|Paul Gauguin 1893|
July 30, 2013
A critical review of a critic's work
By Hendrik van der Breggen
July 30, 2013
A critical review of a critic's work
Aaron Scott Hildebrandt—a fellow who has been banned from the blog version of Apologia for promoting obfuscation—recently wrote a letter to the editor of The Carillon (the newspaper in which my Apologia columns appear) to complain about my May 30th column "Is promoting same-sex sex wise?" In his letter Hildebrandt argues that my column is a fraud and that I am thereby promoting harm to LGBTQ people. These are serious charges. Last week I argued that the claims and accusation in Hildebrandt's letter are mistaken (see "Questioning a critic's credibility"). I thought this would be the end of the matter. I have learned, however, that Hildebrandt's letter is merely the tip of an ice berg: Hildebrandt has published an extended critique of my column over at his website AaronHildebrandt.com: "'Is promoting same-sex sex wise?': A response".
In Hildebrandt's extended critique of my column, Hildebrandt continues to charge me with fraud and promoting harm. Although I appreciate Hildebrandt's concern and zeal, I do not appreciate his ongoing obfuscation and false accusations. Because Hildebrandt's obfuscation is unfair to all truth-seeking persons—LGBTQ persons included—and because Hildebrandt levels additional charges against me—personally and professionally—in what follows I set out my own extended critique of Hildebrandt's extended critique. I hope that those persons who wish to think seriously and carefully about the issues at hand will appreciate my work.
I encourage the interested reader to do the following: (1) read or re-read my column "Is promoting same-sex sex wise?"; (2) read or re-read Hildebrandt's lengthy response; (3) read my criticisms below.
My thesis is that Hildebrandt's critique—"'Is promoting same-sex sex wise?': A response"—is an abject failure (and thus he continues to obfuscate). It follows from this that Hildebrandt's charges against me are without warrant. To defend my thesis I will argue that Hildebrandt commits at least ten major logical fallacies—straw person fallacy x 6, red herring fallacy x 3, ad hominem fallacy x 1—plus he stumbles over some misunderstandings relating to the history and philosophy of science, plus he engages in various instances of sophistry and confusion. I will set out extended quotes from Hildebrandt in the order in which they appear in his extended critique, and I will respond immediately thereafter. (For convenience, I restate Hildebrandt's criticisms in blue font, prefaced by "Hildebrandt wrote," and I respond in black font.)
I encourage readers to bear with me, not for my sake, but for the sake of promoting truth and goodness in our culture. I suspect Hildebrandt's faulty arguments are not uncommon.
Hildebrandt wrote: "Hendrik van der Breggen is a professor at Providence University College & Seminary. I’ve spent many years at Providence both as a student and as staff—it’s home to some of the most fantastic professors I’ve ever had the pleasure of studying with. Unfortunately, Van der Breggen has demonstrated dangerous bias, as well as a habit of misrepresenting research and ignoring scientific and medical consensus that runs against his personally-held views."
I am glad that Hildebrandt thinks highly of some of the professors at Providence—I agree with his judgment on this. But I think that his judgments about me are mistaken, and I am concerned that these mistaken judgments, if left unchecked, will reflect poorly on my Providence colleagues (via guilt by association) and on Providence students (for having taken philosophy courses with me).
Hildebrandt's charges against me are serious. According to Hildebrandt, in my column "Is promoting same-sex sex wise?" I have demonstrated not merely a bias, but a dangerous bias. Also, I do not merely misrepresent research, but I have a habit of misrepresenting research. Also, I am not merely guilty of "ignoring scientific and medical consensus that runs against [my] personally-held views," but I have a habit of doing this too. If Hildebrandt's charges are legitimate, then, clearly, my academic abilities—and my moral character—are at issue.
In view of Hildebrandt's serious charges—especially because Hildebrandt presents them publicly—we should expect some good arguments from Hildebrandt. Hildebrandt, however, doesn't deliver. In fact, he fails miserably. As I argue below, Hildebrandt commits a host of logical fallacies and suffers from a lack of philosophical understanding plus engages in some sophistries which together serve to obfuscate the important issues I present in my column.
An aside. Hildebrandt claims he has spent "many years at Providence both as a student and as staff." Initially I thought: Perhaps Hildebrandt earned an undergraduate degree from Providence, maybe even a graduate degree, and maybe he did some teaching? From what I can gather, however, Hildebrandt didn't complete any degree at Providence or at any other university (he continued his education at a local technical college). From what I can gather, too, his role as a staff member at Providence was as a student worker in the library.
Hildebrandt wrote: "Van der Breggen … He’s been clear about his personal position on homosexuality, arguing that while it’s not immoral to be attracted to a member of your own sex, it’s “sinful” and immoral to be physically intimate with them.1 While this view isn’t shocking, it’s hard not to get sad thinking about how pervasive this view still is, and sadder still that the “immorality” of same-sex relationships is something that can still seep into University education."
For the sake of clarity, I think that the Bible teaches that it is sin/immoral to engage in sexual relations outside of a one-man-one-woman marriage relationship. For the sake of perspective, this view is pretty much in line historically with much of the Christian church, be it Catholic or Protestant or Eastern Orthodox. Also for the sake of perspective (and a reminder), I teach at Providence University College, which is a Christian university in the evangelical tradition.
Hildebrandt wrote: "Recently, Van der Breggen wrote an article (as part of his regular column, Apologia) entitled Is promoting same-sex sex wise?. The argument he makes in the article is this: Physical intimacy between same-sex couples carries considerable health risks, thus it would be “unwise” to promote homosexual relationships."
Here Hildebrandt sets out the first of his several major fallacies. In fact, here Hildebrandt makes a huge logical blunder: he misrepresents the argument that he purports to criticize. My argument is not "Physical intimacy between same-sex couples carries considerable health risks, thus it would be 'unwise' to promote homosexual relationships." Rather, my argument is this: There is evidence of considerable health risk associated with same-sex sexual behaviour, therefore we should investigate further (before we give same-sex sex our social stamp of approval).
