Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Why I don't believe in natural law

Andrea has promised to come back and argue in favor of natural law, but it occurs to me that the comment thread we were on has gotten very long and unwieldy, so I thought I'd write a new post to continue the discussion.  I'll include a more complete explanation of the problems I see in "natural law" arguments against, for instance, birth control and homosexuality.

First, I have to clarify, because "natural law" is not a clearly defined term.  When some people say it, they simply mean "those ethical rules we can derive through reason alone," or "the moral intuitions everyone agrees on."  Of course I have no objection at all to this idea.  I've written a number of things on the emotional and rational grounding of morality.  Simple rules of thumb for moral action include things like, "Would I like it if someone did this to me?" "Does this action harm anyone, either inherently or through some distant side effect?" or "Would I like to live in a world where everyone acted like this?"  These rules are reasonable -- I can demonstrate that it is to everyone's benefit if we all follow them -- and they are universally applicable.

The sort of "natural law" talked about in these arguments, though, is much more specific.  The natural-law argument that underlies Catholic sexual ethics is as follows: Human faculties possess a teleology, a purpose or end.  For instance, the sexual faculty exists to create children.  The pleasure we get from using it is meant as a spur to get us to beget children, and to seek out the pleasure while frustrating the primary end, reproduction, is a perversion of the sexual faculty.

The first simple objection I can make to this is that teleology implies a creator.  That is, nothing has an end unless someone creates it for that end.  If I create a car, a fork, or a chair, I create them the way I do because I have a purpose in mind for that thing.  To comb my hair with a fork or to stand on a chair would be misusing that thing, and if it's my item you're misusing, I might object.  However, from a human perspective there is no "proper use" of a tree.  It simply is, because we didn't make it for any particular purpose.  We can turn it to any purpose we like -- we can make it into chairs or into paper or we can sit underneath it.  It might be better for some of those purposes than others, but no one will object to how we use it if it's our own tree.

If God created us, it's reasonable to say he built in our different functions and desires for his own purposes, and he might have an opinion about how we use them.  If, however, we came into being through the blind process of evolution, nobody actually cares what we do besides other humans.  Evolution is a terrible source for morality, because it doesn't care about human concerns like happiness, love, or beauty.  If we took evolution as a guide, we should probably give up things like art and music, each of us should have the maximum number of children we possibly can -- celibacy or late marriage would be sinful -- and we should euthanize our grandparents because they're a waste of resources.  That, need I point out, would be terrible, so I vote for "kick evolution in the face and do things it never intended."

So if you are already Catholic, it is quite reasonable for you to believe in natural law.  However, the church claims that natural law is available to everyone, regardless of their religion, through the unaided light of reason alone, and it just does not appear that this is true.  You have to have a prior belief in God, and it's pretty evident that reason alone does not bring everyone to a belief in God -- particularly not a specific version of God that has specific expectations for what we are to do with our bodies.

The second problem with natural law is that it doesn't really distinguish between things that are perversions of a bodily function and things that aren't intended by our body but are just fine.  For instance, if the purpose of the sexual faculty is to beget children, you would think that we are all bound to beget children since we all have a reproductive system, but the church says no to that -- you can forego using the sexual faculty altogether, provided you don't use it in a way that frustrates procreation.  That seems a distinction without a difference -- as though the point was to make sure those who don't have children suffer for it, rather than to get everyone to have children.

And, while natural-law proponents make a huge deal over the difference between sex between naturally infertile people and artificially infertile people, it does not appear to me that there is a real difference.  In both cases, the effects are the same; and the intentions of the people may be the same too.  (For instance, a couple that only has intercourse when one of them is infertile is deliberately avoiding procreation.)  Only the means varies, and what is the justification for making the means matter?  What is intrinsically bad about the means?

Another issue, when you bring homosexuality into the equation, is that a gay couple is not deliberately frustrating procreation.  They might want to procreate, like an infertile couple might, they just can't.  Like the infertile couple, they experience the other ends of sex, like pleasure and bonding.  Like the infertile couple, they don't experience the procreative end, but that's not intentional.  It's a massive stretch to me to imagine that there is a teleology of the body that exists to encourage procreation, but it cares about things irrelevant to whether a couple procreates.

And then, of course, we can point out that sex is the only faculty of the body that is treated this way.  The digestive system can be frustrated in similar ways, but no one makes a fuss about it.  You can drink a zero-calorie soda.  You can chew gum, which gets your stomach growling as it expects food, but which will never nourish you.  You can do all this purely to get the pleasure of food while not nourishing your body -- even though the only reason it is pleasurable to eat is to get you to nourish your body.  That doesn't matter; no one thinks this is immoral.  And if you're sick, it's okay to nourish the body without eating -- with a feeding tube or an IV.  That's perfectly fine, even though begetting children without sex is not okay.  The rules for sex are different, and I don't think there is a rationally-explicable reason why this should be.

It's a general medical principle -- accepted by the Church -- that you can damage one part of the body to save the whole.  You can take out a diseased kidney.  You can irradiate the body to kill a tumor even if it makes the rest of you sick.  You can do a gastric bypass which hinders the digestive system in order to help a person lose weight.  All of this is okay!  But sterilizing a person because pregnancy will risk their life is not okay.  I can't see a clear rule which you could figure out ahead of time that would allow you to draw these conclusions.  Instead, it seems like people had the conclusions in their minds in advance and tried to come up with an argument that would justify them.

And you know what?  That's totally fine.  It's okay to say, "We think God created us with a purpose, and through revelation, we know a lot about what that purpose is.  Let's spend some time and see if we can figure out what the logical rules are that made God draw the lines where he did."  That's a part of religion, but it's not a bad thing.  The bad thing is when you claim that non-Catholics could come to the same conclusions without first knowing the rules, and then claim that this means they are bound to your rules despite not sharing your beliefs.

We all know that virtually no non-Catholics ever are convinced by natural-law arguments.  The few who are generally wind up converting to Catholicism, because apparently they already believed many of the same first principles.  I think it's uncharitable the way that some Catholics put this down to self-deception or outright lying -- that is, "you would be convinced by this argument if you weren't so selfish/lying about not being convinced/morally twisted by your sinfulness."  Is it so hard to imagine that people might simply disagree?  I myself was ready and willing to be convinced by natural-law arguments in college, and I studied them quite a bit, but I simply felt that without the basic premise that God wanted certain things of us and had revealed what they were, the arguments would never be convincing.

For more on this topic, I recommend this post by Melinda Selmys, as well as the comments.  I also agreed with many of the counterarguments in the comments on this post.


Belfry Bat said...

The following are about what has been written; I expect you could maintain your primary conclusions even adjusting around them.

¶4 : The observed fact that some people (even some very smart people) somehow, attempting to reason nonethless conclude "No God" does not mean that their conclusion is right, that their reasoning was correct. It maybe means that they make it difficult to talk with them about it, and in any case we do have to respect their private freedom. ...

¶7 : "if the purpose of the sexual faculty is to beget children" ... well... objectively, no, and in Theology, no: the purpose is first (about which we were dancing last time but never quite understanding eachother) to incarnate the union of husband and wife, and the perfection of that union is conducive to begetting. Some (some Jews, most Mormons, Polis pagans ... ) in fact do take begetting itself as a duty (misreading Genesis' blessing as a commandment; or else subordinating persons to the Polis). Note that this is different from saying (and we don't say) that the bond "can only be formed" or fed by the marital act. Owning firearms doesn't (even legally!) oblige one to hunt, nor to shoot people.

¶8 : Hmmm... I don't know who would say that a mutilated husband may not join with his wife; one would object to the act of mutilation, but as a fact there isn't much to be done about it... unless, of course, one is taking mutilation as license or incentive to be less reflective, as occasion for mere mutual use and indulgence. But this probably isn't what you have in mind.

¶9 : This is founded on the same (resisted!) assumption of ¶7; in Theology, one takes homosexual acts as differing in kind from the marital, and not as incarnating any real union.

¶X : I think we do resist frustration of mental faculty, and absolutely obstructing the digestive faculty; one usually wouldn't try to stop the heart from working... And on the other hand... do people actually chew gum so as not to eat food? Do we approve of eating sand? Does drinking sugarless soda not ease thirst? (incidentally, I've been warned off chewing-gum for dental reasons; not that it was ever a temptation...)

¶11 : One can remove, yes, a thing that is already not functioning, and other things may be damaged along the way (it's hard to remove a tumor without making incisions); but gastric reduction doesn't stop the digestion from digesting. Ideally it restores proper function. Different kind of object.

¶14 : ... you know what? Totally. Yes. People who (like me sometimes) think themselves smart can be real jerks about stuff.

Sheila said...

4: Of course you would disagree with someone who does not believe in God, because you do believe. But would you maintain that it can be proved? What does that mean, faced with the reality that many are not convinced? How do you account for that? If you walk anyone through a Euclidean proof, they will generally either tap out ("I can tell I don't understand this, I give up") or eventually be convinced. Where God is concerned, there are many people who understand the arguments and are open to being convinced but still aren't. Doesn't this imply that evidence for God is personal rather than provable -- that God has to reveal himself to you somehow for you to believe, as Enbrethiliel always says?

7&9: To say "the marital act produces a union" and "homosexual acts do not produce a union" is simply begging the question. How do you know one does and one does not? Is it because procreation is possible with one, or some other reason? What's the other reason? (The natural-law argument I'm citing does rely on procreation, but if you've got a different non-theological argument I would love to hear it.)

8: Well, I mean, consider this situation: a woman has had cancer of the uterus and had her uterus removed. So her body isn't suitable anymore for procreating, but she and her husband continue their physical relationship as a way of reaffirming their union. Compare it to this situation: a gay man never had a uterus, so his body isn't suitable for procreating. But he and his husband have a physical relationship as a way of reaffirming their union. What distinction can you make between these two situations that would make sense to someone who wasn't Catholic?

10: I think people chew gum or drink diet soda because they have a craving for sugar and want to satisfy that without eating any. That certainly is why my mother drinks it. You're not destroying a body system, but you're trying to get around it, just as many "alternative" sexual activities do.

