Designed to be Married

May 26, 2012

In a recent article on CNN Albert Mohler responds to complaints that conservative Christians have an unwarranted focus on homosexuality. He aptly parses the difference between the laws that governed ancient Israelite society and the principles that govern the lives of Christians, and provides a solid basis for Christians to maintain strong opposition to normalizing homosexual behavior.

What I find lacking in Mohler’s argument as well as most Christian’s discussion of homosexuality is the fact that human sexuality is firmly rooted in our design. In Scripture our sexuality doesn’t emanate from Old Testament law or even the teachings of Jesus, but in our very natures. Christians find this in Genesis 1 commanding the first humans to “be fruitful and multiply” and also in the description of a monogamous life-long marriage in Genesis 2 that pronounces that a man “be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” This is the understanding of marriage that was later reiterated by Jesus.

As it turns out the Christian argument for the preeminence of heterosexual relationships transects the secular one. There is no doubt about the importance of the reproductive aspect of heterosexual relationship, from the aspect of maintaining the human species. Marriage however is equally important in this respect. As I have noted elsewhere the long term relationship between men and women who parent children together has physiological impacts on adults and children which facilitate the investment necessary to raise a child.

And on a societal level a healthy nuclear family is perhaps the greatest indicator of success in one’s life in terms of education, employment and later relationships. The income and education gaps in our society often fall along the lines of marriage success.

And the failure of the traditional family has notably pernicious effects. As Steven Pinker details in his recent book on the history of violence The Better Angels of Our Nature, the Free Love and anti-authority 60’s had a dramatic impact on the American family, and a corresponding dramatic increase in violence in the following decades. A diminished commitment to the marriages and families had a decivilizing impact. In many ways this explains why older adults oppose gay marriage in higher numbers than younger do. These people were the free-loving hippies of yesteryear – and they remember the damage such social experimentation did to our society.

In his letter to the Romans Paul employed the argument from design when he described what happens when we move away from the purposes of marriage for which we are created:

For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.

Romans 1:26-27

In this sense law and morality are merely descriptions of our ‘natural functions’. The laws in Scripture governing sexuality then aren’t arbitrary at all but flow from understanding the behaviors that allow for human flourishing. Thus we can no more confer marriage on homosexuals than we can confer the ability to breastfeed on men. And attempts to pretend men can breastfeed would be as harmful to child rearing as ignoring the importance of traditional marriage was in the 60s – or today.

So while there is certainly warrant for a Christian to oppose homosexual behaviors and the idea of homosexual marriage from Scripture, we also have an appeal to nature and to the benefits of supporting monogamous, committed heterosexual relationships as a basis for healthy parenting and human flourishing, an idea which is well supported by data and history.

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The Absurdity of Scientism

January 4, 2012

In the latest issue of the New Republic, Editor Leon Wieseltier does a scathing review of The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life Without Illusions by Alex Rosenberg, a philosopher of science at Duke University. Wieseltier notes the primary flaw of the book (indeed, the primary flaw of New Atheism) is its overt reliance on scientism – a philosophy that contradictorily purports that philosophy (and all of other forms of knowledge) is irrelevant in the light of scientific knowledge. As Wieseltier puts it:

Rosenberg arrives with “the correct answers to most of the persistent questions,” and “given what we know from the sciences, the answers are all pretty obvious.” (I have cited most of them above.) This is because “there is only one way to acquire knowledge, and science’s way is it.” And not just science in general, but physics in particular. “All the processes in the universe, from atomic to bodily to mental, are purely physical processes involving fermions and bosons interacting with one another.” And: “Scientism starts with the idea that the physical facts fix all the facts, including the biological ones. These in turn have to fix the human facts—the facts about us, our psychology, and our morality.” All that remains is to choose the wine.

