Which Battles Should Atheists Fight?

The other day, I posted about a Police Officer’s Prayer that was popping up on several government websites.

Comments were made about how that was not a battle atheists should be fighting. It was too small an issue to care about.

It’s a similar argument to the one made when Michael Newdow took on the “Under God” phrasing in the Pledge of Allegiance. Some atheists said he was taking on an unwinnable, unnecessary battle.

Going after “In God We Trust” on our money? Not a serious priority for any atheist group in the country.

Changing the national motto of “In God We Trust” back to “E Pluribus Unum”? Also not a biggie.

Going after every Christmas display in a government building? Not a serious issue, but one atheists have been battling for a while.

Onthe other hand, I don’t think there’s any atheist who would argue that we should stop going after faith-based funding in the government. That’s a serious problem.

Obviously, some church/state issues are minor and others major.

No atheist organization in the country has the time or money to go after every violation of church/state separation. And there are plenty of violations out there. So we have to make a decision.

Should we go after all of them equally or should we just let some things slide?

How should we pick our battles?

(via Friendly Atheist Forums)

  • Eric

    “E Pluribus Unum” never was the national motto. When “In God We Trust” was suggested it wasn’t replacing anything, which I guess was how they justified it?

    Some issues are obviously bigger than others. It just bugs me when some atheists (unfriendly atheists?) go after every teacher that uses the word “god” in passing.

  • http://zackfordblogs.wordpress.com ZackFord

    I actually think it is more helpfulto pursue solid goals. By accomplishing “tiny tangibles,” we can measure our progress, one step at a time.

    If we have clear symbols of religious oppression in our society, removing those markers diminishes the power of that oppression.

    What is the alternative? Complaining without any tangible solutions? My goal is to make change, not tread water.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Perhaps as a compromise, instead of removing “under God” from the pledge, we should support its change to “under Allah”. From an atheist perspective, it would be a neutral change but it would raise awareness that the phrase itself is problematic and would be better left off (as it used to be).

    I’ve always been more bothered by the “under God” phrase in the pledge than the “in god we trust” on the currency since the pledge has to be spoken. The writing on the currency can simply be ignored.

  • http://skeptigirl.wordpress.com Kimbo Jones

    I think people are making the mistake of considering all of these things as separate battles — they are all the same battle.

  • SarahH

    I think a high priority should be given to instances where citizens are forced to somehow acknowledge religious tenets (that a God exists, that prayer works, that a specific religion is correct, etc). If you have to sign something or speak something aloud that contradicts your religious beliefs (or lack thereof) as part of being a US citizen or partaking in US governmental services (public school, the police, the military, the courts), that’s a battle I want to fight.

    I’m considering joining the military, and I noticed, while I was at one of my local military offices, that the enlistment oath and officer’s oath both end with “so help me God.” I’m not in a position, personally, to fight a battle like that, but that’s what big atheist organizations are for, right? Protecting the rights of non-believers so they aren’t forced to essentially lie when they say our pledge or take oaths of office seems like a biggie to me.

  • Erp

    Of Hemant’s list the pledge in school is the most troublesome since it (a) is the state requiring religious expression (admittedly the students can opt out but how many know this) and (b) is often accompanied by religious indoctrination (e.g., how does the lesson on the pledge explain ‘under God’ [some out there skip over explaining them]).

  • http://yrif.org Joel

    How should we pick our battles?

    I’m going to have to say “Individually, according to what each of us thinks is important and/or achievable.”

  • Euthyphro

    I was thinking something along these same lines the other day when my wife stopped on a program about transgenders the other day. It often seems to be the case that atheists are in the same corner as the LGBT group, I would assume because it is often in opposition to the theist/christian stance, but I got to thinking about transgenders in particular.

    Doesn’t having a gender that is in opposition to ones sex necessitate a soul, or some other non material existent me who could be one gender while my material self’s sex is chosen by whichever chromosomes my parents happened to have given me? Doesn’t belief in gender outside of sex breach the realm of supernatural, and if they do, as I’ve come to believe, why is it that the atheist is not so quick to put down these silly superstitions as they are to the changing of a motto, or the pouring of water over a child and the chanting of an incantation?

