Circumcision again: Jesse Bering is not a careful reader

I have written about circumcision at length in three different posts and their subsequent comment sections. The latter two were discussing PZ Myer’s irresponsible statement that the ‘evidence vanishes with further studies’ concerning the effectiveness of circumcision as a means of preventing HIV and other disease transmission. To quote from my most recent post:

So now the only question that remains is, When is PZ Myers going to recant his blatantly and irresponsibly false statement where he said that health benefits of circumcision vanish with further studies?

In other words, it is my position that circumcision is an effective means of HIV prevention during heterosexual intercourse; my posts and subsequent comments attest to this position.

This leads to a weird accusation from Jesse Bering, PhD:

One can either listen to outspoken atheist bloggers who can’t seem to understand that this is no longer a religious or cultural issue, the overwrought intactivists attempting to intimidate new parents through strong rhetoric and graphic images of botched circumcisions, the endless stream of nosy polemical parents who are happy to share their judgmental attitudes, or one can take the advice of those who, you know, actually know what the hell they’re talking about.

First, “either” implies one of two things, not one of four things. Second, the fact that I am an atheist is 100% irrelevant to the matter. Third, I don’t think Bering even bothered to read my post. If he did, he would know that I said absolutely nothing about the religious or cultural aspects of circumcision. The closest I came is in the comment section when I voiced that I am against non-medical personnel (such as Rabbis) performing the minor surgery. (If the Rabbis happen to also be medically qualified to perform the procedure, then I don’t have a problem with them doing so.) Beyond that, I discussed the medical benefits of circumcision.

Of course, since Bering hardly read the post he cited, I don’t expect that he read my first post (linked above) about circumcision. If he did, he could at least have a plausible basis for his accusation that I see this as a religious and cultural matter. However, that basis would quickly disappear when he realized (or when I had to point out to him) that I think religious arguments for circumcision “suck” and that my response to arguments from tradition is “So what?” This has always been a matter of science for me. Only someone who doesn’t bother to read carefully would claim otherwise.

What makes this whole thing so bizarre, though, is that Bering and I don’t even disagree. Anywhere. Look at this argument:

All else being equal…any dubious benefits derived from religious, social, hygienic, or aesthetic reasons are clearly outweighed by the costs of male circumcision.

In other words, until the recent body of evidence began to emerge, the previous reasons for circumcision were not good enough. As Bering said and as I agree, the arguments from previous generations “were almost always unconvincing”. Bering, of course, goes on to demonstrates that there now is ample evidence in favor of circumcision. (And, of course, I agree.) He then says,

Many of our parents, it seems, may have actually made the right decision for the wrong reasons.

You mean to tell me that reasons of tradition and religion weren’t the right reasons? That we need solid science behind these sort of decisions? That the primary focus of any argument in favor of or against circumcision should be based upon the mounds of available data? Guess what? I agree.

It would be one thing if I had some typo that made a major difference in one of my arguments or if I communicated my position poorly. The fact, though, is that I did neither of those things. I have been crystal clear: The decision to circumcise a child or not should be based upon scientific evidence; to base such a decision on religion or culture may result in the right decision, but it would be entirely irrelevant to the question at hand – that right result would be “for the wrong reasons”.

I’ll make a new post when a retraction occurs.

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