On Gender Occasionalism

A story from Canada has started making the rounds on Twitter, featuring a family from Canada and their new child, but this particular story features a legal twist: the child has been granted a genderless government health card at the behest of the parents.

The parents’ clearly-stated goal is relatively simple: avoid any and all gender assignment until the child decides if he or she is a he or she, or something else.  That the government granted their wish to avoid such assignment is a bit newsworthy.  Legal descriptions have often been a point of contention for trans individuals and trans activists, so this really is something of a victory to the transgender community.

But the story raises some questions, and in my estimation, the whole endeavor rests upon some metaphysics that may not look so brave or trendy if given closer attention.

The first question: What’s so bad about assigning sex or gender at birth?  Is there something wrong with learning (accurately, in almost all cases) the sex of a child and raising that child in that gender role?   If the child is a boy, is it wrong to raise the child as a boy?  Is there something intrinsically wrong with raising the child as a boy to like masculine things?  The parents have all but taken a belt sander to any indication of the child’s biological sex, short of taking a belt sander to the kid.  Is being identified as a boy or girl really so bad?  If so, why?  As barbara findlay (a lawyer working with the family) says in the article,

“The assignment of sex in this culture is done when a medical person lifts up the legs and looks at the baby’s genitals. But we know that the baby’s own gender identity will not develop for some years until after they’re born.”

Am I to believe that a doctor or nurse–who goes to a great deal of time, trouble, and expense to learn medicine and biology–cannot identify a boy or girl upon sight at birth enough of the time to suggest that common sense is right?

Sure, the parents could be wrong about their child’s gender identity, as could any parents.  But it’s not out of malice to raise a child according to a gender role, and surely it’s not impossible to convey (for the same of the argument) that the parents did what they thought was in the best interest of the child, that the child would be amiss to hold that against them?  Right?

Question two: Why enforce a sort of gender agnosticism on everyone else? Why not apply a “true for you but not for me” rule and get on with life, if it works just fine for the rest of a person’s worldview?  Granting for 1) the sake of the argument, and 2) decency, that persons come to the conclusion that their bodies and minds are in a state of fundamental disagreement, does it necessarily follow that because this happens to a fraction of people that this uncertainty should be applied to everyone?  The child is unlikely to break the gender stereotype he or she was born with.  Possible, perhaps, and with the culture at large changing its views on gender roles, a decent bit more likely; but not necessarily because of an internal sense. If it is acceptable to redraw the lines, then they will get redrawn more often.  The idea that “no one should tell this child what he or she is” is an implicit, if unintentional, challenge to the idea that other people can have an objective, outside perspective, and that perspective might be right, even if you disagree with it.  It seems like a good way to turn an otherwise good kid into an insufferable snot who balks at all criticism or instruction, simply because he or she has been told too many times that whatever he or she chooses is right, everyone else be damned.  Why not allow for the natural consistency of reason to affect the child’s identity too?

Question three: The parents chose to give birth to their child outside of the Canadian health care system.  Was this done to avoid assigning gender?  If so, this could have turned out badly.  What if something had gone wrong during the delivery?  Surely the parents were not willing to risk life and limb simply to avoid someone saying “Oh, hey, congratulations on your son or daughter?” And it’s not like they had to pay a whole lot extra for a hospital delivery in Canada.

The parents raise some metaphysical (and physical) questions with their response to others:

Doty said the goal is for the child to discover their own gender identity — and so far the decision hasn’t been a problem, even when people ask if the baby is a boy or a girl.

“Often I’ll just say I don’t know yet, or I’m not rushing to apply those types of labels on this kid. Right now they’re just a baby.”

What do you mean, “I don’t know yet?”  Is there nothing more to being a boy or girl than a particular state of mind, that may or may not be consistent from one moment to the next?  Does biology play a purely secondary or even tertiary role in gender?  And if the doctors in all their patriarchical malice get the assigning gender part wrong, who’s to say they don’t get other things wrong too?  Like, say, the ‘baby’ part?  If observation isn’t good enough to establish an empirical source for the child’s biological sex, what other biological traits are we similarly confusing?  If not, why not?

