Tag Archives: biology

I’m At a Loss


I’ve been finding it difficult to come up with ideas for blog posts, which is why this blog hasn’t been very active lately. As such, I’d like to leave it up to the readers: what would you like us to write about? Would you like to know something specific about our atheism? Do you have an argument that you’d like us to address? Would you like us to discuss a particular book? Do you have any questions about Philosophy, Biology, or History? Would you like to know our stance on a particular feminist issue? Is there something else you’d like us to write on? Let us know in the comment section.

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I’m So Tired of These So-Called Skeptics


I can’t help but think that there needs to be a test before one can call themself a skeptic. It’s amazing how many people call themselves skeptics while having no critical thinking skills once so ever. This is the biggest reason I don’t really identify as a skeptic.

Today I received a reply to a comment I wrote on YouTube. The person considered themself a skeptic, but they couldn’t be bothered to supply any evidence to support their claim that masculinity and femininity are biological despite the fact that different cultures around the world hold to different ideas about what is masculine and what is feminine. Skeptics are supposed to be critical of all claims, and they are supposed to look at the evidence before they decide what is true, but so few actually do that. So many skeptics ignore the evidence and determine what they believe to be true on what society accepts, or who they hero-worship, or what they simply feel to be right. But that isn’t being skeptical.

Skepticism is a fine line to walk. It isn’t easy. But it also isn’t that difficult. Somebody says the sky is blue? Look up. Does the sky look blue? If yes, then do you have any reason to believe you are being deceived? No? Then the sky is blue. Obviously not everything is this simple, but it follows the same pattern. Someone says god exists? Can you see god? No? Then what other ways can we know something using our senses? Can we feel god? No? Can we smell god? No? Can we taste god? No? Can we hear god? No? Then how else can we find out if this claim is true? What evidence does the person making the claim have to offer? Can that evidence be verified? If not, then what does this say about the claim? If you can’t verify something using your own senses, and the evidence offered by the person making the claim isn’t verifiable, then the person’s claim can be dismissed.

But skeptics don’t generally have an issue applying this method to gods. It’s other things, more mundane things that skeptics want to be true, where they have difficulty applying their skepticism. But applying skepticism to one area does not a skeptic make. So where do skeptics fail?

Skeptics fail at applying skepticism to claims about sex and gender. It’s widely accepted that men are stronger than women. But how do we know if this is true? Can you see a man lift something that a woman can’t? Probably. But this is one man and one woman. So how do you turn the “this man can lift something that that woman can’t” claim into a “men are stronger than women” claim? First you need a lot of men and a lot of women. Then you need to compensate for weight difference. What do the results show? Obviously the average person doesn’t have time to do all of these experiments to determine what they should believe. Luckily scientists have done much of the research for us. So what have scientists found when they have done these studies? Are there studies that contradict each other? Does one debunk the other one? Are there meta-studies that explain why one is more accurate than the other? And are you sure your sources are good (ie. can you follow the source back to original research?)? Once you’ve done all that, you can be reasonably sure that your belief is accurate. However, to be a good skeptic, you can not say that you are a 100% certain that your belief is true. There is always a chance that you are wrong, and a true skeptic understands this. The problem with most so-called skeptics is they do not understand this.

So do you need to use the process given above to determine if your believes are true if you want to be a good skeptic? Yes. But it is not as daunting as it sounds. We all do the process to a certain degree, but most people don’t look at both sides of an argument, and they aren’t often open to changing their mind. The research doesn’t have to be done all at once. It can be done over the course of months or years, but both sides need to be considered, and you need to be open to changing your mind. That’s how we learn and grow.

So please, if you call yourself a skeptic, please make sure that you are as willing to apply your skepticism equally to all of your beliefs. And please make sure that you are willing to accept that you might be wrong. Because as soon as you say “I know x for certain” you cease being a skeptic. And as soon as you fail to apply the rigorous research needed to accept a belief you cease to be a good skeptic.


We Seem to Have Disappeared…


Withteeth and I haven’t been posting very regularly lately, but we do have a good reason. Our conference took place on Saturday, so a lot of our time went into that. Right now we are still in the process of recovering from the insanity.