11: This is the sort of surgery I was thinking of: The first time I heard of it I was a little shocked, because it clearly does hamper the functioning of a body system. But it hampers one system for the sake of the rest, which seems a reasonable tradeoff. And there are other medical treatments that do similar things -- immunosuppressants, for instance, might be used to shut down the immune system to keep it from rejecting a donated liver. The body is saved, but a system of the body is definitely *not* being restored to normal operation -- it's being kept from its normal operation, which would be to destroy the foreign liver. And so on.

Belfry Bat said...

4 : I don't know what to say to someone who simpliciter "does not believe", but I don't know even what to think about how anyone positively concludes against God. Pascal doesn't strike me as convincing of God, but he does convincingly warn against excluding God.

My take on Enbrethiliel's expression is that all our decisions (whom to believe, what is for breakfast) have an affective component to them: even correct reason hasn't done its job until it has moved the will, which is to say, has been expressed as an emotion; when it comes to God, there's often a deep well of prior emotion that needs moving first. I don't think it's uncharitable to acknowledge that (though of course, it can be put uncharitably).

There's a third class to consider re. the Euclidean arguments: there are people who have the subjective experience of understanding without understanding. They happily go along with and are convinced by bad proofs, or convince themselves unaided of things that can't be ( such as "π=√10" ).

8 and 9 : the two men in your picture are doing eachother needless physical harm. They are abusing more than just their reproductive organs. And they're confirming, each in their own brains and habits, an attachment to that harm. Things being put together doesn't make them fitting or united.

10 : Hm. I didn't need an argument against diet soda, but when you put it that way...


11 : one needn't have a foreign liver to need immunosuppressants. The immune system attacking the liver you've got (whether or not it's the one you grew up with) is not the immune system doing what it ought to. Looking up DS now... Umm... no, that also sounds like a ... clearly it's a drastic thing to do, but ... it doesn't destroy the nature of the things deliberately altered.


So, in the spirit of observations in 11 : if there were a medically-harmless intervention that made NFP-like things significantly more reliable but without The Pill's way of forcing infertility, that would be ... well, I must admit I don't know what Cdl Mueller would say, but I certainly haven't heard of such an intervention. I also haven't gone looking for them... They'd never ask me, but I'd suggest it wouldn't be wrong in itself.

Sheila said...

I actually had a debate about whether it could be right to reduce fertility without taking it all away, and my interlocutor argued convincingly that doing something wrong doesn't become right simply because you only do it halfway. Did you know many Catholics thought the Pill would be accepted because it made the cycle predictable and would make NFP easier? But that's not how the Church came down. There are birth-control methods that are really ineffective but the Church is still opposed to them (e.g. withdrawal).

Why do you think that hindering the function of the immune or digestive system doesn't "destroy their nature" while hindering the function of the reproductive system does? What is the specific difference here?

You're going to have to explain what you mean by harm, and how you know they are being harmed. Keep in mind that some of the things gay couples do are the same as what straight couples do as foreplay -- it's not always a certain rather gross (IMO) and dangerous thing. And as for spiritual harm, again, begging the question. What is the harmful aspect?

Pascal assumes that you should always pretend there is a God even if you don't really think there is one. And I just don't know you could make yourself work that way. There might be a God, but that leaves me no closer to knowing what sort of being he is or what he might want, and I can't satisfy all possible hypothetical deities at once. So there's a difference between being open to the possibility that there may be a God, and assuming there is one without having any reason to believe it.

Are you certain you're not in the state of the person who believes an incorrect proof too hastily? How can you tell the difference?

Belfry Bat said...

The immune system is supposed to do about two things, both ordinarily protective of health: it quarantines and breaks down suspicious objects, and it cleans up broken body cells. That means it can go wrong in two ways: ignoring sneaky invaders (sometimes helped with vaccines), and attacking the healthy self (sometimes helped with suppressants). But also the immune system is a finite resource, and when it gets tied up attacking the self, there's less it can do against invaders. Moderating it when you're not fighting a real infection helps keep it ready for when an infection does come along.

The thing the Pill does (and certainly the way it is sold) is supposed to make pregnancy impossible. The idea of NFP (... I'm actually still a bit suspicious of it myself... but, as you like to point out, I'm no-one's lesser-half et.c.) is to make the question of are-we-begetting susceptible of reason; but within that, it's directed towards the question "is today a good day for it?" rather than "are we doing it right?"


So... the thing about your moderated suggestion for Romeo and Julius... let's be careful to avoid the etymological falacy, but there's a reason for the "fore-" in "foreplay".

But other than that: is it good for them to form and confirm such an attachment, even if they carefully leave out one gross way of expressing it? Tradition (Catholic, and Buddhist, too!) tends to warn us against forming strong attachments to creatures, so if some attachment is sometimes good, it must be good for something. Between man and woman, some attachment is good for the care of whatever children there be, not that there need be any, but at least there might be some.

What can such an attachment between two men be good for? They can get eachother high, but also they can do that alone, if it were good at all. Does it make them better carers of children? (let's be charitable and say they're only adopting orphans).

In particular, note that women are in some great measure strange to men, and men (I'm told) seem often strange to women; if the strong "parental" attachment some children are raised with is between two men, when and from whom are they going to learn enough about the trickiest sort of friendship?

We are told that this sort of attachment was used in Sparta and perhaps Athens to tighten army units, to confirm the devoted obedience of soldiers under command. Is that a good proportionate use of human faculties?

Sheila said...

Why begin with suspicion? If a couple has an attachment, why assume it's bad? I don't really feel like we need to justify it -- an infertile couple certainly does not have to. Of course when you love and feel yourself loved, often that does impel you to give back in some way. Raising orphans, say, or training guide dogs or working with the poor. If a couple has an attachment and is engaged in good works, who exactly are we to say "that isn't good enough"? Certainly you wouldn't dream of doing such a thing with an opposite-sex couple that got married at 50.

Does marriage make spouses better carers of children? If it does, why would it work with one kind of couple and not the other?

My opinion about the reproductive system is that it *is* malfunctioning when it attempts to create children when the family is not ready for it. Most women's bodies apparently know that there's no point in releasing eggs if the woman is breastfeeding an infant; mine does not know this. It's a defect. But to force my body into infertility *when it ought to know on its own to be infertile* is still forbidden. The reproductive system would be functioning better still if it could detect a serious illness, like cancer, in a woman and naturally shift into infertility, but normally it can't. If it were capable of it -- like if the immune system could tell the difference between "donor liver" and "bubonic plague" -- it would be a better system; it would function better for its role in the overall health of the body. But to artificially make it do this is forbidden, whereas in the case of the immunosuppressant it is not forbidden. Why?

Enbrethiliel said...


Just popping in to say that Sheila got my assertion right the first time. I can't also say, however, that Bat got it *wrong* because I actually don't understand what he is saying! =P

Oh, while I'm here . . . I also want to add that I'm fascinated by the idea that natural law only makes sense to Catholics or those who'd convert anyway. The most fascinating thing is that this doesn't on its own disprove natural law: the Catholic-minded could very well be the only ones who see the world rightly. They just can't prove they are and nobody can prove they aren't! Wheeeeeeee!

And the implication this has on belief is that there are only two ways to get it (neither of which is reason): a) revelation or another supernatural grace; and b) persuasion.

And Sheila, you might be interested in one point that cartoonist-hypnotist Scott Adams has been blogging repeatedly since the beginning of the US election season: reason and facts are the least persuasive of anything you could bring to the table that they might as well not be in the game. I bring this up because you had asked, quite reasonably (!), why God wouldn't make Himself known through reason and evidence if He really wanted us to believe in Him. Well, if Adams is right about the real place of reason in the human mind, then a God Who wanted everyone to believe would give greater weight to what souls are actually hardwired to respond to.

Back to the actual subject, I'm quite persuaded (LOL!) that Sheila's using the pill while practicing ecological breastfeeding probably wouldn't be a sin, inasmuch as: a) it would correct a defect and make her body work as God designed women's bodies to; and b) it actually isn't an abortifacient (Phew!). This doesn't mean I think it would be acceptable in any other circumstances, of course.

Belfry Bat said...

Good works are fine. Friendship, and in friendship sharing good works, is simply fine, nothing to criticize. The kind of attachment, however, that gets called homosexual doesn't help with those things. I don't object to charity; I do object to charity being made an excuse for mutual abuse. And I'm pretty suspicious of all brain-altering drugs, as a class: there had better be a good proportionate reason for use of any of them (and I think that's pretty reasonable).

Yes, the natural purpose of marriage, with which the spouses may or may not cooperate, is to make them better parents. (There's the supernatural purpose of sanctification as well). Obviously it can't work with a pair of people that can't marry. (cf. trickiest sort of friendship, previous reply).

It's an awfully pale comparison, of course, but my body thinks fresh peaches are The Plague, and fights them off so hard... it's not pretty. So. Yeah, things is frustrating. I don't know why anyone's physiology is buggy in any particular way... except, there are so many ways for something to go wrong, it's kind-of marvelous how much goes right </cliché>. To your specific medical question... in a more Catholic-friendly world, there would already have been good research on that sort of issue; instead the World has given up caring what Rome thinks about most things. Incidentally, the Pill is not without occasional very-nasty side-effects, so there should have been someone looking for subtler tools anyway; what's up with that? But ultimately, I haven't the fine details of what deliberation Paul VI, John-Paul II, ... and their CDF prefects worked through. All really I have is the result and the maxim. But with Enbrethiliel's second, I'd say we should write to the current official with our Dubium and ask.

... I have, in this and the other long thread, tried to avoid your particular situation, partly because (obviously) I know practically nothing about it, and partly because the question isn't about you in isolation or just you and your actual children; there's another free rational animal, who doesn't show up here often, so getting into the particular case is more than a little weird, and probably not for the internet anyway. And then there's the other larger part, that while I delight in formal systems, I'm not much use for practical questions (unless it's a practical question within some formal system...).

One big bit of vague advice I can offer (you'll have heard it before, I expect) is that, if a person or a couple do decide to radically adjust their habits, it usually isn't enough just to stop something you're used to: one has to replace it with something good. If someone smokes cigarettes to keep calm but has to quit for whatever reason, they might take up watercolours instead, or gardening, or darts... but something. And (getting too particular for comfort, but anyways...) I have great confidence that you Sheila and your Fellow can definitely come up with some very good such something, together. You know, for after the expected one is born.

Belfry Bat said...

