Thinking Christian

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Wrong, By Any Human Standard

Posted on Feb 12, 2013 by Tom Gilson

There are certain things we can all agree on.

We don't agree on whether extreme public sexual expression is immoral. We don't agree on what constitutes “extreme.” We really disagree on the ethics of same-sex “marriage.”

But we do agree in holding science in high esteem. For the most part we hold scientists in high esteem, not just for their contribution to knowledge but because they're generally trustworthy.

I'm sure we could also agree that one of the great virtues of the sciences is their insistence on ethics; for instance that research on human subjects is only done where the risks are outweighed by potential benefits, and if the risk/benefit equation is unclear, the humans in the experiment always have the chance to give informed consent.

That's part of what makes science and scientists trustworthy, and when they violate that trust—it's infrequent, but it happens—we all know it's wrong.

We can all agree on that, can't we?

Then why can't we agree on what follows from it? Listen to John Stonestreet speak about Beyonce and the Super Bowl, and on Research Ethics and Same-Sex “Marriage;” and see my related article, When There Are No Experts.

We're experimenting blindly on future generations who can't give informed consent. You don't have to be a Christian to see how unethical that is. It's obviously wrong, by any human standard.

 

62 Responses to “ Wrong, By Any Human Standard ”

  1. Sault says:

    Is there any other area, any other study, any other scientific discipline that would reasonably expect consent from the unborn?

    Some drugs can cause birth defects. Should we require the consent of the unborn child before we test them? Some drugs can cause chromosomal damage that may influence the health and development and even viability of future fetuses. Should we require the consent of the unborn children (and presumably their children as well?) who *might* be affected by such drugs before we should begin testing them?

    Why is it reasonable to require consent of something that doesn’t even exist – something that may never exist at all?

  2. bigbird says:

    I’m sure we could also agree that one of the great virtues of the sciences is their insistence on ethics

    If this is true (doubtful), it is a very recent development. The notorious Tuskegee syphilis experiment only finished in 1972.

    In recent times universities have established ethics committees, and that is a constraint on ethical violations. But I don’t think scientists are any more ethical than anyone else. I think we’d be horrified if we knew all the details of private research done by say pharmaceutical companies.

    We’re experimenting blindly on future generations who can’t give informed consent.

    Unfortunately we are. However the experiment has been running for some years, and does not require SSM.

    The flaw in your article is that it fails to consider whether the number of children affected will be increased by legalizing SSM. I’m not sure that can be assumed. Without that consideration, your article could just as easily apply to unmarried couples and their children, and thus doesn’t present an argument against SSM in particular.

    Unfortunately science also has ways of throwing up results we don’t expect, and that don’t always align with our preconceptions. We shouldn’t expect that all of the effects of SSM are negative, and so it is quite likely that researchers may concentrate on research areas that provide positive results.

  3. Beez says:

    “Some drugs can cause birth defects. Should we require the consent of the unborn child before we test them? ”

    Uh, the vast amount of damages awarded in court over precisely these sorts of things might suggest that the answer is “yes”.

  4. Tom Gilson says:

    bigbird,

    The flaw in what you think is the flaw in my argument is that you assume too much, and you forget what it’s about. You assume that if SSM hasn’t been proved damaging, then there’s no reason not to proceed with it. You miss the point that SSM advocates use “there’s no proof against our position” as a reason to proceed with the experiment, and that I wrote the article to show how twisted that is.

  5. Tom Gilson says:

    Oh, and by way, did you notice your own unwarranted, unsupported assumptions concerning what the research might someday show? Are we to run unethical social programs because results don’t always line up with our preconceptions?

    I respect your thinking on many biblically-related issues, bigbird, but this makes the bile rise in my throat.

  6. bigbird says:

    Oh, and by way, did you notice your own unwarranted, unsupported assumptions concerning what the research might someday show?

    It is not unwarranted at all. Generally, anyone familiar with the history of science knows that research regularly demolishes our preconceptions. I’m sure I needn’t elaborate an obvious point.

    In this specific instance, it is likely (in my opinion, but certainly not *only* my opinion) that research will show that SSM will help reduce the rate of gay suicides. Whether this is true or not, I have little doubt other positive effects will be found, because researchers will be actively looking for them. Rarely is a social change entirely negative or positive.

    Are we to run unethical social programs because results don’t always line up with our preconceptions?

    No-one is “running an unethical social program”. People divorced, got same sex partners, and were still looking after their children. That became more socially acceptable, and I can’t see how that could be prevented.

  7. bigbird says:

    You assume that if SSM hasn’t been proved damaging, then there’s no reason not to proceed with it.

    No, I’m not. What I am saying is that if you want to appeal to the possible damage to future generations as a result of SSM, you need to establish that SSM would increase the number of children affected compared to the situation without SSM.

    You miss the point that SSM advocates use “there’s no proof against our position” as a reason to proceed with the experiment, and that I wrote the article to show how twisted that is.

    Ok. My point here is that the experiment has very little to do with SSM.

    With or without SSM, the experiment is going ahead, and there’s simply no way to stop it unless you prevent divorced parents who get a same sex partner from seeing their children (which nobody is suggesting).

    Let’s project 50 years into the future for a moment. If we’ve discovered that overall, children with gay parents have worse outcomes, what effect do you think that will have? It won’t prevent gay parents from getting custody of their children.

