BAD ANALOGIES: Gay Marriage is Like 2 + 2 = 5

Anti-gays hate the word homophobia, but we need it for those times when someone’s reaction to homosexuality makes them take leave of their senses, lose their ability to think clearly, and fail at creating coherent arguments. These are signs of a debilitating psychological disorder in play, and it’s fair to call it out as such.

ben-carson-one-nation-200x200For instance, conservative darling Ben Carson is a brilliant man. He’s the former director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins. In 1987 he successfully separated conjoined twins who were joined at the back of the head, in a pioneering 22-hour surgery.  The man is extraordinarily gifted.

Within in his field.

At the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast, though, he gave a socially conservative speech that launched him into right-wing prominence, and he’s touted now a possible presidential contender in 2016. He wants to end political correctness and replace it with civil discourse. And he’s unhappy with people who say, “Carson is a homophobe because he believes marriage is between a man and a woman.” He tries to explain why they’re wrong, using a “helpful analogy” that mostly confirms his inability to think clearly when it comes to teh gays.

It’s sort of like a new group of mathematicians that come along, and they say 2+2=5. And the traditionalists say, ‘No, it’s 4, it’s always been 4, it always will be 4.’ And the new ones say, ‘No, we insist that it’s 5.’ So, that the traditionalists say, ‘I’ll tell you what, for you it can can be five; we’re keeping it as 4.’ And then, the new ones say, ‘No, no, it has to be 5 for you, and if it’s not, then you’re a mathosaur or a mathophobe. And basically, that’s the situation we find ourselves in.

Now, these are carefully considered remarks offered in a friendly setting. Nevertheless, there is so very, very much wrong with this analogy.

First, we have a term for mathematicians rely on “tradition” to explain why 2+2=4; we call them not mathematicians. Just as we’d refer to deep thinkers who rely on tradition to oppose same-sex marriage as not deep thinkers. Turns out it’s surprisingly complex to prove 2+2=4, but tradition is not the way to do it.

Second, this business about, “I’ll tell you what, for you it can can be five; we’re keeping it as 4,” is exactly wrong. We’re the ones saying, “I’ll tell you what, some marriages can be a man and a woman, and others can be a woman and a woman or a man and a man.” And they’re the ones saying, “No, no, it has to be a man and a woman, and if you disagree then you’re a name-calling anti-Christian homofascist.”

Finally, of course, we’re not saying that 2+2=5. I don’t want to get too literal, but an analogy ought to at least feel like the thing it’s analogizing.  Look at the structure of  2+2=4. It’s about two things coming together to form a unit. That’s an obvious analogy for marriage, and because we’re saying our marriages are real and genuine marriages, we’re saying that our marriages add up to 4 just like Carson’s does.

Which leads to my suggestion for how to counter his analogy — because let’s face it, you don’t want to lecture for three or four paragraphs to make your point. Instead you can just reply:

We’re not saying 2+2=5. We’re saying 2+2=4. And so does 1+3. And 3+1. Different combinations can add up to 4, just like different combinations can add up to marriage. Saying only a man and a woman can create a marriage is like saying only 2+2 can equal 4.

And I think that’s the best way of dealing with these bad analogies. Take them over, make them better, and turn them against the speaker’s original point. There’s something very satisfying about that.

This is fun. I’m working up something on Same-sex marriage is like a square circle, and if you’ve come across any other bad analogies you want to examine, put them in the comments (with a link, if you can).

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7 comments to BAD ANALOGIES: Gay Marriage is Like 2 + 2 = 5

  • 1
    Spunky says:

    For what it’s worth, mathematicians frequently have slightly different definitions for the same terms. For example, some say the natural numbers start at 1, while others say they start at 0. Also, Artin and Hungerford define the term “ring” differently (Artin requires a unit but Hungerford does not). Similar differences occurs with the definition of an integral domain. I’m pretty sure some topologists require that a topology be a Hausdorff space, but many do not. Oh, and no one mathematician can tell you the definition of a number–it’s not really a well-defined term. Just like marriage. No one person/culture/religion/ time period has a monopoly on the single correct definition of any concept, including marriage.

    Mathematicians are fine with each others’ differences; different definitions often arise from different time periods and different areas of focus.

    Dr. Carson’s comparison of his views to mathematics is such a sad attempt to make his (subjective) opinions seem objective. But as you pointed out, we can actually prove that 2+2=4, provided we make a couple of basic assumtptions and agree on the definitions of 2, +, =, and 4. Perhaps he should speak to a mathematician before making such misguided analogies in the future.