The worldview expressed by the parents and their legal advocates can perhaps be described best as “sexual occasionalism,” and in this case, gender occasionalism.  Occasionalism, the old theological view that there is not a causal link between what we perceive as a cause and an effect (which was adapted to skepticism by Hume to deny miracles), has here been applied to human sexuality, the result being not just the disconnect between the body and the mind (or soul), but the obliteration of any link between the child’s biological being and his or her heretofore undeveloped sense of gender, to the point of an ambiguous (but somewhat masculine) name and ambiguous clothing and a simple, flat-out denial of the knowledge of the physical being of the child, not just a mental state or conclusion.  Gender is treated as a sort of momentary phenomenon, with no necessary link between a person’s gender identity at any given time and either a past or future gender identity, or even that individual’s own biological sex.  This is different from claims of a causal link between biology and sexual identity (e.g., “born that way”), but it is in fact the logical conclusion of transgender philosophy, and the enshrining of ‘uncertainty’ and the abolition of common sense.

To borrow an argument from Etienne Gilson, it is entirely possible that a child could be born with indeterminate sex, and we might not know at first glance if a child is in fact transgender. It does not follow that it is impossible to know the sex of any child simply because some children grow up and change their minds about their gender identity.  That is sophistry, and basing a person’s identity wholly upon a mental state is the wrong place to start to answer the question of sex and gender, but this particular sophistry is the foundation of transgender metaphysics.  Humans are a composite of body and soul, or body and mind; material and immaterial; but if we start in the mind, we will not get out of the mind, and I am not sure that this child or his parents will be able to get out of this child’s mind now that they’ve gotten there and are actively obscuring the ways out.

Bill Nye Fails at Bioethics

Or, “Bill Nye Ignores Most Pro-Life Scholarship, ‘Science, Bitch’ Crowd Roars in Approval”

So Bill Nye’s new video is making the rounds on Facebook and the internet, in which he DEVASTATES the anti-abortion movement’s unscientific, backward, intolerant, and malicious move to force women to carry every child ever to term, especially if it’s against her will.  Yeah, not so much

With science!   Continue reading

Quick thoughts on Planned Parenthood’s new scandal

So Planned Parenthood is in some really hot water because they got caught explaining how they sell organs from abortions performed at PP facilities.  It turns out evil likes red wine with salad.

The biology of the matter is simply damning for the abortion-choice case.  The “it’s just tissue or clumps of cells” line dies a prompt death when it’s possible to specify particular organs far below 20 weeks of pregnancy.  That tissue has to be alive, which infers that the being that it came from was a living, organized whole that is literally dis-organized–in both senses of the term–for profit.  The essential humanity of the unborn is cast in stark relief because of this practice.

One comment that was food for thought was the question of consent.  Do mothers consent to have the remains of the fetus used in medical research?  Is this on the forms?  If not, why not?  Who would knowingly do such a thing?  And who would willingly try to claim that even though the unborn is a human being that has been dissected for research, that doing so is morally acceptable because they are just at that stage of development?

Planned Parenthood also released a small statement attempting to defend this barbaric practice.  I am sure it sounded better in the original German.  Unsurprisingly they pulled a card from the defenders of embryonic stem cell research, claiming that it is used to create cures and treatments.  News flash: it is still wrong, even if used towards good ends.

During the trial of Kermit Gosnell, PP spent quite a lot of time trying to explain how Gosnell’s practice was separate from PP and their own clinics were held to better standards.  It would seem that the difference between PP’s highest echelons of leadership and Gosnell is that Gosnell kept his own collection of aborted fetuses while Planned Parenthood sold them.  It has been suggested that this is their Gosnell moment and that might well be the case.

The media is silent.  When they do decide to talk about it, they will frame it as an unfair attack on Planned Parenthood.  Those evil Bible-thumping theocrats won’t let them sell aborted livers and hearts and heads for research!

That silence is deplorable since the sale of body parts described both in the video and the statement is patently illegal, and the Senior Director admitted that they were trying to keep the lawyers mostly out of the loop and make it otherwise covert.  I wonder why?  As if we didn’t have enough reasons to consider Planned parenthood a criminal organization, we have another huge reason to consider them one.

I still don’t think I approve of using hidden video for things like this.  I think they weaken (to an extent) the overall moral case of those who engage in it.  Nevertheless it does not affect the case against abortion…and certainly not selling fetal organs.

About that media silence: I cannot help but feel like we have morphed into some sort of cultural Stalinism.  The media has, by and large, become the new Pravda, and their power to declare truths has gotten us to the point where Planned Parenthood can sell aborted fetal remains and it’s only controversial because other people got the word out.  The possibility of truth, it seems, has all but died in American culture, and even if the media parrots some giant lie, people grumble, admit it’s a lie, but they are not challenged.  And so it continues.