Hello, Enbrethiliel! There I go again, don't I?

You say "revelation", hipster says "life-changing experience"... The Demons know there is a God and that Jesus is the Son, His Christ; but they do not love Him.

mcc1789 said...

I agree with most of your points, they're very cogent. However, on evolution I don't think you have it right. Even if we thought evolution dictated morality (which I don't, though it might be the origin of our moral *sentiments*) it wouldn't mean we had to breed like rabbits or put down our elders. Having less children and enjoying our elders' wisdom are both things useful for survival. It's no surprise to me that hunter-gatherer peoples mostly tried to do both those things.

Enbrethiliel said...


Und immer und immer weiter . . . For instance, I don't understand what point you are trying to make by equating a revelation that leads to faith to a life-changing experience that doesn't.

PS -- Pretend I'm six years old.

PPS -- Failing that, pretend you're Donald Trump. (Say what you like against him, the man's online copy is CLEAR.)

Sheila said...

Well, E, using the Pill while breastfeeding is contraindicated anyway so it's sort of irrelevant. ;) There are other things that can be done ... though all of those have their own problems. The NaPro people are working on figuring out treatments for various hormonal issues, like PCOS, which make NFP difficult, but so far as I know they haven't touched the issue of breastfeeding. You see, prolactin and progesterone are antagonists; high prolactin makes progesterone deficient, but if you then supplement progesterone, that might hurt milk supply. Human systems are so delicate!

The trouble with "God should speak through our feelings" is that feelings go either way, and if we all follow our feelings some of us will end up religious and some won't, for reasons that have to do with our upbringing or experiences or whatever and nothing to do with truth. So that doesn't leave us any better off than relying on reason -- though I do think reason is at least somewhat better at distinguishing between truth and falsehood than emotion is.

So I can't prove that natural law isn't provable? Well, you can't prove it is, so I guess we just don't know! But it seems to me that if only Catholics can understand it, then it isn't accessible to unaided reason. We could say that reason clearly has to be enlightened by grace and that's why the Catholics can understand it and no one else can. To prove that something is accessible to unaided reason, you've got to have someone with unaided reason access it!

Bat, you can't appeal to the term "abuse" when you haven't shown that it's abusive. You keep dancing around the issue as though you've already proven it, spending your time explaining that *if it's wrong,* of course it's not too bad not to do it. But you never proved it was wrong in the first place!

Why don't we back up. So far you've sort of poked holes here and there, but you haven't offered an alternative. What IS the argument for Catholic sexual ethics? Is it accessible to unaided reason, or not?

And, I don't know how to say this, but I think I preferred it when we were leaving my personal situation out of it. As you point out, there's another person involved and while we both thoroughly agree on the end goal -- not to have more kids right now -- we're going to have to work out the details between us. I will just say, though, that taking up darts is not likely to be a key part of our plan.

Belfry Bat said...

E! Who says the hipster wasn't lead to faith?


Sheila! Yeah, I never said darts was a good idea. I'm not the one who brings up your particular situation and choice details about it, though!


It's good for a parent to be attached to their young children because children (by assumption) have not reached effective independence. It's good for the parents to be attached to eachother because their children (and, later, grandchildren) do better with happy complementary parents. It's not good to be so attached that people would follow eachother into excessive misery in life, any more than it's good to follow eachother into Hell.

Now, you can be as sceptical as you like, but... the experiment of admitting homosexual relations as normal isn't a new one. It's been tried many times in History, and found, many times, to be detrimental to those involved. Deliberately exciting in oneself or another this Thing ordered towards forming familial attachments in a context where family is, by the nature of things, impossible, is self-frustrating, at the very least. Some call that kind of habitual excitement an addiction, but that's putting it too mildly: the misdirection of the family-ordered attachment-forming mechanism is how the worst addictions work. And that's what I'm refering to when I write of abuse.

Sheila said...

Like I said (or tried to say) I'm sorry I brought my own situation up. I did it only to illustrate the difficulty, not ask for advice. I know you're not likely to be able to advise me, not having been in my shoes.

Funny you should argue that accepting gay relationships has been tried in the past and failed. The usual argument is that it's never been tried because everyone throughout all of history knew better! I think it's a little of both -- yes, there have been cultures that accepted homosexuality on some level, though institutionalized in very different ways than what we have today. But I am not sure that offers us a whole lot of data on whether committed, monogamous gay relationships actually have bad effects. What bad effects are we discussing? Were they carefully recorded, or are we simply drawing conclusions from facts like "that civilization eventually collapsed" or "other people really disapproved"?

If two men, or two women, form a family and take in disabled orphans, how is their attachment anything but good? How can it be called abuse if it is working for them? Certainly you can find plenty of gay couples who seem perfectly healthy and stable (though of course I freely admit that you can find plenty that aren't -- just like with straight couples).

I think it's great that you're talking about results, because that has a huge bearing on the morality of any action, but I find myself doubtful of much of the information out there. You can find studies that have exactly opposite results, and sure enough one is sponsored by a religious organization and the other by a pro-LGBT organization. So I hardly know what to think. But let me ask this question: if we were to find an isolated case in which a gay couple WAS healthy, and did NOT experience any noticeable bad results, would this be a case in which homosexuality was okay? Is there some sort of harm you could be sure was resulting or would in the future result, despite their apparent health and happiness? Or would you recommend they break off the relationship for some other reason?

Enbrethiliel said...


We could back up a little for each other, too, Sheila. This isn't about feelings, which, like reason, have nothing to do with a supernatural "infusion" (shall we say) of faith. Not do they *have* to be part of the intellectual game of persuasion. (Just so we're clear, Adams's model ranks reason third, analogy second, and identity first. Not an emotion in sight!)

Bat, if you're just playing games with words, I'd rather sit this one out. If my term means X and your term means X, there is no point in having both of them.

Belfry Bat said...

Monasteries can run orphanages; even run them very well. There's no need for the other thing (and if they'd rather drop the orphanage than drop the other thing, what good is that?)

... why should it be surprising, in a discussion of Natural Law, to mention natural outcomes of things?


Please pardon the jump in focus, but a thing that has been puzzling me a while, now: you've titled this note "Why I don't believe in Natural Law", but... I can't tell what the Why actually is. You give a bunch of objections other people might raise, supposing they have their own particular systems for thinking about things (or not); ... am I to take as general upshot that you have decided to believe only things you can anticipate being able to convince lots of people of? I don't expect that's what you actually mean, but I should let you know that that's sort-of the impression this kind of writing gives.

Or, to take it from another perspective: do you yourself not believe that things have Natures? Or that the natures of things have no Moral Import? Or what?

Belfry Bat said...

Comment 17! (is it still?)

Dear Enbrethiliel,

I wasn't proposing a new term, but trying to imagine what a new convert might say about it before he learned the language of conversion. Which is obviously awkward for me, since I've never been that kind of convert myself...

But the previous thought, about contrasting Complete Argument vs Intellectual Conviction vs Inner Conversion, was serious and sincerely meant to shed light on (what I understand of) your point about the necessity of Actual Grace.

I didn't think it had descended into Jargon, but... well, these things can be hard for me to tell.

~~ Bat

Andrea said...

Sorry it took so long to reply to your objections found within your previous post! Life and what not get's busy these days :)

Ok. Here comes the word hoard. Each of my answers start with your objection.


"it seems a post-hoc way of trying to justify rationally what people never would have figured out in the first place without revelation. And you never find someone who believes in natural law who isn't either Catholic, or halfway to becoming Catholic."


Considering natural law has it's roots in Plato and Aristotle, who were both pre-Christian era (~300 B.C.) one really can't claim it could not be figured out without revelation or that one has to already be Catholic.

During the spread of Christianity, there was common ground that even included the existence of a God.

Per Ed Feser:
"As Christianity spread beyond Judea into the larger Mediterranean world, the question became whether to accept Christianity as opposed to paganism. Much less could be taken for granted.

“Still, significant common ground for debate was provided by Greek philosophy. In Book VIII of The City of God, Augustine noted that thinkers in the Neoplatonic tradition had seen that God is the cause of the existence of the world; had seen also that only what is beyond the world of material and changeable things could be God; had understood the distinction between the senses and their objects on the one hand, and the intellect and its objects on the other, and affirmed the superiority of the latter; and had affirmed that the highest good is not the good of the body or even the good of the mind, but to know and imitate God. In short, these pagan thinkers knew some of the key truths about God, the soul, and the natural law that are available to unaided human reason."

As for people who believe in natural law being “halfway to becoming Catholic,” that’s actually often true. Not always, but quite often. Leah Libresco is a good example of someone who reasoned to an objective moral order as an atheist, and eventually became Catholic because that’s the worldview that fit best. But isn’t that what you would expect if both natural law and Catholicism are true?

Andrea said...


"You see, without a creator, why should there BE laws? Natural law is based on teleology, and only created things have a telos."


The initial premises of teleology don't require one to believe in a Creator. There are atheist teleologists such as Daniel Fincke.

If one follows teleology far enough, it does end up being evidence for a Creator, as Leah Libresco shows. But God is not the starting point.

Ed Feser comments on Fincke:
"Now there is some truth in what Fincke says, but it is not the whole truth and his account suffers from some systematic ambiguities. On the one hand, I would agree that the teleological properties of natural substances, including human beings, can in principle be known whether or not one believes in God, precisely because they are natural. That is what makes natural law possible. You can know just by studying trees that their roots have among their natural ends the taking in of water and nutrients, and that it is objectively good for a tree that its roots carry out this function and bad for it if for some reason the roots are unable to do so. You don’t need to make reference to God to see this. By the same token, you can know just by studying human beings that it is objectively good for them to pursue truth, to show courage and resolution in the face of difficulties, to exercise self control in the indulgence of their appetites, and so forth, since without such virtues they would be unable to fulfill the ends of their various natural capacities. No special reference to God is needed in order to see this either. Not only do I agree with Fincke about that much, but I have made a similar point at length in a post from almost a year ago. It is in my view a mistake for religious apologists to think they can go directly from the objectivity of morality to the existence of God."

Andrea said...


"A car has a purpose because we created it for one, to drive. But a tree just IS. We can use it for different things without "misusing" it.


