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Philosophy professor calls homosexuality a ‘disability,’ Christian conference condemns him

The small world of Christian philosophy has erupted in scandal because a Christian philosopher publicly stated the orthodox Christian view of homosexuality.

Writing in The Federalist, philosophy professor Berny Belvedere lays out how Oxford University philosopher emeritus Richard Swinburne, “an all-around giant in the field,” got himself condemned after speaking at the Midwest Conference of the Society of Christian Philosophers.

Swinburne’s offense was describing homosexual acts as unable to naturally produce children, calling such orientation a “disability,” and explaining what that means for society:

[A]s I read the much disputed evidence available on line about whether children nurtured by homosexual parents flourish as well as other children, the balance of that evidence seems to me to indicate that children whose nurturing parents are also their male and female biological parents in a happy marriage flourish better than all other children. And so that is the kind of reproduction and the kind of marriage which we should be encouraging; and those who cannot provide it for their children have a disability. … Disabilities should be prevented.

He went on to say that because “nurture” plays a role in sexual orientation, homosexuality “is sometimes to a considerable extent reversible,” and society should “encourage research into how the orientation can be cured.”

MORE: Philosophy prof reported to bias response team for same-sex comments

The president of the Society of Christian Philosophers, Michael Rea, publicly expressed his “regret regarding the hurt caused” by Swinburne’s comments, which are not the society’s views.

Rea contradicts himself within the scope of a single Facebook paragraph, saying he wants to “promote the intellectual life” of the society and that its members’ views are “diverse”:

 Consequently (among other reasons), I am committed to the values of diversity and inclusion. As an organization, we have fallen short of those ideals before, and surely we will again. Nonetheless, I will strive for them going forward.

In other words, the society wants to foster diverse views, but not Swinburne’s – the latter of which are pretty much orthodox Christian views on sexuality.

MORE: ‘Progressive privilege’ abounds in academia, philosophy prof warns

Belvedere says this was an “unprecedented” statement that threatens to chill debate within philosophy, a notoriously rough-and-tumble academic discipline:

It is certainly not standard for the president of a philosophical society to apologize over the contents of a paper. Vehement disagreement is typical — welcome, even. But philosophers, and scholars more generally, tend to prioritize academic freedom above nearly all other values. Although some respond that Rea’s statement does not threaten Swinburne’s academic freedom, a case could be made that public apologies offered by heads of academic societies officially signal the views in question will be henceforth considered undesirable.

Rea has his defenders, including a philosophy professor at Yale, Jason Stanley, whose “Fuck those assholes” (private) Facebook comment about Swinburne and like-minded philosophers went viral. Stanley replied to what he called “the right-wing hateosphere”:

I am really, truly, embarrassed by the fact that my mild comment ‘Fuck those assholes’ is being spread. This wildly understates my actual sentiments towards homophobic religious proponents of evil like Richard Swinburne, who use their status as professional philosophers to oppress others with less power. I am SO SORRY for using such mild language.

There’s much more, and Belvedere’s analysis is nuanced, so read the story.

MORE: Jason Stanley loses free speech debate at Yale

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” He co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon at Seattle Pacific University.

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