Warning: This blog is written for a rational audience that likes to have fun wrestling with unique or controversial points of view. It is written in a style that can easily be confused as advocacy for one sort of unpleasantness or another. It is not intended to change anyone's beliefs or actions. If you quote from this post or link to it, which you are welcome to do, please take responsibility for whatever happens if you mismatch the audience and the content.

You probably heard that Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson is getting a lot of heat for his anti-gay remarks. His interpretation of the Bible is that gayness is a sin. As you might imagine, the gay community and its many supporters are not pleased with Phil.

Before I continue I should confess my biases. I'm pro-gay-marriage and pro-gay in general. I also like Duck Dynasty. And while I am not a believer in the supernatural, my observation is that religion is a good force in the world, give or take the occasional terrorist act, genocide, Spanish Inquisition, bigotry, and oppressive boot-on-the-throat of personal freedom. The bad stuff gets a lot of attention, and should, but for the average person experiencing an average day, I think religion has real-world benefits. That's my unscientific observation anyway.

Most well-educated adults in the year 2013 understand that sexual orientation is something you are born with. Society's sense of fairness demands that we not judge people for genetic differences. So it is easy to understand why folks become righteously indignant when one group criticizes the genetic composition of another. That's not a world we want to live in.

Unfortunately, I have a problem with the intellectual consistency of the folks on my side of this debate. And I hate when that happens.

It seems to me that Phil Robertson was born with the brain he has. He didn't have a choice in the matter. And science is starting to understand that religious folks have different brain structure than non-believers. So how is it fair to belittle Phil for acting in the only way he could, given the brain he has?

One might say Phil has free will and therefore he chooses to be an evil bigot. But as I have argued here before, free will is an illusion. Our brains are every bit as subject to cause and effect as your lawnmower. Your lawnmower can't choose to be a toaster any more than a guy with Phil's brain and Phil's experience can choose to not be Phil.

So here we have two camps accusing each other of the same crime against decency. Phil and his crowd believe gays can use their free will to become straight if they choose to do so. Gays and their supporters believe Phil can use his free will to be tolerant if he chooses. Both sides are wrong. People don't control brains; brains control people.

Having said all of that, for practical reasons I'm in favor of the public outcry against Phil's views, although I don't support personalizing it and making Phil the one scapegoat in a universe that has produced a few billion people like him. The intellectual dysfunction of targeting Phil for shame bothers me, but not as much as the prospect of living in a world dominated by Phil's anti-gay views. So I'm glad my side is fighting back, and nudging society toward enlightenment, but I'm not happy to be associated with defective thinking.

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Jan 2, 2014
"And science is starting to understand that religious folks have different brain structure than non-believers. "

You are making a pretty disturbing argument in favor of pre-destination or divine election. People don't choose their DNA, their parents do. And your argument undermines the idea that the Gospels are salvation "freely given".

The real question all of us should be asking is, "What does it say about America that a show like Duck Dynasty is on the air at all?" The only Duck Dynasty I want to see has Scrooge McDuck in it.

Oh, and being on A&E pretty well undermines any credibility Robertson has as a Redneck.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 31, 2013
Your problem is that you question free will but stumble upon responsibility. But the solution is very simple. No responsibility is necessary. Here is how it works.

- There's a group, made up of brains (see, we're leaving he whole human/consciousness/will thing out).
- Those brains act, like all organisms, to procreate, have an easy life and so on. Forming a group has been figured out to make achieving those goals easier.
- Some brains are a danger to the others, much like a sick animal can be a danger to the pack/swarm/school.

Now, every biological organism, or group has developed means to deal with these things, some more efficient, some less so. (No infallible gods involved.)

And here is the way that brains situated in humans and forming a group have developed so far:

The mechanism is that the human brain is able to learn, i.e. neural pathways can change and weights in the sum/product/threshold mechanism of the neuron can change too, leading to a change in behavior. All this, mostly based on external stimuli. (For instance, there's a higher-level abstraction called "reward function". Probably some punishment function too, but I'm no expert on this.)

What the other brains do, as a group defence mechanism, is to apply external stimuli to the brain they perceive as dangerous. Like an immune system goes after cells it somehow perceives as dangerous. No free will "fiction" as you call it is necessary, just evolved survival strategies. (You might want to look up "meme" to understand the term "evolution" in this particular context.)

