Monday, May 21, 2018

Arizona Science Standards and the Different Definitions of Evolution

I have been engaged in a debate about the recently proposed revisions to the Arizona science standards.  The article "Evolution" Nixed in Portions of AZ School Science Standards Draft raised alarms about the removal of the word "evolution" in some places.  Here is one example...

The original statement reads: "Obtain, evaluate, and communicate evidence that describes how inherited traits in a population can lead to evolution."

The revised statement reads: "Obtain, evaluate, and communicate evidence that describes how inherited traits in a population can lead to biological diversity."

In light of this I wrote a comment and then subsequent discussion followed.  Below is my initial comment with responses and counter-responses.


Richard Klaus · 
The word "evolution" is open to a number of differing definitions and thus the possibility of equivocation is ever-present with the use of the word. In the screen shot above the word "evolution" was replaced by "biological diversity." In light of the context this replacement is actually more precise and open to empirical verification. There is still mention of "coevolution" and "natural selection." Beware of being overly enarmored with a word open to multiple definitions. Stephen Meyer and Michael Keas in an article entitled "The Meanings of Evolution" distinguish six different ways "evolution" is commonly used:

1. Change over time; history of nature; any sequence of events in nature.
2. Changes in the frequencies of alleles in the gene pool of a population.
3. Limited common descent: the idea that particular groups of organims have descended from a common ancestor.
4. The mechanisms responsible for the change required to produce limited descent with modification, chiefly natural selection acting on random variations or mutations.
5. Universal common descent: the idea that all organisms have descended from a single common ancestor.
6. "Blind watcmaker" thesis: the idea that all organisms have descended from common ancestors solely through unguided, unintelligent, purposeless, material processes such as natural selection acting on random variations or mutations; that the mechanisms of natural selection, random variation and mutation, and perhaps other similarly naturalistic mechanisms, are completely sufficient to account for the appearance of design in living organisms.

So "evolution" is not one thing. The above uses of the word and concept are not all the same and they do not all have the same epistemic status. The empirical data used for one the above may not be sufficient for other definitions. Furthermore, the last one--the "blind watchmaker" thesis--is laden with certain philosophical and even theological presuppositions.

No one is "nixing" evolution in the standards. There is, however, a quest for greater precision as to the concepts under discussion.
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Larry MacPhee · 
Perhaps seminarians should stick to things of a more religious or faith-based nature? There's plenty of contradictory subject matter in this field, like maybe reconciling the two conflicting origin stories in Genesis I and II, or explaining how Noah packed all those species on that ark, or why it's a sin to wear clothing of two kinds of thread.
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Robert Karaffa · 
Stephen Meyer? You mean the Stephen Meyer of The Discovery Institute, that bastion of idiotic support of Intelligent Design that lost the Dover case in 2005? *THAT* Stephen Meyer? Srsly? LOL!
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Richard Klaus · 
Larry MacPhee I made two claims. First, the word "evolution" is open to equivocation. Second, the varying conceptions of evolution are not all of the same epistemic status. If you have a counter-argument it would be good to hear it. I'm engaging in a discussion of the philosophy of science. If you want a theological debate about the exegesis of specific Bible passages perhaps this isn't the forum for you.
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Richard Klaus · 
Robert Karaffa I made two claims. First, the word "evolution" is open to equivocation. Second, the varying conceptions of evolution are not all of the same epistemic status. If you have a counter-argument it would be good to hear it. Snarkiness and incredulity are not valid forms of logical argumentation.
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Kostyantyn Myroshnychenko · 
Stephen Meyer is a creationist and his credibility on this subject matter is zero. You don't get your drunk neighbour Dave to perform brain surgery, so don't let creationists dictate your science.
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Tim Wilde
Richard Klaus; I think you're trying too hard here. All 6 of your proposed "speparate" definitions all say the same thing except they dont. Using definition one as a "change in nature" would be a silly and dumbed down explaination that I think only those who were failing their science class would walk away with. I.e. a Canyon doesnt "evolve" from a mountain. Yet a canyon is most certainly a "change in nature" over time. In context, we can use definition one to see, track, and understand an organisms change over time using evolutionary biology to track what changes were made, about when we see those changes in the records, etc.

3, 4, and 5, are just different wordings of the same definition which include different aspects of the agreed upon definition. Explicitly talking about organisms and groups or organisms and their evolutionary decent and evolutionary progress on those organisms. Trying to use these all as separate concepts is to try far too hard to break the definition because you, yourself, lack understanding of the concept or it's mechanisms.

6 is just pure religious assertion, describing evolutionary concepts but having the gall to discredit the concept using religious terms "unintelligent" "blind" and "lack of guidance or purpose" to slam religious views into the definition thereby tainting the definition for any religious person reading it. So no, you're not just "trying to have a discussion" you're trying to insert some talking points that make your religious arguments seem almost palatable, but makes you look ignorant on the subject you're trying to discuss.