A car is an artifact, and thus it's teleology comes from us. A tree's teleology is from nature, and is to do what a tree does: grow, take in sunlight, etc. Our use of it may interrupt its teleological end for our own purposes, but since we are higher order beings who have higher rights than the tree, it is not immoral to do something that is bad for the tree that might be good for us.

Andrea said...


"If people were not created by an intelligent designer, we can decide for ourselves what we want our purpose to be."


In the same vein, humans have a specific teleological end that is already within nature. We can't decide what the purpose of human nature is, it is inherent within us.

As the atheist philosopher I mentioned above, Daniel Fincke, notes:
"Teleology should not be at all out of bounds for atheists. Teleologists do not need to posit that there is an intelligent goal-giver who gives natural beings purposes to fulfill, as many theists think…

I am an atheistic virtue ethicist requiring no divine agency for the teleological dimensions of my ethics to make minimal sense and have minimal coherence. I am just describing purely naturalistically occurring patterns as universals or forms. I am saying that since humans’ very natures are constituted by a specific set of powers, fulfilling them is incumbent on humans as the beings that we are. It is irrational and a practical contradiction to destroy the very precondition of our own being (all things being equal). We have a rational imperative instead to flourish maximally powerfully according to the powers which constitute us ourselves."

Andrea said...


"As I pointed out in my naturalistic fallacy post, if evolution is the creator, we shouldn't feel at all bound to do what it wants. It wants us to survive and have a million babies and does not care if we are happy or make beautiful art. Those are extra things humans care about on our own."


Evolution is just a natural process, there is no intentionality in it. Intentionality isn't a part of the equation at all in natural law, whether it is God or something else. The foundation of natural law isn't implying intentionality but rather deducing what the nature of the thing is. You can study the thing itself and determine it's final cause without believing in a God, like the pagans I mentioned above.

As rational beings with a free will and intellect, caring about beauty (art) and flourishing (being happy) are inherent to our nature. Whether we came to be that way due to evolution or another natural or supernatural process is irrelevant. These things would still be part of the nature of what it is to be human.

Andrea said...


"(Morality itself is a separate case -- there are reasons why evoluton would develop morality in people, but that's not IMO the *reason* why we should be moral. We should be moral because it's good for us.) So in a world where God did not make us with a rule book, there is no real way to know how we ought to act except what is *good* for us, as a society and a species."


You are basically stating what natural law is here, it is doing what is good for us, what is good for who we are as humans. And this is something discernible. Even pagans developed a sense of morality. And discerning what is good for us is something that can be systematically figured out because we have a very specific nature.

Andrea said...


"With all of this, I feel like Catholics' argument that natural law is universal because it can theoretically be known with the light of human reason is just false. The Church also says that you can know the existence of God with the unaided light of human reason, but it's an observable fact that people don't reach that conclusion, even when it's explained to them by Catholics who supposedly know the right arguments."


Well, first of all, our ability to reason as humans is not perfect. Look at all those irrationally supporting Trump! Being against abortion really isn't very difficult rationally, but it is emotionally. And reasoning in the subjects of natural law or the existence of God carries a lot of emotional implications that make it hard to be intellectually honest or could possibly require a change in lifestyle that would be difficult. There’s also the “team” aspect. People often have a very hard time switching “teams.”

And, in the case of metaphysics, it's complicated stuff that requires time and study and a systematic process of many book length proportions. Rarely will people give the time necessary to truly understand it. They usually need to see what’s “in it for them” first, sadly.

Andrea said...


"What is the point of something being "knowable without faith" if nobody without faith actually knows it? I think the scholastic monks who made those arguments just weren't very good at getting outside their own worldview and thinking about what people who didn't share their beliefs might think."


People without "faith" have come to know these things, in the past and even among the atheist teleologists of today! And like I mentioned before, a non Catholic man who had an interest in determining the morality of homosexuality came to his conclusions based on studying natural law.

But in an age of instant gratification of sound bites, people aren't likely to take the time to actually study the material and people blow it off because they feel like they already know what natural law is, when honestly they have very little idea. Maybe it's the name "natural law" that throws people off? I think it should be called something else as the term "natural" has so many connotations these days.

Andrea said...

"*Is it okay to drink Diet Pepsi or chew zero-calorie gum? You're satisfying your cravings for food, but without nourishing your body."

Yes, because you are not impeding the ends of eating (nourishment) by eating zero calories foods or even in eating for purely pleasure. If someone ate something possibly harmful, that would be contrary to natural law.

"*Is it okay for a very overweight person to have their stomach stapled so they can lose weight?"

Yes, because being very overweight is harmful to the person and the surgery serves to help the person improve their ability to flourish. Also, an over-stretched stomach is not able to properly achieve its final cause in the first place. However, if a man had a vasectomy, this would go against natural law as it impedes the final ends of his reproductive organ. But if a man had to have a surgery to save his life that indirectly affected his ability to reproduce, this would be fine as survival overrides the harm done to his particular organs.

"*My friend in high school had a thyroid condition which made her grow abnormally tall. She had her thyroid irradiated so she would not grow so tall. Is that wrong?"

Nope, as again the procedure allows her to flourish and overrides the harm done to the final cause of the thyroid. Also, the thyroid condition means the thyroid was already damaged and not achieving its final cause in the first place.

"*Mouths are for talking and eating. Is it still okay to use them for kissing and singing, even though neither helps our survival?"

Things that are harmful in natural law are things that impede the faculty. Kissing and singing don't impair the use of the mouth. If you cut off your lips or cut out your tongue, those would impair the end to which the thing is directed.

Andrea said...

"*The reproductive organs exist to keep the species alive and pass on our genes. Is it okay not to use yours at all, because of a vow of celibacy?"

In natural law, the ends of reproductive organs is to participate in the reproductive act and therefore reproduce. One doesn't have to use them, one just can't actively impede their function.

Creating a eunuch is contrary to the natural law. There was a habit in Italian society at one time among secular singing stars to make certain talented young boys eunuchs to preserve their singing voices. This would be considered gravely immoral according to natural law.

"*Through studying the feet, it is possible to learn that human feet weren't meant to wear shoes -- it's better for them to be barefoot. But you love heels. Is it okay to wear them?"

The natural end of feet would be standing/ambulation. One can do what they like with the feet as long as they don't impede this final cause. The binding of the feet of Chinese women would be harmful as it would have impeded this function. Overuse of high heels could also could impede this function and some doctors do recommend against them. Shoes in general do not impede the final cause of feet and often assist in their final cause (i.e. walking over rough terrain).

"*Mankind evolved not eating wheat or dairy. Is it wrong to eat those things?"

Natural law is true no matter how that particular thing came to be. Evolution is immaterial in relation to natural law. For that matter so is Creationism. Eating is for nutrition. Eating wheat and dairy provides nutrition. Eating harmful things like dirt or sticks or glass, like people with the pica disorder, would be wrong.

Andrea said...

"*Breastfeeding is natural. Is it a sin to give a baby a bottle?"

Nope. A mother is required to nourish her child. Whether that is through the breast or bottle makes no difference to natural law. Cutting off the breasts without good reason would be wrong. But they don’t have to be used to feed the child.

“Natural” in the natural law means “according to the nature of the thing,” not “natural vs. artificial.” Edward Feser explains:

"There are natural disasters, natural resources, natural gas, and dying of natural causes. There’s natural beauty, but also freaks of nature. There’s going back to nature and getting a natural high. There are Mother Nature, nature hikes, all natural foods, natural family planning and natural childbirth. There’s the natural order, and second nature. There are natural numbers. There are all the examples I didn’t think of. There are blog posts that are starting to sound like George Carlin routines.

“With “nature” and “natural” used in so many different ways, it’s no wonder people often misunderstand what classical natural law theorists mean when they define the good for man in terms of what is natural and what is bad as what is contrary to nature. Hence the blizzard of clueless objections: “If what is unnatural is wrong, then wouldn’t eyeglasses and prosthetic limbs be wrong?”; “But everything is natural, since everything follows the laws of nature”; “If I was born this way, then it must be natural”; etc. Remarks of this sort reflect fundamental misconceptions about what the natural law theorist means by “nature.” (Again, I’m talking about classical natural law theory there, the kind rooted in classical metaphysics of the broadly Platonic, Aristotelian, and/or Scholastic kind. I’ll let “new natural law theory” adepts speak for themselves.)

“The basic idea is really not all that complicated, and can be understood at least to a first approximation by reference to everyday examples. Everyone knows that it is in the nature of grass to require water and sunlight but not too much heat, and that for that reason it is good for grass to be watered and well lit and bad for it to lack water and sunlight or to be exposed to great heat. Everyone knows that is in the nature of a tree to require soil into which it can sink its roots and from which it can draw water and nutrients, and thus that it is good for a tree so to sink them and bad for it if it is somehow prevented from doing so. Everyone knows that it is in the nature of a squirrel to gather nuts and the like and to dart about in a way that will make it difficult for predators to catch it, and thus good for it to do these things and bad for it if for whatever reason it fails to do them. The natures of these things entail certain ends the realization of which constitutes their flourishing as the kinds of things they are."

"*Is it okay for married spouses to have sex that's more pleasurable than required for reproduction?"

Yes. You just can't impede reproduction when performing the sex act (pulling out, birth control, etc). You don't have to be thinking about reproduction for the sex act to be good. This video I had given you a link to earlier explains well if you want further explanation.

Andrea said...

"*If you have a gluten sensitivity, is it okay to eat "fake" food that's supposed to taste like wheat bread and noodles?"

That food still provides some nourishment. Again, natural law doesn't have to do with "natural vs. artificial".

The big question that I think needs to be posed to those who do not accept natural law is this: if not natural law, what is morality based on? We make judgments about good and bad, right and wrong, all the time. What are those judgments based on? They have to based on some underlying truth. They can’t be arbitrary and based only on our whims. If that’s true then it’s pointless to make any judgment about right and wrong because it only expresses a feeling, not something real.

Many people do say that morality is based on our whims, that right and wrong and good and bad are simply useful ideas that we created ourselves. But I find it more logical and interesting that morality should be rooted in something real and concrete and external to our own ideas. Otherwise saying this is good or this is bad, or this is right or this is wrong, is meaningless. (And it can lead to weird moral judgments, like my husband’s students deciding it was okay to shoot Japanese schoolchildren. And the most logical external thing for morality to be based on is, it seems to me, the very essences or natures of whatever is involved. Those natures are available to everyone to study objectively. It’s a systematic and scientific procedure by which morality is derived and discovered, not invented.

