Wednesday, April 16, 2008

"Deep" Thought #9: Studies Inconclusively Prove That Marriage Defenders Are Right About Everything!

Defender of the Traditional Family Fitz has an interesting self-contradictory claim. Before I begin, I should state here that I don't write these articles to pick on Fitz and company. I write them to point out examples of faulty arguments that many marriage defenders use. Rather than saying "marriage defenders always say X," I think it's better to actually point readers to someone actually saying X. It just so happens that the Opiners often say [insert faulty argument X].

Like the following.

One oft-used argument against gay marriage/parenting is this:

1. "Social science literature demonstrates the children who are reared by a married natural mother and father have more positive outcomes in a wide variety of important factors compared to children in other adequately studied family structures- including single parent families, adopted families, step families, divorced families and the like" [note, no mention of same-sex families]

2. "Courts, social scientists & advocates of same-sex “marriage” themselves concede that same-sex families have not yet been adequately studied so that solid conclusions can be made."

and Therefore,

3. The "Traditional family" is the "Optimal [ie- best] Family Form."

Here, note that out of one side of their mouths, marriage defenders admit that studies about gay parents are lacking, and that firm conclusions cannot be made. But out of the other side of their mouths they're simultaneously stating as fact their conclusion that "traditional families" are "optimal," the best, and certainly better than gay families.

This example leads me to a much larger issue with these particular bloggers, and with more prominent "marriage defense" blogs and groups in general: Their beliefs precede their actual knowledge. And therefore, in their eyes, studies always prove that they are right about everything. Even if the studies don't.

For instance, with regard to gay parenting and "optimal family form," the studies that "marriage defenders" use to support their claim that "traditional families are the best" do not compare heterosexually-headed families to gay-headed families. They usually compare married two-parent families to single-parent families with these studies showing that children do better when raised by two parents compared to one parent. But at the same time, studies thus far show that children of gay couples have "no inherent deficits."

But alas, for some reason, marriage defenders never seem to get it. Even though they freely admit that we don't know what the truth is, they continue to tell us what the "truth" is. For some reason, they continue to wrongly extrapolate the findings from studies comparing two-parent families versus single-parent families to gay parents anyway.


I think Fitz puts it best here:

"These are not “old” finding but indeed represent the latest research that reaffirms what we already know." [emphasis added]

In his mind, "we" (meaning he) already know that every child should be raised by a biological mother and father- as that is the "Optimal Family Form". At least, he knows that is so. He has always just known that is so. His belief precedes his knowledge and any research on the issue. And so, in a perfect example of confirmation bias, every study he reads confirms that intuition.

To confirm what he thinks he knows, he disregards the limitations of the studies he cites in support of his intuition and exaggerates the limitations of the studies regarding same-sex parenting. Interestingly, the studies he cites having nothing at all to do with same-sex parenting he regards as perfectly germane to same-sex parenting. The studies that actually discuss same-sex parenting and show that children of gay parents turn out just fine, he regards as inadequate, lacking, or otherwise inevitably "flawed."

In short, he suffers from a common affliction of the Opiners and others in the anti-gay business. While pretending to respect science and its findings, they don't act like scientists. Scientists seek truth. Fitz and company seek to confirm what they already "know" and believe about the world. Their curiosity and inquisitiveness is lacking because they already know what the truth is. Yet, back in the real world, the links between the findings of the studies they frequently cite and their own conclusions are tenuous at best. Yet they don't see that and will probably never see that.

For instance, Fitz's fellow blogger "On Lawn" recently declared that a study showing that boys and girls use different parts of the brain in different tasks proves his intuition-as-absolute-truth that all children need a mother and a father. Try to follow along here:

"Human beings are not designed to live forever, and pop out of nothing. Evolution requires generations, numerous births and deaths in a life-tree that we are all a part of. And proper cultural heritage requires the link through those generations builds [sic] strong societies. We are dependent on our process of pro-generation through history as a species. We are defendant [sic] to understand our heritage to progress as a society.

We are dependent on marriage equality -- gender integration and the quality of the mutual support/authority between both of those genders in raising their children."

One would never know, reading "On Lawn's" obtuse, odd, and lingo-y statement that the original study he's referring to is really about how boys and girls use different parts of the brain during language tasks. Interestingly, its findings, with "On Lawn's confirmation-bias goggles on, only further "prove" that the sexes are so entirely different that all children must grow up with a male and a female parent, or else! (Or else what? We'll tumble off that life-tree thing? What?!)

This extraordinary leap of faith is just one example of how nearly every time these "marriage defenders" cite a study, they use it in way where their every intuition about "gender" and "family" is confirmed. Doing so allows Fitz, "On Lawn," and company to believe that anyone who disagrees with them "is at odds with social science and empirical evidence now spanning a generation of social change & family fragmentation."

In short, and I do not mean this as a personal attack, these folks consistently mis-use data and are misinformed as to what science can actually "prove." And, Fitz in particular thinks that social science can and has proved absolute truths like "traditional families are best." While social science is a useful guide in making policy decisions, it should not do so in an ignorant way. It should never be used to spread untruths and misinformation the way various "traditional values" groups use it.

See, those who are magically capable of interpreting every single study they encounter as supporting their beliefs about the world should not dictate what is best for the rest of us. Because really, why should anyone have to live in the binary manner that Fitz and company believe is the best way to live?

Every day, we see how people like Fitz and "On Lawn" use studies to further their ideologies, rather than to seek knowledge and truth about the world. Under the guise of acting in the best interest of society, they are blind to the fact that they even have ideologies. (This "invisible" ideology, of course, is an entire topic in and of itself.)

Because they misunderstand science, they present their position as Absolute Truth Grounded in Science, even though their case against everything gay is essentially a mere prediction:

That because "studies show" that two-parent families are better than one-parent families (among other types, not including gay families) Great Harm will befall society if gay people are allowed to marry and raise children.

That's a pretty bold claim of future absolute knowledge. What other than extreme arrogance, ignorance, and/or outright bigotry justifies making that kind of prediction about a group of people's ability to destroy civilization? Not only that, but implicit in the entire argument is the dualistic idea that if "nuclear families are best" then other types of families are necessarily "bad." Real life, however, tells us a different story where lots of other families (perhaps more numerous than "nuclear families") are still good (even if they're not "the best") and they are always. going. to. exist.

While Fitz-aggedon and company appeal to fear on a grand scale and paint this debate as a ginormous battle between good and evil, we should all be acting like good scientists and asking if there are any other possible ways things could turn out. Are we confident that enough evidence for making a bold claim with regard to absolute truth exists? Does refusing to accept another's claim with regard to what "studies show" the absolute truth to be make us bad Americans, stupid, or dishonest as Fitz and the choir would imply and sometimes outright state? And, "if there are many different ways that things could turn out, why [are marriage defenders] painting such an extreme picture?"

Why indeed?

Studies inconclusively "prove" that everything the Opiners say about gay people, parenting, families, marriage, "gendered biology, kin anthropology, family law, and policy" is right. Except, of course, when these studies say nothing about gay people, parenting, families, marriage, "gendered biology, kin anthropology, family law, and policy" and they're just (mis)using them to confirm what they already believe about the world which, conveniently, is the way that they're already living.

Yeah. Deep thoughts.

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