Examples are "convincing", i.e. arguing, "shaming", a particular type of work, or, in more severe cases, restriction of movement, a way to directly cause distress and make the target brain seek a way out, for instance by changing some behaviors. (The changed way of life will be less fun than, say, serial child rape, but a lot more fun than permanent confinement.)

And they do that either until the neural structure of the target brain has changed sufficiently (the brain has learned, "if I do that again, I'll be made to feel bad" or "now I understand how it feels do suffer from the actions I did" and the mirror neurons do the remaining work), or forever.

Some societies figure that long term re-training is too expensive and simply weed out the more defective brains but most modern brain societies have developed means that don't waste valuable brain matter.

The more civilized a society is, the more the applied "correction" mechanisms change from what people would call "punishment" to what people call "therapy".

There, Scott, that was easy.

He can't help being anti-gay and trying to turn people his way and you can't help being pro gay and turning people your way. No need to twist your brain into knots, just do what you think is right.

And don't worry, if you're wrong, we, the other brains, will be able to deal with you.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 31, 2013
I agree with you that he may not have a choice to be religous or not, but we, I mean society, can influence which religious doctrine he believes in. Surely the specific belief in specific parts of the bible is not genetic?
So what if we as a society allowed him to be religious, a biggot and an extremist of the Jain religion? That would make him tame to the rest of society, while still within the boudaries of his extremist mind with which he was born.
Dec 30, 2013
I can't tell if this is a crazy and pointless media frenzy or if I just didn't care about current events during my two-week vacation. But it appears that tons of people have strong opinions about this. This is a redneck guy who does and says what rednecks do and say. Why the controversy?!
Dec 28, 2013
My problem with Robertson and other religious folk of his ilk is that they pick and choose which sins from the bible are the ones they are going to castigate people over. These people almost never talk about those who yell at their parents or get a divorce or work on the Sabbath. The problem is that we really don't get morality from a 2000 year old book. That book recorded what morality looked like in its time and place but now it is filtered through 2000 extra years of civilization. We don't still say slavery is moral just because the bible describes how best to treat slaves. So, Robertson and those who believe as he does are clinging to some of the very last bits of ancient bigotry that society hasn't crushed. They see the end coming so they are holding on as tightly as possible. The time is coming when these last vestiges of biblical nonsense will fall away and the global hypocrisy level will decrease.

In short, the uproar over antiquated beliefs is justified because people say the bible represents a different point in time when talking about slavery or working on the Sabbath but then refuse to admit the bible's points on gays could be outdated too.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 28, 2013
To all the people who obviously still believe that sexual orientation can be brought about by upbringing or social surroundings:

Please explain how that works in the animal kingdom.

(Yes there is homosexuality in the animal kingdom, in case you didn't know "Close to 1,500 species, ranging from primates to gut worms, have been observed engaging in such behavior and this is well documented for 500 of them." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexual_behavior_in_animals)
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 28, 2013
Why is this banal distraction news? Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. American adults that have not lived their entire lives under a rock know what born-again Christians believe about homosexual acts, and other biblical sins. Hmmm. On the other hand, the ideological bubbles surrounding some large US cities does kind of resemble a rock... I'll try again.

I'd bet my paycheck the GQ reporter knew exactly what born-again Christians believe about homosexual acts before the interview. Can you say manufactured controversy? Fake outrage? Sure you can.

A lot of people seem to get an ego boost by calling Phil Robertson an ignorant, bigoted, redneck, or some combination of those things. That redneck earned a masters degree and made millions before Duck Dynasty. He's not the Rico Suave of political and religious discourse, but don't let the southern accent fool you. He is a sharp guy. Plus, he has the fashion sense of a god. ;p

The real issue here is how politically correct male-bovine rear-excretion has redefined the word tolerance. Tolerance comes from tolerate. Tolerate used to mean “to put up with something repugnant”. The purveyors of PC brainwashing have redefined tolerance to mean “to agree with (insert liberal ideology here)". From the interview excerpts I have read, Phil is quite tolerant. He just disagrees with the gay lifestyle, and thinks it is a sin. Sorry, but my country's constitutionally protected religious freedom trumps your hurt feelings. It is his right to consult an ancient book and decide that certain actions are immoral. It is his right to talk about it. Don't like it? Then don't watch his show, don't buy his stuff, and petition A&E to pull him off the air. Just don't kid yourself that he is the intolerant party here.