Sheila said...

Good grief, Andrea. How many comments IS that? It's going to take me awhile to get through all this .... please don't try to reply until I've said I'm finished!

I'm really not keen on the Greek philosophers. They asked good questions, but had no way of getting the right answers. They thought, for instance, that rocks go down because rocks have a downward sort of nature. So, yes, they believed in nature, but they disagreed with both you and science about what that nature means.

I also disagree with the atheist teleologist that you quote. If he believes that perfection for humans is to exercise all their powers, then he would surely not believe celibacy is acceptable. And personally, I just don't see "maximally powerful according to one's powers" to be a morally significant thing. If that's what you want to do, then sure, but if that goes against happiness for yourself or another person, it seems you should prioritize the goal that actually matters to the humans in question -- if there's no one else around demanding specific things of our behavior.

If caring about art is part of our "nature" too, does that mean humans who don't care about art are not human? Or that even if they aren't into art, they should force themselves to create and view it simply because this is what humans are "supposed" to do?

I do agree that morality has to do with what is good for us. I do not agree that having non-procreative sex is bad for us. In order to argue that it is, one must abandon simple observation ("when humans do this, they die/get sick/are unhappy") and appeal to a version of "good for us" that seems .... well, made up. It's not bad for humans to set their own limits on their reproduction; in fact, it's sometimes bad for humans not to do so -- as when a woman's health is threatened. If a person is living in such a way as to make them happy, healthy, a contributing member of society, and harming no one, what ARE the grounds for declaring their life choices immoral?

Sheila said...

I find your explanation of why people are unconvinced about natural law to be condescending and uncharitable. Couldn't exactly the same be said about you -- that you believe in natural law because you haven't read many anti-natural law arguments, that you aren't trained in modern philosophy, that you value membership in the Catholic Church more than rationality, or that you're too lazy to put forth the effort to change? It's sort of a truth-independent argument, in that it can be made about anyone regardless of whether they are right or wrong. My usual explanation for why people disagree with me is that some things really cannot be proven one way or the other, so we vary in what side we come down on. That is a little more charitable toward those who disagree with me than what you said.

And, in any event, it doesn't do a thing to explain me. I studied this stuff in college. I was willing to be convinced. I've read lots about it as I've been thinking it over the past few years. Can you say honestly that *you* have honestly tried to be convinced by my arguments -- or that you've spent years studying atheist morality and trying to believe it could all hang together? It seems that if it is rationally provable, this level of effort ought to be enough.

In all of the examples, you keep saying "this doesn't *impede* the natural end, just avoids it, or sacrifices it to a higher end." But non-procreative sex (say, oral sex between a married couple, or gay sex) do not impede the natural end. They simply bypass it. Like chewing gum, it's about obtaining pleasure and bonding without procreation, but without purposely damaging any body part or impeding any system. Can you explain what your distinction is? Because I feel you're using the word "impede" as a term of art for which some things apply and others don't, but the only difference is whether Catholic teaching is against that thing or not.

Have you read all the previous comments between Bat and me? Some weight-loss surgeries do in fact impede the functioning of the digestive system, albeit for the health of the entire body. Basically we say, "It is not good for the body for the digestive system to operate well, so we will make it operate badly to save the body." How is that different from when a woman with a serious health complication gets a tubal ligation? It is not good for her body as a whole for her reproductive system to work well, so its functioning is reduced in order to give her body a chance to heal.

I have lots of posts on this blog about morality and so I don't feel like going into it in depth here. In short, some form of consequentialism seems acceptable to me, provided certain caveats -- for instance, that one's habitual behavior has consequences on your future behavior, so something could be harmless in the moment but make you a worse person who will make worse choices down the road. The standard, as I said, is what is good for people -- "good" being defined as a combination of life, happiness, and preferences (that is, it wouldn't be very nice to try to force people to be happier if they prefer to make big sacrifices in happiness for a life they find meaningful). In this paradigm, one could say that morality is a "science" as one could attempt to find out which choices will save the most lives or make people the happiest. But I don't think morality is a structure apart from humans which you can pick apart in the lab, as you seem to be suggesting. Apart from human ends -- our desire to survive, to be happy, to be free -- there is nothing rational to make the standard, unless there is a deity whose preferences overrule ours.

**This ends my reply to Andrea**

Sheila said...

Bat, orphanages are known not to be a very good environment for kids. There isn't enough individual care and bonding, and attachment disorders are common in kids from orphanages. Think, is it good for a child for a caregiver he is bonded to to leave partway through his childhood? You know it isn't, I think, which is one reason why marriage is so important -- it ties the parents to the child so they will care for him throughout his entire childhood. But in an orphanage, the employees leave all the time, by necessity -- it's an institution and people are going to be coming in and retiring. There's no lifelong bond at all. I may as well say, if you're against gay marriage, why the heck would you be okay with orphanages?

Do I believe in nature? Hm. I guess that depends. Is nature a subsistent thing, a thing whose existence you could prove? Or is it simply a way of talking about the properties and tendencies of things? If the former, I don't believe that; if the latter, I suppose I have no objection, though I don't think they have any moral import. The only morally significant things, if one doesn't believe in God, are people and (to some extent) groups of people.

E, I never did answer your comment because I was turning it over in my mind. I don't think I can reply in any way unless you explain what Analogy and Identity are supposed to be. Are these two things better at distinguishing truth from falsehood than reason is?

Belfry Bat said...

The faults you mention in orphanages are not essential to the nature of an orphanage, nor do they suitably distinguish being run by monks (and monks don't ordinarily leave their monasteries without dying...) vs being run by Romeo and Julius. Julius might well leave Romeo (and often does), even if they're in a habit of mutual gratification... An essential difference that a really-married-couple could bring to running an orphanage in their home is the formation they've had from raising their own children --- and Romeo and Julius can't do that.


So you have named a couple classes of thing (to use the word much too broadly)... "people" and "God". I trust you acknowledge that they're not the same kind of thing, which is to say: they have different natures. Now, the phrase you use "morally significant"... this is odd. What does it mean to say that chairs are not morally significant? Is there nothing good that can be done with a chair? Or: food has a different nature from people (I hope!) but there's lots of moral reasoning to be done about food, isn't there? To be sure, there's always reference to persons when we're talking morals, but the moral content of a chair and of a hamburger are different, right?

Sheila said...

The chair and the burger neither *act* morally, nor are the important factors in whether an act is moral. The important factors are people. If a chair sits in the woods and no people are around to see it, is it a morally significant chair? ;) Only in reference to people (or God) can anything be said to be right or wrong, because unless someone is helped or harmed, or God favors or disfavors an action, what exactly *is* the moral significance of an action or thing? Can you think of a morally significant thing or action that doesn't involve any people?

Your quibble with "natures" is why I said, as a way of thinking about things, "natures" are useful. They are mental categories we create based on the similarities and differences between things. Sometimes things fit between categories -- is a bean bag a chair or a pillow? We just have to decide based on their attributes. It's not like you can peek inside to see if it's got a chair nature or a pillow nature.

Romeo might leave Julius -- heck, he might leave Juliet just as well -- but I do think having an emotional bond is helpful. What exactly do a married couple have that makes them fit to raise children that a gay couple cannot have?

Andrea said...

I'm sorry it was so many comments. I was just replaying to the one comment of yours and these comment boxes only allow for a certain number of words.

I'm really not willing to go into this stuff further with you. It's hard taking it serious that you object to natural law when your objections are really basic misunderstandings of what natural law is and how it operates. You may have studied it, but you aren't objecting to natural law, you are objecting to what you believe it to be. We really can't even debate it as you aren't willing to get to know what natural law really says.

Edward Feser explains it all much better than I ever could anyways. So if you are ever interested in the subject, check him out and then your comment boxes don't have to get flooded by me in regards to the matter.

Enbrethiliel said...


Bat -- Now I'm trying to wrap my head around why we should care what a new convert would say. =P Remember that I've been saying for years that converts need to assimilate as fast as possible--indeed, that they're obligated to. And it starts with learning our words for things. (My latest focus on actual language learning has only refined my thoughts on this.)

Sheila -- Before I really get into it, I should say that Adams's theories are just new ideas that I'm chewing over to entertain myself. I'm interested in how they seem to fit what I already think, but I'm not wedded to them--and I don't want you to feel you wasted your time arguing with me if, twenty comments later, I say, "Oh, yeah, that makes no sense, does it?" and drop it. LOL! Especially when your life is as hectic as it is!

Anyway, analogy is saying that A has something significant in common with B. The "Literally Hitler" meme has become a joke, but comparing someone to him can still be a kind of kiss of death. Some analogies can be terribly convincing. For instance, you know I like Trump (and he'd have to do something really awful for me to stop liking him)--but I still stopped short in horror during my current reading when I learned that President Marcos ran on a campaign of making the Philippines great. What a parallel, right??? Now, do I reasonably think Trump would pull a Marcos? NO. The US has too many systems in place to make that a realistic outcome, and the two men are so different in personality that the idea is absurd. But it's still a very sticky analogy--and I imagine, persuasive enough for many.

Identity is . . . oh, you'll love this =P . . . getting people to define their identity in terms of groups. It helps when the group can be defined by some symbol, like, you know, a charismatic leader. Or just some guy who seems to stand for what people want him to stand for. One reason traditionalism has received a new boost in intensity since Pope Francis's election (at least this has been my impression) is that Catholics can now divide themselves into "Team Benedict" and "Team Francis". This doesn't mean the two "teams" burst into existence after the conclave; they had been there for decades. What changed was that they could define themselves more clearly. And some people who probably hadn't thought of themselves as that traditionalist were persuaded to be more so. Which is a great segue for me to tell you that I go to an SSPX church now. =P This is partly why I don't bug you about your faith as much as I used to. I don't want anyone bugging me about mine!

But note that identity can also come from really benign things, like regional cuisine.

Finally, full disclosure: Adams does not believe in objective reality. (I do, of course, but when I'm playing with his ideas, I have to step onto a level on which I don't. Otherwise I'm not really engaging with his ideas. I hope I'm being clear!) Anyway, for him, there is no such thing as getting to the truth, because you'll never be able to know, using merely human tools, what the truth is. So there's no reasonably convincing people of the truth, though there is persuading them to see things a certain way.