    No, it’ll simply be a fact of life, just like it is now with single parent families having worse outcomes overall for their children.

    SSM is merely the icing on the cake. It’s the remaining one percent – the rest has already been conceded, the experiment is well under way, and really, there’s very little we could have done to prevent this. It is a result of society changing drastically over the last 50 years.

    As we’ve seen in the last few days with the UK and France legalizing SSM in their lower houses, the momentum is very strong and it is extremely unlikely to be halted.

    This doesn’t mean we must give up the fight against SSM of course. But it is worth asking the question, if SSM is inevitable and there’s nothing that could be done to prevent it, is there any way our approach to the issue could be profitably modified?

  8. TFBW says:

    But we do agree in holding science in high esteem.

    What sort of esteem, and high relative to what? I hold it in high esteem relative to voodoo in every sense I can think of, yes, but that might be considered “damning with faint praise” in some circles. Also, we’d need to agree on what science is first, otherwise two people who hold science in high esteem can be holding two significantly different things in high esteem. Everyone wants the adjective “scientific” to apply to their thing these days.

    For the most part we hold scientists in high esteem, not just for their contribution to knowledge but because they’re generally trustworthy.

    High esteem in what way? I can respect a Nobel prize-winner for his achievement without necessarily thinking he makes a good moral role model. Trustworthy in what way? Is academic fraud exceedingly rare in scientific circles relative to other fields? Are scientists in general less likely to steal or murder, relative to their non-scientist peers in the same socioeconomic stratum? You’re not basing your claim of trustworthiness on that sort of data, are you?

    I’m sure we could also agree that one of the great virtues of the sciences is their insistence on ethics…

    Oh, good Lord, no! We can be thankful that society has seen the atrocities of science unencumbered by ethics thanks to the Nazis, and decided that the practice of scientific research needs ethical oversight from people who are not necessarily scientists themselves. If it weren’t for that, the science of eugenics might still be as respectable now as it was in the early 20th century, and theories of “moral bioenhancement” might be commonplace. We can only hope that such ethically-informed restraint continues to be imposed on science from without, because although scientific curiosity is a good thing, scientists’ own desire to know the answers to questions can easily blind them to the social implications of their experiments. It’s not that the practice of science promotes evil, but rather that it draws attention to hard data, and, in doing so, draws attention away from personhood and all it entails. External ethical oversight is necessary so that someone views the people as people, not data sources.

    None of this was strictly your point, but I wanted to let you know exactly how much I, for one, disagree with your rhetorical we-all-agree-upons. It was too glaring an issue to overlook.

  9. Tom Gilson says:

    bigbird, you say,

    No, I’m not. What I am saying is that if you want to appeal to the possible damage to future generations as a result of SSM, you need to establish that SSM would increase the number of children affected compared to the situation without SSM.

    No, I don’t, because the point of this argument is to answer this one:

    SSM opponents say that SSM would be bad for future generations, but they cannot rightly say that, since there is no empirical evidence to support that claim.

    Do you see the difference? You’re still calling for empirical evidence (establishing a difference in the number of children affected). In this argument, however — there are other arguments, but I’m only talking about this one — I am saying that it’s unethical to run the experiment to obtain that kind of evidence.

    And look, bigbird, you seem to forget that this is about more than SSM. The article here was about extreme public sexuality, too. In the past I’ve made it quite clear it’s also about the damage produced by careless hetero coupling.

    In sum, it’s about a culture in which adult behavior is aimed first at what adults want for themselves, particularly in regard to sex. Sex is a present-experience thing now. It was never intended to be just that. It was always bigger than that, a present-and-future thing.

    With or without SSM, the experiment is going ahead, and there’s simply no way to stop it unless you prevent divorced parents who get a same sex partner from seeing their children (which nobody is suggesting).

    With or without William Wilberforce, the slave trade is simply going ahead.

    With or without the abolitionists, slaves will always be slaves.

    With or without the women’s vote movement, women will never get an equal say in anything.

    With or without William Carey, widows in India will always have to burn themselves alive on their husbands’ funeral pyres.

    With or without Luther, indulgences will go on.

    With or without Wycliffe, Tyndale, Coverdale, and Rogers, the people will never be allowed to read Scriptures in their own language.

    With or without Telemachus, gladiatorial fights will continue for centuries.

    With or without Comstock, New York and the rest of the country will remain awash in pornography.

    And there’s just no way to stop any of that, is there? So let’s just give up so we don’t look cantankerous.

    Let’s project 50 years into the future for a moment. If we’ve discovered that overall, children with gay parents have worse outcomes, what effect do you think that will have? It won’t prevent gay parents from getting custody of their children.

    Look, bigbird, why are you falling for this empirical trap in the first place? IT’S WRONG. IT’S WRONG.

    What irks me so in this discussion is that you agree it’s wrong, but your position is that we ought to lay down and pretend we don’t think so.

    SSM is merely the icing on the cake. It’s the remaining one percent – the rest has already been conceded, the experiment is well under way, and really, there’s very little we could have done to prevent this. It is a result of society changing drastically over the last 50 years.

    Well of course. Duh.

    bigbird, how does society change? Does idea-advocacy have anything to do with it?

