Dear Judge Bariso: How do we recognize disordered desires and actions?

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Feb 13, 2015

Readers may scream or laugh at Judge Peter Bariso’s ruling that a group offering therapeutic services to homosexuals has committed fraud. The New Jersey Superior Court’s argument is that it is fraudulent to present as disordered something modern science claims is normal. A host of questions comes to mind, but the first is this: “What does science have to do with deciding whether something is disordered?”

The answer is that science is only tangentially involved in such questions. It is not scientific study which determines whether something is disordered; it is our human perception of the purposes and ends of things. The human person perceives himself and the world around him as a whole. We are made to discern purposes and ends. We know (by a faculty of soul called “intellect”) that when desires and actions tend toward their real, true or proper ends, they are well-ordered. And when they do not, they are disordered.

We even discern that the entire universe is ordered, a discernment which is immeasurably sharpened and deepened by the Jewish and Christian notions of Providence. In fact, nothing like the Western scientific achievement could have arisen among a people or within a culture that did not have a deep appreciation for the order of the universe. This order presupposes predictability, and therefore makes the very concept of the physical sciences possible.

Paradoxically, our contemporary ideology insists that matter is the only reality, that purpose therefore cannot exist, and that random interaction of material particles is the sole cause of everything. Of course, nobody really lives as if this were true, but this intense bias profoundly undermines the scientific method, locking even scientists into a self-contradictory thought process.

For science, as we still understand it today, is impossible unless we posit that there is an order to how things work, and that many things can be fixed (made whole again) if we can understand and alter the factors that may adversely affect that order. Over the centuries, the science guild (like any other) has often blocked new approaches and new developments out of self-interest, but the growing disbelief in order itself may well explain why science is now becoming so broadly politicized. (See Phil Lawler On the News article yesterday, Politicized science: the lessons of the Galileo affair.)

A Brief Look at Sexuality

Science does not discern ends; in order to gain a particular kind of knowledge, modern science deliberately excludes a vision of the whole of reality. Limiting itself to measurable, empirical data, science studies the material mechanisms which enable things to function. But it is human perception and judgment that interprets purposes and ends, as when the scientist studies how the stomach digests food in order to nourish the person as a whole.

But if science does not discern ends, science is incompetent to make an independent determination of whether a particular “functioning” or “behavior” is disordered. Thus, the Psychology profession as a whole classified same-sex attraction and homosexual activity as disordered from its beginning until the 1970s not because of a scientific conclusion, but because the human culture in which Psychology was practiced recognized that the purpose or end of sexuality was reproduction. Heterosexual attraction and heterosexual use of the sexual faculties were therefore considered properly ordered; homosexual attraction and homosexual use of the sexual faculties clearly were not.

When this changed officially for the American Psychological Association in 1973, it was not because of any great scientific breakthrough. It was because the human culture in which Psychology was practiced no longer recognized reproduction as a defining end or purpose of sex. In other words, pace Judge Bariso, the claims of “scientists” about what is ordered or disordered necessarily depend on the human and cultural perceptions of the purposes and ends of things. Purposes and ends are not amenable to scientific study.

Jurisprudence and Politicization

Consequently, Judge Bariso’s statement of the case was monumentally embarrassing: “The overwhelming weight of scientific authority concludes that homosexuality is not a disorder or abnormal. The universal acceptance of that scientific conclusion…requires that any expert opinions to the contrary must be barred.” Judge Bariso also claimed that the defendant in the case, Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH), relied on “obsolete and discredited scientific theories” which “can offer no assistance to the jury, but rather present only confusion and prejudice.”

This is, as one might say, damned peculiar. The case that homosexuality is either ordered or disordered does not depend on scientific theory at all. Indeed, I doubt that JONAH was so foolish as to think that it did, for this would make JONAH’s defense as incredibly stupid as Judge Bariso’s decision. I use the word “stupid” advisedly: We are dealing here with more than a mistake and more than mere ignorance; we are witnessing a fundamental inability to think things through, to understand how reality fits together, and so to grasp the order of dependency in an argument.

