The best of Fred Hutchison
Intelligent design vs. gay marriage
Fred Hutchison, RenewAmerica analyst
December 27, 2012

Originally published September 15, 2005

The California legislature voted to legalize gay marriage on Sept. 6, 2005. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill because it contradicted Proposition 22, a referendum passed by California voters that marriage shall be defined as a union between a man and a woman. [Editor's note: Proposition 22 was later struck down by the state Supreme Court in May 2008. That November, it was replaced by voters with Proposition 8, identical in its language.]

During the 2004 election, eleven state referendums against gay marriage won by wide margins. Americans consistently vote to support family values and follow their consciences concerning right and wrong. However, the arguments before the courts and the debates in some state legislatures seem stalemated. Liberals assert that gays have a "right" to gay marriage and use civil rights lingo about "equality" to press their case. Conservatives argue that no such right exists and there is no logical or legal connection between civil rights and gay marriage. Neither side can win decisively as long as the argument is framed in this way.

First principles vs. skepticism

The party that will win the debate based upon reason must build his arguments upon clear, sound presuppositions (things assumed). Presuppositions rest upon first principles that can be what Jefferson called self-evident truths, or foundational truths received by faith from a higher authority. No rational arguments can exist without presuppositions, because a chain of logic requires a starting place.

Contrary to an old myth that goes back to the French Enlightenment, reason and faith are natural allies, because faith can help one to discover first principles. Likewise, reason and morality are natural allies because one cannot define moral principles or construct frameworks for virtue without reason. On the other hand, reason and skepticism are natural enemies because the skeptics scoff at first principles. And skepticism is the enemy of morality because it denies that moral truth has an objective existence that can be discovered and defined by reason. With these considerations in mind, if conservatives begin their arguments with sound presuppositions, they can present themselves to the public as the voice of reason in a culture war of rationality versus irrationality, and morality versus immorality.

The philosophy of skepticism has a long pedigree. Roman philosopher Sextus Empiricus (c. 200 AD) was a skeptic about what we can know — i.e., he was an epistemological pessimist. His name was given to empirical philosophy that is skeptical about knowledge not supported by tangible factual evidence. Interestingly, Empiricus was more pessimistic about what we can know than the great English empirical philosopher John Locke (1632–1704).

Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711–1776) and the philosophers of "Logical Positivism" of the twentieth century, such as Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951), were as pessimistic as Empiricus about what we can know. They insisted that experience is our only basis of knowing and denied the validity of presuppositions or the possibility of metaphysical knowledge. (Metaphysics pertains to first principles and the nature of reality.) Hume and Wittgenstein were the great enemies of reason because of their skepticism about the possibility of having trustworthy presuppositions, and their doubt about the existence of first principles. They denied that reason is a valid source of knowledge.

Faith opens up the realm of reason and morality to mankind. Reason and morality open up the possibility of civilization and high culture. Philosophical skepticism shuts down whole areas of the rational mind and leads us to nihilism and barbarism. Therefore, skepticism, when taken to extreme, can be a threat to the survival of civilization.

Partly due to the influence of the skeptics, Western man has gradually lost his knack for examining his presuppositions. Man must think to survive, and cannot think clearly without presuppositions. With presuppositions constantly under attack by the skeptics, Western man has fallen into the bad habit of using presuppositions without talking about them or thinking much about them. (Note that what has come to be known as "common sense" is, in many cases, sound thinking based upon hidden presuppositions.)

Many people have acquired their presuppositions by osmosis and cannot define them. All they know is that some concepts ring true and other statements do not sound quite right. Many activists of the left and right are arguing from unexamined assumptions in the debate about gay marriage. The two sides are arguing past each other and both sides are surprised that the other side is not listening to them.

This kind of disconnection must occur when the presuppositions of two opposing sides are in conflict and neither side has examined their own presuppositions. The inevitable result of such a debate is terminal deadlock and despair about whether a debate can lead to the truth. When judges and legislators hear arguments in deadlock, they tend to vote their biases. This is why the votes of Supreme Court moderates are increasingly arbitrary in their written opinions.

Does man have a nature?

In order to win the debate, the defenders of traditional marriage must start with their first principle, which is that man has a innate nature. All their arguments for traditional marriage must flow from this first principle by an unbroken chain of logic. In contrast, the advocates of gay marriage must reject the idea that man has an innate nature. They must argue that some combination of evolution, heredity, environment, education, culture, and self-invention determines what a person is at a given point in time.