    How long does societal change last? Does every bad idea last forever? Oh, I think you think it does, in this case. You are nothing but hopeless about it. You have no conception of any possibility of any good coming back in this respect.

    Go read some history. I’ve given you some hints above. Go ask yourself whether these reformers were pests who destroyed the church’s witness.

    Go ask yourself this, too: In future generations, when the children of all these failed couplings are old enough to ask hard questions, won’t one of them be, “Didn’t anyone care enough to try to fix this mess before we had to be born into it?”

  10. Tom Gilson says:

    TFBW: points taken, and I accept the correction.

    I think, though, that we all accept these things as ideal, as right in principle if not in reality; and that the argument holds up on that basis.

    And for those who really do hold science up as the be-all and end-all of knowledge (including many skeptics who read here), this argument ought to remind them that their own beliefs about science should lead them to reject these unethical experiments on future generations.

    (I think your closing line indicates that you probably agree with that much.)

  11. Tom Gilson says:

    In this specific instance, it is likely (in my opinion, but certainly not *only* my opinion) that research will show that SSM will help reduce the rate of gay suicides. Whether this is true or not, I have little doubt other positive effects will be found, because researchers will be actively looking for them. Rarely is a social change entirely negative or positive.

    Right. Researchers were able to discover that southern slavery produced a significant economic benefit to the people they included in their sample, namely, white plantation owners and merchants dealing in sugar, cotton, tobacco, etc. That social situation was not, as you say, entirely negative. The benefits were easily to find when researchers were actively looking for them.

    I just got over the stomach flu. I’m going to quit reading your last comment before I have to run again.

  12. Tom Gilson says:

    Okay, that last sentence was probably rough on you; but your whole, “let’s-not-get-in-the-way-of-sin-because-it’s-ruining-our-witness” thing (expressed here and in earlier comments) is wrong in so many ways, I can hardly stand it. It’s much easier for me to take that kind of attitude from a non-believer than from someone like you, who is so insistent on letting the church be the namby non-church.

  13. bigbird says:

    Look, bigbird, why are you falling for this empirical trap in the first place? IT’S WRONG. IT’S WRONG.

    What irks me so in this discussion is that you agree it’s wrong, but your position is that we ought to lay down and pretend we don’t think so.

    No, I don’t think we should pretend we don’t think it is wrong at all. I’ve never suggested that.

    We are talking about the application of law, not morality. Laws have to be made for all citizens, and they will inevitably offend some people’s sense of morality.

    I think prostitution is wrong but regulation is more successful than prohibition.

    I think smoking is stupid and kills people, but regulation is more practical than prohibition.

    I think divorce is wrong, but permitting it is more practical than forbidding it.

    I think homosexuality is wrong, but permitting it is more practical than forbidding it.

    Why do we permit these things? Firstly, because people will do them anyway, but secondly, because they only involve consenting adults.

    Slavery, abortion and many other social ills you’ve mentioned involve vulnerable people being harmed and/or exploited.

    Again, my position is that we should be less concerned about what a secular society says is “marriage” and be more concerned about putting Christian marriage on a pedestal.

    For example, I don’t think someone who practices serial monogamy via multiple marriages is even really married, and yet because they have a piece of paper from the state that somehow honors and maintains what we think Christian marriage is?

    Or two atheists who marry in a garden and promise to stay together until they’ve had enough are married in the Christian sense because the state says so?

    Really, the stamp of approval of the state has little to do with Christian marriage, and that’s probably why I’m not so bothered about it – and would prefer to keep it completely separate.

  14. bigbird says:

    Right. Researchers were able to discover that slavery produced a significant economic benefit to the people they included in their sample, namely, white plantation owners. That social situation was not, as you say, entirely negative.

    I realize you are being sarcastic, but it is utterly true – the results of scientific research are hugely influenced by the researcher’s metaphysical framework (obviously some areas more than others).

    Quite possibly a researcher on slavery from the south would have come to vastly different conclusions than one from the north.

    In fact it gets back to the point made by your article, that we are bereft of objective unbiased scientific advice.

    Of course, we have never had it in the first place. Science has never been objective, and we shouldn’t expect it to be.

    Accordingly, we shouldn’t expect that research in the future will confirm that SSM is harmful.

  15. bigbird says:

    Let me drill down into the example of homosexual activity, which we both agree is morally wrong.

    It was once illegal, and presumably many Christians disagreed with legalizing it – after all, it was morally wrong, and legalizing it would encourage the behavior. But it was eventually decriminalized, and we are now in the situation that most people would not consider it sensible to criminalize it once more. So no-one is lobbying for this, including you (I assume). We simply don’t consider it important enough, or practical, or that we should forbid consenting adults to engage in it. It is, therefore, in a totally different category to something like slavery, which I think we all agree we should oppose no matter what the law says.

    I see SSM in a similar light. The only difference here is that SSM has not been legalized yet (in the US, except for a couple of states).

    The point is, my view of the legalization of SSM is little different to most Christians’ view of the legalization of homosexual activity (possibly, even yours). Wrong, but tolerable.

    I suppose you could say I’m working from the assumption that legalization is inevitable – in fact it has just been legalized in a country of which I’m a citizen (the UK).

    If this issue is as important as you say (or imply by your comparisons with slavery), Christians will continue to vigorously oppose SSM even after legalization.

