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

Rob Tisinai

July 25th, 2014

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 referto 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).

David in the O.C.

July 25th, 2014

Yeah, it’s a stupid analogy. For 150 years, a white-colored 2 and a black-colored 2 did not equal 4. So if Ben is arguing that tradition should be the basis to decide civil rights, then we should probably reinstitute bans on interracial marriages.

Priya Lynn

July 25th, 2014

Good one Rob.


July 25th, 2014

Rob, this is devastating to Carson’s argument:
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.
Why didn’t you lead with it, instead of burying it at the end of your posting?

Rob Tisinai

July 25th, 2014

Good suggestion, mudduck. I’ll probably do that with the square circle piece.


July 25th, 2014

As a mathematician, based on that analogy, he doesn’t know how mathematicians work. The “traditionalists” would have responded, “What are your definitions? Show me your proof.” By far the most important thing would be to understand and resolve the inconsistency. Under no circumstances would everyone just live with two contradictory statements.

If the “new mathematicians” were unable to justify their 2+2=5 statement yet stood by it, the “traditionalists” might indeed call them “cranks” (see for an entertaining discussion of a particular type of crank).

The only ideological divisions in modern math deal with foundational questions, the most common being the axiom of choice: roughly, can you make infinitely many arbitrary decisions simultaneously? Most of us say yes (if only because we generally like its consequences), a few say no, and when there may be some disagreement, we just make it clear as an assumption. Everyone can then agree to disagree, as it were.

Also, “mathophobe” means someone who is afraid of math, which makes no sense in the analogy’s context.

Yet another problem with his analogy is that marriage has hardly been 1 man + 1 woman throughout history (or even today), so using something as “immutable” as 2+2=4 is disingenuous.

Finally, while it’s trivial, it is true that both 2+2=4 and 2+2=5, doing arithmetic mod 1. Frankly the traditionalists in the analogy would probably guess the new mathematicians were being a little silly and just meant this; everyone would chuckle briefly (or scoff lightly) and move on. (The humor comes from the absurdity of doing arithmetic mod 1–everything is equal, so addition, subtraction, and multiplication become trivial.)


July 25th, 2014

*Reposted from*

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.


July 25th, 2014

@Spunky: Very minor, but I don’t recall hearing of topologists requiring Hausdorffness; if anything, topologists are probably the main ones interested in those separation conditions. However, manifolds historically were assumed to be Hausdorff, which is why in modern-day algebraic geometry we have “quasicompactness”: “compactness” at one time meant “open covers have finite subcovers” in addition to the space being Hausdorff, whereas nowadays we just use the finite subcovers part. Perhaps this is what you were thinking of.

Rob Tisinai

July 25th, 2014



Lorenzo from Oz

July 25th, 2014

Nicely done. “Marriage is like” arguments are similar to “marriage is about” arguments in that they lack any sense of history.


July 25th, 2014

@Josh: According to Wikipedia, Hausdorff’s original definition of a topology in 1914 included the Hausdorff condition. Probably no one today still adheres to this definition, so maybe I shouldn’t have included it in my original list. And yes, I probably should have included the definition of “compact”–that may have been the best analogy, since it started out as one thing and evolved based on what people really valued. Just like marriage. Which is where much of the disagreement comes from in the first place.

Anyway, thanks for getting me to check that.

Priya Lynn

July 26th, 2014



July 26th, 2014

I just read an analogy I’d like to share with you. It was stated by a gay christian (catholic) guy who decided to stick to the traditional viewpoint of his church.

“The church doesn’t oppose gay marriage because it’s wrong: it opposes gay marriage because it’s impossible. Just like it’s impossible to eat sand [and get nourished by it]”

He said that gay marriage is like eating sand. If he had children, he said, and they told him they like eating sand over real food, he wouldn’t let them eat sand just because it’s theirs “preference”; because sand can’t nourish them. Sand is not real food as gay marriage is not real marriage.

I think this analogy relies in the idea that the only true love is between a man and a woman, because that’s how god wanted it to be. Gay people are confused, they suffer from a psychological disorder that makes them feel attracted by people of the same sex, they even think they can fall in love, but thats not true: they can’t. They get in relationships that don’t last and they’re lonely, etc.

