Tag Archives: marriage - Page 2

For Better or Worse Reasoning in Print

For_Better_or_Worse__Cover_for_KindleWhy listen to  illogical diatribes when you can read them? I mean, read a rational examination of the arguments against same sex marriage.

This concise work is aimed at presenting a logical assessment of the stock arguments against same-sex marriage. While my position is in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage, I have made every effort to present a fair and rational assessment of the stock arguments against it. The work itself is divided into distinct sections. The first section provides some background material regarding arguments. The second section focuses on the common fallacious arguments used to argue against same-sex marriage. The third section examines standard moral arguments against same-sex marriage and this is followed by a brief look at the procreation argument. The work closes, appropriately enough, with a few modest proposals regarding marriage.

Amazon (US)

Amazon (UK)


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Alito on Same-Sex Marriage

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The United States Supreme Court is now considering a case involving same-sex marriage which has once again brought this matter into the media spotlight.

My view is and has been that legitimate marriage is essentially a legal and economic contract between two consenting adults. Because of this, I have argued in For Better or Worse Reasoning at length in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage. Jokingly, I have also suggested that people who dislike homosexuality should be for gay marriage because this would inevitably lead to the suffering of gay divorce.

Recently, Justice Alito had the following to say about the matter:

Traditional marriage has been around for thousands of years. Same-sex marriage is very new. I think it was first adopted in The Netherlands in 2000. So there isn’t a lot of data about its effect. And it may turn out to be a — a good thing; it may turn out not to be a good thing, as the supporters of Proposition 8 apparently believe.

But you want us to step in and render a decision based on an assessment of the effects of this institution, which is newer than cell phones or the Internet? I mean we — we are not — we do not have the ability to see the future. On a question like that, of such fundamental importance, why should it not be left for the people, either acting through initiatives and referendums or through their elected public officials?

It is tempting to see Alito as committing an fallacious appeal to tradition. After all, one of the stock “arguments” against same-sex marriage is to appeal to claim that traditional marriage is, well, traditional.  This a fallacy that occurs when it is assumed that something is better or correct simply because it is older, traditional, or “always has been done.” This sort of “reasoning” has the following form:

1. X is old or traditional

2. Therefore X is correct or better.

This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious because the age of something does not automatically make it correct or better than something newer. This is made quite obvious by the following example: The theory that witches and demons cause disease is far older than the theory that microorganism cause diseases. Therefore, the theory about witches and demons must be true.

This sort of “reasoning” is appealing for a variety of reasons. First, people often prefer to stick with what is older or traditional. This is a fairly common psychological characteristic of people which may stem from the fact that people feel more comfortable about what has been around longer. Second, sticking with things that are older or traditional is often easier than testing new things. Hence, people often prefer older and traditional things out of laziness. Hence, Appeal to Tradition is a somewhat common fallacy.

It should not be assumed that new things must be better than old things any more than it should be assumed that old things are better than new things. The age of thing does not, in general, have any bearing on its quality or correctness (in this context). In the case of tradition, assuming that something is correct just because it is considered a tradition is poor reasoning. For example, if the belief that 1+1 = 56 were a tradition of a group of people it would hardly follow that it is true.

Obviously, age does have a bearing in some contexts. For example, if a person concluded that aged wine would be better than brand new wine, he would not be committing an Appeal to Tradition. This is because, in such cases the age of the thing is relevant to its quality. Thus, the fallacy is committed only when the age is not, in and of itself, relevant to the claim.

One final issue that must be considered is the “test of time.” In some cases people might be assuming that because something has lasted as a tradition or has been around a long time that it is true because it has “passed the test of time.” If a person assumes that something must be correct or true simply because it has persisted a long time, then he has committed an Appeal to Tradition. After all, as history has shown people can persist in accepting false claims for centuries.