    If not, Christians will simply tolerate it in the same way as they tolerate both the legalization of homosexual activity and civil unions – with very little fuss.

    If SSM is legalized in the US, it will be interesting to see what happens in this regard.

    Of course you may not share my view of its inevitability, and that’s fair enough. I suppose it is defeatist, but I think it is realistic.

  16. Bill says:

    But we do agree in holding science in high esteem. For the most part we hold scientists in high esteem, not just for their contribution to knowledge but because they’re generally trustworthy.

    So you have no trouble with the big bang hypothesis, theory of common descent, or findings on climate change?

  17. Tom Gilson says:

    I think the Big Bang is an accurate description of how our universe began, at least within the limits of our best available understanding at this time.

    I think common descent has a lot going for it, and yet I’m puzzled by differences in phylogenetic trees.

    I am not sure I trust the science on climate change, especially the anthropogenic portion of it. See TFBW’s observations above. The jury is still out on that one, in my view. It is of course a scientific question, so I will look to science for the answer; it’s just that (as has been noted) some science is not complete, and some science is tainted by human predilections. When we get enough information to assure us that we have the whole unbiased story, then I’ll be ready to land on one position or another.

  18. Bill says:

    Very well said. I get the impression that I find the evidence for climate change more persuasive than you do, but I agree with your comments all around.

  19. Tom Gilson says:

    Let me add this, though: if carbon turns out to be a future-generation-killer, then we will have sinned as much with that as we are with everything else we’re doing to our descendants. It’s just that (a) it’s not clear that it is, and (b) it’s not clear that mitigation is possible without producing other great damage.

    So count me confused on this one. I’d like to have a clear answer but I don’t think there is one.

    Now you may ask, why isn’t the “experiment” with carbon use just as unethical, given those unknowns, as the experiment with SSM? I’m going to answer this first on the same basis as what I wrote in the OP: universally accepted scientific ethics.

    Here’s the difference in that light.
    1. SSM is a new initiative; burning carbon is not.
    2. SSM is a new experiment; burning carbon is not.
    3. SSM is a continuation of a trend that is known to damage children: the gradual dismantlement of marriage in our culture. Therefore the potential risks to an SSM “experiment” over time are huge, and the cost-benefit ratio doesn’t justify the likely damage. The cost-benefit ratio to carbon mitigation efforts remain difficult to see.

    I admit that I could be wrong on AGW. That does not, however, change the ethics of SSM. Being wrong there wouldn’t make me wrong on SSM, because there are too many ways in which the situations do not run parallel with each other.

  20. Tom Gilson says:

    Thanks for that latest, Bill. I appreciate it.

  21. Bill says:

    I admit that I could be wrong on AGW. That does not, however, change the ethics of SSM. Being wrong there wouldn’t make me wrong on SSM, because there are too many ways in which the situations do not run parallel with each other.

    Agreed! My point wasn’t to link the issues. I just read a lot of Christian blogs written by Christians who actually would NOT “hold science in high esteem.” In my experience, many Christians don’t trust science one bit. I thought you were of a different stipe, so I was just poking at you to find out.

    We may not agree on all the specifics, but your comments convince me that you are genuine when you say you hold science in high esteem.

  22. Ray Ingles says:

    We can’t be sure that specific children of Christian Scientists will suffer disabling or fatal medical issues. We can be sure that some will, but we can’t know who will be lucky or unlucky.

    What we do know is that some kids will be put in life-threatening situations because Christian Scientists refuse to let them be treated by medical doctors.

    But we don’t forbid Christian Scientists from marrying and having kids, or even necessarily from adopting kids. The harm of interfering with parents’ rights to raise their children is judged to be worse than the risk that some kids will suffer irreparable harm or death. Similarly, we allow parents to opt out of vaccinating their kids, despite known medical risks.

    Now, if it could be shown that the children of Christian Scientists or anti-vaxxers always or very frequently got deathly ill, that might shift the ‘balance of harms’. As it is now, though, we avoid interfering unless the harm is imminent and severe.

    Is it conceivable that the primary disagreement in the issues you bring up is in the balance of harms?

  23. Tom Gilson says:

    That’s a good question, Ray, and worth thinking about.

    Do you think my three-item list in my comment about AGW might cover the circumstances you were talking about?

  24. Ray Ingles says:

    I think the main disagreement would be in point 3, “SSM is a continuation of a trend that is known to damage children”.

    Allowing parents to opt out of vaccines, or modern medicine in general, is also known to damage children. And especially in the case of vaccines, not just the children who aren’t vaccinated. (There’s a kid in one of our child’s kindergarten class who’s had an organ transplant and is on immunosupressive drugs. Our child’s vaccination helps protect that kid’s life.)

    But that damage, by itself, isn’t judged to be enough to justify taking kids away from their parents or forcing medical treatment on the kids short of life-threatening illness.

    If the harms of SSM are of the same kind and order that divorce and so forth already causes… well, it seems to be generally accepted that those harms don’t outweigh the right of people to divorce, or cohabit.

  25. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray, the harms of divorce and cohabitation-childraising are definite. They have been clearly established in the literature. They are the very reason that the requested “empirical verification” of harms coming from SSM-childraising is so unethical. We can predict harm from it reasonably even without running the “experiment.” So let’s not run it!

