Bill Nye, Progressive Science, and the Threat of Nature

Over the last couple of days, I’ve seen a number of people sharing clips from episode 9 of Bill Nye’s new Netflix show, Bill Nye Saves the World. The videos in question were of two segments of the show. In the first, Rachel Bloom of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend sings and raps rather discordantly about not ‘boxing in’ her ‘sex junk’. She tells people to get off their ‘soapbox’, declaring ‘sex how you want: it’s your goddamn right!’

In the other video from the show, much the same message—that there are ‘lots of flavours to sexuality’—is communicated using anthropomorphized ice creams. Vanilla starts a group for ice cream conversion therapy, declaring that, as vanilla, he feels that he is ‘the most natural of the ice creams’ and that to ‘get right with the big ice cream in the sky,’ the others should change their flavour by wishing to be vanilla. The many other ice creams protest, declaring that his position has no basis in science and that their other flavours and combinations of flavours are wonderful and neither can nor should be changed. Vanilla is shaken in his convictions, suddenly succumbs to temptation and licks one of the other ice creams. The segment ends with all of the ice creams licking each other and jumping into a bowl together.

Curious about whether the episode really was as terrible as these segments suggested, I watched it on Netflix last night and was disappointed to find that it was even worse than I had feared. It was one incredibly preachy segment after another about the ‘spectrum’ of sex, gender, sexuality, and gender presentation. There was a study of androgynous performers in K-Pop overturning conservative Korean gender roles. There was a panel of ‘experts’ on the subject: a gay comedian, a professor of gender and sexuality studies, and a cultural anthropologist. They talked about the social construction of the concept of sexuality and one’s right to identify as you want. The gender and sexuality studies professor shared a story of a woman mistaking his one-year-old son for a girl in the grocery store and later apologizing when she discovered her mistake: ‘I didn’t know he was a boy, I’m so sorry!’ The professor responded, ‘I don’t know that he’s a boy either!’

The most telling feature of the whole show? Reproduction was never once mentioned.

Despite the many claims to be presenting the ‘science’ of sexuality and that opposing viewpoints had no basis whatsoever in science, at no point did the show mention the great elephant in the room. Apparently we can make sense of the human sexes, and human sexuality, gender, and sexual relations without once needing to make any reference to the reality of reproduction. The realm of sexuality is simply one of radical natural diversity, with no apparent natural cause, end, order, or purpose.

The omission of reproduction from the discussion of the realm of sexuality and gender is not accidental. Reproduction is the very last fact that a progressive-friendly show would want to admit; it is the spanner in the works of the progressive vision of sexuality. The fact of reproduction reveals that not all sexualities and identities are ambivalent or equivalent in their significance on the biological level. Men are overwhelmingly gynephiles (persons attracted to women) who are at home in their own bodies and who have predictable forms of gender expression for a reason, and that reason is a biologically rooted one. Human beings have sex for a reason and that reason is a biologically rooted one. Indeed, sexuality, gender expression and identity, sex, and gender all exist for reason and that reason is a biologically rooted one. Certain forms of sex have a significance that other forms of sex don’t have for a reason and, once again, that reason is a biologically rooted one.

As a fact, reproduction is essential to unlocking the scientific basis for all of these realities. However, it is a fact that causes deep problems for popular gender and sexuality theories, as it reveals that the realm of sexuality and gender isn’t one of mere ambivalent diversity, but that, at least on the biological level, there are certain orientations and bodies that are ‘natural’ in ways that others are not.

Within the context of the gender and sexuality debates, the word ‘natural’ is highly contested, of course. A central aim of the Nye episode was the argument that gender and sexuality diversity is ‘natural’ and that these things occur on a spectrum. The term ‘natural’ here is being used in a particular sense, as a reference to those things that occur in nature. Yet, this is a fairly weak way of using the term. By the same measure, the number of human digits is on a spectrum from zero to over thirty. It is not more ‘natural’ to have five digits on each hand and foot, just more common.

LGBT activists have long argued against arguments from the natural order, insisting that the fact that something is biologically natural doesn’t settle the question of what is good socially, or what free individuals should be permitted to do. Yet the very telling thing is people implicitly acknowledge the moral force that nature has in the arena of sexuality when, even while opposing conservative appeals to nature, they invert the argument.

The appeal to nature fallacy is the claim that something is good and morally binding because it is natural. The inverse fallacy, the fallacy that is increasingly popular among progressives, insists that, because something is deemed by society to be good, it must be regarded as every bit as natural as anything else. Another related problem that we see today is the outright denial of natural reality on the basis of ideology. For instance, Nicholas Matte, a lecturer in Transgender Studies at the University of Toronto informs us that there is ‘no such thing’ as biological sex. When you encounter such a quantity of bullshit, you can usually tell that there is a herd of sacred cattle nearby.

