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Atheism, bestiality, internet ruckus

In one corner, we have PZ Myers, biologist and web atheist extraordinaire. In another we have his daughter, 17 year old Skatje Myers. Opposing them is creationist For the Kids of Reasonable Kansans, and an ally of hers I hadn't heard of before today, Salvador Cordova.

Back in October, Skatje wrote a post arguing that she saw no rational reason for banning bestiality specifically. When the sex act is harmful to the animal, it's already covered by animal welfare laws, while sex is sometimes non-harmful, and something an animal can easily consent to. I'd agree. I'd also say that "condone" is a fine verb for this position: tolerating something you have no interest in and may think is kind of squicky seems like an excellent example of "condoning something". And I'd say that while believing in evolution by means of natural selection doesn't intrinsically make one a condoner of bestiality or voluntary adult incest or even abortion, I do see a causal trend that goes from doing away with the argument from design, to a materialist universe, to one of a handful of possible materialist bases of universal ethics and morality -- social contracts, the golden rule, categorical imperatives, and utilitarianism -- to supporting all sorts of mutually voluntary and non-damaging sex acts which appall the traditional Christian.

Tick, tick, tick, boom. Skatje got lots of comments on her own, but eventually it's spread. Sal in Dec 6 -- independent of Skatje, but Forthekids mentions her obliquely in the first comment. On Dec 27 she went into detail, bringing up Skatje's defense of the tolerability of some bestiality as an example of where a Darwinist upbringing will lead you. FtK is wrong to suggest this is evidence that "Darwinism" is false, and I think the position of most atheists I know on bestiality is "animals can't consent, also, ewww", but I think FtK is correct that using consent-ability as opposed to eww-ness or Biblical standards to debate the morality of bestiality is a rather large shift, one naturally led to by a materialist worldview, holding one of which is greatly helped by Darwin. She says "But, from an atheist’s standpoint, due to our supposed evolutionary origins, there are no clear cut reasons as to why certain behavior is deemed immoral." which is wrong if it means that we can't say any behavior is immoral, but kind of right in that certain behaviors indeed don't have any grounds for being deemed immoral, although wrong again in pinning that on evolution. It's not evolution -> bestiality but evolution -> no God -> ignore the Bible -> no grounds for condemning nice bestiality. Or gay sex.

This morning I found that post, and e-mailed Skatje about it, which was followed by Skatje making her own comments, which led me to believe I actually had a role here, but now I don't know. Because Sal got into things himself today with a picture of a peccary, which drew attacks from JanieBelle and attention from PZ himself.

Resulting comments have tended to "what jerks", arguments over the meaning of 'condone', and Skatje resenting being used as an example, and very little of "yes, we *do* tend to support abortion, even late-term abortion, incest between consenting adults who don't produce inbred children, and even possibly bestiality. Disgusting? Yeah, we find your morals and how you abuse gay children to be pretty disgusting too."

I don't know. Seems to me like a lot of reflexive groupthink against normally despicably wrong thinkers, and defending the lines of "oh no, Darwin has no moral consequences at all", whereas I see most thorough materialists over the last 2500 years indeed converging on "anything goes that doesn't actually hurt someone."


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 3rd, 2008 07:05 am (UTC)
Vox Dei joins in. Again, it seems a rare moment of making sense. Some of his commenters are scary, though. Nate, a Christian (see "Regional Gods"), says

I see no benefit of maintaining civil discourse between the Parnygurl Minions and the Ilk.

I say we open fire.

Its a small world... to small for such polarized factions.

We'll kill them all and impale them on stakes... we'll line the roads with their corpses so travels will be warned... and the buzzards well fed.

Another one says This actually is a surprise. I thought atheists wanted a functioning Christian society, just without believing in God. At least that's what they claim.
Jan. 3rd, 2008 08:28 am (UTC)
Another one says This actually is a surprise. I thought atheists wanted a functioning Christian society, just without believing in God. At least that's what they claim.