The advocates for traditional marriage have the advantage in the debate over first principles. It is easy to persuade a man that he has an innate nature because the idea is simple and clear and is naturally agreeable to the instincts of the human heart. In contrast, telling a man that he is a construct of myriad external factors reduces him to a programmed automaton, an idea that diminishes man and is repellant to the human heart. One of the most effective lines a conservative can utter is, "We are not programmed automatons. We are men with reason, free will, consciousness, and conscience. Therefore, no one is compelled or programmed to become gay. No one who is gay is compelled by blind necessity to remain gay."

Liberals will invariably fight against going back to first principles because they intuitively sense that it would be fatal to their cause. To win the debate, they must conceal their own presuppositions, misrepresent their opponent's first principles, or impugn their opponent's motives. The liberals have deliberately reduced the debate to slogans, sound bites, and rhetorical attack bombs so that the conservatives will get entangled in the polemical shallows and never bring up their powerful resources from the depths of reason.

The liberals might argue that the first principles of their opponents are grounded in faith and therefore are not admissible in public debate on the grounds of the separation of church and state. The answer to this idea is elementary:
  1. Faith in first principles for philosophical reasoning is not the same thing as a creed or a formal confession of faith.

  2. All first principles in philosophy are embraced by a kind of faith, but not necessarily a religious faith. One can trust a first principle to be true without having personal faith in God. One can trust God without having first principles. Self-evident truths and presuppositions that are unthinkable to question are often received by intuition, a kind of quasi-faith or an inspiration of reason.

    French Rationalist philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1650) called the mystical flashes of light that brought him first principles "intuitions of pure reason." Who is to say whether such eureka moments come from God or are from our own minds and intuitions? Who is to say that God cannot give an unbeliever a eureka moment so that he might have a first principle? Obviously, such questions are way beyond the scope of issues of church and state.

  3. Without first principles, there can be no reason or rational discourse, and therefore it is absurd to ban first principles from public discussion.
If first principles are excluded from public discourse because they are grounded in faith, the foundations for reason will be destroyed. If reason is washed away, the logic of moral principles will go with it. "If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?" (Psalm 11:3) When we drive God out of the public square, we also drive man out. Without reason and morality, we are no longer men, but beasts — like barbarians, nihilists, and rock stars.

Reason enables us to be real men living in a real world with solid moral values. Liberals resist reason with skeptical arguments in order to replace the substance of a real world validated by reason with the shadows of skepticism in which one can doubt whether existence itself exists. Of course, if one can doubt that existence exists, who is to say that gay marriage or sexual promiscuity is wrong? It is painfully obvious that wicked motives lie behind the rejection of reason. When one makes sexual hedonism his religion, he will invariably choose skepticism as his philosophy and moral relativism as his guide. The price of sexual license is high. The libertine loses touch with himself and with the real world and is submerged in fantasies. The sexual revolution has thrown America into a miasma of irrationality and perverse fantasies.

Self-creation vs. design

If a liberal uses the argument that man is self-invented, he has a fighting chance to win the debate for first principles. His argument is that we have no nature other than the nature we create for ourselves. This argument's appeal is not in its logic, but in the popular American myth that we can reinvent ourselves. Jay Gatsby, the naive and dreamy protagonist of the book The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, believed he could reinvent himself. This belief led him to many illusions and follies and ultimately led to his death. The book is an American classic, because it exposes the futility of the great American myth of self-invention and the vanities of great wealth.

The idea of self-invention is a mixture of truth and falsehood. People make many decisions that affect their developmental process and what they become in life. They might cooperate with a development process that leads to the fulfillment of what they have been designed to be, or they might cooperate with a development process that contradicts their design. Following one's true design leads to fulfillment. Opposing one's design leads to futility. We must defend freedom, in spite of the fact that some men will abuse it, because freedom allows the wise to discover their true gifts and follow their true destiny.

We have an innate nature and can cooperate with it or reject it. Therefore: (1) we are not automatons, (2) we are designed beings with an innate nature, and (3) we can use our reason and free will correctly or incorrectly in our development process. If one has mistakenly followed a developmental path towards homosexuality, he can step off that path and get back on the path towards healthy normalcy.

