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Robot Sex Print E-mail
By Randall Smith   
Thursday, 06 June 2013

The conversation began with my remarking on the gay pride sticker from Droid showing two little robots holding hands, one of them carrying the multi-colored gay pride flag. “Yes,” I said, “I suppose once we start making robots, we’ll be required to make the same number of gay robots as straight robots, or else well be accused of discrimination.” 

My interlocutor responded that I was confusing “sex” with “gender.”  “No,” I replied:

I’m not talking about their “sex” or their “gender.”  You can make the robots any way you like. They can have male parts, female parts, male and female parts, parts that fit together with their other parts; they can hook up to a wall socket if you like, like R2D2 into the Death Star. In short, they can have “sex” in any possible configuration you like.  But here’s my question:  Why would anyone design robots to “have sex” if the robots have no chance at all of reproduction?  Why would anyone waste the time, the money, and the resources to design that sort of “function” (if we can call it that) into an android?  What would be the point?

The only possible reason for doing so, it seems to me, would be to give vicarious sexual pleasure to humans. To call what these robots would be doing a “sexual” act would be a stretch.  At best, it could only be metaphorical, the way we talk about the “male” and “female” ends of the plugs on an extension cord.  For two robots, theirs would be merely a simulacrum of a sexual act, in the end no more “sexual” than the “sex” two cartoon characters might be pictured on a computer screen – simply a particular juxtaposition of pixels and electrons, not an organic union ordered to the procreation of new life. 

In the case of two robots, their “sexual” act would be what many people think human sex is: nothing more than two physical bodies in conjunction with each other in one particular way.  And of course, if we think about sex in that way, then the obvious question is: What is it about that particular configuration of human bodies that makes it morally impermissible

Indeed, as the conversation went on, these were precisely the sorts of question I was asked. “So lets say there are two woman who love one another and are committed to one another the way you and your wife are committed to one another, and lets say theyre engaged in an act that, if their biology were different, might lead to children, but in this case cannot.  Why does the absence of this one, single dimension of the act – the possibility of having children – make it something morally unacceptable?” 


         Green Gay Androids of Google

You get the picture. An act identical in every other respect except for the absence of this one thing: namely, the possibility of having children. How is this situation different, my young friend wanted to know, from the same sort of act between a married heterosexual couple having sex during the woman’s infertile periods, when that dimension of the act (the possibility of having children) is similarly absent? 

            Not being Catholic, my young friend didn’t know how often many Catholics use this same argument on behalf of contraception.  Here is a couple, it is said, engaged in a sexual act identical (it is claimed) in every other respect to the one engaged in by couples trying to have children, except for the absence of this one dimension of the act: the procreative dimension.  Why, they want to know, would the absence of this one dimension of the act – the possibility of having children – make it something morally unacceptable to the Church?

I’ll have more to say on this question in the future, but the first thing we might notice is the degree to which such a question is made possible by the culture of contraception.  It might be good to recall that for the bulk of human history, no one could have thought about sex this way. It’s not that people in the past weren’t interested in having sex without making babies – people were always interested in pleasure without consequences. No, it’s just that, whether people were trying desperately to avoid babies or not, couples engaging in sex wouldn’t have been able to avoid thinking about procreation.  Everyone was very aware that what they were doing involved something like planting seed in fertile soil. 

Contraception changes that mentality: sex becomes increasingly divorced from procreation, not merely in practice (which was always a possibility) but in the way people think about sex.  Before the advent of reliable contraception, no one would have said that procreation was just one dimension of sex.  Even today, people euphemistically refer to the sexual act as “making babies” — sometimes even when the couple in question doesn’t want to make a baby.

It’s only in the present rather confused age that we’re in the rather odd position of having people engaged in the act of “making babies” who want to claim that “making a baby” is only one dimension of that particular act, and a non-essential one at that! So, for example, it’s only for this current generation that masturbation would be considered a form of “sex.” In the past, masturbation would have been considered something one did when “sex” was for some reason not available.  For this generation, any sexual stimulation whatsoever can be called “sex.” 

The first thing to notice about many modern conversations about “sex” is that the two parties may actually be talking about two entirely different things.  From the Catholic perspective, talking about sex as though it was merely an arrangement of body parts would be like equating sex with the game “Twister.”  In this confused age, the first question we have to get clear is this: What makes something “sex”?  A configuration of body parts?  A feeling?

More on this next time.

 
Randall B. Smith is Professor at the University of St. Thomas, where he has recently been appointed to the Scanlan Chair in Theology.
 
 
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Comments (17)Add Comment
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written by Michael PS, June 06, 2013
Living things are by definition chemical data-processing systems that self-perpetuate (those that do not self-perpetuate, cease to exist). It is not so much that we "must" perpetuate (no choice exists); it is simply that our system is built upon that principle.

