Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Humanae Vitae: Forty Years On

"The Vindication of Humanae Vitae" at First Things. Social science has vindicated Humanae Vitae's predictions. No one wants to hear that, however.

Bishop Baker of Birmingham has issued a letter on the 40th anniversary of Paul VI's prophetic encyclica. [H/t. Annunciations] in which he recommends: A Study Guide to Humane Vitae, Of Human Life. and this pamphlet by Janet Smith" Sex and Contraception.

Dr. Smith's classic is "Contraception: Why Not"

And sure, go back and read the encyclical that received "the execration of the world."


Sean said...

The problem with most of the arguments in Contraception: Why Not?, especially in the things related to statistical issues, is one of causality.

Take for instance this claim:"His statistical data show that those who have the first baby in the first two years of marriage and another baby in the next couple years of marriage, have a much longer lasting marriage than those who don't."

The argument is then that what causes longer marriages is earlier children, and more frequent, children. But that ignores, other, potentially more relevant reasons. Earlier child-birth, or rejection of contraception, more than likely means a rejection of divorce. The religious reasons that go into rejecting contraception and influencing ideas on larger families inevitably come back on the issue of divorce. I would like to see a breakdown of say, non-religious people whom have the same family and birth profile as religious families, and then we can get into the nitty gritty.

Instead we get a bunch of nonsensical stuff about wanting to see a "smiling face" and how childbirth makes people "instantly better people". Not exactly. In a sense, the author is looking at things the wrong side of the binoculars.

Another statement suggests that there is "much more adultery" than before, though how anyone could possibly know this is debatable. While there may be significant surveys and literature on sexual mores NOW, it would be far harder to gauge peoples infidelity in the past, but its safe to say that people did cheat, and frequently. After all, the worlds oldest profession doesn't exist for lack of clients, and syphilis was not widespread because people were committed to relationships (which, may I add, that STI's, on the whole have been significantly reduced since the days we first started tracking them). We can also see it in the judicial records, at least in colonial times when these things were still dealt with in the public courts that adultery was frequent. The Scarlet Letter is not an inaccurate portrayal of things.

Another problem with causality is in this statement:"in his studies he discovered that 75% of those who live together before marriage, not just have sex together before marriage, but live together before marriage, get divorced within the first three years."

Like I said before, one's position on sexual mores no doubt reflects your opinion on the permanence of marriage (or lackthereof). People who wait until marriage, and have such religious beliefs, are probably less likely to get divorced. Someone whom obviously has had no problem not merely being in a sexual relationship, but living together, more than likely won't have a problem getting divorced. The problem isn't cohabitation, or any of the other things she mentions per se (and I would hardly define it as a problem, but I'll go with that terminology) but rather one's outlook on sexual and romantic relationships. Again the author is looking at things backward; instead of taking someones views as what influences their actions, she is shorning their actions of any larger viewpoint.

And the talk about abortion rates is also disingenuous. While they haven't gone down, they haven't gone up either, despite there being far more people than there were in the 70's when the decision was rendered. I realize this is cold comfort to those whom view abortion as murder, but it does knock a leg out of the idea that there is a tide of abortions on the rise. Most people do in fact use contraceptives in a proper manner and don't get pregnant. And there is still that .01% chance.

The bit about the creation of the pill, and its potential side effects, is also misleading and indicates a lack of familiarity with drug risks. While the early forms of the pill were the equivalent of atomic bombs, due to the level of estrogen put in, today's pills are exceptionally low, and generally getting lower. Newer synthetic hormones have eliminated some of the side effects of earlier ones. Of course there are side effects, and risks in every pill you take, but its not any less safe than many other prescription medications, and is in fact, safer than most of them. The only reason why it still requires a prescription is due to its possible interactions with individuals whom have chronic high blood pressure or a history of blood or clot related problems.

And the story about men taking the pill and watching their balls shrink is pure farce; they always knew that they were creating a synthetic estrogen, not testosterone, and they tested it first on rabbits, not on men. I know because I've read the history on the creation of the pill, and the man who made it.

I can't speak to the rest of the article, since it mostly do with moral reasons why the author disagrees with non-procreative sex and sex outside of marriage, which I'm sure thats not a whole lot of headway can be made on my opinion vis a vis that (obviously as indicated by my comment on the Planned Parenthood entry, I'm very much FOR contraceptives, abortions, and the things they entail). But alot of the statistical stuff is not only a stretch, but kind of fitting the round peg in the square hole.

