[Turing 2013] Atheist Entry #4

This is the fourth entry in the Atheist round of the 2013 Ideological Turing Test.  This year, atheists and Christians responded to questions about sex, death, and literature.  

 

Polyamory

The morality of all relationships can be reduced to three notions: kindness, fairness and consent. When relationships exit morality, they violate these virtues: infidelity disrupts informed consent; abuse epitomizes the violation of kindness; control, by nature, eliminates equity. As such, the morality of any consensual, equal, benevolent union is inherently moral – including the polyamorous.

Sacramental marriage, like all ritual, celebrates valued action. Today, Christian denominations hold wildly varied rules for sacramental marriage, as they should. Doctrine-infused sacraments logically enforce doctrinal requirements — protestant baptism celebrates and requires a confession of faith, and Catholic Last Rites provide absolution and blessing to only dying Catholics. Sacramental recognition of marriages depends on a church’s definition of marriage, its boundaries and requirements.

Historically, the notion of marriage included just two parties. As such, centuries of legal statues were crafted for the betterment of a male-female union. Polyamorous marriages have simply not been considered or afforded for in statutes and case law around custody, inheritance, medical rights, divorce, bigamy, and finances.

In the same vein, some polyamorous marriages may involve multiple parties entering into a single union together, while others would involve simultaneous, separate unions – making informed consent central. Bigamy laws aim to protect unwitting spouses – something extremely difficult to discern and prove without the witnessed signature of the prior spouse in coinciding unions.

Such areas of the law would need to be developed to prevent harm to spousal health and well-being were polyamorous marriages legalized.

Another difficult aspect of legalizing polyamorous unions involves restriction of number of parties. A marriage with 50 partners hardly preserves the selection or effective partnership of marriage, but arbitrarily suggesting a cap opposes the mindset behind the legalization of such unions. Making polyamorous marriage more difficult via additional, detailed prerequisites or laborious dissolution could provide a solution – though hardly one that would feel equal to two-person legal unions.

Historically, many polyamorous marriages have also lowered rights of female parties while magnifying power held by males. While modern polyamory seems to strive for equity (at least in ideal), legal and societal consideration would need to be made to preserve equal rights when involving a lone male with multiple female partners (who naturally dissolve the strength of marital legal benefits through fractioning).

We idealize all forms of marital love, many of us desiring to preserve those ideals – even when they are ones we can’t quite reach personally in iteration. Being beautifully human, we fall short of our own standards, even within unions we’ve self-declared as definitively moral. We have the right to define love and sacrament as we please. The government has the obligation to ensure the safety and interests of those entering unions its sanctions (and their offspring). Until it can do so effectively, it simply shouldn’t.

 

Euthanasia

When time is exceedingly short and pain runs excruciatingly high, we are not only justified – but compelled – to perform euthanasia. However, forms of euthanasia should be restricted to lack of extraordinary medical intervention and necessary pain management, always complaint with patient wishes and performed under strict regulation.

In terminal cases, the body faces multiple, simultaneous and varying threats. A single, terminal patient may face potential kidney poisoning (considered one of the most peaceful, gradual and painless deaths), internal hemorrhaging and pulmonary edema. In such cases, measures such as dialysis might extend life by days or weeks, only to assure a more distressing death — hardly an act of benevolence. Physicians opting for these “good deaths” should not be opened to criminal charges for denying such care.

Informed consent should be paramount in patient-directed euthanasia. Those wishing to end their own lives should — after undergoing counseling, education, mandatory second opinions and “waiting periods.” Euthanasia should never be imposed or disallowed against the patient’s pre-stated wishes. Suffering is a personal measurement, often misperceived via bias and projection (less than 5% of hospital deaths involve unmanaged pain).

Euthanasia should require hard, measurable standards – the visible shutting down of systems in the body, excruciating, unmanageable pain, small life span (perhaps measured in weeks), or pre-ordered, informed wishes. This would prevent euthanasia from being imposed with negative motivations upon the powerless — mentally ill, infants, elderly, and the uninsured (in actuality, minorities and the poor).

In some cases, medical intervention such as surgery, is the route to least pain (such as cauterizing internal hemorrhaging). Physicians need to work from a primary equation of harm vs. help, not merely the factors of percentage chance of long survival and medical cost. If a patient’s quality of life will vastly improve (e.g., increased consciousness or alleviation of pain) for a notable period, medical intervention should be performed.

Legalized euthanasia would need informed, specific consent that reaches far beyond today’s advanced directives – currently covering lifesaving measures, not situations. Those signing may not imagine the complexity and timing of medical situations – including those where a low percentage of recovery still might mean full recovery. Likewise, a 0% of 5-year survival is drastically different than a 0% chance of 30-day survival; one might have 0% chance at living a year, but 100% chance at 6 months, with a given procedure.

Similarly, current “quality of life” measures ask the patient questions and then calculate such quality. Such assessments can only be made by the patient himself (or those who know what he most cherishes about life) – not by state-imposed equations. To some patients, the ability to hear loved ones and music – even if they cannot speak back – makes life worth living. To others, cognitive ability trumps even the senses. To still others, being bedridden itself would be enough motivation to trade time for escape.

Additionally, the quality of life sometimes includes the business we finish in our lifetimes. Euthanasia could disrupt the last stages of personal development — repaired relationships, confessions of love and crime, and religious conversions in final days.

Euthanasia should remain an option for “good death” – but its legalization doesn’t guarantee it. Only with high standards of regulation and review can legalized euthanasia ensure benevolent – rather than malevolent – rescue from suffering.

 

Bonus

My faith is like an epic haibun – a hybrid, alternating between the journey recounted in unrestricted prose punctuated by short, bursts of art, memory and epiphany in 17 syllables of haiku.

The haibun divides the books of my life into chapters. I see my life in stories, scenes, exemplified by the haibun’s prose-poems. These scenes are selected and told to record and illuminate some truth, captured or motioned toward in the understated haiku. Those haikus – short, descriptive, vibrant, often praising something – mirror the container I find in ritual I still return to, even as a non-theist, as I attempt to contextualize an expansive world.