    Further:

    The harms from divorce and cohabitation are, in my opinion, unacceptable. I don’t accept them. I’m also not enough of an idiot to try to mount a political campaign against them. Churches across the country would agree with me on all that, and are campaigning, if you will, in strategically appropriate manners: teaching, counseling, supporting, encouraging, and so on, to support genuine marriage.

  26. Tom Gilson says:

    BTW: let’s run the cost-benefit comparison:

    A. Parent won’t allow child to be vaccinated.
    Harm A1 (If A is permitted): Child and child’s classmates may become very seriously ill.
    Harm A2a (If A is not permitted): Child gets ripped out of parents’ home.
    Harm A2b (Also if A is not permitted): Child is allowed to remain in home but government determines how he or she will be parented.

    The cost-benefit on this is not clearly in favor of A2a. A2b is questionable, it’s something liberals might like to see more of but sensible people think is already happening in excess.

    B. Culture of relationships based on adults’ personal pleasure and desires is encouraged to proliferate though SSM.
    Harm B1 (If B is permitted): Generations of children continue to experience the ripping pain, the empirically-verified emotional and relational damage that comes from not being raised by their biological parents.
    Harm B2 (If B is not permitted): Many adults are denied the opportunity to create a relationship built around their own personal needs and satisfactions, and to have it go by the same name as another institution that was built for the sake of family.

    Sure, I used rhetorically loaded language there. Feel free to give it your own shot in response. My language was honest, so I’ll expect the same from you. It might be an instructive interchange, to see what comes of it.

    Meanwhile I think Harm B1 significantly outweighs Harm B2.

  27. TFBW says:

    Tom said in #10:

    I think, though, that we all accept these things as ideal, as right in principle if not in reality; and that the argument holds up on that basis.

    Darn it, Tom. Now I have to reply again, lest my silence be taken as consent. Please cut it out with the “we all accept”. What I can accept is that ethical standards ought to be imposed from without on the practice of science. I’m disinclined to argue the other details right now.

    On reflection, however I’m of the opinion that this whole appeal to an abstract scientific ideal is not only unrealistic, but also irrelevant, even to the extent of being a distraction. This is fundamentally not about science. It’s about an unremarkable (and unadmirable) human desire for sexual license, and the need to make it a social norm so as to avoid guilt.

    Your mistake is to think that the catch-phrase, “more research is required to determine whether this is harmful to children,” (for various values of “this” covering SSM and Superbowl performances) is a call for actual research. It’s not. Scientists in general are not pushing to perform any such research — especially not on society as a whole. The drive towards the normalisation of sexual license is driven by elements of society who want society to be this way, and are pushing their agenda accordingly. Science has nothing to do with it.

    The “more research is required” line is just a surreptitious way to insinuate, “you have no empirical basis for claiming that this shift is harmful to children,” and thus that it should be allowed for lack of demonstrable harm. An actual research programme might provide the negative empirical data, so don’t assume for a moment that the people who say “more research is required” actually want that research. The lack of data serves them well enough.

    Framing the whole thing as a research question also serves to distract from the underlying political conflict, which is the real root cause of the problem. It’s a potent distraction. One might find evidence of that potency in comments on this very page.

  28. Tom Gilson says:

    The things you’re pointing out here are true, TFBW. I took a very similar perspective in “When There Are No Experts.”

    My point here—maybe I wasn’t clear enough—was that we are running this “experiment,” and it’s wrong by any human standard.

  29. Sault says:

    I repeat –

    Is there any other area, any other study, any other scientific discipline that would reasonably expect consent from the unborn?

    Why is it reasonable to require consent of something that doesn’t even exist – something that may never exist at all?

    Your claims that the birth control pill and gay advocacy have directly caused higher rates of divorce and abortion are as of yet to my knowledge completely unsubstantiated.

    Where is your evidence? How did you draw these conclusions?

  30. Tom Gilson says:

    Sault, I’m not really available right now but I’ll be back by tomorrow morning on this.

  31. TFBW says:

    My point here—maybe I wasn’t clear enough—was that we are running this “experiment,” and it’s wrong by any human standard.

    I understand where you’re coming from. My point is that it’s not science, and it’s not an experiment. Sure, if it were an experiment, it would be wrong by any human standard. But it isn’t. I think it’s wrong nonetheless, but for completely different reasons. I think the “experiment” metaphor creates contention and misdirects the conversation.

  32. TFBW says:

    @Sault #29:

    Why is it reasonable to require consent of something that doesn’t even exist – something that may never exist at all?

    The whole “experiment” and “consent” things are just metaphors, and I’ve already expressed my opinion that they confuse the issue rather than clarifying it. You’re demonstrating my point, I think. Don’t take them literally.

    It’s not possible to obtain consent from something that doesn’t yet exist, of course. That doesn’t stop people from taking future generations into consideration in relation to the consequences of their actions, as though they were obtaining consent. The whole “global warming” thing rests pretty much on this “stealing from the future” premise: the process is slow enough that it’s likely the problem of our progeny, not ourselves.

    Tom’s point is that the contraception, abortion, divorce, SSM progression is the social equivalent of global warming: a long-term harmful trend with bad consequences for future people. The causal relationships between these things are somewhat contentious, but I think you’ll find they’re ultimately less contentious than the arguments over anthropogenic global warming and the possible mitigation thereof.