Sorry you were born about a century and a half too late to participate in the "discussion" on the merits of evolution. The only thing that's happened in the last 150 years, is a greater understanding of the evolutionary process and stronger validation of evolutionary biology.
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Larry MacPhee · 
Richard Klaus I think you're defending some very misguided people, and the creationist/intelligent design sources you cite suggest that you are doing so with intent to deceive. The legislators aren't singling out the word evolution for removal because they want more distinction between microevolution, macroevolution, natural selection, speciation, etc. They are trying to overwrite scientific facts with their own personal religious beliefs. You are pretending to engage in a discussion of the philosophy of science but I'm skeptical that this is your true agenda.
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Richard Klaus · 
Larry MacPhee I made two claims. First, the word "evolution" is open to equivocation. Second, the varying conceptions of evolution are not all of the same epistemic status. If you have a counter-argument it would be good to hear it. Calling into question my motives--my alleged "intent to deceive"--is not rational or valid. If you don't want to discuss the arguments I brought forward that's fine but nothing is gained by ad hominem attacks.
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Richard Klaus · 
Tim Wilde thanks for the reply. A few items on what you wrote.

1. Your sentence: "All 6 of your proposed "speparate" definitions all say the same thing except they dont." You do realize that this sentence is self-contradictory--they "all say the same thing except they don't." Which is it? Are they saying the same thing or not?

2. Your sentence: "3, 4, and 5, are just different wordings of the same definition which include different aspects of the agreed upon definition." This is just false, as can be seen by anyone giving a fair reading to the definitions under consideration. Definition #3 concerns the issue of limited common descent whereas #5 is about universal common desecent. These are conceptually different and the evidence used to confirm #3 may not be enough to substantiate #5. Definition #4 is completely different in that it deals with the issue of the mechanism of natural selection. There may be evidence for natural selection that is very good (i.e., the Galapagos finch beaks) but this may or may not be sufficient to demonstrate either limited or universal common descent. The key issue, however, is that the definitions are conceptually distinct. And since the simplistic use of the word "evolution" can be used in an equivocal manner it is helpful to separate out the differing concepts.

3. Your sentence: "6 is just pure religious assertion, describing evolutionary concepts but having the gall to discredit the concept using religious terms "unintelligent" "blind" and "lack of guidance or purpose" to slam religious views into the definition thereby tainting the definition for any religious person reading it." No "gall" is intended nor needed. The notions of "unintelligent," "blind," and "lack of guidance or purpose" are often used by some scientists in their defenses of evolution. The concept of the "blind watchmaker thesis" is based off Richard Dawkins book "The Blind Watchmaker." Consider the statements by the following well-known proponents of evolution:

"No interevening spirit watches lovingly over the affairs of nature...Not vital forces propel evolutionary change. And whatever we think of God, his existence is not manifest in the products of nature." Stephen Jay Gould

"[I]t is already evident that all the objectivce phenomena of the history of life can be explained by purely naturalistic or, in a proper sense of the sometimes abused word, materialistic factors... Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind." George Gaylord Simpson

"Perhaps most importantly, if the world and its creatures developed purely by material physical forces, it could not have been designed and has no purpose or goal... Some shrink from the conclusion that the human species was not designed, has no purpose, and is the product of mere material mechanisms--but this seems to be the message of evolution." Douglas J. Futuyma

“Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exist; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent.”
--William Provine (Cornell evolutionary biologist)

“Darwinism thus puts the capstone on a process which since Newton’s time has driven teleology to the explanatory sidelines. In short it has made Darwinians into metaphysical Nihilists denying that there is any meaning or purpose to the universe, its contents and its cosmic history. But in making Darwinians into metaphysical nihilists, the solvent algorithm should have made them into ethical nihilists too. For intrinsic values and obligations make sense only against the background of purposes, goals, and ends which are not merely instrumental.” --Tamler Sommers & Alex Rosenberg

For more quotations on this general theme see my blog post: http://whiterosereview.blogspot.com/.../quotations-on...

Monday, April 23, 2018

Courts and the Cause of Christ: Why Christians Need to Care

* This is a link to an essay I wrote for the Christian Post.

Courts and the Cause of Christ: Why Christians Need to Care
_______________________________________________

Here is the essay with the footnotes...


Courts and the Cause of Christ: Why Christians Need to Care

Sometime between now and June, the U.S. Supreme Court will render its decision in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.  This is the case in which owner and cake artist Jack Phillips was taken to court because he could not in good conscience design custom items that celebrate events or express messages in conflict with his religious beliefs.  Jack Phillips is motivated by his Christian beliefs and is attempting to faithfully fulfill his deeply rooted religious beliefs.  He is seeking justice in the arena of law.

Another case—this one in Arizona—is Brush & Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix, in which Christian owners Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski are seeking to stop an overreaching city ordinance from forcing them to design and create custom artwork expressing messages that violate their core religious beliefs.  Without the invalidation of this city ordinance, Duka and Koski are potentially liable for fines and jail time if they decline to create artwork for same-sex weddings.  They too are seeking justice in the legal realm.

But why should Christians care about cases such as this?  Do cases like this take us away from the centrality of gospel proclamation?  Shouldn’t Jack Phillips, Joanna Duka, and Breanna Koski just lay down their rights in the face of opposition for the sake of being like Jesus, who “while being reviled, he did not revile in return; while suffering, he uttered no threats, but kept entrusting him to him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2.23)?