Why would anyone want to step off the true path in the first place? It is the nature of evil to seduce, deceive, and subvert that which is good. Homosexuals have fallen into destructive temptations and have followed the wrong path, leading to great personal loss. In contrast, the path to traditional marriage, where heterosexual sex is designed exclusively for marriage partners, is the true path because it is part of the grand design of creation for parents, children, and the extended family. Therefore, sex in marriage when used as the Creator of sex intended, is a good thing. In contrast, Homosexual practices are a subversion and perversion of sex because they are using it contrary to the design for sex and contrary to the grand design for the family. Children tend to thrive in healthy families and tend to wither when raised in conditions where the design for the family has been subverted. We cannot defy the design of our natures and have healthy outcomes.

Unfortunately, the New Age culture of "be anything you want to be" has replaced an older culture of "find out what you were made for." This gives the advocates of gay marriage the edge in arguing that we are self-created and have no innate nature. If we have no innate nature and some people decide to make themselves gay, they will tend to feel that their choice is as good as any other choice. This is the argument of the New Agers and the libertarian gays who are "Log Cabin Republicans." Conservatives should rebut their argument by saying, "It is a personal disaster for one to choose to be something contrary to how he has been designed. We should be true to what we are, not invent something from our fantasies. To live according to a deceptive fantasy is to betray our own nature. Each person should seek to discover what he or she has been uniquely designed to be, for that is the path to a meaningful life and the way of blessing." By this statement, the conservative counters the New Age and libertarian appeal to individualism by self-creation with an appeal to individualism based upon a unique personal design.

Intelligent design

The idea that man has an innate nature flows naturally into the idea that there must be a design behind that nature. If man is designed, marriage must also be designed. Homosexuality is contrary to that design. This is an essential point that conservatives must make in the debate about gay marriage.

If we are designed, there must be a Great Designer behind the design. The argument that man has a designed nature is also an argument for a Creator. The argument that man has no innate nature is an argument against a Creator. At the root of the culture war is a conflict between theism and atheism.

After the conservative debater establishes that man has an innate nature, the next step is to persuade the audience that an innate nature must of necessity have a design behind it. We have an innate nature precisely because our nature is designed by a supreme being. If we are not the product of design, we cannot have an innate nature. A world of accidental — rather than designed — existence must be in constant flux, so that no nature can ever crystallize into a stable definable state. The congeries of flux cannot produce a harmonious, orderly nature worthy of the name.

I shall borrow the term "intelligent design" from science and use it as a shorthand designation for a broad philosophy of human life — that human life and culture flourish when people discover and pursue the life they were designed to live. Mankind has a design in general, and each person has a design in particular. There is a plan for the life of each person that is implied by how he has been designed. The American audience is predisposed to believe in individual destiny.

Everyone has a unique design for his life in some ways, and all people have a common design in other ways. Individuality of design does not make every person a unique species. We retain a solidarity by design with the human race in many ways. There are more things that are universal to humanity than are unique the individual. The scientific phrase for this phenomenon is "variation within a species." If we were not all members of the human race sharing a common nature, it would not matter what kind of sexual or social relationships we had. Individuality is good if one does not go to nihilistic extremes in the denial of a common human nature and a common morality.

One of the universals of human nature is that we were designed to be male and female fitted for the marriage union with the overriding purpose of bearing and raising children in a stable and loving family. It is healthy for society to follow this design, and destructive to the social fabric to fight against this design. When we fight against our design, we destroy ourselves. High divorce rates, declining birth rates, high rates of illegitimate births, and the social acceptance of abortion and homosexuality are the earmarks of a culture that is destroying itself. The root of that self-destruction is skepticism about whether we have an innate nature, leading to a decline in human self-respect and respect for others. A collapse in human dignity ultimately leads to irrationality and sexual nihilism. If I am nothing, anything goes. Let's party, dude, and "burn down the house."

Philosophical reason vs. magical thinking

The magical thinking of gay marriage advocates became clear to me from a debate about gay marriage between Christian philosophers and secular philosophers (source: Philosophia Christi, Volume 7, Number 1, November 2005). Jay Budziszewski, professor of government and philosophy at the University of Texas-Austin, pointed out that the underlying reality of a thing is independent of its name. The "underlying reality" means the "innate nature." Changing a name cannot change the underlying nature of the thing designated. Those who suppose they are changing reality by changing a name are indulging in magical thinking.

When gays rhapsodize about the wonders of gay unions, their rhetoric is filled with magical and wishful thinking. "Give us the name of marriage, and we shall enjoy the blessings of marriage." Sorry. Blessings come from bringing innate nature to its fulfillment. Blessings do not come from changing the name of a relationship to make it politically correct. Indeed, the agenda to impose politically correct words is filled with the illusions of magical thinking.

