Pope Benedict on Condoms and AIDS:

I read this editorial in the Washington Post yesterday and it seemed to me that the editors must've been making a straw man out of Pope Benedict's position on condom use and AIDs:

THE LATE New York senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not his own facts." This holds true even for the pope.

While on a flight to Cameroon on Tuesday to begin a weeklong journey through Africa, Pope Benedict XVI said, "You can't resolve [the AIDS epidemic] with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, it increases the problem." In a perfect world, people would abstain from having sex until they were married or would be monogamous in committed relationships. But the world isn't perfect -- and neither is Pope Benedict's pronouncement on the effectiveness of condoms in the battle against HIV/AIDS. The evidence says so.

Are condoms foolproof protection against infection by HIV, which causes AIDS? No. Sometimes they break, and sometimes people put them on incorrectly. Still, doctors on the front lines of the fight against the AIDS epidemic established long ago that the use of condoms greatly diminishes the transmission of HIV, the cause of a disease that has no cure. That the pope chose to question the value of condoms in fighting the nearly 28-year-old scourge while heading to the continent whose people are most affected by it is troubling. According to UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, sub-Saharan Africa is the epidemic's center, with 67 percent of the world's 32.9 million people with HIV and with 75 percent of all AIDS deaths. Heterosexual intercourse is the "driving force" of the epidemic.

Now the peculiarity in this editorial is that the Post insists that "the evidence" says that Pope Benedict is wrong. Yet the Post cites no evidence to support its position. Instead, it offers a hypothesis and implies that common sense says it must be right--but that's not evidence. Obviously it is true that if you have sex, using condoms will reduce the transmission of AIDS.

But is seems obvious that was not the Pope's point. Obviously what he had in mind is that the promotion of condom use leads to an increase in sex and that the increase in sex leads to an increase in AIDS infection. The question is an empirical one.

And, in fact, I see from Mirror of Justice that is exactly what the Pope had in mind. I haven't done an exhaustive empirical investigation as to the accuracy of the findings reported there or whether they are generalizable. But although the Wa Po insists that there is evidence, it doesn't actually provides any evidence for its argument or against Benedict's claim that urging condom use will lead to an increase in sex. Instead it seems like the Post simply misunderstood Benedict's argument and instead attributed an utterly illogical and senseless position to him, implying that his position is something stupid like using a condom while having sex does not reduce the transmission of AIDS. If the Post was not treating the Pope's position as a straw man argument it seems like it would have done well to actually provide some evidence that would disprove the Pope's actual claim.