And I'm sure you see the overlap with my own thinking. I truly believe actual grace is essential to getting to the truth--that all our human tools, including reason, just aren't sufficient for something of that scale and nature. Reason can help us get to earthly truth, but that's it. (Ironically, this is why I'm agreeing with you about natural law! =P)

Sheila said...

Andrea, in my own post I linked to the blog you're referencing. I simply disagree with it -- I know this is impossible for you to believe, which is why you assume I don't understand. How can I fail to understand when I've read so many explanations? And when I seek clarification (like, what exactly do you mean by "impede"?), to you, that's just a sign of willfull misunderstanding. Is there a clear and definite definition of the word "impede," in this context, or is there not?

I had a philosophy professor, of hated memory (he gave me a B! the nerve!) who, every time I disagreed with something he was teaching, would insist that I had simply failed to grasp the argument and instead of asking questions, I should simply read it again and then I would see. But I never did, and not because I was bound and determined to disagree with, e.g., St. Thomas's explanation of how the process of intellection works, but because *the argument was not convincing.* Perhaps it really was true and could have convinced me if someone could have rebutted my objections. But this was not even tried, because this professor truly believed that anyone not convinced by his initial explanation was either stupid or stubborn. That's no way to reach the truth.

I'm a real believer in rational dialogue. I think that if two people try to reach the truth together -- both willing to change their minds, trying to define terms and not jump to conclusions, and most of all, dedicated to staying in the conversation till a conclusion can be made -- they will, if not agree, at least have brought the disagreement down to basic temperament/emotional differences. (E.g. "We both agree that the existence of God is uncertain, but one of us feels it is better to give the benefit of the doubt to his existence and the other does not.") But, sadly, this form of dialogue is rare.

If anyone's interested in something further on the topic, Melinda Selmys posted this the other day and I agreed with it entirely:

Enbrethiliel, as I thought, both of those things are truth-independent (that is, you're just as likely to follow them into the Nazi party as into the Catholic Church -- see what I did there?) so it's no surprise that the guy who came up with them didn't believe in objective truth. I sympathize to some degree -- I think there is objective reality, but our own experience is so filtered through our senses and biases that any claim that someone has access to that reality is suspect. At the same time I don't think that's any reason to *give up*; we can always try and get closer and closer to reality with effort.

I guess you should be thankful for my own changes in beliefs -- before, I totally would have nagged you about the SSPX thing! Then again, perhaps you would not have told me. It is kind of staggering how many people, on reading this blog or something else I've written, send me messages admitting the various heresies they can't help believing. I think they know I'm in no position to give them a hard time about it!

Enbrethiliel said...


The point I've been trying to make is that reason is pretty useless when it comes to getting at the truth. It's only as good as the information available, and information is easily tampered with or lost through accident. My favorite example is my great-grandmother's second marriage. My grandfather never accepted her second husband, so after she died (having been widowed a second time, with no children from that union), he destroyed all evidence he had of that marriage and put only her first married name on her headstone. Soon everyone who witnessed that second marriage well be dead. Somewhere in America is a place with the original marriage records, but good luck finding it! And if it burned down before the files could be computerised, well, then you have only oral tradition to go by! That was just after World War II and it's already sketchy; something 2,000 years old, with even more powerful enemies, is going to have a lot of holes in what it can bring to back itself up. You were the one who said it only takes six days to make something up! Dare I add it only takes six minutes to destroy crucial evidence?

Bias and filters have nothing to do with it. If the evidence is corrupt (and we all know it is), then all the objectivity in the universe is still going to be unable to reach the truth. I'm sure many Nazis were very reasonable people.

Sheila said...

Reason isn't perfect, but no one's ever shown me anything better! I mean, you used *your* reason to know that your great-grandmother really was married twice. Presumably you got this information from other people, who remember it. But if you claimed that, despite the utter lack of evidence, and your not hearing it from anyone else, and your not having seeen your step-great-grandfather, you *still* knew for sure that you had had one -- I would wonder what in the world you *did* have that you thought was better than all available evidence!

Belfry Bat said...

Ecce, Sheila defending Tradition before Enbrethiliel?


Pure reason, without experience, gives us Mathematics (though... what we'd do mathematics about without inspiration, I don't know.... I know I talk about it a lot, being a specialist and all, but I think it's important!) Reason prompted by experience gives us lots of stuff.

But, as I've said before (and which I still can't discern in Sheila's writing) one has to believe something to draw conclusions from whatever. All of mathamtics is a big "if... then...". There is no mathematical "always". On the other hand, the observable universe is a definite thing, an unavoidable. It doesn't explain itself, and so behind it I see a cause, a something that Is. But we've done this before without moving anyone anywhere. Review the exercise if you like.

Like Enbrethiliel, I agree that our reason is opposed: not by filters or bias, but by enemies of human reason. Sometimes these are other human agents, sometimes they are demons. Quem Resistite! But since we are made by God, in our natures, to be reasonable, I'm mostly confident we can learn, by practising, what reason we need. Like Enbrethiliel, I agree that some revelation is needed as input to our reason, but again we are made by God to be receptive to revelation, and that furthermore we can learn to distinguish authentic from false revelation.


A Bean Bag, of course, has the nature of a bag containing "beans". It is flexible: it can function as a pillow (rest your head) or a chair (rest one's feet) or dinner (if it's made of real beans: but soak or simmer them first!). But one usually doesn't try to feed a hungry man a chair, or rest a man with tired feet on a hamburger: these things would be nonsensical, but I'm sure they're also susceptible of moral objection!

A beaver does some things a rabbit does (gnawing) and some things a dog does (swimming, playing with sticks) and some things people do (build houses, tend woodlots, raise their families in devoted couples, handing on tradition, and taking care of other animals, too). That they are not rabbits or dogs or people doesn't stop them being beavers. They still have a definite nature!

Enbrethiliel said...


It's true that I have evidence for that second marriage, but someone who had only my word to go by and who didn't know me from Eve might find the facts unconvincing. And well, all I did have for a while was a third-hand story from my mother, who had also never met the guy, but who had heard about him from my grandmother, who had also never met him. Eventually, my grandfather confirmed it, but that's still hearsay, if I have my legal terms right. None of it would hold up in proverbial court. And believe it or not, I wouldn't want it to: it's truly not reasonable! LOL! But it is the truth. An unreasonable truth.

Andrea said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrea said...

The thing is that it seems I'm not explaining it very well as you keep misunderstanding what I'm trying to get across. Thus, I pointed you to someone who is the expert in this area these days.

By "impede", I mean hindering the end for which it was meant. The zero calorie gum is not equivalent to non procreative sex with birth control because the fact that the gum has zero calories is irrelevant to the fact it (whatever juices are produced from chewing it) still must be digested in the normal manner. Zero calorie gum (or zero calorie food like soda water or even regular water) is actually probably a closer analogy for sex during infertile times. One does both for pleasure (obviously they are different degrees of pleasure) but you aren't circumventing he final cause of eating (the gum juices still gets digested, it just happens to not have any calories) or in the case of sex during infertile times (the sperm still ends up inside the woman, but the conditions are such that no baby will likely result). In the case of eating, vomiting one's food up on purpose would go contrary to the final end of eating, and this most people can agree is disordered.

Oral sex with the man finishing outside the woman does impede the natural end of sex as the man's climax does happen outside the woman. However, oral pleasure before the man finishes inside the woman is fine as it doesn't impede the final end of the act.

Not sure if that helps at all or if it just sounds like I keep saying the same thing over and over. I guess I get the feeling you don't understand natural law because often the examples you use show a misunderstanding of what the nature of particular things are and what their final ends are and what this implies.

Andrea said...

Oh, and I saw the SSPX mentioned. There isn't anything heretical about them and they aren't schismatic. They are considered in an irregular canonical situation by the Church. I had just seen Sheila mention the SSPX and heresy in close proximity and wasn't sure what she was implying. :)

Andrea said...

I do have a question. Do you believe sex should carry any moral weight at all? Should it be morally significant even if one doesn't believe in any higher being?

Andrea said...

And now I'm thinking that I didn't answer your chewing gum example very well. Remember that we can do other things with our mouths (kissing, singing) and thus we can do other things with our teeth too! Chewing gum is just one of those extra things we can do that provides pleasure but doesn't impede the natural end of eating. If it isn't a zero calorie gum, we'll still get those calories. If it is zero calorie, well, then we are just chewing for the pleasure of chewing. I guess one could use the sex analogy in that a couple may give each other pleasure without it ending in a climax and just build up to a climax for later. But when the man does reach a climax, the proper end is for him to be inside the woman. Sorry if I'm being too detailed or rambling.

Anonymous said...


I suspect that Sheila will disagree with the "end for which it was meant" bit. I know at least I do. Because, unless you are working from the perspective that there is in fact a god that designed the human body for specific purposes, then that sentence seems meaningless. For example, if you believe that the human body evolved simply due to the constraints and demands of evolution, then humans are "meant" to survive and sub-Saharan Africa and little else, yet no one objects to living in North America.

Of course, as far as I understand the argument so far, you and Sheila will disagree on starting points, since you are arguing about teleology. If you believe that a god made the human body, it seems perfectly reasonable to believe that this god might have had specific intentions in mind for specific body parts. But if you don't, the question becomes, what is this "end" and how can you talk about it being "meant" for anything? Again, and you two have already brought this up, but it seems you both do understand teleology, and the terms used in it. It's just that you accept it, while Sheila does not.


If I have misunderstood or misrepresented your argument I apologize profusely.

Andrea said...

Hey, Anon! A belief in a Creator really isn't necessary to define the essence (nature) of a particular thing/action. I imagine we would both come to the same conclusions in defining the purpose of the heart. The heart has a particular purpose and even every atheist would agree (I think) that its final cause is to pump blood. This is all we mean when we say final cause. One doesn't need the assumption of a designer to observe that this is the heart's function. It is an essential aspect of the heart.