    Just a thought.
    Cheers

  • Thilina

    Doesn’t having a gender that is in opposition to ones sex necessitate a soul, or some other non material existent me who could be one gender while my material self’s sex is chosen by whichever chromosomes my parents happened to have given me? Doesn’t belief in gender outside of sex breach the realm of supernatural,

    Most of the research I’ve seen on this suggest that the brains of transgender people develop similar to that of the opposite sex, nothing to do with souls.(Can’t remember the link to the research, but I will post it if I find it) And even if it doesn’t, it still wouldn’t suggest anything supernatural.

  • Stephan

    Due to the “grandfather” clause invented by the Supreme Court used to protect the Texas 10 commandments, basically an argument that since it took so long for someone to point out it was unconstitutional it somehow becomes constitutional, I don’t think we can afford to skip anything.

  • http://jewmanist.com Rose

    Being one of the many cats that can’t be herded, I think its possible for different atheist “groups” or bloggers/activists to make different things a priority. There is such a thing as bigger and smaller issues, but each person has to chose his/her own battles. Some things just get our goat more than others.

    However, there is also a need for us to be somewhat united. I would have to say separation of church and state is something that many religionists and misc theists can get behind. (Maybe they need some motivation.) I’ve known Christians to prefer to leave their religion at church, where it belongs. Separation is probably most important when dealing with courthouses and schools, I’d say. But I offer no real answers to your question.

  • Siamang

    Doesn’t having a gender that is in opposition to ones sex necessitate a soul, or some other non material existent me who could be one gender while my material self’s sex is chosen by whichever chromosomes my parents happened to have given me?

    Sorry, you think gender is about chromosomes? Since when does your DNA do your thinking for you?

    Gender is about the human mind and body. DNA is a part of it… but only one part.

    We are a combination of genetics, environment, development, growth, experience, psychology and personal direction.

    DNA is only genetics.

    Doesn’t belief in gender outside of sex breach the realm of supernatural,

    No more than belief in math beyond counting fingers breaches that realm.

    Nothing magical about it… we are complicated beings with levels of abstraction built upon simpler structures. Our chromosomes are simple structures that only *BEGIN* to express a plan for a person’s physical development.. they DO NOT express an endpoint of that development.

    I’ve come to believe, why is it that the atheist is not so quick to put down these silly superstitions

    Why do you rush to a supernatural explanation? Are natural causes really insufficient to explain that sexuality is more than just a question of xx or xy?

  • http://www.jimloomisphotography.com Jimmy

    I think that we should choose our battles.

    We should worry most about education, as the last thing this country needs are fundies running our science departments, and children perpetuating religious lies.

    We must protect our own rights by responding to legislation that actually affects us. Getting “god” off the money or leaving it on doesn’t affect the value of it (or us) in any way. It all depends on how sensitive we are, and I’m not that sensitive.

    We should definitely draw a line somewhere, but why draw it in a spot that we don’t need? Draw it at the school and where our own well-being is concerned. Don’t waste time on the little stuff.

  • K

    How about you not decide what all Atheists should do?
    I think it’s great that everyone can follow their own heart and if someone wants to pick money? Let them. Better yet, it’d be great if a bunches of Atheists picked one of everything. The money, the pledge, all of it gets derided and spoken against until it’s changed. That’d be great and it would sure get the message out that we’re not complacent, voiceless, weak, nor helpless anymore.

  • Miko

    Think global, act local. The problems we see every day deserve to be solved, even if they aren’t “important” in someone’s ivory tower grand-scheme-of-things. Also, we humans are symbolic creatures and as such these negative images tend to reinforce each other. I think we’ve all heard arguments of the sort: “Government display of religious symbols is okay, since the U.S. is a Christian nation. You can tell the U.S. is a Christian nation; after all, just look at all of the government displays of religious symbols.”

    Going after the little things delegitimizes the dogma that protects the big things.

  • JFF

    The NRA sets its misguided, murderous focus on the second amendment. Similarly, the thought leaders of atheist groups can put the most weight of their efforts to bolster separation of church and state issues, spotlighting all areas where the opposite is occurring. What about allying with Non-Christian religious groups, at least politically? They are equally shut out faith based programs.

  • Chakolate

    If only one police station had the ‘policemen’s prayer’, then I’d think twice about challenging it. But one article I read stated that it’s posted in many police stations and city halls, so one victory would count many times over.

    We may have to draw the line in some battles, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t point out the church-state violation when we see it.

