Some Biology

See the source imageA friend in social media alerted me to a Catechesis on the Human Person penned by Bishop Michael Burbidge. I suspect other people may be better qualified to discuss this document from a different perspective, but let me offer mine, plus a concern or two.

First, I admit I am a male. I remember my first attraction to girls when I was five. Susie Wood and I raced our tricycles around a block of townhouses where we lived. I went home so happy, I ate my peas off my dinner plate and I announced to my parents I was glad to do so.

If there’s a spectrum of sexual attraction, I’ve always leaned so far to one side, I could be considered lateral.

I’ve also been aware of Church teaching on sexual acts outside of marriage for almost as long as I’ve been a Catholic. So I have no doubts, nor any need for reinforcement on that score. 

From medicine, natural law, and divine revelation, we know that each person is created either male or female, from the moment of conception.

Well, not exactly. Divine revelation is based on human biology. In other words, how God made us. It seems clear some people are made differently. If they are, natural law would suggest we need to examine how such persons live their lives to a natural fulfillment. And it all circles back to biology, where not everybody falls into the category of XX or XY. We know for many species of life on Earth, it is not as simple as one or the other. Some animals and plants are both. Some change over time. 

I observe that the political landscape around sexual orientation is so fraught with politics, deep feelings, and psychological issues in families, organizations, cultures, and the Church that getting to the scientific truth may well be impossible these days. The suggestions of extra chromosomes or twins fused in the womb with both XX and XY or that more than one factor goes into determining a person’s gender or sexual identity is easily dismissed. Maybe too easily. 

(I)n keeping with the authoritative witness of Scripture (cf. Gen 1:27), the human person is created male or female.

Well, no. The original information is pagan, a non-Jewish Middle Eastern creation myth before people knew anything about genetics. It could be true that most all people are either male or female. But biology determines that. We reject the flat Earth depicted in Genesis. It harms nothing of faith because the importance of Scripture is not scientific accuracy, but religious witness.

Under the heading of “The Witness of Science,” we read:

We know from biology that a person’s sex is genetically determined at conception and present in every cell of the body. Because the body tells us about ourselves, our biological sex does in fact indicate our inalienable identity as male or female. Thus, so-called “transitioning” might change a person’s appearance and physical traits (hormones, breasts, genitalia, etc.) but does not in fact change the truth of the person’s identity as male or female, a truth reflected in every cell of the body.

No. Actually we don’t know that. We don’t know that every cell identifies a person as one or the other because we can’t actually test every cell. 

The elements of the letter that call for care, generosity, concern, and accompaniment of others is important. And likely must be received more deeply and internalized. 

But I wouldn’t turn to a bishop as a first expert in biology any more than I might ask Jordan Peterson to give his verdict on religion. Scientists do their disciplines, like psychology. Bishops are due their respect as pastors. Unless we’re willing to do real research in things like lab coats rather than in chasubles, we might be better off not stating absolutes where none may exist. Or we lack the definitive expertise to say one way or the other.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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3 Responses to Some Biology

  1. Liam says:

    If the bishop wants to cite Gen 1:27 as the direct authority, a fact checker would require him to alter his choice of conjunction.

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