In other words, Hildebrandt commits the classic straw person fallacy, which is the mistake in reasoning wherein one misrepresents the argument under investigation and critiques the misrepresentation as if it were the real deal. The effect of Hildebrandt's mistake is that he requires my arguments to do work they're not required to do. This may favour Hildebrandt's position in a sophistical and rhetorical way, but from the point of view of logic and truth it is an error—a large error. Moreover, it serves to obfuscate: i.e., it muddies the waters.
Some background: I've interacted previously with Hildebrandt at the blog version of my column Apologia, and Hildebrandt has been guilty of obfuscation there too, by blurring important distinctions. See Hildebrandt's comments and my responses at "Homophobia, bigotry, intolerance?" (May 20, 2010) and "Is promoting same-sex sex wise?" (May 30, 2013). Also, Hildebrandt has been guilty of earlier obfuscations over at Citizens Concerned About Manitoba Bill 18, a Facebook group from which Hildebrandt was banned. As a result of these obfuscations, I banned Hildebrandt from my blog. I suspect that this doesn't sit well with Hildebrandt, so now he seems bent on continuing his "critique" of my work with further obfuscation coupled with an attempt to smear my academic and personal reputation.
Again, Hildebrandt makes a huge logical blunder at the very beginning of his essay: he misrepresents the argument that he purports to criticize. In other words, Hildebrandt violates a fundamental rule of proper argument assessment.
Hildebrandt wrote: "Normally I wouldn’t let stuff like this get to me too much. People say horrible things about homosexuality every day. The reason I can’t let this go is twofold. First, Van der Breggen is a professor at a University I care about a lot, and if he’s lying to his students or spreading junk science, he needs to be called out on it. Second, the stuff that Van der Breggen is peddling can cause, and is likely causing, serious damage to the LGBTQ students at the University."
I'm glad that Hildebrandt cares about Providence and that he cares about LGBTQ students having horrible things said about them and being lied to. For the record, I care too. But I find that my gladness competes with indignation. For Hildebrandt even to suggest that I don't care or that I am lying to my students—or that I am "peddling" anything—I find this to be intellectually irresponsible on Hildebrandt's part. Again, I'm glad that Hildebrandt cares about what he professes to care about, but this doesn't give him license to impugn me morally. It only gives him license to assess my argument—which, as it turns out, he misrepresents.
Also, I wish to point out that my argument's conclusion—that we should investigate further before we give same-sex sex our social stamp of approval—may actually be helpful to LGBTQ students, not damaging. Surely, a careful investigation of truth is important for all persons. Surely, too, serious damage results from promoting falsehoods as if they are truths.
Hildebrandt wrote: "So, let’s take a look at what Van der Breggen has written."
Yes, let's do that. The careful thinker should note, however, that via the misrepresentation of my overall argument Hildebrandt has already shown a failure on his part to look carefully. Again: Hildebrandt's misrepresentation of my overall argument is a significant logical mistake.
Hildebrandt wrote: "Van der Breggen quotes a number of organisations in his article. He rarely points to any specific study, instead just referring to statements these organisations have made. So, who are these organisations he holds in such high esteem?"
Keep in mind that, contrary to what Hildebrandt's misrepresentation would have the reader think, the goal of my argument is not to demonstrate a causal connection between homosexual behaviour and health issues; the goal of my argument is merely to point to an association between homosexual behaviour and health concerns and thus recommend further investigation. That's why I quote summary statements from some organizations which have done work in this area.
Keep in mind, too, that (as I mention in my column) my argument is a cumulative case argument. In a cumulative case argument the individual arguments needn't be 100% demonstrative; they only need to carry some force, which accumulates. In the case at hand, the arguments only need to carry enough force to raise reasonable questions that will encourage further investigation. Hildebrandt seems not to be aware of this—but I'll let this pass because he runs into some larger difficulties.
Hildebrandt attempts to cast doubt on the credibility of three of the organizations to which I appeal and thereby he attempts to wholly dismiss the organizations' claims. The three organizations are the National Association for Research and Therapy for Homosexuality (NARTH), the Family Research Council (FRC), and the Christian Medical and Dental Associations (CMDA).
The first part of Hildebrandt's criticism (below) is that, well, each of the organizations takes a "strong position" on homosexuality (i.e., a position that does not favour same-sex sexual behaviour). Hildebrandt later retracts this as a criticism, but, clearly, he initially uses this observation for rhetorical effect (by appealing to some of his reader's predispositions/ prejudgments). Here I should remind the reader that in my column I explicitly acknowledge that NARTH, FRC, and CMDA are groups that take a position on homosexuality or are Christian. Interestingly, Hildebrandt revisits this point as if it were a discovery on his part! In my column I go on to point out that we should be careful of bias, but also we shouldn't dismiss the message because we don't like the messenger. Later Hildebrandt also notices this point as if it were his discovery again. Either Hildebrandt is engaging in sophistry or he isn't aware of what I've written.
Also, Hildebrandt appeals to the alleged "majority consensus in the scientific community" as an objection to the credibility of the claims of NARTH, FRC, and CMDA. Here Hildebrandt shows that he is academically and scientifically naïve. More on this below.
Hildebrandt wrote: "The first piece of evidence he logs is a report assembled by the National Association for Research and Therapy for Homosexuality (NARTH). NARTH is “a professional, scientific organization that offers hope to those who struggle with unwanted homosexuality.”2 NARTH is, in a word, problematic. The position of NARTH is that homosexuality is dangerous, deviant behaviour. Their own mission statement claims that homosexuality is a “failure to function according to design”, a distortion of the “natural bond of friendship that would naturally unite persons of the same sex”, and threat against the “continuity of traditional male-female marriage” (and, in turn, a threat against children). NARTH claims that homosexuality in males is caused by having a “poor relationship with father; difficulty individuating from mother; a sense of masculine deficit; and a persistent belief of having been different from, and misunderstood by, same-sex childhood peers.”3"
Note that most almost all of the above is a description of NARTH's position, not a criticism. Here comes Hildebrandt's criticism.
