God/Nature isn’t in the gaps

As I’ve grown older and wiser, and sharpened my intellectual criticism and skepticism, I’ve drifted ever closer to full-blown Atheism. I now identify myself as one, with the caveat that if really pressed, I’m much more Agnostic (as in, I believe the existence of God is extremely unlikely, but not entirely impossible). The bottom line is, though, that I’m a Godless Liberal, and semi-proud of it.

I say semi-proud, because there’s a disturbing tendency in Skeptic circles to completely ignore the truth of social awareness movements that draw attention to racism, sexism, and other forms of interlocking institutional privilege. I’m not the only one who’s noticed it.

There’s also a disturbing tendency to be ridiculously enamored of evolutionary psychology and pop science. While Skeptics will quickly jump to dismiss psuedo-intellectual claims that shots cause Autism or that the Bible is the final arbiter of morality, many seem to pick and chose pop science when it suits their purposes.

By “when it suits them”, I mean when it ‘proves’ that they are the superior individuals they think they are, when it confirms that their bad behavior is not their fault, or when it gives them an excuse to avoid skeptically analyzing the station they current enjoy in life.

I could say that I’m surprised that an intellectual movement openly devoted to questioning everything doesn’t feel obligated to own up to the fact that a great many of them refuse to question ongoing prevalent social problems. But I’d be lying, given that I know for a fact that the Skepticism movement, like any other intellectual movement besides the obvious ones (such as feminism, civil rights, gay advocacy, for starters), is led and mostly populated by a slew of economically advantaged white men. And where there is a group of white men pontificating about how their intellectual premises are better than their opponents, there is going to be a veritable truckload of unexamined social premises and advantages. History has taught us that this is inevitable.

What results is that while Skeptics rush in to debunk pop science that demonizes modern science, cosmology, or physics, they aren’t nearly as willing to do so for pop science that ‘proves’ that men are naturally something more than women, or whites are naturally something more than blacks. In fact, quite a few of them will actually go out of their way to parrot studies with even more shoddy methodology than the studies that supposedly show that Western medicine is bad or may cause horrible side effects.

For all the faults of the homeopathic and other cottage industries, at least they can claim that they manage to have better designed methodology than studies, funded by respected universities and conducted by tenured professors, such as the ones that ‘prove’ that women naturally like red more than men because something to do with hunting and cavemen.

So, what does this have to do with Atheism? Actually, an awful lot. A major tactic of Creationists and their ilk, when it comes to defending their faith in a Judeo-Christian God, it that “God is in the Gaps“.

This tactic references the idea that there are certain things in the universe that are currently unexplainable. This could be due to the simple limitation of modern science, or the fact that perhaps human minds will never be complex enough to comprehend the universe in its entirety. Creationists take the stance that some things are unexplainable — probability, the dual properties of light, the mystery of the composition of quarks — are because God is “in” them. They are unexplainable because God is somehow manipulating those factors in a supernatural way that can never be explained by science.

As the Scientific Revolution gained headway, people couldn’t claim that God moved the planets on their inexplicable orbits and kept them in place. Now we had gravity and physics to do that. With each cosmological advance, there is less and less uncertainty and less and less gaps for ‘God’ to wriggle his way into.

The point is that the history of astronomy reveals that cosmological arguments that claim God in is the gaps are always defeated. It’s simply insanity, and pure irrationality, to claim that it’s likely that this time, surely, God is in the quark. Well, he wasn’t in the origin of the Earth, he wasn’t in the origin of the Sun, he wasn’t in the movement of the planets, he wasn’t in the development of life, he wasn’t in the development of geological phenomena, and he wasn’t in the composition of stars. The odds are clearly stacked against God being “in” anything, cosmologically speaking. But that doesn’t stop people from trying to marry cosmology and religion in yet another ill-fated theory that will eventually, no doubt, be proven wrong.

I bring up the idea that “God is in the Gaps” to demonstrate a similar phenomenon. I call it, “Sexism is (Naturally) in the Gaps“.

