The Important Conceptual Issues and the Strengths and Weaknesses in The Moral Arc, a Book by Michael Shermer

This following essay will seek to describe and summarize Michael Shermer’s The Moral Arc chapter on the “Moral Science of Gay Rights,” identifying crucial conceptual issues, and pointing out strengths and weaknesses of the arguments posed as well. There will also be an objective verdict on whether this chapter does anything of benefit to prove the point attempting to be made to those outside of the position being made by Shermer. One of the first points made by Shermer that is elaborated and supported throughout the chapter is the issue of religion’s role in gay rights. He specifically cites it as a hindrance at large to the progress of gay rights noting the exception of some religious groups like Episcopalians, Jews, and Unitarians who promoted early acceptance of the community. Anita Bryant, a former Miss America winner and Jimmy Swaggart, an evangelist are a few of the examples he gives of the scientific misconceptions used to justify bigotry of the religious right, Swaggart associates homosexuality as an active choice rather than a mix of genetics and prenatal biology which science points us towards.

Bryant meanwhile makes the association of gays with thieves which is totally different in terms of negative impacts to society as well as consent. There also seems to be a cognitive dissonance that Shermer illuminates citing passages that appear alongside Leviticus anti-homosexuality passages that prohibit blended clothing, tattoos, and the eating of shellfish. While religion accounts for much of the animosity towards the gay community, federal policy in the US has been a gradual evolution as well. The Lavender Scare purging the governments of gays happened alongside the Red Scare (against Communism) in 19505. By the 1960’s all homosexual activity was illegal outside the state of Illinois and “treatment” for homosexuality was a plethora of atrocities like sterilization, castration, lobotomy, waterboarding, and shock therapy.

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Yet, there was early signs of rationality as well with quotes like “There is no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation” said by Canadian PM Elliot Trudeau in 1967. Shermer points to minorities themselves rebelling against the status quo as the real awakening for moral progress however, such was the case with the Stonewall Riots of 1969. Police raids were frequent against homosexual bars at the time, but in this case after violence was used against them, the bar patrons rebelled igniting a S-night battle with police forces with one gay man saying “We became a people.” Sometimes it takes a visible opposition force in order to unite a community appears to be a point he is attempting to illustrate. Writer Eric Marcus also notes how there was “no (coming) out” before Stonewall “only in” This flashpoint of progress quickly shifted the trajectory of gay rights with homosexuality being declassified as a mental disorder in 1973.

Sodomy laws fell across the country though traditional marriage ones initially replaced it Eventually, policies like Don‘t Ask, Don’t Tell and gay marriage bans fell too Shermer ends the chapter by showing encouraging signs of continuance as progress regards such as internet visibility, sports membership, and the once hostile Christian religion He also points out that while progress may appear close to winning in the US, battles are heating up in Africa, Russia, and elsewhere across the globe, The main conceptual issues that Shermer sees can be divided into several categories including scientific fallacies (or ignorance) by dissidents of the gay rights movement, the strength of minority communities in standing up for themselves, and the seeming moral arc towards progress that is not linear but does trend towards righteousness and equality.

As stated in the earlier paragraph, Shermer points out clear flaws in logic that the religious right often makes in assuming that homosexuality is a choice rather than innate in biology and genetics which current scientific facts lead us to best infer. They also make a false correlation to thievery and other types on non-consensual, harmful actions, Even using parameters specific to the fundamentalist Christian religion there seems to be ignorance of other issues while a dogmatic attack of homosexuality persists. The second underlying theme of this chapter is that one of the strongest surge in acceptance is visibility and outspokenness by the community that forces acknowledgement and dialogue As it pertains to the gay community, the Stonewall Riots are references and the changes that came so quickly afterwards as well as how as more people come out, knowing someone who is gay helps break barriers and irrational prejudice.

This can be perhaps best summarized in his use of the quote by Edmund Burke “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Lastly, Shermer appears to tie the gay rights movement to the title of the book in the fact that while progress is certainly happening for the gay community, it is not uniform and the battle for progress appears to have shifted from Europe and the US to Africa, Russia, and the Middle East. To examine the critical strengths and weaknesses of Shermer’s arguments, it is important to remember the subtitle of the book “How Science Makes Us Better People.” From this aim, there are several strengths and yet some weaknesses to discern. The strengths are numerous, there is clearly a religious imperative especially in the Christian religion in the US to oppose progress as cited in several anecdotes and more scientifically in polling for gay rights like marriage.

The pointing out of scientific gaps in logic that many fundamentalist adherents use is also very powerful and convincing. There is also a sturdy stream of evidence presented as for why minorities being vocal about securing their rights leads to actual results much quicker through to scientific psychological observables like association and direct recognition of family members and friends, One of the only weaknesses that I can draw from his arguments may be in his citation of Edmund Burke’s quote which happens to be both based on evil and goodness which are largely religious designs, not to mention that Burke himself was ardently against both design and atheism and his promotion of Christianity as fundamental to society, all points that Shermer would almost wholeheartedly disagree with.

Upon reflection, this chapter largely does what it is designed to do which is support the rest of the book and the premise that science is a better drive of moral progress than religion. The willingness to point out and elaborate on the misinformation presented by the religious right in the US by presenting scientific counters is thoroughly resounding. The claims of a “moral arc” are also backed up by the information provided as society moves towards moral positivity in a forward, though not completely linear direction.

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The Important Conceptual Issues and the Strengths and Weaknesses in The Moral Arc, a Book by Michael Shermer. (2023, May 11). Retrieved from