exactly is its relevance? If you want to foist changes on (western) society without debate, compromise and by sheer force then do not be coy about it and say so.

    Ever tried arguing even a *very* moderate pro-choice position among pro-lifers? A few words into the exchange, and you’re lucky if you haven’t been called “murderer” – bigot is nothing…

    Oh please, as if the pro-choice side features the most reasonable and rational of men.

    And for the record, a “murderer” is one who commits a murder and murder is the taking of innocent life, which is what abortion is. But I only hurl this accusation if the other side takes the moral high ground and makes some moral indictment.

  54. d,

    You speak of further “certain human interests” as being right. I don’t know what makes those human interests of higher priority than other human interests.

    I can see the value of close partners being able to treat one another as close partners (in finances, medical decisions, etc.). Those are legitimate human interests.

    But some people want marriage for gays, and some do not. Who wins? How? Why? On what basis? I think you have nothing to offer except that whoever wins, wins.

    (I’m traveling today, with a messed-up flight schedule and thus sporadic opportunities for Internet time. I’ll be back when I can.)

  55. G. Rodrigues,

    No one but you would say that, so your analogy is a flawed one.

    So really what we have here, is an outright demonstration that you’re just predisposed to simply oppose anything I say, without even considering it? That explains a lot…

    The laws do indeed come into being; but they merely recognize the natural extension of property rights to the intellectual domain (and a whole host or practical considerations, such as incentive to innovation) and there is a matter of fact to be discussed about intellectual property rights. Copyright law, just to stick to one of the examples, is not exactly a modern invention, but, in inchoate forms, it arises with the appearance of the printing press.

    Propertly rights in general also work in the same analogy – they aren’t things that exist outside laws (or law-like agreements between people). But we can still get the wrong (based things like “a whole host of practical considerations” that you reference above).

    The dichotomy is still not necessarily true.

    Even assuming you are correct about the historical point, what exactly is its relevance? If you want to foist changes on (western) society without debate, compromise and by sheer force then do not be coy about it and say so.

    Yep, you’ve exposed my tyrannical urge to conquer you all! Don’t get on my bad side or its straight to the gulags for you! What I previously said stands on its own, but I think your habitual lack of charity when it comes to things I (or other non-believers say) prevents you from understanding it. I doubt explaining it further will do any more good.

    Get over this absurd nonsense already.

  56. I can see the value of close partners being able to treat one another as close partners (in finances, medical decisions, etc.). Those are legitimate human interests.

    There are many more human interests to mention here… the right not to bear witness against said partner in court, the right for said partner to be naturalized if they are not a citizen, easy transfer of wealth (inheretence) etc… what say you to those important safeguards?

    But some people want marriage for gays, and some do not. Who wins? How? Why? On what basis? I think you have nothing to offer except that whoever wins, wins.

    On what basis? On the basis that its outright *obvious* that gay relationships serve real human interests – and those interests happen to be all the same interests that heterosexual marriages serve (aside from procreative potential, but we all realize that marriages serve many more worthy human interests than that, right?!).

  57. @d:

    So really what we have here, is an outright demonstration that you’re just predisposed to simply oppose anything I say, without even considering it?

    An outright demonstration that I am predisposed to just oppose out of hand anything you say? Why are you so worried about my “predispositions”? And if I dismissed what you said out of hand why did you felt the need to answer my dismissal and end up with “The dichotomy is still not necessarily true.”? Just for you, here is my habitual lack of charity: yes, what you say is to be dismissed as it is demonstrably wrong.

  58. I didn’t say our processes must be guided by “this transcendent truth,” as if we have to agree on what is true before we begin; that would be silly. I said rather that a healthy debate pursues the joint discovery of what is true.

    It’s interesting you say this, because this is precisely what frustrates me so greatly about the almost exclusively religious opposition to gay marriage.

    Per your particular brand of theology, you are compelled to believe that homosexuality is sinful and destructive. As a non-believer, I’m not bound to any particular position; if the evidence shows that homosexual relationships are contrary to the best interests of individuals, families, and society at large, I would not be easily persuaded to support gay rights.