How can an atheist hold faith? I manage to. It’s a dedicative faith in the “fruit of the spirit,” “the golden rule,” the occasional miracle, testimonies of transformation, the power of compassion, and the strength of fellowship. It’s a persisting love for the scriptures I can’t unmemorize and people I don’t know but want to help. It’s a wonder in what I can’t explain, and a belief that anything is possible in the presence of belief itself (where every action begins).
Faith acts as a container for all of these beliefs. It’s the structure I learned to hang them on, the metaphor in which I learned to understand. It’s the haiku in the haibun: a small window, a snapshot of deeper concepts and a vast world.

 

You can vote on whether you think these answers were written by a Christian or an Atheist here.  Comments are open to discuss the substance of the post and for speculation about the true beliefs of the author, so please vote before looking at the comments.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as a statistician for a school in Washington D.C. by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • Anonymous

    I’ll come back to judge this answer later. Right now, I can’t get past the first paragraph, so I’ll pause for soap-boxing. I’m sick of people trying to boil sex and relationships down to consent. This answer does better than most, by trying to insert “informed”, “kindness”, and “fairness”. Still, their example of violating “informed consent” simply doesn’t do the work they want it to do.

    Suppose X and Y are monogamously married. Assume there was no fraud. They consented, with whatever level of “informed” they required. Now, one day, X commits infidelity. It can be a completely spur-of-the-moment thing. Heck, let’s say X got drunk (X normally doesn’t get drunk) and slept with someone X just met. The next morning, when X first contacts Y, X comes clean about the entire set of events.

    Has X committed infidelity? If so, at what point was informed consent “disrupted”? It can’t have been at or after the moment of X telling Y about the events. That was literally informing Y in order to satisfy informed consent. Was it at the time that X got drunk? Was it at the time that X had sex with someone else? It couldn’t be either of these, because there’s nothing for Y to consent to at these moments (unless you’re willing to package some concept of ownership into a relationship… which most consent-ers aren’t likely to accept… and which would only work for marital relationships). Was it at the time that X and Y got married or last had sex? This doesn’t make sense, because at those times, there was nothing to inform about at that time.

    We would have to say things like, “Well, a thief’s real crime is that he didn’t tell us that he was going to be a thief back before he realized that he really wanted something enough to steal it. It has nothing to do with him actually stealing it.” That’s simply nonsensical. (Of course, we do recognize the concept of ownership for purposes of theft… and that does more work than many people would like to admit. We may be able to get where we want with “consent” for the purposes of theft… but only if we include ownership.)

    • autolukos

      Assuming that X and Y agreed to a monogamous relationship, X committed infidelity by violating the terms of that agreement, at the time of sexual contact. Whether they have a formal contract or not is irrelevant; by entering a relationship with an expectation of monogamy, X agreed (one might even say “consented”) not to engage in random sexual activity.

      • Anonymous

        Violating the terms of an agreement is not the same thing as violating consent. You can use the word “consent” in talking about their entrance to the agreement, but of course, that doesn’t make the violation one of consent anymore than it makes it fraudulent (invoking the name of the ingredients that go into an agreement does not mean that every one is violated when the agreement is violated).

        All you’ve done is talk about the concept of ownership without saying the dirty word. You’ve slight-of-handed it into informal relationships, as well (which may very well be doable… maybe we should call it rentership, lolz). But you’re unquestionably relying on some form of ownership. Ownership is different from consent. That’s totally fine. You can use both. We won’t judge you for abandoning a consent-only theory. Those theories were never viable in the first place. That’s my entire point.

        • autolukos

          No, the concept is not that of ownership. The concept is of a contract to refrain from an activity. If I make a contract with you that says that I will not paint my house, this does not mean that you own my house; it means that I have agreed not to paint my house. Similarly, if X and Y have agreed (whether formally or informally) not to have sex with other people, it does not mean that X owns Y or vice versa.

          • Anonymous

            You’re extrapolating too far. You might as well have said, “If I make a contract with you that says I will not paint my house, this does not mean that you own my whole property, my car, etc.” We might as well just scope it out to include the other stuff, right? That will make it sound even more ridiculous!

            I’m not saying that they have ownership over everything concerning you. I’m saying that they have a very specific ownership-like interest over specific aspects of your body/behavior. If you circumvented the agreement by having someone else paint your house, you would still be violating that ownership interest that you gave them. Suppose that you didn’t invite the painting over (maybe it was graffiti). Nevertheless, the other party to the agreement does still retain their interest… and you can’t merely circumvent the agreement by saying, “Well, the layers of paint are still owned by me, therefore, I get to leave it.” One way or another, you’ve given the other party a specific type of ownership over a specific portion of your house (very small, in this case… definitely not “the entire house”).

          • autolukos

            If you describe any restriction on use as “ownership,” this works. That is not how the term is usually used, though. For example, a landlord who signs a lease with a tenant agrees to refrain from renting the property to another tenant for the duration of a lease; this does not mean that the tenant has an ownership interest in the property. You could more coherently say that X and Y each own an implied contract, including restrictions on the other’s behavior.

          • Anonymous

            That’s great and all, until you go to law school and learn about how landlord/tenant relationships actually work. Tenants have a right of possession, as well as that of exclusive use and control (there may be common areas for which a tenant does not have this right). The reason why landlord/tenant law is complicated at all is because it’s not always clear exactly where the boundaries of the ownership-type interest are.

            In your earlier hypothetical, the no-paint-er had a very restricted ownership claim (perhaps less than a millimeter deep). In general renting law, this type of defining is done all over the place. The tenant pretty much owns the space inside, including usage rights to many physical elements (e.g., can vacuum the carpet, but maybe not tear it out). The description of the boundary may be complicated (especially when it’s not spelled out in a simple lease)… but the whole question is one of, “Where does the ownership interest lie?” It’s not at all a matter of consent. If you’re claiming that violating the explicit or implicit terms of a lease is actually just violating consent… then you’ve clearly bored out your definition of consent far beyond its regular meaning. You’ve smuggled in additional concepts. (Note: Some things may be a restricted form of ownership, but the derive from the concept of ownership (and thus, I call them “ownership-like”). Also, ownership can be temporary. Remember that.)

