Review of Stephen Kershnar’s Book Pedophilia and Adult-Child Sex: A Philosophical Analysis

Written by on December 7, 2016

[EDIT: In light of the recent uproar about Milo Yiannopoulos, I think it would be helpful to repost this article.

Christians have an objective moral standard by which they condemn rape, including pedophilia.

But what do men like Kershnar have? He has an atheistic, materialistic worldview, in which there is no way to account for moral laws or justify moral indignation against things like rape. Kershnar is consistent when he claims that pedophilia is not necessarily morally wrong within his worldview. It logically follows from atheism that pedophilia is not wrong.

Kershnar is a philosophy teacher at the State University of New York. “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” Luke 6:40]

 
It has been said too many times that in our day satire is impossible. I will give irrefutable evidence of that fact by reviewing Stephen Kershnar’s book, “Pedophilia and Adult-Child Sex: A Philosophical Analysis.” A professor at the State University of New York really wrote this book. He wants us to analyze the question of the morality of adults having sex with children from a detached, scientific, objective outlook.

Here’s an outstanding excerpt from the book, which is designed to cleanse your palate before you start vomiting: “Thesis: Skepticism. We should be skeptical about what we know about the effect of adultchild sex on children.” (p. xi) Kershnar on the same page says that, “Most people in response to discussions of adult-child sex claim that they do not need scientific studies to tell them that adult-child sexuality is harmful, bad, wrong, imprudent, and ugly. They claim to know these things without reference to, or even caring about, empirical studies on the topic.” I daresay. Someone didn’t submit their thoughts to the Lords of Peer-Reviewed Studies, and Almighty Empirical Evidences. It’s almost as if these people don’t need a PhD to know that having sex with children is wrong. Just what is this world coming to? These are probably the same people who rip tags off their mattresses too.

You might think everything in the book is the fever dream of a logician who has lost touch with children, I mean, reality. Not so. For example, he candidly admits that he thinks the practice of adult-child sex is disgusting. “The activity intuitively strikes many people, including myself, as sick, disgusting, and wrong.” (p. xi) Brilliant. I thought for a moment he was about to say something weird.

To be fair, his study is focused pretty strictly on consensual sex between adults and children, and by children he means prepubescent, not merely “under 18”. And he says, “The problem is that it is not clear whether these judgments are justified and whether they are aesthetic or moral.” (p. xi) Strictly speaking, he is correct to say we cannot make moral judgments merely because we find something disgusting. I can’t fathom the minds of people who like meatloaf, but at least they’re not Pelagians (yet). As a Christian, I have the Word of God to direct my moral imperatives, so it is possible for me to make moral judgments prior to having any empirical evidence about them. The problem is Kershnar’s worldview precludes this  possibility from the outset. Kershnar adheres to some degree to consequentialist ethics (p. xi, xx, and 20), as he dismisses theism and divine command theory (p. 32), or the idea that something is immoral if it violates God’s commands. Consequentialist ethics is the idea that something is immoral because it has bad consequences. We can’t know for certain that something is bad until there is empirical evidence that it is bad. How do we find out if bestiality is wrong? Well, by golly, we need research participants! I mean, we need our research to be respectable, after all. Some other juicy avenues you’ll want to explore in this book are: he denies the existence of “exploitation” as an ethical category, and tries to argue that even if it exists it isn’t immoral (chapter 5); pedophiliac fantasies aren’t so bad (chapter 7); and bestiality is basically ok. All of this is based on the hard evidence of empiricism. And so Scientists everywhere breathed a sigh of relief.

Five questions I would like to ask Stephen Kershnar:

  1. Why do you find divine command theory implausible?
  2. You seem to believe that there must be some empirical evidence that an action is harmful in order for it be justifiably believed to be immoral. Why adopt this ethic in the first place? Is it any less arbitrary than divine command theory?
  3. You connect your dismissal of exploitation as a moral category with medieval discussions of just price. Why do you think these disparate issues are related?
  4. If we’re all evolved animals, where do rights come from? How can one make a materialistic basis for
    them?
  5. Can non empirical knowledge be justified with certainty?

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Reader's opinions
  1. LeonSisMann   On   July 9, 2017 at 11:30 pm

    Mr Seth Bloomsburg,

    Could you quote those passages of the Old Testament and New Testament which explicitly address (forbid or defend) what Kershnar is writing about – ‘consensual’ child-adult intimacy (therefore not rape, incest, child murder etc).

    A quick read-through of the OT I found five instances of the god of the OT explicitly commanding child rape and child slavery:

    Numbers 31:1-18
    Deuteronomy 20:10-14
    Judges 21:7-11
    Judges 21:20-23
    Exodus 21:7-10

    Wouldn’t this suggest that your scruples about this issue are more to do with the ethical progress that secularism has created, than the wishes of any god or gods. hasn’t the history of the Age of Consent been one of a steady raising in inverse proportion to the religiosity of society?

    Moreover, I know it is Apocryphal, but Mary, the mother of Jesus, has traditionally been thought of as being 12 years old when betrothed to Joseph. And Aisha was nine when mohammed raped her.

    I can’t answer the five questions you ask on behalf of Mr Kershnar, but here is my take on two of them

    “Why do you find divine command theory implausible?”

    for it to be plausible the following have to be established
    1/ that there are such things as gods
    2/ that the gods you believe in are the ‘real gods’ and not one of the tens of thousands of invented ones that litter mankind’s cultural history. Why is your god the ‘real’ god and not Thor, or Khali or Apollo?
    3/ that those gods are interested enough in what humans do to give ‘commands’.
    4/ which commands, amidst the many contradictions, are the ones to be followed (the god of the OT says ‘thou shalt not kill’ – but commands many genocides, such as that against the people and animals of Jericho).

    Each one of these seems impossible to establish – so taken together they are the cube of impossible.

    “You seem to believe that there must be some empirical evidence that an
    action is harmful in order for it be justifiably believed to be immoral.
    Why adopt this ethic in the first place? Is it any less arbitrary than
    divine command theory?”

    I can’t speak for Kershnar – but a ‘morality’ that is disconnected to outcome, or to human thriving, is bound to produce suffering. An ethics (and thus a morality) needs to be clear as to whom or what it serves. Does a morality serve mankind? the planet? or does it serve god?

    If a morality serves god or gods then all kinds of behaviours that are harmful to mankind or the planet end up being permitted – Deuteronomy and Leviticus are examples of morality serving the well-being of a god at the expense of humans, as is the koran and the hadith.

    If you reject the commands of Deuteronomy etc isn’t it because a deeper ethical impulse, your humanity, tells you that stoning women for adultery is wrong? Does it take Jesus for you to perceive the evil of this practice?

    Empiricism and Reason are the best guarantees that an ethics serves that which ethics SHOULD serve – humans, animals, the biosphere and the planet.

    An ethics whose goal is to serve a (very probably) imaginary being is one that is likely to be profoundly flawed and in need of correction (which is indeed what History has done in the case of Christianity and Judaism).

    A morality based on command is not a morality – ‘obedience’ is not an ethical operation – the guards of the concentration camps were exercising the morality of obedience, jihadis are exercising unquestioning obedience to the commands of their ‘god’.

    Reason and evidence are our best guides in ethics – they are not perfect – they force us to think, argue, doubt, research, change our minds – but wouldn’t you say that the ethics of the liberal democratic free are millennia in advance of those of Leviticus, or of Sharia? Don’t ethics and morality, like science, evolve as we do?

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