Disclosure: Not a fan of Duck Dynasty. Atheist. Libertarian. Straight, with gay friends. I wouldn't dream of discriminating against someone for their sexual orientation. Bigotry is for amateurs. People give you ample reason to hate them, as needed, on an individual basis. I think all things PC are evil. Purveyors of PC nonsense are nothing more than fascists thought police, that don't have the gray matter or temerity to honestly debate ideas. Purveyors of PC nonsense are right about everything because they said so, and if you disagree, you are automatically a bigot. PC nonsense separates us from each other. Divide and conquer. E pluribus unum. Why do I write online missives after drinking?
+7 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 27, 2013
Background: I'm not particularly religious. I was when I was younger, then feel away from it, largely because I had issues with the theology. I do still attend a church once every month or two, but that's for my significant other, who isn't really religious either, but a family she has known since she was little still goes, so it's something of a social outing for us. Personally, I prefer the notion of an afterlife to just being worm food. I don't necessarily believe in one, but it is what I would prefer to be true, because I find the alternative rather depressing.

Now, I still have some connection with the faith of my childhood. In general, the spiritual and religious people I have known have been kinder and more generous to me than the athiests, even when I've told them I'm agnostic. So I take issue with Phil Robertson's comments being called "hate speech." I think that some of his comments were ignorant, but I didn't find them hateful. He just listed the sins of the church, as codified in New Testament letters, and then said he DIDN'T judge them, that was God's job. He literally said he loves them and shares what his religion says about their behavior if he is asked (and GQ specfically asked him, he didn't just spout it off at random). And then it's up to them, they can agree or they can walk away, but he's not going to treat 'em any different. Which is pretty much the definition of the three fundamental Christian laws/tenets (as I learned them):

(1) "Do unto others as you would have done unto you."
(2) "Judge not, lest ye be judged."
(3) "Love the sinner, but not the sin."

Basically he listed all sexual deviancy as sinful. But I'd say you can have sinful behavior that isn't necessarily evil. Does swearing because you dropped a hammer on your toe make you EVIL? Probably not -- although in Christianity, you'd still be expected to truly be sorry, confess, repent, and atone for it. It doesn't mean Christians hate people who swear. They just have a standard of behavior for their faith. So do Muslims and Orthodox Jews, and I'm sure plenty of other faith, but it doesn't make them HATEFUL. They have a standard for themselves.

Now let's take his second supposedly "hateful" comment. He said that, to him, a woman's reproductive organs were more appealing than a dude's butt-hole. And that it was just him. Let's pretend he was talking about something else. I don't like garlic. I find the taste repulsive, and don't understand what others find so appealing -- I lack the corresponding sensory input. All Phil really said was he doesn't have the sensory input of a gay man -- he knows such things exist, he just doesn't comprehend it, because he isn't wired that way. To say you just don't get what someone else's personal taste is cannot possibly be hate speech.

And realistically, the comments about blacks in the Jim Crow south were way more problematic and insensitive than anything he said about gay people, although it still came off mostly as ignorance to me. He recounted his own experiences -- he didn't SEE the problems firsthand. It doesn't mean they weren't there. I actually wish that we DID have people look through old, truly hateful texts (you can see some pretty vile and hateful cartoons on Superdickery) so that they DO understand what was actually happening. Making everyone face an uncomfortable reality is, in my opinion, preferable to and more productive than them talking past each other.

Phil didn't say that black people were happier before the Civil Rights Act; he said pre-entitlement and pre-welfare, he didn't hear anything hateful directed at white people. That's not hateful, it's him relaying his personal experience -- albeit a limited and ignorant one. It's limited and probably not accurate, but other than saying a bunch of poor farmers in the field were happy, I don't think he was inaccurate or hateful to say that he experienced the things that he experienced. I do think he lacked perspective, but what do you expect from that sort of person?

Also, Phil doesn't seem to care what anyone else thinks about him, but a whole bunch of people sure seem to care about Phil Robertson's personal opinion of them... enough to constantly misrepesent an amicable but ignorant redneck as some sort of Neo-Nazi avatar.

I don't condone what Phil said, but I won't condemn it, either. I do condemn the people who are piling on an ignorant redneck from flyover country, probably because they don't like that sort of person, and can't stand anyone not kowtowing to them. So really, who are the real hateful bigots here? The guy who says he loves everyone but just doesn't understand them, or the people who want his head on a pike for saying stuff they don't like? The guy who admits his ignorance, or the people who -- rather hypocritically -- condemn him for not conforming to social norms?

Oh, and I never watched or heard about Duck Dynasty before this kerfluffle, and I have little interest in watching it now either.
Dec 26, 2013
"Society's sense of fairness demands that we not judge people for genetic differences. So it is easy to understand why folks become righteously indignant when one group criticizes the genetic composition of another."

Unless you say, "White men can't jump or dance." or, "Religious nut-jobs", those terms seem to be perfectly acceptable, and I chose extremely mild terms as my example. I'm not religious, I don't watch Duck Dynasty, and I'm definitely not anti-gay, I just think this is another example of the HUGE double-standard in this country. I couldn't care less if Phil Robertson thinks I am going to rot in hell, and I'm not going to wish it on him just because I disagree with him. I think you need to apply your wisdom to a post that actually explains what "equality" means.
Dec 26, 2013
Scott - everyone is entitled to believe what they want, but Mr. Robertson -chose- to make his comments in the way that he did, and he should not be surprised that the reaction is what anyone (including, I assume, he) would have predicted. Lots of beliefs of lots of people stay in the closet as a defensive measure - you can say that's a problem, or not. I don't know what Mr. Robertson really thinks, but if he is surprised as to how things played out then he just learned an expensive lesson.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 26, 2013
"I think Atheism and critical thinking has a lot more.

[Do you have data to support that? There's plenty of data showing that religious people are healthier and happier. -- Scott]"

I think it's a fit thing. I tried to be religious, my Dad certainly did everything he could to make me religious, but there is this BS filter in my head that can't be silenced. And it can't stomach at least every other sentence uttered in the typical religious environment. Genetic determination? Willful free will? Just bat-$%^& nuts? Any or all. Whatever.

While I can see how religion would make some people happier and I don't begrudge them that blissful (if imo inaccurate) state, for others - attempting to jam the square peg in the round hole would be intensely uncomfortable. For those others, myself included, routinely pledging fealty to improbable concepts and mouthing feel good platitudes that are repeated once a week but ignored all week long would embody too much dishonesty and create too much self-loathing to ever possibly achieve that smug healthy happiness.

I did experience an intense feeling of relief when I stopped trying to force myself to resume the typical religious posturing. Which neither qualifies for that "happier healthier" trait nor does it make atheism a one-size-fits-all choice. And that doesn't even get into the choice religious people face between insanely conservative and overtly bigoted (anti-gay) congregations and impossibly stuck on left ultra liberal congregations who combine a sensible openness regarding sexual orientation with both economic and social new-age absurdity. It seems any choice we make (or have the illusion we are making) involves trade-offs.

I do miss the social aspects, the strawberry festivals, the spaghetti dinners. But the price to be paid in self-respect is just too high. For me, anyway. And I do have company, though we tend to much like cats in that we are difficult to herd.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 26, 2013
"for the average person experiencing an average day, I think religion has real-world benefits"

I think Atheism and critical thinking has a lot more.

[Do you have data to support that? There's plenty of data showing that religious people are healthier and happier. -- Scott]

" Your lawnmower can't choose to be a toaster any more than a guy with Phil's brain and Phil's experience can choose to not be Phil."

For example, Atheists are allowed to change their opinion when presented with evidence. There's a famous quote from Carl Sagan about it, I'm sure you've heard it.

["Allowed" by whom? If you drop a bag of marbles on the floor, and some roll under the table, did those marbles have free will because they changed direction? -- Scott]

Dec 25, 2013
>No. There is a very important difference. In your example, the church guy is condemning another, >while the homosexual is saying he should not be condemned.

