The Briefing 06-07-17

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Girls need a big dose of dad: Research links detached fathers and risk-taking daughters

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Counterintuitive or common sense? Research shows access to contraceptives increases teen pregnancies

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Who rates Hollywood's movies, and what is their criteria? Behind the scenes of the movie rating system

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Science, "intelligence genes," and the quest to understand humanity in merely naturalistic terms

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Transcript

The Briefing

June 7, 2017

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It’s Wednesday, June 7, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Girls need a big dose of dad: Research links detached fathers and risk-taking daughters

Father’s Day looms before us in the United States, thus it’s not a coincidence that in the mainstream media, there is increasing attention in these days to the roles of fathers in the lives of their children. One of the most interesting of these appeared over the weekend in the Wall Street Journal’s science column. The article is by Melvin Konner and the headline:

“The link between detached dads and risk-taking girls.”

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Now in this particular article, the Wall Street Journal summarizes a great deal of research, an entire body of research demonstrating that there is now a very clear link between the mode of a father in the household and the eventual risk-taking of that father’s adolescent daughter. As Connor reports, and I quote,

“How much do fathers matter to the personal development of their daughters? Scientists studying families have long suspected that domestic instability and insufficient fathering predispose girls to risky sexual behavior, but there was no hard evidence for this view.”

He goes on to say that,

“A study published in the journal Developmental Psychology in May used an ingenious research design to get some answers.”

The major finding? Fathers who offer stability in the household and are deeply invested in the lives of their daughters produce girls who are far less likely to demonstrate what’s described here as risky sexual behavior in adolescence and young adulthood. One of the researchers cited in the article said this,

“The prolonged presence of a warm and engaged father can buffer girls against early, high-risk sex.”

Now at this point let’s just reflect upon the fact that what this represents is scientific documentation of what we already knew. There was every reason to understand the link between not only the presence of fathers, but the mode of fathering and the eventual lives and characters of their children, particularly in this case their daughters. And furthermore, there has been throughout human history a very clearly understood link between the monitoring and involvement of a father with girls and their own sexual behavior or even their sexual availability. You do see in this article something of a shift in terms of the language; rather than sexual promiscuity or even early sexual behavior, here it’s referred to increasingly as sexually risky behavior. Of course that’s an interesting shift in terms of the language because it shifts the morality away from sex itself and rather towards the question as to whether or not a particular sexual involvement is defined as risky.

There’s something else here that’s interesting. We’re looking here at an article in the Wall Street Journal summarizing scientific research and as is so often the case, the scientists not only want to document what they now see and observe, but they want to explain it. And given the secular worldview they’ve got to explain it in naturalistic and now largely evolutionary terms. Thus the Wall Street Journal reports,

“The growing field of evolutionary child psychology adds interesting context to these findings. Biologists find that organisms in unstable environments grow up faster and start reproducing earlier than those in stable ones. Theoretically, in a stable environment you can take more time growing into your reproductive activities, focusing on long-term quality rather than on getting an early start. Conversely, in an unstable situation, it might ‘pay’ (in Darwinian terms) to begin reproducing earlier, since in those girls’ worlds, a good man is hard to find.”

In the modern secular worldview, everything has to be explained in purely secular and naturalistic terms. That means that the only place to turn in terms of so much human development and human behavior is the theory of evolution. That’s the major mythology in terms of the modern secular worldview. So they have to turn one way or another to evolution in order to ask the question, why would this pattern be real? Why does it exist? And it’s really interesting that the evolutionists come alongside and say, remember, everything is simply about the drive of an organism to reproduce and what you have is the reality that in an unstable environment, reproduction starts earlier than in a stable environment. Well, thank you very much evolutionary scientists, we knew that already and it really isn’t at all dependent upon the theory of evolution. It has everything to do with the doctrine of creation.

The biblical worldview grounded in the doctrine of creation establishes sex, reproduction, and sexuality within the context of marriage precisely for this very reason. It is marriage and the integrity of marriage alone that establishes the kind of stability that indeed is what’s reflected in this argument coming from evolutionists. One of the researchers cited in the study, Danielle DelPriore asked the question,

“What is it that dad does that shields a daughter from sexual risk?”

Another of the researchers, Bruce Ellis at the University of Utah, answered the question,

“It’s all about dosage of exposure to dads; the bigger the dose, the more fathering matters—for better and for worse.”

