Monday, October 17, 2011

And They Shall Be One Flesh: Why Robert George's "What is Marriage?" Falters

I will present my paper, And They Shall Be One Flesh: Why Robert George's "What is Marriage?" Falters, at the upcoming Strengthening the Family: Engaging Issues With Courage and Civility conference in Provo, UT on 29 October (conference details here). 

I include a 2-page summary of my arguments below.  You can:
(1) Watch my narrated Powerpoint presentation on Youtube
(2) View and download the slides
(3) View and download the paper itself

Feedback invited- less than two weeks until game day!

Argument Summary

I received the challenge of summarizing the substance of my paper in merely two pages.  Here goes:
1)      Argument 1: The authors’ marriage construct is underinclusive.
a)      Authors’ premise: the “natural dynamism” or “orientation” of vaginal intercourse toward reproduction supports an argument that only male-female pairings can be marriages.  Though infertile couple Scott and Jen’s intercourse can never result in fertilization, the fact that no same-sex pairing anywhere can result in fertilization distinguishes a same-sex relationship.
i)        Rebuttal 1: Men and women are not fertile by definition: for instance, a fertile woman and an infertile woman are both equally women.  Whether a particular sexual act is oriented toward procreation will turn on the couple’s fertility, not its number of genders.
ii)       Rebuttal 2: If nature can tell us something about what marriage is, then same-sex marriage and polygyny should naturally be included in the marriage construct, given the natural, high prevalence of polyamory and homosexuality in human and related species. 
iii)     Rebuttal 3: If the vaginal intercourse of an infertile couple is what legitimizes their marriage, then a male-female pairing where the husband lost his penis cannot be a marriage.  Further, a male-female couple that engages only in anal sex cannot be a marriage.  An intersex (neither male nor female) person with ambiguous genitalia could marry neither a man nor a woman.  Last, a rapist and his female victim would be marriage candidates because “Whatever their thoughts or goals, whether a couple achieves bodily union depends on facts about what is happening between their bodies.”  All four conclusions are unpalatable.
iv)     Rebuttal 4: Same-sex pairings can result in fertilization.  A cheek swab from a human male, for instance, contains all the genetic instructions needed to manufacture a human egg; a male-male couple is no less oriented toward reproduction than an infertile male-female couple, the necessary-but-insufficient genetic ingredients being present in both couples.
2)      Argument 2: The authors’ teleology is either inconsistent or inapplicable.
a)      Authors’ premise: There is a teleology, or purpose, to biological organs and behaviors.  (E.g. the stomach is for digestion, coitus for reproduction, etc.).
i)        Rebuttal 1: It is difficult, if not impossible, to pin down a single, permanent purpose to a particular organ or behavior.  Fingers used for grasping fruit and branches today may be applied to strumming cellos and painting masterpieces tomorrow.  Indeed, merely given the many present (discounting possible future) consequences of sexual intercourse, it is inappropriate to conclude that vaginal intercourse is “for” procreation.  Intercourse results in pleasure and pair bonding far more consistently and frequently than it results in children.
ii)       Rebuttal 2: It is not appropriate to ascribe a teleology to natural selection, since it is an unguided process.  Humans readily assign intent to obviously purposeless phenomena (example: the water is “bent” on getting to the ocean, or a sapling is “trying” to reach the sunlight).  Though doing so is useful to humans (indeed, that is the likely reason the perception is so widespread), there is little sense in pinning a biological act to a single stick in a constantly fluctuating bundle of varying-utility consequences.  This conclusion applies to the authors’ pairing of coitus (a biological act) and procreation (a particular consequence).       
3)      Argument 3: The authors’ defense relies fatally on an erroneous understanding of reproduction.
a)      Authors’ premise: “Individual adults are naturally incomplete with respect to one biological function: sexual reproduction. In coitus, but not in other forms of sexual contact, a man and a woman's bodies coordinate by way of their sexual organs for the common biological purpose of reproduction. They perform the first step of the complex reproductive process. Thus, their bodies become, in a strong sense, one…  coordinating for the biological good of the whole. In this case, the whole is made up of the man and woman as a couple, and the biological good of that whole is their reproduction.”
i)        Rebuttal 1: Natural selection is the process that evolved sexual intercourse and genitals.  As students of biology can explain, reproduction in a Darwinian sense takes place at the level of the gene, competing with other replicating genes in a broader gene pool. Sexual intercourse is not the first step in reproduction; if anything, DNA replication is.  Individuals, male-female pairs, organs, populations, species, etc. are merely platforms at which genes engage in varying levels of cooperative competition.  Thus, in the necessary context of natural selection, it is not accurate to say that an individual or a couple reproduces.
ii)       Rebuttal 2: Sexual intercourse is but one evolutionarily useful strategy; altruism, parasitism, and symbiosis are some others.  Again, from the necessary perspective of the gene, natural selection’s unit of reproduction, a person can be reproductively successful without ever becoming a biological parent.  Example: Boemus, a virgin, dies in a battle with a neighboring tribe after slaying three opponents.  His actions advance the interests of some genes over others.  Thus, same-sex pair bonding may very well be oriented toward Darwinian reproduction, and coitus away from it, depending upon the tides and dynamic environment of the genetic battle at a given point in time. 
iii)     Rebuttal 3: Procreation may oppose the interest of the male-female “whole” the authors describe, if that “whole” is interested in longevity and health.  Having children, compared to not having children, threatens those interests.  Childbirth is often fatal, and frequently injurious to the mother; children compete for resources with their parents; parents take risks they would not otherwise take on behalf of their children; children cause distress; children pass diseases onto their parents; parents are less mobile when rearing children; children sometimes kill their parents on accident or purpose; etc.   Only the “good” of the selfish gene[1] makes the parent gamble a sensible one.
iv)     Rebuttal 4: This justification elevates rape as more marital than loving, committed, pair-bonding, consensual same-sex intercourse (as between the two only rape can be procreative).  Procreation requires no voluntary contribution from a subjugated woman, and indeed favors the rapist; yet it is unpalatable to most to esteem that reality above consent as fundamental to the constitution of marriage. The companionship between gender inequality and marriage is no longer viewed favorably by a consensus modern morality. 

[1] ‎”In describing genes as being "selfish", the author does not intend (as he states unequivocally in the work) to imply that they are driven by any motives or will—merely that their effects can be accurately described as if they were. The contention is that the genes that get passed on are the ones whose consequences serve their own implicit interests (to continue being replicated), not necessarily those of the organism, much less any larger level.”  [Wikipedia –The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins]

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