Those making such arguments may unwittingly be revealing the fact that, despite their greatest attempts to escape it, nature still carries moral force in their thinking. Loudly as they denounce their critics’ use of the concept of nature, they themselves feel the need either to make appeal to it or to attack established positions that certain realities are natural: they obviously believe that nature gives arguments some sort of genuine moral heft. Despite themselves, they feel the need to make weak and tendentious arguments in favour of radical diversity in human gender and sexuality by referring to different sex systems in other species, to the occurrence of sexual activities between animals of the same sex, or to deny the existence of biological sex altogether.

Watching Nye’s show it occurred to me that the reason why we are witnessing so much revisionist science on the subject is because, deep down, people know that nature matters. Direct attempts to control the scientific message around the biology of sexuality, to attack basic biological truths, and systematically to obscure the great orienting fact of reproduction are to be expected. For all of their apparently assured claims that nature has no bearing upon what we ought to do, the increasingly forceful attempts on the part of progressives to control the biological science of sex and sexuality betray a very different reality. They cannot let nature alone, because nature will not let them alone.

Progressivism has an essentially antagonistic relationship with nature and this antagonism is expressed on a great many fronts. The gender theories of figures such as Judith Butler dissemble any natural reality behind societal structures of power. Nature is denied: both gender and sex are merely stubborn social constructs, with no rootedness in a deeper reality. The fact that men and women are fairly instantly recognizable in their appearance, behaviour, and reproductive activity in cultures around the world and across human history is an inconvenient fact that lies largely ignored. Despite the many variations in the specific forms it takes, a gender distinction between men and women is a human universal. Yet it is denied that what we are seeing is customary and conventional expressions of male and female nature: all of this is merely a social construct.

For those progressives who cannot so easily deny nature’s existence, nature is directly attacked or circumvented. The feminist emancipation of women has been based in no small measure upon a contraceptive war against the natural functioning of women’s bodies. Women cannot achieve equality to men as long as their bodies function as women’s bodies naturally do. Through the radical normalization of contraception we have created a society where artificial sterility is increasingly rendered women’s default mode. Feminists such as Shulamith Firestone, the recent Xenofeminist movement, and various forms of biotransfeminism extend this logic, seeking to overcome the biological imprisoning of women through the pursuit of developments such as the artificial womb and genetic interventions. The fundamental basis of women’s oppression is nature and nature must be conquered by human power.

The circumvention of nature is also pursued. IVF and surrogacy enable two fathers to have a baby. Within the next decade or so, we should expect to see reproductive science enabling such fathers to form eggs from the skin cells of one of them, so that they can have a baby of their own. The natural restriction of reproductive potential to male and female couples represents an injustice that must be rectified by science. Progressivism has a transhumanist logic at its heart—an antagonism to nature—and is only just waiting for the science to catch up.

The war against nature and the knowledge of nature will only become fiercer in the years to come. In our day, progressivism is a force that is fundamentally opposed to nature, not merely ambivalent or indifferent to it. Progressivism is founded in no small measure upon denying the core anthropological truth that humanity is male and female. That humanity is male and female is a truth from which social order (the bodily union of husband and wife being the seed of the family and the societal structure that provides the basis for), human time (the movement from generation to generation through the gift of bodies), social polarity (in two forms of humanity who are situated differently within the life of the species), and the nature of the self all derive. The knowledge of nature and its power must either be actively ideologically suppressed or technologically subdued in accordance with the definition of humanity as indifferently different autonomous individuals, irrespective of their sex, with choice and will being all important. People cannot simply ignore nature’s witness, because they cannot escape it.

This episode of Nye’s show is just one more straw in the wind, just another indication of our society’s struggle against nature and the knowledge of it. Reading Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option recently reminded me of Václav Havel’s famous essay, The Power of the Powerless, within which Havel speaks of the oppressive society which exerts control through ideology. In an especially powerful passage, he describes a greengrocer, who displays a sign reading “Workers of the world, unite!” in his store. It is worth quoting at length:

Why does he do it? What is he trying to communicate to the world? Is he genuinely enthusiastic about the idea of unity among the workers of the world? Is his enthusiasm so great that he feels an irrepressible impulse to acquaint the public with his ideals? Has he really given more than a moment’s thought to how such a unification might occur and what it would mean?