For me, it’s pretty easy to see what’s wrong with the sand-argument. Unlike sand, gay love DOES nourish my soul. I know it, because I know what’s like to be in love with another man. I have been there and I have seen it in many of my gay friends. But… How can I make a catholic person to understand it?

I’ve been struggling with these ideas because I want to come out to my parents, who are a very religious couple…

Here’s the link. It’s in Spanish, though:


July 26th, 2014

I’m really tired of people saying Ben Carson is brilliant. Why did this relatively young man forsake surgery? Where are photos of him in surgery? Who was really responsible for the twin operation? Too many unanswered questions about his dubious achievements, yet people continue to praise this obviously sub-par thinker for brilliance. Use the evidence before you and not a bunch of conservative hype.


July 26th, 2014

I found that the article was a translation from an English one, here it is:

Also, the quote that I translated goes like this in the original one:

“So the Church doesn’t oppose gay marriage because it’s wrong; she opposes it because it’s impossible, just as impossible as living on sand. “


July 26th, 2014

@Spunky: ah, thanks for mentioning that, interesting. That explains why manifolds were Hausdorff in the first place, and why you might need a new word in the scheme-theoretic context to make sure you weren’t using general results about compact Hausdorff spaces.

I agree with you: I think “compactness” is an excellent analogy for marriage. Roughly, it started off meaning a couple of things, “sequential compactness” (Frechet) or “countably compact” (Russian school), and morphed into the modern version after that was seen as more general/useful. That sounds like what is happening to the term “marriage”.

Of course, some mathematical notation is just bad but can’t be fixed; the off-by-one in the Gamma function comes to mind; arguably the use of pi rather than 2pi; etc.


July 26th, 2014

His imaginary friend with a bronze age book of horror stories tells him these things. Mind you, the magic book says that one man and as many women as he can accumulate is a marriage, plus concubines (hookers.


July 26th, 2014

I think it is a waste of time to engage in any thoughtful “analysis” of Ben Carlson and his “arguments” against gay marriage. It only tells him and his fans that he got under your skin and gives him a chance to respond to your response. On and on. Back and forth. The man is not smart. He is a populist idiot spouting tortured aphorisms to a specific segment of society that puts less brain-power into truly understanding homosexuality and the struggle for equal protection under the law than you put into brushing your teeth. Stop indulging him.


July 26th, 2014

So then traditionally speaking, in biblical times, wouldn’t 2+2+2+2+2+2+2 also = 4 ?

Paul Douglas

July 26th, 2014

Well eddie, in biblical times Methuselah did live to be 969 years old.

Paul Douglas

July 26th, 2014

The “little catholic bubble” article you referred to is truly that. A bubble of faith based on anecdote and emotion and not based on reason or fact. If one wants to make huge, unverifiable assumptions, there worldview can make some sense. I however, cannot assume that 1) A god exists; 2) This god created men and women solely for the purpose of reproduction;3) this god created the papacy or the uncontrovertibly corrupted romish catholick church; 4) that any god has any active role in anything that goes on on this planet; 5) and especially the assumption of the author (and the blogger) that this god “loves” us and has entrusted this romanized catholick church to be (his) one source of revelation and truth to a planetful of rational beings.
These people are not worth wasting 30 seconds of energy on. They are unconvinceable because their holy papacy and their bishopricks and their blessed virgin Mary (god’s mother) have told them what is true and no rational argument or evidence will EVER sway them. They have also told them that two men and two women cannot possibly love each other with the same devotion, sexual interest or passion as two opposite gendered individuals so that is now a “fact”. How can you argue with them? They have “truth” on their side. And they will rewrite the truth (history of the church anyone?) to rationalize their beliefs in a heartbeat.
In short Fargok, unless religion is somehow of primary, fundamental importance in YOUR life, I would simply present yourself as yourself and avoid any discussion of religion with your parents. Because IMHO, “religion poisons everything”. And I say this as an ex 40 year practitioner of christianism.


July 27th, 2014

Karl, there are many, many, many areas where one can critique Ben Carson, but his medical accomplishments aren’t one of them. The man is 62 and he was the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins. That’s not a “dubious achievement.” You don’t rise to that level in medicine unless you truly have the goods.

