William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Author: Briggs (page 151 of 537)

The Argument Against Same-Sex Marriage, Part I

In a further effort to increase my leisure time (by reducing my chance of employment), presented here for your edification an argument against same-sex “marriage” in the form of an open letter to a young true believer.

Dear Young Person,

Same-sex “marriage” is winning the day, more so with the young who see it as a case of civil rights. It is about rights. Among these are the right to be left alone, the right to keep government from intruding into areas which it does not belong, the freedom to let people and not bureaucracy decide the form of society. The right to hold to tradition. The right to practice religion freely. And the fundamental God-given right to observe, celebrate, and hold the family-making bond between a man and a woman sacred.

I’m betting you haven’t considered your belief seriously. You might cherish it, are passionate about it, but it’s unlikely you have considered the idea philosophically, that instead you have absorbed your belief passively from the culture. To prove this, I’ll ask a series of questions which will help you see that your opponents have a point.

Ground rules first. In order to prove me wrong, you need to rebut each of the arguments which follow. Ignore just one and victory is mine. Crying “Homophobe!” or use a ruse like dismissing a point because I am a conservative or religious are both fallacies, the use of which concedes victory to me. Any use of a counter-argument which includes as a premise that which we seek to prove—such as saying “Same-sex ‘marriage’ is the law”, or “Marriage is a right”—is a fallacy which, etc. See also the warning on comments below.

Question 1

Why did you think it was government that got to define marriage? You might answer: in your experience, government gets to define everything. And that’s so, especially over the course of your brief lifetime. But government does so only because we the people have forgotten that it is We the People who are the government. The folks we shoot off to Washington every few years let this slip their minds, too. Our “representatives” no longer see themselves as our servants, but as our masters, so much so that a “Do this!”-“Yes, sir!” relationship is expected. This appears so commonplace to you that you don’t think to question it. It’s worse than that: you are downright suspicious of anybody who does question it. This proves that people are naturally conservative: they like holding on to what is and are, in large part, reluctant to change.

Since you’re a product of public schools, you won’t know that marriage was an institution before the State was, nor will you have been taught that the State itself is a modern creation. Thus it will come as a surprise that rights do not and cannot come from the State, which is a fictional entity; it is a tacit agreement among (some) of the living, more or less constantly renewed. But not always. States dissolve and fresh ones are created. If rights arise from the State, then when the State dissolves its rights expire with it. If the State is the sole source of rights, it may change them capriciously: might makes right (I’ll return to this in another Part). This topic can be expanded indefinitely, but I trust to your good sense to extrapolate from these beginnings the horror life can become if the State is sovereign in all.

In opposition to the State are natural rights, which are self-evident truths. We’re not talking traffic laws, but fundamental rights such as to life, liberty, and the pursuit (but not attainment) of happiness. These rights exist above the State and without the State; the State has no business meddling with these rights, lest it turn tyrannical. Marriage is one of these fundamental, self-evident rights.

There was marriage before the State, before any organized, formalized hierarchy existed; before there were such things as contracts or even paper to write them on. Before State and government there was biology. There was and is nothing more natural than a man and a woman coming together to produce and care for children, theirs or others which some misfortune might send their way. A man and woman came together to produce you. This man-woman pairing is called, in ancient words, dad and mom, husband and wife. Cultures historically created the ceremony of marriage to bless this union. The offspring taken together with the man and woman are called a family. That word is ancient and ubiquitous, too.

This man-woman mating is so natural, so common, and so obvious that only an academic can question it. It is from an academic (or from somebody having prolonged contact with one) where you probably learned to question it. But in questioning it, you acknowledge it. You know the naturalness is true because you are reading these words. I mean, there must be a you there reading, a you produced by a man-woman mating. Yes, there exists technology the good Baron von F. would be proud of which can produce babies in “test tubes,” but this produces few to no children, it is no match for nature, and even with these marvels biological “stuff” from a man and a woman is still required (a physical woman must also carry the baby to term). We call this scientific, biological equation “man plus woman equals childrn” marriage and foundation of a family.

