By Tesla's Butler - 22 Aug 2012

The Trouble With Biotruth

For those who have been fortunate enough to escape biotruth logic, I’ll start by giving a brief summation of the kinds of arguments that fall into that abyss.  When it comes to discussions about gender, they take the following form explicitly, but there is always an implicit context to these arguments (which I will include in brackets as part of the quote):

“Men are x, women are y.  That’s just how humans are; it’s biology.  [And therefore the behavior you’re complaining about is acceptable.]”

There is a problem with both the explicit and the implicit portions that come from completely different directions.  One is scientific, one is philosophical and logical, both render biotruth little more than a joke in rhetorical form — especially to skeptically minded audiences.

Starting with the explicit portion, “Men are x, women are y” is a scientific claim.  Biotruthers believe they understand the behavior that human beings are naturally programmed to exhibit.  The question that dispels their myth is a simple one:  “how do you know this?”

Human behavior IS influenced by hard-wired tendencies, but also by culture.  In order to get a reading of what human behavior is when the slate is clean, we’d have to actually observe humans in a culutural vaccuum.  Biotruthers most certainly have not done this (even when they attempt to do so in a rigorous way as many researchers have), as their observations are always made in the culture in which they live.  Their conclusions are based experiments that abjectly fail to control for all the variables and can therefore be dismissed immediately on scientific grounds.

The problem with the bracketed portion is much more damning however.  Even if we could ascertain what the natural tendencies of men and women are, that would tell us nothing about how men and women should behave.  Believing otherwise is a classic Is-Ought mistake; that is to say, nothing about how the world is tells us about how it should be in any rigorous sense.  You still need an external moral system for that.  Arguing that because women and men naturally behave a certain way they should continue to behave that way is as logical as arguing that because women and men naturally shit outside, bathrooms are immoral.

It saddens me that rationalists regularly employ these lines of reasoning, but we aren’t infallible.  This merely underlies the importance of self-criticism and keeping an open mind.  When we fail to be skeptical of ourselves, we fail to be skeptical.

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squirrelywrath2August 26, 2012 4:22 pm

Well also the whole separation of biology and environment is the result of a fallacious understanding of both and how they interact. You cannot view a “blank slate” picture of development, unless you want to look at the Romanian orphanages of the late 80’s and early 90’s. Another equally valid example could be feral children. There we see examples of extreme environmental neglect which resulted in mental retardation and a host of other health problems. We need social interaction with our own species for proper brain development. That social interaction is necessarily cultural. As a result, the burden of cross cultural data necessary to determine these biologically based universals is enormous, and rarely met (as of current data sets) in the behavioral sciences.

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