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Faith + Science

Mulder vs. Scully Point-Counterpoint

By and February 22, 2016 No Comments
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Leslie and Julia both grew up watching the X-Files, which helped influence their careers both in journalism and in public health.  With the recent revival of the show in a six part mini-series on Fox, they’ve discovered that the show affected them in different ways.  Leslie viewed herself in the 90s more as a Scully and still does; Julia felt like a Mulder and remains steadfast.  Today they go head to head over Mulder and Scully, faith and science.

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Categories: Faith + Beliefs, Science 101 + Mythbusting

Santa and Elf on the Shelf: Inappropriate Lies or All in Good Fun?

By December 1, 2015 1 Comment
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As the winter holidays approach, Santa Claus and Elf on the Shelf are on the minds of many children who celebrate Christmas.

Many parents’ thoughts also drift there, but for different reasons.

Parents of young children wonder whether they should promote the myth of the jolly old man in the red suit or that tiny, habitually rotating curious elf, while parents of older children wonder what they’re going to say when their child asks for the truth.

Underlying both of these questions is a larger one: Is it good for kids to believe in things like Santa Claus? As a developmental psychology researcher, I say yes, because there are benefits for cognitive and emotional development (as for Elf on the Shelf, I’ll get to that in a moment).

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Categories: Ages + Stages, Faith + Beliefs, Mental, Emotional, + Behavioral Health, School-Aged Children, Toddlers + Preschoolers

Do the Allegations Against Josh Duggar Constitute Sexual Crimes or “Boys Being Boys”?

By May 26, 2015 7 Comments
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*Please note – this analysis was written prior to the recent discovery that Josh Duggar was exposed in the so-called Ashley Madison hack scandal.

In mid-May, news broke that the oldest of the Duggar siblings (of TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting fame), Josh, had been accused of sexually assaulting five girls when he was 14 years old, four of which were his younger sisters. The internet has been rife with finger-pointing and side-choosing in the wake of the news, dug up from old police reports recently made public. Some have been quick to condemn the eldest Duggar as a sexual predator, while others feel he is being wrongly persecuted for youthful indiscretions.

The allegations against Josh Duggar are difficult for most to understand in isolation because they are layered with our own beliefs about gender norms (“boys will be boys”) and religion (“hypocrites!”). We think that based on the police report, neither side is wholly right in their judgment of the situation, and science has a lot to say about what happened, and whether it was “normal” or not.  In this post, as much as possible, I want to look at the facts and just the facts and remove the layers of politics and religion from the story.

Let’s lay out the facts as we know them from the police report released by the Springdale, Arkansas police department:

  • Josh was 14 when the alleged incidents began, and authorities identified his known victims as ranging in age from 5-11 years at the time.
  • Police say four of his victims were his younger sisters. Most were sleeping at the time Josh was alleged to have fondled their breasts and genitals. One incident allegedly happened when he was reading to one of his sisters. The other alleged incident involved a babysitter who likely would have been older than Josh at the time (also said to have occurred while she was sleeping).
  • Reports say that after the second or third incident Josh’s parents made him confess his sins in front of his church and sent him away for several months to help a family friend with construction; it does not appear he received counseling at this time.
  • Upon his return, reports say that his parents welcomed him back into the house, but it is unclear if any conditions were set or if he was being more closely monitored.

First, regardless of gender, it is natural and normal for teens and tweens to be sexually curious, as uncomfortable as that often makes their parents. It’s also normal for kids this age to be interested in their own bodies and the bodies of the opposite gender. There’s also nothing abnormal with masturbation or consensual kissing and sexual touching at this age.

What is abnormal is to exercise that curiosity when the other party is either unable or does not consent to sexual play. In Josh’s case, his sisters were all sleeping when he allegedly fondled their breasts and genitals (with the exception of one incident).  Obviously, as they were asleep they could not consent to sexual play.  This is the part that concerns me, and that the scientific literature doesn’t support as being “normal.”

joshduggarbio

Recent image of Josh Duggar, c/o FRCAction.org

What also sticks out is that Josh’s victims weren’t his peers, there were significant age gaps (he was older)  in all but the babysitter. His oldest sister was 12 at the time of the assaults and she reports that Josh never touched her inappropriately. This is where we see another level of predatory behavior happening. It’s common for predators to choose victims they feel they can safely control and this often means younger children. In this sense, Josh fits into the bell curve of most teenage sexual abusers.

So now that we’ve established Josh’s reported behavior towards his sisters fits the clinical description of sexual assault, what about how his parents handled the situation?  The police report makes clear that while Josh was sent away for three months, he did not receive clinical counseling at this time.  This is important as a psychological evaluation and psychotherapy, specifically Multisystemic Therapy, are effective at reducing recidivism rates among juvenile sexual offenders.

Jim-Bob and Michelle’s decision to let him back into the house has also been controversial among many and we understand why. Many parents empathize with the Duggar’s situation: their son, the predator, was a minor, as were their daughters, the victims. Were Josh’s parents between a rock and hard place?  Did they have to choose between their son’s future and the safety of their daughters?  The research says that with the proper intervention and careful supervision, certain juvenile sex offenders can return to live in the same family home as their victims.  But, again, it’s unclear if any conditions were placed on Josh when he returned home and we know that at the time of the incidents he did not receive the standard of care.

What I do want to take off the table here is the idea that because Josh was a minor at the time the incidents happened, that it somehow makes the sexual assaults less “real.” Minors (those under the age of 18) can and do commit sexual crimes, in fact they account for 35% of known sexual crimes. His age may make him less culpable in regards to legal consequences, but it doesn’t mean the experience was less real for his victims.