I want to argue that the pursuit of justice is not only a good in and of itself but, also, that these legal cases can serve the cause of the gospel.

Christians in the Public Sphere

Christians who make use of the legal system to ensure that government respects their freedoms protected by the First Amendment do this out of a sense of obligation to honor God.  Their deeply held religious beliefs about God and the Bible move them to stand for truth in the public realm.  Their devotion to God and the Bible is not merely a private affair of the heart.  Christians believe the truth of Jesus and his kingdom morality are matters that touch all of life.  The most basic Christian confession, namely that “Jesus is Lord,” has implications for the public and political domain.  Theologian John Frame aptly notes:

As God’s Spirit penetrates people’s hearts through the gospel, those people become new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17).  They take their faith into every sphere of life, including the workplace, politics, economics, education, and the arts.  And in all these realms, they seek to glorify God.[1]

In his essay “Why Christians Should Influence Government for Good,” Wayne Grudem lists a number of reasons why Christians can and should be involved in the political and judicial realm.[2]  His list includes the following:

1.     God calls Christians to do “good works.”
2.     Influencing government for good is a way to love our neighbors.
3.     Obeying what God tells us is doing spiritual good because it glorifies God.
4.     Good and bad governments make a huge difference in people’s lives, and in the church.
5.     Christians have influenced governments positively throughout history.

I will leave it to readers to read Grudem’s full discussion of these points, but he details the many biblical examples in both the Old and New Testaments where believers have exercised significant governmental influence.  Examples include Joseph, Moses, Daniel, Nehemiah, Esther, the prophets, John the Baptist, and Paul.

These insights from Frame and Grudem are enough to justify the Christian’s concern and involvement in the political and judicial arenas.  In addition to this, however, there is the example of the apostle Paul in the book of Acts that shows how a proper use of legal redress actually serves the gospel and the mission of the Church.

Paul’s Use of the Courts in the Book of Acts

The book of Acts is filled with legal settings, and nearly a quarter of the book is occupied with Paul’s trials and defenses.[3]  In particular, a section from Acts 16 will illustrate something of Paul’s interface with the Roman legal system and allow us to draw some applications for our time.

That chapter contains the narrative of Paul’s ministry in Philippi.  As is often the case in the book of Acts, Paul’s ministry causes controversy.  The specific cause in Philippi is the exorcism of a slave-girl being pimped for prophetic profit.  Paul casts out a “spirit of divination” from the girl, and when the men using this girl for financial gain see their potential for making money diminished, they bring Paul and Silas before the Roman governmental authorities.  The judgment is swift.  They are beaten with rods and thrown into prison.  There are then some exciting details about an earthquake that opens the prison doors and how the jailer and his family come to faith in Jesus Christ.  For our purposes, however, the focus is on verses 35-40:

35Now when the day came, the chief magistrates sent their policemen, saying, “Release those men.” 36And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The chief magistrates have sent to release you. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” 37But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us in public without trial, men who are Romans, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they sending us away secretly? No indeed! But let them come themselves and bring us out.” 38The policemen reported these words to the chief magistrates.  They were afraid when they heard that they were Romans, 39and they came and appealed to them, and when they had brought them out, they kept begging them to leave the city. 40They went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia, and when they saw the brethren, they encouraged them and departed.

We could ask a number of potential questions about this event.  When given the information of release, why did Paul not simply leave?  Paul knew from Jesus that he was called to suffer (Acts 9.16).  Why not just receive the suffering and go forward?  When other apostles were unjustly persecuted, they left their accusers “rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for his name” (Acts 5.41).  Why didn’t Paul do this?  Why protest and demand legal redress in light of his Roman pedigree?

A couple of answers are worth noting.  Paul is concerned for justice and the people of God.  First, consider the issue of justice.  Paul knows the Roman law code and appeals to its provisions, which forbid a magistrate from beating a Roman citizen without due process of a trial conviction.  No one is claiming the Roman law code is a perfect manifestation of justice, but Paul can appeal to a common grace provision in that law code which is consistent with justice.  Although Paul is called to a path of suffering as announced by Jesus, there is no divine mandate to maximize suffering.  As theologian Steven Tracy notes,

Scripture does not sanctify avoidable suffering.  Christ repeatedly avoided physical assault, most often from the Jewish leaders (his authorities) by hiding (John 8:59), by maintaining physical separation from his abusers (Matt. 12:14-15; John 11:53-54), and by eluding them (John 10:31, 39).  Other godly individuals in Scripture, such as Paul and David, also repeatedly fled physically abusive authorities (1 Sam. 19:12; 27:1; Acts 9:22-25; 14:5-6; 17:8-10, 14).  Jesus did not teach his disciples simply to accept abuse (evil); instead he taught them to pray that God would deliver them from it (Matt. 6:13).[4]

At this point, someone may ask why Paul did not assert his Roman citizenship rights earlier—before being beaten with rods?  One can only speculate given the silence of the text, but it is possible that he and Silas did assert their citizenship but were drown out in the confusion of the event.[5]  Whatever the explanation on that issue, it is clear that Paul does eventually assert his Roman citizenship by appealing to Roman law for justice.