I don't think this discussion can go anywhere because she has a different perception of what natural law is and I keep trying to say "that isn't what natural law says" but she keeps using the same objections that misuse what natural actually states. It would be different if she was talking about what natural law actually says and then states that she doesn't think the arguments hold any water. It's kind of like when people will claim that Catholics worship the Saints or Mary. I can try to explain that we don't and why, but some will still just keep reiterating that I do. At that point, what can be done? I don't know.

Sheila said...

The problem, Andrea, is that *you* don't seem to really understand what you are talking about either. You're insisting that distinctions exist, and it's true that in Natural Law theory these distinctions are made. But these distinctions are not justified -- they aren't really based on anything! I don't see the difference between sperm going into an infertile vagina versus going into any other place that can't procreate, because the end of procreation is still impossible. Being per se not procreative and per accidens not procreative seems, to me, a distinction without a difference. I've asked a lot of people about it and they simply say "You don't get it. it's different." If it's so different, why are people unable to explain it? The idea that an intermediate end (like swallowing, or ejaculating inside a vagina) should have a moral dimension is by no means self-evident, but neither you nor Feser has proven it.

One doesn't swallow the gum. There aren't "gum juices" really, either, unless there's sugar in there -- there's just your own spit, flavored slightly from the gum. We could also talk about the way wine tasters or other professional food tasters spit out the food they taste so they don't get sick from so much tasting. And again, to swallow something and have it go about the process of digestion even though it is not food seems the same as to have sex even though the man has been made sterile through a vasectomy. You're going through the motions but not getting the result -- and that's deliberate.

But Anon is entirely right and probably we're wasting time on quibbles as I point out these inconsistencies. The root of the problem is the same. If one believes that evolution is our "creator," then we have to accept that our creator is not a moral being. It wants us to survive -- and we share that goal -- but it also wants us to have as many babies as possible and there is no reason for us to share that goal. Most of us want to have some, but evolution prioritizes reproduction over life if there's a conflict, and we don't. (Example: the female mantis bites off the male's head when they mate, and that counts as a win for evolution because the male's genes get passed on! But I wouldn't want to be a male mantis.) So the whole argument that it is *morally* required to fulfill the ends for which we were created does not work. If I was an orc created by Sauron, it wouldn't be "moral" for me to kill hobbits, just because Sauron wanted me to! If I decided to have mercy instead, that wouldn't be a disorder or a sin, though perhaps Sauron would get mad at me. Only if our creator is good and defined by goodness are his wishes morally relevant.

Sheila said...

The other thing is, you can't have natural law without Thomism. I've been reading LOTS of this Feser guy in order to ensure that the constant accusation that I just "don't really get it" isn't justified. I haven't been finding it so; yes, he answers my objections, but no, his answers are not credible. All you have to do is read the comments on any of his posts to realize that his readers, even the Catholic ones, are as confused as me. I feel people are convinced more by his self-confidence than his reasoning -- he SAYS this is ironclad proof, so everyone assumes that it must be.

Anyway, he himself agrees in the comments that Natural Law doesn't work without Thomism: "So, as I also say there, for a genuine natural law theory one really needs some kind of classical realist (i.e. Platonic, or Aristotelian, or Thomistic) metaphysics. This might seem like a major problem for natural law theory, but I would say (a) Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics is _true_, so it's no problem at all, and (b) _no morality at all_ is possible anyway without some kind of classical metaphysics -- all the alternatives fail miserably, or collapse into mere conventionalism or something equally amoral and anti-climactic -- so there's no special "problem" for natural law here. (Large claims, I know, but what the hell, I'm on a roll...)"

His second clause simply offends me -- he completely wrote off centuries of ethical philosophy because *he* finds it "amoral and anti-climactic." Or perhaps he never read any in the first place. I have talked A LOT on this blog about the different sources of morality and I find morality based on human ends to be compelling and consistent. The fact that it doesn't appeal to him is somewhat irrelevant.

Sheila said...

But about the first objection, I studied Thomism for three years in college. At no point were its initial premises proven. Most of the professors admitted that they *could not be* -- they must either be accepted, or not. Sort of like a religion that way. When a Thomist says "I can prove the validity of natural law," or "I can prove the existence of God," what he really means is, IF you accept things like hylomorphism (matter and form), formal causes, final causes, natures, etc., then he can bring you to the belief he wants to prove. But very few people alive today believe these things, in part because they are unprovable, and in part because better ways of describing the universe have been devised by other philosophers since the 1300's, and in part because it doesn't seem to agree with modern science.

For instance, I think that evolution (here I'm starting to address something you said, Bat) disproves the idea of natures for different species because it shows that a species is not a fixed thing. A beaver NOW is different from a badger, but there was a time when they were the same species and one batch started chewing on treees and the other started doing .... whatever it is badgers do. You can't tell at the outset of an evolutionary tree which mutations are "defects in a creature's nature" and which are going to be useful later on. For a hawk to go blind would be a defect, but for a cave fish it's a good way to save energy. And you don't know ahead of time if the creature in question is going to be a cave fish or not!

Fish have swim bladders. Is it a "defect" for them to use their swim bladders to breathe, or a misuse of a faculty? But once upon a time certain fish (lungfish) started exchanging gasses through their swim bladders, which was useful in the stagnant water they lived in. Generations down the road they started hobbling on their fins (gasp! another misuse!) from puddle to puddle, and further along they became what we would think of as amphibians. At which point did the "end" or "function" of their swim bladders and fins change? I would say, at the point they started using them that way. They couldn't know, when they tried it, if that would wind up being "fit" or "unfit" -- it was an experiment, like all evolution is an experiment, with death being the way you get negative results.

That seems to completely destroy the idea that organs or body systems have "ends" which are unchanging or should be unchanged. Rather, we should use our reason to use them in ways that don't hurt us -- or, for that matter, our species. If everyone had no kids, that would be bad (though I don't think it's likely -- most people want babies) but I also think that if everyone had a child a year from 15 to 45, that would also be bad. Evolution favors the fastest reproducer, so no wonder humans are so prolific, but in a world where we are already dominant in the environment, where we've eliminated predators and most causes of child mortality, where we are limited only by the resources on the planet, extreme prolificness is no longer fit. I don't think the earth is overpopulated now (so no need to bring out the arguments I'm sure you have against this!) but if everyone had 20 children each generation, it shortly would be. So it's fair to say that unlimited reproduction no longer serves our species' survival, so even from the point of view of "doing what evolution wants" it wouldn't be the wise thing to do.

Sheila said...

Do I believe in sexual morality? Yes. I believe in sexual morality based on consequences. Sex has some pretty huge consequences, and no one ought to have sex without considering all of them, from emotional consequences on oneself and one's partner (it would be terrible to, say, sleep with someone when they will take it as proof of a serious relationship when you don't mean it that way), to STD's, to pregnancy. Using birth control may be a part of taking mind for the consequences, but of course all birth control fails sometimes so one ought to have a plan for that. It's certainly gravely wrong to bring a person into the world while in a situation where they will be harmed or neglected. Better not to have sex in that situation.

As a married woman, and married to a serious Catholic, obviously my own choices are constrained by a lot more than what I just described.

Why not try a thought experiment: imagine that God somehow revealed to you, in a way that completely convinced you it was really him, that all sexual choices were now permissible to you. Would you turn around and cheat on your husband? Of course not, because you love him and your love impels you to fidelity regardless of whether anyone's commanding it. The same goes for nonsexual morality. While Catholics like to insist that morality would be impossible without God, it's not like they *want* to lie, murder, and steal -- at least I hope not! They don't desire to do those things because those things are harmful and other people are important to them. But seriously Andrea, if you want to talk any further about morality without God, please do a search on this blog for posts about morality and read them. We'll have a much more fruitful conversation if you're informed.

Ariadne said...

Sheila, I think that's actually the point of natural law: that there are some things we know are wrong without believing in God. Murder, stealing, and cheating on one's spouse are great examples.

Sheila said...

Insofar as "natural law" simply means "those things everyone can figure out about morality," I have no real objection to it. I simply disagree that Catholic sexual morality is one of those things, and the Thomistic attempt to prove it is is not at all convincing to me.

Ariadne said...

Well, that is different and makes more sense to me than rejecting natural law altogether.

Ariadne said...

Having said that,I do think the arguments for Catholic sexual morality hold water quite well. However, I think the subject is more difficult because sexuality is such a naturally emotional subject (which can get in the way of reasoning), and it depends on certain premises that are not widely taught or held in the world today.

Sheila said...

I really don't think my objections here are emotional -- I did try to be convinced by these, but in the end I felt revelation was the only reasonable basis for Catholic sexual morality.

Ariadne said...

I was making a general comment, not a particular one about your case.

Belfry Bat said...

So, in people, there's this thing done in pairs that over-rides wanting to eat, that over-rides worrying about predators, and abstract thinking, and (for whatever reason, ordinarily) makes us very shy of other people. When things "go well", there's a distracting high at the end, and often an overwhelming tendency towards sleep (again: suppressing hunger and defensive fear and sociability). And it's strongly habit-forming.

There had better be a very good reason for it, because dropping one's guard and neglecting food and hiding from helpful friends are all dangerous things to do.

And more: in creatures whose nature includes reason, on which is founded responsibility and morality, deciding to do a thing that is dangerous may be dangerous for the soul as well, if not done reasonably.

So the suspicion remains to be dispelled. Set aside the casuistry of how to maintain a healthy marriage-in-the-ancient-sense: what very good reason can Romeo and Julius have to indulge the dangerous instinct, to chase their distracting and habit-forming high?

Sheila said...

I think most people would have an issue with your characterization of sex as dangerous. In a place where we have houses with locks on the doors, it hardly puts us at risk of predators. And it's not like it takes so much time as to prevent eating or socializing.

Caffeine produces a habit-forming high, but most people in our culture have weighed the pros and cons and decide to use it daily. Alcohol makes people sleepy, but as long as it isn't done to excess, nobody thinks it's wrong. Heck, you get a very strong high off of foods like sugar, and yet you probably eat dessert sometimes. What makes this case so different?

I don't think we need to approach all pleasures with a "hermaneutic of suspicion," so that they have to justify themselves in order to be moral. Rather, I'd say the fact that one enjoys it is a reason to do it, and to forbid people to do it would require a serious argument. If Romeo and Julius don't just enjoy the momentary pleasure of sex, but also a deep abiding intimacy reinforced by their sexual relationship, I can't think of a justification for attempting to take that away from them *unless it can be proved to be immoral.* Your presumption seems to be that we should assume it's immoral and dangerous unless we have adequate proof to the contrary!