Hildebrandt wrote: "Many of NARTH’s positions are utterly undefendable. Their base claims—that homosexuality is “unnatural” and a functional failure to be corrected—are in direct disagreement with a majority consensus in the scientific community. While it’s certainly possible for someone to have their sexual preferences change over time, the push to “convert” people away from their sexual orientation can, according to the American Psychological Association and Pan American Health Organization / World Health Association, result in an incredible level of both emotional and physical damage.4,5 "
Hildebrandt's criticism of NARTH is weak.
"Many of NARTH's positions are utterly undefendable"? Which positions, besides their base claims? What's the evidence? Hildebrandt doesn't say. Rather, to challenge NARTH's base claims Hildebrandt appeals to the "majority consensus in the scientific community."
As I mentioned, however, Hildebrandt's appeal to "majority consensus in the scientific community" is academically and scientifically naïve. Consider his appeal to the American Psychological Association as an example.
I refer to the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), a U.S.-based organization of psychologists and counselors who help people overcome unwanted same-sex attractions. In response, Hildebrandt sets out his preferred source—the American Psychological Association (APA)—which dismisses the legitimacy of NARTH's work. We should concede to Hildebrandt that the APA is a large and influential organization whereas NARTH isn't. But, if we investigate further, it becomes clear that Hildebrandt's appeal to the APA as a scientific authority faces two debilitating difficulties.
First, that there is a majority consensus in the scientific community doesn't automatically mean that the minority is mistaken. Think of Copernicus and Galileo. Think of the whole history of science! Often, as history shows, a scientific minority's arguments have a better handle on truth. Lesson: Even in the face of a major scientific consensus, we should encourage further investigation—in the name of good science.
Second, the alleged majority APA consensus in psychology to which Hildebrandt so confidently appeals is fractured and dubious. Consider Jeffrey Satinover's book Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth (Baker 1996). Satinover—a psychiatrist educated at MIT, Harvard, and U of Texas—reports on the well-known infringement of political ideology into the scientific investigation of homosexuality during the 1970s and into the 1990s. Consider, too, psychologists Rogers Wright and Nicholas Cummings' more recent book Destructive Trends in Mental Health: TheWell-Intentioned Path to Harm (Routledge 2005). In this collection of essays various highly respected psychologists argue that, in the scientific and professional world of psychology, "special interest groups have used faulty—even false—science to promote political agendas." Interestingly, Cummings is a past president of the APA, is a champion of lesbian and gay rights, and was a keynote speaker at the 2011 NARTH conference—yes, a NARTH conference. It turns out that Cummings is more supportive of NARTH than the APA!
Cummings says the following in an interview with NARTH: "The APA has permitted political correctness to triumph over science, clinical knowledge and professional integrity. The public can no longer trust organized psychology to speak from evidence rather than from what it regards to be politically correct." Cummings adds: "At the present time the governance of the APA is vested in an elitist group of 200 psychologists who rotate themselves in a kind of 'musical chairs' throughout all the various offices, boards, committees, and the Council of Representatives. The vast majority of the 100,000 members are essentially disenfranchised." (Reference: http://narth.com/docs/cummings.html.)
Surely, these are significant remarks from a former president of the APA—enough to cast at least some reasonable doubt onto the scientific authority of the APA.
In my column "Is promoting same-sex sex wise?" I point to various health concerns associated with same-sex sex and I conclude, modestly, that we should investigate further. In view of my above two points—that from a majority consensus it doesn't automatically follow that a minority position is mistaken, and that in the APA the alleged consensus is fractured and dubious—I think that it's reasonable to generalize and say that Hildebrandt's confident appeal to the "majority consensus in the scientific community" lacks the evidential punch Hildebrandt would like us to believe it has.
About Hildebrandt's allegation about NARTH's "push to 'convert' people away from their sexual orientation": Yes, such a push can be damaging. But Hildebrandt fails to keep in mind that much if not all contemporary reorientation therapy doesn't "push" people; rather, it gives to people who want to change—and are determined to change—the tools needed for change. In other words, Hildebrandt misrepresents what NARTH is doing. Misrepresentation—the straw person fallacy—is a serious mistake.
Hildebrandt's criticism of NARTH is weak, then, to say the least.
Hildebrandt wrote: "In terms of the causes of homosexuality, The Royal College of Psychiatrists stated that “Despite almost a century of psychoanalytic and psychological speculation, there is no substantive evidence to support the suggestion that the nature of parenting or early childhood experiences have any role in the formation of a person’s fundamental heterosexual or homosexual orientation.”6"
No substantive evidence for the suggestion of any role for parenting or early childhood experiences? Part of my PhD studies was in philosophy of science. I'm quite sure that such a broad-ranging absolute statement cannot be made in the sciences. Here we must dare to say that the emperor has no clothes.
Significantly, we are not alone in saying so. Nicholas Cummings, a former president of the American Psychological Association, talks about a bias in the APA against NARTH's reparative therapy—which says childhood experiences do have a role (see the first video here).
Also, consider the testimony of Paul C. Vitz, a PhD in psychology and professor of psychology at New York University. Vitz gives a positive review of Joseph Nicolosi (PhD in psychology, former president of NARTH) and Linda Ames Nicolosi's book A Parent's Guide to Preventing Homosexuality (InterVarsity Press 2002). Vitz writes the following in his blurb: "The Nicolosis have written a groundbreaking book. The authors challenge the American Psychological Association, rightly, on their narrow, totalitarian attitude about homosexuality. The authors make an excellent case that a significant number of homosexuals develop their identity from defective parenting…." (Italics mine.)
Cummings' and Vitz's claims, then, cast considerable doubt onto the statement from the Royal College of Psychiatrists about there being a century of psychoanalytic and psychological speculation only.
Reminder: The conclusion of my (not misrepresented) argument is that further investigation is needed. Surely, in view of conflicting reports within the scientific community, further investigation is needed.
Hildebrandt wrote: "Given that almost the entire medical community stands against them, how does NARTH justify their position? By claiming that the medical community has been targeted by a vast pro-LGBTQ conspiracy that has resulted in “many researchers [being] intimidated, we believe, into trading the truth for silence.”3 In short, they want you to believe everything they say is true, and if they fail peer review it’s only because they’re so right that the scientific community is afraid to agree. It’s junk science of the worst sort."
