Category Archives: Begging the Question

It is invalid and holds no weight

So, I was derping around on the internets and I ran into an article with the following portentous title: "A Rational Basis for Marriage between One Man and One Woman."  Curious, I read on.  Here's how it begins:

It is imperative for Catholics to develop rational arguments to defend the institution of marriage in the public square. We live in a pluralistic society and, therefore, what we accept as revelation is not necessarily accepted by others. However, an argument grounded in right reason—without explicit recourse to revelation—is in principle comprehensible to all persons of good will.

I'm all in agreement.  It continues:

As we consider the current debate over marriage, it would be a mistake to underestimate the pedagogical function of the law and how a fundamental change in marriage law will result in a fundamental change in our understanding of the human person. What is at stake in the push to redefine marriage to include same-sex partners is not only the radical redefinition of marriage—but, also and necessarily, the radical redefinition of the human person and the entire range of relationships that constitute our basic experience as persons: male and female; husband and wife; mother and father; son and daughter; brother and sister.

Well, that's a bad sign–there's going to be a slippery slope!  But that's not what interests me about this piece.  It's the following two paragraphs (directly from above):

Marriage between one man and one woman is recognized as a public institution, with its attendant benefits and responsibilities, precisely because it serves the common good. Marriage offers the State its most necessary common good: bringing children into the world and raising them in a family that includes the love of their mother and father. The State needs people (citizens) in order to flourish: no people = no State. Under the principle of subsidiarity, the common good is better served when mothers and fathers raise their children, not the State.

Extending marriage to same-sex partners will redefine marriage in such a way that marriage will no longer be understood to have a direct relationship to the procreation and education of children. Bringing children into the world and raising them will be seen as extrinsic rather than intrinsic to marriage.[1] Openness to procreation will no longer belong to the very substance and definition of marriage. It will be reduced merely to an option for those couples who happen to want children.

If you're playing along at home, the first paragraph seems to suggest that it's either Trad Marriage (by the principle of WTF) or the STATE RAISES YOUR BABIES.  It also seems to allege that there will be no babies without marriage.  But forget about that.  The second of the two rests on a couple of key instances of the passive voice: will be understood and will be seen.  Well, I wonder, by whom?  Let's rewrite the passage in the active voice:

Extending marriage to same-sex partners will redefine marriage in such a way that [rewrite: some people, catholics, etc. will no longer understand] marriage to have a direct relationship to the procreation and education of children. [rewrite: These people will see ] that Bringing children into the world and raising them [is] extrinsic rather than intrinsic to marriage.[1] Openness to procreation will no longer belong to the very substance and definition of marriage. It will be reduced merely to an option for those couples who happen to want children.

The passive voice just covers up all of the questions being begged.  Marriage, in its public legal sense, has many definitions.  In some states, this already includes same-sex marriages.  As a public institution, therefore, it has "no substance and definition" in some kind of robust metaphysical sense, as the use of the passive suggests.  People see marriage in all sorts of ways, and they define it as a public institution in different ways.  Some people may "understand it to be x" but that doesn't mean that they understand it correctly.  Nor for that matter does it mean that they aren't fully entitled to live it that way.

If you want to make openness to procreation a part of your marriage, then get married in a Catholic Church.  If you don't care, as some already don't, then don't.  Catholics do not own the definition of marriage as a secular and public institution.  If you're going to make an appeal to reason, right or otherwise, you cannot presume without argument that your view is the starting point.       

 

When the Mob Attacks!

If you haven't had enough…

The kerfuffle surrounding the recent canning of CHE blogger Naomi Schaefer Riley has once again made obvious the inherent racism deeply entrenched in our public discourse. Just because you don't mean to be racist does not mean that you aren't. On the other hand, if someone points out that you are a racist, that does not then ipso facto make them an apparatchik for the PC police. These points should be obvious, but we find people repeatedly failing to understand them and continuing to advance poor arguments that rest on racist assumptions. Riley should be fired because what she wrote was racist. What she wrote was also stupid, and that is another legitimate reason to fire her. But to deny that what she wrote indicates her racially motivated biases is dumb.

Unfortunately many people (on the right, of course!) have argued that the reason for NSR's firing was due to the outcry from the liberal PC academic mob rather than her racist comments. Here are a few examples:

This is plainly a politically correct response to a thug's veto and should be owned up to as such. (Reason)

All those hoodie-wearing academics exercising their veto powers.

