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.
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There is further irony yet: Clamoring voices tell us that opposing same-sex “marriage” is hopelessly out of date; that it’s too late to turn the clock back to a traditional, pre-scientific, “unenlightened” era.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.