However, if a person argues that the claim or thing in question has successfully stood up to challenges and tests for a long period of time then they would not be committing a fallacy. In such cases the claim would be backed by evidence. As an example, the theory that matter is made of subatomic particles has survived numerous tests and challenges over the years so there is a weight of evidence in its favor. The claim is reasonable to accept because of the weight of this evidence and not because the claim is old. Thus, a claim’s surviving legitimate challenges and passing valid tests for a long period of time can justify the acceptance of a claim. But mere age or persistence does not warrant accepting a claim.

However, Alito’s remarks could be taken in a somewhat different manner. Rather than interpreting this as an indirect appeal to tradition, Alito could be seen as arguing that he does not have enough information to properly assess the consequences of same-sex marriage because it has not been around long enough for its consequences to have been properly assessed. Thus, Alito concludes that since he cannot see the future it follows that the decision on the matter should be left to the people.

This reply does have a certain appeal. After all, determining the consequences of same sex-marriage will take time. Part of this involves the obvious fact that consequences have to occur before they can determined and it will take time for the consequences to play out. Part of this is also the fact that a proper assessment of such a matter takes time to conduct.

That said, this seems to be more of a concern about scientific methodology (or moral assessment) rather than a concern about the matter of constitutionality. After all, determining whether or not denying same-sex couples the right to marry is unconstitutional does not seem to require assessing the consequences of allowing same sex-marriage. Assessing it ethical, in terms of an appeal to consequences  would  obviously involve considering the consequences-but this is a rather different matter than sorting out the constitutionality of the matter.

The key question, as I see it, is not “what might be the consequences of allowing same-sex marriage” but “does denying same-sex couples the right to marry violate the constitution?” I am, of course, inclined to answer the second question with a “yes.” To borrow from and modify Kant’s view, we do not need to wait and see the consequences of same-sex marriage in order to determine the constitutionality of the matter.

There is also the obvious response that we can predict what is likely to occur in the case of same sex marriage. After all, we have centuries of information available about marriage and same-sex relationships and we can make inferences from that evidence. To borrow an idea from Mill, when considering the consequences we would not be setting out into a vast unknown. Rather, we would be setting out on a sea that we have charts and maps for. Laying aside the metaphor, we have a reasonable idea of the consequences of allowing same-sex marriage. The main one would, of course, be that we stop denying people a legitimate right.

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Same-sex couples to the rescue of marriage?

The latest issue of Free Inquiry features pieces by myself and Tom Flynn on same-sex marriage and related matters. Free Inquiry publishes some material online, to tease potential readers, and in this case it has published Flynn’s interesting piece, which suggests that the institution of marriage, which has lost a lot of on-ground support in recent decades (many people are not bothering to marry, and a sizeable number think the institution has lost its relevance), may be actually be saved by gay couples pressing for equal marriage rights.

As I emphasize in my own piece (which is not available online, so you’ll have to buy the magazine), I have consistently argued in favor of sex-same marriage throughout the current debate, including in Freedom of Religion and the Secular State and a bit more briefly on the ABC Religion and Ethics Portal.

Perhaps, however, I’ve been less enthusiastic than some – I don’t mean that I’ve been unenthusiastic, just that I’ve, quite literally, not been one of the most enthusiastic people on my side of the argument. You might think that the arguments I’ve concentrated on have a more detached, less passionate sound to them than those from certain other commentators. If that’s what you think, I possibly stand guilty, and it may be because I feel some ambivalence about the entire concept of marriage, and especially about state involvement.

Flynn captures some of the reason why – and it will be familiar to many people who’ve been thinking about the issue over decades, not just over the last few years:

In one 2010 Pew Research Center Study, four in ten respondents said they already considered marriage obsolete.

Increasingly, matrimony has lost its power as the default state/religious apparatus for sanctioning pair-bonds. “The institution is dying—for the poor,” Streshinsky declared, while for wealthier Americans it has come to serve less as a normative rite than a design platform for celebratory excess.