>If the church guy was saying that he personally prefers heterosexuality or if the homosexual was >saying the church guy was morally inferior or defective because he is not gay, then it would be >even-steven. Otherwise there is an important asymmetry which is often overlooked.

They are both condemning the others position. One claims that the other has a choice and should be condemned, the other claims that they do not have a choice and should be accepted, but by taking this position they are then saying the other does not have a choice but should be condemned anyways. That is the point Scott was making.
Dec 25, 2013
> That means when a church guy says he disagrees with homosexuality and a
> homosexual says he disagrees with that position...they are even-steven.
No. There is a very important difference. In your example, the church guy is condemning another, while the homosexual is saying he should not be condemned.

If the church guy was saying that he personally prefers heterosexuality or if the homosexual was saying the church guy was morally inferior or defective because he is not gay, then it would be even-steven. Otherwise there is an important asymmetry which is often overlooked.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 25, 2013
Aren't we focusing on the wrong issue here?

Free will is the ability to act against your instincts WHEN YOU WANT TO. Neither Phil nor Anderson Cooper wants to change their beliefs. Therefore free will has nothing to do with their positions.

Free will, or the ability to change/choose when you want to, is not equally doled out to everyone. Some have more, some have less. Many people can power their way through certain life problems but are defeated in other areas of life.

The real question here is: who wants to limit others benefits and privileges? Anderson Cooper doesn't want to limit straight people's rights. I hope Phil doesn't want to limit gay people's rights either.
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 25, 2013
Taking the discussion of genetics and free will a little farther, if free will does not exist then it would be easy to argue that the only appropriate thing to do with people who are genetically inclined to commit violent acts against others would be death. Their genetics are faulty and the only logical thing to do would be to remove their genetics from the gene pool.

Try that argument the next time someone at a party talks about genetics driving behavior. If it goes well you can transition to Eugenics as a way to prevent future crimes.
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 25, 2013
Technically speaking from Phil's point of view that people can choose their behaviors he would be justified in calling gayness a sin (it's not a sin unless you are allowed to choose) and from your point of view Phil is also right because he has no free will and is acting out the script that biology provided him.

The mental disorder that is described above doesn't end there though. Millions of dollars are spent on education for people that due to genetics, probably don't have a snowball's chance in hell of being an astronaut (or even a cartoonist). There is a belief that if we try hard enough we can overcome genetics. Yet if you told these same people that if we spent enough money on reeducation that we could eliminate gay tendencies they would begin shredding you to the subatomic level.

People are stupid. And we are all people.
Dec 25, 2013
Re: A&E and their business decisions since this erupted: they could have handled it much better than they did and their thoughtless brinksmanship threatening to kill off the most successful show in cable history was phenomenally stupid.

Re: Phil Robertson: although Robertson does not speak for A&E officially, for someone in his position to say what he did, and expect that it would not affect the business relationship he has, was nothing if not phenomenally stupid.

So we are left trying to choose between two phenomenally stupid patterns of decision and I say: a pox on both their houses. It's a false dilemma and I am not going to choose. You can toss all the abstract arguments about free speech and free will because it's making the problem unnecessarily complicated. There is a lot of stupidity to go around here - if it were a jam you could drench your toast in it. As I see it the smartest response isn't to drench your toast in the jam.

Today I'm choosing Smart Balance. :)

(Written semi-seriously with humor, hopefully)
Dec 24, 2013
It's nature versus nurture. As you suggest, a person is genetically inclined towards their sexual orientation, with some environmental factors possibly playing a much smaller role. However, a belief system is not strictly determined by the genetics of your brain. In fact, I would venture to say genetics play a MUCH smaller role in belief system than environment does.

Thus the public outrage, and A&E's stance on the matter is a good thing. Simply because they contribute towards changing the ENVIRONMENT (nurture) so that people still formulating their belief system are less likely to be bigoted and racist.

I myself, have had a change in my belief system long after I reached adult hood. So by personal experience, I find it very hard to believe that my belief system was genetically encoded.

[Would you believe your belief system options were genetically limited and the environment pushed you to one of the few options your genetics allowed? -- Scott]
-2 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 24, 2013
Anti-gay results in things like Matthew Shepard being tortured and murdered.
Pro-gay results in things like your best friend offering you a hummer.
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