06 March 2013

Douglas Wilson's grammatical argument against gay marriage

I've seen quite a few of Doug Wilson's previous debates (See, for example, Collision: Are Doug Wilson's beliefs good for the world? ) and he always seems to come out on top. But not this time.

The debate took place on February 27 at the University of Idaho in Doug Wilson's (an my) hometown of Moscow. (Unfortunately I was unable to attend the debate since I was out of town at the time.)

The topic was "Is civil marriage for gay couples good for society?" and was moderated by Peter Hitchens, the late great Christopher Hitchens's obnoxious little brother.

Andrew Sullivan argued forcefully and persuasively in favor of the proposition, using his personal experience as a gay married man, while citing data showing the positive effects of gay marriage on society.

Doug Wilson began his argument with these words:
I would like to begin by thanking the Lord for how everything came together. (22:52)
And everything fell apart for him from there.

In his initial fifteen minute presentation, he presented two arguments:

1) If gays are allowed to marry then so will polygamists, bisexuals, first cousins, etc.

2) Gay marriage is grammatically incorrect.

The slippery polygamous slope argument is obvious (and silly) enough, but the grammatical argument requires a bit of explaining. Here's how Douglas Wilson put it in the debate: (36:31)
At a certain point, allowing for changes in the direct object actually changes the meaning of the verb. Andrew appears to agree with this, arguing for "monogamy as central to all marriage." Adding a third person would take away the central element, meaning that such marriages weren't really marriages, making the direct object  "two women", for example, instead of "one woman", means that the verb "to marry" has been altered.  
And, as everyone knows, when the direct object alters the verb, all hell breaks loose.

During the question and answer session, the second question to Doug Wilson was this: (1:24:29)
I listened with great interest to your fifteen minute opening statement, and I heard you drawing lines of acceptable and unacceptable behavior, but I did not hear a single cogent argument for why Mr. Sullivan and his husband's behavior and marriage does not fit within the line that you would draw. And you have not answered the question and you haven't given any reason why civil marriage between gays is not good for society. Would you care to comment please?
Here was Mr. Wilson's answer:
Yes. I timed my opening comment when the light was good and when the light was not good up here, so I've got a little bit left, and I was addressing that in my conclusion, so I'm going to incorporate that into my five-minute close. Basically. So you're exactly right, that's the missing piece and I urge you to wait for it with bated breath.
To which Mr. Sullivan responded:
When the missing piece is the actual proposition to be debated? (laughter and applause)
"Is civil marriage for gay couples good for society?"
Is it unfair to ask you to answer that now? Why didn't you answer it in the beginning?
In the tradition that I was trained in the conclusion usually comes at the end of the argument.
This is the premise. This is the core of the argument; it's not a conclusion. If it's the conclusion, then you give me no way to engage it. Right? So you are actually shutting off the debate by keeping the key argument for the end.. 
No, it was the gentleman with the card saying "30 seconds left" that actually shut off the...
Well now you have all the time in the world to answer the man's question.
I'm happy to answer your question. The reason civil marriage is not good for society is that the changing of the direct object from a woman to a man when a man is considering marriage is that to change the direct object does more than just change the direct object, it changes the meaning of the verb. So the verb "to marry" is changed for all of us.We're not taking a house and adding an extra room, what we're doing is we're going into a new state of affairs to allow marriage between a man and a man and a woman and a woman is to open the doors to a dilution of what it means to marry at all. And I believe, and this is an area where Andrew and I agree, that an established social institution like marriage ought not to be messed with.
So it's all about direct objects, changing verbs, and adding an extra room to a house.

In his closing statement, Mr. Wilson finally presented a biblical argument against gay marriage. The killer argument that he was saving for last is this: Jesus married the church and the church, it turns out, is female.

Now that's a fine argument except that it fails Wilson's two-pronged test. Since there are many Christian churches, Jesus has many wives. Therefore polygamy is OK. And I don't even want to think about the grammatical implications of Jesus's multiple brides. It would change direct objects, as well as verbs, and require many room additions in the polygamous kingdom of heaven.

Doug Wilson lost the debate because he couldn't present his real views on gay marriage, so he had to talk about slippery slopes, direct objects, and Jesus's marital relations.

You see, Doug Wilson believes in the Bible, and the Bible is clear on gay marriage. Here's what it says:
If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. Leviticus 20:13
Doug Wilson believes that this verse is a commandment from God that should be applied today. If he had his way there would be no gay marriage because there would be no gay people. They would all be executed as God commands.

Here is what his church's website (Credenda Agenda) says on the subject.
The civil magistrate is the minister of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer (Rom. 13:4). God has not left his civil minister without guidance on how to exercise his office. The Scriptures set forth clear standards of judgment for many offenses. Capital crimes, for example, include premeditated killing (murder), kidnapping, sorcery, bestiality, adultery, homosexuality, and cursing one's parents (Ex. 21:14; 21:16; 22:18; 22:19; Lev. 20:10; 20:13; Ex. 21:17).
God commands the judge to evaluate the crime rather than the criminal. If the crime is one for which God requires death, then death must be the punishment. Your eye shall not pity. … Thus, the Bible teaches that pity is not an option where God has decided the matter. The magistrate, God's minister, is to faithfully execute justice according to God's standard, not man's.
Doug Wilson had to censure his own views on homosexuality during the debate. That's why he lost so badly. It's hard to defend a belief that you dare not express.

1 comment:

Stephen said...

Well, I got through Peter Hitchens's intro. How that individual came from the same womb as Christopher should be an area of intense research. Though a couple of his jokes (regarding men with beards and "weapons-grade Calvinism") were not too bad.
The student who introduced Hitchens... a senior majoring in microbiology and philosophy... wonder what is his take on evolution. ;-)
Steve, I give you credit for watching the whole thing... I'm not sure I can stomach it.
Steve Weeks