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What the Darwin Lobby and the Transgender Lobby Have in Common

Jonathan Wells
Photo credit: Kyle via Unsplash.

 Author’s note: Nothing in what follows is intended to disparage any transgender person, any gender non-conforming person, or any person attracted to members of the same sex. As a developmental biologist (Berkeley PhD), I have been struck by similarities between the literature promoting Darwinism and the literature promoting transgender treatments for children.

In his 1996 book, Darwin’s Black Box, biochemist Michael Behe devoted a chapter to the irreducible complexity of the human immune system (the interacting system of molecules that protects us from microscopic disease-causing organisms). Behe pointed out the extreme difficulty, if not impossibility, of evolving such a system in gradual Darwinian steps. He noted that although there is a vast scientific literature about the details of our immune system, “the results don’t tell us anything about the mechanism that first produced the system.” He concluded that “to a person who does not feel obliged” to limit explanations to unguided natural causes, the “straightforward conclusion” is that the immune system (like many other biochemical systems) is intelligently designed. 

In 2004, the Dover (Pennsylvania) Area School District required ninth-grade students to hear a statement that intelligent design “is an explanation for the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view,” and that a book on the subject was available in the school library. Some parents of Dover area students sued the school district, and the lawsuit went to trial in the fall of 2005.

Literature Bluffing

During the trial, Behe was called as a witness. While he was on the stand, an attorney for the plaintiffs challenged his claim that the scientific literature did not explain how the immune system evolved. The attorney set a pile of textbooks and scientific articles in front of Behe, allegedly disproving his claim. But Behe said the pile was irrelevant. Although the books and articles contained many details about the immune system, they did not explain how it evolved. Nevertheless, the tactic apparently had its intended effect. It seemed to persuade people that Behe was arbitrarily ignoring evidence against his claim. 

My (and Mike’s) friend and colleague Paul Nelson called the tactic “literature bluffing.” The sheer volume of literature diverts attention from its irrelevance. And defenders of Darwinian evolution have been using the tactic for decades. They have published many thousands of pages in scientific journals discussing “evolution” — mostly in the sense of minor changes within existing species. But Darwin did not write a book titled Minor Changes Within Existing Species. He wrote a book titled The Origin of Species. Those thousands of journal pages contain many details, but no empirically demonstrated explanations for the origins of new species, organs, or body plans.

In November 2016, a large number of scientists met at the Royal Society in London to discuss whether a new evolutionary synthesis was needed. Austrian evolutionary biologist Gerd Müller opened the meeting by pointing out that evolutionary theory has so far failed to explain the origin of new anatomical and structural features in living things. Yet explaining the origin of such features is evolutionary theory’s main job. By the end of the 2016 conference, it was clear that Müller’s challenge had not been met.   

So thousands of pages written about evolution were, in effect, literature bluffing. In addition to producing irrelevant literature, defenders of Darwinian evolution have for years misrepresented evidence that supposedly supports their theory. Haeckel’s faked embryo drawings, staged photos of peppered moths on tree trunks, and one-sided reports of the evidence from “Darwin’s” finches on the Galápagos Islands are just a few of the examples

In Other News

In 2018, a committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published a Policy Statement titled “Ensuring Comprehensive Care and Support for Transgender and Gender-Diverse Children and Adolescents.” The statement was written by pediatrician and child psychiatrist Jason Rafferty. It advocated “gender-affirming care” as the only acceptable treatment for gender dysphoria.

According to the latest version of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), gender dysphoria is “a marked incongruence between one’s experienced/expressed gender and assigned gender, of at least 6 months’ duration.” It is accompanied by “a strong desire to be of the other gender or an insistence that one is the other gender.” And, “the condition is associated with clinically significant distress or impairment.”

“Assigned gender” is Newspeak for biological sex, as though it were something arbitrarily assigned by medical personnel at birth. But 99.98 percent of human babies are unambiguously male or female. Their sex is directly observable, not arbitrarily assigned.

