Led Into the Truth Is the Federal Government Now Anti-Science?

Men women bathroom Credit Tony Gonzalez via Flickr CC BY NC ND 20 black and white added CNA 11 4 15

I'm no expert in the scientific method, but I do know a little about philosophy.  I know, for instance, that when I make a deduction here and now that I am relying on previous understandings.  For instance, when I say 1+1=2, I am relying on my previously-grasped knowledge of the concept of addition, the concept of equality, the concept of numeric representation, etc.  Without getting into the epistemological minefield of how we first come to know things as babies, generally speaking, all mature scientific inquiry relies on some pre-existing concept that is already grasped in the mind.

Epicurus (341-270 BC) believed that first principles of knowledge had to be assumed as true in order for the scientific method to work.  Aristotle (384-322 BC) agreed.  He proposed a method of inquiry called the demonstration, which is the origin of the scientific method developed later by Robert Grosseteste (d. 1253) and expanded by Roger Bacon (d. 1292).  According to a demonstration in science, by observation I note a particular phenomenon.  I formulate a hypothesis as to its cause and then do experimentation to determine the repeatability and predictability of my hypothesis.  At some point I arrive at a principle that can be asserted with some certainty.  Then using that principle, I can predict other interactions, which then forms new hypotheses and ultimately brings my principle closer to perfection.  

So, if I note that apples always seem to fall to the ground at the same speed, I can speculate as to a cause (gravity), and I can do experiments to determine the extent of gravity.  Once I have arrived at the principle of gravity, I can predict what will happen in other cases.  My theory might then become more refined (as has theory of gravity through the centuries).  

But all of this thought and work depends on a fundamental and essential concept: the affirmation that there is a correspondence between observation and reality, between what I see in my mind and what exists in the world.

If we do not assert the real correspondence of observation and reality, bizarre outcomes follow.  I can ignore the obvious (there is no pink elephant in my office), or imagine the false (I imagine there is a pink elephant in my office).  Science requires us to assume that there is an objective world that is measurable, categorical, real, and consistent from one observer to the next, assuming all other conditions remain the same.  Otherwise science is mere fantasy.  

If someone is building a bridge, for instance, the structural stability of the bridge is not a matter for subjective opinion: I think it is sturdy, so therefore it is.  My friend thinks it is not, so it is not.  We have a conflict in thought, but the reality is that the bridge either is or is not sturdy, and we can test it.  Reality is not a matter of subjective opinion.  It's reality.  Opinion should conform to reality, not reality to opinion.

Enter the Obama Administration.  Just a couple of days ago, the Department of Education along with the Department of Justice issued a letter directing schools to allow students to use the bathroom of their choice, regardless of their gender.  Let's look at the beginning of the letter when the authors are defining their terms:

Gender identity refers to an individual's internal sense of gender. A person's gender identity may be different from or the same as the person's sex assigned at birth.

Sex assigned at birth refers to the sex designation recorded on an infant's birth certificate should such a record be provided at birth.

Transgender describes those individuals whose gender identity is different from the sex they were assigned at birth. A transgender male is someone who identifies as male but was assigned the sex of female at birth; a transgender female is someone who identifies as female but was assigned the sex of male at birth.

Gender transition refers to the process in which transgender individuals begin asserting the sex that corresponds to their gender identity instead of the sex they were assigned at birth. During gender transition, individuals begin to live and identify as the sex consistent with their gender identity and may dress differently, adopt a new name, and use pronouns consistent with their gender identity. Transgender individuals may undergo gender transition at any stage of their lives, and gender transition can happen swiftly or over a long duration of time.

The first term, gender identity, is clear enough.  The norm in the world seems to be that biological males identify as males and biological females identify as females.  The second term, sex assigned at birth, is more troubling.  There is no indication in these terms that the sex "assigned" at birth is in any way related to reality.  We have already established that for science to work, reality has to be reality aside from my opinion of it.  Someone who is born with XY or XX chromosomes and has male or female genitalia are not "assigned" a sex.  Their body is revealing its sex…and if we believe in the possibility of science, we have to recognize that there is some sort of correspondence between the physical characteristics of sex and someone's actual sex.  

The third term, transgender, seems clear enough.  There is a difference between the biological, scientific, confirmable facts, and someone's opinion of those facts.  The way the definition is written makes it seem as though the person who filled out their birth certificate did some manner of violence to their person by simply noting what nature itself has revealed.