Perry Noble’s ignorant, snide comments don’t look so loving now, do they?  I wonder if he considers Planned Parenthood more loving than Christians after this?

On what people want Christians to hear

The scene: some church, some Sunday morning

*Ray slips in the back door, picks a seat towards the middle*

Pastor: Now, according to a few passages in the the Bible, homosexuality is a sin.

Couple of older males in the audience: Amen!

Pastor: Now, wait, I’m not finished.  You know what else the Bible defines as a sin?  Divorce.

*uncomfortable silence*Try this in my church, see what happens

Pastor: There are countless passages that talk about how divorce is wrong, and that there are consequences to getting a divorce, such as the wife should be stoned.  Yet, I witnessed a divorce just this morning.  And I gotta tell you, it was heartbreaking, but I definitely didn’t attempt to throw rocks at the wife, even though she was the one who filed for divorce.

*Ray raises his hand*  Pastor Redbum?

Pastor: What the—who was that?  Who called me Pastor ‘Redbum?’ Continue reading

PBS, After Tiller, and unpleasant conclusions

No small ruckus has been raised among the pro-life community over PBS’ decision to air the documentary After Tiller on Labor Day.  They have already faced resistance to their decision and have stood by it.

Others, such as Matt Walsh, have argued against the wisdom of airing a deeply controversial film on a network that accepts grants from the federal government that uses taxpayer money.  There is some wisdom in this critique, since an awful lot of Americans might have misgivings about their tax dollars funding the airing of something they deeply disagree with.  Personally, I am inclined to say that PBS’ TV schedule is their own prerogative.  But since they felt resistance to airing After Tiller, they thoughtfully put out a twenty-nine-page guide and discussion booklet about the film for use by groups that choose to air the film themselves.

Except the reasons they give for allowing third-trimester abortions put them on a collision course with some profoundly controversial conclusions espoused by some abortion-choice proponents.

Continue reading

A Modest Proposal

Call it an epiphany, if you will.  A triumphant solution to the issue of abortion!

Since abortion pits the present against the future, our generation versus those unborn, we should start by giving the future a voice in our present politics.

“Even if we can’t know what future citizens will actually value and believe in, we can still consider their interests, on the reasonable assumption that they will somewhat resemble our own (everybody rationally desires to live, for example).”  Since “our ethical values point one way, towards intergenerational responsibility, but our political system points another, towards the short-term horizon of the next election,” we  “should consider introducing agents who can vote in a far-seeing and impartial way.”

Wells suggests creating a public “trusteeship” of nongovernmental civic and charitable foundations, pro-life groups and nonpartisan think tanks “and give them each equal shares of a block of votes adding up to, say, 10 percent of the electorate,” so they can represent issues like “not being torn limb from limb” and “respecting essential human nature” for the unborn generation that will be deeply impacted but has no vote.

Just kidding.  Someone else came up with it already, except about the environment and not abortion.

But let’s treat it like a thought experiment–and what an experiment it is!  Think of it: a coalition, given the power of 10% of the vote, for the issues that they are concerned with most!  A very large percentage of major elections are won with less than a margin of ten percent; many minor ones fit the bill too.

It would undoubtedly allow for most current abortion law to be swept back to pre-Roe, technologically and scientifically updated, with legal wording that recognizes the human rights of the unborn.

What’s that, you say?  The unborn might not grow up to be pro-life?

Thankfully for us, this proposal addresses that already.  Instead of addressing what views they may have when they reach maturity, it acts in their interest.  That’s what the proposal allows: and if their interest is strong enough to give them a political voice, then their interest is strong enough to allow them to…survive fetal development.

What’s that, you say?  It places undue burden on women?  It doesn’t seem that big of a deal to the esteemed philosopher who thinks that we can burden all of society in the interests of the unborn; would it really be a stretch to burden* society in a lesser way, especially if systems existed to help pregnant women and mothers?  After all, it is in our best interest, and that of the unborn as well.  The philosopher quoted above was kind enough to explain that the conflict of a current lifestyle cannot be rightly pitted against the interest of future generations, which happens to be a decent point as far as it goes.  This author finds it absurdly amusing that it was applied to environmentalism.

I’m sorry?  “That’s completely undemocratic, and is a slap in the face of the idea of self-government?”  Well, this author would have to agree with you on the ‘undemocratic’ thing, and the “We know what’s best for you” thing rubs most everyone that disagrees with it (no matter what that is) the wrong way.

