Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Why Genesis is Wrong, Even Figuratively, Part Two: Male and Female Created He Them

The second reason that I consider Genesis to be wrong, even when interpreted figuratively, is that Genesis 1 is all about strict and absolute categories. The most popular figurative interpretation of Genesis 1, known as the Framework Hypothesis, explains the days of Genesis as categories for classifying the universe. On the first three “days,” got sets chaos into order; on the second three “days,” he fills them up. Days 1 and 4 are about the heavenly realm: light and darkness made distinct, then filled with sun, moon, and stars. Days 2 and 5 are about the fluid realm: air and sea made distinct, then filled with fishes and birds. Days 3 and 6 are about the solid earth: land and sea made distinct, then land filled with creeping things, one of which was humankind.

This is a nice figure, but we must not take it too seriously. There is no absolute distinction between light and darkness, atmosphere and outer space, land and sea. The world also has dawn and dusk, penumbra, an exosphere that intergrades without boundary into outer space, a world of marshes and estuaries.

Genesis also says that organisms reproduce after their kind. In general, this is true. Species are not simply useful categories of organisms but are realities. Still, the boundaries among species are sometimes indistinct. As a botanist, I will use a plant example. For example, Quercus stellata (post oak) and Quercus macrocarpa (bur oak) are distinct species, but there are a few regions in which they hybridize, producing a hybrid known as Quercus x guadalupensis. The hybrids are rare and, presumably, less specialized than the parents; they probably cannot grow as well in dry as do post oaks, or soil as moist as do bur oaks. Rare though they be, they exist. There are many hybrids between different species of the same genus in plants, and, among orchids, even between different genera.

Genesis 1 also makes an absolute distinction between male and female. This distinction is useless for plants (but Genesis 1 does not apply it to plants). But even in animals, the male-female distinction is imperfect. Whole phyla of animals (for example the phyla that contain snails and earthworms) consist largely of bisexual individuals. In some fish species, individuals may grow up as females then, when they are large enough to be successful fighters, they change into males. Moreover, the natural world contains ambiguity of sexual behavior. Homosexuality is very common in many animal species, where it functions as social bonding (since it obviously has no reproductive function).

The male-female distinction is imperfect in the human species as well. Most individuals are heterosexual males or females. But many humans are gay or lesbian or bisexual. Speaking as a very, very heterosexual male, I admit I cannot understand these people’s feelings, but I acknowledge them and I accept them. I accept their testimony about themselves. They tell me nature has made them so and it is not a choice they made. In particular, there is no small number of people who are physically one gender and psychologically another. Many Native American tribes have long recognized the legitimacy of men who assume female identities: formerly called berdache, this identity is now called “two-spirit.”

There are some people who are born as little girls and then, at puberty, turn into young men. This happens because the gene that produces juvenile testosterone function is blocked, with the result that they develop as little girls. However, their adult testosterone function works fine, and they develop male characteristics at puberty. Of course, they cannot completely turn into men; they retain many feminine characteristics as adult males. The Dominican village in which this commonly occurs refers to them as a third gender: guevedoce, or eggs-at-twelve. A similar phenomenon occurs in Papua New Guinea, where these individuals are called, in pidgin, turnim-men. Nature does this to them, their chromosomes do this to them, and scientists know exactly how.

The absolute categorizations of the universe that are implied in even a figurative reading of Genesis 1 are therefore imperfect. This does not present any great problem unless you are a creationist or a fundamentalist. Creationists insist that “after their kind” means that evolution cannot occur. This is based on taking “after their kind” too seriously. Fundamentalists insist that all humans are either male, or female, or deviants who must be restricted or punished in some way. This is based on taking the phrase “male and female created he them” too seriously. One example of this is a certain state-funded university whose academic vice president rejected the tenure application of a transgender woman on religious grounds. At this point, Genesis 1 becomes an oppressive and oppressing chapter of scripture, even if no attempt is made to force Earth history into a six-day schedule.

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