Tom Gilson

When There Are No Experts

My current column at BreakPoint begins,

The age of the expert is reaching a limit.

Not long ago an advocate for same-sex “marriage” challenged me to prove scientifically that growing up in a household led by a same-sex couple was harmful to children. “I’m not sure we have any data to show it’s harmful,” I told him. “But if you think you can take comfort from that, you had better think again.”

Why? This time there are no experts.

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8 thoughts on “When There Are No Experts

  1. But we do know that growing up feeling despised and rejected, and remaining closeted as an adult because it’s unsafe to be who you are, and having to hide who your family is, leads to depression and at times suicide. That “experiment” has had disastrous results.

  2. OS, that’s not about marriage or child-raising, first of all.

    There are varying modes and degrees of being unsafe. It’s unsafe for many Christian men with a pornography habit to admit it, or at least it seems so to them and in many cases the seeming is real. Does that mean pornography viewing should be supported and encouraged?

    It’s unsafe for fugitives from the law to let their identity be fully known. Does that mean crime should be supported and encouraged?

    I bring up those two examples to show that un-safety is not by itself the thing that determines how we treat a person’s inclinations or actions. That’s the only point I had in bringing it up, by the way: I am not saying homosexuality is like running from the law.

    A person’s sexual orientation should never be the cause for their being bullied or despised. That’s wrong. I’m fully in support of anti-bullying campaigns. I think those who claim the name “Christian” and don’t love their neighbor need to be corrected. If they’re leaders they should be thrown out their ears. Dan Savage should be thrown out on his ear, too, for bullying Christians.

    Bullying can happen to those who support and to those who oppose homosexuality. Rejection and contempt can happen to either group. The answer is not to make one group the winner where the other had been previously, for that would perpetuate bullying (see see here for an example). The answer is to promote the ability to love our neighbors even when they disagree. Only one worldview specializes in that: the one launched by Jesus Christ, who gave up his life for his enemies (Romans 5:6-11).

  3. It is about marriage and raising children. It’s about growing up knowing you are loved and accepted as you are, by your family and by the larger society. It’s about growing up knowing that you will be able to create a family of your own, regardless of whom you love. It’s about knowing that the children you raise will not be despised and rejected because they are the children of gay or lesbian parents.

  4. You have a gift for changing the subject without apparently realizing you have done so…

    Oh, I think it’s known.

  5. Hi Tom — long time, no see. When I saw this bit from your Breakpoint post:

    For experts to pronounce on the matter would require a scientifically responsible study that examined the effects of same-sex “marriage” and parenting not only on couples’ children, but also their grandchildren, and preferably also their great-grandchildren (not to mention the wider culture). Ideally it would also include informed consent from all subjects—great-grandchildren included.

    I was reminded of the old creationist canard that science would need to provide every transitional fossil in order to “prove” common ancestry among various species. It’s a symptom of the wide-spread misunderstanding among dogmatists that “objectivity” should mean “complete certainty”, and that a theory, or even just a hypothesis, should not be put forward until every conceivable shred of relevant evidence is found and verified in support. (Of course, there is no shortage of real, honest experts — or of real, compelling evidence — to support common ancestry, but the creationists just refuse to see that.)

    People with such a point of view keep forgetting the obvious: we must always move ahead on the basis of incomplete information. We must always make decisions based on the preponderance of the best evidence available, even with the unavoidable expectation that later evidence might leaad in a different direction from the one we choose now.

    In that regard, it should be entirely sufficient to look at a single generation of children, doing the best we can to treat relevant factors – education, economic status, extent of extended-family and/or community support, etc – balancing these in our sampling of observations, if possible, or at least accounting for them in our evaluations.

    If, as nearly all of the studies so far have shown, we find no significant difference between same-sex and male-female parents with regard to the general happiness or dysfunction of their children, then it actually does make sense to say that healthy, happy children are no more or less likely to come from one kind of couple vs. another; i.e. sexual orientation of the parents is not a useful predictor of successful or faulty parenting.

    In the case of the one “outlier” study you mentioned (M. Regnerus), you do your readers a disservice by mentioning only the most vitriolic (some might say ad-hominem) reaction to it. Other critics have presented detailed, careful and evidence-based objections. Here’s a link to a non-academic but well-informed response:

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/zinniajones/2012/06/regnerus-deconstructed-how-a-new-study-misrepresents-same-sex-parents/

    Given that we do have a novel type of familial structure emerging in our society, owing to the recognition that sexual orientation should be protected as a personal freedom, it certainly is to everyone’s advantage that we all learn more about what this new structure really does bring with it.

    Even in the absence of careful and diligent sociological study, we all as citizens owe it to ourselves and our fellow citizens to gain a better understanding of same-sex parents, and same-sex couples generally.

    If you live in a city of any appreciable size, you probably have same-sex couples as neighbors (I do). If you can see them without prejudice or bigotry, you should be able to recognize that they are good people who have a lot in common with you: they work, they pay taxes, they prefer friendship over hostility toward their neighbors, and they want their children to be safe, well taken care of, well educated, and well adjusted.

    If you demean them and call them wrong or bad because of your own personal religious beliefs, then you can safely assume that their religious beliefs differ from yours. And in the USA, people are entitled to that sort of difference, so you should just get used to it, even if you can’t recognize the bigotry in your own beliefs.