Hildebrandt wrote: "NARTH is an organisation that disagrees with the vast majority of the scientific community and knowingly spreads falsehoods about the causes and effects of homosexuality. Next?"
Contrary to what Hildebrandt thinks, there is good evidence for thinking that ideology/ political correctness is in fact having a huge influence in the scientific community, as I've pointed out above in my references to Satinover and Cummings. (On the broader concerns, see Wright and Cummings' book, Destructive Trends in Mental Health.) In other words, Hildebrandt engages in misrepresentation (again).
Note: In view of the above, it's reasonable to think that Hildebrandt has never taken a philosophy of science course. It's not news in the history and philosophy of science that there are sometimes disagreements within the scientific community and one major faction may share a particular worldview or paradigm, may temporarily dominate, and may use various social means to encourage or even bully peers into accepting the paradigm. The philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn is famous for pointing this out in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (University of Chicago Press, 1962). In other words, Hildebrandt demonstrates a lack of relevant background knowledge, which translates into a skewed understanding—a misunderstanding—of the goings on in contemporary science.
Hildebrandt wrote: "The Family Research Council bills itself as a “Christian organization promoting the traditional family unit and the Judeo-Christian value system upon which it is built.” The FRC believes that physical intimacy between members of the same sex should be illegal, and homosexuals should face criminal prosecution.7 One of their most vocal arguments has been that homosexuality is directly linked to pedophilia8—a claim that is, of course, a complete fabrication. Dr. Gregory M. Herek at UC Davis wrote a particularly scathing response to this claim, saying “there is no scientific basis for asserting that they are more likely than heterosexual men to [engage in pedophilia].”12 Several people who have had their research cited by the FRC have made public statements condemning the FRC for misrepresenting their works.9"
Here Hildebrandt commits two instances of another classic fallacy—the red herring fallacy—and one (more) instance of the straw person fallacy. (The red herring fallacy is the mistake of changing the subject to one that's not under discussion.) Also, Hildebrandt displays some scholarly shortcomings.
Red herring 1. In Hildebrandt's critique of my appeal to FRC's report that there are "significantly elevated health problems experienced by homosexuals," Hildebrandt engages in a logically illicit sidestepping maneuver. Pause and think: I make a reference to the studies that the FRC presents in the FRC book Getting It Straight: What the Research Shows about Homosexuality (in the chapter "Is Homosexuality a Health Risk?") and Hildebrandt responds by pointing to the FRC's position on homosexuality and the law. Huh? Surely, FRC's legal position, even though we may not agree with it (I don't agree with it, and I haven't said I did), is not relevant to the merits of the research the FRC presents for thinking that there are "significantly elevated health problems experienced by homosexuals." As I mentioned, this is a classic case of the red herring fallacy.
Not so incidentally, the FRC book acknowledges that the FRC has a position on homosexuality and the law, but goes on to say that "[t]his book offers no answers" to questions about the law. But Hildebrandt obviously didn't read this.
Not so incidentally, too, the FRC has distanced itself from the remark made by Peter Sprigg about the law and homosexuality (a remark that Sprigg made in the video to which Hildebrandt provides a link in his footnote). See the section "Does FRC want to 'criminalize' homosexuality?" at the FRC website. But Hildebrandt seems unaware of this and doesn't point his readers to this relevant bit of information.
Red herring 2. Hildebrandt commits another instance of the mistake of changing the subject to a subject that's not under discussion when he attempts to dismiss the FRC's credibility by pointing to the FRC's (alleged, more on this below) claim that "homosexuality is directly linked to pedophilia." Think about it: I point to FRC's quote that there are "significantly elevated health problems experienced by homosexuals," and Hildebrandt responds by pointing to the FRC's alleged position on pedophilia. Huh? Whether FRC's evidence for elevated health problems is good depends on the quality of the evidence for elevated health problems. Hildebrandt is playing a shell game in his attempt to cast doubt onto the FRC's credibility.
Straw person fallacy. Things are actually worse: Hildebrandt misrepresents the FRC's position regarding pedophilia. Significantly, in the book to which I refer, the FRC does not claim that homosexuality and pedophilia are "directly linked," as Hildebrandt alleges. Rather, the FRC authors point to evidence for thinking that "Homosexuals are overrepresented in child sex offenses: Individuals from the 1 to 3 percent of the population that is sexually attracted to the same sex are committing up to one-third of the sex crimes against children" (see page 122; see too subsequent pages for the evidence). The statistics cited by FRC may or may not be accurate; my point here is that FRC isn't saying what Hildebrandt alleges. In other words, Hildebrandt engages in yet another case of the straw person fallacy. (The straw person fallacy seems to be Hildebrandt's signature fallacy!)
Some scholarly shortcomings. Interestingly, Hildebrandt's footnote (to substantiate his thesis that FRC makes the claim Hildebrand alleges) is not to FRC itself—which is odd. Instead, Hildebrandt refers to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which has become, apparently, a source of hate-mongering in its alleged watching out for hate groups. (On the SPLC's lack of respectable reporting, see Michael Brown's article "SPLC fails intelligence test"). Here is my concern: If Hildebrandt wants to assert that X says Y, then Hildebrandt should find a case of X saying Y (not merely a case of Z, who hates X, saying X said Y). Here is another concern: If Hildebrandt is going to appeal to SPLC, a group that obviously has a "hate on" for the FRC, it would be helpful if Hildebrandt would also encourage readers to have a look at FRC's response to SPLC: "Answering the Southern Poverty Law Center's Attacks upon Family Research Council".
