Scientific Literacy

Core Tenet #4 & Scientific Literacy

Today we are talking about Core Tenet #4 regarding scientific literacy and how it applies to two topics that are often misunderstood by the average layperson: the distinction between sex and gender, and genetically modified organisms.

GMO’s are actually everywhere. Unless you somehow own a tame wolf, coyote, or fox, your dog is a genetically modified organism. The strawberries you find in the store, unless they were picked wild, are genetically modified organisms. Oranges and most other citrus fruit are the result of thousands of years of genetic modification. Bananas were barely edible before human intervention created the berry (yes, bananas are berries) we know and love today. Prior to its domestication and modification, corn would have about ten kernels per ear. If we really had to label foods that do not occur “naturally” as a “GMO” you would have to stamp half the produce department. It is called “selective breeding” and we have been doing it ever since we found out we could, thousands of years ago. Just because we did not know what genes were at the time, does not mean it was not genetic manipulation. It is also practically a tradition at this point to apply the latest scientific advancements to the modification process. Where once we used a hatchet and hoped for the best, now we can use a scalpel and fine-tune the desired changes. We can make things better: Golden rice is fortified to produce Vitamin A and is used in areas that suffer from a shortage of Vitamin A. Of course, ignorant activists oppose it, because it is a “GMO” and that is one current boogeyman that the scientifically illiterate have decided they are against. Monsanto may be a horrible company, with horrible practices, but so is Wal-Mart. We do not villianize the things you can buy at Wal-Mart, and it is unfair to condemn all genetic manipulation due to the actions of one terrible company that uses it. Let your mind be a scalpel and cut the truth out of the matrix of mis-information, propaganda, and deliberate falsification of data. In other words, learn about your topic before you perpetuate bullshit.

Another thing we need to remember that what we were taught in grade school about biology was intended to be a foundation, not an exhaustive or comprehensive education on genes and hormones and how they can affect the body’s physical presentation. We are obligated, as thinking human beings, to learn more than we learned as children, about everything. This is especially true if you have strong opinions about a subject and you want to express them publicly. If you declare that there are only two sexes, dammit, or the tired old “boys have a penis, girls have a vagina” thing that was not really funny the first time, you are just demonstrating your ignorance. Genetically speaking, biological sex is messier than the tidy binary that people want to believe. There are about six biologial sexes, based on genes and hormones. Then, of course, there is gender identity, which may or may not align with the sex a person was assigned at birth. Gender expression is purely a social construct, at this point divorced from any kind of biological restriction, as it should be. Women do not have to be traditionally feminine if they do not choose to be, any more than men are required to exhibit traditionally masculine traits. Most of the hack comedians whose whole schtick is about “the differences between men and women” are just perpetuating tired old stereotypes that have not really been true for decades, if they ever were. I would posit that most of the “feminine” or “masculine” things we do are the result of socialization rather than biological impetus, which makes them subject to change. We are seeing such changes now, as more and more people choose to express a more nuanced gender identity rather than the strict binary we were raised with.

Did any of the ideas presented in this sermon challenge your previously-held beliefs? If so, are you going to adapt your worldview, or do you simply reject the new information?


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