The reason they gave Naomi the boot wasn’t because of anything she wrote, but rather the effect her writing had on their readers, who generally reacted as though they were suffering from a case of the vapors. (Weekly Standard)

I wonder if they have fainting couches in those ivory towers?

Ms. Riley wasn’t fired because her argument lacked sufficient intellectual vigor. She was fired because a sufficient number of people had their feelings hurt and deemed her ouster — as opposed to a rebuttal of her arguments — the more reasonable course of action. (FrontPage)

Yes, exactly! Her argument had no intellectual rigor. Hence, no rebuttal. Except for all the rebuttals.

And finally, the money shot:

The great irony, of course, is that the whining and gnashing of teeth from the “Black Studies” crowd only reinforces Naomi’s point about the “discipline.” You’d never see chemists or physicists or mathematicians worked into a hysterical mob by a critical blog post. Because they study actual fields of knowledge—and don't simply tend the garden of their own feelings. (Weekly Standard)

You would never see these folks worked into a hysterical mob because there are no critical blog posts attacking the legitimacy of their very existence. The irony.

Now, this is a point that people fail to grasp whenever they accuse someone of demanding racial justice Politcal Correctness: Sometimes people have hurt feelings because an injustice was done. And sometimes the correct response to injustice is to work yourself up into a hysterical mob and…write a petition.

Ward, you were a little hard on the Beaver last night

There is a new academic paper defending the idea that marriage of the "Leave it to Beaver" variety is a metaphysical fact (and no, I'm not kidding):

Marriage is the union of a man and a woman who make a permanent and exclusive commitment to each other of the type that is naturally (inherently) fulfilled by bearing and rearing children together. The spouses seal (consummate) and renew their union by conjugal acts—acts that constitute the behavioral part of the process of reproduction, thus uniting them as a reproductive unit. Marriage is valuable in itself, but its inherent orientation to the bearing and rearing of children contributes to its distinctive structure, including norms of monogamy and fidelity. This link to the welfare of children also helps explain why marriage is important to the common good and why the state should recognize and regulate it.

The paper is at the link.  Here is one critique of the academic variety; here another, slightly less academic, but equally poignant.  I'm not going to bother with the arguments, at this point, because I think that matter has been resolved–however much the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy might disagree.  Well, ok, just one.

Our organs—our heart and stomach, for example—are parts of one body because they are coordinated, along with other parts, for a common biological purpose of the whole: our biological life. It follows that for two individuals to unite organically, and thus bodily, their bodies must be coordinated for some biological purpose of the whole.

That sort of union is impossible in relation to functions such as digestion and circulation, for which the human individual is by nature sufficient. But individual adults are naturally incomplete with respect to one biological function: sexual reproduction.

I suspect questions are massively begged on the idea of "biological purposes"–and I think "organic" uniting is probably different from anything you can get at your Whole Foods.  Whatever their meaning may be, the hilarious part/whole purposes analogy cries out for inclusion in one's Introduction to Logic text.  My liver has a function, ergo, ipso facto you must marry me.

Let's go ahead and suppose that lots of arguments can be dreamt up for Leave it to Beaver marriage.  They're all going to suck, because they presume stuff that just can't be presumed, or they try to establish things as facts that can't be established as facts without the presumptions. 

I wouldn't even consider this an academic argument at this point–one whose outcome matters not.  The outcome of this argument matters a lot.  It's just that we've already seen it.  Does this mean, real question here, that we have duty not to entertain this kind of argumentative detritis?

via Leiter.

A circular argument against begging the question

A puzzle for the readers of the NonSequitur

Colin, John and I will be attending the upcoming Ontario Society for the Study of Argumentation (OSSA) conference in the coming weeks.  We're presenting a version of the Subjunctive Tu Quoque argument (Colin blazed the trail here). 

To the point, I'm slated to comment on a paper with the thesis that there are virtuous circular arguments.  I've posed a challenge to the author, with the following argument:

P1: There are no virtuous circular arguments.

C: Therefore, there are no virtuous circular arguments.

The challenge is to explain, if there are virtuous circular arguments, what is wrong with P1 being used to support C. Of course, the author doesn't get to say that P1 begs the question.