But there is more.  This is not a mere quest for personal justice.  There is also a strategic concern for the gospel ministry which has birthed the fledging church in Philippi.  To allow this injustice to stand might mean the civil magistrate would be emboldened to perpetuate further injustices upon the newly formed group associated with Paul and Silas.  By seeking proper legal redress, Paul and Silas provide protective covering for the church.  New Testament scholar F. F. Bruce comments:

Paul’s insistence on an official apology may have served to some degree as a protection to the members of the church which had been planted in Philippe during the period of his stay there.[6]

Fellow New Testament specialist I. Howard Marshall also recognizes that for Paul and Silas to simply have left without seeking justice “could have set a dangerous precedent for the future treatment of missionaries and also could have left the Christians in Philippi exposed to arbitrary treatment from the magistrates.”[7]  So, in this instance, seeking justice is good for the missional advance of the gospel.

Understanding the Text and the Times

Paul’s example in Acts 16 is only one case from the New Testament, but it is a perspective to take note of since it demonstrates concern for public justice and the gospel.  The interplay between moral mandate and contemporary application is always tricky.  Even within the New Testament itself, there is a spectrum of responses to the civil government.  Torleiv Austad, in his essay, “Attitudes Towards the State in Western Theological Thinking,” argues that the New Testament’s perspective regarding the state was neither principled renunciation nor uncritical acceptance.  He writes,

The apparently contradictory attitude can be illustrated by comparing Romans 13 and Revelation 13.  In both cases Christians are confronted with the Roman state.  While the governing authorities according to Romans 13 respect elementary civil rights, the same state in Revelation 13—about forty years later—is seen as the beast from the abyss.  Therefore the attitude of Christians has changed from obedience to disobedience.  Within the eschatological horizon of the NT the relationship between Christians and the governing authorities is never fixed; it is complex, sensitive and changing.[8]

In this quotation, Austad stresses the believer’s response of either obedience or disobedience to the governing authorities.  His general line of thinking can be expanded to include the kinds of responses the governing authorities have to the believer’s concerns.  It may be the case that an ever-increasing secularized civil sphere is becoming less concerned with Christians’ concerns for justice, but this ought not to stop Christians from appealing to those common grace notions embedded in our legal traditions.  This is what Paul did in his Roman context.  Similarly, when Christians today in the United States seek legal remedy for the diminishment of their constitutionally protected freedoms, it can serve the cause of justice and the gospel. 

The constitutionally governed law codes that Americans navigate at the local and federal levels are seasoned with common grace elements of justice.  As long as possible, we ought to utilize these elements in the cause of justice and the gospel.

Christians should eagerly support and pray for the efforts of Jack Phillips, Joanna Duka, Breanna Koski, and others like them as they seek justice before the courts of our land.  Much like the apostle Paul, their victories will continue to hold open the door of religious freedom for all of us.




     [1] John Frame, “In Defense of Christian Activism vs Michael Horton and Meredith Kline” (May 21, 2012) online: https://frame-poythress.org/in-defense-of-christian-activism-vs-michael-horton-and-meredith-kline/.
     [2] Wayne Grudem, “Why Christians Should Influence Government for Good” online: http://www.waynegrudem.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Why-Christians-should-influence-government-booklet.pdf.
     [3] “One of the puzzling features of Acts is the amount of time Luke spends describing in detail the trial and defenses of Paul.  Almost one-fourth of the whole book of Acts (chaps. 22-28) is occupied with this topic.”  D. A. Carson and Douglas Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament—2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2005), 303.  “Acts is a book of trials.  Sixteen formal and informal, investigative and quasi-judicial trials occur.” John W. Mauck, Paul on Trial: The Book of Acts as a Defense of Christianity (Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson, 2001), 84—see page 85-86 for chart of all the trials in Acts.
     [4] Steven Tracy, “Domestic Violence in the Church and Redemptive Suffering in 1 Peter” Calvin Theological Journal 41 (2006), 294.  Online: https://mendingthesoul.org/wp-content/uploads/DV-in-Church-1-Peter.pdf.
     [5] John Mauck also notes the context of bigotry in the charges mentioned in verses 20-21: “The accusation of being Jewish is intended to inflame the Philippian magistrates through appeal to racism, anti-Semitism, or fear of foreigners.” Paul on Trial: The Book of Acts as a Defense of Christianity (Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson, 2001), 125.
     [6] F. F. Bruce, Commentary on the Book of the Acts (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1954), 341.
     [7] I. Howard Marshall, The Acts of the Apostles: An Introduction and Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans; Leicester: Intervarsity Press, 1980), 274.
     [8] Torleiv Austad, “Attitudes Towards the State in Western Theological Thinking,” Themelios (October, 1990), 22.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Resurrection and Hallucinations

The Resurrection & Hallucinations

This past Easter Sunday I read something on the resurrection of Jesus. Gary Habermas is a specialist in resurrection studies and he teamed up with medical doctor Joseph Bergeron to look at the claims that the accounts of the resurrection of Jesus can be explained naturalistically in terms of psychiatric processes.