Hildebrandt wrote: "The Christian Medical and Dental Associations is another organisation with a strong position on homosexuality: “Same-sex attraction cannot be consummated within God’s design for human sexuality. It is possible by God’s grace for those with same sex attraction to live a chaste life. Choosing to indulge in homosexual acts in thought or deed is sinful.”10"
Again, Hildebrandt takes a description of a religious view on homosexuality held by an organization as a criticism of the organization's merit as a source of evidence. This is a version of the ad hominem fallacy, the mistake in argument wherein a characteristic of the arguer is taken as evidence against the arguer's argument (in this case the arguer is an organization). Later Hildebrandt acknowledges that "just because we disagree with an organisation's mandate doesn't mean we get to discount everything they say." This is good, but it's clear that Hildebrandt is at the present juncture appealing to his readers' prejudices to launch an implicit ad hominem, which is rhetorically manipulative and sophistical. (The prejudice/ prejudgment here is that holding to a religious position regarding homosexuality precludes a person's ability to look at evidence carefully. This judgment may be accurate in some cases, it may be inaccurate in other cases. A case-by-case investigation of the evidence is needed.)
Hildebrandt wrote: "In their official statement on homosexuality, you’ll find this gem: “Men who commit homosexual acts have a high incidence of […] child molestation”.10 Once again, this claim has absolutely no merit—no reputable study has ever demonstrated this to be true.12"
This claim has "absolutely no merit"? There is "no reputable study"? Here Hildebrandt dismisses the sources to which CMDA appeals in favour of another source—Hildebrandt's preferred source. But, surely, Hildebrandt lacks the expertise to arbitrate here. A quick Internet search reveals sources on both sides of the issue. I would recommend a more humble intellectual approach and recommend further investigation. (Oh, wait. Isn't that what I recommend in my column?)
More pertinent here, Hildebrandt again commits the red herring fallacy: he sidesteps the issue under discussion. The issue has to do with the CMDA's position on homosexual sexual behaviour vis-à-vis physical health. Hildebrandt, however, redirects to child molestation. But, surely, the CMDA—a society of experts in the medical field—probably has something important to say about health. To so quickly dismiss the CMDA medical professionals is too facile—i.e., intellectually superficial. We should be looking at the evidence the CMDA has about health concerns. As I argue, the CMDA's views provide grounds (part of a larger cumulative case argument) for thinking that further investigation is needed. Hildebrandt attempts to sidestep this.
Hildebrandt wrote: "That’s a third organisation with a strong stance against LGBTQ rights. That said, just because we disagree with an organisation’s mandate doesn’t mean we get to discount everything they say. At least, that’s what I was going to argue, before I actually read up on these three organisations. Because while you can’t throw out every study and paper produced by a group just because you find them morally reprehensible, you can throw out studies done by groups who knowingly lie or misrepresent research to justify their position. Here you have three organisations that knowingly lie about studies and their conclusions in order to push an anti-LGBTQ agenda. Forget the agenda itself—any organisation that distorts, lies, and pulls misleading conclusions from research in order to push a particular view has absolutely no place in rational discussion. If we’re going to trust the stuff that comes out of organisations like NARTH, the FRC, and the CMDA, we might as well just make any claim that we want and present it as fact."
Permit me to summarize what has actually happened thus far: Hildebrandt has not shown that NARTH, FRC, and CMDS "knowingly lie or misrepresent research"; Hildebrandt clearly is unaware of the problems with his appeal to the "majority consensus in the scientific community"; Hildebrandt's arguments are fraught with fallacies—straw persons, red herrings, ad hominem—plus rhetoric and sophistry; and Hildebrandt's arguments are fueled by his moral disagreement with the organizations' positions on homosexuality (he suggests they are "morally reprehensible"). I respectfully submit that it is Hildebrandt who has lost his place in rational discussion.
Hildebrandt wrote: "To his credit, Van der Breggen seems to be at least somewhat aware of how poor his sources are. To back them up, he provides quotes from a few different organisations with better track records, including the Canadian Rainbow Health Coalition and the Mayo Clinic. These do, in fact, state that there are a number of health concerns associated with homosexuality, including a lower life expectancy, suicide, high rates of substance abuse, and depression. There are also higher rates of anal cancer, breast cancer, and HIV infection."
Re: "Van der Breggen seems to be at least somewhat aware of how poor his sources are." I am aware that any source can be challenged, including the alleged "majority consensus." But, as I make clear in my column, the reason I go on to present other sources is because I know that many people (such as Hildebrandt) will quickly dismiss a source (such as the first three I present) because of its moral position or religious views, i.e., many persons will mistakenly dismiss the message because they dislike something about the messenger. Thus I appeal to my additional sources.
Hildebrandt wrote: "All these are cited in support of his argument: that physical intimacy between members of the same sex causes health problems in the same way that smoking causes cancer."
In actuality, I point out that there is a parallel to smoking that shouldn't be ignored: not everyone who engages in same-sex sex becomes unhealthy just as not everyone who smokes becomes unhealthy, yet, statistically, both smoking and engaging in same-sex sex involve serious health risks. So Hildebrandt's claim that I claim same-sex sex "causes health problems in the same way that smoking causes cancer" (my italics) seems to be a misrepresentation of my claim. (There's that word "misrepresentation" again!) Also, I cite the sources I do in support of my argument that further investigation is needed. (Hildebrandt misrepresents again!)
Hildebrandt wrote: "Probably the best and most reliable source of information Van der Breggen cites is the prestigious Mayo Clinic. He pulled the following quote: “All men have certain health risks. Gay men and men who have sex with men face an increased risk of specific health concerns, however.” If you take this quote totally out of context, and stop at exactly the right place, I could see how you could twist it into an admission that same-sex intimacy causes health problems. Only, that’s not what they say at all. Here’s a longer quote from the same Mayo document: “Gay men and men who have sex with men might be at higher risk of depression and anxiety. In addition, youth who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender might have a higher risk of depression and attempted suicide. Contributing factors could include social alienation, discrimination, rejection by loved ones, abuse and violence. The problem might be more severe for men who try to hide their sexual orientation and those who lack social support.”11"
Hildebrandt adds: "So, homosexuality doesn’t cause depression—social rejection causes depression. In actuality (according to a popular study published by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology), physical intimacy actually combats the depression and anxiety that’s heaped on them by constant discrimination, reducing stress, lowering blood pressure, and contributing to a healthy psychological state13. Physical intimacy doesn’t cause depression—it prevents it."