    To those who say, ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’, I say that’s how the fundies have made so much progress in this country. They’ve done it in small steps, eating away at the wall of separation. We *must* sweat the small stuff.

  • Stephan

    With things like the 10 commandments in TX allowed to stay due to a “grandfather clause” that basically says if no one has complained about something being unconstitutional it eventually becomes constitutional, I don’t think we can afford to not fight every battle. If we don’t make a move on the Policeman’s prayer, then it will get grandfathered into legality.

    Fight and lose if we have to, but fight nonetheless.

  • Euthyphro

    You think gender is about chromosomes

    No. I think gender has nothing to do with sex at all, but, rather, that it is a term dealing in grammar. It is quite the recent phenomenon that gender has even come into the sphere of sex, and that was a distortion of terms which left the newer being more ambiguous. If we were talking about ants or fruit flies there would be no question about gender verses sexuality; we would determine the sex based on the chromosomes alone.

    Nothing magical about it… we are complicated beings with levels of abstraction built upon simpler structures. Our chromosomes are simple structures that only *BEGIN* to express a plan for a person’s physical development.. they DO NOT express an endpoint of that development.

    I am not claiming there is anything magical about sexuality at all. If anything my point was that it is just exactly the opposite. When you begin to talk about gender, and not about a creature’s sex you walk a thin line between the materialist world and the metaphysic.

    If you are actually claiming that environment, psychology, development and experience can contain an actual change in a person’s sex then you are lacking a materialistic explanation that doesn’t jive well with atheism/materialism. If the supernatural doesn’t exist, then the mind does not exist outside of gray matter and electrical impulses, and then a transgender is nothing more then than one sex fooling itself into believing it is the opposite (regardless of the wiring of the brain) in much the same way that you might claim a theist is fooling themselves into believing gods exist. Is it anymore foolish then to believe that a woman could actually be trapped in a man’s body than to believe that there is in existence a god?

    If anything research showing that a transgender brain is wired differently only demonstrates that the person is more than just lying to themselves: they are suffering from an abnormality. Then further claims of being one sex inside the body of another is foolhardy.

  • Aj

    Euthyphro,

    Gender is socially constructed, it may be related to sex, but it’s not entirely derived from sex. Gender concepts often include ideas on appearance and behaviour. As with all of identity politics, it’s ignorant and petty, with a bunch of crazy thrown in, and that includes the supernatural. Although to answer your question: no, there does not need to be a soul or anything supernatural for someone to be of one sex, and of the the opposite associated gender. For one, gender concepts might not even be accurate to their associated sex, and secondly it’s the naturalistic fallacy to suggest one should follow the other anyway.

    Sex is determined by biological characteristics. The XY/XX distinction is a sex determinant for humans. There are some exceptions, some people can be identical with opposite sex chromosomes. Sex is about sex, sexual reproduction, involving two specializations male and female, sperm and eggs. There is plenty of variance with characteristics associated with the two specializations, many are simplifications or averages. These simplifications and averages tend to be applied in gender concepts.

  • Aj

    Euthyphro,

    I don’t think ants and fruitflies would do much conscious social construction. It’s equivocation, you define sex and gender as the same while others do not. Transgender persons are fooling themselves in the same way we’re fooling ourselves when we use contraceptives, it’s not like theistic belief at all. It’s the naturalistic fallacy to suggest that they’re all fooling themselves into believing they’re something they’re not, unless they actually believe themselves to have attributes they do not have, which some of them might. Suffering from an abnormality? Unless they’re reveling from an abnormality. Being one sex inside the body of another could be an understandable and perfectly reasonable metaphor.

  • Emily

    we should delegate!

  • Revyloution

    The spirit of the phrase ‘Pick your Battles’ means:

    Don’t start a battle you’re not sure you can win.

    Don’t start a battle that will consume resources that will cause you to loose another battle.

    Don’t start a battle that you might win for today, but not be able to hold that ground for long.

    With these rules in mind (thanks Sun Tzu) The answer to your question is quite clear. Only fight the battles that meet those criteria. If we throw ourselves half hearted at some conflict and fail, then we have not only failed that fight, but we have also failed at the battle we could have fought.

    We have finite resources, so we should spend them wisely.

  • http://atheistethciist.blogspot.com Alonzo Fyfe

    Those who know me realize that I consider “under God” and “In God We Trust” to be the two most important battles.