When women wanted to be considered something other than property, it was decreed that it was the natural way of things to say that women ‘belonged’ to their husbands or fathers, because there was just some natural feature of gender that made the total disenfranchisement of an entire gender necessary. When women fought for the vote, it was lamented that their silly lady brains couldn’t take the strain of political decision-making, and that it was simply the natural way of things to prevent them from voting. When women fought for opportunities to work outside the home, a collective worry rose up to contemplate the inevitable ‘alienation’ of women from their true nature if they moved out of the domestic sphere and into a more economic one. When women ran for high elected offices, many worried that women were naturally unsuited to lead, and that their emotions and passivity would make them inevitably poor leaders. Now, when women demand equal pay for equal work or adequate representation in formerly male-dominated industries and positions, the pay gap and lack of powerful businesswomen is chalked up to our unfortunate inability to think logically, be aggressive enough for a raise, manage employees effectively, and naturally leave the workplace by 40 to soothe the ticking of our biological clocks.

All these explanations propose that the reason women were/are property, can’t vote, shouldn’t work outside the home, can’t be political leaders, and can’t make the same as men and advance as far as them is because we are naturally mentally inferior.

Sexism is in the Gaps theorizes, just as it has for hundreds — if not thousands — of years, that the reason women are collectively oppressed is because it’s just the natural order of things, and everything is really equal, even if separate, because there’s just no helping the natural mental abilities and aptitudes of the sexes.

This isn’t new, and it never was. Every time I see some ridiculously shoddy and poorly designed experiment get circulated as new! shocking! News! that once and for all proves that men and women are just mentally different, because of natural causes (or genetic, take your pick), I roll my eyes hard enough to sprain something. If anyone had half a brain when it came to this nonsense, they could easily see that these ‘studies’ just repeat the same tripe when it comes to differences in achievement between the genders. The message is always the same: the status-quo is good. Men are naturally superior to women in all the ways that society just happens to value. This is surely an extraordinary coincidence in the favor of men. But the implication is clear: feminism is stupid and misguided and possibly dangerous because it seeks to force us all into its wrongful idea of equality. We’re all already equal, and if we are magnanimous enough to admit that women often get the short end of the stick in most exchanges, it’s only because they’re just naturally deficient.

Just as the idea that God is the Gaps has been knocked down time and time again, so has the idea that Sexism is (Naturally) in the Gaps. To honestly point to any current achievement gap between the sexes and blame the ‘natural’ deficiencies of the female brain is completely irrational. And while Skeptics will loudly debunk those who wish to claim that some new poorly comprehended cosmological theory ‘proves’ the existence of God, they hardly ever do the same for poorly designed ‘studies’ (or single anecdotes of one bitchy or stupid woman, or just plain bullshit repeated through the generations) that ‘prove’ that men achieve more than women because they are better.

It all boils down in the end to this: there is always some natural biological or psychological explanation for why men achieve more than women, and it has everything to do with a woman’s natural inferiority and the superiority and honestly earned privileges of men. Bottom line is that bitches ain’t shit.

What’s amazing about this is that pointing out the similar fallacies between Sexism in the Gaps and God is in the Gaps ought to be enough for any logical person to admit that their faith in the natural psychological/biological reasons for wrongful achievement gaps is probably bullshit.

But there’s also another cool way to do the same thing: point out transsexuals.

When it comes to really teasing out the differences between the sexes, transsexuals are the penultimate subjects for research. Nobody else gets to live as both sexes, and nobody is probably more aware of how gender is perceived than those who find it enormously psychologically damaging and depressing that they cannot be perceived as the gender they know themselves to be.

Not only do transsexuals have the opportunity to adopt both gender identities (even if one fits poorly) and be perceived as one and then the other, those that undergo hormone therapy irreversibly alter the chemicals pumping through their bodies. Surely, if there was some biological or psychological explanation for the separation of the sexes, transsexuals who transition to female would notice that their ability to do math declines when female hormones flood their system. Surely, those that transition to male would realize that they are suddenly more apt to be aggressive in social situations and more self-advocating.

They actually didn’t observe anything of the sort. Apparently, transsexuals largely observe that mental and psychological aptitudes and attitudes remain the same. The only trait that often differed between individuals with male or female hormonal levels was the ability to suppress certain displays of emotion. Those transitioning to female reported that they could more easily express their emotions, while those transitioning to male repeatedly attest that they have a much easier time swallowing their urge to cry, even though neither reported any difference in the intensity of the emotions they felt before and after hormone therapy.

So other than the obvious physical changes and reproductive roles, it appears that sex hormones have not a lot to do with the basic psychological functioning of the adult brain. In other words, the biggest determinate of gender — hormones — has almost nothing to do with the ability of the brains of men and women. Hormones can’t explain why women are paid 70 cents to a man’s dollar for equal work. Hormones can’t tell you why men are more likely to sexually abuse women, children, and other men. Hormones can’t tell you why men are reportedly ‘naturally’ better at mathematics. Studies of transsexuals establish that mentally – besides aptitudes/deficiencies in expressing (not feeling) emotion — gender-specific hormonal levels really don’t do shit.