Hildebrandt misrepresents me and the Mayo Clinic. I ask the reader to read and think carefully here.
First, contrary to what Hildebrandt would have the reader think, I do not argue that "same-sex intimacy causes health problems." Rather, I argue that there are health risks associated with same-sex sex, so "risk factor" would be a better description of my position. Here (again) is the quote I "pulled" from the Mayo Clinic website: "All men have certain health risks. Gay men and men who have sex with men face an increased risk of specific health concerns, however."
Second, Hildebrandt misinterprets the above claim from the Mayo Clinic in his attempt to undermine my appeal to the plain meaning of the text. Hildebrandt accuses me of twisting the Mayo Clinic's claim and of ignoring context, so he presents an extended passage (from later in the article) about the concerns arising from depression and anxiety, making it seem that the Mayo Clinic's sole concern has to do with the social dimension (i.e., social rejection causing depression). But to better understand the quote I presented, Hildebrandt should instead (or at least also) direct the reader's attention to the immediate context of my quote, i.e., to the sentences that immediately follow what I presented, not to the sentences farther down the page. Here are the sentences I quoted along with their immediate context (i.e., two immediately subsequent sentences): "All men have certain health risks. Gay men and men who have sex with men face an increased risk of specific health concerns, however. Although your individual risks are shaped by many factors beyond your sexual orientation and practices—including family history and age—it's important to understand common health issues for gay men and steps you can take to stay healthy. Men who have sex with men are at increased risk of contracting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, as well as other sexually transmitted infections, including gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis." (I have added the italics to the last sentence. Also, for reference, here is the link for the Mayo Clinic.) So, yes, there are factors other than sexual orientation and practices, but there are also risk factors associated with the practice of same-sex sex, in this case the practice of men having sex with men. In other words, Hildebrandt misrepresents the proper interpretation of my quote and thereby also the proper interpretation of the Mayo Clinic's actual message about physical and medical health risks which are connected to men who have sex with men.
Surely, these—"HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, as well as other sexually transmitted infections, including gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis"—are serious health risks associated with men having sex with men. Surely, too, information about these health risks is important for LGBTQ persons. Hildebrandt, however, would have the reader ignore this information. Wouldn't it be wise to recommend further investigation?
Note: Contrary to what Hildebrandt seems to suggest, in my column I do not ignore the issue of depression due to social rejection/ social stigma. I write: "[W]e should be careful neither to underestimate nor to overestimate the effects of social stigma. Still, stigma or no stigma, the physical-medical health issues remain." In his discussion of my quote from the Mayo Clinic, Hildrebrandt overemphasizes the effects of social stigma and ignores the physical-medical issues. He misrepresents (again).
Hildebrandt's misrepresentation of me and (more importantly) the Mayo Clinic is an egregious error. From the point of view of critical thinking, it's a violation of intellectual virtue. From the point of view of medical care, it's a violation of moral virtue.
Another misrepresentation. Hildebrandt also misrepresents the article from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology to which he refers the reader. I repeat Hildebrandt here for the sake of clarity.
Hildebrandt wrote: "In actuality (according to a popular study published by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology), physical intimacy [i.e., same-sex sex] actually combats the depression and anxiety that’s heaped on them [i.e., homosexuals] by constant discrimination, reducing stress, lowering blood pressure, and contributing to a healthy psychological state13."
Significantly, the article to which Hildebrandt refers his readers is not about homosexual physical intimacy nor does the article focus on homosexuals or even on physical intimacy. The article is about the various ways in which people (in general) change their moods, raise energy levels, and reduce tension. According to the article's abstract, "Exercise appears to be the most effective mood-regulating behavior, and the best general strategy to change a bad mood is a combination of relaxation, stress management, cognitive, and exercise techniques" (p. 910). It turns out that sexual intimacy is not a huge priority. Sex is one of the "less successful" strategies for changing a bad mood (p. 922). To be sure, we find "Have sex" under the tension-reducing category of Pleasant Distraction (see table 6, p. 921), and Pleasant Distraction was self-rated as most successful at reducing tension. But under the category Pleasant Distraction we find not merely "Have sex" but also "Engage in hobby," "Go shopping," "Tend to chores," "Watch TV (movie)," "Engage in religious/spiritual acts," "Read or write," "Exercise" (see table 6, p. 921). The article's focus isn't about sex, in other words. Moreover, nowhere in the article is same-sex sex mentioned. So when the article does mention sex it's probably heterosexual sex, not homosexual sex. All this to say that to make a big deal, as Hildebrandt does, about the benefits of homosexual physical intimacy is to read quite a bit more into the article than what the article actually presents. In other words, Hildebrandt misrepresents the goings on in the journal article. Yes, another misrepresentation.
Hildebrandt wrote: "What about Van der Breggen’s quote about homosexuals having increased rates of cancer? Well, the study that he’s referring to is pretty clear about its own issues. The researchers behind the study have suggested that there’s a possibility that homosexuals in the study had higher cancer rates because they had higher survival rates, which would directly contradict the point Van der Breggen was trying to make. No firm conclusion has been drawn, however, they have cautioned people against rushing to any particular interpretation.14"
Look at the dates. Hildebrandt sets out a link to a May 2011 BBC article about a study on cancer and Hildebrandt says it's the study I'm referring to. Well, it's a relevant study, but my quote is from Gens Hellquist, executive director of the pro-gay Canadian Rainbow Health Coalition, as reported two years earlier in the February 2009 issue of the newspaper Xtra! Perhaps Hellquist is referring to earlier portions of the study referred to in the BBC article. Perhaps not. I don't know. (At the moment I don't have access to the needed information.) At any rate, the fact of higher rates of anal cancer among homosexual men remains, and the fact of higher rates of breast cancer among lesbians remains—and because these facts remain, it's reasonable to recommend further investigation. Which is what I recommend in my column.
Perhaps it's true that, as Hildebrandt points out, "homosexuals in the study had higher cancer rates because they had higher survival rates, which would directly contradict the point Van der Breggen was trying to make." Or perhaps it's not true. Again, I think that it's reasonable to recommend further investigation. Significantly, the BBC article even says that "Further research would be needed to determine if homosexual men were actually getting more tumours or had greater survival rates." For goodness' sake, before we promote same-sex sex as something to be celebrated, let's have the further research!