  6. Otto, you say,

    Peo­ple with such a point of view keep for­get­ting the obvi­ous: we must always move ahead on the basis of incom­plete infor­ma­tion. We must always make deci­sions based on the pre­pon­der­ance of the best evi­dence avail­able, even with the unavoid­able expec­ta­tion that later evi­dence might leaad in a dif­fer­ent direc­tion from the one we choose now.

    I continue to maintain that this is an irresponsible social experiment. There is no requirement that we “always move ahead” into the unknown. There is no requirement that we “always move ahead” into the incompletely known.

    There is no fear that future information will find that a male-female couple is an inherently bad parenting system. That’s not unknown territory. There is significant reason to believe that same-sex couples will provide weakened parenting. There is no evidence that I’ve heard of, for example, to show that male-male parenting is as healthy for children as male-female parenting.

    In that regard, it should be entirely suf­fi­cient to look at a sin­gle gen­er­a­tion of chil­dren, doing the best we can to treat rel­e­vant fac­tors — edu­ca­tion, eco­nomic sta­tus, extent of extended-family and/or com­mu­nity sup­port, etc — bal­anc­ing these in our sam­pling of obser­va­tions, if pos­si­ble, or at least account­ing for them in our evaluations.

    The existing research on same-sex parenting fails to meet the standards you have set here. The samples do not meet minimum research requirements, among many other research flaws. So the Regnerus study may not be such an outlier as you think.

    I’m downloading all the relevant studies, including the one you linked to, and I’ll take a look at them.

    If you demean them and call them wrong or bad because of your own per­sonal reli­gious beliefs, then you can safely assume that their reli­gious beliefs dif­fer from yours. And in the USA, peo­ple are enti­tled to that sort of dif­fer­ence, so you should just get used to it, even if you can’t rec­og­nize the big­otry in your own beliefs.

    Bigotry? How do you define that? Is it in having different beliefs? We’re in parity there. Is it in condemning certain behaviors? We’re in parity there, too! (Can’t you see that?) I think you have a misunderstanding of what bigotry means.

  7. Two points to refute this part:

    There is no require­ment that we “always move ahead” into the unknown … that we “always move ahead” into the incom­pletely known.

    (1) Sure, stagnation is always an option. Well, not really – at least, it’s never an attractive option. It goes against our nature. (2) How often, in the realm of human interactions, can you cite cases of moving in any direction with complete knowledge of ultimate consequences? It makes no sense to assert that there is “no requirement” to proceed with uncertainty, when in fact there is no alternative but to proceed with uncertainty. And it should go without saying that the “certainty of faith” is not universally shared or trusted, or at all reliable in practical terms.

    There is no fear that future infor­ma­tion will find that a male-female cou­ple is an inher­ently bad par­ent­ing sys­tem. That’s not unknown ter­ri­tory.

    The issue is not about “inherent” goodness or badness, but rather about the likelihood and extent of success. The point is that the population of hetero couples has an obvious “error rate” when it comes to parenting skills. And that error rate is not demonstrably greater or less than the error rate for same-sex couples; there is evidence available to all who have the willingness to see it. Sexual orientation is not a useful predictor, and it is a serious mistake to prejudge people’s parenting ability on the basis of their sexual orientation.

    All your own faith-based certainty notwithstanding, your assertion of “sig­nif­i­cant rea­son to believe that same-sex cou­ples will pro­vide weak­ened par­ent­ing” is not well grounded in evidence. I expect it can be true that same-sex parents have a harder task before them, owing to the discrimination they face, but that problem is not intrinsic to the parents – it’s a problem they must cope with in a prejudicial society.

    the Reg­nerus study may not be such an out­lier as you think

    That study may well stand out as one in which the stated conclusions were not supported by the evidence provided. Read to the bottom of the link I gave above, and see if you can understand the problems in Regnerus’s work.

    Big­otry? How do you define that?

    I’ll accept the definition given by my Random House Unabridged dictionary: “stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief or opinion other than one’s own”.

    Is it in hav­ing dif­fer­ent beliefs?

    There’s obviously more to it than that, including the insistence that your own beliefs must hold sway over the choices and actions of others, without regard to their concerns. We do not have “parity” on that point: contrary to all the effusive bluster from “pro-traditional-family” conservatives, gays and supporters of gay rights are not proposing any sort of attack on “traditional marriage”; they are not seeking to take anything away from heteros. They are only seeking parity, where their opponents are seeking to forbid parity. Rational heteros do not feel threatened, because there is no rational basis for perceiving same-sex marriage as any sort of threat.

    Is it in con­demn­ing cer­tain behav­iors? We’re in par­ity there, too!

    If I understand that part right, you want to sustain your position by asserting that any objection to intolerance is itself a form of intolerance — is that it? Sorry, no real parity there.

    Recall that my suggestion was “get used to it,” as in “stop trying to meddle in the private affairs of other people, in whose lives your own personal beliefs are not relevant.” If I say to you “Keep your own beliefs as you see fit, but don’t expect others to accept them,” would you really say I’m being intolerant or bigoted? If so, you would be trying to redefine the term to suit your attitude.

    In contrast, if you say “gays should not be allowed to raise children, because I believe that’s bad and I don’t accept evidence to the contrary,” and you pursue sustained activity to impose your position by law (and to hell with the Bill of Rights), I would see the label of “intolerance” (bigotry) being a pretty close fit, if not dead-on.

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