Is this out of bounds?  Moreover, if the challenge can't be met, what follows?

Dear Santa Claus

Another foray into logic and rock 'n roll.  This time, it's one of my personal favorites, XTC's "Dear God":  Lyrics/ Video. First, a quick survey of the argument of the song and then three argumentative-logical issues.

"Dear God" is supposed to a letter addressed to God.  The contents of the letter amount to two separate arguments for atheism.  The primary argument is the argument from evil.  Here is the background commitment:  gratuitous suffering in the world is inconsistent with a just, capable and creative god.  The argument is then made by a series of examples of gratuitous suffering.  First is the problem of hunger:

But all the people that you made in your image
See them starving in the street
'Cause they don't get enough to eat from god

Second is the problem of strife (specifically religious strife):

And all the people that you made in your image
See them fighting in the street
'Cause they can't make opinions meet about god

Third is a cattle call of ills:

You're always letting us humans down
The wars you bring, the babes you drown
Those lost at sea and never found
And it's the same the whole world 'round
The hurt I see helps to compound
That father, son and holy ghost
Is just somebody's unholy hoax

Now, for sure, the argument from evil needs only one evil that's gratuitous, but when you get a list like that, it's supposed to improve the argument.  I think this is because we all recognize that as the evils pile up, they all seem so pointless and horrible, and as they seem to keep coming, we're supposed to see the responses to the argument from evil as being progressively less and less plausible.  In this respect, the argument from evil is less a purely logical game of finding contradictions, but more a process of seeing just how unlikely it is that God could be just if he allowed all that evil.  So the cattle call isn't, I think, just a rhetorical flourish (or powerful songwriting… again, listen to that part!), it's supposed to play an argumentative role, but in a rough version of the evidential problem of evil. 

The second argument is a subsidiary one, but is nevertheless worth mentioning. It's the argument from anthropogenesis: the observation that we have natural world explanations for all the events leading up to the founding of the religions and the development of their dogmas, so they, at least in their claims to supernatural revelation, must be false:

Did you make mankind after we made you?. . .

Dear god don't know if you noticed but…
Your name is on a lot of quotes in this book
And us crazy humans wrote it, you should take a look
And all the people that you made in your image
still believing that junk is true
Well I know it ain't, and so do you

Effectively: c'mon, god, you know we made you and all the stories about you up.  Therefore: you don't exist. Q to the E to the D, baby!

The three logical points. #1. The argument from evil is easy to present, but very difficult to get just right.  The problems of hunger and strife are ones we bring on ourselves, a theodicy may run, and so we are, in saying that God is responsible for these things, not acknowledging our responsibilities.  God, if he were to step in to resolve these moral evils, would not be respecting our freedoms and making it possible for us to be worthy of his love. 

The natural evils on the docket (disease, babes drowning , etc.) are consequences of living in a world with natural laws.  And so we must accept that given that this world is intelligible, it must also have correlate dangers.  Another strategy for theodicy here would be to go skeptical, and say:  perhaps the letter should be written a little less dogmatically – asking for why these things happen, instead of insisting that God has no good reason.  Perhaps, it may go, God does have a reason…  Regardless, the evils in the song aren't enough to make the full case.  You need to wrestle with the rationalizations God (or his spokesperson) might give for that case to go through. 

The problem with the argument, then, is that it is insufficiently dialectical, even if the entity addressed doesn't exist.  Not that I don't think the argument from evil kicks theism's rear, it's just that theodicy is actually a pretty formidable opponent, and a laundry list of evils isn't much of a case yet.  It's nice songwriting, but as an argument, *yawn*.

#2. The argument from anthropogenesis is often rhetorically powerful, but it's really just wind.  Any non-insane defender of theism can concede that the traditions of churches and the transmission of (and perhaps even the overwhelming majority of the contents of ) the sacred texts are products of human agency.  That doesn't mean that theism is false, it just means that humans are really keen on making stuff up and believing stuff about God.  Now, again, it, like the argument from evil, is more of a cumulative case — you keep piling up all the cases where things just don't look right.  But, again, cumulatively it just shows that there are multiple natural causes at work in the developments of the religion.  No refutation, but if anything, begging the question.