As I’ve often written, secular humanists—in­deed, Enlightenment in­dividualists generally—should hail these developments. There’s something deeply wrong with the idea that free individuals should require the public sanction of the state—or even of their families and friends—to make their choice of a life-partner “legitimate.” And we should be no less queasy with matrimony’s historic cargo. At its roots it’s a disturbing amalgam of state and religion, a separationist’s nightmare entangled in its pedigree as a sacrament of the church. Anyone who views women as men’s equals should recoil from marriage’s origins as an arrangement for transferring property rights in the bride from her father to her husband. (Which is why the father traditionally “gives away” the bride.) For all these reasons, since the nineteenth-century Golden Age of Freethought, a strain of dogged resistance to matrimony has run through much atheist and, later, secular-humanist activism.

Later he adds:

Fifteen years ago, no LGBT advocate could have imagined that we would be where we are today. Back then, gay activists hoped not to reform marriage but to respond to its presumably irredeemable bigotry and narrowness by supplanting it. They dreamed not of same-sex marriage but of civil unions.

To be frank, civil unions had much to recommend them. Given time and focused activism, it is likely that they would have grown to confer most or all of the same rights granted by traditional matrimony: parental rights, sickroom visitation, health-care decision-making, community property, the right to inherit, and so on. What secular humanists especially liked about civil unions was that they would represent a brand-new institution constructed entirely within the domain of secular law. Civil unions would be as free of matrimony’s tangled roots as they were of its historical negatives. The activists of fifteen years ago dared to hope for a future, perhaps a couple of decades ahead, when robust civil unions might be available to same-sex couples across the land.

This perspective is not heard much in current debates, and perhaps that’s understandable, even appropriate. The priority may, after all, be equality for LGBT people. That may mean dispensing with some ambiguities and subtleties for the purpose of practical political campaigning. Still, I do find it refreshing to get a reminder from time to time that the extension of marriage rights to same-sex couples while leaving marriage itself much as it was might not be the utopian outcome – perhaps it’s the best practical outcome and the one we should be fighting for, but there are other possibilities that looked viable and progressive even quite recently.

Again, I support moves for liberal democracies to recognize same-sex marriages for those who want them. It is often argued that this will somehow undermine the institution of marriage, but it may be that the opposite is actually true: it might even help the institution’s survival if large numbers of same-sex couples value it so much and start to take part in it; it may even tend to give the institution more credibility when we currently have people fighting to gain access to it. More power to the people concerned.

All the same, what if a time comes one day when marriage no longer seems needed or especially desirable as a legal institution – perhaps if more and more people come to the view that it is not important, and if we progressively extend the legal rights that go with it to couples who are not formally married?

I won’t be losing sleep at the possibility that – for completely different reasons that began to have effects some time ago now – the institution does erode and we find viable alternatives to it. Marriage is not an institution that needs to be preserved for its own sake. It is valuable insofar as it serves human needs … and if they can be served in other ways, so be it. Or so it seems to me.

For Better or Worse Reasoning

My tenth Kindle book is out, For Better or Worse Reasoning: A Philosophical Look at Arguments Against Same-Sex Marriage.

It is the usual 99 cents in the US and the equivalent in dead parrot jokes in the UK. It is also available on all the Amazons(aside from the river and the women), but I am too lazy to copy-paste them all in.

As a special bonus for readers of this blog, you can get it for free from May 14 to May 18, 2012 (US dates).

This concise work is aimed at presenting a logical assessment of the stock arguments against same-sex marriage. While my position is in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage, I have made every effort to present a fair and rational assessment of the stock arguments against it.

The work itself is divided into distinct sections. The first section provides some background material regarding arguments. The second section focuses on the common fallacious arguments used to argue against same-sex marriage. The third section examines standard moral arguments against same-sex marriage and this is followed by a brief look at the procreation argument. The work closes, appropriately enough, with a few modest proposals regarding marriage.


