The Necessity of Fathers

One of the stances secular leftists regularly attack Christians on is their belief in the importance of the traditional family. That is, a family centered on the committed relationship of a man and a woman through which children are produced and nurtured. Secularists attack them both for the rigidity of the arrangement with regard to the necessity of marriage between a man and a woman, and the fact that Christians derive this belief primarily from teachings in Scripture. For the secularists, relationships are fungible, driven by desire rather than design.

As science is coming to find out, the Scriptural proscription for the family is rooted in our physical make-up. And of course, like most truths in Scripture, this reality anticipated scientific findings by millennia.

Two recent studies demonstrate the importance of a committed father in the raising of children, both from the physiological changes the presence of a father has on children, and the physiological impact being in such a relationship has on fathers.

In the first case, a study titled Fathers’ influence on children’s cognitive and behavioral functioning: A longitudinal study of Canadian families chronicles the important impact fathers have on the intellect and behavior of their children. A ScienceDaily article quotes one of the authors regarding the results:

“Fathers make important contributions in the development of their children’s behavior and intelligence,” says Erin Pougnet, a PhD candidate in the Concordia University Department of Psychology and a member of the Centre for Research in Human Development (CRDH).

“Compared with other children with absentee dads, kids whose fathers were active parents in early and middle childhood had fewer behavior problems and higher intellectual abilities as they grew older — even among socio-economically at-risk families.”

In a more surprising 2nd study, researchers determined that children have physiological effects on a committed father. Specifically they found that there was a significant drop in testosterone in committed and involved fathers. This change corresponds with the necessity of fathers to be available to help raise children. The takeaway, according to anthropologist Carol Worthman is that it demonstrates how we were designed to be in long-term committed relationships. From the NYTs:

“This is part of the guy being invested in the marriage,” said Carol Worthman, an anthropologist at Emory University who also was not involved in the study. Lower testosterone, she said, is the father’s way of saying, ” ‘I’m here, I’m not looking around, I’m really toning things down so I can have good relationships.’ What’s great about this study is it lays it on the table that more is not always better. Faster, bigger, stronger — no, not always.”

And such a change is not only beneficial for relationships, but it has added health benefits as well:

Experts say the new testosterone study could offer insight into men’s medical conditions, particularly prostate cancer. Higher lifetime testosterone levels increase the risk of prostate cancer, just as higher estrogen exposure increases breast cancer risk.

“Fathers who spend a lot of time in fathering roles might have lower long-term exposure to testosterone,” reducing their risk, Dr. Ellison said.

As a Christian who believes humans were designed for such relationships, such results come as no surprise. If it is true God made us to be in a bonded relationship for the purpose of producing families or as Genesis puts it, that a man and woman become “one flesh” then one would expect that relationships would incite significant biological changes in addition to the emotional and social changes which are so evident.

So while these results aren’t particularly surprising to knowledgeable Christians they are important supporting evidence for those who contend our beliefs about the family are merely religious considerations. Often these studies amount to proving the obvious, but in our skeptical age we are apparently required to empirically prove that which was up until recently a matter of common wisdom.

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5 Responses to The Necessity of Fathers

  1. The problem is not the support of “traditional families” but in the quick condemnation of anyone who doesn’t fit that mold whether the people in question thrive and contribute to society or not.

    What irks me the most is when creeps like Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich have the audacity to critique the relationships of others even as they make no apology for having divorced their wives (and second and third) for questionable reasons. Who contributes to the decline of the family more? People like Newt who left his cancer-stricken wife for his mistress, or two guys who want to share civil marriage benefits? Who’s actually “harmed” in these scenarios?

    Any person with a brain stem realizes it’s the former. I’d rather people produce even some “lesser” real good than simply pay lip service to some ideal while wreaking havoc on the lives of those closest to them.

  2. jackhudson says:

    I actually agree with you James about the bad example some ‘conservatives’ have been when it comes to marriage.

    The erosion of marriage started long be for the gay marriage issue came to fore. In fact I didn’t even mention gay marriage in the post above – you inferred it. My arguments would certainly apply equally to adulterers and those who seek to turn marriage into a means of expressing their personal gender preferences.

    Nonetheless it doesn’t change the fact that traditional marriage has a strong biological foundation, and it is unwise to attempt to subvert biology to political preferences.

  3. Tristan Vick says:

    It also explains why married men with high testosterone levels would be inclined to cheat more often than those without.

  4. Tristan Vick says:

    Traditional marriage has a strong biological foundation, sure, but so does promiscuity. In fact, it seems the lowering of testosterone is related to rearing families specifically, but the urge to mate would be the primary role of the influence of testosterone.

    It just seems that you can’t claim that this evidence supports the “Biblical” concept of marriage (a term best used loosely due to all the polygamy running around in the Bible; Isaac, Jacob, Samson, etc.) because the biological evidence equally seems to support the idea that humans were designed first with the notion of promiscuity.

    At least, it seems to suggest a plurality of mating partners, and pairings, prior to settling down. And even then, I don’t see what suggests a change in ethical behavior due to simple biological factors? Saying Biblical marriage is the correctly indented form seems to, in actuality, be deliberately ignoring the finer point(s) of these findings. Humans were created to be promiscuous–and only after finding a mate do some–but not all–male’s testosterone levels subside.

    The whole one man one woman thing is a socio-cultural construct, not some form of deeper spiritual monogamy–so it seems strange, the suggestion, that one must deny one’s biological “design” in order to be faithful–or a better father. I don’t think this follows at all.

    If God intended ‘true monogamy’ he would have “designed” a different biological basis for our reproductive needs.

    I am just saying, you seem to be leaping to the conclusion you like because some of the evidence leans toward it–but the very same evidence seems to also suggest that your theory is seriously flawed. I mean, it makes your entire conclusion that these studies lend “important supporting evidence for those who contend our beliefs about the family are merely religious considerations” completely irrelevant.

    Indeed, the T study abstract specifically states:

    “Our findings suggest that T mediates tradeoffs between mating and parenting in humans, as seen in other species in which fathers care for young.”

    Monogamy isn’t a biological feature of our supposed design, but rather, rearing a family is. Mating and child rearing go hand in hand–and this study shows why such a thing as a man settling down with a female partner is more likely when a man produces offspring and his waking T levels drop. The rest of the study showed how this can potentially lead to increased health benefits for the man with a lower T count.

  5. […] of maintaining the human species. Marriage however is equally important in this respect. As I have noted elsewhere the long term relationship between men and women who parent children together has physiological […]

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