#3. Is the presentation self defeating?  I remember that when I first heard the song, I immediately asked whether it made sense to say to God: I don't believe in you.  That's weird.  Surely, if you're addressing God, you're committing, informally, to his existence.  Otherwise, the speech act of addressing is inappropriate.  I'm not the only one who's had that thought.  Visit any of the discussions about the song (either on the threads above, or here).  Here's a strong version of the challenge:   The most this song can show is that the author has doubts about god's existence, but in addressing god in the song, he actually finds that he nevertheless does believe.  That's faith, baby, faith!

That argument stinks.  First, it doesn't undercut the conclusion of the argument: God doesn't exist.  Just because the author happens to address the argument to God doesn't have any bearing on whether the argument demonstrates its conclusion.  If I addresssed a letter to Santa Claus explaining all my reasons for holding that he does not exist, that would not in any way effect the correctness of the arguments, nor would it change the truth of my conclusion. Moreover, I could  write a letter to Santa, tell him he doesn't exist and even mail it to the North Pole, and I could still believe he doesn't exist.  That's why I wrote the letter!   Second, think of the song as more like therapy.  The author has been believing in God, perhaps, for a long time.  He's prayed to Him regularly, and as a consequence, is in the habit of addressing God.  And so in coming to terms with his atheism, the author feels the need to speak to God one more time… a kind of breakup talk, but one not really addressed to God, but one really composed and performed for himself.  That's what the prayers were all along, anyhow. 

In sum: the song's a standard argument from evil, nicely performed.  But it's a thin version of it. Weak, really.  But it's at least not self refuting, so there's that.

Liberal Intelligentsia

You have to hand it to Charles Krauthammer, at least he makes an effort to mount an argument.  Sadly, however, his effort too often confuses fallacious forms of argument with valid ones.  Today's topic: the "Ground Zero" "Mosque."  I put "Mosque" and "Ground Zero" in quotes because IT"S NOT A "MOSQUE."  People should not call it that.  And it's not AT "ground zero," so people should stop saying that also.  He at least gets this part half correct.  The rest is all hollow-manning, weak-manning, straw-manning, and ad-homineming: he begins:

It's hard to be an Obama sycophant these days. Your hero delivers a Ramadan speech roundly supporting the building of a mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero in New York. Your heart swells and you're moved to declare this President Obama's finest hour, his act of greatest courage.

It is inexcusable nowadays in the world of links not to put a bunch of links to quote-worthy people who hold that view of Obama.  No such luck, as this is just the set up.  But that tone of moral and logical condescension (sycophant? please) is pure Krauthammer–he's going to show you whose belief is foolish now.  Continuing directly:

Alas, the next day, at a remove of 800 miles, Obama explains that he was only talking about the legality of the thing and not the wisdom — upon which he does not make, and will not make, any judgment.

You're left looking like a fool because now Obama has said exactly nothing: No one disputes the right to build; the whole debate is about the propriety, the decency of doing so.

It takes no courage whatsoever to bask in the applause of a Muslim audience as you promise to stand stoutly for their right to build a mosque, giving the unmistakable impression that you endorse the idea. What takes courage is to then respectfully ask that audience to reflect upon the wisdom of the project and to consider whether the imam's alleged goal of interfaith understanding might not be better achieved by accepting the New York governor's offer to help find another site.

What's hilarious is that Krauthammer's evidence of no one disputing the right to build is another Krauthammer piece.  I will at least have the decency to send you to someone else–and you can follow their links.  What Krauthammer says is false.  Ok, a quote:

Limbaugh: "[T]he Constitution does not guarantee you can put your church anywhere you want it." On his nationally syndicated radio show, Rush Limbaugh stated: "If you're going to bring the First Amendment into it, that's where your argument's going to fall apart. There are 23 mosques in New York. The government — the Constitution does not guarantee you can put your church anywhere you want it. It just says you cannot be denied the practice of worship."

Regretably, That guy is a leading conservative figure.  But you can see that he disputes the legal right to build.  Moving on:

Where the president flagged, however, the liberal intelligentsia stepped in with gusto, penning dozens of pro-mosque articles characterized by a frenzied unanimity, little resort to argument and a singular difficulty dealing with analogies.

Read closely, "dozens" of articles were written, but there was "little resort to argument" and a "singular difficulty with analogies."  And he comes up with two examples: Richard Cohen and Michael Kinsley.  God help us.