Their essay is entitled: "The Resurrection of Jesus: A Clinical Review of Psychiatric Hypotheses for the Biblical Story of Easter" Irish Theological Quarterly (2015)--available online: The Resurrection of Jesus: A Clinical Review of Psychiatric Hypotheses for the Biblical Story of Easter 

Habermas and Bergeron look at a number of psychiatric hypotheses: hallucinations, conversions disorder, and bereavement-related visions. What is unique to their paper is that they examine these hypotheses in relation to current medical literature. I want to focus attention on just the issue of hallucinations.

Many times a historian or theologian will allege that what the disciples experienced were hallucinations but there is little to no interaction with the medical understanding of hallucinations. By examining the medical literature on these matters Habermas and Bergeron are able to assess whether the hallucination hypothesis actually fits the evidence we have.

Here are a few pieces from their essay:

"It is noteworthy that hallucinations are private experiences. Hallucination hypotheses, therefore, are unable to explain the disciples' simultaneous group encounters with the resurrected Jesus. While some may consider the disciples' post-crucifixion group encounters with the resurrected Jesus as collective simultaneous hallucinations, such an explanation is far outside mainstream clinical thought. What are the odds that separate individuals in a group could experience simultaneous and identical psychological phenomena mixed with hallucinations? This is a non sequitur. Concordantly, the concept of collective-hallucination is not found in peer reviewed medical and psychological literature."
 ____________

"The proposed hallucination hypotheses are naive in the light of medical and psychiatric pathognomic considerations. Those suffering illnesses characterized by hallucinations are sick. They require medical and psychosocial support, a structured environment, pharmacological support, and behavioural treatment. Persons suffering from psychosis in Jesus' time, not having benefit of modern medical treatment, might well be considered lunatics or demon possessed (e.g., Matt 4:24). They would be unlikely candidates to organize as a group and implement the rapid and historic widespread expansion of the Christian religion during the first century."
 ___________

"Further, if Jesus' tomb had been found empty, as a majority of scholars now concur was the case, this would be an additional factor counting against a purely psychiatric hypothesis for the biblical account of Easter."
 ___________


Habermas and Bergeron also examine "conversion disorders" as well as "bereavement-related visions" and conclude, in light of current medical understanding, such views are "clinically implausible and historically unconvincing." This, of course, doesn't "prove" the resurrection but it does remove one attempted avenue to explain it away as a mere psychological process.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Carl F. H. Henry's "Greatest Treasure"

* The following is from the ending of Carl F. H. Henry's Confessions of a Theologian: A Autobiography (1986).  He is dreaming that he is being interviewed by his son.

"Your greatest treasure?" he asked.

"Family aside," I said, "I'd begin with Scripture... the most read book of my life.  And communion with God... waiting before God. I have done less waiting than working, and my works would have been better had I waited more.  But I have enjoyed God's incomparable companionship.  I have been blessed with wonderful friends--none more fantastic than Helga, your mother--and have spent long and happy hours with them.  But my deepest memories are those spent waiting before God, often praying for others, and not least of all for you and your sister, sometimes waiting before him in tears, sometimes in joy, sometimes wrestling alternatives, sometimes just worshipping him in adoration.  Heaven will be an unending feast for the soul that basks in his presence.  And it will be brighter because some will be there whom I brought to Jesus, and others whom I encouraged to become pastors and missionaries and teachers, or to invest their God-entrusted gifts in other constructive careers.  The tides of history that seem to us so all-important and all-consuming in this lifetime will fade overnight into a vast panorama in which Christ and not modern celebrities will hold center-stage.  It is Christ alone who will give unending meaning to a future that will become and remain ever present."

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Transgender Ideas Never Stand Alone and Never Stand Still--Christian Post

* This is a link to an essay I wrote for the Christian Post:

Transgender Ideas Never Stand Alone and Never Stand Still
_______________________________________________

Here is the essay with the endnotes included:

Transgender Ideas Never Stand Alone and Never Stand Still
March 2018

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine, and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock.  And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against the house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded upon the rock.  And everyone who hears these words of mine, and does not act upon them, will be like a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand.  And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and it fell, and great was its fall.”  
--Matthew 7:24-27

In these famous words of Jesus he is, of course, making profound claims about his teaching and its centrality to one’s life but notice also the view of truth implied in these words.  (1) Truth exists and can be known and (2) Truth has consequences.  To live in accord with truth brings human flourishing and to live against the grain of reality is ultimately destructive.  These are important points to remember as we think about the issues surrounding Transgenderism today.

Our culture is awash with controversy in regards to transgender issues and everyday seems to bring another fault-line of division in the realms of education, law, medicine, sports, and entertainment.  These flashpoints of controversy are like the tip of an iceberg.  Underneath these visible markers of cultural foment are deep worldview presuppositions.  Differences of understanding about sexuality involve differing conceptions of the human person.  It is these underlying philosophical beliefs that must be understood and examined.