  • Arguments
  • “Argument” Defined
  • Varieties
  • General Assessment of Arguments
  • Fallacies
  • Stock Fallacious Arguments against Same-sex Marriage
  • Appeal to Tradition
  • Appeal to Belief
  • Appeal to Common Practice
  • Slippery Slope
  • Weak Analogy
  • Non-Fallacious Arguments
  • Intuitions & Definitions
  • Appeal to Intuition
  • Argument by Definition
  • The Religious Arguments
  • The Moral Arguments
  • Homosexuals are Immoral Argument
  • The Unnatural Argument/The Natural Argument
  • Appeal to Consequences
  • The Sanctity Argument
  • The Procreation Argument
  • Marriage: A Few Modest Proposals
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Modern marriage, theology, and the state

Three pieces about marriage for your consideration. First, theologian John Milbank writes at the ABC Religion and Ethics Portal. He offers a complex and intriguing argument against same-sex marriage – one that makes a lot of assumptions that I don’t share. Nonetheless, it’s an interesting attempt to defend the status quo without, supposedly, invoking homophobic attitudes in any way. Milbank concedes that he is likely backing a loser, and he suggests attitudes that the Christian churches might take in a world where same-sex marriage is increasingly provided.

Second, my piece on the same site defends same-sex marriage, but more or less in passing in the context of a wider discussion of marriage in a fully secular society. I prefer the state abdicating entirely from the marriage business, but that is an ideal that I don’t consider achievable even in the medium-term future, let alone the short-term future. If we are going to make realistic policy in current crcumstances, we should support same-sex marriage. I go on to discuss how the state should regard traditional polygynous marriages and, on the other hand, modern concepts of polyamory. The article as a whole is adapted from my discussion of these issues in Freedom of Religion and the Secular State. This piece may read like a reply to Milbank’s (it appeared a day, or indeed some hours, later) … but they were written independently.

Third, Stephanie Zvan replies to me (and gets some interesting discussion going) on her Almost Diamonds blog. She is largely in agreement, but worries about one particular issue that I brought up in defending same-sex marriage, namely that of rights as next of kin. Should this really transfer automatically to the spouse (from parents, or whomever) on marriage? Zvan sees a downside to it.

There is also a thread about the first two pieces over on Richard Dawkins’ site, if you’re interested.

Whatever their other merits or otherwise, all three pieces argue the issues in ways that are a little different from the usual posts and op.eds on same-sex marriage. Hopefully they might enrich the current debate.

Do we need laws banning polygamy?

This is the hot topic for the week, following the judgment of a Canadian court upholding a ban on polygamous marriages.

Here are two online articles criticising the outcome of the case: one by Kate Heartfield, writing for The Province; the other by Stephanie Zvan in a post on her blog at freethoughtblogs.com.

I have a lot of sympathy for both of these pieces. That’s not to say that the case is wrongly decided as a matter of law – I think that’s quite a difficult question, and I’d like to think about it further. In particular, I would like to – *sigh* – read the 300+ page judgment in its entirety (does anyone have a link for it?).

One interesting issue for legal theorists is this: what if a statute was initially enacted to achieve a purpose that was in breach of such concepts as freedom of religion (which might have constitutional protection), but is now, generations later, best rationalised on some other, seemingly legitimate, basis? Should we now see the statute as serving a legitimate secular purpose? Perhaps … but it’s not just obvious. What if the constitutional protection of freedom of religion came along after the statute was enacted? Does that make a difference? I don’t see a clear philosophical answer to questions like that. Maybe it’s just a policy question. I’m open to hearing some views.

In any event, public policy on this issue in Canada will now be in a mess. It’s clear that the state won’t register polyamorous relationships (polygynous, polyandrous, or more complicated) as marriages. I could agree with this – in fact, I argue for exactly this in Freedom of Religion and the Secular State (though not with any great enthusiasm … see for yourself if you don’t mind shelling out).