The Atlantic's Michael Kinsley was typical in arguing that the only possible grounds for opposing the Ground Zero mosque are bigotry or demagoguery. Well then, what about Pope John Paul II's ordering the closing of the Carmelite convent just outside Auschwitz? (Surely there can be no one more innocent of that crime than those devout nuns.) How does Kinsley explain this remarkable demonstration of sensitivity, this order to pray — but not there? He doesn't even feign analysis. He simply asserts that the decision is something "I confess that I never did understand."

That's his Q.E.D.? Is he stumped or is he inviting us to choose between his moral authority and that of one of the towering moral figures of the 20th century?

At least Richard Cohen of The Post tries to grapple with the issue of sanctity and sensitivity. The results, however, are not pretty. He concedes that putting up a Japanese cultural center at Pearl Harbor would be offensive but then dismisses the analogy to Ground Zero because 9/11 was merely "a rogue act, committed by 20 or so crazed samurai."

Any reference to Richard Cohen is by definition weak-manning.  But Kinsley's argument–which you can read at the link if you click it–is rather stronger than Krauthammer suggests.  In fact, he addresses precisely the point about analogies Krauthammer mentions (in addition to naming Krauthammer specifically).  Kinsley writes:

Opponents of the mosque have their own analogies. What about a theme park near the Civil War battlefield at Manassas? What about a Japanese cultural center at Pearl Harbor? What about a convent full of nuns praying at Auschwitz (a project Pope John Paul II shut down). I confess that I never did understand what was wrong with nuns devoting their lives to praying at the site of a Nazi death camp. As for the other what-abouts: the difference is that our constitution does not guarantee freedom of theme parks, or freedom of national (as opposed to religious) cultural centers. It guarantees freedom of religion, which (to make the banal but necessary point) is one of the major disagreements we have with Osama bin Laden.

I think Kinsley's point is that the nun analogy is not obviously decisive.  I think he's correct about this, as the nuns had occupied a building actually used in the Auschwitz complex (where the Nazis stored Zyklon-B), and their sole purpose was to pray for the dead at Auschwitz.  They didn't occupy a building in the nearby town that had nothing to do with the Holocaust (like a Burlington Coat Factory, for instance, or a strip club).  Agree or not, it's obvious Kinsley doesn't see the aptness of the analogy.  You can't challenge him by insisting that it's super apt.  That just begs the question.  And he's certainly not obliged to question the towering Moral authority of the Pope (which Krauthammer–in his drumbeat for war war war—did more than he).  And besides, I think the Pope's decision was a pragmatic one–he was avoiding a fight.  Finally, the organized structure of the Catholic Church is not analogous to anything in Islam. 

Anyway, Krauthammer has not only not discussed the dozens of other possible arguments (are we supposed to take his word for it that they're bad?) for the Cordoba Initiative, he has also missed the point of at least one of the articles that he does discuss.  If you're going to weak man, at least do it right. 

I will politicize free will!

Another addition to the evaluation of rock and roll argumentation.  Last time, Jem suggested a discussion of Rush's "Free Will."  Here goes. (Lyrics here)

I remember back in high school when someone told me that Rush was 'thinking man's music.'  I heard some of the songs, and I wasn't really sure what what my friend was getting at.  In fact, it was "Free Will" that he played for me, and my opinion now is pretty much the same.  Geddy Lee/Neil Peart are just confused about the whole metaphysical issue, and this confusion leads them to some pretty harsh judgments of the downtrodden. 

In a nutshell, "Free Will" is the following set of commitments. #1: If you are committed to fatalism or determinism, you are looking to lay the responsibility for your life's failings on anyone or anything but yourself. (Fate, the gods, and perhaps social conditions).  #2. Laying the responsibility for one's life (and its failings) outside oneself leads one to inaction.  #3. If you are committed to free will, you hold yourself responsible for your life.  #4. If you hold yourself responsible for your life, you are more active in that life.

The first two commitments are the ones that get the most attention, and so the majority of the song is out to cast the poor as people who rationalize their poverty as a consequence of fate, when it actually is because of their own inaction.

There are those who think that they were dealt a losing hand,
The cards were stacked against them; they weren't born in Lotusland.

The implication of 'Lotusland' is that the only benefits that some people appreciate are those of sloth.  Alternately, the case for #3 and #4 is made but briefly:

I will choose a path that's clear
I will choose freewill.

