Why monogamy is natural

The following is an excerpt from a column in the Washington Post. Since it isn’t “news”, I’m posting it here:

Why monogamy is natural
By John Witte Jr.

Creationists and evolutionists don’t agree on much, but they both believe that monogamy is the most “natural” form of reproduction for the human species. This seems counterintuitive. Yes, the Bible recounts the story of creation, but it also describes the rampant polygamy of Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon and other titans of the faith. Yes, nesting birds, voles, and a few other animals are monogamous, but most mammals reproduce with one dominant male controlling a large harem of females. Polygamy seems “natural,” monogamy “supernatural.”

Yet, for the past millennium, Christians and post-Christian liberals alike – Aquinas, Calvin, Locke, Hume, and Jefferson – all agreed that God created humans to reproduce by becoming “two in one flesh,” not three or four. And modern evolutionary scientists, from Claude Lèvi-Strauss to Bernard Chapais, have concluded the same: that pair-bonding is part of the “deep structure” of human reproduction that humans have evolved as their best strategy for survival and success…

full article

Pair bonding is different from sexual exclusivity. It certainly makes sense to have a committed partner around to help raise, protect and educate offspring, but that doesn’t necessarily mean those offspring have to be conceived within the bounds of that relationship, nor does it mean that either partner must be sexually “faithful”. Within the rest of the animal kingdom, many species that once were held up as examples of lifetime bonding and monogamy have indeed been observed to engage in extra-pair-bond relations - the partner that will stick around and raise the offspring is not necessarily the partner with the best, healthiest genes to pass on. Homosexual pairings have also been observed, such as those occurring amongst swans, where two males will in fact kidnap offspring from other swans and raise them as their own (it may be that one of the homosexually paired males is actually the father of said offspring, but I’m not familiar enough with the research to say).

Claiming that some particular practice is “natural” is always problematic anyway. If it happens in nature, then it’s natural - and everything that exists is part of nature! The primary reason monogamy has such a strong cultural hold in human societies seems to be the importance that is attached to paternity certainty - especially when there’s property to be passed on. The only way paternity can be guaranteed for a man is for him to ensure that his female partner (or partners) have no other sexual partners, and that necessitates oppression of women - hence most of post-agrarian human history. It doesn’t follow from this that monogamy is some kind of moral/spiritual ideal that must be upheld at all costs. It clearly doesn’t work for a lot of people, and trying to fit every individual into the same narrow normative boundaries is always going to lead to problems.

Yes. That’s what “animals” do. God gave us the gift of reason. We were created in His image and as such, are called to a higher standard of living. Some animals eat their babies. Should we emulate that practice? I suppose it’s not too far a stretch for western societies given how rampant the disgusting practice of abortion is.

And this comment simply highlights just how problematic the recourse to the notion of some behaviour being “natural” really is - as I said, anything that exists in nature is natural, and as far as my beliefs are concerned, all of reality is natural (as opposed to supernatural, since a distinction has never been adequately defined - but that is a whole different argument).

There’s no adequate demonstration, let alone proof, that humans were made by any concscious being at all, much less made in the “image” of a god who has never made his presence apparent. All we have to go on is our ability to observe that certain behaviours tend towards outcomes that are subjectively acceptable, whilst others lead to outcomes that are subjectively unacceptable - hurtful in the short or long term, not productive of positive benefits.

Yet interestingly enough, when some behaviour is found in the rest of the animal kingdom, people with a particular ideology to push are very quick to jump on it and say it is “natural”, the implication being that all humans should emulate it (even though all other animals don’t). What would be better is if all humans exercised considered judgement and worked out what their own inclinations are, what is acceptable to their fellows, and developed their own behaviours accordingly. Contrary to what some religious fundamentalists appear to believe, biologists don’t, in general, hold up the behaviour of other animals as an example for humans to follow.

Non sequitur. :slight_smile: The absence of a human distinction doesn’t imply that there is no objective distinction!

There’s no adequate demonstration, let alone proof, that humans were made by any conscious being at all, much less made in the “image” of a god who has never made his presence apparent.

Nor that persons are derived from impersonal things…

All we have to go on is our ability to observe that certain behaviours tend towards outcomes that are subjectively acceptable, whilst others lead to outcomes that are subjectively unacceptable - hurtful in the short or long term, not productive of positive benefits.

If the sole criterion is subjective acceptability “positive benefits” is also subjective. The criminal’s view becomes as acceptable as anyone
else’s! :eek:

Yet interestingly enough, when some behaviour is found in the rest of the animal kingdom, people with a particular ideology to push are very quick to jump on it and say it is “natural”, the implication being that all humans should emulate it (even though all other animals don’t). What would be better is if all humans exercised considered judgement and worked out what their own inclinations are, what is acceptable to their fellows, and developed their own behaviours accordingly.

Then a criminal community is also acceptable!

Contrary to what some religious fundamentalists appear to believe, biologists don’t, in general, hold up the behaviour of other animals as an example for humans to follow.

If persons are animals there is no valid reason for making such a distinction.

Have to say, your response says far more about your own preconceptions regarding morality than it does about my post! My primary point was that there is no reason to suppose that because certain behaviours - in this case, regarding sexual relationships - are or are not present in other animals, humans should blindly emulate them in the belief that because nonhuman animals perform these behaviours, they are “natural” and therefore morally “good”. Where were you coming from?

My primary point was that there is no reason to suppose that because certain behaviours - in this case, regarding sexual relationships - are or are not present in other animals, humans should blindly emulate them in the belief that because nonhuman animals perform these behaviours, they are “natural” and therefore morally “good”.