Sean said...

I would also point out that most of her "Examples are just-so stories, and are eminently unverifiable, which includes just about everytime she says "I know X people do this" or "Every married couple I know is happy. etc Despite her assertions we actually do have significant and exceptional research by actual psychiatrists and psychologists, on sexual practices, more, and dysfunctions in modern day society. in fact, if you're ever in Columbia, checking out the HQ section and its surrounding environs in the stacks of Thomas Cooper will probably give you more information than you ever wanted to know.

coray said...

On the points about marriage, I think I can summarize what you said as a reminder that "correlation does not imply causation." You seem to say the paper lists events and traits related to a prior tendency to stay married, but these do not necessarily stabilize marriage of themselves.

Causality is a classic protest to any statistical conclusion. The critique almost always applies, so if it is the only problem a critic can find it shows the writer did his job well. As you no doubt are aware, a statistic rarely proves or denies anything but only can make it relatively harder or easier to believe something. The real question is how well the statistic confirms one thing at the expense of another.

For example, on the relation of childbirth to divorce, I think you are ignoring how strong the childbirth statistic is. It's true a better study of childbirth and divorce would track the rate of divorce in specifically nonreligious families. (Amusingly, your instrument is that they are comparatively free of the desire to stay married.) Well, suppose we did it. A wanton critic may still reply that childbirth does not stabilize marriage but is merely related to a prior desire to stay together. This desire is unmeasurable; It is an impossible criticism to beat.

Ultimately causality raises a question of what you believe. Do you seriously think early childbirth cannot significantly stabilize a marriage independent of the couple's values? Have you talked to many parents who struggle with the grim reality of tolerating a spouse? Children aren't all fun and games either, but it is far more difficult to abandon a child than a spouse.

What I have said applies to the points concerning cohabitation and sexual mores. The paper is imperfect, as it must be, but if correlation and causation is your only criticism then I think you reveal more about your convictions than you do problems in its argument.

As for abortion, the paper primarily mentions it when arguing a rather counterintuitive point, that contraception increases the number of abortions. It thinks the use of contraceptives is one with the desire to refuse childbirth, in some cases at any cost, of which abortion is one expression. The paper really ought to say more on this; surely contraception is also a substitute for abortion and surely one ought to suspect that in its capacity as a substitute probably prevents a great many abortions. Its argument is devious to say the least, and it would not be confirmed even if the abortion rate were rising, since that statistic is too crude to confirm a circuitous theory. But as you point out the theory is done great harm by the steady fall of the abortion to live birth ratio from its 1984 peak. I think the paper would have done better to argue that, despite the ability to substitute contraception for abortion, the values of a couple using contraception make them more likely to get an abortion should the contraception fail. And since we Catholics think that's a bad thing, it implicates contraception.

Sean said...

"Ultimately causality raises a question of what you believe. Do you seriously think early childbirth cannot significantly stabilize a marriage independent of the couple's values?"

No, I don't, because I don't view the early childbirth as the defining thing, and I think it is fair to point out that the couple's religious and moral views is probably more indicative of their chance of getting divorced, or atleast their WILLINGNESS, to do so.

"Have you talked to many parents who struggle with the grim reality of tolerating a spouse? Children aren't all fun and games either, but it is far more difficult to abandon a child than a spouse."

Hardly. If that were the case we wouldn't have billions in unpaid child support, nor the a Department of Child Services.And while the invention of those aspects of our legal system were promulgated around the same time sexual mores unraveled, the problems they deal with it are not new. When Shakespeare writes gags about infidelity and cuckolds, and Dicken's write about large scale orphanages, there not doing so because these problems didn't exist during times when Catholicism and Christianity held a far greater sway than they did today.

And thats another one of my big problems, not just with that specific article, but many of the articles linked to in general on this blog. When I used the word paranoid to describe the outlook on the world, I don't think I was being uncharitable. I don't know how anyone can stand on the hill of the present today looking backward through the ages and see a past either worth emulating, or worth going back to.