However, we haven’t forgotten about the blog. Right now we are working on a large series. The series will go as follows: First we will do an atheism 101 where we will do a comprehensive overview of everything atheism that we deem important. This is meant to create an understanding between ourselves and our readers, as well as to educate theists about the topics of atheism that they might find the most confusing, and to give new atheists or those questioning their theism the resources necessary to make an informed decision about their stance and the words needed to express their views to others. Then we will do a Philosophy 101. This series will cover a vast array of topics in philosophy that will help our readers understand where we are coming from when we discuss philosophical ideas and how your ideas can best be expressed to us. Basically, this will be another way to eliminate miscommunication between ourselves and our readers. Then we will each do two separate 101’s: History and Biology. I will be discussing what history is, why it’s important, and what historians do in order to create an understanding of how historians come to the conclusion that certain events happened a certain way. Withteeth will be discussing Biology in an attempt to express why we do not accept creationism as well as to create a mutual understanding of what certain terms mean. Then we will collaborate once again on a couple more 101’s. First we will do a Feminism 101. Again, this will be to educate our readers about certain terms and to eliminate any misunderstandings about what certain terms mean. It will also be a way to express why we are feminists and why we find MRAs and Anti-Feminists problematic. We will finish the 101 series with an LGBT 101. Again, the point will be to create a mutual understanding of terms.

Given the topics we have chosen to discuss, a number of our posts will basically be repeats of old posts, however, we feel it is important to go through those topics again. We have two reasons for doing this series: first, it ensures that we can cover those topics that we have been meaning to get to but have not yet discussed, and second, it will help us create blog posts that we can refer back to when people ask us questions or make comments that we have dealt with multiple times in the past.

This is going to be a long series. the atheism one is already over 200 pages long. As such, it will likely take us the rest of the school year to complete this series. When we’ve finished this series, I will deal with all the books that I’ve put aside. This is meant to be a foundation, so hopefully the book discussions will add to these 101s.


What I think a robust sex education program would look like. Plus a rant!


I’d like to start by saying. Abstinence is not a substitute for sex education. It never will be it hasn’t been effective, and in wouldn’t be effective. Why? Because most people are going to have sex, so if all you do is tell them not to do then how are you surprised when they eventually have sex they make all kinds of mistakes and missteps. You can’t expect to leave the lights off and expect newcomers to navigate the space safely.

People talk about abstinence as though it is some holy grail of sex ed. If only we talked more about abstinence teens and young adults would stop having sex! Hate to tell you but your parents generation of teens had sex, your generation had sex mine does, and the next will. With puberty comes sexual desire, while this isn’t universal it is extremely common, and for many teens and young adults sex is a real and present possibility, and something many want.

Telling teens not to do something isn’t going to be effective, and just telling them the risks isn’t enough as many will go on to risk it anyway. Lying and misleading them into think the risks are greater then they are is a bad idea, because when they find out well good buy to any trust those teens may have had in the person(s) lying to them and those implicit in lying to them. Even if they don’t find out, they are still in the dark about the real risk, and how to protect themselves even if this “save themselves” for marriage they did don’t know the options available to them, including general sex tips like lube usage.

All that you end up doing by promoting abstinence is making those kids ignorant, not safer. Don’t believe me read through this it has some mighty good citations.

Now my rant against abstinence only education has run it’s course I know not many reading is agree with abstinence only and understand abstinence, while it is an option, is only a tiny portion of what our children need to be informed members of society in regards to sexual activity.

I’d like to see a whole (mandatory) course devoted on the subject who’s main point would be as follows.

  • Reproduction and anatomy (the biological side of things, also including intersex)
  • Sexuality, and a brief look into gender.
  • Consent education, and education about rape culture.
  • Safe sex, including contraception, knowledge about vaccine treatments, information about testing, types of sexual intercourse, including non-preventative sex. Resources resources resources, you can’t cover everything, but kids will find out if they want to know, so you might as well direct them reputable sources.
  • Healthy Relationships, how to communicate, how to determine what you want what your goals are and what your comfortable with, how to share that with your future or current partner(s) and how to respect and compromise with your partner.
  • Abuse identification and prevention.

By hitting this 6 major points I could see us giving children a robust foundation for them to build upon as they grow into adults.

Reproduction and anatomy so that they are getting to know what to expect, and it’s just good for health to know how our bodies worth.