Nevertheless, gender dysphoria occurs. A small percentage of children experience a distressing incongruence between their biological sex and their perceived gender. According to the AAP policy written by Rafferty, medical professionals have used three approaches to deal with this. One is a “conversion” treatment model, which is “used to prevent children and adolescents from identifying as transgender.” Rafferty concludes that a conversion approach has proved “not only unsuccessful but also deleterious.”

A second approach is “watchful waiting.” Evidence shows that the vast majority (more than 75 percent) of children with gender dysphoria naturally outgrow it by adulthood. Therefore, many medical professionals maintain that the best approach to gender dysphoria is to provide compassionate support while the child sorts things out. In 2012, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) issued an official “Practice Parameter” that stated: “In general, it is desirable to help adolescents who may be experiencing gender distress and dysphoria to defer sex reassignment until adulthood, or at least until the wish to change sex is unequivocal, consistent, and made with appropriate consent.”

The Only Acceptable Approach?

But Rafferty claimed that the “watchful waiting” approach is “outdated” because “critical support is withheld.” The only acceptable approach is “gender-affirmative care,” which regards a child’s current gender perception as definitive and treats the child according to a four-step protocol. The first step is social affirmation. This includes “adopting gender-affirming hairstyles, clothing, name, gender pronouns, and restrooms and other facilities.” The next step is to administer puberty-blocking hormones at the first sign of adolescence. This prevents the development of the genitals and secondary sex characteristics. The third step is to administer a male hormone to girls or a female hormone to boys. The fourth step is irreversible “gender-affirming” surgery.  

Rafferty emphasized the importance of “evidence-based care” for children with gender dysphoria. Yet the evidence shows not only that more than 75 percent of children with gender dysphoria will naturally outgrow it. The evidence also shows that giving such children puberty blockers almost always leads to sex change. More than 98 percent of them will go on to take cross-sex hormones, and most of those then undergo sex reassignment surgery.

Literature Bluffing Redux

In 2020, Canadian physician James Cantor published a “fact-checking” of Rafferty’s 2018 policy statement. Cantor was “rather alarmed” at the extent to which Rafferty misrepresented the evidence. For example, Rafferty cited seven references to support his contention that conversion treatments had been “used to prevent children and adolescents from identifying as transgender.” Cantor pointed out that six of these dealt only with sexual orientation, not gender dysphoria. Sexual orientation, unlike gender dysphoria, does not imply unhappiness with one’s biological sex. Cantor wrote: “There are no studies of conversion therapy for gender identity. Studies of conversion therapy have been limited to sexual orientation, and, moreover, to the sexual orientation of adults, not to gender identity and not of children in any case.” (Emphasis in the original.)

Rafferty’s seventh reference was to a 2015 report from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The report noted, “There is a lack of published research on efforts to change gender identity among children and adolescents.” 

Cantor concluded that Rafferty’s statement is a “misrepresentation of entire literatures. Not only did AAP fail to provide compelling evidence, it failed to provide the evidence at all. Indeed, AAP’s recommendations are despite the existing evidence.” (Emphasis in the original.)

In other words, Rafferty was engaged in literature bluffing and misrepresentation. He took a page or two out of the Darwinists’ playbook. And why not? After all, isn’t Darwinism “settled science?”

What Is Science, Anyway?

In 2017, I wrote in Zombie Science that the word “science” has been used in several senses. In the best sense, “science is the enterprise of seeking truth by formulating hypotheses and testing them against the evidence. If a hypothesis is repeatedly tested and found to be consistent with the evidence, we may tentatively regard it as true. If it is repeatedly found to be inconsistent with the evidence, we should revise it or reject it as false. We call this enterprise empirical science.” (Emphasis in the original.)

Some ideologies (such as Darwinism) wrap themselves in the mantle of science even though they lack — or are inconsistent with — the evidence. Such ideologies, though appearing to be alive, are empirically dead. Like the walking dead, they are “zombie science.” 

Rafferty gives lip service to “evidence-based” gender care. But when the AAP rejects an approach that is supported by the evidence (“watchful waiting” for children with gender dysphoria) and promotes only an approach that is inconsistent with the evidence (“gender-affirmative care”), it is practicing “zombie science.”