But, as Rob pointed out, brilliance in one field does not necessarily mean competence in another.

Ben in Oakland

July 27th, 2014

Fargok, taking our friend rob’s admonishment a about countering bad analogies with better ones…

““So the Church doesn’t oppose gay marriage because it’s wrong; she opposes it because it’s impossible, just as impossible as living on sand. “

Likewise, and more to the point, I don’t oppose antigay religious beliefs because they are wrong– based as they are on fear, ignorance, bad theology, worse translations, self hatred, wishful thinking, stupidity, lies, and love for power, money, and dominion. I oppose it it because it is impossible to get spiritual nourishment from antigay religious beliefs, whether you are gay or straight– as impossible as getting spiritual nourishment from sand.

As for your parents, I have no idea how old you are. But if you are over the age of 25, it’s time to stop lying to your parents about who you are and what you want in your life. Lying is not good for you, and does nothing to improve your relationship with your parents– quite the opposite. If they are good people and have been good and loving parents to you, whatever anguish it causes initially, they will get over it.

If they prefer their religious beliefs to their relationship with thir son, if they love their church’s ignorance more than they love you– well, that tells you they love ther beliefs more than they love you. Whatever anguish it causes YOU initially, You’ll get over it.

I learned this about my parents some 40 years ago. Their beliefs about homosexuality and what it means to be gay were far more important to them than I was. This became the lens for me to see that a good portion of our lives together demonstrated that the problem wasn’t my being gay, the problem was our whole relationship. This was just the Hook of Convenience upon which they hung their Hat of Limited Love– their excuse for having limited our relationship to what worked for them.

I realized that ALL of the impetus to have a decent relationship with them was coming from me. I was the one that called every weekend, went to Southern California to visit them, bought them gifts. When I stopped doing THOSE things, our relationship pretty much ended. I went through a lot of grief about it, but came out a stronger and better person in the end.

I hadn’t seen my mother for many years, and had only communicated with her a few times. I saw her for one visit a few months before she died. I asked her if she had anything she wanted to say to me. She said she didn’t. she was right, of course.

and wasn’t that just too sad?


July 29th, 2014

Last week experience was the happiest moment of my life,i and my wife were separated for close to 3 years and ever since she left me i have always find things difficult for my self,taking care of the kids and especially my business which was going down gradually because of lack of concentration.I have always thought of getting her back but she refused because really i caused her disappearance i cheated on her often and when she could not take it she took for a divorce and after which i brought one of my girlfriend in looking forward to get married to her but not less than few weeks i noticed her ugly character and definitely such can not make a good wife i had to stay unmarried because i realized that after my wife left i could not find any woman as committed and humble as she wife was.
To cut my story short i have gone wide in search for a powerful spell caster and i was informed by some of my friends that i should contact Priest Ajigar that he is very powerful and he can solve my problem i took his email from my him,i search his email and name on Google that same day to my surprise i saw so many persons testimonies saying that Priest Ajigar helped them to bring back their ex and also restored their broken marriages i contacted Priest Ajigar and he told me all i need to know and he ask me to give him 4 days that my wife is going to call me on phone i thought it was a joke and to my greatest surprise she really did call me, we kept on talking for like two weeks after which she came back home and said she is giving me the last chance that if she should stay with me as his wife again i should promise not to cheat on her again.I am so happy today to let the whole world know that Priest Ajigar is spell works and to all who are in search of help should contact his email:(

Eric Payne

July 29th, 2014

Ben in Oakland, offering amazing advice and insight, said:

If they prefer their religious beliefs to their relationship with thir son, if they love their church’s ignorance more than they love you– well, that tells you they love ther beliefs more than they love you. Whatever anguish it causes YOU initially, You’ll get over it.

Listen to Ben; from first-hand experience, I can tell you… he’s right.

With my parents – particularly my father – it wasn’t religious beliefs nor their “church’s ignorance” that led to a decades-long rift between us, as they were not religious people… and the only church(es) we ever attended, during my entire child- to young adult-hood, were those that were closest to our home, geographically. My father was a life insurance salesman (and a damned good one) who attended church only when he needed an influx of new prospective policyholders. Perhaps it was my father’s next elder sibling was a Jesus Freak, and my father had no use for him, but church simply wasn’t a part of our lives; in fact, my parents went out of their way to advocate the secular over the spiritual.

