Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Reason Rally Topic: Rational Sex Education

Unreasonableness costs lives and promotes suffering.

One of the places where we are seeing this is in the area of sex education.

I spend a lot of time listening to lectures by people who are involved in programs to fight diseases and other harms - particularly in poorer countries, but also in more developed nations. The scientific evidence substantially supports the conclusion that sex education reduces teenage pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted disease.

We have decades worth of data available where different regions have tried different techniques, and in which organizations themselves have tried different techniques in various parts of the world and measured the effects of their programs. Ultimate, if you want to reduce disease and prevent early death, you provide sex education.

We have people in the field working to save lives, weaken the grip of disease, and increase the welfare of impoverished communities who have taken a great interest in discovering which techniques have the greatest real-world effect. They are telling us what works, and rational sex education is important.

Unfortunately, we have a number of faith traditions that object to this practice.

Last week, in a post supporting the Reason Rally, I used the image of a parent taking hold of her children's hands and stepping out onto some railroad tracks, faithfully denying the real possibility of a train coming down the tracks. Faith prevents this hypothetical parent from looking at real-world evidence, demanding that the individual simply accept certain beliefs independent of any evidence.

Unfortunately, reality does not respect these games that people play. Reality has no interest in our welfare. It has no conscience. It will splatter that family's remains down the tracks without a second thought or a twinge of regret.

That is exactly what is happening as a result of the reality-denying "faith" beliefs dominating the subject of sex education.

If these people harmed only themselves, a case can be made that we need to leave them alone to suffer the consequences of their own folly. Of course, many of them will come to us with requests for state services - particularly health care and state aid to take care of the unwanted children and children being raised in poverty that these policies will bring to the world in greater abundance. However, freedom is a virtue worth protecting - one that provides some benefits even though we can also identify some costs.

However, as I said above, they are coaxing others out onto these tracks - particularly teenagers. Science tells us that parts of the brain having to do with reasoned judgment do not fully form until near the age of 18. However, these reality-deniers want the liberty to coax and coerce others whose capacity to make reasoned judgments is diminished (as a matter of scientific fact) onto the tracks where science tells us they will be greater risk of pregnancy, disease, and early death.

Furthermore, they are demanding that state law - that state education standards - be designed so as to demand the teaching of this reality-denying "faith based" world view. Ironically, their view of "education" is forced ignorance - not only for themselves, but throughout the community, even where forced ignorance is a demonstrated cause of disease, early death, and raising children in impoverished households. In other words, they bring these harms to children who are not their own.

They would rather see more early death and suffering among young adults than admit that the privative goat herders that died 1300 or 2000 years ago that authored their moral guide simply did not know as much as we do now.

When the Roman Catholic church protested a proposed government requirement that they provide employees with health insurance that covered, among other things, birth control and related forms of health care, they protested that this violated their moral teachings.

First, these people not only think that it is a virtue to deny reality and step out onto the tracks as a demonstration of faith, they think it is a virtue to coerce others onto the tracks with them - with the expected (among those who respect reality) consequences in terms of more early death and suffering showing up in national statistics. This is the moral view that they are demanding respect for.

Note: These real and measurable harms that show up in national statistics are exactly what motivated the requirement to start with. The early death and suffering that come from denying reality provide a drain on national resources that the government cannot easily afford. The early death and suffering that will not be prevented as a result of "respecting" the beliefs of the Roman Catholic church on this issue is death and suffering they are responsible for bringing into the world.

Second, we should ask about the obligation of an employer to respect the beliefs of their employees. Certainly, among the employees of these institutions - particularly institutions that are asking for government funds - we can expect at least a few whose morality demands respecting reality. There are, hopefully, a few who think it is a moral crime to close one's ears and ignore evidence of the reality-train when it risks bringing early death and other harms to others. How about respecting their beliefs and providing them with health insurance options consistent with those views? Or is it only the Roman Catholic belief that is worthy of respect - while all others can be disregarded?

It is my hope that the Reason Rally this Saturday will provide some measure of a response to this habit of ignoring a reality that is substantially indifferent to our well being - and the early death and other harms that result from such a habit. It is my hope that it will take a small but important step towards respecting reality and the tools of reason and evidence that allow us to understand the world around us.

This is just one example of a case where real lives and well-being are at stake.

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