I think it can safely be assumed that the overwhelming majority of shopkeepers never think about the slogans they put in their windows, nor do they use them to express their real opinions. That poster was delivered to our greengrocer from the enterprise headquarters along with the onions and carrots. He put them all into the window simply because it has been done that way for years, because everyone does it, and because that is the way it has to be. If he were to refuse, there could be trouble. He could be reproached for not having the proper decoration in his window; someone might even accuse him of disloyalty. He does it because these things must be done if one is to get along in life. It is one of the thousands of details that guarantee him a relatively tranquil life “in harmony with society,” as they say.

Obviously the greengrocer is indifferent to the semantic content of the slogan on exhibit; he does not put the slogan in his window from any personal desire to acquaint the public with the ideal it expresses. This, of course, does not mean that his action has no motive or significance at all, or that the slogan communicates nothing to anyone. The slogan is really a sign, and as such it contains a subliminal but very definite message. Verbally, it might be expressed this way: “I, the greengrocer XY, live here and I know what I must do. I behave in the manner expected of me. I can be depended upon and am beyond reproach. I am obedient and therefore I have the right to be left in peace.” This message, of course, has an addressee: it is directed above, to the greengrocer’s superior, and at the same time it is a shield that protects the greengrocer from potential informers. The slogan’s real meaning, therefore, is rooted firmly in the greengrocer’s existence. It reflects his vital interests. But what are those vital interests?

Let us take note: if the greengrocer had been instructed to display the slogan “I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient,” he would not be nearly as indifferent to its semantics, even though the statement would reflect the truth. The greengrocer would be embarrassed and ashamed to put such an unequivocal statement of his own degradation in the shop window, and quite naturally so, for he is a human being and thus has a sense of his own dignity. To overcome this complication, his expression of loyalty must take the form of a sign which, at least on its textual surface, indicates a level of disinterested conviction. It must allow the greengrocer to say, “What’s wrong with the workers of the world uniting?” Thus the sign helps the greengrocer to conceal from himself the low foundations of his obedience, at the same time concealing the low foundations of power. It hides them behind the facade of something high. And that something is ideology.

Ideology is a specious way of relating to the world. It offers human beings the illusion of an identity, of dignity, and of morality while making it easier for them to part with them. As the repository of something suprapersonal and objective, it enables people to deceive their conscience and conceal their true position and their inglorious modus vivendi, both from the world and from themselves. It is a very pragmatic but, at the same time, an apparently dignified way of legitimizing what is above, below, and on either side. It is directed toward people and toward God. It is a veil behind which human beings can hide their own fallen existence, their trivialization, and their adaptation to the status quo. It is an excuse that everyone can use, from the greengrocer, who conceals his fear of losing his job behind an alleged interest in the unification of the workers of the world, to the highest functionary, whose interest in staying in power can be cloaked in phrases about service to the working class. The primary excusatory function of ideology, therefore, is to provide people, both as victims and pillars of the post-totalitarian system, with the illusion that the system is in harmony with the human order and the order of the universe.

We should be under no illusions: such ideologies exist in our day and age and we are increasingly seeing even scientists falling in line with them. Their slogans are no longer those of the old communist ideologies, but new ones that declare that ‘sexuality is a spectrum’, ‘gender is merely a social construct’, or ‘your sex is what you believe yourself to be.’

Havel points out that people don’t have to believe the ideology, just cooperate with it. He writes:

Individuals need not believe all these mystifications, but they must behave as though they did, or they must at least tolerate them in silence, or get along well with those who work with them. For this reason, however, they must live within a lie. They need not accept the lie. It is enough for them to have accepted their life with it and in it. For by this very fact, individuals confirm the system, fulfill the system, make the system, are the system.

We are increasingly facing the choice to be people of the truth, or those who take up craven residence in the lie. Do we have the courage to live as people of the truth, if it means that we will be ostracized from polite society for our hateful beliefs? Will we hold our tongues in cowardice or parrot things that we know to be lies, simply because it allows us to get by? Will today’s scientists show integrity in the face of the lies of a new oppressive ideology, even if this means being left out in the cold, or will they succumb to a new Lysenkoism?

Lest we feel powerless in the face of these cultural forces, we must remind ourselves that both nature and the truth are on our side. Our opponents’ behaviour reveals that there is nothing they fear more.

Posted in Culture, Ethics, Politics, Science, Society | 105 Comments

Podcast: The Benedict Option, with Rod Dreher

Mere FidelityOur last episode of Mere Fidelity for a few months is devoted to a discussion of the book of the hour, The Benedict Optionwith its author, Rod Dreher. We explore the questions of how the Church should relate to society in a post-Christian Western context.

