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  • Writer's pictureJoshua Spatha

The Metaphysics of Sex & Gender

Updated: Mar 18

Our modern society has pushed sexual boundaries and bent definitions so far, that it has come full circle and is undermining its own foundation. Though most modern gender identity advocates and activists don't realize it, their arguments now present them with an uncomfortable dilemma which strays far beyond the realm of science and into those of philosophy and theology. Ironically, to make sense of these entangled concepts, the advocates are forcing us to evaluate their claims with the very constructs which they would otherwise wish to avoid.

Matter Matters

Since the Enlightenment, Western society has become more and more enamored with materialism, the idea that nothing exists except matter, its movements, and its modifications. In this view, everything that we experience is simply the result of particles and energy, the interactions of atoms, molecules, and chemicals. This worldview expressly rejected the notion of metaphysical or spiritual realities and therefore led to the rise of humanism as the West's guiding philosophy. Humanism posits that given that nothing exists except matter, the universe is ultimately a cosmic accident, life is meaningless, and therefore with no absolute truth or transcendent purpose, the best man can hope for and strive toward is his own personal happiness.

The problem of course, is that happiness is rather subjective and what makes one person happy may make another person miserable. So, humanism primarily strives for the happiness of humanity as a whole with individual happiness a secondary consideration sought whenever possible. Essentially, humanism borrowed a principle from paganism as outlined in the Wiccan Rede: do whatever you want as long as it doesn't harm anyone else. This opened the door for moral relativism and allowed everyone to define their own truth and live by it. This naturally led to all sorts of sexual norms being broken and eventually, even championed as "progress" in human rights and freedoms. Do whatever you want, live your truth, be whoever you want to be, you're your own god, or so the mantra went. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.

With no moral absolutes and reality determined by matter, we couldn't condemn atypical sexual behavior as they were simply born that way, their sexuality determined by genetics. You couldn't fault a person for their sexuality any more than you could fault them for their ethnicity, nor did you have any ability or authority to make moral judgements for anyone other than yourself. The issue with this biological argument is that its proponents simply assumed it to be true and that science would eventually prove it so. However, there is scant actual evidence that people are indeed "born that way" and science has yet to find "the gay gene," with the most recent and comprehensive study concluding genetics cannot predict sexual behavior as nurture and environment simply play the far bigger role. Ironically, scientists are now on a quest to try to identify "the trans gene," and while there has been quite the media stir and sensational headlines about early findings, the actual researchers are much more sober about what they mean. The lead author of one of the leading papers in this field, Dr. J. Graham Theisen, cautions,

"Our research is still preliminary in nature, and we are a very long way from knowing what (if any) significance our findings have. The DNA of any randomly chosen individual will contain unique variants, and as a result, identifying variants alone is not sufficient to make any claims regarding causation of, or even relation to, a given phenotype. Therefore, we have not yet identified any particular genes or genetic variants that we know to be involved in the development of transgender identity, though that is the eventual goal of our research."

As you can see even from this honest statement, there is significant confirmation bias present in this kind of research. It's not a neutral investigation, but rather the goal is to find genes which cause the development of transgender identities because there is an underlying assumption that this must be the case. But after decades of research, though a few recent studies have found some correlation between certain genes and high-risk behavior (including deviant sexual behavior), even those studies conceded that nurture played a larger role than nature. The argument that sexuality is merely a product of biology fits nicely into the materialist framework. It absolves all guilt and shame and removes all responsibility, but also removes all agency from the individual — they are simply animals acting according to their genetic programming. However, the evidence doesn't support the hypothesis. These studies have repeatedly shown that genetics cannot predict, and therefore do not determine behavior.

The real problem for this biological or genetic causal mechanism though, came when deviant sexual behavior wasn't radical enough anymore, so the concept of sexual identities came to the forefront of culture. Ideologues seem to simultaneously hope for a genetic explanation to justify deviant sexual behavior, while gender ideology requires they reject any and all biological correlations to behavior in order to allow people to identify as another gender despite the very real and known genetic factors. In fact, recently gender ideology advocates have begun to argue that even sex is not biologically or genetically determined. The activists seem to want to have their chromosomes, and eat them too.