So the rhetoric, that America and the world, are going to hell in a hand basket, and that larger societal ills are due to lack of proper respect for the dire warnings of the Church, amongst others, rings a bit hollow. And this really gets to the crux of whether or not larger society will re-adopt the mores that the Catholic Church is promoting. Its not just enough for people to be irritated, or angry, at the set up of the world, which is easy enough to find, but that they have to believe that the world view, and the past that world view looks back to, are worth it.

And I just don't see that happening. The cat's out of the bag on too many things, from women in the workplace, to attitudes towards sexual mores, to open and out homosexuality. These are not merely ideas, but people, who aren't going to tolerate turning back the clock.

And I also don't see the United States government, based as it is on popular will, made up, both in citizens, and in the civil service, of a wide variety of religious, ethnic, and sexual orientations, all of a sudden deciding to fuse itself with Christian sexual morality again. I think alot of the Pope's and Catholic thinkers of the 1800's got something right when they feared democracy and republicanism, shorning the state of enforcing its religious scruples, fearing that their hold over their flock would erode. They were right. Without the muscle of the state to prop itself up, churches are finding it increasingly harder to get people to accept their arguments on persuasiveness alone.

coray said...

I guess I'll drop the point about statistics, since you admit it isn't what's driving you to write. What a ghastly boring thing I wrote anyway.

(Though I can't resist commenting on your doomsday scenario for laws concerning sexual morality. The situation is not that bad for us. Don't forget all the recent secularist victories have come through the judiciary--contraceptives, abortion and gay marriage. What does that say about the source of your power in a democracy? But the 40 "protection of marriage" amendments were voted in. I have heard findings that the youth are more conservative in their mores than the previous generation. And immigrants, the source of population growth in the U.S., have traditional values.)

Now for our unwillingness to accept 21st century intellectual fashions, which you call "paranoia" and which apparently exasperates you. I am not sure what to say to your messianic claims about progress, that now is better than then and that then deserves no "emulation" or consideration. "The cat's out of the bag" and all that. You don't seem to think this is a controversial claim in its several aspects but assert it as revealed truth. Make an argument, mister. Maybe you think it axiomatic because you live in such an airtight compartment of modernity that the assumptions of my community never trickle in. (I do not suffer the same myopia by virtue of having to live in this century, immersed despite myself in what the world takes for "common sense.") For my part, I do not find it obvious that morals progress in the same sense machines do, nor do I think a code of moral discipline should be determined by a majority vote of 21st century Americans. In any case I await an argument.

Your old vs. new stuff isn't just bad argument but is plainly confused. It's perhaps historically correct to say a golden age for obedience is right now passing, for many such ages have come and gone, but it's your sort that wants to return to the old order not mine. You pointed out, using Shakespeare and Dickens, that the pagan morality is nothing new. Well, you seem to miss the import of that. In the 4th century St. Augustine made his start living with a concubine; Dionysian revelry was his old order, religion his new (as it is in every conversion experience). You fret about the Pope and Catholic thinkers in the 1800s? In the Church we think over millenia, and moral decadence in terms of tolerance of pederasty and abortifacents came long before the Church did, and perversity has taken more forms than today delight the brains of our eager gender benders. (After all, as the priest sex scandal revealed, a bit of religion adds a lovely tang to sexual deviancy.) What is amusing to a people used to taking men who lived in ages before ours seriously and not assuming past man is a dolt because he does not share our parochial modern philosophy, is the insistence of certain self-conscious members of your avant-garde that things in general are settled forever. It wasn't true in 1792, or in 476, and it isn't true now. Why do you need history to come to a halt, for our views to "ring hollow" and for yours to be the only left standing? What if history changes -- will you change what you think accordingly with the fashion?

Sean said...

(This was written before the prior post went up)
And that statistics are not the only thing I find wrong in the article, as I myself mentioned in my response. I highlighted the statistics mostly because I doubt my opinions on sexual morality will carry much water on a blog of someone whose a Catholic seminarian. So I decided to start on the most neutral and objective of issues, without getting into her absolutely absurd opinions on how relationships, both romantically and sexually, work. Her ideas on what constitutes modern relationships seems to be taken from watching bad sitcoms and a couple episodes of Sex and the City from how she deals with them.

If, as the author of this blog claims, social science has "vindicated" the Church's position, that would be significant news to me, and in fact, news to most of the wider world. The article cited mentions a handful of books, but I note, does not deal with the issue in an academic way, by actually giving significant inline citations (something also missing from Smith's article), and plays fast and loose with the implications of that research.

