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.”
The research that’s been done on this question is rife with controversy. There are studies that have found that children raised by two lesbians turn out as emotionally healthy as those raised by a man and a woman. Researchers have found that in European countries where same-sex “marriage” has been permitted for some time, children have suffered no identifiable harm.
Another very recent study done by Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas at Austin showed that children raised by gay parents suffer definite harm. Did I mention controversy? One writer called Regnerus a “retrograde researcher” whose voice should be silenced in the public square.
I find all this fascinating, yet almost irrelevant.
I say that first of all because science is not our sole source of knowledge, in spite of our modern reliance on white-coated experts. There are good natural-law and biblical reasons to oppose same-sex coupling. But there’s more. As I’ll explain in a moment, anyone who claims to know what science has to say on the subject is speaking at least two generations too early. There is no science to guide us this time. There are no experts.
The story that has shaped Western culture for several centuries is a narrative of progress that says we are moving toward ever-greater freedom and material prosperity, and that we are doing so by human effort alone, especially through science embodied in technology, and in the application of scientific principles to our social life, in economics, in politics, and in education.
The roots of this go back at least as far as the Enlightenment. Scientific expertise is the modern world’s key not only to the natural world but to human growth, relationships, parenting, education, and on and on. My own educational background in industrial and organizational psychology was intended to make me an expert at human performance on the job.
Social scientists—sociologists, psychologists, and anthropologists in particular—conduct their research under a professional code of ethics. Human subjects are entitled to give informed consent before entering any research project that could conceivably cause them harm. Every study involving human subjects must pass through a Human Subjects Review Committee—academia’s institutional conscience—for ethical approval before it begins.
Not only that, but every responsibly conducted research project lays out its plan carefully in advance: the research questions, how subjects will be selected, how hypotheses will be tested, the scope and limitations of the study, and so on.
Those two bits of information provide necessary context for answering the question, what does the science have to say about this? The answer is, not much. Certainly not enough for anyone to claim expertise on the question. The necessary research has never been done. It can’t be done—not until it’s too late to do anything with the results, anyway.
That’s because the question extends well beyond parents and their children. No one could claim to be an expert on gay parenting’s effects without knowing something solid about its long-term, multi-generational effects on the couples’ descendants, and on society as a whole.
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.
“Impossible!” you say. Of course it is. The research would be overrun with uncontrolled variables, and it would take decades to complete. Most importantly, there’s no hope of obtaining informed consent from the not-yet-born.
Still, a distressingly large proportion of people want to run the experiment anyway. And ironically, though I don’t have statistics to back this up, in my experience most of them are the ones who say, “Religion is nonsense, and philosophy isn’t much better. Give me science. Show me the research. Then I’ll make my decision.”
Even more distressingly ironic: The American Psychological Association and the American Sociological Association strongly support same-sex “marriage.” These disciplines have no research base from which to draw this conclusion, which raises strong suspicion (at least) that there’s something going on here other than objective scientific conclusion-drawing. The New York Times reports that Jonathan Haidt, a University of Virginia social psychologist, sees social scientists as a “tribal-moral moral community” that will “support science [only] when it supports their sacred values.”
In his speech and in an interview, Dr. Haidt argued that social psychologists are a “tribal-moral community” united by “sacred values” that hinder research and damage their credibility—and blind them to the hostile climate they’ve created for non-liberals.
The American Anthropological Association also supports same-sex “marriage,” but it’s hard to doubt that their position is tainted by the same politics as that of the APA and the ASA.
There is further irony yet: Clamoring voices tell us that opposing same-sex “marriage” is hopelessly out of date; that it’s too late to turn the clock back to a traditional, pre-scientific, “unenlightened” era. On this subject, however—if my doubts concerning anthropological research are anywhere near on track—we all remain helplessly pre-scientific, for there is no possible way to conduct the relevant research. It is impossible to take up a scientifically informed position on the effects of same-sex “marriage,” for it is information that by its very nature cannot be obtained. Not yet, and not until its effects—for good or for ill, whatever they may be—are burned into our culture.
Thus we who have grown up in the age of the expert are bereft of objective scientific guidance. It’s the sort of thing about which I’d like to be able to write something impressively insightful, like, “the populace is displaying deep anxiety and unease over its vanishing sense of scientific certainty.” (I’ve always wanted to write a sentence that began, “the populace is displaying deep anxiety . . .”) Unfortunately it’s not true. The populace is unconcerned. Whole nations in Europe are running pell-mell into the experiment, with no thought whatsoever for ordinary scientific safeguards. America’s president wants to do the same thing here.
Is there no Human Subjects Review Committee anywhere to ensure the safety of the experiments’ subjects? Is there no institutional conscience speaking? If there is anyone at all it is the Church, and wise men and women who see that this experiment carries unknown and uncontrollable risks and should not be run.
To put it that way is of course to understate the matter, in fact almost to trivialize it.
Thoughtful Christians’ opposition to same-sex “marriage” is built on far more than our knowledge of its potential hazards. In reality it’s based on a broader view of how we know things. We respect scientific expertise for its considerable contribution to human understanding, but we have never regarded it our sole source of knowledge. We have biblical revelation to guide us, along with centuries of human experience and libraries full of theological and philosophical reflection on ethical matters.
So what kind of expertise shall we rely on for this most crucial question? Objective, unbiased science is hard to find, the most relevant social research hasn’t been run, and the next-generation subjects can’t give informed consent. At the very least, even for advocates of same-sex “marriage,” that should constitute good reason to move in that direction only with extreme caution, if we move at all.
Some will scoff at the suggestion that we look to theology and philosophy for wisdom. My question for the scoffers is this: Where else can we turn? Scientific expertise has reached its limit here. It’s time to recognize it and look to a more appropriate way of knowing.
Tom Gilson is a Campus Crusade for Christ/Cru writer and strategist currently on assignment to BreakPoint. He blogs at ThinkingChristian.net. His new e-book, True Reason, is available here.
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