    They teach bigotry to young children where it is learned at an emotional level by linking it to acceptance and approval of authority figures.

    Bigotry, learned as a child and anchored to emotion, will make most children an obstacle to the equal rights and respect of atheists in all other areas throughout his adult life in most cases, declare atheists to be inherently immoral and un-American, and reject the idea of their child marrying an atheist. And he, in turn, will pass his learned prejudices onto his own children.

    A reasonable objective would be to fight discrimination at its source, and this source is a pledge that equates atheism with rebellion, tyranny, and injustice. This source is a slogan on the money and increasingly posted in public schools and government buildings that say, “He who does not trust in God is not one of us.”

    I disapprove of the tactic of fighting these in the courts. This only teaches people to hate the courts and the laws that the courts decided the case on and to demand their replacement.

    Instead, the proper tactic is to take the case to the people themselves. This way, if and when the courts render the right decision, the people support that decision rather than demand the replacement of the judges.

  • Revyloution

    JFF said:
    “The NRA sets its misguided, murderous focus on the second amendment. Similarly, the thought leaders of atheist groups can put the most weight of their efforts to bolster separation of church and state issues,”

    Im confused by your hyperbole. Are you saying that atheists who focus on the establishment clause of the constitution are ‘misguided and muderous’ when fighting separation of church and state? Or are you saying that the NRA, even though you think they are murderous and misguided, are correct in their defense of the 2nd Amendment?

  • Anonymous

    Revyloution: What an insightful answer! But what church-state issues meet those criteria?

    Many battles have been tried and failed. What have the successful atheist battles been over? Bible reading in the classroom? Are there any issues today anything like the few that have been won in the past?

    And can atheists win church-state battles that Jews or Buddhists could, realistically? If not, would it be better to leave some issues up to Jews or Buddhists?

    I’m considering joining the military, and I noticed, while I was at one of my local military offices, that the enlistment oath and officer’s oath both end with “so help me God.”

    Please don’t. In today’s military, a woman can be harassed, raped, inpregnated, and finally murdered by her superior officer before the military will do anything about it. To their credit, at least the Army finally did do something about it after she was murdered, you know, when it would help her the most. You know the case I’m talking about, the guy fled to Mexico after burning her body and was caught.

  • http://www.skepacabra.wordpress.com Skepacabra

    We should absolutely be fighting all of these battles because inevitably, we end up losing the bigger battles because the Fundies use the smaller cases to cite precedent. How often have you heard “This is a Christian nation,” and then when that’s challenged, the reply is our national motto “In God We Trust” and it says “Under God” in the pledge, etc, etc.? You give the fundies even an inch of rope and they’ll hang you by it. And they do this every single time. I agree with what Kimbo Jones said above. It’s not different battles but the same battle.

  • http://www.skepacabra.wordpress.com Skepacabra

    I agree with what Kimbo Jones said above. It’s not different battles but the same battle. If you give the fundies an inch of rope, they’ll surely hang you by it. Every time a new church/state related case comes up, they build a case by using all those past cases to cite precedent. How many times have you heard, “This is a Christian nation,” and then when challenged, the response is that our mational motto is “In God We Trust”, that it says “under God” in the pledge, etc, etc? Any victory they have can and most definitely will be used against us later.

  • Anonymous

    Instead, the proper tactic is to take the case to the people themselves. This way, if and when the courts render the right decision, the people support that decision rather than demand the replacement of the judges.

    Alonzo, what fantasy world do you live in? Do you really think non-atheists are ever going to care much about lip service mentions of God in the pledge or on coins? If half of atheists don’t care about them, good luck getting support from “the people” who aren’t atheists.

  • Eliza

    Euthyphro,
    This isn’t one of the battles I was planning to fight when I popped onto this site a few minutes ago, but in this case I’ll make an exception. :-) Everyone: sorry this is so long. :-(

    You are assuming there is a clear dichotomy between the sexes. This is not the case. Examples which seem extreme have been helpful in elucidating this. It’s a complex process.

    Embryologically, the male & female reproductive systems develop from the same tissues; testes are homologous to ovaries, scrotum to vulva, penis to clitoris, prostate to uterus, etc.

    The default is for the fetus to develop as female, regardless of karyotype (chromosomal makeup); the fetus develops into a male if and only if there testosterone is present in adequate levels, and can exert its effect in the nuclei of cells.