In fact, both of the articles wouldn't pass muster on Wikipedia, let alone in a serious academic journal. There is little, if no, verifiable research, and almost blissful ignorance of other societal issues at play. For instance, the First Things article blames rising drug use and subsequent incarceration rates in America on contraceptives and looser sexual mores, as opposed to the more obvious, and correct, assertion that the War on Drugs is a racist boondoggle of epic proportions.

Young black men aren't getting arrested because their using condoms, but because they are being unfairly targeted and imprisoned under draconian drug laws that are selectively enforced, despite drug usage rates being about the same between both whites and blacks.

This kind of sloppiness and ignorance characterizes both articles, and ignores demonstrable and effective non-religious or morality centered programs effects on any number of the ills that the articles claim to seek prevention of, from STI's, to teenage pregnancy. The abortion rate isn't the only statistic that makes Smith look like an idiot; so do STI rates.

Syphilis, once a major scourge in America even before the supposed "Sexual revolution" is now at an all-time low, despite claims from Smith and others, that homosexuality and sexual promiscuity are up. Why is that? It's either that condoms and safer sex work or people are not as immoral as Smith claims they are. In reality its probably a combination of the two, as people still have pre-marital sex, but have less partners and engage in less risky sexual acts when they do have a partner and others STI's. Same goes for HIV. Aggressive public health programs based around safer sex have contributed to decreasing rates in a number of situations, from men who have sex with men, to prostitutes, to the average heterosexual person.

So yes, statistics are not the only flaw in Smith's, and other peoples arguments. They're methodology and arguments are incredibly sloppy, and its no surprise that legitimate public health authorities don't take them seriously.

Sean said...

"I am not sure what to say to your messianic claims about progress,"

There was no "messianic" claims of progress, and I'm certainly not holding up the modern world, in all of its foibles, as perfect.

"that now is better than then and that then deserves no "emulation" or consideration. "The cat's out of the bag" and all that. You don't seem to think this is a controversial claim in its several aspects but assert it as revealed truth."

I'm not quite sure where I established it as "revealed truth", but certainly the "cat is out of the bag". No one can deny that the rate of entrance of women into the workforce and government is beyond any that the Western world has seen in the past? And certainly homosexuality, as indicated by its increased presence, practice, and outness, is at the height of its acceptance in the Western world?

I don't know how quite to respond to the rest of your comment, which seems to mostly take delicious pleasure in the eventual come-uppance of all of us deviants awaiting correction, as you say, by a Church that "thinks in millenia", and I presume in some sort of eternal after-life. Fair enough. But I wouldn't bet on it.

After all, to enforce this new paradigm, Catholic's, and the Church itself, would have to take the reins of state control back in a way it hasn't seen since the Reformation. And, simply put, its not going to happen, or atleast, not without some kind of new and epic wave of violence to enforce it. Again, possible, but not probable.

So actually, as I sit tonight at the gay bar (for it IS karaoke night tonight in Columbia), I'll have a beer to cheer to you my uber-Catholic friend, and to your hopes and dreams of a new Inquisition.

pritcher said...

Just two points...

I'm struck by the idea that the only way for religion to "control" people is through violence (e.g. a "new Inquisition," though it's worth considering that the secular inquisitions in general were much worse than the ecclesiastical ones [see here for more info], which suggests the problem isn't so much religion as a state that uses religion to enforce its own political agenda...but whatever).

If the paradigm of religion is control of the masses, then sure, violence is probably needed. But thank God that's not the point, right? Religion is about a living relationship with God.

Lots of people, religious and nonreligious, get that wrong. Prob'ly everybody gets it wrong sometimes.

As to the points about the citations and sources: remember that Smith's piece is a transcript of a talk she's given. I think the rhetorical situation in which she's talking dictates how she alludes (or doesn't allude) to outside sources.

But it's not the case that those sources aren't to be found. Criticizing Eberstadt's article, for instance, you say that she provides no justification for her connecting contraception and incarceration. But she's clearly referring to a 1998 peer-reviewed article by George Akerlof, and I was able to pull that article up on jstor.org in seconds. And throughout the article, she's pretty good about giving us the information we need about to check behind her. You may still not buy her claims, but no fair accusing her of not having done her homework.