          • autolukos

            Again, if you describe all use rights, restrictions on use, and other “ownership-like” rights as “ownership,” congratulations, you have made all agreements into grants of ownership. This doesn’t impact the original argument, which is that a consensual sexual ethic has no problem with condemning infidelity where an expectation of fidelity exists.

          • Anonymous

            “a consensual sexual ethic”, sure. A sexual ethic based only on consent, nope. You may object to calling it “ownership-like”, and that’s fine. We can quibble there. It’s beside the point. The point is that you’re still dragging in something different than consent… no matter what you want to call it.

          • Anonymous

            Maybe I can come up with a better way of explaining it. Consent-only, in most sexual ethics, comes bound with the idea of autonomy… bodily autonomy (going back to Darren’s Humanist Manifesto, it seems natural to even call this type of thing “ownership”). This is the base form of consent, and it does quite a bit of work for us (it still doesn’t do everything… see youth, animals, and the mentally disabled). Most clearly, it doesn’t say anything about one person’s interest in another person’s body or sexual behavior.

            The point is, if we stop there, we don’t have what we want. Now, consent can be made to be more robust if we include some method of transferring interest (what I would like to call ownership). We’re saying, “Due to the transfer of interest, Y should have the ability to choose (consent to) or reject (refuse consent to) activity Z.” When phrased in this way, it’s very tempting to say that just doing Z without asking Y is a violation of consent. However, there are two problems.

            First, there may not be a term of agreement. In a marriage, the term of agreement is until death (unless you’re one of those types that reject this idea while still demanding your right to say the vow anyway). In an informal relationship, no matter how emotionally invested you are, the term of the relationship is, “Until one of us wants out.” Single people need to remember this. A multitude of problems have arisen because people forget this. Anyway, the point is that Y can be informed of Z, and then it’s still within Y’s power to choose whether to continue the relationship or not. They can still consent. They could retract consent. This can happen instantaneously in an informal relationship. It’s starting to be clear just how important the transfer of interest is to making this whole thing work.

            Secondly, if Y is not given an opportunity to consent to Z, then it’s not a violation of consent. It’s a violation of Y’s interest in being able to consent. In the case of unconscious rape, this comes from the “bodily autonomy” attachment to consent. In the case of relationships, it must come in through the transfer of interest. It’s tempting to think, “Not allowing someone to consent is violating consent,” but it’s not true. Consent itself is not being violated (as it would be in a conscious rape, as the person has an opportunity to deny consent)… but it’s the person’s interest in being able to consent that is being violated. It’s a subtle difference, but an important one.

            This should make the painting/renting discussions more clear. If someone paints graffiti on your house (on which I have a no-painting interest), my interest has been violated. My interest doesn’t seem to need any concept of consent built into it, either! In fact, I have expressly denied all consent a priori! I have no interest in being able to consent. I have an interest in painting not happening. No (painting) means no (painting). The graffiti artist has not violated my ability to consent… he has violated my interest. Without a mechanism to transfer this type of interest (which looks incredibly like a style of ownership), consent simply doesn’t get the job done. You must add this, because it’s the actual violation.

            This also sheds a bit of light on what Martha and Christian are talking about below. There are different types of polygamists. One group wants a mechanism to transfer this type of interest. One group doesn’t. Strangely enough, both groups have no problem using consent in their theory… because (at the risk of sounding like a broken record) this is actually something different than consent! The former group recognizes infidelity; the latter group doesn’t. I think by now, it should be plenty obvious that infidelity is based on this other feature that is not the same thing as consent.

          • autolukos

            So:

            “Consent-only, in most sexual ethics, comes bound with the idea of autonomy… bodily autonomy (going back to Darren’s Humanist Manifesto, it seems natural to even call this type of thing “ownership”). This is the base form of consent, and it does quite a bit of work for us (it still doesn’t do everything… see youth, animals, and the mentally disabled). Most clearly, it doesn’t say anything about one person’s interest in another person’s body or sexual behavior.”

            Broad agreement, though I think the use of “ownership” here is a problem; people don’t enjoy autonomy because they own themselves, they enjoy autonomy because people are a class of thing that cannot be owned. Darren seems to disagree on this point, but I don’t think it is hugely important to this discussion.

            “The point is, if we stop there, we don’t have what we want. Now, consent can be made to be more robust if we include some method of transferring interest (what I would like to call ownership). We’re saying, “Due to the transfer of interest, Y should have the ability to choose (consent to) or reject (refuse consent to) activity Z.” When phrased in this way, it’s very tempting to say that just doing Z without asking Y is a violation of consent. However, there are two problems.”

            Agreement again; it would be an odd sort of autonomy that forbade people from assuming responsibilities.

            “First, there may not be a term of agreement. In a marriage, the term of agreement is until death (unless you’re one of those types that reject this idea while still demanding your right to say the vow anyway). In an informal relationship, no matter how emotionally invested you are, the term of the relationship is, “Until one of us wants out.” Single people need to remember this. A multitude of problems have arisen because people forget this. Anyway, the point is that Y can be informed of Z, and then it’s still within Y’s power to choose whether to continue the relationship or not. They can still consent. They could retract consent. This can happen instantaneously in an informal relationship. It’s starting to be clear just how important the transfer of interest is to making this whole thing work.”

            Yes, relationships (even those secured by legal or sacramental means) can dissolve. This is irrelevant to the bigger picture. Also, Y can choose to forgive X if Y chooses; this is irrelevant to the question of whether a responsibility was taken on by X. The fact that X must seek forgiveness shows that X has violated their agreement, based on the voluntary assumption of responsibilities.