Sexuality so we do not push a heteronormative agenda a leave all the LGBTQA children high, dry, lost and confused. As well has just make it clear to everyone that differences in sexual preferences exist and are both normal and natural.

Consent so people stop raping one another, and so our kids understand what rape actually is.

Safe sex because most of these kids are going to be having sex in the next several years best make sure they’re prepared.

Healthy Relationships are something wholly missed in most sex education programs, expect most people will be getting into relationships before having sex. It’s an excellent time to have kids start thinking about what they want and how to communicate those desires, and well as teaching them how to communicate in those future  relationships where disagreements or misunderstanding my form.

Domestic abuse is still a massive problem in our world and give the next generation the tools to better identify and deal with it will bring about what I suspect would be some massive positive changes.

This is my ever growing outline for what I plan to be teaching to my kids in the future. I hope to see what we teach in school expand to these important lessons which I feel many children never really learn except for the hard way.

Witheeth

PS. It has been brought to my attention that some folks are think that I want to do away with teaching abstinence altogether. That is not the case, I want to do away with abstinence only education(because it’s been shown highly ineffective, achieving the opposite of it goal), other wise abstaining from sex is a perfectly valid option if you choose it. However it is ill advised and ineffective to try to force abstinence, and does not teach those necessary skills. Also don’t sex shame it’s counter productive, but I’ll do a post on that later.


“Sex,” why I’m conflicted.


I’m a Biologist but I’m also an advocate for LGBTQA persons, and a Feminist.

So it has bothered me for sometime now to hear the growing idea that the word “Sex” is being seen by many to be nothing more then a social construct. A tool used to quickly label, but that sorely falls apart under scrutiny. Particularly under the light that is the diversity of humanity, and should probably be tossed out. Well I don’t completely disagree with that, but I also don’t want to throw out the word “sex.” To understand why I hold both of these opinions you have to understand that my definitions and understanding of “Sex” is radically different then how the general population tends to use the word.

In general, English speaking cultures, even our governments view the words Sex and Gender as synonymous. This is the root of my conflict because as a biologist I have a precise and well defined notion of sex, and one which does not tread into the territory of gender.

But as a feminist and an advocate for LGBTQA I understand that conflating these terms is dangerous. Both because is misses a wide variety of people who do not fit neatly in to the male and female genders, but worse of all it confused a whole bunch of biology, and physical structures, with social and cultural constructs. This is in no way to say we ought ignore these constructs or that they are not important. However, how you are conditioned, and taught to present as a child doesn’t have much relationship sex you might have.

Though I or Hessian will defend more fully the diffrences between gender and sex in a later post for now I’d like to focus on what I think of when I talk about a person’s sex.

Sex in biology is not a cut and dry, male and female affair. For the majority of biologists discussing sex female and male are only used when there are a few obvious traits that can be used to distinguish different types of gametes in a single species. In species with the male and female classification. Your male if the gametes you produce are smaller and/or more mobile. Your female if the gametes are larger and/or less mobile. That’s generally all there is too it.

You can probably already tell that this isn’t cut and dry by my use of and/or, but it does map nicely on to the general view with humans, since male humans produce sperm which are small and mobile, where the eggs produced by female humans are larger and lack the ability to propel themselves. Although quite often people who are called women, or men are not always female and male.

Sexual reproduction is an old trait, and exists in many forms. Many organisms have male and female style gamete production, but fungus and many sexually reproducing single celled organism being a key example have many sexes or as they are often called “strains” a whole variety of different sexes each often only comparable with  select few other strains. And even in organisms with gametes which fit neatly into the male/female divide such as plants you quickly realize that many organism, including most seed plants, contain both types of sex organs in the same individual (being hermaphroditic), not to mention the massive numbers of organism which can both reproduce sexually and asexually.

This plurality is the context I bring my understand of sex from. Sex is a really useful categorization for organizing reproductive capacity. Outside the frame work of ‘how can you produce offspring’ sex does not have much that is useful to say, and human’s are not exceptions to this rule either.

