In a recent post I took a swipe at an argument often used to justify current sex education policies. In the comments section Damian Peterson advanced the debate further than this specific argument. I think he raises some issues worth clarifying so I will respond to them here. Damian’s comments in full are,
OK, I see. So you were referring to the politician who replied that he thought that it would be ‘unrealistic’ when asked about teaching abstinence in schools because a study showed that abstinence wasn’t really being observed elsewhere?Did he say why it wasn’t realistic? I would tend to agree that saying something isn’t realistic because it’s just too popular is a silly argument. And you’d be right to highlight it with the exaggeration of other, more emotive, examples.But if he was saying that it wasn’t realistic because there is no rational reason to teach abstinence for other reasons (like studies of teen pregnancies where abstinence is taught or that there is no rational moral issue with consensual casual sex) then I’d have to side with the politician. But first I’d want to know his reason.I’ve read your second link and perused the first.
You seem to trying to find extremes to justify your stance on casual sex. I don’t use the Bible as my reference point for my morals and I believe that most of life is filled with non-absolutes where we have to draw sometimes awkward lines that occasionally need adjusting. You didn’t really address what would actually be wrong if (assuming I wasn’t married) I went out on the town, hooked up with someone else who had the same expectations of a casual fling, and had consensual casual sex. What do you see is wrong with this? And why do you feel you have a right to try to stop it from happening?
1. Damien argues that abstinence education should not be taught in schools, because (a) there are studies which show it’s less effective at lowering teen pregnancies and (b) there is no rational moral basis for the normative principle prohibiting sex outside of a monogamous life long union.
Now I agree that abstinence education should not be taught in public schools that’s because I don’t think anything should be taught in public schools. I think public schools are problematic and unjust. Despite this I think, the reasons Damien’s suggests for opposing abstinence teaching are flawed.
Re b. Damien’s simply asserts that this principle has no rational basis. However asserting a religious teaching is irrational provides no one with any reason for thinking it is.
Re a. assuming the studies in correct are accurate, the conclusions each are beside the point. The issue is not what method achieves the desired results more efficiently, but whether it achieves these results by morally licit means. Sterilising teenagers as soon as they reach puberty would undoubtedly be extremely effective at reducing teenage pregnancy, yet that does not mean we should do this, because the results are brought about by unlawful means.
2. In several places I have critiqued the “liberal” position that an Damian responds to this critique by stating that “seem to trying to find extremes to justify your stance on casual sex. “
This, misunderstands my argument. I am not arguing that causal sex is wrong by appealing to extremes. Rather I am rebutting a common argument for numerous permissive policies (including causal sex) by pointing out that the core premise is false. It’s false because if it were true it would entail that actions which are self evidentially abhorrent are in fact merely permissive life style choices. The fact that these abhorrent practises can be classified as “extreme” is nether here nor there. The point is that they are entailed by the premise in question.
In fact by recognising them as extreme Damien reiterates my point, if what he professes were true they would not be extreme cases at all, merely the lifestyle preferences of one minority group.
3. Damian’s main line of argument however is to spell out his own position and then ask me to answer the question “why is causal sex wrong?”
I think my answer to this question is clear. I am a Voluntarist (or divine command theorist) hence I believe that what makes things right or wrong is their conformity with or divergence with the commands of God. Hence what makes causal sex wrong is ultimately the fact that it is contrary to Gods commands. Damian asserts he does not believe in the existence of a divine law but this has no bearing on whether the answer I have provided is correct. The fact that someone does not believe something is true does not mean it is not true.
To avoid caricatures however, let me articulate a little how I understand this. In a recent discussion of sexual morality Mark Murphy notes that appeals to divine law are “not a stop gap where a theory of normative ethics has failed” any more than “an appeal to the existence of a civil law prohibiting driving at over 65 miles per hour is a desperate turn to the civil law where normative ethical theories ‘fail’ to describe why people are bound to not drive more than 65 miles an hour” Murphy goes on to note that “ Just as human legislators can give reasons, rooted in the human good, for such a human law, even if the law does not dictate a particular speed limit” So “we as human beings can give some account, grounded in the good of rational creatures, as to why God would lay down this type of command”
I think Murphy’s understanding of the relation of divine law to human good in this context has some promise. We can see good reasons, such as the protection of life, property etc to have a speed limit. We can also recognise that because of the substantial benefits of travelling in cars some speed limits are unreasonable (i.e. one requiring people to only travel at 5 Klm). But none of these reasons dictates that the speed limit must be 100klm over say 95 klm or 110. This however does not lead us to question the law. Because there are good reasons for having one, and this rule is, in light of the dangers of driving not irrational, even if the dangers do not require a rational, virtuous person to endorse this particular speed limit as opposed to another. Because the state chooses this particular rule we are legally bound to follow it.
Similarly we can see good reasons, such the risk of STD’s, the economic and emotional burden of raising children, the danger of exploitation, emotional harm, the temptation to have an abortion etc, to have some rules regulating sexual conduct. We can also recognise that because of the substantial benefits of sex, (such as the creation of new life, pleasure, expression of intimacy and love) some rules (such as requiring celibacy of all people) would be unreasonable. None of these reasons dictates that the traditional rules be adopted over all possible alternatives. However this should not lead people to question the rule. Because there good reasons for having one , and the traditional rule is, in light of the dangers of involved in sex, not irrational, even if the dangers do not require a rational person to endorse this rule. Because God promulgated this particular rule we are morally bound to follow it.
I am also sceptical that anyone has ever come up with a reason why a rational person should reject this rule, or that “liberal alternatives” are any more defensible, plausible, or coherent or viable in light of the risks. At best the rule is unfashionable and (like the speed limit) widely flouted. For reasons I expounded in the aforementioned post, principles should not be based on fashion or popularity. We should not conduct ethical and theological discussions as glorified teenagers doing and believing X because all the other cool people do.
4. Finally Damian asks me “why do you feel you have a right to try to stop it [casual sex] from happening? Here I think Damian fails to note that being opposed to something happening is simply an implication of thinking it is wrong. To state an action is wrong is to express opposition to it to express a volition that it not be performed. Of course this does not mean one should use coercion or force to prevent the action occurring. Sometimes this is justified (like when a person shoots a rapist about to attack his daughter) but sometimes it is not. But the idea that one can simultaneously think an action is wrong and also not oppose the performance of the action is, I think, incoherent.
If Damian’s concern is that I am not incoherent then I make no apologies, the fact that some liberals think contradicting themselves is trendy or cool only underscores the foolishness of their position.