    One basic, genetic, condition in which sexual development can “go wrong” is androgen insensitivity syndrome, in which a fetus which is 46,XY (chromosomally male) lacks working testosterone receptors; they are phenotypically female (but lack uteri, which isn’t noticed until they fail to begin menstruation in adolescence), and reportedly are as likely to consider themselves female throughout life, and to be attracted sexually to the opposite sex (phenotypic males), at the same rate as 46,XX women. So, to summarize: (1) chromosomally male, (2) elevated serum testosterone levels, (3) phenotypically female, and (4) gender self-identification usually female, at rates similar to women who are chromosomally female. The explanation? Testosterone receptors in the brain have been essentially unaffected by testosterone, throughout fetal and subsequent development.

    Congenital adrenal hyperplasia is another interesting example. It’s autosomal, so that 50% of those affected are XY and 50% are XX. Some affected people are born “intersex”; they have historically been assigned to female gender at birth. (Others have a form which doesn’t manifest until later in life.) Secondary sex characteristics don’t develop, or develop incompletely, at puberty. According to an article in the journal Pediatrics, ~90% of those affected from birth self-identify as female.

    Then there’s 5-alpha reductase deficiency, which the main character of Eugenides’ book Middlesex has, in which an XY person may be born with female-appearing, or indeterminant/intersex, genitalia, & appear to be female before puberty, but at puberty develops masculine secondary sex characteristics, and often? sometimes? changes self-identification from female to male.

    All can be explained on the basis of a genetic abnormality, with first manifestations in fetal development. Fascinating – and no supernatural attribution required.

  • Eliza

    I could have said it more concisely by pointing out that Euthyphro is falling into 2 logical fallacies:

    (1) argument from ignorance: we can’t explain something scientifically (yet), so therefore the explanation must be supernatural

    (2) false dichotomy: male and female are completely distinct & never overlap. Also, the way E. phrased it: if we can’t explain it fully by neurons, then the only other alternative is supernatural.

    (But sexual development is just so interesting!!)

  • keddaw

    There should be a scale of battles that are worth fighting:

    1. Things that affect people’s lives – faith based initiatives, circumcision etc.

    2. Things that indoctrinate people, even subconsciously – pledge of allegiance*, teachers and subjects in school (teach the controversy!)

    3. Things that allow religion into the public sphere – Ten Commandments in Texas, IGWT on the currency, national day of prayer, swearing on the Bible in court etc.

    4. Tax exempt status for religious groups and other special treatment for religion and the religious.

    *Pledging allegiance to a flag is stupid and unthinking. People should pledge allegiance to the Constitution and the Bill Of Rights, ideas are infinitely more important than symbols. Symbols represent everything I hate about religion, they obfuscate ideas and stop people critically reviewing those ideas. The flag also leads to the unthinking support of America and the government (“USA #1″ which isn’t true in any non-economic/military measure!)

  • keddaw

    There should be a scale of battles that are worth fighting:

    1. Things that affect people’s lives – faith based initiatives, circumcision etc.

    2. Things that indoctrinate people, even subconsciously – pledge of allegiance*, teachers and subjects in school (teach the controversy!)

    3. Things that allow religion into the public sphere – Ten Commandments in Texas, IGWT on the currency, national day of prayer, swearing on the Bible in court etc.

    4. Tax exempt status for religious groups and other special treatment for religion and the religious.

    *Pledging allegiance to a flag is stupid and unthinking. People should pledge allegiance to the Constitution and the Bill Of Rights, ideas are infinitely more important than symbols. Symbols represent everything I hate about religion, they obfuscate ideas and stop people critically reviewing those ideas. The flag also leads to the unthinking support of America and the government (“USA #1? which isn’t true in any non-economic/military measure!)

  • Euthyphro

    You cats need to work on your reading comprehension here. I am not arguing that there is something supernatural in sex/gender. My point is the exact opposite.

    I have never met a transgender who have said they they had a brian wired differently, or that they were unable to produce testosterone, or any other physical reason for being transgender. What I have heard is that they are actually literally a male “soul, or female “soul” or personality, or anima however else they might phrase it, who is stuck inside the body of the opposite sex. And they literally mean they are trapped. My point being that these explanation that our often given call on something supernatural. I am not claiming that there is anything supernatural at all, only that these claims do, and therefore are as deserving of scorn as religious folk calling on the same.