So here with just a few days before Father’s Day comes the Wall Street Journal summarizing scientific research in which researchers are asking the question, why does the relationship between a father and a daughter matter so much even in terms of predicting the daughter’s eventual sexual behavior and whether or not that behavior is risk-taking? And of course, the scientists come back and say what we already knew, of course it does matter. It turns out that it matters massively. The secular newspaper and the secular researchers then asked the question, why does it matter? And they come back answering, well, of course it must be due somehow to the theory of evolution. The theory of evolution, we need to note, by definition really excludes any consideration of morality. But the article ends on a moral note. It is basically an exhortation for fathers to be involved in the lives of their daughters in order that the daughters would receive a large dose of dad and, furthermore, a healthy large dose from father.

But before leaving the story we also need to note what’s missing here. Now perhaps it’s missing because it wasn’t actually articulated in the research question. But it is missing and its absence is significant. We know that there’s something more to the equation between the absence of a father and sexual risk-taking in a daughter or, furthermore, the presence of a healthy father and the lack of that risk-taking sexual behavior in their daughter, and that has to do with the father’s mode of protection of the daughter. Now if you’re going to put that in evolutionary terms, we can play with that for a minute. It means the father’s presence scaring off anyone who has reproductive intentions with the daughter. As every teenage boy and young man knows, the absence or presence of a father in that situation can make all the difference in the world.

Counterintuitive or common sense? Research shows access to contraceptives increases teen pregnancies

Next we stay on a similar issue but the scene shifts to Great Britain. A major London newspaper, The Independent, recently ran a headline story. Here’s the headline,

“Spending Cuts May Have Contributed to Falling Teenage Pregnancy Rates.”

The subhead says this,

“It seems counterintuitive that cuts to teen-pregnancy prevention programs should lead to fewer pregnancies, but that’s what the latest research finds.”

The article is by David Paton and William Wright, and they’re summarizing research indicating that indeed the counterintuitive has happened in Great Britain. Cuts to programs intended to lower the teenage pregnancy rate have actually led to lower teenage pregnancy rates. What does that mean? It means that the arguments for the programs were that programs that would make contraceptives and furthermore what’s called comprehensive sex education available to teenagers would lead to a lowering of the pregnancy rates, actually it led to the opposite. Cuts to the programs that had made contraceptives and other things available to teenagers in the name of lowering pregnancy rates actually led to, well, fewer pregnancies than when the programs were in effect and funded.

The cuts in Great Britain, by the way, aren’t minor. You’re talking about a 70% cut in terms of government funding for many of these programs, and we’re not talking only about the United Kingdom. In many American cities and school systems these programs are also promoted with the very same promise. If you just make birth control and contraception available, teenagers will use them; they are going to have sex anyways is the argument, and the teenage pregnancy rate will fall. But it turns out as this research makes clear, making those contraceptives available actually led to higher rates of teenage sex and—here’s that term again—of risky teenage sex, which defined in this way means teenage sex that might lead to pregnancy.

Paton and Wright then asked the question they know is going to be asked, how can we explain our findings? They then write this,

“Many years ago, Nobel prize-winning economist George Akerlof showed how easier access to contraception could lead to an increase in risky sexual behavior, which could ultimately increase, rather than decrease, unplanned pregnancies.”

They go on to write,

“Policymakers have ignored Akerlof’s argument to their cost. A review of one of the most comprehensive teenage pregnancy programs in England found that young women on the scheme were more likely to report pregnancy than those in a control group. Research in both the UK and the US has found that easier access to emergency birth control has not reduced teenage pregnancy or abortions, but has led to increases in sexually transmitted infections.”

Like just about anyone writing in the scientific world, these two researchers come back and say further research needs to be done, people need to take an even closer look at the pattern and at the data and furthermore, there may be other issues that are involved. But it’s really interesting that here you have documentation of the pattern that is the opposite of what the prophets of the sexual revolution have promised, and not only those prophets, but those also who had been arguing for government paid programs to make access to birth control, contraception, and comprehensive sex education available to teenagers. Their very premise and promise was that will lead to a lowering of—there’s that term again—risky sexual behavior, but instead it’s led to an increase in the very same.