Those still searching for a ‘natural’, or biological/psychological explanation for the achievement gap between men and women will now inevitably turn to genetics, prenatal development, and/or early childhood development. Once a child is out of the womb, his or her physical sex is largely determined by secondary sex characteristics governed by a potent mix of hormones. Which is why hormone therapy can so reliably suppress or create¬† those characteristics for transsexuals. Thus, genetics only determines the gender differences between individuals of identical genetic code (excluding the singular different X/Y chromosome, if they are genetically ‘normal’) for a very brief period of time.

Not only that, the different content between a second X chromosome or a second Y chromosome is remarkably small, all things considered. Although I’m not a geneticist, I’d also gather than the vast majority of that different information is devoted to the formation of hormonal levels that determine the genetic sex of the child in utero and later, the secondary sex characteristics.

This leaves us with an infinitesimally small ‘gap’ to attribute to natural sex differences. The likelihood of mental sex differences being found in this gap is equally small, considering that we’ve failed — time and time again — to demonstrate any other ‘natural’ biological¬† source of psychological-based gender inequality. Additionally, the chances that these differences, if they exist, can reliably explain why men own 99% of the land on this planet, earn more than women doing the same exact work, and display toxic masculine behaviors that destroy their lives and others is even tinier. I’d say the chance that the differences between the genders in something like mathematical ability ever being reliably shown to be based in psychological differences caused by biology is about as goddamn likely as the change that the universe will spontaneously collapse, or that there really is a pink teacup orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter.

It’s truly pathetic that a group of people who call themselves “Skeptics” — hell, anyone that considers themselves intelligent — can attribute gaps in achievement to the unbelievably tiny chance that there is a biological explanation for such vast disadvantages rather than a phenomenon that pervasive, consistent, and well-documented.

That phenomenon is sexism, not biology or potential ability. Nothing more, and nothing less.

And anyone who chalks up such pervasive systems of oppression to anything other than those systems of oppression is practically denying that 1 + 1 = 2. They are worthy of the same scorn as a fool that passes himself off as an astrophysicist when he can’t even reliably add single-digit numbers.

Posted on May 27, 2010, in Feminism, Liberal Dudez, Penis Brain, Priviledge and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. You know, one of my favorite financial books is “rich Woman” by Kin Kiyosaki. She weaves stories to explain finances and how to invest to women. One of the myths she dispels is that “women aren’t good with numbers or figures”.

    Her response to that?

    “There’s a difference between being better at something and doing it longer.”

    Seemed relevant.

  2. Sorry that’d be kiM Kiyosaki. I really need a new keyboard.

    Also, as a transman, there were a few other differences I noticed, but you’re spot on about the lack of emotional expression thing in a few cases. And it can be frustrating. Times I know it’s perfectly acceptable to cry, I just can’t do it.

    The other thing though? A 5 minute cry brings the same amount of emotional relief that a good half hour jag used to.

  3. Haven’t checked this blog in a while, but just wanted to say I really like the analogy “sexism is in the gaps” and intend to spread it.

  4. Hmm.

    I have a related (paralell) thesis, that the Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS) is only able to function due to something which I call “the devil in the gaps”.

  5. Awesome, awesome post, Jenn!

    I especially like your “sexism in the gaps” analogy — I think it works really well with the history of sex-differences pseudoscience.

    (I think it also works for “scientific” racism, too).

  6. This is so true. Thanks for thinking all this out for me! Haha.

  7. Brilliant analysis, this article should get more exposure. Has this appeared anywhere else, in any other skeptical blogs or magazines?

    Steven Pinker is one of those evolutionary psychologist who tries to pass off conjecture and anecdotes as hard science (his sister Susan Pinker is also following suit with sexism in the gaps arguments in her book The Sexual Paradox ). Steven also supported President of Harvard University Lawrence Summers’ claim that the reason for female “under-representation in science and engineering could be due to a ‘different availability of aptitude at the high end,’ and less to patterns of discrimination and socialization.”

    What can you say, Steven Pinker is well-respected in the skeptic and scientific communities and wins awards and shit.
    I’m just a chick, what do I know about my abilities and what I want from my own life?

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