    But in years of research and anecdotal experience (I’ve had many gay friends and acquaintances over the years), I’ve never come across any hard evidence that homosexuality is dangerous; on the contrary, the evidence is overwhelming in showing that if there’s anything that makes gay people miserable, it’s the stigma, discrimination and ostracization they often suffer. But in every other way, gay relationships are just as happy, healthy and emotionally well-adjusted as those of straight people – as are children raised by gay parents. That is why major health science organizations like the AMA and APA support gay marriage.

    American Medical Association (see H-65.973 for gay marriage specifically):
    http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/about-ama/our-people/member-groups-sections/glbt-advisory-committee/ama-policy-regarding-sexual-orientation.page

    American Psychiatric Association:
    http://www.psychiatry.org/advocacy–newsroom/position-statements

    The American Psychological Assocation:
    http://www.apa.org/topics/divorce/same-sex-marriage.aspx

    The American Academy of Pediatrics:
    http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/131/4/827

    So the way I see it, all opponents of gay marriage like yourself have to fall back on are religious arguments, because the science is simply not on your side. That’s the real trouble for you – the truth is that the evidence indicates that homosexual relationships, marriages and parenting are not detrimental to humanity. So your option is to either accept the science and alter your theology accordingly (or at least adopt a ‘live and let live’ ideology) or deny the science, claim these health science organizations are acting on some political agenda – anything you can do to ease yourself of the dissonance between reality and your theology. If your theology won’t change, you are left with no choice but to forge your own insular reality. But if it’s really a battle for the truth in which you’re engaging, then your theology ought to be the first casualty of war.

  59. So the way I see it, all opponents of gay marriage like yourself have to fall back on are religious arguments, because the science is simply not on your side. That’s the real trouble for you – the truth is that the evidence indicates that homosexual relationships, marriages and parenting are not detrimental to humanity.

    I have a different stance to Tom on SSM, but it doesn’t stop me pointing out flaws in your argument.

    SSM is legal in very few jurisdictions around the world, and hasn’t been for long, so there is little or no evidence for it in any way. Asserting that the evidence is that SSM is not detrimental to humanity is simply wrong – it is too early to know.

    I think Tom’s a social scientist by training or something like that, so I’ll leave him to point out what the evidence about homosexual parenting indicates – but as far as I can tell it is not nearly as unequivocal as you make it out to be. And this also is a fairly recent phenomenon, so sample sizes are small and unlikely to be representative if it becomes widespread.

    To stridently claim that “the science is simply not on your side” is misrepresenting the current state of knowledge.

  60. Mike D,

    As a non-believer, I’m not bound to any particular position; if the evidence shows that homosexual relationships are contrary to the best interests of individuals, families, and society at large, I would not be easily persuaded to support gay rights.

    Your particular brand of “contrary to the best interest…” philosophy is dictated by your belief in something. What is it that guides you – humanism, discomfort or fear that someone is unhappy – what?

    So the way I see it, all opponents of gay marriage like yourself have to fall back on are religious arguments, because the science is simply not on your side. That’s the real trouble for you – the truth is that the evidence indicates that homosexual relationships, marriages and parenting are not detrimental to humanity

    Wrong. Science cannot demonstrate “detrimental to humanity”. I know that you know this, but it’s worth pointing out again. We must first know and understand what “detrimental to humanity” is before science can help us figure out what we should do with the information it provides.

    You are frustrated by religious people that hold strong beliefs, but are you also equally frustrated by non-religious people that hold the same belief – like the gays in France that agree with Tom about SSM? What kind of arguments do they fall back on?

    Don’t look now, but your assertions have just be shown to be wrong.

  61. the only way you can say that science cannot demonstrate what is “detrimental to humanity” is to adopt a view that requires someone to believe that was is detrimental is not observable. so it would have to be detrimental in a way that has no noticeable effects here in this world. This would be a clearly religious argument then, and therefor should not be supported by a shared institution that must not show preference for one faith over another or none. Things that fall in THAT category are about PERSONAL belief that cannot and should never be forced on people with different belief systems.