I think that argument that was made by that Nobel prize-winning economist George Akerlof cited in the report deserves to be mentioned again. Akerlof argued that easier access to contraception could lead to an increase in risky sexual behavior. Who would have figured? Which, as he explained, just could ultimately increase rather than decrease unplanned pregnancies. But of course, here you need to notice that the only morally significant issue even considered here is what’s defined as risky sexual behavior that leads to unplanned pregnancies. Christians understand that the moral context is far larger than that, the moral stakes are far higher than that, and thus the importance of this research is even greater than The Independent and its readers are likely to understand.

 

Who rates Hollywood's movies, and what is their criteria? Behind the scenes of the movie rating system

Next, while we’re thinking about parents and the role of parents in the lives of their children, it’s often an issue of entertainment that becomes the focus of parental concern. And when it comes to the products coming out of Hollywood, the rating system of the movies is something we’ve discussed over and over again, and usually for very good reason. As is the case now, the Wall Street Journal ran another very interesting article, again on the front page. Here’s the headline,

“These 11 People Watch Every Movie, Especially the Icky Bits.”

The subtitle,

“Hollywood’s ‘raters’ put in long hours judging sex and gore, but also bus accidents.”

Erich Schwartzel is the reporter in the article and he tells us about the actual human beings who determine the rating of all the major motion pictures coming out of Hollywood or, for that matter, shown in major American theaters. The rating system is something we’ve discussed in the past and I’ve discussed it mainly in terms of the very arbitrary and reductionistic methodology that is used by those who are doing the ratings of the movies. Furthermore, it’s not only reductive, it is often, well, downright dishonest. Because one of the things that we come to note is that the rating itself is now often used as a part of the promotion of the movie. Going back just a few years, many moviemakers were afraid of getting an R rating, because with that rating they would cut out too much of their audience, especially teenagers. But now many movie producers are afraid of not getting an R rating or a similar kind of rating that advertises their movie as sufficiently risqué and interesting to gain a large audience.

Now, of course, that tells us a great deal about the morality of those who make the movies, the morality of those who rate the movies, and, furthermore, maybe even more about the morality of people who watch the movies or who do not watch the movies. But this article in the Wall Street Journal is worth mentioning now because it gives us unprecedented insight into how this actually takes place and what we come to know is that not only is there often an argument between the moviemakers and the raters, sometimes it comes right down to outright negotiation. Schwartzel writes,

“In a nondescript building attached to an outdoor mall, Joan Graves and her colleagues sit down each day to talk about the movies they have seen. Nothing unusual there.

“In this office, though, nobody cares about a film’s Academy Award prospects. Their reviews focus on a different set of criteria: Did any ashtrays appear on screen? When the bad guy got shot, did his blood ooze out slowly or splatter against a wall? And just how ‘active’ were the actors during their romantic interludes?”

It turns out that 11 people watch these movies and then together they decide in terms not only of the criteria they establish, but many that probably aren’t even articulated, what rating a movie will receive. As the Wall Street Journal tells us,

“The 11 people who serve as ‘raters’ for the Motion Picture Association of America [know that] their job [is] to measure Hollywood’s output against an ever-shifting list of what American parents find objectionable.”

Now that’s interesting just at this point because it turns out that the moral agents of concern here in terms of the ratings are American parents. But it also tells us a great deal that the Wall Street Journal describes this over against the backdrop of the ever shifting list of what American parents find objectionable. That tells us something about moral change in America. American parents year-by-year seem to have a different list of their primary moral concerns. And not only that, it’s not only a difference over time, it’s also a difference over geography. The Journal tells us,

“In years past, it was the proliferation of blood, gore and apocalyptic blow-’em-up spectacles. Today, surveys show parents are less sensitive to violence but are increasingly concerned about smoking and bullying.”

The paper goes on to write,

“For nearly every movie released this year, the raters decide whether it will be rated G, NC-17 or something in between—a judgment that can have significant implications at the box office. The stakes are so high, in fact, they often keep their deliberations secret.”

Scott Young, one of the raters, said,

“It’s kind of like being on a grand jury.”

The paper then tells us,

“On a typical day, the raters lounge in recliners and watch two to three movies. They’re often among the first to catch highly anticipated films like ‘Star Wars’ installments whose plots have been kept under wraps. Others are obscure titles most moviegoers never see. In 2016, the board rated 605 movies.”

One of the raters said they stick to a schedule that calls for “violence in the morning and sex in the afternoon.”

The rating system actually came into place in the late 1960s with the death of what was known as the Hays Code. That was a mandated set of rules adopted by the industry in the 1930s that limited sex, profanity, and any number of other moral concerns in terms of the movies. But in the moral tumult of the 1960s, the Hays Code was thrown out as overly restrictive and the rating system was put in. But it was never effective; it was never really honest.