Now you have to be carefully taught that reproduction is not a primary and defining end of our sexual faculties, since the matter is obvious to anyone who understands how men and women couple, and what proceeds therefrom. In order to conclude that same-sex attraction is not disordered, therefore, one must (a) refuse to perceive that the design of the human body is fraught with purpose; (b) deny that human nature is essentially fixed, such that obvious shifts from this fixed nature are evidence of a breakdown; and (c) affirm that our bodies are not really part of what makes us human, but are mere instruments for the desires of some separate self.

It is one thing to argue against the points I have listed in the preceding paragraph. Let us, by all means, have a philosophical discussion. But to banish them as contrary to the settled certainties of modern science is patently absurd. The inevitable result is that Judge Bariso’s decision continues our culture’s politicization of science. The standard procedure seems to be to invoke the authority of science to justify whatever the political “haves” wish to foist onto the political “have nots”. But in the name of elevating the authority of science, the judge has actually held science hostage to his own socio-political beliefs—whether derived from philosophical reflection, cultural prejudice, or personal error.

The Necessity of Trust

Readers may recall when Pope Benedict, in his social encyclical Caritas in Veritate, emphasized that successful markets depend absolutely on trust—which in turn depends on moral behavior directed toward the common good (see, for example, #35). In exactly the same way, the progress of science, and its acceptance by non-scientists, depends also on trust. Just as markets crash when the trust between buyer and seller is broken (usually because sellers have lapsed into selfishness and dishonesty), so too will Western empirical science crash when trust among scientists, and between scientists and the general public, is broken.

Trust, in fact, is the first requirement of a healthy social order. It erodes when our interpersonal transactions do not turn out as they “should”—that is, as all parties expect them to when conducted in an atmosphere of solidarity in truth and goodness. As with economics and science (the examples mentioned above), political trust erodes when politicians prefer their own power and prosperity to the common good. So too does judicial trust erode when judges prefer bribes, public opinion or ideology to justice derived from truth. In fact, the exchange of all human goods depends on trust. Is it any wonder our civilization is collapsing?

Judge Peter Bariso’s ruling is symptomatic of our contemporary erosion of trust. We all know how often disenfranchised minorities and the poor have been denied justice throughout history. During much of American history, this has also been true of Catholics, and it is increasingly true throughout the West not only for committed Christians but for all those who wish to live according to traditional values which were taken for granted just a generation or two ago. Now, with decisions like that of Judge Bariso, we can add yet another group to those whose trust must be broken.

We can add all men and women who know how to think.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Feb. 15, 2015 5:28 PM ET USA

    While reading the flat-earth article, I was wondering which "scientific authority" the judge was referring to. Thanks for answering that question in this article. A few years ago I was directing an alliance of colleges and universities that sponsored STEM research. When I checked the National Science Foundation's (NSF; the funding source) definition of STEM, I found that psychology was explicitly excluded from the STEM disciplines. Thus according to the NSF, psychology is not a STEM discipline.

  • Posted by: steveoreno557451 - Feb. 14, 2015 9:53 PM ET USA

    Seems to me Judge Bariso has a few disorders of this own.

  • Posted by: donnadarbellay8282 - Feb. 14, 2015 3:45 PM ET USA

    Psychology did find common factors in the childhoods of homosexuals, which resulted in the conclusion that it was a disorder and it placement in the DSM. Moreover, when it was voted out (not exactly a scientific method), the vote was not hugely supported. Truth is above teaching; teaching is useless if not based on truth.

  • Posted by: jplaunder1846 - Feb. 13, 2015 11:18 PM ET USA

    I agree totally with your analysis of Judge Bariso's extraordinary conclusions. No wonder Western Society is heading down the gurgler. Many years ago I read comments by Alexandyr Solzhenitsyn when he foresaw 1968 as the turning point for Western Society. It decisions such as Bariso's that show how far we have slid. We may have seen many scientific advances in the rightful role of the sciences but philosophically, morally and socially we have slipped badly.