Belfry Bat said...

The dangers are illustrative of instinct interrupting our rational natures, not the substance of the objection: we are rational animals, and though there are reasonable ways/times to suspend reasoning, still one has to do some initial thinking first to get there properly.

I've never experienced this sugar "high" I hear tell of, but never mind: it's certainly possible to abuse sugar, to make oneself sick with it, and this I have done (not on purpose...); salt can make you sick, too. To all of these things, I re-echo: their use ought to be reasonable ("reasonable" has plenty of lee-way to it!). Caffeine (in moderation) can sharpen attention; alcohol (in moderation) can relax, can help set aside useless worry.

Your claim is: there may be a deep and abiding intimacy that can be reinforced by such-and-such. I've had deep friendships with fellow fellows, so that's fine; but I'm not convinced that literally sexualizing a friendship between men (or between women) can reinforce depth or intimacy. I rather think (that is, I am told by folk who know from experience and have escaped it) that it becomes a distraction, a shallowing, and a cheapening; and, unlike the various kinds of self-abuse, it's a distraction et.c. involving the willing cooperation of [at least] two individuals. It's also a distraction et.c. that sets up their brains and bodies to be expecting children to raise, while their reasoning minds should be perfectly clear that by nature there can't be any children to raise without something actually going very wrong.

And I really don't think that kind of intellectual dissonance can be healthy.

Sheila said...

If your only source is people who found that life unsatisfying and unhappy and thus left it, is it possible you're not hearing the whole story? Because many people don't leave it, and they certainly claim to be happy. Don't know if you could find one of these people and ask them about it. Personally I expect they'd feel the way I would feel if you started picking my marriage apart -- in short, why should I have to justify a happy, loving relationship to you? John and I didn't *have* to get married, we could have stayed friends, but we wanted to get married. The sort of relationship we had wasn't the kind that's happy to stay on the level of "just friends," it was the kind that wants further intimacy. And if we hadn't been able to have children, that wouldn't have taken away our justification for getting married; we might have adopted children, but if we hadn't, again, that wouldn't mean our marriage wasn't real.

Belfry Bat said...

I don't know why you've got so attached to this idea that what two men might do can be so like a marriage that objecting to it sounds like doubting a particular real marriage. A man cannot give another man what you have given John, nor even give another man what John has given you.

Meanwhile, there are ways to feel blissed-out that are not happiness. I mean, if feeling "happy" about whatever is what matters most, then what is the objection to someone enjoying heroin so much it kills him?

I have known people, also, who don't want to escape, but they don't look happy.

Ember Words said...


Though on the other hand I'm not sure why you've got so attached to this idea that two men (or women) can't give each other what a straight couple can.

Sorry, that was facetious.

But about the heroin. I'd say it is because the consequences of heroin are clearly understood to be harming people, or at least the person using the drug. The connection between two people of the same sex being in a long-term romantic friendship recognized as marriage by society and anyone being harmed is a little more tenuous. I mean, like a straight infertile couple they can give each other love, support, kindness and friendship. And you could make an argument that making same-sex marriage illegal does hurt people, since it removes partner benefits, stigmatizes people, etc.


Sheila said...

Right, I just don't see what a man *couldn't* give John that I give. (Well, aside from the fact that he's not into that kind of relationship.) What things are you thinking of? Just babies? Because, like I said, not everyone manages that one and that's okay. So what is the mysterious thing that a man and woman can do for each other that a same-sex couple can't? Emotional support? Kindness? Mutual assistance at the struggles of life?

Belfry Bat said...

About heroin, again: why is the "bad" outcome bad? (I agree that it is bad, but why do we agree? I have to ask because there are people who disagree.)

A man cannot give a man what a man cannot receive or hold. That's straight-forward enough,right?

Expanding: Before there are babies, there is the possibility of babies (marriage, in the developed tradition, comes before there are or even might be any), and there can be the promise to care for them together, and care for eachother through them, and to complement eachother's care. Even within an accidentally-infertile couple ("medically infertile"?) one can reasonably doubt ultimate sterility --- sometimes bodies heal; sometimes miracles happen.

Between two men, between two women, there might be a promise to take care of eachother when they get sick or old* (or when they make eachother sick...) but there cannot be doubt that any children they end up raising will be strangers' children. If they are counting on raising children, then they are counting on something going wrong. The physical acting out of how the wedding promise is sealed between man and woman becomes, between two men or between two women, totally unconnected (knowably, by nature) from any children they might promise to raise. Their play won't moderate itself and cannot satisfy what it's naturally directed towards. And everyone knows it

At the same time two men (two women) cannot be complementary in the same way as a man and a woman are; women and men are different, (not hugely different, but different enough) and that's a very good thing; and children want both around to grow up well.


*) presumably, they're going to get old and decrepit about the same time, so unless they've a plan to provide eachother devoted children, theirs is a bad plan and the promise is rash.

Meredith said...

I am going to limp in here right at the end and ignore everything but the weight loss surgery. :)

I have been doing some reading about the obesity epidemic and possible fixes for it. Weight loss surgery is really quite disturbing and I wonder what the Church thinks of it? In one form of the surgery, they cut out a large chunk of the stomach, mutilating a healthy organ to make it smaller and worse at its job. People who have the surgery will have to struggle against malnutrition for the rest of their lives, as the price of being thin. Eating certain foods will trigger violent vomiting.

A device called the AspireAssist was recently approved by the FDA. It is even more blatantly screwed up: they create a port in your abdominal wall that goes directly into your stomach. After eating, you attach a tube and vacuum a third of the food straight into the toilet. I find it hard to conceive of, say, a Benedictine monk being allowed to do this by his order. It is basically like a condom for your stomach. These surgeries are done because people are addicts--unwilling or unable to stop overeating.

I got very depressed reading the statistics of how few people manage to stick with their weight loss attempts. I fear that soon "educate kids about healthy eating!" will become the new "abstinence only education." We are going to give up on treating overweight people as rational actors and just fund medications and surgeries for them.

Sheila said...

The thing is, it doesn't seem to BE rational. It's weird the way that people seem utterly unable to stop eating, but I suspect there are further physical causes we don't fully understand. I saw the ad for the Aspire Assist and thought it was nasty, but on the other hand I don't know what TO do with a person who claims to want to lose weight, has tried to eat less, and whose health is seriously in danger from their weight. Surely there is a real cure out there somewhere, if we could find out WHY the person can't stop eating or why their body stores everything they eat as fat, but while we don't have one, are we supposed to let people die?

Kind of the same deal with heroin; there are lots of people who say they don't like being addicted to heroin and want to get clean, yet rehab and Narcotics Anonymous is not helping. Clearly there is something deeper going on that goes beyond simple willpower.

Bat, I've left your comment hanging so long because I don't really know what to say that I haven't already said. You continue to beg the question. And you seem to be acting like taking in a foster child without a home is somehow a sketchy, morally-suspect thing, whereas if I did it you'd be all in favor. (Of course, also, some gay couples have children who are genetically related to one of them, either from a previous relationship or conceived artificially, and while you would frown on that, I doubt you'd frown so much on a rape victim letting her child be adopted by the *husband* she later marries.) Again, the arguments you use only seem to work if someone already agrees with you! Not sure there is anything further that could be said.

Belfry Bat said...

I'm pretty sure I didn't start with "homosexual acts are bad" as a principle, but got there from other considerations, so I don't know what question I'm supposed to be begging.


[The attachment Romeo and Julius might have to the idea of raising children] entailing [attachment to something-going-wrong] is example of how their relationship is bad for themselves and eachother, not how it's bad for baby Clark.

Charity for neighbour is always a good thing. Therefore, receiving an orphan or child from a broken home, when you're the best option, is a good thing.

Romeo and Julius are a better option than letting a child starve or disappear into the streets. But Romeo and Julius are not a better option than Jonathan and Martha, who may well in turn be superseded by Arthur and Molly... the Kents because they are complementary, and can offer little Clark both fathering and mothering; the Weasleys because, having raised their own children, they already have close experience with what children need.

Romeo and Julius can maybe offer stability and material security. Fin. In the meantime, they cannot be both fathering and mothering, nor can they exemplify a Jonathan-and-Martha relationship, they cannot foreshadow Harry-and-Ginny.


It seems very strange to me that I have to keep pointing out the relationship of the moral to the intellectual: that a marriage starts in promises, which is a communion between two minds (and particular promises of a sort that cannot exist between two men); that two-man childrearing requires broken families and they can't not know it... We only have moral questions because we are rational animals; a pair of male penguins might get attached to eachother for a season and that's not a moral tragedy, it's just that penguins are animals swimming in the usual mix of hormones, they can get confused. People, meanwhile, are supposed to give some thought for what they're doing.


Yes, some people break up their own families, or produce new families already-broken. In the former case, to the extent they're trying to make up for it, good: to the extent they are refusing to actually heal their actual family, not so good. In the latter case: why deliberately make a broken family?

Sheila said...

But I thought your only reason for saying Romeo and Julius' relationship was bad for them was because they were "addicted" to one another in a relationship that wasn't outwardly-focused through the raising of children. At least that's the only argument you gave that made any sense.

Are fathering and mothering so different that a child could never succeed without both? Did children turn out defective when raised by nuns? Other than breastfeeding (which some babies don't get and turn out fine), there's not a whole lot I do that my husband doesn't, and basically nothing at all he does that I don't. Our personalities seem to affect this more than our genders do.

Again, if you say "gay parents might lead to a child not developing proper gender roles or growing up gay," that too is begging the question, because it would only be convincing if I thought it was a tragedy that the child might grow up gay, or might not be masculine or feminine enough for some standard. Unless you can explain what thing a father could teach that a mother couldn't, or vice versa, and also explain why other relatives and adult mentors couldn't, I don't think you've proved anything just by saying that a child needs a father and a mother.

In the case of gay couples who take in foster children or adopt unwanted children, they aren't breaking a family, they are fixing a family. They're making a family for a child that doesn't have one. I'm leaving out the case of artificially-conceived children simply because there are additional issues there, some of which I might find convincing, but not because I'm convinced about the global issue.

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