In a way, the Rush strategy is akin to the old pragmatist reconstructions of metaphysical views.  In this case, determinism/fatalism is pragmatically a form of passivity and irresponsibility, and libertarianism is a form of activity and responsibility.  So choosing a metaphysics is equivalent to choosing what kind of person you will be (and  the consequences of being that person). 

The implication is that if you help others (especially because you see them as mere victims of fate), you consequently encourage their further dependence. 

You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill

The conclusions (suppressed of course) are that: C1: One ought to choose the active and responsible life. C2: So one should choose free will as a metaphysics.  C3: Those who live the passive and irresponsible life (and suffer the poverty and ills that come with it) are nevertheless responsible for that life, because "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice".  (And so: the poor have, really, chosen to be that way!)  Finally, because treating the poor as though they are victims of fate promotes their conception of themselves as passive and not responsible for their lives, C4: We ought not even help the poor (as, again, that would be "kindness that can kill").

I will limit myself to three criticisms.  First, the fact of moral luck seems perfectly obvious.  No matter how active a farmer you are, you can't use  your free will to choose that your crops not be eaten by locusts or withered by a drought.  Your choosing free will has no impact on whether you are part of your company's downsizing, that you get brain cancer, or develop a psychosis.  (This song will set you straight on that.) No matter how free will-ist you are, if you're born to a family with little money, no interest in education or social improvement, and a proclivity to violence, it doesn't take much figuring to lay odds on your coming life.  So sometimes it's a reasonable attitude to blame the fates.

Second, there is nothing in the argument that shows that it is true that there is free will, only that believing that you have free will makes you more active.  So far, a Hellenistic fatalist could accept that.  In fact, the old fatalists like Euripides had a term for the thought that their fates were in their own hands — hubris.    Unless it is false that the gods control the world, Rush's suggestions here put his listeners in danger of one of the greatest errors mortals could make, that is, taking themselves to be like gods.  I presume that Rush has taken it for granted that the gods aren't in control, but that makes their whole argument from consequences superfluous.  In fact, it makes the whole song (as an argument) beg the question.

Third, and finally, the two rhetorically most powerful moments in the song key on the fact that one has "chosen" one of the options between freedom and fatalism/determinism.  The first is that if you go with fatalism, "you still have made a choice," and the second is that Geddy/Neil "will choose free will."   But the free will – determinism issue can be recast to  bear on whether the choice in either of these cases is determined.  So the determinist maybe could say: Sure, you choose free will.  That's exactly the kind of person you are — you're a stridently independent, anti-authoritarian, rock and roller.  That's what they all choose.  The fact that you choose free will just goes to show how determined you are.   As a consequence, this choice business, despite the fact that it's the rhetorical peak of the song, is an utter argumentative failure.

Oh, and the guitar solo is a noodly mess, too.

Because it has a dormitive power

Throughout the internets there has been headsratching and headshaking over this op-ed by NYT's David Brooks-in-training, Ross Douthat

He begins by admitting that the arguments of gay marriage opponents have so far failed:

Here are some commonplace arguments against gay marriage: Marriage is an ancient institution that has always been defined as the union of one man and one woman, and we meddle with that definition at our peril. Lifelong heterosexual monogamy is natural; gay relationships are not. The nuclear family is the universal, time-tested path to forming families and raising children.

These have been losing arguments for decades now, as the cause of gay marriage has moved from an eccentric- seeming notion to an idea that roughly half the country supports. And they were losing arguments again last week, when California’s Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that laws defining marriage as a heterosexual union are unconstitutional, irrational and unjust.

These arguments have lost because they’re wrong. What we think of as “traditional marriage” is not universal. The default family arrangement in many cultures, modern as well as ancient, has been polygamy, not monogamy. The default mode of child-rearing is often communal, rather than two parents nurturing their biological children.

Nor is lifelong heterosexual monogamy obviously natural in the way that most Americans understand the term. If “natural” is defined to mean “congruent with our biological instincts,” it’s arguably one of the more unnatural arrangements imaginable. In crudely Darwinian terms, it cuts against both the male impulse toward promiscuity and the female interest in mating with the highest-status male available. Hence the historic prevalence of polygamy. And hence many societies’ tolerance for more flexible alternatives, from concubinage and prostitution to temporary arrangements like the “traveler’s marriages” sanctioned in some parts of the Islamic world.

