Science, Autonomy, and Transgender Identity

April 14, 2018

If a God-glorifying field of study exists outside of theology, it surely must be science. Science studies God’s spoken-into-existence Creation, which Christ himself continually upholds. It seeks understanding of nature, and so science constitutes a vast discipline. One division, perhaps the one we immediately think of from our school days, is biology. However, biology divides into all manner of disciplines: zoology, botany, genetics, and so forth. Each of those divisions further subdivides. The subject truly fascinates.


Since the Enlightenment, scientific progress has gained speed at an incredible measure. Think of the twentieth century. In the early 1900s, Wilbur and Orville Wright sought to make heavier-than-air craft fly. By the time two-thirds of the same century passed, men walked on the moon. 


Due to the incredible things accomplished by scientists in the past few hundred years, the discipline became the final word on all matters of knowledge. Think about it: how many headlines do we see in a week that read something like “The Best _________ According to Science,” or “New Scientific Study Reveals _________”? Popular astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson famously said, “The good thing about science is it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” We’ll allow Dr. Tyson his error of conflating a field of study with reality itself due to the fact he uttered the statement in conversation with Bill Maher, who relies on panache rather than any sort of matter of substance to reinforce what the people watching him already think. Facts are true whether or not you believe in them, Dr. Tyson. Science, insofar as it corresponds to facts, communicates truth. But a digression on theories of knowledge (epistemology) shall merit discussion another day. 


What Dr. Tyson said became a meme (a term coined by the zoologist and atheist evangelist, Richard Dawkins), and I think it communicates an important reality. No one person possesses autonomy from science (we base the statement on the assumption that science accurately describes reality). We hold such a proposition as true based on any number of experiences. For example, you can burn yourself on a hot stove because the temperature of the burner is what it is whether or not you know or believe it to be so. You cannot jump off the roof of your home and fly unaided; gravity has no capacity to care what you believe about flight. We understand and describe reality; we do not define or redefine it. 


If the above paragraph is true, we do not have autonomy from biology. To think we have such autonomy would be completely irrational and empirically indefensible. 


Why is it then the case that Western culture has embraced (and now enforces via compulsion) a line of thinking completely based on an idea of autonomy from biology in its brave new orthodoxy? Where does it do such a thing? Why, in the rapid advancement of the legitimacy of transgenderism, of course. 


See this story posted yesterday by the BBC. As Europe goes, so often goes North America. So Portugal allows an individual to legally change gender without a supporting medical report. The legitimacy of such a medical report aside, what does this say? It states the most basic of biological categories, male and female, do not actually exist. If an individual possesses the power to merely describe oneself as a man or a woman without reference to science, the categories must not be scientific. 


What will happen when an individual with the biology of a female receives emergency medical treatment as a male and dies? Who will take the legal blame for the tragic result? How will we evaluate such a thing? The biological realities here carry enough weight to kill a person. They exist whether someone believes in them or not. 


Biological categories as recognized in the West have existed since Aristotle. The project of the Enlightenment and contemporary secularism has been to continue to advance science, biology included, by divesting scholarship of religious influence, specifically Christian influence. The idea is that religion is inherently irrational and lacking evidence for its truth claims. But in the realm of transgender theory, who actually has virtually no empirical data and holds to a self-contradictory view? Is it the Christian who says, “Wait a minute, an individual bearing certain specific characteristics is indeed a male,” or is it the secularist claiming, “Regardless of all biological realities related to anatomical structures, including but not limited to sex organs, and underlying genetics, an individual possesses the ability to determine his/her own sex and gender,”? Lest we think biological sex itself does not enter the equation, the term “sex assigned at birth” defeats the notion. 


Science is indeed true whether you believe it or not. Unless that doesn’t work for you. 


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