But it all strikes this author as fantastical.  By all means, the environment requires good stewardship; and we do need to think about the future; but if we’re going to use some very important terms in dealing with the unborn, let’s at least see where else that rhetoric and reasoning goes.

And this author suspects that most people who would agree with Wells would probably be able to turn coal into diamonds with their butt cheeks at the thought of using their language to extend the same environmental interests to matters of abortion.

*’Burden’ is loaded language, but I’m using it here since it’s the common (and uncritically accepted) rhetoric.

(Edited to remove incorrect nationality for Wells.  The author regrets the error.)

Perry Noble forgets the words of Jesus

There’s a bee in Perry Noble’s bonnet.

Yesterday he ranted about the effort to boycott the sale of Girl Scout cookies due to their relationship with Planned Parenthood over the latter’s propensity to kill an awful lot of human beings every year.

But what is Noble actually saying?

Some are actually arguing (as mentioned in the title) that if I buy a box of Girl Scout cookies then I am basically murdering unborn babies…because the Girl Scouts supposedly give money to Planned Parenthood, a pro-choice group.

The insanity of that argument is unreal!

But is this insane?  Of course not.  Noble addresses none of the pile of evidence of the cozy relationship between the GSUSA and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

I have mixed feelings about boycotts: sometimes they are appropriate and other times they are not.  In this particular case, the moral severity of abortion–and funding it through an organization for young women that are then the available target audience for their…services…and then obscures the nature and scope of that relationship to the public, then yes, a boycott is most certainly warranted.

But to address Noble’s other point about the insanity of boycotting the Girl Scouts, let’s ask a question.  If it is insane to forgo tasty cookies because they are used to fund an organization that is rather friendly with an abortion provider, what happens to the money when we do not forgo them?  Planned Parenthood will get more funds. Noble seems to think that he’s making a good argument in suggesting that we’d have to make decisions about who makes everything.  To which I say: What seems to be the problem?  As has already been said, we already do this and it’s a good thing to do.  But it doesn’t mean that we have to become the hermits Noble seems to think we’d have to become because not all causes are as clearly immoral as abortion.  Some are a matter of tolerance.  Noble makes no distinction in his ham-handed argument.

Noble then goes into theological territory and makes some terribly egregious mistakes.  So why did I say in the title that Noble forgets the words of Jesus when he quotes Jesus?

Noble references John 3:17, but misquotes it to serve his argument.  What did Jesus mean when he said he did not come into the world to condemn it?

Noble then goes on to lambaste pro-lifers for their treatment of women who have had abortions:

We don’t know each and every story that goes along with why a woman chose to have an abortion, but, I have spoken with several ladies in my church who have had to deal with the fact they chose to abort a child.  They were all very scared at the time, fear consumed them and many of them were driven to the abortion clinic by their parents with no choice but to go through with the abortion.

Which makes me wonder.  Has Perry Noble really spent a lot of time around pro-lifers?  I have seen many pro-lifers who have stood patiently and quietly outside of abortion clinics to pray: are they guilty of the iniquity Noble accuses all pro-lifers of?  What about the women–many post-abortive themselves–who plead with women going into clinics not to abort?  Are they also guilty of Noble’s accusation of insensitivity?

Noble then launches into his piece de resistance:

It really is sad when Planned Parenthood and The Girl Scouts are actually acting more Christ like than many of the people who are taking aim at them through this boycott!

Well then.

That’s why I said that Noble has forgotten the words of Jesus.

” Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.”–John 7:24

What does it mean to be like Christ?  Simply being nice?  Being understanding?  Listening?  Are those the hallmarks of Christlikeness?  Or rather:

 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”–Matthew 7:9-11

It is to Noble’s grievous discredit that he mistakes the composure of those who kill the unborn for Christlikeness.  Anyone can be nice if they think they’re doing the right thing in helping others through hard times, but that nicety is not evidence of Christlikeness.  It is false virtue to appear loving in the commission of a grave moral evil.  How did that fact escape Noble?