The only people who can accept magical thinking are those who do not believe that the things they see have an innate nature. The proponents of gay marriage who see no contradiction between "gay" and "marriage" do not believe that either man, woman, or marriage have innate natures. It is magical thinking to suppose that something can come into being just because we name it, or say it exists, or want it to exist, think it exists, or will it to exist.

This kind of magical thinking began in earnest during the nineteenth century with German Idealist philosophers such as Fichte, Schelling, Schiller, Schleiermacher, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche. The German idealists believed that if a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear it, it makes no sound. The American counterpart of magical thinking was the romantic-mystical literary movement called "Transcendentalism" represented by Emerson, Whitman, and Thoreau. The New Age Movement continued the tradition of magical thinking and added new decadence and new delusions to the bohemian tradition. There is a long philosophical pedigree behind the present madness.

Gays magically think they have the "right" to legal recognition of their unions as marriages by virtue of their desire, will, sincerity, commitment, and love. This claim presupposes that marriage is an artifact of desire, sincerity, commitment, and love. These subjective qualities can make a relationship better, but cannot create the objective underlying nature of that relationship. If I feel good about my imagined oneness with a fire hydrant, that does not mean I have created a marriage.

Liberals and magical thinking

Those who are subject to magical thinking have lost touch with reality. Existence does not exist merely because it feels real to me. Rather, existence exists because everything has an intelligent design and therefore has an innate nature. If all that existed was our feelings and surface appearances, we would be free to construe what exists according to our whims.

When a director on a movie set looks at the false front of a building, he can decide what kind of building he wants it to be and make it so by hanging a different sign on it. However, if one thinks he can look at a real building and claim he can decide for himself what kind of building it is without reference to its design, he is either a liar, a madman, or a liberal who has been seduced by magical thinking.

Unfortunately, liberals often think this way. In my debates with my liberal friends, I often have to tell them "saying so does not make it so." Then they repeat the same thing with more emphasis as though rhetorical vehemence can force something into existence.

One becomes a liberal through a strange seduction in which one is dazzled by his fantasies and becomes captive to his illusions. Liberalism is not a mental illness, as pundit Michael Savage thinks. Instead, liberals are deceived and bewitched in a process of seduction that leads to what the Bible calls "worldliness." Liberalism is a special kind of enchanted worldliness. "Love not the world...for all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world" (excerpts, I John 1:15-16). The worldly enchantments of the flesh, the eyes, and pride are not of the Creator because they are contrary to His design of the innate nature of things. Like the first love of an adolescent who says, "My love is the only reality," liberals are in love with their enchanted fantasies and will fight bitterly to preserve them.

If one does not believe in an existence anchored in an innate nature, he is floating in a chaotic flux in which one can say, "Gay marriage is a marriage if we give it the name of marriage." In the mad hatter world of gay advocacy, gays can assert, "We have the 'right' to 'gay marriage' because we want it and demand it and feel good about our gay liaisons." Do gay marriage advocates really talk this way? Yes. In the woozy world of the hyper-sexual left, one constantly hears frothy assertions of exactly this kind.

Dr. Budziszewski noted that calling a cat a dog cannot change the underlying reality of the cat nature. However, the change in terms can confuse us about the underlying nature of a cat or a dog. Such confusion could unfit us for caring for cats or dogs. "Tabby, fetch this stick." "Fido, play with this yarn." Tabby and Fido would be just as confused as their masters. A similar kind of confusion occurs when Jack asks Mike to marry him, or when Jill asks Jane to marry her. Whatever it is that Jack and Mike or Jill and Jane might be doing, it is not and cannot be a marriage, even if they insist on calling it a marriage. If one can somehow teach Tabby to bark like a dog, Tabby will still be a cat. A woman who impersonates a man is still a woman, albeit a confused woman. Even if Fido can meow like a cat, Fido remains a dog. A man who impersonates a woman is still a man, albeit a confused man.

Traditional marriage has one underlying reality, and gay liaisons have a different underlying reality. Traditional marriage follows a design, but gay liaisons are jerry-built concoctions. Gay sexual relationships are inherently unstable because they are an incoherent mixture of disharmonious elements held together by illusions and stubborn assertions. Going against intelligent design always has this outcome.

