Thursday, 15 September 2011

Sexual immorality and the evolutionary fallacy

Here's a supposed investigative piece by John Preston in the Telegraph, presenting the case that monogamy (one man, one woman for life), is unrealistic. Much of it reads like the author had a bet with a colleague as to how many different logical fallacies he could wedge into a fixed number of words.

The main one invoked as the premise of the article is the "evolutionary fallacy", which runs like this:
  • Lots of people do X
  • Therefore, X is natural
  • Therefore, X is right
In this case, "X" is sexual immorality. Lots of people do it, so, perhaps as a species it's what we're meant to do... right? Evolution guided us into it, didn't it?

Perhaps the author should have ventured beyond just adultery and fornication; how about paedophilia? It's been around for thousands of years, so perhaps as a species we're just not meant to not molest children? Perhaps evolution never intended us to avoid burglary, rape, pillage and sticking needles in the eyes of investigative journalists?

Preston never discusses how we can know if something is moral or not. When he uses the word "moral" and purports to discuss morality, he simply discusses the results. He appears to know no difference between ethics and pragmatics or hedonism: what is good to Preston is what makes people feel good. The underlying assumption just appears to be, that if men are unfaithful, then unfaithfulness is good. Behold the cultural fruits of Darwinism!

The main character in Preston's article is a promiscuous homosexual called Dan Savage, who is presented to us as "America's leading relationships journalist" (as appointed by people who agree with him, presumably). The reality of Savage's life is clear from his words: he's doing wrong, he knows he's doing wrong, but he enjoys the wrong... and so he has come up with a "clever"-sounding theory to justify it. i.e. like every other fallen human being, he's been working hard to come up with reasons for why his wrong behaviour is OK. The upshot is that he believes everyone ought to behave like a promiscuous homosexual or at least be relaxed about it; that would (he thinks) make Savage feel a lot better about his life. That's the predictable way of sin too; we try to surround ourselves with people who've plunged into the same sins, and that assuages our guilt by deadening our consciences to it. Their comradeship in iniquity helps us feel less bad about our personal iniquity.

So, John Preston responds by writing a long-winded article toying with Savage's self-justifications as if they were very clever. It would have been wiser and more to the point to just ask, "Dan, why not repent?"

When Savage tells people his ideas, he recounts, they respond with disgust and horror. Instead of asking himself it there's something horrifically disgusting about his lifestyle, Savage assumes that people must feel very insecure about the rightfulness of faithfulness in marriage. They protest too much, he intones! I wonder why he thinks people are revolted by paedophilia or rape? Is that also the response of people who are not yet morally grown up and who still believe in Santa Claus? Is all moral disgust a sign of insecurity? Is there nothing in the world that is actually morally revolting?

See again the ways of sin: people keep telling Savage that his life is morally disgusting, but this persuades Savage to see himself as a moral superior. He's been able to rise above that "childish" sense of horror at a vile lifestyle.

Preston attempts some discussion of the origins of the idea of monogamy. He says that history is not on monogamy's side. In the Preston universe, history apparently begins somewhere in the 18th century, and all before that is the swirling mists of the beginning of time. Apparently monogamy only originated in the 1700s, and before that everybody thought it a completely stupid idea. The Preston education appears to have lacked some key points about the philosophical origins and development of European civilisations. Christianity, Judaism and the Bible do not appear once during this discussion; in the Preston investigation of why people believe in monogamy, they are not worth a mention. But the Inuit people do appear, and they're promoted as potential guides for us. Why? Who knows? Are they divine, or the gold standard of right living? How would we know?

Preston does interview a few people on the other side of the discussion, who point out that outside of the make-believe world of the rest of the article, infidelity brings ruin and misery to people's lives, and it was at least a good thing that the article finished with a man's confession that ending his first marriage was the worst mistake he ever made.

How does a promiscuous homosexual get to be presented as an authority on the subject of the goodness of life-long monogamy? How would he know? We might as well ask him if it's fun being an owl's left foot, what it's like to run marathons inside 5 minutes, or what Esther Rantzen had for breakfast this morning. He has no way of knowing what he's talking about.

No comments: