Fugitives from Fundamentalism

The Musings of Adult Missionary Kids (MKs) & Former Born-Again Believers

Reality Test 17–How has my thinking gone wrong?

Posted by Ann on February 13, 2011

Caution: It’s a Slippery Slope


17) The slippery slope, reductio ad absurdum, or camel’s nose fallacy is basically refuting an idea by taking it to an absurd conclusion without reason.

1)Event X has occurred (or will or might occur).

2)Therefore event Y will inevitably happen.

A favorite in most religious and political arguments, and frequently used by both sides to support their theories, this has got to be one of the most absurd forms of argumentation. Particularly so since it involves cognitive dissonance to fill in the middle of the argument, so a person can jump from a premise to a conclusion without any supportive evidence. Most people develop their ideas about the world during childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. Unquestioned, many of our basic premises become absurd “truths” about reality. I’ve decided to include a couple of my favorite slippery slope conclusions, and honestly, many of the things we accept as truth about people involve variations of this argumentative fallacy.

Gay marriage is a hot button issue in the US. It goes something like this: If gay marriage is legalized, then before you know it, people will be having sex with donkeys outside your local Wal-mart. Seriously though, the religious and political right holds extreme, completely illogical views around legalizing gay marriage.

James Dobson, in reference to the legalization of gay marriage:

…you could have polygamy. You could have incest. You could have marriage between a father and a daughter. You could have two widows, or two sisters or two brothers. Once you cross that Rubicon, then there’s no place to stop. Because if a judge can say two men and two women can marry, there is no reason on Earth why some judge some place is not going to say, this is not fair. Three women or three men, or five and two or five and five.

Justice Antonin Scalia, in his dissent to a gay sodomy case, “Lawrence v. Texas”:

State laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity are likewise sustainable only in light of Bowers’ validation of laws based on moral choices. Every single one of these laws is called into question by today’s decision.

What does gay marriage have to do with any of these other things? This reminds me of the argument frequently leveled by theists against atheists: “If you take God out of the equation, there will be no universal morality and the peoples of the world will run amok.” I’m confused. Can someone explain why morality only exists if God exists? Why the necessity? And since God doesn’t exist (at least as far as anyone who looks at the lack of evidence for such a being) then doesn’t that mean our human morality has no connection to a God?

Anyway, on to the next one…women. Since women are clearly different from men, and men are the gold standard of superior interacting, perspective, and proper morality, then women are by necessity inferior in some ways to men. Where we get the ideas for “good ol’ boys”, “men are from Mars, women are from Venus”, and male solidarity through “brotherhood”. Oh no, you say, not again Ann. Are you still on the woman thing (yeah, kinda like many of us are still on the race thing).  As the skeptic and rationalist Carol Tavris eloquently states, “the goals of justice and egalitarianism are never achieved once and for all. It’s a constant battle against the forces of reaction, superstition, and vested interests.” Amen. Like Tavris, “I am in love with the process of science.” Not because it gives us final answers, but because it gives us solid answers.

From an interview of the skeptic Tavris by the skeptic Shermer. Good stuff, please read it if you have women in your life. My last word on feminism for a good while I think. On with my life…

Skeptic: So you see superiority feminism as being just as scientifically untenable as the old male-superiority beliefs were.

Tavris: Alas, it is. It is understandably appealing to many women, who have been the recipient of misogynistic attitudes and practices for millennia, but in the last analysis it has as many pernicious consequences as the myth of male superiority does. As Carole and I wrote in The Longest War, “whether you are looking down at women or looking up to them, you don’t have to look them in the eye.” I am an equality feminist. It is not as popular a view in some feminist circles, because if women are inherently no worse and no better than men, but just as diverse in their personalities, abilities, and other qualities, then what does that tell us? That women are human too—we can neither enslave them nor look to them for salvation.

Skeptic: This is your mother’s feminism.

Tavris: And my father’s. You let women into the law, say, because it’s fair. Superiority feminists believe you should let women into the law because they will humanize the profession and make it kinder, sweeter, and less adversarial. Hello? Have you noticed any humanizing of the legal profession lately? The reason is that lawyers must do what their law firms require them to do, or they’re toast. If you’re an activist lawyer who wants to work on behalf of the poor, or who simply wants to work regular hours so you can spend time with your family, you won’t do it at a top law firm, no matter what color, religion, or sex you are.

Skeptic: So the problem lies in the social institutions themselves, not in the gender of who is running them.

Tavris: Basically, yes. Economic, institutional, and organizational arrangements have far more to do with how men and women get along with each other than anything intrinsic to our gender.

Skeptic: Do the data support this claim?

Tavris: They do. For example, studies show that when you put one woman in a group of men, one man in a group of women, one black person in a group of white people, or whatever, everyone focuses on the distinctive characteristics of the token person. It is natural; that’s how the human brain works—we are designed to focus on differences. Unfortunately, the result is that anything that token individual does will be attributed to his or her distinctive feature. Nothing the token does will be right. “Trouble with her is that she’s too masculine—trying to be one of the boys.” “Trouble with her is that she’s too girlish and feminine—not enough like us.” That is why it is so hard to be the first woman anything— marine, rabbi, police officer. But as soon as you have four or five women in a group of men, or four or five blacks in a group of whites, others see the diversity among them. Suddenly they are not behaving according to their gender or ethnicity but according to their personality or the requirements of their job. Everyone got exercised over Shannon Faulkner, the first woman at the Virginia Military Institute. Have you heard anything about the 30 women who followed her?

2 Responses to “Reality Test 17–How has my thinking gone wrong?”

  1. Jerry said

    The trouble with evangelicals like Dobson is that their congregations are full of people (– sometimes, overflowing) whose lives demonstrate that divorce is a more fundamental right to them than marriage. The “sacred” institution of marriage is something they really don’t believe in or bother to live by. I’ve always found it slightly amusing how many fundamentalists are themselves divorced, yet continue to preach loudly how marriage is such a God-given & narrowly defined right.

    • JN said

      I think you bring up a couple good points. If the nation’s definition of marriage were to change to include same-sex couples, it would have absolutely no effect on my marriage. I wouldn’t lose any rights. Nothing would change for me, just as it means nothing for my marriage when another couple gets a divorce. If both divorce and same-sex marriage are threats to the institution of marriage, why should one be demonized and the other tolerated by Christians? It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: