Thursday, November 09, 2006

why "unnatural" does not equate to "immoral"

In light of the recent amendments to the penal code, Yawning Bread and Mr Wang have both blogged about what this could mean to the homosexual community here in Singapore. This reminded me of an argument that might (or might not) be useful when discussing about the ethics of homosexuality. The argument below did not originate from me; it was taught to me by my philosophy professor, who also happened to be a die-hard New York Giants fan.

One potential argument against homosexuality is that it is “unnatural”, and hence it is immoral. One possible construction of the argument is:

Homosexuality is unnatural. (Premise [1])
Whatever is unnatural must be immoral. (Premise [2])

Hence by deduction, Homosexuality is immoral (Conclusion [3])

Note that I’m being very loose with my wording and I have not defined “unnatural”. However, I believe for my current purposes, this construction which I have presented will suffice.

To understand how I will attempt to refute this argument, we need to understand a bit more about a particular popular American sport: baseball. Most of us would know that baseball mainly revolves around a pitcher, who throws (“pitches”) the baseball, and the batter, who attempts to hit the baseball being thrown towards him by the pitcher. There are many ways for a pitcher to throw a baseball towards a batter. One of those ways is known as a screwball.

A screwball is a type of pitch where the baseball spins in a motion opposite to what is the natural spin of the baseball when normally thrown. In basketball, when we normally shoot a basket, due to the natural motion of the fingers on the basketball, the ball spins backwards. If you can shoot the basketball while making the ball spin forward (instead of backwards), you would have accomplished the equivalent of baseball’s screwball.

One of the greatest screwball pitchers is Carl Hubbell, who played for the New York Giants his whole career. In 1934, during the all-star game, he struck out (meaning the batter failed to hit his screw ball 3 times) 5 hall-of-fame batters (Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin) in succession, setting a baseball record.

Now, anybody who knows much about baseball also knows that the human body is not designed to throw screwballs. [In fact, Jim Mecir, another baseball pitcher, was good at throwing the screwball precisely because of a birth defect (clubbed feet)] So, it would be very logical to say that to throw a screwball is “unnatural”. Yet, nobody ever accused Carl Hubbell to have done anything immoral as a result of his pitching screwballs (except perhaps Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin =)).

Based on this account, we can see that premise [2], “Whatever is unnatural must be immoral”, fails to be true, or at least requires further substantiation, and hence conclusion [3], “homosexuality is immoral”, cannot be considered a sound conclusion, at least based on this simple construction of the argument.


Seth said...

And the thing is, homosexuality isn't even unnatural.

Nothing in nature can be unnatural.

fearfullyopinionated said...


you may be right. Many gay activitists campaign their cause by denying premise [1]. That will also render the argument unsound.

However, the usefulness of the 'screwball argument' is such that even when talking to someone (such a conservative Christian) who believes that homosexuality is indeed "unnatural", you can get him/her to concede that unnatural-ness alone cannot be what makes homosexuality immoral.

YCK said...

A more serious obection is this:

What is may not be what it ought to be. What is may be caused by natural circumstance or be sanctioned by cultural tradition. But it cannot be the starting point of any basis for eithical thinking.

Taking the Singaporean example of widespread perception that it is all right to litter. Is it reasonable to argue that littering is moral just beacuse of the majority practice? Here is another problem, tyrrany by the majority.

Fearfully Opinionated said...


Although my argument might seem to be not as serious, I believe this is an important argument as by and large, people who object to homosexuality on grounds on unnaturalness do so due to some intuition that what is unnatural is also immoral. However, by supplying another intuition which shows otherwise, one is forced to reconsider one's beliefs without (further) sophisticated phiosophical argument.

Your argument seems to be related to the "is-ought problem" or "fact-value distinction" (you can look it up in wikipedia). This is also a possible approach but the is-ought problem is one which is complicated and (if I'm not wrong), philosophers are nowhere close on a consensus.

Let's take your argument about littering. Let us assume the proposition "Everybody is also littering" may be true. You claim that this does not validify the claim "It is morally permissible to litter". That is true. But let's say I DO believe in another proposition [P]"what everybody is doing is morally permissible". [which I really don't], then you cannot convince me to change my mind into thinking "littering is not morally permissible" by claiming the is-ought gap. Instead, what you probably will need to do is to appeal to intuition that my earlier proposition [P] is false.

Thanks for commenting. I didn't know people read my blog.

YCK said...

Thanks for the reply. I suppose people do read you blog. Just that the topics you pick tend to be not to popular taste. Still some things are worth thinking over, and I guess I was in a mood to comment on something that I am not well-qualified to. Keep it up :)


Fearfully Opinionated said...


Thank you for revisiting. =)

And I think its okay to comment on things which you are "not qualified" in. What makes you think I'm qualified in anything? =P