But that doesn’t mean that all such relationships are prohibited. You’d think it might end there, in fact: in Canada, polyamorous relationships are not prohibited, but nor are they registrable as marriages with whatever social and legal benefits that might entail. Full-stop. I could go along with that. But it seems that there is going to be a middle category of relationships that are actually prohibited, if they show sufficiently marriage-like properties – perhaps including extra-legal recognition as marriage through a religious ceremony. If so, that is just a mess. I don’t necessarily mind the state deciding what relationships it will extend its blessing – and certain legal privileges – to. But I don’t want it getting into the bedrooms of consenting adults with criminal bans on their private erotic arrangements, for which they are asking for no particular privileges from the state.

We should try to avoid dogma … especially if we haven’t read a legal judgment in its entirety, so as to see the full argument. I’d like to know more about the judge’s reasoning. But at the moment, I’m very sympathetic to Heartfield and Zvan.

What do you think?

Marriage, A Few Modest Proposals

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Like many people, I got married with surprisingly little understanding that marriage is essentially a financial merger. Unfortunately, this became all too clear when my wife filed for divorce. Although I had made all the payments on the house and had far less debt, I had to buy “her” half of the house from her and ended up being financially broken (but not bankrupt) by this process. Based on my own experience, I agree with William Quiqley’s modest proposal that potential spouses receive a full disclosure of their legal and financial obligations before they have their merger.

His proposal makes excellent sense. After all, people should be aware of their responsibilities when entering into any legally binding arrangement-especially one that involves their entire financial life (or at least a large portion of it). While people are supposed to know about what they are getting into and everyone has heard the horror stories about divorces, it seems that most people do not fully understand the legal aspects of marriage and it is clearly remiss that the state grants licenses without providing such information.

Interestingly, Mexico  City law makers have proposed a bill intended to address the court clogging legal battles between divorcing couples. This bill would require couples to create a pre-nuptual  agreement that would create a contract specifying what would occur if the couple divorces. This would include financial matters as well as issues regarding children. The intent is, of course, to reduce the burden on the courts and allow divorces to be settled quickly. Since the divorce rate about 40%, this certainly makes sense. It also makes sense because the couple would know what their exact obligations will be and they will not be going into a serious financial contract blindly.

One rather controversial aspect of the proposal is that the marriages are supposed to have predicted timed of termination. Couples can, of course, use the traditional termination: “until death do us part” or they can opt for a shorter contract. Since other financial  contracts can have termination dates, this seems sensible enough. Not surprisingly, the Catholic Church in Mexico is outraged by this. However, they have little moral authority from which to argue and the reasons in favor of the bill seem far more compelling than the usual vague appeals to God and family values. After all, it hardly seems to enhance family values to have brutal legal battles over divorces.

The bill also requires couples to take classes about marriage. This also makes sense. After all, people are required to learn how to drive before getting a driver’s license because driving is dangerous. Marriage is also dangerous: as a friend of mine puts it, you have a 50% chance of losing 50% of your stuff. Hence, people should go into that potential disaster with all the preparation they can get.

At this point, someone will probably raise the matter of love and the subject of religion. After all, marriage is supposed to be about love and there is often a religious element.

In regards to love, love has as much to do with the legal aspects of marriage as it has to do with any financial contract: none at all. There is, as people point out, no love test or even a love requirement for marriage. There is often an assumption of love, but this has no bearing in terms of the license. This might seem heartless of me, but you can check into the matter yourself. Lest I be considered a cold beast, let it be known that I think love is great. Like running and friendship, it is one of the great goods in human life. However, people can marry without being in love and people can be in love in every meaningful way without being married.

But, one might say, does not marriage serve to show the ultimate commitment to love? My reply is that people do think this, but marriage is a legal contract that is primarily financial in nature. A person can commit in every emotional way without such a legal merger. But, one might say, how can couples express their love? Well, my obvious reply is that they can treat each other with love and do all those things that show love. In fact, I propose that their be a Love Oath or Union of Love created in which couples can make a (non-financial) bond of love. They can have a ceremony (with cake, of course) and it can even be recognized by the state with a certificate of love. However, it would have no financial or legal aspects to it-it would be pure love.