Young couples in traditional marriages might be confused if the definition of marriage is changed, just as the owner of Tabby might be confused if his name is changed to Fido. "Honey, if gay couples are married, what does that imply for our marriage? Hmmm. I am tired of playing the wife. I think I will experiment by playing the husband for a while." Denial of intelligent design reduces life to the play world of pretend and the acting out of concocted agendas before imaginary cameras.

Building a community of design

In order to win the culture war and defeat the gay agenda, conservatives must live lives dedicated to the proposition that we have innate natures conceived in the intelligent design of an Almighty Creator. Our arguments about innate nature will ring hollow if we are individually living in fantasy. In order to avoid hypocrisy, we must make a radical renunciation of the American myth that we are self-invented and can follow any dream that piques our fancy.

The funeral of Willy Loman is the closing scene of Arthur Miller's play The Death of a Salesman. At the funeral, the bereaved family discussed Willy's life. His son Biff concluded, "He dreamed the wrong dreams." Throughout the play, Willy was haunted by the memories of Uncle Ben, his deceased older brother, who had enchanted him with tales of exotic adventure and great wealth. These intrusive fantasies distracted Willy from the realities of his family and his own admirable talents in working with his own hands. He created turmoil by trying to induce his sons to follow his fantasies for them. He neglected his true gifts and ruined his relationships with his family and friends. He stubbornly pursued his course as a mediocre traveling salesman, increasingly out of touch with his customers and his boss, as he believed in his fantasies instead of his realities. In the end, Willy was driven to poverty, alienation, madness, and death. The memories of the family at the funeral were more sweet than bitter, because the innate nature of this deceived and ruined man, although buried beneath the rubble of his life, was understood by those who loved him. They cherished the diamond buried in the ruins. He was a potentially wonderful man who followed the wrong dreams.

Actor Jack Klugman said in a television interview, "My brother lived his whole life incorrectly." He started one business after another, and every one of them failed. One day, just for fun, Jack gave his brother a part in a dramatic skit. Jack was astonished. "The man is an artiste!" he shouted. Jack's brother wasted his life by following the wrong dreams.

How does one discover the right dreams and fulfill his destiny? Some people correctly understand their true nature and destiny at an early age. This is a special gift and blessing. For others, it requires courage, absolute honesty, and a long, difficult journey of discovery that may last for many years. One must be prepared for pain as his illusions about himself fall away. However, one can be assured that God wants him to discover what He has designed him to be, and will give light to the one who seeks the truth. The essential question is not so much whether one has discovered the whole truth about what he was designed to be, but whether he is on the right path of discovery. Regular prayer for guidance is indispensable to this process.

It is not enough, however, to go on an individualistic adventure of discovery. We must build families and communities according to the Creator's intelligent design. Every relationship should be based upon a respect for the other person's innate nature. We must honor God's design for marriage. Married folks must be true to the innate nature of their spouses and not get off track with their romantic fancies or unrealistic expectations about that person. The true nature of the relationship must be given time to emerge through a process of discovery, not through the imposition of a selfish agenda. We should recognize that even the most free-wheeling relationship has an underlying reality with roots in design.

The mission of conservatives at this point in history is to develop a life-style, philosophy, and worldview of intelligent design. Every issue in the culture war hinges upon the question of whether man has an innate nature and whether that nature has a design from the Creator.

Individual lives and families committed to their true nature and destiny is the foundation for the renewal of the community, the culture, and the nation. Communities of design can win the culture war, with God's help, and steer America toward her glorious destiny as planned in the councils of eternity.

A message from Stephen Stone, President, RenewAmerica

I first became acquainted with Fred Hutchison in December 2003, when he contacted me about an article he was interested in writing for RenewAmerica about Alan Keyes. From that auspicious moment until God took him a little more than six years later, we published over 200 of Fred's incomparable essays — usually on some vital aspect of the modern "culture war," written with wit and disarming logic from Fred's brilliant perspective of history, philosophy, science, and scripture.

It was obvious to me from the beginning that Fred was in a class by himself among American conservative writers, and I was honored to feature his insights at RA.

I greatly miss Fred, who died of a brain tumor on August 10, 2010. What a gentle — yet profoundly powerful — voice of reason and godly truth! I'm delighted to see his remarkable essays on the history of conservatism brought together in a masterfully-edited volume by Julie Klusty. Restoring History is a wonderful tribute to a truly great man.

The book is available at

© Fred Hutchison


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They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. —Isaiah 40:31