Even if it's true that, as Hildebrandt points out, "no firm conclusion has been drawn [by the scientists]" and "they have cautioned people against rushing to any particular interpretation," this doesn't count against my conclusion that it's reasonable to recommend further investigation. Again, let's have further investigation.
Why is Hildebrandt so keen to shut down further investigation? Is his ideology trumping scientific investigation?
Hildebrandt wrote: "The final issue, and the elephant in the room, is HIV. There’s a lot that can be, and has been, said on the issue of HIV, AIDS, and the LGBTQ population. But let’s focus on Van der Breggen’s argument: does having sex with your own gender increase your risk of infection? Let’s boil this down to the clearest test possible. If all these gay men started having sex with women instead, what difference would that have on the transmission rate? After all, that’s the crux of Van der Breggen’s argument: that it’s the “gay sex” itself that’s the problem. If only these gay men had good, clean, heterosexual sex, they wouldn’t face the same health risks. And, to a small degree, he’s right. But the emphasis is on the word “small”. In fact, according to the British Medical Journal, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and European Centre for the Epidemiological Monitoring of AIDS, the odds of a gay man giving his partner HIV would be reduced by about 0.4% (0.5%, as opposed to 0.1%) if his partner was female instead of male, though if the woman was the one with HIV his odds of being infected himself would be lowered by a larger 0.45%.15,16,17 The difference is there. It’s been documented. And, it’s significant—when we’re dealing with life-threatening illnesses, your risk of infection jumping a gross 0.45% is significant enough that it’s worth paying attention to. But is it enough to declare gay sex unwise and unsafe? That’s pretty hard to argue, especially since the simple act of using a condom reduces the odds of transmission to a statistically insignificant number (condoms are manufactured in such a way that transmission of HIV through the membrane should be impossible).18"
Before I consider Hildebrandt's so-called "clearest test possible," I encourage readers not to lose sight of the fact that on the topic of HIV/AIDS and same-sex sex, in my column I set out a quote from Robert Cushman. Cushman is a medical doctor and senior medical advisor at Health Canada. I strongly suspect that Cushman knows much more about our topic than Hildebrandt, a young man who hasn't even completed a university undergraduate degree. Here again is the quote from Dr. Cushman: "HIV is much more common in the MSM [men who have sex with men] population than in the general population."
In addition, before I consider Hildebrandt's so-called "clearest test possible," I encourage readers not to lose sight of the fact that on the topic of HIV/AIDS and same-sex sex, in my column I also quote Thomas Coy, a researcher who has a recently-minted master's degree from the University of Michigan-Flint. Coy's thesis is titled “The Professional Division Over the Treatment of Homosexuality and How It Has Been Influenced by the Gay Political Movement." I strongly suspect that Coy knows much more about our topic than Hildebrandt, a young man who hasn't even completed a university undergraduate degree. Here again is the quote from Coy: "The risk of HIV from sexual contact for MSM (men who have sex with men) was approximately 150 times greater than the heterosexual male population in 2010." Coy adds, for the sake of perspective (as I also quote in my column): "According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) the risk of lung cancer for men who smoke is 23 times greater than for men who do not smoke."
So, does same-sex sex increase risk of HIV infection? Statistically, according to the experts I've cited, the answer sure seems to be Yes.
What about Hildebrandt's "clearest test possible"? I'm not as confident as Hildebrandt that his test is as clear as Hildebrandt thinks. I think it's unclear, actually. Nevertheless, let's be gracious and concede for the sake of argument that his test should make it reasonable for us to pause. Now, what about the claims I've cited from Health Canada's senior official and the U.S. researcher? Are Cushman's and Coy's claims now to be wholly dismissed because of Hildebrandt's test? I don't think so. I think it would be wise to conclude, more modestly, that—you guessed it—further investigation is needed. Surely, the claims from Cushman and Coy warrant further investigation, even in the face of Hildebrandt's alleged "clearest test possible." Surely, this is reasonable.
Some nitpicking on my part. In describing his "clearest test possible," Hildebrandt writes: "the odds of a gay man giving his partner HIV would be reduced by about 0.4% (0.5% as opposed to 0.1%)…." Wouldn't it be more accurate to say that the reduction would be by about 80%, not 0.4%? Think about it: a reduction from 0.5% to 0.25% would be by 50%, a reduction from 0.5% to 0.2% would be by 60%, and so on. I think that making a distinction between percentages and percentage points would add to the clarity of the "clearest test possible." Just saying.
About Hildebrandt's confidence in condoms. I'm old enough to remember decades of condom education. Here's the lesson: In the heat of the sexual moment we often don't remember what we need to remember. We tend to become a wee bit…dopey. This is not to dismiss education about condoms (at an appropriate age), but it is to take seriously our human frailty. I recall a parent's despairing comment about condom education for her teenage son which went something like this: "I can't get Johnny to remember to clean up his room, so I doubt that he'll remember how to properly use a condom!" There's some truth to this, surely. Also, and significantly, there's evidence that condom use isn't as effective against HIV as it is often made out to be. Here is a report about the ineffectiveness of condom usage in the Philippines and Thailand: LifeSiteNews. (Yes, LifeSiteNews is a catholic news agency; still, we shouldn't be too quick to dismiss a message because of the messenger.) Again, further investigation is needed.
Hildebrandt wrote: "Of course, none of these are issues if neither partner has HIV."
I agree. But we should also factor into our investigation the very apparent fact that there is often an almost compulsive promiscuity associated with same-sex sexual behaviour. Not for all, but for many. This factor should not be neglected.
Hildebrandt wrote: "You might notice that I’ve singled out gay men in these statistics. There’s a good reason for that—if we’re talking about lesbians, the statistics are startlingly different. If a woman has sex with an HIV-infected man, there’s a 0.1% chance that she’ll become infected herself. But if a woman is physically intimate with another woman? Her odds drop by a lot. More than a lot—by infinity, actually. Although it’s scientifically possible for a woman to infect another woman with HIV via sex, there’s never actually been a documented case of that ever happening.19 By Van der Breggen’s logic, that should make sexual activity between a man and a woman totally unwise for the woman."