Metaphysical Implications

If you accept the premise that biology does not determine gender, you automatically must also accept the concept of the metaphysical soul. If you believe atoms, molecules, and chemicals determine sex and gender, a materialist worldview is at least logically consistent. But if all your atoms, molecules, and chemicals determine you're a male but you think you're actually a female, then we must conclude that the mind, will, and emotions are not solely determined by matter, but by metaphysical factors as well. If we accept the idea that a woman can be trapped in a man's body, then we must also accept that a separate and distinct non-physical soul must exist in order for that incongruity to occur. But as soon as you admit there is more to reality than matter, you open the door back up to higher metaphysical truths and realities which then undermine the entire materialist and humanist worldview which permitted such hedonism in the first place.

So, we have now come full circle as a society. We rejected metaphysical truths and embraced materialism in order to determine our own morality, our own morality rejected boundaries and embraced deviant sexuality, and now deviant sexuality has rejected materialism in order to embrace metaphysical truths about gender identity. However, if matter doesn't determine or produce mind, then one must ask a rather obvious and possibly uncomfortable question: where does mind come from? And as soon as you ask that question, you have left the realm of science and must venture into philosophy and theology which then invoke the questions of higher truth and morality which would indicate that we are not a law unto ourselves.

At this fork in the road, Western society really only has two options. We can continue to assert that nothing exists outside of matter and therefore sexuality is purely determined by genetic coding with even one's mind, will, and emotions determined by biology, or we can pivot and concede that reality is comprised of more than just physical matter and open the door back up to metaphysical and spiritual realities. If we hold fast to the current course of materialism, we can justify relativism and whatever code of morality or depravity one chooses, but we would also have to concede that matter and biology also determine sex and gender, so males are men and females are women. The same molecules of DNA which determined you are male cannot simultaneously produce chemical and synaptic interactions in your brain which determine you are female.

Now, the argument is supposedly that sex may be biologically determined, but gender is simply a social construct, so a male may not be able to be a female, but he can be a woman. However, this argument is clearly a ruse and a distinction without a difference, as the solution advocated by this ideology is to immediately transition the individual to artificially emulate the biological features of the opposite sex. Penises, testicles, and testosterone, as well as vaginas, breasts, and estrogen are not social constructs, they are anatomical features based on biological sex, determined by immutable chromosomal factors.

Often bandied about as scientific proof of non-binary realities and justification of transgender identities is that fact that about 1 in 100 people are intersex, meaning they were either born with a genetic condition, or possibly were exposed to synthetic hormones in utero which causes in some individuals both male and female genitalia or features to develop, or neither. Most intersex people grow up never needing any kind of medical intervention, special treatment, or care, and many don't even know they are intersex without a genetic test. What seems to escape the activists and advocates, however, is the fact that even in intersex people, it is biology that determines their reality, not their feelings, not their perception, and not their social construct.

Gender roles and concepts of masculinity and femininity can certainly be social constructs, but physical features of men and women are not. As such, a boy who likes to play with dolls more than trucks may be labeled effeminate due to social norms which are often based on typical sexual characteristics, but that doesn't make him a woman, it just means he is likely more interested in people than things. The advocates are simply and erroneously conflating gender with personality. You can be a nurturing male with high emotional intelligence and you can be a calculating female with low emotional intelligence. A more effeminate male therefore may be in the statistical minority for his sex, but that doesn't mean he needs his genitals hacked up and stitched back together in true Frankenstein fashion in order to be his "authentic self."

However, the other option our society could pivot to at this point is to acknowledge that there is more to reality than matter and the physical universe. While this may appear to solve one dilemma, it creates many more for the moral relativist. However, with metaphysical realities back on the table, at least the idea of a soul occupying the wrong body does become theoretically possible.