While it is clear from the police report that Josh was likely of low-risk to reoffend with the proper intervention, it also doesn’t appear he received any form of formal, psychological treatment. According to reports, the Duggars initially told police that Josh had been sent to a treatment center, but the parents later admitted to police that he was sent away to help a family friend on a construction site.

While what Josh did to his sisters 12 years ago fits the profile of sexual abuse and we know that his parents didn’t seek the standard of care for him, does that make him currently at risk to sexually abuse again? The research says, maybe, maybe not. Minors that commit sex offenses, have a sexual offense recidivism rate of 7-13% as adults compared to 5-24% of those that offend as adults.* Statistically speaking, if there hasn’t been an incident in the last 12 years, it’s more likely that he won’t reoffend.

Tomorrow, we discuss the impact Josh’s actions may have had on his victims (Editor’s note – those articles can be found here and here).

*Note: it is extremely difficult to accurately measure re-offense and recidivism rates for sexual offenders.

 

Resources:

Tulloch, T. and Kaufman, M. Adolescent Sexuality. Pediatrics in Review. Vol. 34 No. 1 January 1, 2013
pp. 29 -38.

National Center on Sexual Behavior of Youth. Children with Sexual Behavior Problems: Common Misconceptions vs. Current Findings. American Academy of Pediatrics. No 2. 2003.

Sexual Abuse Committee of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Understanding and Coping with Sexual Behavior Problems in Children – Information for Parents and Caregivers. April 2009.

Finkelhor, D., Ormrod, R. and Chaffin, M. Juveniles Who Commit Sex Offenses Against Minors. U.S. Department of Justice | Office of Justice Programs | Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Programs. December 2009.

Lobanov-Rostovsky, C. Chapter 3: Recidivism of Juveniles Who Commit Sexual Offenses.   Sex Offender Management Assessment and Planning Initiative. U.S. Department of Justice | Office of Justice Programs | SMART.gov. Retrieved May 25, 2015.

Przybylski, R. Chapter 5: Adult Sex Offender Recidivism. Sex Offender Management Assessment and Planning Initiative. U.S. Department of Justice | Office of Justice Programs | SMART.gov. Retrieved May 25, 2015.

Center for Sex Offender Management. Key Considerations for Reunifying Adult Sex Offenders and their Families. U.S. Department of Justice | Office of Justice Programs. December 2005.

Righthand, S. Juvenile Sex Offense Specific Treatment Needs & Progress Scale and Guide. National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. 2005.

 

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Categories: Accidents, Injuries, + Abuse, Mental, Emotional, + Behavioral Health

Reconciling Christianity, Science and Parenthood

By March 23, 2015 5 Comments
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This past week one of my favourite podcasts posted an episode devoted to exploring scientific ideas that must die. Amongst cries for a rethinking of the value of mouse models for human medicine, the rejection of the duality of left brain/right brain thinking, and a discarding of the concept of the universe in favour of a multiverse was an idea that struck a particular cord with me- the end of the atheistic requirement for science. The reason this hit home with me was because not only am I a person with a love and deep appreciation for science, I’m also a pastor.

When I was 8 years old I received a microscope, telescope, and chemistry set for Christmas. When I was 28 years old I received a 12 volume set of commentaries on the bible. As a child, my ambition was to be a scientist; however, by the time I turned 18 I had enrolled in a Bachelor of Theology program. I have lived my entire life sometimes in tension, but most often in deep appreciation for the contributions of both science and theology to the betterment of society and the improvement of the human condition.

While some in both the faith community and the scientific community view the relationship of science and religion as a duel where there can only be one survivor, I see it instead as a duet where the contributions of each enhance the other. While science helps to answer the whats and hows of the world we find ourselves in, religion attempts to answer the why’s. As human beings we not only crave knowledge but purpose. Science may be able to answer the question of how life begins, but it offers no guidance as to why each life matters. To quote Galileo Galilei, “Science tells us how the heavens go. Religion tells us how to go to heaven.”

I would argue, as a Christian, that it’s incumbent upon anyone who would take the teaching of Christ seriously to engage in rational questioning and scientific inquiry. After all, when Jesus was asked to identify the greatest commandment his reply was that one ought to love God not only with their heart and soul, but also their mind. You see, if one believes in a creator, then one of the ways that this creator would reveal itself is through its creation, which is exactly what the writer of Psalm 19 was saying when he penned the words: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”

Practically, this duet between faith and science (or reason and religion) plays out in numerous ways in my life. For example, as a dad I not only pray for my children, I also vaccinate them. I do this in the same way I make sure they wear a seatbelt when riding in a car or Compassa helmet when riding their bikes.   Does doing these things show a lack of faith in God’s ability to care for my children? No, instead it shows loving God by using the mind he gave me to make rational decisions for the good, not only of my own children but also the world around them. After all, if I refuse to vaccinate my child, I not only increase the risk to them, but also to all the children who, for varying reasons, are unable to be vaccinated. As a follower of Jesus, I take seriously the second part of the great commandment which is to love my neighbour as myself.

It means I take seriously threats to the environment that come from human abuse and misuse. I do this not only because science shows that the effects of things like climate change, deforestation, and water and air pollution are harmful to humans as a species, but also because my faith teaches that humans have a responsibility to care for and steward the world we’ve been placed in.

Are there going to be times where it gets messy? Sure, in any relationship, there are areas of disagreement that require more discussion and deliberation, but the solution is dialogue not derision. So let’s put to bed the idea that science and religion are in a duel and there can only be one survivor instead let’s consider the possibility that they can co-exist in a duet, working in tandem for the enrichment of human life and welfare.

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Categories: Faith + Beliefs