Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Obama and Same-Sex Marriage: A Problem for His Supporters


If you support Obama and same-sex marriage (hereafter SSM), then consider the following argument very carefully, since it has important consequences for your thinking.

Obama stated numerous times that he was opposed to SSM. Here is a valid argument of the form known as “constructive dilemma” (let “telling the truth” be understood to mean ‘telling the truth when he said that he opposed same-sex marriage’):

1. Either Obama was telling the truth, or he was not telling the truth.
2. If Obama was telling the truth, then he was a homophobic bigot.
3. If Obama was not telling the truth, then he was a liar.
4. Therefore, either Obama was a homophobic bigot or he was a liar.

Did you vote for a homophobic bigot or a liar? Perhaps you wish to avoid this conclusion. Since my argument is valid, you must deny one of the premises. The first one can’t be questioned, since it is merely an instance of the Law of the Excluded Middle. The third might be questioned by saying that telling a lie here and there doesn’t make one a liar, but I would submit that saying what you know to be a falsehood on a matter of great and significant import makes one an excellent candidate for being a liar.

The most vulnerable premise is the second one. Instead of 2, you could affirm:

2’. If Obama was telling the truth, then it is not necessarily the case that he was a homophobic bigot.

But then this would be true:

5. If 2’ is true, then it is not necessarily the case that opposing SSM makes one a homophobic bigot.

By a valid inference called “hypothetical syllogism,” it follows from 2’ and 5 that:

6. If Obama was telling the truth, then it is not necessarily the case that opposing SSM makes one a homophobic bigot.

Now I construct the initial argument with 6:

1. Either Obama was telling the truth, or he was not telling the truth.
6. If Obama was telling the truth, then it is not necessarily the case that opposing SSM makes one a homophobic bigot.
3. If Obama was not telling the truth, then he was a liar.
4. Therefore, either it is not necessarily the case that opposing SSM makes one a homophobic bigot, or Obama was a liar.

There is nothing in the argument that rules out the possibility that both disjuncts in the conclusion are true. That possibility is open. But the problem that you face is that you must accept at least one of the two. Here I have offered the four options that realistically offer themselves for your consideration:

Option One: “I will concede that Obama lied repeatedly when he said that he was against same-sex marriage.”

Or:

Option Two: “Opposing same-sex marriage does not necessarily make you a homophobic bigot.”

Or you could affirm both and say:

Option Three: “Opposing same-sex marriage does not necessarily make you a homophobic bigot, and Obama lied when he said that he was against it."

Option Four: Or you could go back to the original argument and say: “I will concede that Obama was a homophobic bigot.”

Whether you support SSM or oppose it is irrelevant. My motivations for writing this post are irrelevant. Which option do you take?

Here I restate the four options in the strict language of the arguments, in case you find it helpful. If not, disregard:

Option One: Opposing SSM does make one a homophobic bigot, and Obama was a liar.

Option Two: Opposing SSM does not make one a homophobic bigot, and Obama was not a liar.

Option Three: Opposing SSM does not make one a homophobic bigot, and Obama was a liar.

Option Four: Opposing SSM does make one a homophobic bigot, Obama was not a liar, so Obama was a homophobic bigot.


So, at least one of the following MUST be true:

A. Obama was a liar.
B. Obama was a homophobic bigot.
C. Opposing same-sex marriage does not necessarily make you a homophobic bigot.


Which will you choose?  I choose Option Three and thereby affirm A and C. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Deistic Evolution



I have an enthusiastic book recommendation for any deist.  Although written by an atheist, I believe it has the best solution for those of us who assert both that God exists and that evolution is a fact, which describes every deist that I know.

Materialist Naturalism (MN) has become the default position in the sciences.  According to MN, there is nothing supernatural in the world (MN is therefore necessarily atheistic), and everything is fundamentally matter or a function of matter.  For MN, evolution by natural selection is the explanation for all that we see in the biological realm including life itself, consciousness, and the ability to reason.

Thomas Nagel is one of the most famous and important living American philosophers.  Surprisingly, as an atheist, Nagel argues in this book that MN faces insurmountable difficulties so severe that it simply cannot be a plausible candidate as an intellectually sufficient worldview.  For him, no materialist philosophy has ever succeeded in explaining the reliability of our rational faculties without engaging in circular reasoning, our subjective experience of consciousness, or the objective nature of morality.

In addition to the physical and chemical laws that MN recognizes, Nagel suggests that there is another kind of law operative in the universe—a “teleological” law.  In a nod to the ancient metaphysics of Aristotle, Nagel offers an atheistic, naturalistic worldview that incorporates a teleological law that “guides” or “inclines” things to move in the direction of life, consciousness, reasoning, and value. 

However, by affirming a “teleological” approach and rejecting MN’s “efficient causal” approach, Nagel also rejects theism’s “intentional” approach, as well.  In doing so, he retains the naturalism of MN and rejects the materialism.  Perhaps his view could be called “Neutral Monistic Naturalism,” in which something underlying both matter and mind guides them (in a non-intentional way) to develop together in biological evolution.

As a deist, I affirm the existence of God just as much as a theist does.  I am not convinced that Nagel’s atheistic teleology makes any sense, because there is no explanation in his system of why the universe inclines in one way rather than another.  This, to my mind, forces Nagel to rely on precisely the “brute facts” that he is trying to avoid in the MN worldview.  Affirming the existence of a Supreme Being, with whatever its philosophical problems are, strikes me as the best way to avoid these dreaded "brute facts."

In the context of this debate, both deists and theists are considered to be in the “theistic” camp inasmuch as both affirm that God is behind the process.  However, the theist, unlike the deist, has the option of arguing that God has intervened miraculously at certain critical points (life, consciousness, reason).  The deist, denying intervention, cannot take this option.

But Nagel’s teleological approach is, I think, the best inspiration for a deistic evolution that I have found, once it is combined with God’s intentions.  For the deist, the ultimate explanation is certainly “intentional,” insofar as it is God’s will that it occur; however, the deist can argue that God infused the creation with “teleology”—a distinct tendency to move in a certain direction.  With Nagel’s teleological approach, the deist now has a way of conceptualizing how evolution by natural selection can tend toward the goal of producing self-reflective, rational beings without any special intervention.  God "baked it in the cake," as it were.

Nagel writes:  “My preference for an immanent, natural explanation is congruent with my atheism.  But even a theist who believes God is ultimately responsible for the appearance of conscious life could maintain that this happens as part of a natural order that is created by God, but that it does not require further divine intervention.  A theist not committed to dualism in the philosophy of mind could suppose that the natural possibility of mind resides already in the character of the elements out of which those organisms are composed, perhaps supplemented by laws of psychophysical emergence.  To make the possibility of conscious life a consequence of the natural order created by God while ascribing its actuality to subsequent divine intervention would then seem an arbitrary complication.  Some form of teleological naturalism should for these reasons seem no less credible than an interventionist explanation, even to those who believe that God is ultimately responsible for everything” (103).

Something to think about!