It should be noted, as a crucial aside, that what is under discussion here is transgender ideology and not, necessarily transgender individuals.  Those individuals who experience gender dysphoria should be treated with compassion and understanding even as we speak the truth in love.  Transgender ideology, on the other hand, is a set of ideas and philosophical assumptions that must be challenged and refuted.  At the heart of ideologies are ideas and it is helpful to think of ideas operating in two ways:

1.       Ideas never stand alone—Ideas are always based on fundamental worldview commitments and have a philosophical substructure.

2.       Ideas never stand still—Ideas always have implications and applications that naturally flow from them into the social and cultural arena.

These two points provide a template to analyze transgender ideology.  Examining the underlying the worldview and philosophy as well as watching for the logical entailments and applications allow one to see exactly what is at stake in the debates about Transgenderism.

Ideas Never Stand Alone

One of the core ideas of transgender ideologues is that the mind can be at war with one’s body.  In many other cases this dynamic is considered a disorder to be treated with psychological counseling and therapy.  For example, there are those who experiences Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID) in which a person identifies as a disabled person and feels trapped in a fully functional body.  In such cases therapy is seen as the solution and the pathway to health.  The idea here is to correct a misalignment between one’s perception and reality.

But in the case of gender dysphoria transgender ideologues do not seek to change a person’s feelings of gender identity to match the body.  Instead, they engage in a process of changing the body through hormones and surgery to match the feelings.  It is important to recognize that this form of thought rests upon two convictions.  First, there is a de-coupling of sexual identity from the body.  Second, it is by an act of the will that one seemingly creates gender identity.  These two convictions are indicative of what Nancy Pearcey has called a “postmodern view of psychosexual identity.”1 

A number of scholars have noted that transgender ideology rests up postmodern, anti-realist assumptions.  The idea that “gender is fluid” is itself a postmodern idea.  Transgender activist Judith Butler states as much when she writes in her work Gender Trouble:

When “gender is theorized as radically independent of sex, gender itself becomes a free-floating artifice, with the consequence that man and masculine, might just as easily signify a female body as a male one and woman and feminine a male body as easily as a female one.”2

Ryan Anderson in his recent book When Harry Become Sally perceptively notes this connection between transgender ideology and philosophical commitments.

“At the heart of the transgender movement are radical ideas about the human person—in particular, that people are what they claim to be, regardless of contrary evidence.  A transgender boy is a boy, not merely a girl who identifies as a boy.  It is understandable why activists make these claims.  An argument about transgender identities will be much more persuasive if it concerns who someone is, not merely how someone identifies. And so the rhetoric of the transgender movement drips with ontological assertions: people are the gender they prefer to be.  That’s the claim.”3

More simply, Anderson later concludes: “At the core of the ideology is the radical claim that feelings determine reality.”4 

Philosopher Elliot Crozat in an important essay entitled “Reasoning About Gender” speaks of the claims by transgender ideologues in the following manner: “These claims appear to rest on the postmodern antirealist assumption that what one takes as reality is a mere subjective or sociocultural construct.”5 He goes on to give the implications for such a view:

“Hence, there are no objective natures, no human nature, no male nature, no female nature, and no such thing as human flourishing that results from the proper functioning of the essential properties and capacities of a human nature.”6 

It is this radical notion of postmodern philosophy that underlies much of transgender ideology.  This commitment to postmodernism will have consequences for how the ideas of Transgenderism play themselves out in the marketplace of ideas.

Ideas Never Stand Still

Ideas have trajectory—they go somewhere.  The philosophical notion of postmodernism underlying transgender ideology leads to specific patterns of thought that are actualized in the realms of education, law, medicine, and culture.  As Ryan Anderson notes, “[T]ransgender policies follow from transgender ontology.”7 These patterns of thought and action have negative implications and harmful effects.  Consider three such problems.

First, transgender ideology hurts and undercuts women’s rights.  Nancy Pearcey has effectively captured this reality with her reasoning in her excellent book Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions About Life and Sexuality:

“To protect women’s rights, we must be able to say what a woman is.  If postmodernism is correct—that the body itself is a social construct—then it becomes impossible to argue for rights based on the sheer fact of being female.  We cannot legally protect a category of people if we cannot identify that category.”8

This is not a mere philosophical abstraction.  Ashley McGuire in her book Sex Scandal: The Drive to Abolish Male and Female speaks of “the unintended consequences for women” that result from transgender ideology.9 She gives an example of a court case (Kimberly v. Vancouver Rape Relief Society) in which a rape crisis center had to fight to keep a biological man out of the crisis center.  The mere claim to be “female” by a biological male was used in an attempt to allow his admittance.  Prominent liberal feminist and pro-choice activist Kathleen Sloan argues:

“The threat that the gender identity movement poses to women is that ‘gender’ is detached from the biological differences between males and females (present in all mammalian species) and consequently male supremacy and the oppression of women is obscured and ultimately erased… Without being able to name humans male or female, women have no hope of being able to protect ourselves from the violence men commit against us, much less overturn the patriarchal misogyny that has oppressed and terrorized us for millennia.”10

One need not agree with all of Sloan’s historical characterizations to grant the fundamental point she is making—namely, that Transgenderism’s philosophically motivated presupposition of postmodernism will undercut and harm women and women’s rights.