But, one might cry, what about all the legal rights of marriage? My modest proposal here is actually two proposals. The first is that couples could do the traditional legal marriage with all the legal obligations and rights. My second is that the various legal obligations and rights could be selected and put into a specific contract. It is absurd that the marriage merger is a one size fits all deal when any other contract can be custom made. As such, I propose that a Civil Contract of Union be created that would allow couples to specify the legal aspects of their legal contract. I also contend that many of the rights should be open to non-“married” people. For example, people should be able to designate the people who get to visit them in the hospital. This Civil Contract of Union would satisfy people who marry for the sake of the legal rights and obligations. Naturally, it can be combined with the Union of Love.

Lastly, a religious person might note that nothing has been said about religion and marriage. As I see it, God can sort this out. After all, He is omnipotent so He can make it so marriage works anyway He wants. For example, He could make it so that couples who are not marrying for love are unable to complete their vows or their rings shatter. He could make it so that when same sex couples try to get married, their clothes catch on fire and the wedding cake is consumed by locusts. So, until God says otherwise, we can go with my proposals.

But, one might yell, what about the religious fol? Am I not being a bit of a jerk about this? Surely I cannot be so cynical as to truly believe such things? In reply, I do admit the importance of religion to some people and this should be acknowledged. As such, I propose a third union, the Theological Union. This would be a ceremony designed and conducted by the relevant religious institutions to sanctify unions. It would have no legal status at all (that would require the Civil Contract of Union) but could be given whatever religious significance the religious authorities wished to put into it. They could even make a nifty certificate and there should, of course, be cake. I am sure God likes cake. The Theological Unions also have the advantage that the various religious groups and people who are very worried about traditional marriage can make their Theological Unions as traditional as they like. Since these unions would have no legal weight, those authorizing them can exclude whoever they want and presumably be free of any legal worries (or not, maybe people could sue if a church, for example,  banned white people from getting a Theological Union).

I believe that my proposal provides a rational solution to the marriage problem and one that can make everyone unhappy-which is a mark of a good compromise.

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Same Sex Marriage (Revisited)

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New York recently passed a law legalizing same sex marriage, which once again brought the matter into the public eye. Opponents trotted out the stock appeal to tradition and also made the slightly better argument that passing the law would have dire consequences.

Although I am in favor of legalizing same sex marriage and think that the arguments for it are compelling, as a philosopher I think I am obligated to consider the best possible opposing arguments.

One stock argument is the appeal to tradition: marriage has always/for a long time been between a man and a woman, so same sex marriage should be illegal. As noted above, this line of reasoning is fallacious. The mere fact that X has been around a long time does not make it right. After all, slavery was an accepted practice for a very long time, yet it hardly seems reasonable to accept that it is correct. Also, the “traditional” marriage that people point to is not, in fact, the traditional form of marriage. Marriage as practiced in 21st century western countries is rather different from what was practiced 100 or even 50 years ago, let alone in biblical times.

A second stock argument is the slippery slope argument: if same sex marriage is allowed, then people will then be allowed to marry turtles, dolphins, trees, cats or iPads.  Since this would be bad/absurd, same sex marriage should not be allowed. Obviously, this slippery slope is a fallacy since the folks who claim these dire results do not make the causal link needed to infer, for example, that allowing same sex marriage will lead to people marrying goats. Also, a slippery slope argument could be made against allowing same sex marriage: if we allow different sex people to marry, the next thing you know, same sex couples will get married and then people will be marrying flying fish. Since this is absurd, by parity of reasoning the original argument would seem to be absurd as well.