And yet, when I allowed my father to discover I’d been being molested as a child, his violent reaction was extremely “over the top.” Literally, I never understood it.

It was only when I was in my 40s, and my father was in his nearly year-long deathbed, that I believe I began to grasp his reaction of thirty years prior, and then only with the aide of a cousin (one of his nephews).

My father was the youngest of 8 children, born to a West Virginia coal miner in 1930. My father’s eldest sibling was 14 years older than my father. In 1936, my grandfather was murdered by his son-in-law (the husband of that eldest sister, married and pumping out kids before she was 15). The murder trial was held behind closed doors in 1939; the murderer was acquitted, despite the testimony of several eye-witnesses (my father and two of his siblings), who witnessed the man blow my grandfather’s brains out, in the middle of the dirt-floored company town tin-shack that served as their home.

Even in the back-scrabble, back-breaking, coal country hills of West Virginia, there’s only a couple of reasons someone gets away with murder… and the elimination of a financial incentive cuts those reasons down further. A cousin of mine (his mother, my aunt) and I began comparing notes of what we knew, and what info we could get out of our parent, and came to the conclusion my grandfather probably sexually molested at least some of his children.

(There are times I think the history of my family would make one helluva book. On the heels of that, I know I’m not talented enough to write it.)

When we came to that conclusion, a lot of what happened between my father and I suddenly made a whole lot more sense. Once it made sense, I was able to reconcile with my father and, finally, in my mid-40s, I came to the place where I could spend a peaceful weekend with my Dad, acknowledge the fact that despite the decades-long moratorium on our familial relationship, I still loved him as my father, and not just because he was my Dad, and continue to mourn him.

Our journeys from “who we were” to “who we turn out to be” used to be a whole lot harder than they are today. That there are mid-50 to mid-60 year old gay men alive, today, is almost a wonder in itself (between sex, drugs, alcohol, and a combination of the 3, we lost far too many people). But that journey can never begin if you don’t start down the path. You might lose your parents — it’s a real risk. But, trust me, you’ll never lose you Mom and Dad.

Ben in Oakland

July 29th, 2014

Marcus– so Jesus changed you from heterosexual philanderer to heterosexual philanderer who has promised never to do it again?

All right, then!

Ben in Oakland

July 29th, 2014


Thanks for the compliment.

Somewhat on the same subject, I have long maintained– long before I came across the idea in queer psychotherapy books, that the TRUE description of why fathers reject their gay sons, if it be true at all, is quite the opposite of what the homohaters present. The boy doesn’t turn gay because he has not properly identified with his father. The father, seeing something in the son that he either doesn’t recognize at all, or recognizes all too well, puts distance between himself and his son. mothers, being mothers, take up the slack.

I called it the reverse Oedipus complex, and was surprised as all get out that queer psychotherapy had come up with the same conclusion. I am almost certain that it explains a good deal of what went on with my father and me. He wasn’t a bad dad at all, he just wasn’t there in any sense meaningful to me.

Glad you seem to be feeling better.

Eric Payne

July 29th, 2014


You’re welcome. And, yes, I am feeling better… though I’ve got an appointment this afternoon with a surgeon. In an open thread, at some point (if anyone’s interested that is), I’ll fill in the gaps.


June 22nd, 2015

I know is really hard to stay alone without your lover been around you, I was in the same situation for 6 months till I find a solution, we both fall in love with each other and we got married but after 1 year of our marriage everything was changing after he got a new job in a new city, we where still talking on phone when he move to where he now working after spending just 2 months there, everything changed he stop calling me and any time i call him a lady will pick his call i was wondering what is happening till he called me that he was getting a divorce i was surprise to hear that from him i thought it was a joke till it happened then I realize I can’t stay without him so i began to look for a solution then i came across Dr. EKPEN of EKPEN TEMPLE on the Internet who helped me to bring my lover back. i will drop his email address in case you are passing through the same situation so you can contact him on (((((Ekpentemple at

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