            “Secondly, if Y is not given an opportunity to consent to Z, then it’s not a violation of consent. It’s a violation of Y’s interest in being able to consent. In the case of unconscious rape, this comes from the “bodily autonomy” attachment to consent. In the case of relationships, it must come in through the transfer of interest. It’s tempting to think, “Not allowing someone to consent is violating consent,” but it’s not true. Consent itself is not being violated (as it would be in a conscious rape, as the person has an opportunity to deny consent)… but it’s the person’s interest in being able to consent that is being violated. It’s a subtle difference, but an important one.”

            This is the heart of the issue. You are formulating consent as “not saying no” instead of as “saying yes.” The unconscious person has not consented; therefore the principle of consent (“thou shalt receive permission” or something to that effect) has been violated. For most proponents of consensual sexual ethics, the relevant question is, “has consent been granted,” not, “has consent been denied.”

            “This should make the painting/renting discussions more clear. If someone paints graffiti on your house (on which I have a no-painting interest), my interest has been violated. My interest doesn’t seem to need any concept of consent built into it, either! In fact, I have expressly denied all consent a priori! I have no interest in being able to consent. I have an interest in painting not happening. No (painting) means no (painting). The graffiti artist has not violated my ability to consent… he has violated my interest. Without a mechanism to transfer this type of interest (which looks incredibly like a style of ownership), consent simply doesn’t get the job done. You must add this, because it’s the actual violation.”

            Insofar as I voluntarily granted you the non-painting agreement, consent is absolutely involved: I have consented to paint my house in a manner agreeable to you. You argue that my consent created an interest that you hold, which is what the graffitist actually violated; this appears correct. The moment of consent, however, came earlier, when we agreed that I would not paint my house. Also, if you so wish, nothing prevents you from releasing me from our earlier agreement, as with Y forgiving X above.

            Note also that you own the interest, not the property; these are separate. Your interest does limit my ownership rights, but it is not in itself a form of ownership (or so it works in the Roman law with which I am familiar; Wiki would seem to classify this as a <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Covenant_(law)covenant in common law, a separate thing from the property which can be independently owned and imposes duties on the property owner, though it sounds like you have some knowledge of the American situation and can correct if this is wrong).

            “This also sheds a bit of light on what Martha and Christian are talking about below. There are different types of polygamists. One group wants a mechanism to transfer this type of interest. One group doesn’t. Strangely enough,both groups have no problem using consent in their theory… because (at the risk of sounding like a broken record) this is actually something different than consent! The former group recognizes infidelity; the latter group doesn’t. I think by now, it should be plenty obvious that infidelity is based on this other feature that is not the same thing as consent.”

            And neither should have a problem using consent in their theory; all that a consensualist approach says is, “everyone must agree to the arrangement.” This doesn’t mean, however, that the arrangement cannot make demands on the parties involved, so long as those parties voluntarily agree (that is to say, consent) to those demands. Indeed, any relationship involves a multitude of demands both large and small; it just so happens that sex is the one everyone loves to talk about.

          • Anonymous

            I agree with the question, “Has consent been granted?” However, the all-important question here is, “By whom?” In the case of infidelity, we’re transferring the identity of who has to grant consent (or, probably more accurately, adding joint ownership, such that both parties have to sign off)… notwithstanding the business about it not mattering anyway in informal relationships. There’s a mechanism that does this, and it’s different than consent. (There is an aside here concerning power structures. Perhaps one mate is far more high-status than the other, and the lower-status mate essentially consents by default. Perhaps one mate has been bullied and intellectually/emotionally twisted to a point where s/he decides going ahead and consenting is the right thing… when s/he would never have done so in a vacuum. See Juvenal’s attack of Ali’s position near the end of Melinda Selmys’ series to see why we might need to pack a whole lot of other stuff inside the “informed” bit.)

            The moment of consent, however, came earlier, when we agreed that I would not paint my house.

            That’s totally irrelevant. It’s a slight of hand to say, “Consent was involved somewhere in the process; therefore, the violation was one of consent.” (This is the precise reason I mucked around with getting drunk and pre-emptive warnings.) I’d like to bring another example to the table: lying. In an informal relationship, there is an expectation that a person will refrain from lying to you. Sure, you consented to the relationship early on, but that doesn’t suddenly mean that lying is inherently a violation of consent. It’s something that may lead a person to decide to withdraw future consent, sure. If lying turns to fraud, it can invalidate consent that follows… but the event of telling a lie does not go back in time and violate the original consent. Similarly, a graffiti artist painting your house does not travel back in time and violate your original consent. It’s simply a different thing. That’s ok. You can have more than one thing in your ethics.

            Well, there is definitely quibbling available concerning what we call ownership. The concept has varied… so like I said, it’s probably best to just consider it ownership-like. For example, one might quibble, “Well, you can’t sell it.” Thinking about renting, you can sublease, so long as it’s not forbidden in the lease, so we don’t learn much there. However, one would be hard-pressed to claim that it is impossible to “own” a non-transferrable security. I will probably continue to use ownership as a shorthand, because I believe it is the closest concept (especially in a marital relationship), but I won’t (and haven’t) staked any major claims on the use of this terminology.

        • Martha O’Keeffe

          That’s a point of weakness I see in pro-polyamorous arguments; the traditional (as we understand it to date) understanding of marriage was a monogamous bond between two persons where restriction of sexual availability is part of the whole contract.

          Now, if a polyamorous relationship is constructed, it may involve consent, but only along the grounds of “I will not engage in an external sexual relationship without getting your permission first” which – given that the polyamorous version of a bond is set against that of a monogamous one, including strict sexual exclusivity – may be difficult to work out.

          Because if one of the conditions or built-in principle of a polyamorous, as distinct from a monogamous, partnering is that the parties are not bound or restricted to sexual exclusivity, then dobbing in “only with your permission” is not much further forward than the old-fashioned “no sex except with me from now on or that constitutes a violation of our agreement”.

          • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com/ Christian H

            There’s a distinction among pro-polygamist activists/thinkers that addresses your concern here (if I understand your concern correctly, which I may not–I don’t know what you mean by “set against that of a monogamous one”). An “open marriage” allows either spouse to have sex with someone else–the details on when the other partner consents are variable–regardless of previous marriage, but “exclusive polygamy” means that a married person can only have sex with someone who is their spouse (but they’ve got more than one spouse). This last still has sexual exclusivity written into it, but it’s sexual exclusivity to a particular group, rather than a particular person.

            Anyway, I don’t know that polygamists want to be “much further forward” in general; they want marriage to be pretty much what it is now, but plural. (From what I’ve heard and read, that is; I don’t think there’s very good data about what polygamists want.)

      • Anonymous

        I should also mention that I dropped the “let’s say X got drunk (X normally doesn’t get drunk)” in there sneakily just so I could mention it when someone like you came along. How strong does the informal basis for Y’s expectation that X won’t get drunk have to be before X’s getting drunk becomes a violation of consent?

        • autolukos

          I’m not sure why you think that is relevant. Drunkenness does not absolve responsibility.

          • Anonymous

            You’re completely missing the point. It’s an entirely separate violation. Suppose from their prior discussions, when they entered the relationship, Y had an informal expectation that X was going to refrain from getting drunk during their relationship. That’s all that you had in your original comment. At this point, does X getting drunk violate consent?! That’s ridiculous, along the lines of what I was saying above. We’re essentially saying, “You should have told me, ‘Hey, I might do something stupid sometime.’” Well, duh! That’s true for tons of aspects of or expectations in a relationship. That doesn’t suddenly make violating them a matter of consent.

          • Joy

            Well, most cheaters aren’t highly open about it. At that point (when they continue sexual relations — or a relationship — with **someone who they know** desires monogamy), they violate that person’s informed consent. You cannot agree to a situation you have no knowledge of — or one you think is different than its reality. Morally rightness or wrongness of the actual infidelity aside, it’s an obstruction of consent when it’s lied about, and it’s an obstruction of *information* when it’s simply omitted.

            Consent could apply to any mutually agreed upon condition that remains presumed. However, consent becomes paramount when discussing health (the reason the term “informed consent” is so huge when it comes to medical treatments).

    • TheodoreSeeber

      Thanks. I just realized the reason I have never bought into the “X got drunk and slept with Z who they just met and damaged the relationship with Y” is because I long ago realized I was very bad at recognizing when I am drunk, and thus, NEVER drink away from where I’m going to be sleeping for the night. Thus, I rarely drink in bars at all, just from the danger of going over my state’s .08 drunk driving limit without knowing it.

  • Martha O’Keeffe

    Mmm – this one I think is Christian, and I found the arguments weak to the point of possible strawmanning (should that be “strawpersonning”, if we wish to avoid allotting gendered terms?)

    I am compelled to admit, much of my grumpiness towards this entry derives from the bonus section. Something about the manner in which that was answered just stroked my fur the wrong way. Yes, I’m being unfair. So I suppose, having violated equity, this is not alone an unmoral but an immoral decision on my part. Strangely, I cannot find it in myself to be distressed by my shortcomings here.

    • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com/ Christian H

      I’m pretty sure we’re all breaking the spirit of the game by voting according to nit-picking “tells” rather than general argument anyway. I wouldn’t worry. (You seem not to be worrying. I’m assuring you that’s the right course of affect.)

      • Niemand

        I don’t think we are breaking the spirit of the game by voting on “tells”. The point of the Turing test is can you pass for the thing you aren’t. (Male/female, human/AI in the original, religious/atheist in this version.) If you can’t avoid tells then you can’t pass. In short, I agree that not worrying about it is the right course.

        • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com/ Christian H

          The point of an Ideological Turing Test, rather than a regular-old-Turing-Test, according to the economist who first proposed it, anyway, is to show that you understand the other’s arguments; being able to disguise yourself as the other requires that you understand their arguments, but it requires a lot more, and most of the figuring-out I’ve seen in the comments has been based on the other things such a disguise requires (mainly linguistic things). This is orthogonal to the original point, showing that you understand the other’s argument.

          • Anonymous

            I think that some linguistic points can be indicative of whether a person understands the other’s argument. An argument is not merely a string of words. It also contains a whole ball of connotations and understandings of what those words mean. I’ve had many disagreements that were resolved once we identified which connotations we were applying to particular words. Sometimes, we had even thought the same thing all along, but our understanding of the others’ terms created a barrier.

            In this vein, I think that linguistic “tells” are likely things that indicate to a reader, “I think the author knows enough to string those words together… but is clearly missing something about the way group X understands the meaning behind those words.”

          • Brendan Hodge

            The other issue is: When Caplan made the challenge to Krugman, he was talking within the fairly narrow range of being able to cogently formulate macro economic argument of different schools. In the Atheist/Christian ITTs, one of the things I’ve found a lot trickier is that we’re trying to tell whether someone is a sincere believe of whatever he/she says, but there’s a hugely wide range of what he or she may believe. So I’m not just having to judge “does this person claiming to be a Thomistic theologian sound like a legit Thomist” but rather “within the hugely wide range of how someone who self describes as Christian or as Atheists might think, is this a sincere believer or a fake”.

            I think this causes one to rely on in-group signs other than argument a lot more than if we were dealing with a more academic and constricted subject matter.

          • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com/ Christian H

            Are we trying tell that they are a sincere believer? My understanding is that Leah has been framing these on Caplan’s intent–understanding, not passing–all along. Leah, am I wrong about that?

            EDIT: In general I think that you’re right that the narrowness/broadness factor encourages people to rely on linguistic tells a lot more, but I still those tells are orthogonal to the original point, which is to demonstrate understanding. This may be a methodological flaw (albeit a difficult-to-correct one) in the very idea of an Ideological Turing Test: the data is fuzzy. (Example: maybe the person understands the ideas but is just bad at articulating ideas generally, even their own.)

          • autolukos

            I agree wholeheartedly. Knowing and properly employing terminology shows a deeper understanding of an argument than summarizing the logic in one’s own terminology.

          • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com/ Christian H

            There’s good empirical evidence (which is buried in one of my course readers somewhere, so I can’t give you the citation–I’m sorry) which suggests the exact opposite: people can parrot terminology without understanding the ideas, but re-phrasing those in a different set of terms indicates a higher (or at least proficient) understanding.
            Now, if someone uses terminology incorrectly, that probably (though I suspect not certainly–maybe they aren’t terribly articulate) does indicate poor understanding.

            EDIT: I removed “rather well,” which was modifying “parrot terminology,” because that’s probably overstatement.

          • Brendan Hodge

            But part of the issue creating by the breadth of belief is that it’s hard to say whether someone understands “the arguments” made by Christians because there are so many different kinds of arguments made by Christians. (And vice versa for atheists, though I probably don’t appreciate the subtleties there as much.) After all, although Christian myself I think a lot of arguments made by other Christians (even by other Catholics) are bad arguments, so I can’t just go with “is this a good argument” because lots of Christians make arguments for Christian positions I find unconvincing or wrong.

            So, for instance, on the Christian round (which is my home turf) I’d consistently find myself trying to decide “Is this a bad imitation of a Christian argument made by someone who doesn’t understand Christianity (as I understand it) or is this actually a Christian, but one with a very different conception of Christianity than mine and thus who is making arguments that I consider bad?”

            Since I don’t know that the author is trying to be a specific kind of atheist or a specific kind of Christian, and thus I don’t have a good type to measure the arguments against, looking for tells that suggest whether this is a real lived-in set of beliefs seems like the best way of determining whether the person is real or simulating.

          • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com/ Christian H

            I don’t disagree with you. I’m not saying you’re morally wrong to use that sort of criteria; I use those criteria, too! (Or anyway ones that are orthogonal to the point.) I’m just saying that it’s working against the original point of the Ideological Turing Test (as I understand it, which could be wrong, I suppose).

            The problem, as I’ve said, is that the question motivating the ITT–do you understand the arguments you disagree with?–isn’t actually the question that the ITT asks–can you pass as a typical example of a person who makes the arguments you disagree with? So we’re incentivized, insofar as the ITT is a game we want to win, to look for these tells, and I think that’s fair. But it’s nonetheless not the point of the ITT.

          • Martha O’Keeffe

            But how we phrase our arguments surely indicates an understanding, or lack of same, of those arguments? I mean, we could just go by “cut’n’paste” if we wanted to ‘win’: look up atheist blogs and other online sites for arguments in favour of euthanasia and then just plonk them down to fool the respondents.

            The euthanasia question, for instance, requires either the atheist answering as a Christian or the Christian answering as an atheist to be able to move past a shallow assumption that “Christians are opposed to euthanasia because they want people to suffer because they believe we are being punished by God for our sinfulness with long-drawn out terminal illness and misery at the end of our lives” (for the Christian writing as an atheist, you can stick an “Atheists think that – ” to the start of that sentence).

            But if you really think that Christians really think that (or that atheists all really think that Christians think that), then it doesn’t matter if you can slap together a few sentences using the correct terminology, your fundamental misapprehension of the concept will lead you to make a misstep when it comes to concluding your argument, or how you use the correct terminology, or just generally how you sound unconvincing because you’re not alone not convinced, you honestly don’t get it and so you can’t put it across.

          • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com/ Christian H

            I’m not sure I follow. Are you saying that if a person doesn’t understand the argument, that lack-of-understanding will show through in subtle written inflections besides the issue of mere terminology-use that we’ve been discussing? That’s what I’m getting from your comment.

            If it is what you’re saying, I just simply don’t agree that “ability to talk like them” and “ability to sound sincere” are correlated sufficiently well with “understanding of the other’s arguments” to make it anything other than a cheat in the Turing Test. That is, I think linguistic things are better at flagging impostors than they are at indicating whether or not the impostor understands the arguments, so you’ll have people failing this Ideological Turing Test (for numerous reasons, including linguistic ones) who understand the ideas they’re mimicking perfectly well. Which is why I say looking for niggling tells are not really the point of the Turing Test…but insofar as this is a game rather than an experiment, I don’t see why using those cheats is a bad thing.

            If it’s not what you’re saying, then … could you please try re-phrasing? I generally appreciate what you have to say and I would like to know.

          • Joy

            Leah, do you have a denominational breakdown for readers? (Past survey?) As Brendan points out, there’s some diversity within Christianity. IME, that can apply not only to stances but also to language. (Evangelicals, for instance, have catchphrases and jargon that Baptists don’t use, even re: non-religious topics/settings.) It strikes me I’d have no idea how a Catholic would sound, though. (I knew very few growing up. Our sect wasn’t particularly open-armed.)

          • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com/ Christian H

            Some linguistic tells, yes. Not all. See my reply to autolukos below. Also, my hypothesis (unproven, of course) is that linguistic tells are better at showing communities much smaller than those of “atheist” and “Christian,” and only people within those communities can judge accurately. Maybe this article isn’t written by the kind of Christian you’re familiar with, but they could still be Christian.

            Also, your example kind of proves my point: presumably that other person understood your own arguments perfectly well (since those arguments were also their own), even if they used the words differently. They would perhaps fail a Turing Test in which they pretended to be you, but they understand your position’s arguments perfectly well.

          • Anonymous

            I like your summary of parroting v. re-phrasing, and think it’s likely correct. A person could have enough understanding to be able to re-phrase the arguments in different terminology. This is likely going to require an in-depth understanding of the standard terminology, which makes it improbable that they’d simply slip up. I think it’s much more probable that abusing terminology (in the face of a group’s widely accepted standard) is indicative of not understanding in the first place. The thing that comes to mind for the first case is geometry. In philosophy of math, one of the interesting questions was, “Why does it seem like everyone who independently discovered geometry in widely different times/locations/cultures is speaking about the same thing, but using different terminology?” In a case like that, sure, a person can have complete understanding and just not grasp the terminology of a different group… but I don’t think that’s likely or relevant for the current situation.

            I think my best evidence for this is my own experience. My work has taken me through multiple different fields of study. Every time I encountered a new one, the terminology gap was gigantic. I didn’t know what the hell they were doing… and I couldn’t hardly read their stuff, either. It wasn’t until I slowly figured out, “Oh, that’s what they mean,” that I began to realize, “Ok, I understand their ideas.” Most of the time, it’s nigh impossible to independently come to an accurate understanding of someone else’s ideas without engaging with their terminology (independently-discovered geometry aside).

          • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com/ Christian H

            So, do we agree? Abusing terminology=doesn’t understand (or does understand but isn’t very good at communicating in the language of the ITT); using different terminology to explain the ideas well=probably understands; therefore, linguistic tells, as they’ve been used here, are only sometimes related to the point of the ITT?

          • Anonymous

            Yes, I totally agree. It’s going to come down to whether or not we can put a probability on “sometimes”. I doubt I can do so with much confidence (especially given the confounding features of the diverse groups), but my intuition is that it’s closer to “substantial” than “negligible”.

          • Joy

            Can you point out the instances of “abusing terminology”? My best guess is understands but maybe I’m not getting the style / lexicon used here well (first-time).

          • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com/ Christian H

            “Can you point out the instances of ‘abusing terminology’?”

            I cannot! Or, anyway, I don’t want to bother re-reading the entry just to do that, but off the top of my head I don’t recall any abuses.

            I wasn’t saying that the author of this piece abused terminology. I thought that the linguistic tells people have been looking for might indicate that the author was faking, but that’s absolutely not the same as indicating that the author doesn’t understand the position.

            If you re-read the whole thread, you’ll see that at this point in the argument, I’m writing about linguistic tells in general, not linguistic tells in this entry. I’m involved in an argument in which I’m saying that linguistic tells aren’t very good indicators of whether a person understands the position they’re faking, for a number of reasons; however, when the other commentators bring up abuses of terminology, I concede that jargon-abuse would probably correlate moderately with a lack of understanding, but I don’t concede that abuse of terminology is the main linguistic tell people have been using (I think they’ve been saying, “I don’t imagine an authentic entry using this phrasing, because it’s not indigenous to this discourse,” to which I respond mentally, “Well, it’s obvious you haven’t been reading anything Leah writes; she’s madly heteroglossic, pulling vocabulary from all kinds of different discourses, and it’s wonderful”).

            Also, to be honest, in this argument I’ve been preparing the ground for my own defence–I’ve been grilled over phrasing in the past, and anticipate that it might happen again.

          • Joy

            This is an interesting point. Still surrounded by a lot of Christianity, but no longer identifying with the faith, I wonder if there’s some hybrid aspect to my language here. I’ve never been able to remove some biblical structure from my writing (heavy parallelism, for instance) — the result of an almost-insane amount of Bible consumption. It creeps into my “secular” writing, and obviously vice versa. Add to that the conflict of views I used to hold vs. those I now hold — and my own charged, conflicting life experiences around euthanasia — and I don’t make the cut for either. At first, I was really bothered noticing this (it’s strange to feel guilty over being both a Bad Christian and a terrible atheist! :P), but actually, some of these issues are complex for me — particularly in that I actually hold both sides.

            In fact, if I had to bullet out my actual viewpoints, they would contain at least 40% of each argument’s side. The reason I feel I failed here, though, is that that intermingled viewpoint is actually an incredibly sincere one. So that’s where a little comfort comes in — maybe it’s just not one that is sincerely fitting in one camp?

          • Martha O’Keeffe

            I think, if we were doing a ‘traditional’ Turing Test and trying to find out if our interlocutor was a machine or a person, and we asked as a test question “What is your favourite food?” and got the answer “Oh, shepherd’s pie, but only if it’s made with real shepherds”:

            (a) we would have to decide whether this was a human making a joke or a machine making a false analogy (chocolate cake is made with chocolate, shepherd’s pie must be made with shepherds)
            (b) to do this, we would rely on things other than the plain words of the sentence, such as:
            (i) were other responses made in a jokey or humorous manner?
            (ii) asking a clarifying question such as “Any regional preferences?” and seeing if we get back an answer like “New Zealand hill farmers; I find Yorkshire Dalesmen too tough” or a dictionary definition like “A shepherd is someone tasked with the care and management of the animals known as sheep”.

            So relying on tells, more than “Is this a coherently strung-together sentence using the correct jargon?”, is how I imagine most of us decode the answers here or elsewhere.

          • Niemand

            (a) we would have to decide whether this was a human making a joke or a
            machine making a false analogy (chocolate cake is made with chocolate,
            shepherd’s pie must be made with shepherds)

            Or a machine making a joke–a machine capable of passing the Turing test may well be capable of making the joke. We hope it is not a human making a true statement.

          • Martha O’Keeffe

            If it’s a human making a true statement, it could be Dr. Hannibal Lector having us all on :-)

  • Niemand

    Hmm…I think this one is Christian. Possibly I’m stereotyping Christians, but the argument against polygamy from history sounds a bit more like the typical Christian argument against same sex marriage than I’d expect from an atheist. (Plus, it’s historically incorrect, but incomplete knowledge of history is not a marker of faith or lack thereof.)

  • Guest

    I have a feeling that I know who wrote this.

  • http://patheos.com/blogs/hallq/ Chris Hallquist

    Talking about sacraments, “my faith,” I almost made me wonder for a sec whether someone mixed up their “atheist” and “Christian” entries by mistake. Very likely Christian.

    Wonder if we’ll here from the writer afterwards making an, “atheists have faith too, so I had my atheist talk about ‘faith’” argument, never mind that very few atheists see themselves that way.

    • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com/ Christian H

      The prompt did specifically ask about sacramental marriage, which I think the last entry noted. I mean, yes, it seemed out of place to me, too, but we can posit a formerly-religious atheist who was slavish (to their tactical detriment) to the prompts, right? (I’m playing devil’s advocate. The rest of the evidence that you cite changes how I read the sacrament bit.)

  • Dan

    Hmm, are the following assertions metaphorical?

