I knew that would get your attention.
I was sitting in the doctor’s office today, waiting for my friendly medical vampire to suck out a small sample of my blood, and of course I picked up an old copy of Newsweek. (I’ve always wondered: Do the doctors take them home to age, before putting them in the waiting room? ) The last page had a column by Anna Quindlen, who’s writing I’ve always admired, with a topic “Let’s Talk About Sex“. Very good column, and not too old. It was published in March. It’s a handy little example of rational, critical thinking, and a rejection of faith, even though it only peripherally deals with religion, if at all.
She points out that a faith based attitude towards sex doesn’t work. By “faith based,” I don’t necessarily mean religious, though that’s part of it. I mean the sense that many people believe that if you just avoid the subject, it will go away, a sort of ostrich attitude, if you will. It’s rooted solely in hope, rather that pragmatism.
Sex is a problem, or at least the collateral consequences of sex have become a problem, but only because of the way our society is structured. As a biological mechanism for ensuring the propagation of the species, it works exactly as designed (back off Creationists, you know what I mean). We have no problem creating children, but the side effects of too many children, coupled with the stigma and difficulty attached to single parenthood, not to mention potential diseases, makes unfettered sex, something our ancestors needed when our species was young, somewhat more problematic now that we’ve been around a couple of million years.
We’re kidding ourselves, however, if we think that we can stem that tide by simply telling others to not have sex. There are a billion years of evolved impulses built into the sex drive, that are automatic, and relatively uncontrollable, and certainly not fully understood. However, we have found that humans, or any other animal for that matter, can not just willingly turn them off, any more than we can turn off hunger pangs when we haven’t eaten lately, sneezing when our noses are irritated, or gasping for breath when our oxygen supply is cut off. (Old joke: Sex is like air. It’s not important unless you’re not getting any.) And, according to Quindlen, the facts bear this out:
1: They don’t work. A study conducted for the Department of Health and Human Services during the last Bush administration showed that teenagers who took abstinence-only classes were just as likely to have sex as those who didn’t.
2: They’re actually counterproductive. Other studies have shown that adolescents in abstinence-only programs were less likely to use contraception, perhaps because those programs emphasize only the failure rates of even the best methods.
3: Everyone understands this. A growing number of states are turning down federal funds for abstinence-only education. Yes, that’s right: states are being offered money and saying no. (I wanted to write that in capital letters but restrained myself.) Texas leads the nation in spending for abstinence-only programs. It also has one of the highest teen birthrates in the country. Those two sentences together sound like the basis for a logic question on the SAT, but a really easy one.
What she said, however, about the relative worth of the issues in this national debate about sex can’t be stated too much.
Because we hear so often that there are two sides to an issue, we’ve become accustomed to thinking there are two equal sides to most of them, especially the ones on which people scream the loudest.
This is so true, and can be extrapolated to almost any issue, but I’m thinking about the one we’ve been discussing recently here, about the existence of god. It’s also relevant to the evolution/creationism debate, in which theists create a false dichotomy on purpose, to make it seem like the two sides are equal, and hence worth debating, when there’s really no controversy to debate. Just because there are two sides to an issue (or three, or four, or….) doesn’t mean they should be given equal weight, as if they are the flip side of the same coin. The amount of weight each side should be given should be in proportion to the amount and quality of evidence that can be advanced in support of the side.
Citations to scripture should have little weight, if any. The reason for this is that a citation to a book is not evidence. A citation in a book, by itself, only points to evidence, it’s not evidence itself. If there is something cited in scripture that points to evidence, then fine, give it whatever weight it deserves, if the evidence is behind it. But there are few books written between 2000 and 4000 years ago that point to any evidence still relevant today, unclouded by the passage of time and uncontradicted by the advancement of human knowledge.
So in the existence-of-god issue, like the sex/abstinence issue, most of the weight comes down hard on one side, with little evidence to support the other. It’s not a 50/50 proposition that god exists, with a flip of the coin giving you equal chances of being right. It’s closer to a 99.9/.1 proposition.
Which side would you bet on?
(Apologies to all you Googlers who thought this was going to be about something a little more salacious. Y’all come back now, hear?)