Straw Men to Absurdity

jury selection

When asked why Justice Scalia relates homosexuality with bestiality, he points to an argumentative style: reduction to absurdity, which demonstrates that a statement is true by showing that a false result follows from its denial or that a statement is false by showing that a false result follows from its acceptance. In other words, if we accept that homosexuality is okay, then bestiality or incest is okay. But bestiality and incest are not okay, therefore homosexuality is not okay.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin ScaliaFor a legal scholar, this is faulty logic, to say the least. This is a combination of a straw man and fear mongering. An absurdity can be drawn from any argument. To make a valid argument, the assertions must actually exist in the argument. In mathematics, this is a proof by contradiction. For example, when proving that the square root of two is irrational, the approach is a proof by contradiction.

Assume that the square root of 2 is rational.  Thus is can be expressed as a fraction of a/b, where a and b are integers, where at least one is odd because the fraction is expressed in lowest terms. If a/b is equal to the square root of 2, then a^2 = 2b^2. Thus a is even. Thus b must be odd. If a is even, then a^2 is a multiple of 4, so 2b^2 is a multiple of 4 and thus, b^2 would be even and so would b. So b is odd and even – which is a contradiction because b cannot be both odd and even. This is an assertion. Therefore, the initial assumption that the square root of two is rational must be false.


For Justice Scalia’s argument to be true, there must exist some assert in the argument between bestiality or incest and homosexuality. I wish someone would push him on this point.

His second point seems to be completely different:  “If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder? Can we have it against other things?”

And I say, yes. You can have moral feelings against homosexuality, murder, or anything. You can have moral feelings for homosexuality, murder, or anything. But we live in a society where mores are discussed by cultures. If a culture decides that murder is immoral and then illegal, then if there are three people in that culture who disagree, it is up to those people if they want to shift their beliefs, leave the culture, or just accept that they are different.

I believe it is morally reprehensible that capital punishment is legal in this country. I believe our use of torture and the current use of drones are morally wrong. I can have these beliefs, just like Justice Scalia can have his beliefs. But at the end of the day, capital punishment is legal because more people believe in it than disagree with it. I live in a state with a capital punishment moratorium. I voted for a President who uses drones all the time. I made these decisions as a member of my society.

Justice Scalia is more than able to believe that homosexuality is wrong. But he is on the losing side of history. More and more people don’t agree with that morality. Morality changes – I just saw the movie Lincoln and will be writing about that soon. To think that people at the end of the civil war were still debating if slavery is a moral right or that universal suffrage was against all moral fiber does not make sense today.


  1. Emma

    I personally think that logic courses should be included in the curriculum from elementary through high school. I think society would benefit immensely from having more individuals that had the ability to think critically and rationally. But at the very least I would expect our Supreme Court Justices, you know, the individuals that make pretty important decisions for our country, to have a basic grasp of logic and reasoning! Am I crazy? Also, I loved Lincoln! Can’t wait to hear your take on it.
    Sorry if I posted this twice, I tried from my phone but I don’t think it worked…

  2. Pingback: Echo Chamber | Create Your Own Marketplace of Ideas | No Disagreement

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