No, by van der Breggen's logic, if there's good evidence for thinking that a sexual activity is associated with serious health risks, then it would be unwise is to encourage people (especially youth) to engage in this high-risk sexual behaviour. And wisdom would recommend further investigation.
Hildebrandt wrote: "So, in conclusion:
● The studies cited by Van der Breggen are from anti-LGBTQ rights groups who have been known to lie and distort research.
● On average, depression is a larger issue among LGBTQ people, but mostly because of social rejection and alienation (and sexual activity can alleviate depression).
● There’s also a larger risk of gay men transmitting HIV, but the transmission rate is still within half a percentage point of heterosexual couples and can be reduced to virtually zero if a condom is used. Not only that, but HIV has never been documented passing between a lesbian couple.
● There’s a claim out there that “gay sex causes cancer”, but no study has been even remotely conclusive about this—and the researchers responsible for the sole study on the issue have cautioned people against reading their study that way.
Is the result of all of this that we should be telling people that they should abstain from physical intimacy with the person they love? Is the medical threat to same-sex couples so high that only heterosexual intimacy should be condoned?"
See my not-misrepresented-by-Hildebrandt argument plus my criticisms above. In view of the evidence, we should pause and investigate further. Contrary to what Hildebrandt so confidently believes, his faulty arguments don't show otherwise.
Hildebrandt wrote: "It’s clear that Van der Breggen has already made his mind up on this issue. Like the organisations whose unsubstantiated claims he cites, he’s willing to totally disregard the research and misrepresent the data in order to justify his argument. Obviously, Van der Breggen is entitled to personally believe whatever he wants, assuming these views are kept out of the classroom. And while it’s entirely possible that he does keep these personal views out of the classroom, his syllabus for his Winter 2013 sexual ethics course (213.33)20 lists “Same-sex sex is as healthy as hetero-sex sex” as a “concern/confusion” topic to be covered, and NARTH, the Family Research Council, and the CMDA all show up in the course bibliography. If what Van der Breggen teaches in his classroom is an echo of what he writes about outside the classroom, Providence has a serious moral issue on their hands and a duty to address this—not just out of academic responsibility, but in protection of the many LGBTQ students at Providence. The studies that Van der Breggen himself cites show that one of the biggest threats against LGBTQ students is depression and suicide brought on by, ironically, exactly the sort of lies and social stigmas being spread through articles such as Van der Breggen’s. He may be entitled to his views, but that doesn’t mean that his views don’t hurt others or should be respected—and his bias and fabrications shouldn’t be presented in the classroom as fact."
Hildebrandt's self-assurance is betrayed by his many fallacious arguments. Here is a list of the major fallacies I've found in Hildebrandt's critique: Straw person fallacy x 6, red herring fallacy x 3, ad hominem fallacy x 1. Also, Hildebrandt's critique involved succumbing to an important misunderstanding of the history and philosophy of science, a misunderstanding that manifested itself on at least a couple of occasions. Also, Hildebrandt's critique involved at least a couple of instances of manipulative rhetoric and sophistry, plus various instances of confusion. I readily concede that I may not have gotten everything right in my extended critique of Hildebrandt's extended critique, and that more needs to be said (i.e., I haven't assessed every detail of Hildebrandt's critique). Nevertheless, it's abundantly clear that, for the most part—i.e., for the vast majority of the whole—Hildebrandt's critique gets things wrong. In other words, it's reasonable to judge that Hildebrandt's critique is an abject failure. (My only qualm would be about whether it should receive an F instead of an F-.) It follows that his charges against me are without warrant.
For the sake of clarity and truth and full disclosure, I should point out that what I teach in the classroom is in fact an "echo" of what I write about outside the classroom—when what I write about outside the classroom is not misrepresented by Hildebrandt's straw person fallacy and is not obfuscated by his many other fallacies and sophistries.
I have earnestly prayed for Hildebrandt's well-being, and I sincerely wish only the best for Hildebrandt. I hope that what I've written will be helpful to him. I pray and hope, too, that what I've written will be helpful to others, including persons who identify themselves as LGBTQ.
May truth, not a false ideology, be our common master.
- Hendrik van der Breggen
1 Hendrik van der Breggen, Debunking Internet Arguments: Bible and Homosexuality
2 NARTH, NARTH Mission Statement
4 American Psychological Association, Sexual orientation and homosexuality
5 Pan American Health Organization / World Health Association, ‘Therapies’ to change sexual orientation lack medical justification and threaten health
6 Royal College of Psychiatrists, Psychiatry and LGB People
7 Peter Sprigg on Hardball, Feb 2, 2010
8 Southern Poverty Law Center, Tony Perkins Defends Family Research Council, Sort Of
9 Minneapolis City Pages, University of Minnesota professor’s research hijacked
10 Christian Medical and Dental Associations, Homosexuality
11 Mayo Clinic, Health issues for gay men: Prevention first
12 Dr. Gregory M. Herek, Facts About Homosexuality and Child Molestation
13 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Self-Regulation of Mood: Strategies for Changing a Bad Mood, Raising Energy, and Reducing Tension
15 British Medical Journal, Comparison of female to male and male to female transmission of HIV in 563 stable couples. European Study Group on Heterosexual Transmission of HIV.
16 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Reducing the risk of sexual HIV transmission: quantifying the per-act risk for HIV on the basis of choice of partner, sex act, and condom use.
17 European Centre for the Epidemiological Monitoring of AIDS, Heterosexual transmission of human immunodeficiency virus: variability of infectivity throughout the course of infection. European Study Group on Heterosexual Transmission of HIV.
18 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Condoms and STDs: Fact Sheet for Public Health Personnel
19 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HIV/AIDS among Women Who Have Sex With Women
For further reading, see the bibliography for my course 213.33 PHIL: Special Studies in Ethics.
For persons who struggle with sexuality issues, I suggest Restored Hope Network.