The fourth term, gender transition, is also clear, though it is troubling.  When one moves away from biology and reality towards opinion, which does not make reality but should instead be conformed to it, one moves from a theory which says there is coherence in the world to a theory which says there is no coherence in the world apart from opinion.  This is problematic for science.

Let's consider medicine: should a doctor treat a biological male as a female because the person identifies as a female?  For instance, if a biological female develops ovarian or uterine cancer, can the doctor bring it up?  Should the doctor treat the cancer or ignore it because the patient identifies as a male?  Should drugs be prescribed according to sex or according to gender identity?  I think we would all agree that when it comes to science (like medicine), we want the doctor to note reality and treat reality, not to treat opinion.   

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders fact sheet, while gender dysphoria (the distress one may begin to feel when their sex assigned at birth and their gender identity are in conflict) will remain in the manual in future editions, it will be taken from the Sexual Dysfunction and Paraphilic Disorders section and given its own heading.  This is to preserve the possibility of insurance-funded treatment.  If it was entirely removed as a disorder/dysphoria, treatment would not be covered by insurance.  So there's nothing wrong with it unless you think there's something wrong with it?  How is this science?  How can we say something is normal, but also treatable?  Who knows?  We do know that gender dysphoria remains in the DSM-5.  That is to say: it is mental, not physical.  The problem exists in the mind, not in the body.

There is a nice man who hangs out on a bridge near Georgia Tech.  I see him sometimes as I am walking around.  He believes he is the President of the United States.  While he is homeless, he is always clean and is taken care of by the students pretty well.  We have seen him a few times at community dinners hosted at the Catholic Center.  I can't get inside his head, but I think the man really believes he's the President.  I respect him and love him and actually like encountering him because he is a very upbeat President and has some interesting ideas.  But here's the thing: he's not the President.  The dissociation he experiences in his mind is a problem in his mind.  We don't solve the problem by making him the President; the problem can only be solved by changing his belief, or we can ignore the problem all together.  But if he tries to walk into the White House, no matter how much his mind tells him he is the President, the Secret Service will still shoot him.  Reality matters.

More in Led Into the Truth

One of the most popular barbs used against the Church is that she is anti-science.  I for one would like to stand up for science.  Reality matters; we cannot simply disregard it.  Allowing a student with gender dysphoria to use a bathroom other than the one which would correspond with his or her sex is not in any way helping that student.  At worst, it is making the dysphoria more profound, and at best, it shows that we are just ignoring the problem (because you don't help the guy who thinks he's President by calling him President…that's not helping, it's pandering).

A tendency many of us have in conflict situations is just to try to placate the problem enough that it will go away and we won't have to deal with it.  I fear that this is precisely what is going to happen with those who are transgendered and experience gender dysphoria.  Nothing is changing about the problem in their mind.  They still are biologically one sex and identifying and acting as another, and society is helping them in this dissociation.  What will happen as a result?  No one can really predict, but ignoring reality has a nasty habit of destroying the one doing the ignoring.  

What I fear is that in the social media-fueled emotional rush to attach to some sort of civil rights cause, young people are actually just manifesting a total disregard in any serious way for the well-being of their neighbor.  I worry that the forced accommodation of transgendered people is tantamount to sweeping them under the rug: let us placate you so that you go away and we don't have to consider whether there is anything wrong-with the person, with the society, with the general direction we are headed.  Is all of this transgender fever just indifference masquerading as activism?

I do hope I have not upset too many people in writing this.  This is a very new and fast-moving issue in the public eye.  Even learning how to talk about the issue is difficult.  I don't pretend to have any all-encompassing or brilliant solutions to the problems in the world.  I suspect that the motivation behind the large-scale acquiescence of so many people to the sorts of moves the Department of Education is making is to avoid hurting someone who has already experienced such rejection by society.  I feel the same way-who wants to hurt people?  But we cannot let a fear of hurting someone be confused with love.  I encourage all of the Catholic faithful to think carefully before commenting and to ask if love is the motivation for our actions.  I am certain that love is not the motivation for the action of the letter from the Departments of Education and Justice, because love cannot ignore reality.  

Most of all we need to pray-for everyone involved.  We need to pray that God gives us the understanding, the fortitude, and the patience to love everyone with the love of Christ, a love that meets people where they are and leads them to holiness.

Image credit: Men women bathroom. Tony Gonzalez via Flickr (CC BY NC ND 20) black and white added. 

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