    Thing is, the “environmental activism” that’s so popular these days is all about the natural environment, and not at all about the social environment (except in the sense that we need a social environment of taxes and regulations that protect the natural environment). Some folks are willing to rein in their CO2 footprint for the sake of future generations, but try suggesting to those same people that they should rein in their sex-life or attitude to divorce for similar reasons, and see how well that flies.

  33. Tom Gilson says:

    Sault @#29

    Is there any other area, any other study, any other scientific discipline that would reasonably expect consent from the unborn?

    I will continue, in spite of TFBW’s concerns, to speak of this in terms of the question that I’ve been addressing: “Is there empirical evidence to show that being raised by same-sex parents in a same-sex-attracted household is harmful to children?”

    In order to gain that empirical evidence we would have to run a research study on the children of such households. They would be the human subjects of said research. Thus it would behoove us, according to standard scientific ethics, not to proceed unless we had their informed consent. We can’t get that informed consent, so we ought not proceed with that experiment.

    So our answer to that request for empirical evidence is this: “We don’t have that evidence and it’s unethical of you to suggest that we obtain it.” The follow-on is this: You have no evidence that it’s not harmful across generations. And you’d best not go about seeking to obtain it.

    So you’re right. We cannot reasonably expect consent from the unborn, therefore we ought not be running experiments on them.

    Then comes the question, how do we make decisions without scientific knowledge to guide us? I address that here. Scientific knowledge — the reliance on “the expert” — has limits that we dare not overlook. And the whole culture of “the expert” is questionable to start with, to say the least.

    Your claims that the birth control pill and gay advocacy have directly caused higher rates of divorce and abortion are as of yet to my knowledge completely unsubstantiated.

    Where is your evidence? How did you draw these conclusions?

    My claim is that the contraception and abortion culture has caused a de-coupling of sex from conception and childbirth. (I hope you don’t need me to substantiate that.)

    That caused a further de-coupling of marriage from conception and childbirth. There was a time not so long ago when to become married meant to have a family. That’s no longer true: the necessary connection between marriage and having children has been cut.

    It also caused a de-coupling of sex and marriage. No more shotgun weddings, in which the girl’s father is making darn sure his grandchild has a daddy in the house. The girl and the boy can have all the sex they want without fear of pregnancy, which means they can have all the sex they want with no thought of setting up household in the form of marriage.

    This is all easy to see, I think. Now for the crucial next step: with marriage de-coupled from conception and childbirth, marriage could now be seen to exist for the sake of the couple, rather than for the sake of the couple-plus-family. For the first time, marriage could be “just you and me, babe.” And for many, that’s just what it’s been. For gay couples in particular, that’s the driving motivation: just you and me, babe. (I know, there are exceptions in the case of some couples that want to join in raising an adopted child, but that’s not what’s driving this movement.)

    The further effect of that, then, is that when “you and me, babe,” begins to fade, the marriage can be tossed aside. With no children in the picture, that’s awfully easy. Marriage is degraded by its disposability.

    That disposability mindset has infected marriages with children, too; and in fact many adults enter into marriage mostly for the purpose of meeting their you-and-me-babe needs, have children, and divorce in spite of their children.

    I am not saying this describes all divorce. I am not saying this describes the divorce of any person reading this. What I am saying is that the influences described above have led to a culture of disposable marriage, in which divorce is made more likely, and in which at least some divorces are a result of the fading you-and-me-babe.

    Disposable marriage has led to dispensable marriage, or cohabitation in other words. Statistics show that children of cohabitating parents do not fare nearly as well as those of married parents (their own biological parents, that is). It’s bad for future generations.

    Does that make sense?

  34. bigbird says:

    Then comes the question, how do we make decisions without scientific knowledge to guide us?

    Has scientific knowledge ever been a significant contributor to decision making, particularly when it comes to social changes?

    My claim is that the contraception and abortion culture has caused a de-coupling of sex from conception and childbirth.

    This is not solely a negative when it comes to contraception. Giving birth is a very high risk event in countries not as fortunate as our own, and many women appreciate having better control over their fertility. It helps with population control as well.

    I’m not arguing that contraception doesn’t have downsides as you’ve described, but it has significant positives as well.

  35. Tom Gilson says:

    Population control may not be all it’s cracked up to be, bigbird, as we’re not replacing ourselves in most Western countries. Read What To Expect When No One’s Expecting.

    Otherwise, I was only speaking to the culture with which I’m most familiar. I don’t claim to know what effect contraception has had elsewhere; it’s outside my field of knowledge.

  36. bigbird says:

    Some folks are willing to rein in their CO2 footprint for the sake of future generations, but try suggesting to those same people that they should rein in their sex-life or attitude to divorce for similar reasons, and see how well that flies.

    Why is this, I wonder? Both involve personal restrictions on desires. Why is one almost trendy, and the other abhorrent? Is it just because each issue is at a different point in a social cycle?

  37. Keith says:

    @tom #19:

    Tom, you said you’re not sure on the anthropogenic part of global warming. My understanding was there wasn’t any debate left in that one, so I’m asking: is there a body of reputable scientists that don’t believe climate change is human-induced?