A third stock argument is the religious argument, namely that God forbids same sex activities of this sort. One problem is that if the religious argument is accepted as the basis of law, then the same principle would need to apply across the board. So, for example, there should be laws against unclean foods (like lobster) and it should be legal to stone disobedient children to death. Imposing such religious laws would seem far more harmful than allowing same sex marriage. Another obvious problem is that God is a big boy and He gets what He wants. If he did not want people to be gay, there would presumably be no gay people. In any case, if God does exist, surely He’d pop in and let us know what He thinks about a matter so obviously important to Him. At the very least, He’d throw down a smite or burn a bush.

A fourth stock argument is the procreation argument: marriage is for procreation, same sex couples cannot procreate, therefore they should not be allowed to marry. The stock reply is that straight people who do not or cannot have children are still allowed to marry. Consistency would require that if same sex marriage is banned on these grounds, then straight couples who cannot or will not produce offspring must be denied marriage. This seems absurd.

A fifth stock argument is the moral argument: being gay is evil, evil people should not be allowed t0 marry, so same sex marriage should not be allowed. As with the procreation argument, the obvious flaw is that there are plenty of evil straight people and they are not denied the right to marry on this basis. A person who is a convicted rapist, mass murderer, serial killer, and arsonist can still get married. On a less extreme note, liars, cheats, bullies, and petty thieves can also get married. As such, this argument has little merit.

A sixth catch all argument is the consequence argument: allowing same sex marriage will have dire consequence D, inflicting D is wrong, therefor same sex marriage is wrong. This argument is the strongest of the lot and does have a certain appeal. After all, if same sex marriage were to cause dire harms, then it would seem reasonable to ban it on the same grounds that dangerous things like alcohol and tobacco are banned. I mean, rather on the same grounds that dangerous things like cars and junk food are banned. Um, I mean on the same grounds that heroin and driving drunk are banned.

The main problem with these sorts of arguments lies not with the reasoning or the moral theory (consequentialism). The main problem is that they all seem to suffer from false or dubious premises. Some examples include that it has been claimed that allowing same sex marriage will lead to anarchy, that it will destroy marriage, that it will harm children and so on. However, these claims never seem to stand up to scrutiny. That said, if a harm can be shown and this harm outweighs the benefits of allowing same sex marriage, then it could be argued that it should be banned on the basis of the harm principle. However, the harm has to be properly established and it needs to be the right sort of harm. After all, if some people claim that legalizing  same sex marriage will make them very sad, that is not adequate. If it can be shown, for example, that anarchy and chaos will result, then that should suffice.

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While I was driving home from work today, the DJ on the radio mentioned the reality show about polygamy. Since I needed a blog topic, this was clearly a sign from God.

While polygamy is illegal many places, there is still the question of whether it is morally acceptable or not. While I am not a scholar of the ethics of polygamy, the main arguments against the practice on moral grounds tend to be aimed not at polygamy itself. Rather, the main moral arguments seem to be against various ills that are often associated with polygamy, such as the oppression of women.

However, it is important to distinguish between the ethics of polygamy itself (that is, having multiples spouses) and the ethics of specific manifestations of polygamy (such as cases involving underage brides or when the spouses are ignorant of the polygamy).

I am, obviously enough, morally opposed to forced marriages and marriages involving those who are most likely incapable of informed consent (that is, underage brides). It is easy enough to argue that it is wrong to force people to marry or to get “consent” from people who are actually not capable of providing true, informed consent.  I am also, obviously enough, opposed to “secret” polygamy-cases in which a person marries multiple people who are unaware of the polygamy. However, the challenging part is to argue about polygamy itself.

One stock and obvious approach is to argue that polygamy is a form of cheating and hence inherits its immorality from this immoral act. However, polygamy seems to be different from the usual sorts of cheating. First, there is no deception since the spouses are all aware of each other. Second, the spouses are not straying outside the relationship since they are all in the relationship. As such, there is no breach of agreement or violation of relationship rights. It also would not seem to be adultery, since no one is having sex with someone s/he is not married to. As such, polygamy does not seem to be cheating.