    Cheers

  • Aj

    Euthyphro,

    I for one didn’t say you were advocating a supernatural concept of gender/sex. I think Siamang’s point was that XX/XY determination vs supernatural souls is a false dichotomy, there are views of gender/sex that aren’t centred around XX/XY but certainly do not involve supernatural elements.

    Sex and gender is supernaturalized by non-transgender as well. People who believe in souls are in the majority, therefore there’s plenty non-transgender that have supernatural explanations about themselves. I don’t think rational atheists are very receptive to these ideas, atheists are concerned with the rights of the LGBT community, they don’t have to adopt their woo.

  • http://thehappyhuman.wordpress.com John

    “Doesn’t having a gender that is in opposition to ones sex necessitate a soul, or some other non material existent me who could be one gender while my material self’s sex is chosen by whichever chromosomes my parents happened to have given me? Doesn’t belief in gender outside of sex breach the realm of supernatural…?”

    Such phrasing makes it sound as if you’re the one offering up souls as an explanation. Reading comprehension is one thing, mind reading is another.

    Anyway, I think I understand your point. You’re saying that it’s equally appropriate to judge people for what gets them off (gender) as for what they believe about the nature of objective reality (theism). Please explain to us how that’s not completely absurd.

  • http://www.atheistabomination.blogspot.com/ Ethos

    It’s true that resources are finite in these fights. Personally I would apply a secular morality test and address those issues which are more likely to result in reducing harm done to others.

    So changing a motto would be much further down on the list than gay rights initiatives.

  • Revyloution

    Anonymous said
    “Many battles have been tried and failed. What have the successful atheist battles been over? Bible reading in the classroom? Are there any issues today anything like the few that have been won in the past?”

    Ok, were going to torture the military metaphor to its maximal.

    In a war, there are many battles. The generals need to decide when and where to fight. Use the brief outline I provided above for helping to make that decision.

    Don’t forget that holding ground is just as important as taking it. Every court case that refers to Supreme Court decisions is another ‘win’ for separation issues. There are separation cases in the courts every year, and we win a large chunk of them.

    Then there is the role of the irregulars, the skirmishers, and the special forces. These groups are not supposed to win battles, they are supposed to keep the opposition off balance.

    If we think of the Secular Coalition as the army, its leaders as the generals, and us as the foot soldiers, then it becomes very important do decide which battles to fight, and which to leave to the skirmishers.

    As an example, I wouldn’t recommend just ignoring the police department prayer issue. But at this time, we might not have the ground, or the time to win this battle. We should never abandon a fight, we should watch carefully to pick a battlefield and time of our choosing.

    And cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.

  • Euthyphro

    Anyway, I think I understand your point. You’re saying that it’s equally appropriate to judge people for what gets them off (gender) as for what they believe about the nature of objective reality (theism). Please explain to us how that’s not completely absurd.

    Okay this is a little funny. Are you claiming that your sexual tastes determine your “gender.” So if I prefer sleeping with woman I am a man by gender regardless of my sex?

    What I am actually saying is that it is equally appropriate to criticize people for beliefs about the nature of objective reality (e.g. God exists!) as it is to critize people for their beliefs about the nature of objective reality (e.g. Personality, Soul, Anima exists outside my physical existence!).

    The point is that transgenders don’t talk about themselves and their experience in materialistic terms (e.g. My brain is wired like a female even though I have male reproductive organs; I have abnormal testosterone receptors;) instead they talk in terms of the “me” being one thing or the other, whether they term it soul, anima, personality or otherwise, and their body as something completely separate from the “me.” It appears to be as superstitious as any religious belief.

    If a person had schizophrenia and thought he had two people inside of him, or thought God spoke to him, you would agree that the belief was silly and superstitious, even knowing that it was from a neurological abnormality. It is no different from someone thinking they are a nonphysical person in opposition to their physical body, or even trapped in a physical body.

    The only difference is the preference given to the transgender as opposed to the theist.

    Cheers

  • http://aebrain.blogspot.com Zoe Brain

    I’m with Eliza here. Sexual development is fascinating.

    In addition to 5ARD, 17BHDD syndrome can also cause a “natural sex change” from looking (mostly) female at birth to looking (mostly) male at puberty.