  • 2
    Deeelaaach says:

    Rob, since you’ve pointed this out already, I’ll just extend what you’ve said: There are infinite numbers of combinations that equal four.

    But while I’ve said the above to make light of Dr. Carson’s reduction of marriage, I personally think this misses the point. To return briefly to Dr. Carson’s ridiculous reduction of a complex institution to a (simple?) math equation, I believe we are *also* saying that 2+2=4. They think we are not saying that at all, but in fact, I think we are indeed saying the same thing. I think they are focusing on a certain combination of 2+2=4 (Man + Woman = Marriage) while we are saying (imo) 2+2=4 (Love + Love = Marriage AND/OR Consenting Adult + Consenting Adult = Marriage).

    As Spunky in essence points out, we (including our opponents) cannot agree on the definitions of “2” much less the definition of “4” in this reduction. They would define “2” and “4” for us in their attempt to reduce marriage to “2+2=4″, but we are not defining it for them. We are simply saying that their (laughably) “traditional” definition which ignores both present day marriages outside of the US as well as much of human history – including their short ~10,000(?) year history of the world – is not the only one and that we must be included.

    No, we’re not redefining anything. If anyone has redefined the institution of marriage at all, it’s the so-called “traditionalists” like Dr. Carson. And that, I believe, is the real point.

  • 3
    Regan DuCasse says:

    I usually use the analogy of blood types.
    Although we all have blood, just like we all have a sexual orientation, the different types are best compatible with like types. Gay people have a type to match their own, the same way heterosexuals do.
    Marriage doesn’t require any skills, morals, religious, fertility or endurance tests to qualify.
    Marriage is good for anyone to aspire to, and anyone has it available to them restricted only by age, consent and kinship status.
    The anti gay have to get over debating the legitimate biological origins of homosexuality. Or that it’s something that renders gay people incapable of accomplishing what heteros do given the same opportunity and encouragement.
    What’s immoral, is punishing or denying gay people FOR achieving the same things heterosexuals are respected, if not applauded for doing and are free to do.
    These are the moral and effective distinctions.
    And I’m sick of certain people pretending they are experts in moral teaching, while the hypocrisy stares smarter people right in the face.

  • 4
    Brian says:

    Has anyone directed their attention to the fact that “2” and “2” are the same number? Have they not just proved OUR point?

  • 5
    Regan DuCasse says:


  • 6
    Mark says:

    If you and your ‘partner’ were not having sex, you’d be just considered good friends, no different from two people sharing a residence for financial reasons. So that being the case and the fact that your brand of sex cannot result in having children, can you please explain to me why it is that people should be granted special privileges, benefits and rights based solely on the type of sex they are having?
    The discrimmination that is occuring is against single people. This whole equality head fake is based strictly in access to man-made tax codes and breaks. Marriage is state a regulated institution and the voters have the right to determine what is appropriate not activist judges. Sexuality is external behavior to the being thus is not an inalienable right.

    So why does the state legally recognize heterosexual relationships, i.e. marriages? Because they are the fundamental building block of society. On an existential level, new citizens and thus the perpetuation of society and the state depend upon enduring heterosexual unions. Moreover, heterosexual couples, i.e. parents, are the ones who raise and shape the character of future citizens of the state. These are the benefits that heterosexual couples provide to the state. Even the most powerful state cannot create a new human being and love him or her. Therefore, the state recognizes families, heterosexual couples, legally because of this unique role they play in any society and civilization.

    Marriage has historically been an obligation two people undertook prior to engaging in activities that might reasonably be expected to lead to children, for the purposes of maximizing the odds of those children growing up to be productive members of society.
    Since nothing two homosexuals can do can be expected to produce children, the whole concept of homosexual “marriage” is null and void.

    If I went to Home Depot, bought a garden hose, brought it back home and discovered it had two male ends on it, I would take it back and demand a refund. Such is the case with gay marriage.

  • 7
    Clive says:

    It is a conceit to assert that homosexual people ‘have sex'; I guess that means sexual intercourse within their sex. Not so; sexual intercourse has the potential to produce a zygote. Homosexual people stimulating each other’s genitals is not sexual intercourse (of course) because there is no chance of a zygote. Thus, it is just a parody of sexual intercourse (sex being about reproductive difference).
    So people who don’t have sex want to get married…how odd.

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