The difference is the understanding of love.  Love is looking out for the best interests of another.  Sometimes that means graciously telling an uncomfortable truth.  Sometimes it means warning people of the evil committed at an abortion clinic.  It is by no means loving to graciously commit evil.  In this, Noble has failed to heed the rebuke of Jesus to make a right judgment, one not based on mere appearances.  Are there really evil pro-life people out there?  Yes, and they need to repent.  Noble is right to criticize those who simply tell others they are murderers, but very few of even them would not be kind in face-to-face, one-on-one meetings with those who consider or who have had abortions.  And Noble doesn’t seem to realize that most of what he terms “hate” may in fact have certain theological underpinnings in certain forms of Presuppositional apologetics.  But he fails to realize that the pro-life movement is more diverse than what he seems to think it is.

On a more practical level, Noble can be answered by summarizing his own arguments.  Where does he draw the “condemnation” line of what counts and what doesn’t?  Is the statement “abortion is wrong” a bad thing for Christians to say?  If the unborn are human, and this can be ascertained with science and philosophy apart from the Gospel, then why not seek to outlaw the destruction of the unborn for any reason?  He speaks of ministering to those who have had abortions, but is this the only permissible way to deal with the issue?   More troubling is that his arguments are not new; they are, in fact, common pro-abortion arguments.  His line about how we don’t know the story of every woman who has an abortion is most often followed by the phrase “Therefore we should not judge them for having abortions.”  How would Noble respond to such a common argument?  What logically follows from the presence of unkind pro-lifers?  I’ve seen them, and they do the movement much harm.  But what follows?  That we should not say that abortion should be outlawed?  He says that he wishes we did not live in a world where so many abortions take place, but this too is common pro-choice rhetoric: safe, legal, and rare is the usual form it takes.  What are we to make when the same line gets used by different sides?  Moreover, how would he respond to Biblical arguments in favor of abortion made by those from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice?  In his haste to hypocritically malign Christians, he parrots more than a few pro-choice arguments.  Unfortunately he ends on a terrible note: by saying that adoption is a “far better” option than abortion, he blunts the moral force of his opposition to it.  If abortion is the unjust taking of a human life, then it is not one option among many.  Morally impermissible acts are not options when the choice is between a morally brave, even heroic, act and one that is evil.  The entire crux of the pro-choice argument rests on abortion being worse than the other options, even much worse, but that it should be an option by virtue of the complex moral difficulty facing the women who have to choose.

To which I say: considering this wording, and the line about legislation having little impact (which is by no means the case), this is essentially a pro-choice argument with a few scattered, neutered, and ambiguously used pro-life platitudes.

He then careens across the philosophical divide to make a few very bad common pro-life arguments, namely that legislation won’t fix it and that it will take a conversion to change minds about the issue.  But this too is sloppy: it is not a theological position that the unborn are unique human beings worthy of human rights.  It can be concluded based on uncontroversial science and ethical conclusions that he himself appeals to in his own post!  Ironically, Noble is using the exact same reasoning that he accuses pro-lifers of: some who use harsh words and means to demean those who have abortions also believe that only conversion can change the entire issue for good.

Noble then says most Christians treat abortion as a “sin category” (scare quotes included) and that they don’t understand how justification works.  Of course abortion is not the unforgivable sin: and Christopher Kaczor makes this point eloquently in the beginning of his book The Ethics of Abortion.  We need not condemn individual women for seeking to better their situations, but that does not mean that all solutions are morally equivalent, and the law needs to take that into account.  But this is offered without a shred of supporting evidence and in fact parrots the typical slander against pro-lifers.  Again: I would submit that had Noble spent a fair amount of time around pro-lifers, say the 40 Days for Life crowd, he would see that he has untruthfully slandered fellow believers.   Thus he is actually quite guilty of the thoughtless judgment he accuses others of.

But suppose we visit another era, the Antebellum South.  Let us suppose that there are a group of kind slave-owners who are being boycotted by a mix of kind and unkind abolitionists, replete with boycotts and protest signs.

Which of the two is Christ-like?

And that is the answer to Noble’s pronouncement.

And let us further suppose that there is another person who opposes slavery who says that legislation cannot help it, and that it will take a conversion of the heart for someone to realize that it’s wrong, and that there are far better options than slavery but there are many highly charged emotional factors that can go into the choice to keep slaves.

Compared to the above-mentioned abolitionists, which of the two is more Christ-like?

Let us further suppose that the abolitionists win and the slaves are freed.  Let us ask these abolitionists, then,  Noble’s question of “What did you win?  You have not made a difference!”

And that is also the answer to Noble’s failed rhetorical flourish.

When the choice is between “eating cookies that fund the killing of unborn humans” and not, there is no dilemma.