    What’s more, the brain is a highly sexually dimorphic organ, far more so than we suspected even 20 years ago. And it sexually differentiates at a time differing from the genitalia.

    This means that the brain can be typical of one gender, the genitalia the other. The result is transsexuality. This is an intersex condition, we know that now. Part of the body is typical of one gender, the other parts the other.

    As the part that is the mismatch is the central nervous system, this leads to a cross-gendered gender identity. How, we’re not sure, we just know that it does. Apart from that, we have a good theory, but trying to find an experiment to test that is non-trivial.

    For details, see Prof Ecker’s and Prof Diamond’s recent presentation on “The Neurobiological Evidence for Transgenderism” given at the recent American Psychiatric Association annual conference (here).

    Male to female natural sex changes happen, but are really rare, one in several million as opposed to perhaps 1 in 50,000 for 5ARD and 17BHDD combined. They’re not well understood.

    One thing – we’re dealing not just with experimental subjects here, but human beings. People who face enormous legal and social challenges, as well as the mental and medical ones. Been there, done that.

  • cathy

    Euthypro, why do you get to not be ridiculed for being cisgender? Why is it somehow more legitimate to accept a pretty arbitrarily assigned gender than to live one that better suits one’s personality, desire, etc.? And, of the good dozen transgender people I know personally (I doubt you know many, considering your failure to understand basics like sex/gender distinction and the fact that not all transgender people are transexual), not a one of them has ever used the “soul” example on which you base your ideas (I have heard the brain wiring one once or twice though). Feelings, mental states, etc. do not equal souls. I have never felt that Christianity was anything but silly, how is it less legitimate for someone to have never felt that their penis makes them a man? As for the “trapped” example, many trans people dislike that wording because it implies a lack of ownership of their own bodies. Some people feel happier and safer if they surgically/hormonally alter their body so that it is easier to present as their gender in the public sphere, but that does not mean that they think they were magically given “wrong” genatalia. Your argument also completely ignores non-operative trans people who are happy with their body but reject the social meanings placed upon it. Post operative trans people are often given more legal rights than pre/non op trans people, which plays a large part in the focus on surgery. We as a society are so focused on vagina=woman identified and penis=man identified that we systematically punish trans people who do not blend well or who have not had surgery. Look at Thomas Beaty’s case. Because he had not had surgery to remove his uterus, people have taken this as an excuse to treat his gender identity as less legitimate.

    Also, don’t forget that their are transgendered atheists. In no way does a belief in or respect of transgender people require belief in any kind of magic.

  • Brooks

    If I’m understanding Euthypro correctly, is he basically saying transsexuality is superstition? Like huh?

  • Siamang

    The only difference is the preference given to the transgender as opposed to the theist.

    So in this thread about ‘what battles should atheists fight’, why are you bringing this up?

    Are you saying we should start attacking individual, private transgenders for their personal beliefs that supernaturally ascribe their gender to a soul?

    Sorry, no. I’d rather we fight the battles of church-state government overreaching than start going after private individuals for merely holding a belief in a soul.

    I am not claiming that there is anything supernatural at all, only that these claims do, and therefore are as deserving of scorn as religious folk calling on the same.

    Sorry, I don’t heap scorn on individuals for holding beliefs I do not hold.

    I reserve scorn for actions that harm others or restrict freedom.

  • Siamang

    And kudos to the awesome scientific explanations on here by the brilliant folks willing and able to educate.

  • REX

    Hemant,

    I think that what Revyloution said about Sun Tzu is right on the money, (with respect to Alonzo Fyfe as well). I think that the most important thing is to continue to become an organized political force, and to combat discrimination on religious grounds. Then from that position, with a seat at the political table that will hopefully represent about 15% of the electorate, we will be able to further prioritize and begin to attack things like faith based initiatives, and “in god we trust” and “under god”.

    These are the recommended goals that I believe should be the focus of the “reasonable” “mainstream” Atheist movement, if there can be such a thing! However, I think that the radical, confrontational branch of the Atheist tree will have an important role in inflaming and pointing out the ignorance and hypocrisy of the religious. That branch can act as the lightning rod, attracting attention and raising awareness, and the moderate branch can use those activities to capitalize for the entire group.