IN THIS WAY science is transformed into a superstition. For there can be no scientific answer to the question of what is the position of science in life. It is not a scientific question. It is a philosophical question. The idea that physical facts fix all the facts is not an idea proven, or even posited, by physics. Rosenberg does not translate non-scientific facts into scientific facts; he denies that non-scientific facts exist at all. But in what way is, say, The Jewish Bride a scientific fact? It is certainly composed of fermions and bosons, but such knowledge, however true and fundamental, casts no light upon the power of the painting, or the reasons for its appeal. The description of everything in terms of fermions and bosons cannot account for the differences, in meaning and in effect, between particular combinations of fermions and bosons.

Indeed they cannot. Advocates of New Atheism-cum-scientism don’t limit themselves to mere science as they consider various issues, but also utilize the full range of knowledge human reason typically employs. I have thought of this as I have been reading Pinker’s book on the history of human violence. While he employs stats and cites empirical data on various phenomena, he also notes philosophical trends, social practices, beliefs and realities about ‘human nature’, that most ephemeral aspect of humans. It would seem when push comes to shove, New Atheists don’t even believe their own b.s. about Scientism.

And b.s. it is – the claims to reductionist materialism as a means of comprehensive explanation has almost nothing to do with humans explaining or understanding anything. It is merely a self-serving strategy to diminish the importance of philosophy, history, revelation and personal experience as ways of understanding the world so as to advance atheism.

And strategies aren’t forms of knowledge, they the means to win a battle – and that is ultimately what the New Atheists are about.


Steven Pinker on Civility

January 2, 2012

I am about half way through Steven Pinker’s much discussed recent book, The Better Angels of Our Nature a book on why violence has supposedly declined over time, and I have to say there is much there for a Christian to agree with. I plan to write a few posts reviewing the book once I am done but something he wrote about the spike in violence in the ’70s and ’80s starting on p. 160 struck me. He attributes this spike to the ‘decivilization’ of the 1960’s specifically to attacks on self-control, the delegitimizing of webs of interdependence that obligate us to other people and the undermining of marriage and family life during that time. These decivilizing forces created a huge spike in violence in the US, reversing a decade’s long decline. In many ways I see the memory of this history as being one of the main factors in opposition to the current gay marriage efforts. One of the reasons there is an age gap between supporters of gay marriage and those who oppose it, is that the older generation remembers the impact of the sexual revolution of the ’60s. It created societal chaos, greatly damaged the family and was very detrimental to the poorest segments of society.

In short, when gay marriage advocates claim that arbitrarily changing the institution of marriage to satisfy particular sexual proclivities won’t damage the institution of marriage we have empirical evidence to prove this isn’t true. We have been there and done that and the results were devastating – in fact we have only in the last decade begun to recover from the last round of social experimentation.

Pinker counts himself amongst the ‘New atheists’, so he obviously has no reason to empirically verify these essentially conservative and Christian values and yet he does so throughout his book. I think this is the inevitable result of a cold and hard chronicling the facts of human history.

The great experiment on what values and morals best lead to human flourishing has already been done – I for one appreciate the fact that someone like Steven Pinker has been honest enough to take a look at the data.


Observations

October 11, 2011

“Science and humanism are at odds more often than they are at one. For a devoted Darwinist like Pinker to maintain that the world is being pacified by the spread of a particular world view is deeply ironic. There is nothing in Darwinism to suggest that ideas and beliefs can transform human life. To be sure, there have been attempts to formulate an idea of progress in terms of competing memes—vaguely defined concepts or units of meaning that are held to be in some ways akin to genes—although nothing like a scientific theory has been developed. Even if there were such things as memes and they did somehow compete with one another, there is nothing to say that benign memes would be the winners. Quite to the contrary, if history is any guide. Racist ideas are extremely resilient and highly contagious, as is shown by the re-emergence of xenophobic ethnic nationalism and anti-Semitism in post-communist Europe. So are utopian ideas, which have resurfaced in neoconservative thinking about regime change. The recurrent appearance of these memes suggests that outside of some fairly narrowly defined areas of scientific investigation, progress is at best fitful and elusive. Science may be the cumulative elimination of error, but the human fondness for toxic ideas is remarkably constant.”

British philosopher John N. Gray, from a critique of Steven Pinker’s new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: the Decline of Violence in History and Its Causes.