Second, transgender ideology undercuts the notion of human rights in general.  Recall professor Crozat’s words from above about how within a postmodern, antirealist conception “there are no objective natures, no human nature, no male nature, no female nature…” But, as Crozat argues, this conception of reality is in logical tension with the notion of objective rights.  He convincingly argues this in the following manner:

If the concept of natural human rights is sensible, then reality is not a mere construct; there must be something objectively real and valuable to serve as the basis of these rights.

“Objective rights do not exist on the postmodernists worldview, regardless of how vigorously one believes in them.  For a postmodernist to believe in objective rights is like believing in centaurs (the character of Greek myth that are half-man and half-horse).  One can believe in them, but doing so makes no significant difference in the world.  Consequently, the supporter of transgenderism cannot deny human natures and rights but at the same time assert the right to define himself or to use a preferred restroom.  Nor can he legitimately claim that his rights are violated by gender dichotomist policies.  To do this is intellectually inconsistent, and perhaps an example of a performative contradiction.”11

There is, thus, a deep internal contradiction between transgender philosophical presuppositions and the quest for rationally grounded human rights.12

Third, transgender ideology harms children by legitimizing unhealthy medical procedures and penalizes alternatives that recognize the reality of gender desistance.  The standard plan of action set forth by transgender activists for children who feel that their gender does not align with their biological sex is fourfold:
           
a)    Social transition: the buying of new clothes, the use of a new name and pronouns.
b)   Puberty blockers: with the onset of puberty hormones are administered that will arrest the natural development of the body.
c)    Cross-sex hormones: around the age of 16 these begin to be administered and will have to be taken for the rest of one’s life.
d)   Sex reassignment surgery: age 18 or above these major surgeries are performed.

It needs to be realized that this process can begin as early as five years old as a 2012 Washington Post with the title “Transgendered at Five” proclaims.  Two other caveats should be noted as well.  The age for each phase is getting lower.  In July 2016 the Guardian reported that “a doctor in Wales is prescribing cross-sex hormones to children as young as 12.”13 Ryan Anderson notes the second caveat: “There are no laws in the United States prohibiting the use of puberty blockers or cross-sex hormones for children, or regulating the age at which they may be administered.”14

It is important to stress the fact that these medical practices are not driven by science but by a postmodernist ideology.  Dr. Michelle Cretella is a board certified pediatrician and president of the American College of Pediatricians and she writes in the 2016 Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons:

“To be clear, this ‘alternate perspective’ of an innate gender fluidity arising from prenatally ‘feminized’ or ‘masculinized’ brains trapped in the wrong body is an ideological belief that has no basis in rigorous science.”15

So what are the facts that can be known?  What does the evidence indicate and how should this be applied to the current situation?  At least three facts warrant attention.

First, there is the fact of gender desistance—a growing out of their gender dysphoria—in the vast majority of children who experience feelings of misalignment between their gender identity and their biological sex.  As Dr. Cretella notes:

“Experts on both sides of the pubertal suppression debate agree that within this context, 80 percent to 95 percent of children with GD [Gender Dysphoria] accepted their biological sex and achieved emotional well-being by late adolescence.”16

If children are not encouraged to “transition” then the vast majority of them will naturally grow out of their gender dysphoria.  In light of this fact, puberty should not be seen as a disease to be halted but, rather, a time when children perhaps need greater care and counseling as they navigate this part of their journey to maturation.

The second fact to reckon with are the side effects of puberty-blocking hormone therapies.  Ryan Anderson summarizes the research on this issue in this way:

“No one really knows all the potential consequences of puberty blocking as a treatment for gender dysphoria, but there are some known effects of puberty suppression on children who are physiologically normal, and these carry long-term health risks.  Children placed on puberty blockers have slower rates of growth in height, and an elevated risk of low bone-mineral density.  Some other possible effects are ‘disfiguring acne, high blood pressure, weight gain, abnormal glucose tolerance, breast cancer, liver disease, thrombosis and cardiovascular disease.’  And, of course, all of the children who persist in their transgender identity and take puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones will be infertile.”17

The third fact to consider is the “self-fulfilling nature” of transgender activists’ protocols for puberty suppression.  By this is meant, that once the four-fold procedure outlined above is initiated then the child almost always goes forward with the gender transition.  Dr. Cretella draws attention to this dynamic and its problems:

“In a follow-up study of their first 70 eligible candidates to receive puberty suppression, de Vries and colleagues documented that all subjects went on to embrace a transgender identity and request cross-sex hormones.  This is cause for concern.  There is an obvious self-fulfilling nature to encouraging a young man with GD [Gender Dysphoria] to socially impersonate a girl and then institute pubertal suppression.  Given the well-established phenomenon of neuroplasticity, the repeated behavior of impersonating a girl alters the structure and function of the boy’s brain in some way—potentially in a way that will make identity alignment with his biologic sex less likely.  This, together with the suppression of puberty that further endogenous masculinization of his brain, causes him to remain a gender non-conforming prepubertal body disguised as a prepubertal girl.  Since his peers develop into young men and young women, he is left psychosocially isolated.  He will be less able to identify with being male and more likely to identify as ‘non-male.’  A protocol of impersonation and pubertal suppression that sets into motion a single inevitable outcome (transgender identification) that requires a life-long use of synthetic hormones, resulting in infertility, is neither fully reversible nor harmless.”18

These facts about the health concerns related to children and transgender ideology ought to concern all people.  The use of transgender procedures that treat gender dysphoria in children with hormones “effectively amounts to mass experimentation on, and sterilization of, youth who are cognitively incapable of providing informed consent.”19 Surely, even among those who differ about adult transgender issues there could be some common cause and consensus about the dangers of transgender ideology for children.

