Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
A reader writes:
Here’s another fine example of our sexually deranged culture. According to a study done by the University of Iowa published in USA Today, casual sex is A-Okay!
Refreshingly, many commentors over at USA Today found this “scientific” study to be a bunch of nonsense, but of course there were the usual suspects railing against the “Bronze Age folklore” (aka the Bible) that has kept us from experiencing the joys of bed hopping. Now that Science has once again disproved religion, we are finally freed from the shackles of those old fogey religious teachings on chastity! Three cheers for promiscuity!
All kidding aside, these kinds of “studies” make it harder (at least for me) to evangelize others about the merits of a chaste life, because after all, Science says promiscuity is just as good a lifestyle choice as any other. Do you have any advise about how to show the truth of Catholic teaching once you have “studies” like these thrown in your face?
This is another classic case of the faith-based nature of most discussions of Science in American culture. What people who tout studies like this “know” is not the actual science (if any) behind the study, but merely that a headline they read in USA Today told them that SCIENCE said something that they are very gratified to hear. The key to all such discussions is the magic words, “Documentation please?” When pressed to give specifics on what they know, it soon becomes plain that what most people mean by SCIENCE is “This headline I once read in USA Today as I was wolfing down a bagel on the subway.”
A little study by the University of Iowa reported by USA Today with God-knows-what accuracy does not constitute a refutation of the common sense moral tradition of the human race. Even pagans (real ones, not the tinsel and paste Wicca sort) knew that random casual sex was not a good idea.
As to one-off “studies”: big deal. I used to work for Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center here in Seattle. Preliminary study after preliminary study pointed to the very strong indication that vegetables high in Vitamin A would cut your chances of lung cancer. The indications were so strong, in fact, that the Hutch undertook a huge and expensive research trial in which people at high risk for lung cancer were divided into active and placebo groups and the active ones were asked to take high doses of Vitamin A. After several years, the research was conclusive:
The active participants were suffering from a higher rate of lung cancer due to their exposure to Vitamin A and the trial was brought to a screeching halt.
Little studies like the one at U of I are basically meaningless. A single data point that proves nothing. Anybody who chucks immemorial human wisdom about the destructive effects of casual sex because of some two-bit study they read about in USA Today over a cup of coffee is, quite simply, a fool who understand neither science nor common sense.