Government takes marriage as a given and then builds rules around it. These rules only pertain to matters which are not marriage. Example: where does the Social Security check go when one of a married couple goes on to his or her reward? Well, to the spouse, says the voluminous paperwork. Yet Social Security, a fine government program (for the sake of argument), is not marriage. It is a way for the government to take money from one group of people and give it to another (keeping a cut for itself). Government decided that a spouse gets the dough, just as it may in the future decide to modify this rule so that somebody else besides a spouse collects, such as a “domestic partner” (you can always tell you’re on shaky philosophical ground when tortuous language like this is employed). But it is not Social Security which defines marriage—marriage was preexistent—it is instead marriage which decides how bureaucracies function. The same is true for any other example.

It is the State which fits itself around marriage, and not marriage which fits itself around the State. We have let government tinker around the edge of marriage, such as allowing it to demand blood tests, or to grant it the power to forbid marriage to anybody under (say) sixteen, or by indulging it in its insane addiction to paperwork. But these rules codified what everybody (or at least an overwhelming majority of adult citizens) already held and acknowledged to be true. You and others are now asking government to encroach further, to stick its nose were it doesn’t belong. You are hoping by its force and might, by fiat, that government will change what marriage means. But government can’t change the state of marriage fundamentally. Nobody can. The best it can do is to use the word incorrectly, and require that others do, too. We’ll see later that this still won’t (and can’t) alter real marriage.

Part II


Warning Tolerance is a hallmark of those supporting same-sex marriage. Never will you find proponents employing abuse, vituperation, appeals to emotion, or angry senseless shouting. They do not label their opponents enemies, nor accuse them of being hate-filled. They instead use calm, logical, well-reasoned argument; they understand rational and sincere people may disagree on certain points. I therefore expect supporters of traditional marriage to act similarly. Comments which do not accord with ladylike or gentlemanly behavior will be ruthlessly expurgated.

Homeopathic Blog Post











Richard Dawkins Is A Dangerous Man: Update

I’ll tell you how. He makes people feel smarter than they are. And in our world of self-esteem substituting for accomplishment and ability, his villainous power is especially poisonous.

For instance, he recently retweeted with approval these words: “Most abortions are performed on women, so men should not be involved in making laws about it.” Now I confess this made me giggle, and I replied, “Most murders are committed by men, so women shouldn’t be involved making laws about it.”

See what I mean? It is an objective truth that such a simple, sub-Freshman-level fallacy can be refuted by a business major with an SAT of 400 (total) who has spent the week on a bender pledging fraternities at the wrong campus. But I still felt pride in refuting it myself. I know that responding to his tweets is the equivalent of completing the TV Guide crossword clue “___________ in the Family”, sitcom (3), yet still I did it.

Worse, after answering, I felt I had done something, that I gave my intellect a workout, that I was ready to publish a Grand Unified Theory. All false.

But I had not yet reached bottom. Just like the poor student who can only study what he already knows, I couldn’t stop playing with Dawkins. Take this one (which I learnt from Wesley Smith):

I think I actually rubbed my hands together, so happy was I to see this. Where to begin? Pointing out pigs aren’t human but fetuses are? Stating that makin’ bacon and killing a life inside a woman are not equivalent nor comparable? So many possibilities! All trivial.

I was not the only sinner. Many responded to this tweet, which so disconcerted Dawkins that he answered several times.

  • “Human” features relevant to the morality of abortion include ability to feel pain, fear etc & to be mourned by others (link)
  • Yes, anything can be mourned. If you are going to mourn your fetus, you are free to not have an abortion (link)
  • Of course potential to be human is among fetus’ qualities. But my pig comparison was careful to specify “relevant to morality of abortion.” (link)
  • My hair and fingernails are human but don’t feel pain when I cut them. Embryo before brain develops doesn’t feel pain. Late fetus? Pig? (link)
  • Woman’s right to own body is good but not BEST pro-choice argument. Better argument would be abortus doesn’t feel pain. I’m pro choice. (link)

May the Lord forgive me, but I cackled and told myself how clever I was after thinking such “weighty” thoughts as these: A biologist who says his hair and fingernails are human? What’s next? Marches against the wholesale slaughter at nail salons and barbershops? A biologist who says a fetus only has the “potential” to be human? If it isn’t human, but will be, what is it now? What divine act makes it human? Stop me!