  • http://luckyatheist.blogspot.com Mike Caton

    Obviously we need to pick our battles. The frickin Roman Empire had to pick its battles. That doesn’t mean we “let slide” certain inappropriate government displays of religion, it just means we prioritize. How to do that? Start a list of every police prayer and cross on a hill in a public park in the country. Don’t start yet another atheist group; try to get the Secular Coalition to start a task force, or maybe AU (in association with the ACLU?). If you have enough time and money to pursue the one in YOUR town, by all means do. But if you’re like most of us and you don’t, let’s combine resources, prioritize, and wipe out one at a time.

  • http://www.tikiwebgroup.com tiki god

    I for one subscribe to the broken window there : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fixing_Broken_Windows

    if you let small infractions slide, they’ll turn into large infractions.

    let your police put up a religious verse on their building and soon enough you’ll have police who believe that they’re on a mission from god.

    ‘pick your battles’ indeed.

  • Raghu Mani

    Found this topic rather late. I usually don’t comment but this is an issue I feel strongly about. I am an atheist from a Hindu background and most of my family and friends are religious Hindus. One rule of thumb that I often use in determining which battles atheists should pick is based on feedback that I get from family and friends.

    To give you an example, take the “under god” in the pledge of allegiance. Newdow actually tried to argue that the “under god” might be offensive to religious minorities and he specifically cited Hindus. I don’t know which Hindus he’s talked to but among the ones I know, there isn’t a single person who feels upset in any way. However, in contrast, pretty much every Hindu I know was upset about Judge Roy Moore’s attempt to put the ten commandments monument in his courthouse.

    Going through the others examples mentioned above, nobody cares about Nativity scenes during Christmas, no one cares about “In God we Trust” on currency but pretty much everyone is upset about the teaching of creationism and also about the less obvious “teach the controversy” strategy that the creationists are trying to adopt.

    In the end, IMHO, it boils down to whether or not something is perceived as an imposition of religion. Creationism and ten commandments monuments most definitely are and as to the others, well, the focus of the pledge is not religion but allegiance to the country, Christmas has become more of a cultural celebration than a religious festivals (many Hindus have no issues putting up Christmas lights) and as for money, I am not sure too many people even read what’s on their money (other than one specific number) much less try and determine what religious implications it has.

    What I mean to say by all of this is is the general sentiment among religious minorities (not just Hindus) about an issue is a good barometer to determine whether it is worth it for atheists to be picking a fight over it. That way, the religious minorities will be, by and large, on our side as will the majority of liberal Christians.

    Raghu

  • Anne

    I think you are utterly wrong. Government support of religious beliefs is wrong. It’s not a small thing, it’s one thing among many that should not be tolerated.

  • Anonymous

    Hope it’s not too late to say something that might be useful…

    Seems like there is a great diversity of opinion here about what atheists ought to fight for, with purely idealistic people on one end, and purely pragmatic people on the other, and a few somewhere in between.

    Hemant seemed somewhat pragmatist when he said, Going after “In God We Trust” on our money? Not a serious priority for any atheist group in the country.

    I didn’t think of this earlier, but atheist groups could use a little help in public relations departmet, both toward other atheists and the general public.

    Hemant’s comment made me think “What are the priorities of atheist groups, then?” I have to confess, I have no idea! These groups should say exactly what their priorities are instead of leaving us to look into the tea leaves to find out.

    When I think of FFRF, I know that at least at one time they did go after “In God We Trust” on coins; they even have pamphlets about it. When I think about SCA, I think of Bill O’Reilly going after Lori about the bogus “war on Christmas.” So we have a vague idea about what is not an atheist group priority, but no clue about what is a priority. Someone needs to make it clear.

    Newdow going after “under God” is a waste of resources. Newdow going after Obama being able to say “So help me God” if he wants to is a waste of resources. I’m pretty sure going after tax-exempt status of religious groups is out of the question; that’s never going to disappear, especially now that it has been expanded to secular groups too. It’ll be too unpopular to make groups that don’t have taxes now pay them.

    So how do I sort out who is intelligently picking their battles, and who is just going after every issue that could be raised even when the chance of success is almost nil?

  • http://backaccessward.blogspot.com/ beetle

    I, for one, am delighted to have folks going after “under God” and “In God We Trust”. These are certainly not battles that I have the energy for, but I am grateful (and inspired) that some are waging them.

    Continuing the Art of War metaphor, are folks not comfortable with Newdow as skirmisher or special forces?


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