You can also follow the podcast on iTunes, or using this RSS feed. Listen to past episodes on Soundcloud and on this page on my blog.

Posted in Church History, Controversies, Culture, Ethics, My Reading, Podcasts, Politics, Society, The Church, Theological, What I'm Reading | 1 Comment

Podcast: The Resurrection of Politics

 

Mere FidelityOn the latest episode of Mere Fidelity, Derek and Matt are (in my absence) joined by Jake Meador for a discussion of the implications of the resurrection for political theology. I haven’t listened to it yet, but I am sure it is well worth the time.

You can also follow the podcast on iTunes, or using this RSS feed. Listen to past episodes on Soundcloud and on this page on my blog.

If you would like to support the production of Mere Fidelity, we have a Patreon account here.

Posted in NT Theology, Podcasts, Politics, Theological | 1 Comment

Podcast: A Bible Study on Genesis 1 and 2 (part 2)

Mere FidelityOn this week’s episode of Mere Fidelity, we decided to continue the Bible study in the creation narrative of Genesis that we began last week (I’m late to posting this one, as I’ve been without proper Internet connection for the past week).

You can also follow the podcast on iTunes, or using this RSS feed. Listen to past episodes on Soundcloud and on this page on my blog.

If you would like to support the production of Mere Fidelity, we have a Patreon account here.

Posted in Bible, Creation, Genesis, OT, OT Theology, Podcasts, Theological | 5 Comments

Podcast: A Bible Study on Genesis 1

 

Mere FidelityThis week’s episode of Mere Fidelity, at Matt’s suggestion, is a Bible study of Genesis 1. Matt, Derek, and I explore the way creation is framed within Scripture.

You can also follow the podcast on iTunes, or using this RSS feed. Listen to past episodes on Soundcloud and on this page on my blog.

If you would like to support the production of Mere Fidelity, we have a Patreon account here.

Posted in Bible, Creation, Genesis, Hermeneutics, OT, OT Theology, Podcasts, Scripture, Theological | 4 Comments

The Eternal Subordination of the Son Controversy: 10. Concluding Reflections (Part 1)

1. The Debate So Far
2. Survey of Some Relevant Material
3. Subordination
4. The Need for Trinitarian Clarity (Part 1)
5. The Need for Trinitarian Clarity (Part 2)
6. The Tension Between Bible and Doctrine
7. Reconciling Scripture and Dogma
8. κεφαλή in 1 Corinthians 11:3
9. Indivisible Divine Authority in Mutually Defining Relations

The tenth, and penultimate, part of my discussion of the debate concerning the eternal subordination of the Son has just been posted over on Reformation21.

The prominence of the ESS position owes a great deal to a theological preoccupation with the notion of authority and the relations appropriate to it. Authority has long been a prominent category in evangelical thought, not least in debates about the place of Scripture in the Church. However, as a category it has often been attended by many unconsidered assumptions and has also often been at risk of occluding much else. Both the unconsidered assumptions and the narrow preoccupation have implications for conceptions of divine relations, relations between the sexes, and understandings of Scripture’s place in the Church. They represent a constriction of the imagination that often produces damaging and stifling understandings and practices.

For instance, authority is overwhelmingly conceived of both as an authority over and as an authority that exists over against others. Yet there are other ways of conceiving of authority. Authority can be an authority for or involve an authorizing of others. Authority is not a zero sum game in which we are weakened by the authority of another in relation to us. For instance, when speaking about the ‘authority of Scripture’, we may be inclined to think of that authority purely as something exercised over us to which we must be obedient. We may forget that Scripture is a manifestation and exercise of God’s authority for the sake of his saving purpose, a dimension of the ministry of the Father’s Word in the power of his Spirit to redeem and renew humanity and the creation. We can also forget that Scripture is an authorizing word, a word that commissions, empowers, and equips us to be God’s fellow workers. Similar things could be said about gender relations, where so often an emphasis upon the authority of the man has been at the expense of, rather than in service to, the woman.

Read the whole post here.

Posted in Bible, Controversies, Doctrine of God, Guest Post, NT, NT Theology, Sex and Sexuality, The Triune God, Theological | 6 Comments

The Theopolis Podcast on Christian Study Centres

The good folks over at the Theopolis Institute recently produced a podcast with Drew Trotter, the Executive Director of the Consortium of Christian Study Centers. It is well worth a listen.

If you are interested in participating in the life of a study centre, there are still places available on the summer programs at Davenant House. To find out more about the work of Davenant House, you can read this interview with me.

Posted in Christian Experience, Podcasts | 1 Comment