Elizabeth Scalia is leery of experts.

The Obama DoJ filed a brief in the the case of Hollingsworth v. Perry in opposition the California’s ban on gay marriage.  Part of their brief rebutted the idea that straight marriages are the ideal place to raise children.  This is a superfluous point.  It wouldn’t matter if gay marriages were less optimal for raising children, not every gay couple wants children.  Also, single parenting may not be an optimal situation, but we don’t take their kids away.  This is all about keeping the Christian idea for marriage as the one that everybody, even non-Christians must abide by legally, and nothing else.

Anyway, in the DoJ’s brief, in response to the raising children argument, they cite the most perspicacious battery of minds in the field of psychology – the American Psychological Association.

To support this argument, one of the documents the administration cites is a “policy statement” by the American Psychological Association. This statement claims that some studies indicate same-sex parents might be “superior” to mother-and-father families, but then concedes there is little actual data on the results of raising children in two-father households.

Elizabeth Scalia did not care for that.

All I have to say is this: the DOJ should be leery of basing too much of its arguments on a policy statement by the APA. Once upon a time, that same body of “experts” advised Catholic bishops that if they just gave youth-molesting priests some therapy, the priests would be okay for ministry, even around kids. The “expert truth” of a day often does not extend to decades.

Yes, sometimes the experts are wrong.  You know who discovers when the experts are wrong?  The fucking experts, and then the experts arrive at a new consensus.

If you’re argument is that the psychological experts are wrong, not because you have data or an argument to the contrary, but only because they’re wrong in the past, then you have no idea how ideas are refined.  Imagine you had two children, one insisting that Santa was real and one saying he changed his mind and now didn’t think Santa was real.  Do we go with the kid who has never changed his mind on the subject of Santa?  No!  We go with the one who integrates new discoveries into his conclusions.  That’s what the experts do.  Sure, in the future we’ll realize that we’re wrong about some thing, but that doesn’t change the fact that the consensus of the experts represent the best claims to knowledge that are presently available, and that’s exactly what we want when determining policy.

And if you’re going to make a decision that requires the input of sociology and psychology, who are you going to lean on if not for the people who devoted their lives to the study of that field?  Should Elizabeth Scalia’s opinion trump theirs?  Of course not.

That’s the thing about hard and social sciences; they evolve, just like everything and everybody. The things we “know for certain” at one moment in time, we are less certain of a few decades later. Things we believed could never be seen or measured, suddenly can be; “facts” we thought we knew for certain, are suddenly being reassessed; an over-reliance on “expertise” — as with the church scandals — too often sways us away from our own common-sense and gut instincts.

Yes, they evolve.  Scalia seems to think the fact that our understanding of the social sciences evolving is a reason to distrust them, rather than the other way around.  Hey Elizabeth, physicists have been wrong in the past, and our understanding of physics constantly evolves, so why don’t you submit some of your own common-sense opinions and gut instincts on physics to peer review and see how serious they take you.  Or try building a smart phone with your gut instincts.

Common-sense and gut instincts are the same qualities that tell us the world is flat.

And I can’t really believe I have to rebut the argument of “experts are sometimes wrong, so the gut instinct of non-experts should be just as credible on psychology as the psychological experts.”  If that’s the case, why even have experts in any subject?  Is it so hard to believe that the people who dedicate their lives to the study of a subject might have more knowledge or better insights than people who might have taken an intro level course in college (but probably not)?

Try this, Elizabeth: I have an undergraduate education in music (read: I’m not even an expert).  Give me your gut instincts on the usefulness of octatonic scales for achieving tonality.  Give me your insights because, after all, our understanding of music theory has evolved over the ages.

Which is why, when you think about it, even “educated secularists” take an awful lot on faith, and put a lot of trust in their chosen princes. Perhaps that is why the notion of “truth” to them, seems like such a changeable thing, yet is to be followed almost slavishly in the “dictatorship of relativism”, with each new pronouncement quickly embraced — even if it directly contradicts the received wisdom of five years ago. It’s a truth that serves the day.

It’s not a “truth that serves the day”, it’s a truth that reflects new discoveries.

And we don’t take an awful lot on faith at all.  That’s why we have experiments, perform research, and are constantly trying to augment our knowledge.  Where there is knowledge, there is no faith.  Where there is ignorance, there should not be pretensions to knowledge.  Faith simply has no place in academics.

Now, non-experts need to trust the experts.  Even Elizabeth Scalia trusts the experts in physics when she hops on an airplane or the experts about bacteria every time she bites into a cheeseburger.  Elizabeth Scalia, or any other human, simply could not exist in the 21st century if not for a reliance on the experts.  Of course, that goes right out the window when the opinions of those experts conflict with what a bunch of people from an ignorant part of the first-century world wrote.

In reality, it’s the people who never change their minds, who have asserted one opinion from the get go and never once altered it, whose opinions should be soundly ignored.  These people do not have opinions that evolve, and should be left behind.  However, call them religion, and all of a sudden people like Elizabeth Scalia will go to embarrassing lengths to hang onto them.

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About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.


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