  38. bigbird says:

    My understanding was there wasn’t any debate left in that one, so I’m asking: is there a body of reputable scientists that don’t believe climate change is human-induced?

    Climate science is complex and multidisciplinary, as well as highly politicized. Accordingly, there will be debate for a long time yet.

    There are numerous aspects to climate change which need to be delineated.

    1) By how much are temperatures rising? This in itself is not easy to determine.

    2) Granted that they are (which is disputed by some scientists), what is causing the temperatures to rise? That is an extremely difficult question to answer, given the number of variables and that we can’t actually run an experiment for our whole planet. Computer models are the best we can do. I suppose few scientists would doubt that we have had an influence on our climate. By how much, we can’t be certain.

    3) How much will temperature rise by in the future? Computer models vary wildly. They are also, of course, trying to predict the future of an incredibly complex system. Inevitably, they are crude, and we have no way of verifying their accuracy.

    4) What are the consequences of rises? Again, we’re reliant on crude computer models, and we can’t easily verify them.

  39. bigbird says:

    A good example of 1) is the recent Nature paper on tree rings. This seems to indicate that temperatures in the past were warmer than what we thought they were.

    Summary here:

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn22040-tree-rings-suggest-roman-world-was-warmer-than-thought.html

    Whenever someone makes the claim that “the science is settled” I’m very skeptical. Because it usually isn’t.

  40. ordinary seeker says:

    @bigbird #36
    People act according to their beliefs. They believe that reining in their CO2 footprint will benefit future generations. They don’t believe that reining in their sex lives or attitudes toward divorce will benefit future generations–or, at least, they don’t believe that not reining them in will harm future generations.

    This is not to say that people don’t understand that divorce hurts children. I think people do understand that and do give considerable thought to the potential negative effects on their children when they are making the decision whether to divorce. I don’t think people believe that a divorce in this generation damages future generations. I know I don’t.

  41. TFBW says:

    @Keith #37:

    is there a body of reputable scientists that don’t believe climate change is human-induced?

    The issue has become such an ideological cat-fight that people will accuse other people of being unscientific (or even anti-scientific) just because they doubt the “anthropogenic” in AGW. Who’s to say who is a reputable scientist when the disagreement has escalated to accusations of heresy usually reserved for “creationism”? If science were simply a matter of majority opinion among experts, then you would have a rock-solid point, but it’s not that simple.

    I was going to continue, but this isn’t a discussion about AGW except to the extent that it’s analogous to the marriage issue.

  42. TFBW says:

    @ordinary seeker #40:

    People act according to their beliefs.

    People believe according to their desires. If you want to persuade people that X is harmful, you will have a harder time of it in proportion to their desire to do X.

  43. ordinary seeker says:

    @TFBW #42

    What about when people have conflicting desires, say, the desire to support their children’s happiness and growth, and the desire to end a painful and dysfunctional relationship?

  44. TFBW says:

    @ordinary seeker #43

    Then they have difficulty deciding what to do, but probably go with the stronger desire in the end. What of it?

  45. bigbird says:

    People act according to their beliefs. They believe that reining in their CO2 footprint will benefit future generations. They don’t believe that reining in their sex lives or attitudes toward divorce will benefit future generations–or, at least, they don’t believe that not reining them in will harm future generations.

    But why do they believe one thing, and not the other?

    Obviously we’ve reached a point where AGW is accepted by enough people that doing something about it is regarded as sensible.

    How did we get to the point? I think it comes down to the degree of predicted harm.

    If we believe the most gloomy forecasts, AGW will result in displacement, starvation and death to many millions of people in the future.

    The possible consequences of SSM are not nearly as dramatic as rising sea levels and melting ice caps.

  46. ordinary seeker says:

    bigbird:

    “How did we get to the point? I think it comes down to the degree of predicted harm.”

    And also the degree of predicted benefit. Those who support SSM understand that it will bring increased freedom and joy to people and families they love.

  47. Tom Gilson says:

    Sure. And bigbird is right: damage to future generations of children is much less dramatic than rising sea levels and melting ice caps—mostly because it’s already under way, it’s a gradual thing, and it happens one tragic family at a time.

    But it’s very, very, very, very damaging overall, nonetheless. “Increased freedom and joy” are goods only if they lead to decisions to do what is right (that’s the meaning of freedom that America’s founders had in mind) and joy over the right thing; and the right thing is not to dismantle marriage.

  48. ordinary seeker says:

    I know you will not agree with me, Tom, but I must take issue with your idea that LGBT families (and divorced families, and single parent families, and families created through technology) are “tragic families.”

    There are no perfect families. ALL children in ALL families must learn to manage pain and loss.

  49. Tom Gilson says:

    Every broken family is a sadness. It’s not the only kind of sadness–I came from an intact family with an extremely sick sibling–but it is nevertheless one of the great ones.

  50. ordinary seeker says:

    How do you define “broken” family?

  51. Tom Gilson says:

    Off the top of my head, not having done a definition like this before:

    One in which the child is not being raised in the optimal way, by his or her biological parents; and also various situations in which there is deep conflict or dysfunction within the household. I don’t mean ordinary dysfunction but situations like serious anger, alcohol or drug abuse, etc.

  52. ordinary seeker says:

    One in which the child is not being raised in the optimal way, by his or her biological parents? Wow. Even without a definition of “optimal,” that’s a lot of families. And all of them are broken? That is so disturbing to me, I don’t even know where to begin to respond.