Certainty it’s true that there is some link between physical traits in humans and what gametes you produce, but these links are not cut and dry.  Not everyone can produce gametes,  and there are nor shortage of people (including trans* and intersex people) with physical traits which do not match what you’d expect by what gamete producing structures they possess. All of this is made more complex by the simple fact that the variety between even “typically” male and female people overlaps far more then in it differs, but if you willing to define sex by gametes like most biologists do, the vast majority of ambiguity goes right out the window.

Though there is a bit more of a downside from a social acceptance perspective. There are no shortage of people whom are for a variety of reasons unable to produce gametes. Now in cases where you  have lost the ability to produce viable gametes, such as people who go through menopause. I’m entirely willing to grant them the sex that they would otherwise have, but in the chance of people who can’t and could never produce gametes? Well I’m force to say they are sexless. Now from a biology perspective I have no problem accepting this, but I can understand that others might not be so happy about it.

Further because of how male and female have become conflated with man and woman, there are not shortage of people, largely intersex, Trans*, and gender nonconforming people who wouldn’t be too happy  if I was to start calling them male, female or sexless based on the gametes they do or don’t produce (assuming I could tell).  That and I don’t blame them for a second. There is tons of baggage tied up with these terms so one can not just ignore the history. Though it happens to not be something that should come up in conversation often, since really you shouldn’t be trying to find out what gamete a person produces. It’s rather personal and you can’t even figure it out just by knowing a persons genitalia, which is also something you shouldn’t be asking people about anyway.

But this is why I’m conflicted, I use sex in the scientific manner, so I’m not talking about the same thing as most people when I’m discussing sex. But I don’t want sex to be thrown out of the common dialogue either. Rather I want more people to discuss the ideas of female and male in term of gametes. It’s simple and it’s clear, but best of all it doesn’t conflate sex and gender. It might ignore issue of secondary “sex” characteristics, but those aren’t actually controlled by your gamete production, so when we are talking about breasts, voices, body hair, muscle mass, and the like we aren’t actually talking about sex we are talking about a whole swath of biological controls. Most notably hormones.

I’m interested to see what questions and ideas everyone has, I couldn’t be a through as I’d like given the breadth of these topics, but for those new to most of this I hope I’ve at least opened your eyes to the complex nature of life on our planet and within our species in nothing else.

Withteeth

 


Quiz Time!


But don’t worry: I give an A for effort. Okay, actually there will be no grades because this is more about getting your opinion. This blog will be a year old in a month, and our semester is about to come to an end. As such, I think it’s about time to see where we are with the blog. If you are willing to help us out, please answer these questions in the comment section. That way we can figure out how to make the most of our blog over the winter break.

1) What do you consider yourself as far as religion is concerned?

2) How do you define religion? How do you define spirituality?

3) How do you define God or gods?

4) In your opinion, what is the importance of the Bible? The Quran? The Bhagavad Gita? Any other religious texts?

5) What is Atheism? Secularism? Secular Humanism? Agnosticism? Anti-theism?

6) What do you want to know about the above? What are your concerns about the above?

7) What is the importance of Philosophy? History? Science?

8) What do you want to know about Philosophy, History, and Science?

9) Are you a feminist? Why or why not?

10) What do you want to know about feminism?

11) What would you like to know about us as feminists?

12) If you are willing to tell us, what is your gender (not sex, but gender) and sexuality? How do they affect your lives?

13) What do you think affects a person’s sex or gender?

14) What would you like to know about gender and sexuality?

15) What are your hobbies? What do you believe to be the importance of hobbies?

16) What would you like to know about our hobbies?

For those of you who remember my Bible project, I will be getting back into it. My semester was far busier than I expected, so I had to put reading for pleasure aside. As such, I haven’t read either the Bible or Mere Christianity in a while. However, I’ll try to get Mere Christianity finished before the winter semester begins. The Bible will probably need to be put aside during the second semester, so I doubt I’ll finish that before next fall.


Evolution what would you like to know?


I enjoy talking about evolution. What it’s about, how it works, and the nearly endless conclusions and consequences it entails. When talking about it or teaching evolution it can be so easy to miss things, and I certainly don’t know everything about it either, but rather then just shooting out a post I thought I’d give our excellent followers a chance to ask some questions, or propose a suggestion or two on things they’d like to know, and I’ll see what I can do. These can extend further into general biology as well, and be aware my expertise is mostly in plants.

Any one interested?

Withteeth


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