Do Biological Facts No Longer Matter?

Nancy Pearcey | May 20, 2016 | 11:21am EDT
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(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

The pushback has been swift and strong against Target’s unsafe bathroom policy, along with the Obama administration’s demand that all public schools adopt pro-transgender policies for showers and locker rooms. But for long-term success against these impositions, the response must also be strategic.

That means drilling down to the source of transgender ideology.

The roots of moral issues always bring us to questions about human nature. Both classical Greek and Christian philosophy regarded the natural world as purpose driven or teleologicalfrom the Greek telos, meaning purpose or goal. To ordinary human observation, it is evident that eyes are for seeing and ears for hearing; fins are for swimming and wings for flying.

Because the human body is part of nature, it too was regarded as having a purpose. The delightful diversity of male and female was not some cosmic accident. Instead it showed that the human body is ordered to the purpose of opposite-sex pair-bonding and reproduction. Teleology is the basis for natural law ethics, which aims to tell us how to fulfill our true nature, how to become fully human.

Today it is popular among Western elites to deny teleology. The key turning point was Charles Darwin. He did not deny that nature appears to be designed for a purpose. But as an agnostic, he hoped to use science to demonstrate that the appearance of design was the result of purposeless material process – random variations sifted by the blind, automatic forces of natural selection.

As historian Jacques Barzun writes, “This denial of purpose is Darwin’s distinctive contention.”

The Darwinian worldview implies that the cosmos is merely a vast amoral machine. It reduces the human body to a lump of matter, a collection of atoms and molecules, not intrinsically different from any other chance configuration of matter. There can be no natural law ethic because humanity has no purpose to fulfill. Philosopher Charles Taylor explains, “The cosmos is no longer seen as the embodiment of meaningful order which can define the good for us.”

The implication is that our biological identity as male and female is a cosmic accident after all. The sexual differentiation of male and female has no special dignity or meaning. The body is reduced to raw material to be manipulated and controlled to serve human needs and preferences – like any other natural resource.

Gavin Grimm (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Suspicious of Sex

These are the assumptions lurking behind the language of the transgender movement. The Obama administration’s letter, sent out jointly by the Departments of Justice and Education, asserts, “A person’s gender identity may be different from ... the person’s sex assigned at birth.” What's the key word here? “Assigned” – as though a person’s sex at birth were purely arbitrary instead of a scientific, biological fact.

What does that language imply? That biological facts do not matter. Your biology gives no clue to your gender identity. It is irrelevant to the “authentic self.” The result is a fragmented, dualistic worldview that denigrates the physical body as inconsequential and insignificant – a worldview that alienates people from their own bodies.

Consider a recent case in the Fourth Circuit, in which a girl who identified as a boy named G.G. demanded the right to use the boys’ restroom. According to the majority opinion, “G.G.’s birth-assigned sex, or so-called ‘biological sex,’ is female, but G.G.’s gender identity is male.”

Her “so-called ‘biological sex’” – in sneer quotes? This is a judge writing a formal ruling for a federal court, and he treats the very existence of biological sex with suspicion and disdain. Apparently he thinks the girl’s physiology, anatomy, chromosomes, and DNA are less real or knowable than her subjective feelings about her gender.

The Lie of Liberation

Is this fragmented view of sexuality actually liberating? Many who have tried it say no. Jonah Mix, who writes for “Gender Detective,” spent years immersed in queer theory, wearing makeup and nail polish: “It was in those queer circles that I first heard the common admonition to never define a person by their body.”

Eventually, however, he realized the promise of liberation was a lie. To discover whether you “identify” as a man, you must define manhood. If you do not define yourself by your biological sex, then you must define yourself by your actions. Do you act stereotypically masculine? Then you are a man. Do you behave in ways that are stereotypically feminine? You must be a woman. Queer theory actually reinforces gender stereotypes.

By contrast, if you base your identity on your physical anatomy, you can engage in a range of diverse behaviors without threatening your identity as a man. Mix writes, “When we are defined by our bodies, the whole width of human experience remains open. ... There is freedom in the body.”

On a trans website a commenter named Trish wrote, “As a little girl, I enjoyed both ballet lessons and playing in the mud. ... I liked miniskirts and wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up. It looks to me like the trans movement is fighting very hard to force everyone to choose whether to live in the blue box or the pink box, and no playing mix-and-match. To me this is the opposite of freedom.”

Contrary to what progressives say, there is greater diversity when we anchor our gender identity in the objective, scientifically knowable reality of our biology as male or female.

In culture war rhetoric, the existence of intersex people (hermaphrodites) is often used to disrupt the male/female binary. But intersex conditions are a matter of biology, not gender identity. A report filed to the European Commission in 2011 says, “Intersex people differ from trans people as their status is not gender related but instead relates to their biological makeup (genetic, hormonal and physical features).” 

Denigrating the Body

Policies that impose transgender ideology on children as early as kindergarten are teaching them to denigrate their own bodies – to see their biological sex as having no relevance to who they are as whole persons. Bathroom policies are teaching them that their male and female parts are not worthy of privacy and safety.

We would do well to retrieve the ancient wisdom that nature is teleological, just as people have long recognized. A teleological worldview leads to a positive view of the body; it acknowledges the purpose and dignity in being male and female; it leads to harmony between biological identity and gender identity.

And it gives a basis for welcoming common-sense protections for boys and girls as they mature into men and women – which should be one of the self-evident norms of the adults who run our governments, schools and corporations.

Nancy Pearcey is a professor and scholar in residence at Houston Baptist University, editor at large of the Pearcey Report, and author most recently of  Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism & Other God Substitutes.

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