    (1) “[Faith is] a dedicative faith in the “fruit of the spirit,” “the golden rule,” the occasional miracle, testimonies of transformation, the power of compassion, and the strength of fellowship.

    (2) “[Faith is] a belief that anything is possible in the presence of belief itself (where every action begins).”

    Since the author is writing poetically, one cannot necessarily assume a literal meaning; thus, it is certainly plausible that “fruit of the spirit,” “miracle,” “transformations,” and “anything is possible” are all metaphors for an idealistic, humanist take on life. But if taken literally, the statement subscribes to the existence of some sort of supernatural force. And does a belief in a supernatural force make one a de facto theist (albeit a non-conventional one)?

    • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com/ Christian H

      This reminds me of the question, “Can atheists believe in ghosts?” I think the answer is obviously yes–ghosts aren’t gods–but “atheist” as an identifier has come to mean more than “someone who does not believe in any god.” Many people seem to use it to mean “someone who is a rational materialist.” This is much more specific.

      If you really want to say that an atheist cannot believe in the supernatural, then maybe we need to posit middle ground between atheism and theism for non-theistic supernaturalism.

      • avalpert

        Seems like the difference between Atheists and atheists with more of the focus on Atheists these days because they happen to be selling lots of invective books whereas atheists just go about their lives.

      • Martha O’Keeffe

        It would depend on your definition of “ghost”. If, by “ghost”, is meant “the returning or earth-bound soul of a previously living human person”, then Christians don’t believe in ghosts (in that the fate of the soul after death is considered to be that of either salvation or damnation, and that souls cannot return without being purposefully sent).

        It would be possible to have a naturalistic, scientific explanation of what were considered ghosts, and several attempts have been made along those lines – the ‘stone tape’ hypothesis (extremes of emotion and/or long series of repetitive actions ‘record’ an image on the environment, particularly places like houses, so that by ‘ghost’ we mean ‘replayed image of what person did here’ but not ‘cognisant person themselves’) or the like.

        I could see that as an explanation that would satisfy both atheists and believers without needing to involve any question of souls, survival after death or the like – except that of course, there are those on both sides who would use it as proof one way or the other for a whole raft of unrelated issues (yes souls do/do not exist! yes god(s) do/do not exist! yes reincarnation is/is not possible! and so on ad nauseum)

      • Dan

        I suppose my question was how powerful does a supernatural force have to be to be considered a god? I also suppose it really doesn’t matter. If the writer’s views are sincere, would be productive or useful for me to argue against his self-labeling?

    • TheodoreSeeber

      I voted Likely Christian for exactly this reason. This person reminds me of myself when I was an atheist, when I was a Buddhist, before my reversion- which was realizing I was Catholic all along (I still have a tendency to avoid the term Christian due to market deconstruction of the term).

      • Joy

        I’m scared! :P

  • Niemand

    Can I throw a meta-comment in here? I don’t remember there being a meta thread…

    Anyway, I find it interesting that of all the entries I’ve read (and I haven’t read them all so this statement could be irrelevant through being simply wrong), the Christian responses were all anti on both polygamy and euthanasia and the atheist entries have all been at least ambiguously positive on both. I find this interesting because there is nothing inherently non-Christian about being pro-polygamy or inherently atheist about being pro-euthanasia (or vice versa.)

    The Bible mentions numerous cases of polygamous relationships in a positive light. Why are none of the Christians arguing that we should live according to the wisdom of the old patriarchs? Polygamy has a number of risks for the health and safety of the people involved. Why are atheists not more concerned about those risks and about the legal complications that polygamy might imply(though many have mentioned at least some of them)?

    Similarly, why are Christians not ok with euthanasia as simply being a merciful end to a life that has become nothing but suffering-especially if they believe that there is a wonderful afterlife to go to? Why are atheists not more concerned about the risks of euthanasia (some have mentioned the concern about forced euthanasia, but I’m more worried about subtler pressures such as decreased availability of hospice or less research into palliative care)?

    In summary, I don’t see any reason why there should be a “party line” for either group or either moral question, but there seems to be. Thoughts?

    • Anonymous

      For Christians, the typical handling of examples of polygamy follows the thoughts of Christ on divorce in Mark 10. Sure, it’s something they did. Sure, it even sometimes worked out for them (sometimes working out does not make something inherently good… and we also have examples of polygamy not working out). However, it was allowed only because of “the hardness of their hearts”… because they weren’t able to follow the correct path.

      It’s a hard thing for many people to realize, Christians and atheists alike, that just because people did it in the bible does not mean that it is good.

    • TheodoreSeeber

      I think her test just failed to draw any Jack Mormons on the polygamy side (if I had been included in the test, I would have expanded the argument to “polygamy is bad but the government had no right to regulate marriage at all- the concept of civil marriage is a violation of the First Amendment”- and that would have been entirely consistent with my brand of Catholicism).

      Euthanasia on the other hand is different. For the Christian- suffering is a part of life and we shouldn’t be shortening life merely to end suffering. Having said that, I’m surprised none of the entries mentioned hospice care and palliative care, because we are coming extremely close to having a “pain sensor” in the form of a simple EKG-to-Computer hookup, that can regulate medication automaticly without a nurse. I agree with you- decreased availability of hospice is the biggest danger of euthanasia, if for no other reason than there IS a direct material cost benefit to euthanasia.

    • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com/ Christian H

      There were at least two Christian entries which were pro-polygamy and pro-euthanasia. (I don’t remember well enough to say if there were more; I did read them all, but my memory isn’t so great as it once was.)

      Which isn’t to say your final question about party lines is irrelevant; two out of twelve (that’s how many there were, right?) isn’t much dissent.

    • Joy

      I’d say the Bible is neutral at best on polygamy as a whole; I’d hesitate to say it’s cast in a positive light. (Genuinely) curious as to which examples sprung to mind.

  • CW

    I think this is a genuine, but very confused atheist who is an ex-christian. I think someone pretending to be an atheist would do a better job.

    • Joy

      Replace confused with conflicted and you win.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X