Of course, it can be argued that polygamy is wrong because a person is morally entitled to only one spouse at a time. However, that is the question at hand. To conclude that polygamy is immoral because people are morally limited to one spouse seems to beg the question. What must be shown, obviously enough, is that the moral limit is one spouse per person. This could be done by arguing that this is inherently the case or perhaps it could be done by arguing that the consequences of polygamy will always be bad enough to outweigh the good (that, for example, a spouse or spouses will be ignored or exploited). Or perhaps some other means of argumentation can be employed.

So, the challenge is this: come up with an argument for the claim that a person is morally limited to one spouse. Religious arguments, of course, need to be converted to moral arguments.

Bonus points if you can prove that the moral limit is zero spouses.

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God and Time Travel

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Like most philosophers, I like science fiction and stories about time travel. Recently I watched the episode Time of the SyFy  seriesStargate Universe. This episode got me thinking about time travel and God, oddly enough.

Imagine, if you will, the following science fiction situation. Sally is working on a time travel project and during one experiment, her own smartphone appears in the lab. Startled, she checks her pocket and finds that her phone is there. Yet it also appears to be on the table. Picking it up, she finds that video has been recorded on it. Much to her horror and dismay, it seems to be a video of her saying that she has killed her husband for having an affair with her friend, only to find out after that she was wrong.  In the video, she can she the body of what seems to be her dead husband. The video closes with her future self saying that she is sending back the phone to tell her past self to not kill her husband; future Sally then shoots herself in the head as the phone is being sent into the past.

Being something of a skeptic, Sally checks the phones carefully and finds that (aside from some blood on the future phone that matches her husband’s blood type) the two are identical. This convinces Sally and she does not kill her husband.

Now, let God be brought into the picture, at least hypothetically. If one prefers to leave God out of this game, then an omniscient observer who judges people for their deeds and misdeeds can be used in His place.

In this scenario, what would God actually “see” and how would He judge?

On one hand, the future Sally did kill her husband and send the phone back. After all, without those events, then the phone would not have the video recorded on it and would not have been sent back As such, God would judge that Sally was guilty of suicide and murder, hence worthy of divine punishment. Also, both Sally and her husband would be dead and thus would have gone off to the relevant afterlife (assuming there is such a thing).

On the other hand, the time traveling phone prevented Sally from killing her husband and committing suicide. Thus, Sally would not be judged for these deeds. Also, neither Sally nor her husband would be dead. In effect, that future event never will be, although it must have been (otherwise there would be no phone).

One easy way out of the problem is to follow John Locke’s approach in his discussion of personal identity: since God is good, he would not allow such confusing events (in this case, time travel) to come to pass. Of course, this is not very satisfying as an answer.

Another easy way out is to deny the entire scenario and say that time travel is impossible because of exactly this sort of nonsense. But, where is the fun in that?

Another way out is to use the branching worlds approach: what seems to be time travel is actually travel between possible worlds. So, the phone did not come from Sally’s future. Rather, it is from a possible world in which Sally did kill her husband. So, the Sally of that world is a killer and a suicide; but her actions saved her counterpart Sally from her fate.  So, God takes care of the killer Sally and the lucky Sally avoids her fate. Hardly fair, but that is nothing new.

But, let us suppose that the scenario happens as described. From God’s perspective, it would seem that time travel would create all these loops and changes throughout time. Or perhaps not. One classic view of God and time is that God perceives all of time “at once.’ To use an analogy, God’s perspective is like being able to see the entire filmstrip of a movie at once. The past, present and future are just positions on the strip relative to a specific film cell. Hence, He does not see any changes in the past-He merely sees as the events that did occur, shall occur and are occurring all “at once.”  So, God would “see” the phone appear from a future that never was to save Sally from committing a murder that never will be.

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