    I have no way of knowing this for sure, but your comments (not just in this post, but in previous ones as well) lead me to believe that you are gravely out of touch with what families are really like and what they need.

  53. Tom Gilson says:

    There are a lot of hurting families. I agree.

    By “broken,” I do not mean non-functional. Don’t over-interpret me. I mean homes in which the child does not experience the best, that which ought to be society’s ideal if we care about our children.

  54. ordinary seeker says:

    Tom @ #53:

    This comment doesn’t change anything you said in your previous comment. Is it supposed to?

    If I understand you correctly, your solution for all the hurting families is marriage according to your Christian tenets. But marriage can’t be successful unless the people who marry are already emotionally healthy.

  55. Tom Gilson says:

    No, OS, you’re over-interpreting and over-simplifying what I’m saying. I have an MS in Psychology, for crying out loud, and I know that there’s no one silver bullet to solve all problems. I didn’t prescribe a “solution for all the hurting families.” I identified a problem that needs to be solved in families, but I didn’t say it was the solution for all hurts.

    Please. I don’t really think this is a productive line of inquiry. You’re misunderstanding me and as I have already said more than once, over-interpreting me.

  56. Ray Ingles says:

    (Been busy the last several days, apologies.)
    Tom Gilson –

    The harms from divorce and cohabitation are, in my opinion, unacceptable. I don’t accept them. I’m also not enough of an idiot to try to mount a political campaign against them.

    Why not? How about something as simple as requiring a period of marriage counseling for those married couples with children before a divorce is granted?

    Culture of relationships based on adults’ personal pleasure and desires is encouraged to proliferate though SSM.

    That reminds me of this essay – which points out some interesting history of things like income tax, unwed motherhood, and divorce. Basically, ‘make something easier, or less difficult, and you get more of it’ – income tax, unwed motherhood, and divorce all fit this pattern.

    But here’s the thing (and I can’t ask the author of that essay this question now, sadly) how, then, will making marriage more available result in less marriage?

    It seems to me that legal and political efforts focused on addressing marriage and divorce as they affect children would bear any number of fruits. It would help the kids of straight marriages now, and if same-sex marriage were adopted, it would mitigate the harms.

  57. Tom Gilson says:

    How will making marriage more available result in less marriage, you ask?

    Please read through what’s been written here, watch for your equivocation on “marriage,” and re-consider whether you really need to ask that question.

  58. Sault says:

    Tom @51

    One in which the child is not being raised in the optimal way, by his or her biological parents; and also various situations in which there is deep conflict or dysfunction within the household. I don’t mean ordinary dysfunction but situations like serious anger, alcohol or drug abuse, etc.

    I am adopted, and have no biological relation to either of my parents. While not “ideal” by many standards, I still had food, a roof over my head, and parents who loved me, and that’s more than many can say.

    Do I satisfy your first requirement of being raised in a “broken” home? If so, then you must condemn adoptions just as much as you condemn same-sex parents.

    It is a very odd feeling to think that you might judge my childhood and my parents and my family as half-way broken.

    I await your clarifications, for surely I misunderstand you.

  59. Tom Gilson says:

    I am not judging any individual household, Sault. I’m speaking in terms of broad culture. Adoptive parents can be and I think usually are great parents.

    But you say it’s not ideal, still. Would you agree that a culture in which children are much more often raised by both biological parents is preferable to one in which they are much less often raised by both biological parents?

  60. Sault says:

    I am not judging any individual household, Sault. I’m speaking in terms of broad culture. Adoptive parents can be and I think usually are great parents.

    So if adoptive parents are, “in terms of broad culture”, less ideal than biological parents, they fit the first half of your requirements of “broken”. Yes?

    But you say it’s not ideal, still. Would you agree that a culture in which children are much more often raised by both biological parents is preferable to one in which they are much less often raised by both biological parents?

    No. My parents were vetted – they had to show financial stability and have a background check, plus the theological screening that they went through at their chosen adoption agency. These are requirements that biological parents do not have. I would think that even a cursory requirement to be minimally competent and stable before having children would be (dare I say it?) ideal.

    …Can you imagine the outrage if such a thing was actually proposed?

  61. Tom Gilson says:

    No, adoptive parents and homes are not broken. I shouldn’t have implied they were.

    Households out of which children must unfortunately be adopted typically are broken, however, whether by relational, financial, emotional, health-related, maturity-related, or some other stress. (Again, I am not speaking of every household individually.) So adoption is one cure for family brokenness. It is not the problem, though the fact that we have it as a cure is indicative of the fact that there is something to be healed.

    I confused the issue when I stated things in a manner that allowed for adoptive households to be included in my definition of a broken family. I apologize for that.

  62. Sault says:

    Thank you for the clarification. I hope that I did not come across as unduly raking you over the coals for that – I was pretty sure that it was a minor oversight. I’m trying very hard to clearly understand you, and sometimes even questions that seem obvious need to be asked.

    As we’ve already demonstrated (adoptive non-biological vs non-adoptive biological vs what is clearly abusive) there is a spectrum between (in your definitions given) what is ideal and what is broken – a grey area of some as yet unknown width/dimension. At this point do you have a name for this category of families that fall in-between?

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