    Or, it would have to have an observable effect that we disagree on as a value judgement. But if that’s the case, you should be able to cite the specific effect, show that your assertion is true, and you can present the case for why it’s bad. THAT is the realm of reason and debate. Since no one against gay marriage can point to ANY observable effects that actually supports their argument though, we can ignore this road in this particular case.

    as for bigbird, check out the pediatric assocation sometime. the number of studies done on same sex parenting is truly staggering both in its scale, and in the *near* (it can never be “complete”) exclusivity of its conclusions that same sex parenting is no more harmful than opposite sex parenting in similar life circumstances (adoption, divorce, etc). the ONLY organizations I am aware of making any claims to the contrary are religious, not scientific in nature, because of this fact.

    As far as I can tell, that is only true for after life considerations. which is clearly a question of religion and by as much has no role in public policy which must be made by an institution that is to refrain from preferential treatment in religious matters.

  62. Robert,

    the only way you can say that science cannot demonstrate what is “detrimental to humanity” is to adopt a view that requires someone to believe that was is detrimental is not observable.

    I’m not denying that we can know “detrimental to humanity” when we see it. I’m talking about science, which is a particularly narrow approach to knowledge. I know a lot more about the world we live in than what science can tell me. Ancient cultures knew murder was “detrimental to humanity” long before the scientific method was introduced.

    If you disagree, then answer me this: what fact of science is synonymous with “detrimental to humanity”? Put your answer in strict scientific terms.

  63. as for bigbird, check out the pediatric assocation sometime. the number of studies done on same sex parenting is truly staggering both in its scale, and in the *near* (it can never be “complete”) exclusivity of its conclusions that same sex parenting is no more harmful than opposite sex parenting in similar life circumstances

    It took me about 30 seconds to find this, published in 2012, which concludes that strong assertions like yours are not warranted.

  64. Mike D,

    That’s the real trouble for you – the truth is that the evidence indicates that homosexual relationships, marriages and parenting are not detrimental to humanity.

    Would the lack of future offspring be a detriment to humanity should human homosexuality flourish? I think it clearly would so it seems we have reason to think you are wrong. See also bigbird’s link.

    If in the above scenario the solution to the population problem was to do one of two things

    (a) encourage homosexual couples to artificially produce children [hetero sex (eww!) or in a lab] and then assign them parents. If necessary offer the couples a benefit of some kind, or

    (b) encourage heterosexual couples to have more children. If necessary offer the couples a benefit of some kind,

    Would either of these be detrimental to humanity?

    The evidence for (b) shows that it wouldn’t be detrimental. We’ve been doing it that way for years.

    As for (a) it think we have clear evidence that this does not benefit humanity. Giving up natural sex means losing a part of what it means to be human. Humanity is lost. And homosexuals having sex with the opposite sex would make them an unhappy and emotionally maladjusted lot.

  65. Bigbird,

    It would help your case if you didn’t link to a highly discredited study from a highly discredited person like Loren Marks. Marks admitted in open court to several examples of unethical behavior related to writing that article including not actually reading much of the majority of the studies he was impotently attacking, making conclusions about homosexual couples without actually researching them, and grossly misrepresenting other researcher’s data. He is now viewed by many in academia and research as a complete fraud.

    Like Marks, it seems that you didn’t read much about that study before fallaciously cherry-picking.

    http://www.skepticink.com/humanisticas/2013/04/22/david-quinn-now-cites-discredited-fraudster-loren-marks/

  66. Shane, a critique on an atheist blog with an agenda for SSM discredits nothing and no-one. Anyone who publishes research that dares question the outcomes for children raised in same sex families is attacked and smeared. Nothing new there.

    Is there a peer reviewed critique of Loren Marks’ paper? What evidence do you have for your claim that “he is viewed by many in academia and research as a complete fraud”?