Processes that are "adaptive" are those whose output does not inhibit self-perpetuation.
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written by Jack,CT, June 06, 2013
Thanks for a Great Read.....
Refreshing read after a previous day
of ,,,well not sure what all that
was.lol!

Jack!
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written by Manfred, June 06, 2013
The reason this discussion goes on stems from the fact that from at least 1968 to July, 2012, the American Church "taught", de facto, that the use of contraception by Catholics was permissible. That "teaching" was "corrected" in July, 2012 when Cdl Dolan gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal and admitted the Church had been wrong for the previous forty-four years!!! EVERY soul will spend eternity in either Heaven or Hell and Christ has told us that "few there are who find it" (Heaven). God will save whom He wills. Cdl. Dolan et al.? "The Road to Hell is paved with the skulls of bishops." SAINT John Chrysostom
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written by Chris, June 06, 2013
Your friend is right to equate gay sex with any other form of anti-procreative sex. Sadly, included in the list of anti-procreative sex is most Catholic couples' use of NFP. NFP has truly become the American Catholic contraception exception clause, and it is used as judiciously as the pill.
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written by Grump, June 06, 2013
To quote Woody Allen: "Sex without love is a meaningless experience, but as far as meaningless experiences go its pretty good."
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written by Randall B. Smith, June 06, 2013
Dearest Manfred,

I am an adult convert to Catholicism and was not a Catholic before 1981. Since that time, however, I can say with absolute certainty that the Catholic Church has taught, clearly and unequivocally, a message even I, a Catholic in America who was not originally opposed to contraception, understood: that contraception was impermissible. Trust me, every convert such as myself knows this teaching, since for most of them, it's a major cultural and intellectual obstacle that must be surmounted.

Please, I beg you to understand that your opponents in this fight are not your allies in the Catholic Church, but those in the wider culture who hate us both. It would be comforting if every now and again you directed your very considerable ire against those who hate the Church and all it stands for and not merely (as always) at bishops, many of whom, especially among the current crop, have risked and sacrificed a lot more for the faith than either you or I.

Schism helps our enemies, not the Lord. I beg you to reconsider your targets and your tone --- daily.
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written by Titus, June 06, 2013
Prof. Smith, if I might, briefly: the problem is deeper than contraception, because the problem you identify is more profound than mere confusion about sexuality. The problem, is, at its core, one of confusion about ideas and what things are. People no longer learn how to think: we cannot distinguish between the essential characteristics of a thing and its mere incidental characteristics. We do not read Aristotle. So it is not just that people cannot articulate what sex is, it is that most people lack the intellectual tools to arrive at any meaningful conclusion as to what sex (or anything else) is. Confusion about sex is a symptom (a severe one to be sure) of a larger disease. (It likely is a symptom of several diseases, but the we-don't-read-Aristotle disease warrants attention.)
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written by Howard Kainz, June 06, 2013
@Manfred: Cdl. Dolan did not say that the Church had been wrong for 44 years, but rather that the Church had been remiss in not enunciating its firm position on contraception clearly. There is a difference between not saying enough about contraception and condoning it.
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written by Patsy, June 06, 2013
Manfred,

What Randall said, I second.

What's this "de facto" nonsense? I wasn't even born until 1980, yet not once in all my 32 years have I met a single priest who says contraception is OK, and I've always heard the opposite not only preached, but emphatically so. And I've lived in five different states and a whole lot of parishes in those five states. And in the seven Catholic schools I attended in my 13+ years of Catholic education, contraception (once we students were old enough to know what it was) was presented as categorically moral and that even NFP was only to be used in cases of real necessity. Oh, yeah, and I now work for the Church, so I know a rather large number of bishops and priests, and I don't know a one who supports contraception. I have several former classmates who are now priests -- all, mind you, who are in their 30s and born long after 1968 -- and every single one of them preaches against contraception. Maybe I've been just been extraordinarily lucky in the parishes, schools, and classmates I've ended up with, but I suspect that the priests who say it's OK are really the exception, and that the exception has been taken as the rule by certain lay people because A) it's what they want to hear and B) it's what the media happily mis-presents as "what the Church says".

Do you spend as much time praying and sacrificing for our bishops as you do critizing them? Please consider how dreadfully judgmental your comments make you sound. The Church needs people who are willing to build her up and speak well of her rather than trash talk her day after day.
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written by Patsy, June 06, 2013
Titus,

Perhaps, but in the history of the Church, it's been rare that that many people have been educated enough to have read Aristotle. Until the 19th or 20th century, that sort of education was the privilege of the wealthy, and I dare say most lay people could never have really articulated what sex really is. And I think it's really only now, after Pope John Paul II's theology of the body has come into the picture, that people really are starting to understand or really articulate the depth of what sex is.

Instead, I think the problem is really our current tendency towards glorification of the self and towards disobedience, which undermine the senss fidei and the conscience, which, if properly active, should make it obvious even to the uneducated that sexual abberation is against God's will.