Truth and Human Flourishing

The daily reverberations of our “transgender moment” are fueled by deep philosophical undercurrents that flesh themselves out in practical ways in the arenas of law, education, medicine, and culture.  As Nancy Pearcey poignantly states: “Every practice comes with a worldview attached to it—one that many of us might not find true or attractive if we were aware of it.”20 Underlying Transgenderism is a radical postmodern notion that the human will determines reality.  Rather than discovering the natural functions and purposes of the human body and its relationship to our core identity the human will imposes itself in a god-like quest to define the world.  This will ultimately fail.  As Francis Schaeffer taught us a generation ago: “Non-Christian presuppositions simply do not fit into what God has made, including what man is… Man cannot make his own universe and then live in it.”21 The attempt to live by these faulty presuppositions has serious and negative implications in the realms of human rights, women’s rights and the health of children.  Jesus is still reminding us that the failure to live in accord with his reality—his word—will ultimately lead to destruction.  May we heed his warning.

·      This piece is a development of a presentation at Glendale Community College (AZ) and their annual “Critical Dialogues” series entitled "Gender & Sexuality: Current Controversies and the Common Good"

--Richard Klaus is a graduate of Phoenix Seminary and is currently the Ratio Christi Chapter Director for the campus of Glendale Community College (AZ).  He blogs at White Rose Review.



Endnotes

1.     Nancy R. Pearcey, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions About Life and Sexuality (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2018), 201.

2.     Quoted in Nancy R. Pearcey, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions About Life and Sexuality (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2018), 202.

3.     Ryan T. Anderson, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment (New York: Encounter Books, 2018), 29.

4.     Ryan T. Anderson, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment (New York: Encounter Books, 2018), 48.

5.     Elliot R. Crozat, “Reasoning About Gender” Evangelical Philosophical Society Website (2016), 3.  Online: http://www.epsociety.org/userfiles/art-Crozat%20(Reasoning%20about%20Gender-final).pdf.

6.     Elliot R. Crozat, “Reasoning About Gender” Evangelical Philosophical Society Website (2016), 3. 

7.     Ryan T. Anderson, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment (New York: Encounter Books, 2018), 39.

8.     Nancy R. Pearcey, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions About Life and Sexuality (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2018), 211.

9.     Ashley McGuire, Sex Scandal: The Drive to Abolish Male and Female (New Jersey, Regnery, 2017), 166.

10. Ashley McGuire, Sex Scandal: The Drive to Abolish Male and Female (New Jersey, Regnery, 2017), 168.

11. Elliot R. Crozat, “Reasoning About Gender” Evangelical Philosophical Society Website (2016), 5.

12. For more on the general issue of grounding human rights see John Warwick Montgomery, Human Rights and Human Dignity (Dallas,Texas: Probe Books, 1986 and Paul Copan, “Grounding Human Rights: Naturalism’s Failure and Biblical Theism’s Success” in Legitimizing Human Rights: Secular and Religious Perspectives (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2013)—Online: http://www.paulcopan.com/articles/pdf/Paul_Copan-Grounding_Human_Rights_in_Menuge_2013.pdf.

13. Ryan T. Anderson, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment (New York: Encounter Books, 2018), 121.

14. Ryan T. Anderson, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment (New York: Encounter Books, 2018), 121.

15. Michelle A. Cretella, “Gender Dysphoria in Children and Suppression of Debate” Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons vol. 21, no. 2 (Summer 2016), 51.  Online: http://www.jpands.org/vol21no2/cretella.pdf.

16. Michelle A. Cretella, “Gender Dysphoria in Children and Suppression of Debate” Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons vol. 21, no. 2 (Summer 2016), 51. 

17. Ryan T. Anderson, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment (New York: Encounter Books, 2018), 128.  Anderson is relying on the research of Paul W. Hruz, Lawrence B. Mayer, and Paul R. McHugh, “Growing Pains: The Problems with Puberty Suppression in Treating Gender Dysphoria,” New Atlantis 52 (Spring 2017)—online: https://www.thenewatlantis.com/docLib/20170619_TNA52HruzMayerMcHugh.pdf.

18. Michelle A. Cretella, “Gender Dysphoria in Children and Suppression of Debate” Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons vol. 21, no. 2 (Summer 2016), 53.

19. Michelle A. Cretella, “Gender Dysphoria in Children and Suppression of Debate” Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons vol. 21, no. 2 (Summer 2016), 53.

20. Nancy R. Pearcey, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions About Life and Sexuality (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2018), 30.


21. Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There [1968] as contained in Francis A. Schaeffer Trilogy (Westchester, Ill.: Crossway, 1990), 132.