  1. “other animals” still implies that persons are no more than animals.
  2. “natural” remains undefined.
  3. If “good” is what is subjectively acceptable everything is “good”!

Where were you coming from?

From a successful refutation of your argument. :slight_smile:

I think “natural” is the wrong word to use. Even in the article itself, it notes studies of various communities that currently practice polygamy, which begs the question as to why large communities are practicing something unnatural. It doesn’t mention which communities, but there are also many others that I am aware of in areas not mentioned that are primitive and practice this. There are legitimate reasons for these communities to practice polygamy, including genetic diversity and imbalance between the sexes.

By modern-society standards its not considered natural, and would create major problems in the modern world.

As far as biological classification goes humans are metazoans (aka animals) because humans are multicelled motile eukaryotes with many of the other attributes that are part of this classifications. To say that humans are not animals/metazoans is to say humans dont have these biological attributes. In this context another synonymous phrase would have been “non-human animals.”

I think that we both know that Sair meant ‘subjectively acceptable to all’. We, as a society, make decisions that benefit society. The criminal viewpoint is not entertained.

Seems to work OK most of the time.

As far as biological classification goes humans are metazoans (aka animals) because humans are multicelled motile eukaryotes with many of the other attributes that are part of this classifications. To say that humans are not animals/metazoans is to say humans dont have these biological attributes. In this context another synonymous phrase would have been “non-human animals.”
The issue is whether a person is adequately described as an animal in the context of the expression “other animals”. It implies that a person is **no more than **an animal and used deliberately by a materialist to exclude an intangible mind.

“benefit” begs the question. What happens if the individual’s benefit conflicts with the benefit of society?

The criminal viewpoint is not entertained.

Why not? If “good” is what is subjectively acceptable everything is “good”!

Seems to work OK most of the time.

Not judging by the state of the world…

We both know what happens then. I’m not sure why you’d ask such a simplistic question.

Are you going to suggest that you turn to your religion every time you need to make a decision if something is good or not? You can’t tell yourself?

Why should humans be considered “more” than other animals, rather than just “different”?

If ‘natural’ is undefined, whence the recourse to ‘supernatural’? Surely that can only be defined in relation to ‘natural’. There is no reason to suppose that reality occupies two distinct categories, as I have maintained all along.

Are you saying that you personally find all behaviours - even those that cause you emotional and even direct bodily pain - to be acceptable because they might be subjectively acceptable to those who wish you harm? That is a dangerous road to travel…

From a successful refutation of your argument. :slight_smile:

Please… A successful refutation would at least demand that you quote my actual words to begin with, and then mount an effective argument against them - neither of which you managed in this particular post.

Natural behavior is just what people do when left to themselves, i.e. behavior which doesn’t need to be enforced or coerced.

Many in Western society may start out hoping for one “soul mate” for life, but currently the most natural behavior seems to be marry, divorce, marry another and so on (or cohabit with one partner, separate, cohabit with another).

It this monogamy or serial polygamy? :smiley:

The modern move to high tech and big cities introduces new evolutionary pressures so just as some of our great grandparent’s behavior might seem unnatural to us, some of our behavior will seem pretty silly to our great grand children. Can’t be helped - all things must pass.

For the objectors:

Humans are rational animals. As such, they are capable of examining their actions prior to committing them.

The benefits of choosing one’s spouse well and of monogamy can indeed be known even to one who is unmarried and sexually inexperienced.

I’m not sure why you give such an simplistic answer. When an individual’s benefit conflicts with the benefit of society much depends on who the individual happens to be. A criminal wouldn’t be concerned in the slightest - provided he isn’t detected exploiting the honesty of others.

[quote]If “good” is what is subjectively acceptable everything is “good”!

Are you going to suggest that you turn to your religion every time you need to make a decision if something is good or not? You can’t tell yourself?
[/quote]

A non sequitur which reveals more about your aggressive mentality than the nature of morality!

I base my moral values on the teaching of Christ. On what do you base yours?

Persons are rational and morally responsible.

If ‘natural’ is undefined, whence the recourse to ‘supernatural’? Surely that can only be defined in relation to ‘natural’.

You are putting the cart before the horse. Our knowledge doesn’t begin in the outside world but in our minds. Natural objects know nothing about natural objects.

There is no reason to suppose that reality occupies two distinct categories, as I have maintained all along.

Only in the mind of the materialist who needs to dispose of it before giving reasons for its non-existence!

Are you saying that you personally find all behaviours - even those that cause you emotional and even direct bodily pain - to be acceptable because they might be subjectively acceptable to those who wish you harm? That is a dangerous road to travel…

Non sequitur. Can you explain how you deduce that from

If “good” is what is subjectively acceptable everything is “good”

?

[quote]From a successful refutation of your argument.

Please… A successful refutation would at least demand that you quote my actual words to begin with, and then mount an effective argument against them - neither of which you managed in this particular post.
[/quote]

I am constantly quoting your precise words. Can you specify an argument I have not refuted?

If you can show me anything that Jesus taught that a reasonable person could not have arrived at by himself or herself, then you’ll be ahead of the curve. Let me know…

The purpose of the article and this thread is to demonstrate that monogamy can in fact be determined as the natural marital state for rational beings through the use of reason.

So far, there has been no serious objection to Mr. Witte’s thesis. There have been some distractions (including examples of the natures of various non-rational creatures). However, I have yet to see anyone propose a purely rational objection to monogamy.

Mr. Witte offered four points to support his thesis, none of which had any sort of religious overtone. Would you care to address them?

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