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written by Edward, June 06, 2013
"Confused" age?
Call it like it is Professor.
"Evil"
We live in an evil age. This is but one terrible example of many.

As for Manfred, he's not so off base. The Church has been so deeply screwed up since Vatican II that we are still drowning because of it. The aftermath, the leftist hijacking, the non-dogmatic elements of the pastoral council itself (it's new mode of operating has with the world has been a nightmare), all these have wreaked havoc on the Church and our civilization for the past half century.
We need a true return to the faith of our Fathers, whether or not the west keeps falling into this abyss.
P.S. before anyone starts the name calling game, I am a Catholic in good standing with the Church, and am not in schism, and have never had anything to do with the SSPX for God's sake. Every time someone criticizes V2, you don't need to man a defense of the castle, it was a pastoral council, not one of the great councils, just ask the Popes themselves.
I'd suggest you read Msgr. Brunero Gherardini on the matter.
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written by Patsy, June 06, 2013
Oops...significant typo in my first comment..."categorically moral" should have been "categorically immoral".
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written by Manfred, June 06, 2013
@Howard Kainz: A rule of law states: Silence implies consent. Cdl Dolan, in his WSJ interview, said: The Church has "not taught sexual morality" in "forty-four years".

@Patsy:"Oh, yeah, and now I work for the Church..." Is this supposed to suggest that you can be subjective?

@Howard, Patsy and Randall: use your good offices and find a textbook called LOVING which was used in Catholic High Schools in the '70s and '80s. It clearly taught that families with few children were happier and more affluent.
Go to the Pre-Cana class I taught in the 70s where my field was household finance. The human sexuality evening was given by a Catholic couple in the parish. He was an M.D. and she, his wife, was a Registered Nurse. They reviewed every means of artificial contraception in great detail, finally stating that all were not approved by the Church. They then segued into Natural Family Planning with the caution that this method was quite unreliable, but it was approved by the Church.
My last point: When Cdl Dolan hands Joe Biden (WHO IS PRO CONTRACEPTION, PRO ABORTION, PRO SODOMITE MARRIAGE)the Sacred Body and Blood of Christ at a very public Mass at St. Patrick's, the TEACHING MOMENT is very clear. These behaviors really don't matter; the Federal monies you give to the Church are much more important!
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written by Patsy, June 06, 2013
Manfred:

No. While I am objective (and people who know me could vouch for thar), that note was meant to point out that I have a wide variety of clergy acquaintances. I'm not saying I love every one of them or agree with everything they all say. In fact, there are plenty of priests whom I consider knuckleheads for various reasons, so be assured that I maintain an objective mind. What I meant, and apparently poorly communicated, was that of all the many, many clergy I know, none has ever supported contraception. There's nothing objective about an observation.

Besides, there's nothing subjective about noting the lack of priests I know who support contraception.
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written by Manfred, June 06, 2013
@ Patsy. Thank you for your patient reply. Regardless of your relationships with various priests and bishops, the last published statistic for the percentage of Catholics of child-bearing age in the U.S. who are contracepting was 93% to 97%. That is why Nancy Pelosi reacted with such shock when the Church signalled It was going to oppose the HHS Mandate that all employers provide contraceptive coverage to their employees. The Archdiocese of N.Y. has been providing these as well as abortion coverage to its SEIU employees for years, "under protest" of course. The assumption had been that after the last fifty years, contraception had become acceptable to the Catholic Church. There was little evidence to suggest otherwise.

@Randall: Can a robot ever be consigned to Hell? I am not asking this of you snidely. I think anyone teaching Catholic doctrine today has a very difficult task. I think my question might be helpful.
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written by Titus, June 07, 2013
In response to Patsy's reply:

"Reading Aristotle" is merely a convenient placeholder. Realistic philosophy was the default manner of thinking about things among the formally educated for centuries. But that mode of analysis also reflects common sense: people today don't experience an inability to distinguish a thing's definition from its accidental characteristics because they haven't read enough philosophy; they suffer from that disability because modernity has undermined common sense. So even our less formally educated forebears would have appreciated that it is possible to say what a thing is and what a thing is not, in ways that many people today find wholly unintelligible.

And I think Miss Patsy gives our ancestors too little credit. The Theology of the Body certainly enhances our understanding of human sexuality. But the sexual act is no less amenable to basic Aristotelian definitional analysis than any other thing.

I don't, by any means, disagree with the statement that "the problem is really our current tendency towards glorification of the self and towards disobedience." I was offering a supplemental, not a substitute, diagnosis: modernity's deformation of our moral sensibilities has impaired our ability to think and speak clearly.
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written by Steve Kellmeyer, June 20, 2013
Imagine two people: one eating a chocolate pie, the other eating a pie made of mud (earth mixed with water).

Apart from the nutritive aspect, what the two are doing is precisely the same!

Thus there is no moral difference between the acts!
Well, except the desire to engage in the second is considered a medical disease, pica, and everyone understands it to be so.

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