Dawkins (who isn’t alone; Sam Harris and others join him) supposes pain the universal moral standard in a universe without moral standards—a contradiction! Should I tell him? Those without pain can be killed. So it follows patients undergoing general surgery, and therefore in no pain, can be whacked wily nily? That the younger or drunker your victim, or the less likely you are to mourn him, the less culpable you are? Too easy! Too easy!

I became like the alcoholic who thinks one small drink won’t hurt him. I’ll have a sip and stop, I’ll respond to just one more tweet. But Dawkins is like an unlocked liquor store after the zombie apocalypse. He never stops providing opportunities for his opponents to gloat, and therefore darken their souls with pride.

Oh dear. A restrained man would let this pass. Instead my thoughts were uncharitable and simple, though I thought them wise. Through my fault, my fault, my most grievous fault, I kept reading.

A biologist who intimates identical twins are the same human being? Enough! If I continue, I’ll start watching The View or listening to NPR so that I can poke holes in their “profundities.” All that will be left to me is a recurring role as a talking head on MSNBC.

For a brief moment I comforted myself with the idea that if I found myself more intelligent than I truly was, Dawkins’s supporters, those poor souls convinced by his arguments, suffered far worse than I. But the comfort turned to grief when I realized the consequences.

Update I am incorrigible, an inveterate backslider. I ask for your prayers.

Update I’m going to have to cancel my Twitter account. “And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.”

Climategate 3.0—Update: Hacker A Coder?

Whoever it was that snatched the cache of emails from prominent climatologists and created Climategate 1.0, then 2.0 has come forward, in a sort of way, to begin Climategate 3.0. He—sounds like a he, perhaps a Russian he?—sent an email to several climate scientists explaining why he did what he did, and including a password to open 200,000 files that have been previously hidden. (I wasn’t one of these; I don’t have the files nor the password.)

The hero/thief/activist/concerned citizen-of-the-world, call him what you will, I prefer jokester for this individual has a fine sense of humor, is clearly a computer geek and is careful covering his tracks. His missive can be read in several places, such as at Anthony Watt’s place.

I have not seen the file nor the password, but others have started burrowing through. Early results suggest, as Tom Nelson discovered, much boredom awaits. There has been a tidbit or two, such as one email from a serious, working, peer-reviewed and -reviewer climatologist that called Mann’s hockey stick “crap.” This curiously is the precise statistical word to describe Mann’s work, so perhaps it was a statistician and not climatologist who wrote those words.

This means the, the, THE, THE Consensus isn’t. Ah well.

The other (so far) slice of fun came from my pal Gav Schmidt, who in reaction to the refreshed controversy tweeted this:

This is the interest over time in Climategate. I must admit this curves tracks my attentiveness, too. But here’s why this is funny. A new email from Tom Wigley admits the pseudo-science (actually cheap journalism) of counting papers as proof of consensus or truth. After trying his own hand at counting citations, he said:

Analyses like these by people who don’t know the field are useless.
A good example is Naomi Oreskes work.

The press naturally loves Oreskes’s work, because journalists nearly always fall prey to and cherish the fallacy that interest equals truth. But Oreskes has always been engaged in persiflage.

So we now understand that plots of interest are a standard newsman’s dodge and reveal nothing but political hotness. This includes Gav’s plot, which is misleading even as a political thermometer, since it was taken before Climategate 3.0 hit.

Ah well, so much of science is theatre these days, yet another avenue for agitation. I’m guessing 3.0 doesn’t reach the peak that 1.0 or 2.0 did, since, though activist scientists haven’t yet ceased discovering new ways to announce the sky is falling, people have tired of hearing them.

But see this page for updates which I find of note.

Update May as well engage in amateur forensics. I think the hero-hacker is a coder. The facility with all things computer makes this easy to guess, but so does his language, which doesn’t sound like a scientist but with somebody who works with them. He also appears to be somebody who uses English for his day job, but whose native language is something else.

Probably a coder tasked with implementing parts of climate models (data assimilation, connectivity between modules, output generation, etc.) and who sees these creations resemble smelly sausage rather than prime rib. Somebody who is aware that the certainty and confidence publicly stated in the models is far more than is actually warranted.

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