Good for him, those arguments are bad.  Not to be outdone by them, however, he's going to offer one of his own, which, as you'll see, is worse than the ones he's just rejected, because, well, it's the same!  Continuing directly:

So what are gay marriage’s opponents really defending, if not some universal, biologically inevitable institution? It’s a particular vision of marriage, rooted in a particular tradition, that establishes a particular sexual ideal.

This ideal holds up the commitment to lifelong fidelity and support by two sexually different human beings — a commitment that involves the mutual surrender, arguably, of their reproductive self-interest — as a uniquely admirable kind of relationship. It holds up the domestic life that can be created only by such unions, in which children grow up in intimate contact with both of their biological parents, as a uniquely admirable approach to child-rearing. And recognizing the difficulty of achieving these goals, it surrounds wedlock with a distinctive set of rituals, sanctions and taboos.

Get that–marrigage is uniquely admirable because it's distinctive, particular, difficult, and uniquely admirable.  But this is really just the tradition argument again–straight non-divorcing marriage is admirable because that's what we admire it, it's our ideal of something admirable.  Nothing else is unique like it (although one would have to admit that gay marriages are pretty darn unique). 

The question begged here, of course, what makes it admirable in the first place.  This is especially interesting because he's just knocked down all of the reasons for thinking it's admirable.  Being unique, or difficult, of course, are not reasons for admiring something.  Nor is something being admirable a reason for admiring it.

Skipping a few bewildering paragraphs, he warns us about what is to come if we fail to beg the question with him:

If this newer order completely vanquishes the older marital ideal, then gay marriage will become not only acceptable but morally necessary. The lifelong commitment of a gay couple is more impressive than the serial monogamy of straights. And a culture in which weddings are optional celebrations of romantic love, only tangentially connected to procreation, has no business discriminating against the love of homosexuals.

But if we just accept this shift, we’re giving up on one of the great ideas of Western civilization: the celebration of lifelong heterosexual monogamy as a unique and indispensable estate. That ideal is still worth honoring, and still worth striving to preserve. And preserving it ultimately requires some public acknowledgment that heterosexual unions and gay relationships are different: similar in emotional commitment, but distinct both in their challenges and their potential fruit.

But based on Judge Walker’s logic — which suggests that any such distinction is bigoted and un-American — I don’t think a society that declares gay marriage to be a fundamental right will be capable of even entertaining this idea.

Allowing homosexuals to get married will only bolster the case that they're more awesome at marriage than straights are.  Once people begin to realize that, then gay marriage will be a moral necessity–even for straight people.  At least that's what I think he's saying, because I fail to see the context of "morally necessary." 

More absurd, however, is the idea that marriage's being (as Douthat conceives it) a great idea of Western Civilization justifies discrmination against gay marriage.  Well, in the first place, it's not really an idea of Western Civilization (traditional Western-Civ marriage isn't anything like this alleged ideal).  Second, he's just told us that argument sucks (and it does). 

Third, and most importantly, legally recognizing homosexual marriage doesn't mean straight marriage is not a great idea, even if it were.

Straight face

Maggie Gallagher, president of NOM, writes:

Despite the media hoopla, this is not the first case in which a federal judge has imagined and ruled that our Constitution requires same-sex marriage. A federal judge in Nebraska ruled for gay marriage in 2005 and was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in 2006.

The Proposition 8 case on which the Ninth Circuit's Judge Vaughn Walker ruled Wednesday was pushed by two straight guys with a hunger for media attention, lawyers with huge egos who overrode the considered judgment of major figures in the gay legal establishment, thinkers who feared exactly what we anticipate: the Supreme Court will uphold Prop. 8 and the core civil rights of Californians and all Americans to vote for marriage as one man and one woman.

Judge Walker's ruling proves, however, that the American people were and are right to fear that too many powerful judges do not respect their views, or the proper limits of judicial authority. Did our Founding Fathers really create a right to gay marriage in the U.S. Constitution? It is hard for anyone reading the text or history of the 14th Amendment to make that claim with a straight face, no matter how many highly credentialed and brilliant so-called legal experts say otherwise.