The raters themselves—remember there are now 11 of them—must when they are hired have a child between the ages of five and 15; most rotate out when their children reach age 21.

I mention the changes that have occurred morally over time reflected even in the introductory sentences of this article, but I also mentioned geography. The Wall Street Journal tells us this,

“[Complaining] from the South in particular despise blasphemy. The Midwest blanches at sex, especially in PG-13 movies. Residents of the coasts are concerned with violence. The Northeast does not care about language at all,” said one of the raters.

Now as you might suspect, I’ve had to edit my reading of this article a very great deal and that says something, especially considering that the newspaper here is The Wall Street Journal. But it does tell us a great deal about the shifting moral scene in the United States. Parental concerns, we are told in this article, have shifted very significantly over time. There are many parents today who are more concerned about smoking than sex. A sex scene doesn’t bother them nearly as much as an active ashtray when it comes to cigarette smoking. Parents today, we are told, are less concerned about violence, perhaps because we might generalize that violence has become so widespread in entertainment that it no longer seems all that significant in a movie.

I really found those geographical references very interesting. They ring rather true when you think about it. Not only is there change over time we would expect, there really is change over distance. Christians, not just parents, but perhaps parents especially, have to be concerned with the intersection of worldview and entertainment. We know it really matters. We know that entertainment is never merely about what entertains us. Entertainment shifts our thinking and reaches our heart. It effectively conforms us to at least many of the expectations of those who are making the movies and often the moral change that is brought within us is something that isn’t even detectable in terms of our experience of watching or experiencing the entertainment.

I also have to admit that I found the headline in this article very interesting because of its failure to make a moral judgment even though it still sort of makes a moral judgment. Instead of referring to sex and gore and violence and obscenity or anything like that, it simply refers to the raters who have to watch every movie, including the icky parts. Maybe there are two things we learn here. One is that the moral limitations on vocabulary in terms of many now comes down to nothing more than being able to say icky parts. But on the other hand, it does tell us that they still understand that there are still some parts that are icky parts. The raters still seem to know that it’s true; we know as Christians why it’s true.

Science, "intelligence genes," and the quest to understand humanity in merely naturalistic terms

Finally, in terms of science, the scientific worldview, and issues of morality, in recent days, a team of European and American scientists have announced that they had identified 52 genes they claim are linked to intelligence in human beings, their test sample about 80,000 people. The New York Times reporting on the story said,

“In ‘Enormous Success,’ Scientists Tie 52 Genes to Human Intelligence.”

But then in the second paragraph we read this,

“These genes do not determine intelligence, however. Their combined influence is minuscule, the researchers said, suggesting that thousands more are likely to be involved and still await discovery. Just as important, intelligence is profoundly shaped by the environment.

“Still, the findings could make it possible to begin new experiments into the biological basis of reasoning and problem-solving, experts said. They could even help researchers determine which interventions would be most effective for children struggling to learn.”

Now just looking at the introductory words to this article and continuing through the article, here’s the bottom line. We see on the one hand how the media takes some scientific reports and runs a headline that is almost immediately reversed by the body of the article. As it turns out these 52 genes scientists are not claiming are determinative of human intelligence. Thus that the 52 genes thus identified might be a very small part, indeed the word here used is miniscule, of what eventually adds up to intelligence. And then genetics itself is actually set aside as the only factor of concern here. We’re told that intelligence is profoundly shaped also by the environment. But what we also see here is the quest to reduce the human being once again to a scientific analysis that comes down to something that we hope can be explained by genetics. We want to understand ourselves, secular humanity no more than non-secular humanity. Secular humanity, just like all the rest of us, wants to understand who we are, why we are and why we are the way we are.

It would be very convenient and very reassuring according to that worldview if we could simply make it a matter of genetics. Of course that would open the door to a search and destroy mission in the womb against children who genetically are revealed by testing not to be intelligent enough in terms of parental demands. The very idea of the designer baby looms before us once again, but even more than that it’s the effort to try to understand ourselves and even one dimension of humanity, in this case intelligence, and to try to say we now know the secret—except when you read the article, no we don’t. But the human creature does want to understand himself. That’s the big issue here. We want to understand. What we see here is another grasp at the straws of trying to understand humanity on merely materialistic terms.

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing