Friday, September 5, 2008

Will the Real Creationist Please Stand Up

The debate continues. Was God an intelligent designer or did the universe fall into place at random? Should we teach creationism or Darwin or both? Must we choose between science and superstition, between enlightened reason or mindless faith?

Of course, most people know that God and science are not contradictory. While you can always find a backwoods preacher who will tell you that the world was literally created in seven days and that Lot's wife was literally turned into salt, no serious person would say that the Bible should be taken as scientific fact.

Does this mean that we should scrap God and become atheists? Or, as the politically correct crowd might say: Is God a social construct?

Before rushing off to embrace atheism-- the latest intellectual fad-- consider a line of reasoning offered by Jacques Lacan a few decades ago. It may not have been original, but it is compelling.

Four hundred or so years ago Johannes Kepler worked out the law that determined planetary orbits. Of course, he did not think that he had proven that God did not exist. Quite the contrary, he thought that he had gained an insight into God's mind.

If the planets were-- obviously-- obeying this law before Kepler discovered it, where had the law been before that time. If it is reasonable to think that the law existed before any humans wrote it down, is it also reasonable to say that a mind was thinking it? If so, what kind of mind? Clearly, it was not a human mind.

The same can be said for any scientific laws, including the laws of evolution. Thus, many have stated that there is no inherent contradiction between physical laws and metaphysical minds. But metaphysics is not the same as physics, and has no real place in a science course.

That is not the issue. Lurking in the wings of this debate is the following problem. Do the enlightened masses who have brandished the truths of science to smite the demons of creationism and intelligent design really believe in science? Would they throw out one of their politically correct prejudices if science proved it was not true.

Several years ago Harvard president Lawrence Summers made a few remarks about the biology of gender differences, some of which derive from Darwin.

As you recall, he was instantly attacked for having committed blasphemy. He was eventually run out of office on a rail. We all remember the furor. Did it sound like a rational, enlightened debate or a witch hunt?

Many of those who are fighting to exclude creationism from 10th grade biology-- position I would support-- believe that gender is a social construct, that sexual roles are a social construct, and that fatherhood and motherhood are socially constructed. Some of them also believe that all science, from physics to chemistry to geology, is one large social construct.

For social construct, read: creation. They really believe that the socio-sexual whirl was created by design. They believe that gender roles were designed intentionally by dominant males in order to serve the interests of an entrenched patriarchy. Some believe that the purpose was to repress human libido and oppress women.

This is a creationist view. Instead of God creating human beings, the politically correct crowd proposes that a trans-historical patriarchy did the dirty deed. They object to this design because they consider it to be unintelligent.

This creationist view has previously led to a re-creationist vision. If a criminal conspiracy created human nature to serve someone's will-to-power, then it should be possible to re-create human nature, the better to liberate the impulses that patriarchy has oppressed. Manifestations of this new human being are the Nietzschean Superman and the New Socialist Man.

You cannot hold fast to these beliefs and tout the virtues of Darwin. Among the better known aspects of Darwin's theory is the notion that sexual selection is based on a reproductive calculus. People are hard-wired to seek out sexual partners who will aid in the successful reproduction of the species.

This theory-- call it a scientific fact-- does not jibe with the notion that gender roles are social constructs or social creations. Nor does it jibe with Freud's Oedipal theory that everyone's true desire is to copulate with his or her mother. Nor does it jibe with the notion that sex is fundamentally about obtaining pleasure and that it does not much matter how, when, where, and with whom you go about it.

If you believe that the species is hard-wired to reproduce itself, then any theory that tries to explain sex by saying that human beings are merely seeking pleasure.. is unscientific. Call it neo-creationist dogma, if you like.


Anonymous said...

I'm not for or against "gender as a social construct" - most people would accept it's a bit of both as this is really just an example of the old nature/nurture debate. But I disagree that the arguments for biological evolution and gender as construct cannot coexist. Humans evolved biologically, but Christmas and University and marriage are all social constructs. "Class" is a social construct. I don't think anyone much disagrees with this.

What even the most extremist gender construct folks are saying is no different. Humans evolved into biologically different beings, but (they argue) they are not a psychologically and behaviorally determined to be different as we believe. That part (like Christmas and prom) is a social construct.

I haven't really seen that version around much since the late 80s though - seems like the pendulum has been toward the focus on differences for a good while now.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

People who believe that gender is a social construct tend to believe that nearly all human behavior is culturally determined.

The alternative would be Darwinian explanations of human behavior, explanations that give far more importance to biology.

Obviously, both nature and culture have a role, but they must be in some kind of harmony. If you say, as I discussed in another post, that if men are generally stronger than women, it's a social construct, and that it will be changed once we see enough television shows where women police officers subdue male criminals... then the social construct side has veered too far away from nature.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you that those who actually say "gender is a social construct" tend to cultural influences as dominant in human behavior, though I think most would not class physical strength as a behavior. I was at college in the 1980s when this type of theory was popular, yet never heard anyone express belief that watching females subdue larger and stronger males would make that a reality.

While I support strong questioning of ideologically based positions in science, I think we should be careful to fairly represent their arguments. If you actually have seen this argument made, though, I would get a good laugh out of it I suspect would most "gender constructionists" would too.