Nevermind the ad homs (ego-driven straight guys!) and the beggings of the question (proper limits of judicial authority!), I don't understand the last sentence.  Allow me to reconstruct:

  1. Many highly credentialed experts, with the proper knowledge and experience, assert x.
  2. no one can seriously claim x.

Pardon my confusion, but it seems like just the right kind of people–qualified straight people with straight faces–have made the assertion, I think that means it has some initial plausibility. 

Now of course, the controversy might be how one interprets "x" in my reconstruction.  And this is where Ms. Gallagher hollow mans–I don't think anyone has made the claim she alleges ("created an [enumerated] right….").  So no one, with a straight face or otherwise, is arguing that the COTUS (anyone ever say that?  They should) utters the phrase "gay marriage."  Of course, as far as I know, it doesn't say "marriage" either. 

via Pandagon via Atrios.

That’s icky, your argument is invalid

Deep Christian thinker Mike Huckabee on teh gay (from a New Yorker Interview via Crooks and Liars):

One afternoon in Jerusalem, while Huckabee was eating a chocolate croissant in the lounge of the Crowne Plaza Hotel, I asked him to explain his rationale for opposing gay rights. “I do believe that God created male and female and intended for marriage to be the relationship of the two opposite sexes,” he said. “Male and female are biologically compatible to have a relationship. We can get into the ick factor, but the fact is two men in a relationship, two women in a relationship, biologically, that doesn’t work the same.”

I asked him if he had any arguments that didn’t have to do with God or ickiness. “There are some pretty startling studies that show if you want to end poverty it’s not education and race, it’s monogamous marriage,” he said. “Many studies show that children who grow up in a healthy environment where they have both a mother and a father figure have both a healthier outlook and a different perspective from kids who don’t have the presence of both.”

In fact, a twenty-five-year study recently published by the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that children brought up by lesbians were better adjusted than their peers. And, of course, nobody has been able to study how kids fare with married gay parents. “You know why?” Huckabee said. “Because no culture in the history of mankind has ever tried to redefine marriage.”

But in the Old Testament polygamy was commonplace. The early Christians considered marriage an arrangement for those without the self-discipline to live in chastity, as Christ did. Marriage was not deemed a sacrament by the Church until the twelfth century. And, before 1967, marriage was defined in much of the United States as a relationship between a man and a woman of the same race.

Regardless of the past, wouldn’t Huckabee be curious to know whether allowing gay people to marry had a positive or negative effect on children and society?

“No, not really. Why would I be?” he said, and laughed.

Because saying that something ought to be a certain way simply because that’s the way it supposedly has always been is an awful lot like saying “because we said so.” And Huckabee is supposed to be the guy who questions everything.

I think it's reasonably fair to say that Huckabee is full of crap.  The "ick facktor" is not an argument–unless you're talking about putting parmesan cheese on seafood, in which case it is, and your argument is invalid. 

But really seriously. 

Here is an allegedly intelligent guy who claims evidence for his view that isn't evidence for his view.  The idea that monogamy decreases poverty doesn't exclude gay monogamy.  But worse than that, everyone ought to know from anthro 101 that marriage has been "defined" (I really wish we could stop using this sneaky Platonism) in myriad ways in different cultures (and even in the very Bible Huckabee allegedly believes in).  Finally, Huckabee ought at least to be open to the idea that the evidence does not support his prejudices–but no.  That would be asking too much. 

Now in case you think Huckabee has been misquoted or treated unfairly here by the New Yorker (a claim I expect to be forthcoming), consider the following:

As governor of Arkansas, Huckabee successfully championed laws that prevented gay people from becoming foster parents and banned gay adoptions. “Children are not puppies—this is not a time to see if we can experiment and find out how does this work,” Huckabee told a student journalist at the College of New Jersey in April. “You don’t go ahead and accommodate every behavioral pattern that is against the ideal. That would be like saying, ‘Well, there are a lot of people who like to use drugs, so let’s go ahead and accommodate those who want to use drugs. There are some people who believe in incest, so we should accommodate them.’ ” These comments proved unpopular. On his Web site, Huckabee accused his interviewer of trying to “grossly distort” and “sensationalize my well known and hardly unusual views” about homosexuality. The student publication then posted the audiotape of the interview online. Huckabee had not been misquoted.

Now one thing I'm certain the Bible says is "thou shall not bear false witness."