While I can construct meaning from that statement, it certainly doesn't have any intrinsically, unless of course you believe (as I assume this person does) that Christian is a precise synonym for just. Christians often trouble me.
Jan. 3rd, 2008 08:46 am (UTC)
Oh, "Christian == just". I was wondering what the hell they were smoking. Thanks.
Jan. 3rd, 2008 08:15 am (UTC)
whereas I see most thorough materialists over the last 2500 years indeed converging on "anything goes that doesn't actually hurt someone."

That seems a sufficiently common formulation that I'm willing to take it as perhaps the most common take on mortality that does not rely upon divine commandment.

My own view on morals is much like my view on all aspects of human culture - some tiny fraction may (or may not) come from genetic predispositions of behavior, but the vast majority is cultural evolution, in the sense that cultural traits undergo a form of natural selection, with the effective ones being kept and that harmful or destructive ones being discarded. Naturally, as circumstances change, different traits become more and less adaptive. In a pre-industrial agrarian society, a belief in one or more strict and authoritarian gods was clearly adaptive - in industrial and post-industrial societies, this is clearly far less true.
Jan. 3rd, 2008 08:30 am (UTC)
I still disagree with you on the "tiny" part.

As for clearly adaptive... does China have strict and authoritarian gods? India? Japan, which some say came closest to having an industrial revolution on its own, and was certainly ready for one when the push came?

The fact that all cultures have some sort of supernatural religion could mean that's adaptive for humans. Or it could mean it's adaptive for the religions, which reliably exploit human minds... all cultures have had cold viruses, too.
Jan. 3rd, 2008 09:05 am (UTC)
Confucianism (sort of) replaced gods with the state, or more precisely with the Emperor, but the result was exceedingly similar. India is an exceedingly complex case that I don't claim to fully understand, but for the vast mass of the population (IOW the large laboring and agricultural castes) religion was largely authoritarian and prescriptive.

Japan was somewhat different, but it was also a very unique environment given the small size and high degree of isolation it experienced. Also, it was far smaller than the other states (or in some cases collections of related states) that I'm discussing, and so differences are to be expected.

The sort of formulation I'm talking about is definitely painting things with an exceptionally broad brush, but when you do so, pre-reformation Christianity, Islam, Confucianism, Hinduism, and the old Egyptian and Babylonian faiths all had many elements in common, at least in terms of how the affected the lives of the vast majority of the population.

At least from my PoV, authoritarian state religions were clearly highly adaptive for large agricultural empires. The ways they were adaptive involved everything from the fact that priests maintained the calendar (except in China, where the royal court managed it, which is in keeping with the differences between Confucianism and the other examples), and used religious belief to help enforce acceptance of the calendar, to the usefulness of a standardized system of authoritarian belief in helping to maintain order over a large area in the absence of anything resembling fast transportation or communication.
Jan. 3rd, 2008 11:04 am (UTC)
Is bestiality against the law in the US? Googling a bit, I note it was decriminalized here over sixty years ago, and it says Sweden along with other Germanic-law countries were comparatively late to do so. (It was punishable by death here up to 1864)
Jan. 3rd, 2008 08:50 pm (UTC)
Huh, and here I'd assumed it was illegal everywhere.


Seems to be semi-reliably illegal in the Anglosphere (though US states vary from no law to misdemeanor to felony), legal in the Scandosphere (sorry).

says legal in a few countries, like the usual Nordic and Dutch suspects, and legal but porn isn't in Germany, and assume it's illegal anywhere else. Though allegedly legal in Mexico, in the table.

I'd note this all seems to support the idea that moving to secular morality has a high change of legalizing bestiality, i.e. the Christianoid panic is accurate for once.
Jan. 3rd, 2008 09:06 pm (UTC)
My Law book from 1734, from the time of the Lutheran Orthodoxy, specifies the punishment as cutting off the head and burn the remains. Of both parties.
Jan. 3rd, 2008 10:34 pm (UTC)
edit: high chance, not high change
Jan. 3rd, 2008 11:40 am (UTC)
Assuming that the sex is consensual and harmless to both parties, why is bestiality so terrible? To whom is harm being done?
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )


Damien Sullivan

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