Dueling Dualistic Frameworks

There are two main views regarding the nature of the soul with one believing the soul is a completely separate entity from the body, and the other believing the soul is an integral component of the body. The former was formalized as Cartesian Dualism, named after the philosopher Rene Descartes, while the latter as Thomistic Dualism, named after the theologian Thomas Aquinas. Cartesian Dualism is derived from Greek philosophy, specifically Neoplatonism, while Thomistic Dualism is derived from biblical (Jewish) theology.

Neoplatonism, similar to Buddhism, believes that reality is defined by thought and intellect, not matter. As such, reality is constructed by a hierarchy of emanations, beginning with The One — the impersonal and immaterial source of all things — which emanates Nous which is the divine mind of pure intellect. The Nous then emanates the World Soul which is the collective energy or force in the universe. The World Soul then emanates the material world as well as individual souls. Within this framework, the human soul emanated from an eternal pre-existing reality and therefore is itself eternal. As such, the human soul enters into a body for a time, but when that body dies, the soul is either reintegrated back into The One or is reincarnated into another body.

Similarly, the Cartesian concept of the soul views it as a distinct and separate entity from the body. In this concept, the physical body is nothing more than a sleeve for the soul. The body is both temporary and disposable as the soul (thought or intellect in this framework) is what defines you and true existence. As such, the soul comes first, then the body, and when the body perishes, the soul continues as it is believed to be eternal or immortal by nature. It is this Greek concept which could theoretically be adopted by modern gender ideology in order to posit that a soul was somehow sleeved in the wrong body. Under this construct, alterations to that body are morally akin to alterations a tailor would make to a suit or dress as it is your soul — your mind and intellect — which is the true you as the body and the material universe are fairly inconsequential.

The Nature of the Soul

However, the Jewish framework is different than the Greek in a few key ways. While the Greek concept of the soul was pure mind or intellect, the Jewish biblical concept incorporated the mind, the will, and the emotions. Thomistic Dualism goes a bit further and breaks the soul down into five faculties: the mind, the will, the emotions, the spirit, and life. Despite this concept of five faculties, in both Old Testament Hebrew and New Testament Greek, the soul and spirit are two different words and concepts and life also would be difficult to categorize as a faculty of just the soul. Quibbles aside, Thomistic Dualism is derived from biblical theology and contrasts Cartesian Dualism in other areas as well.

Unlike the Greek concept of the eternal soul as part of The One, the Bible gives no indication that human souls are immortal — quite the opposite in fact. According to scripture, God created man and therefore humanity was not part of eternity past alongside God. Furthermore, sin brought death into God's creation, dooming man to that fate. Genesis makes it clear that God removed the option for man to acquire immortality until the proper time and through the proper process. Remember that after man sinned, God immediately removed the Tree of Life from the garden so that man could not eat of it (Gen 3:22-24). This was to protect man from becoming immortal in his fallen state, otherwise humanity would suffer the same fate as the fallen angels — eternal condemnation.

By removing the Tree of Life and allowing the consequences of sin to play out, God made redemption possible. By becoming man, God could bear the consequence of humanity's sin first and redeem him from his fallen state. Then and only then could He defeat death and offer those who believe eternal life and immortality. In Revelation we actually see that our redemption is complete as those who enter Heaven are finally granted access to the Tree of Life once again (Rev 2:7, Rev 22:2, 14, 19). So, despite the popularity of the notion in the church, Neoplatonism's concept of the immortal human soul should be rejected.

The Jewish Encyclopedia identifies this Greek intrusion into Jewish and Christian theology quite plainly, stating, "The belief in the immortality of the soul came to the Jews from contact with Greek thought and chiefly through the philosophy of Plato, its principal exponent, who was led to it through Orphic and Eleusinian mysteries in which Babylonian and Egyptian views were strangely blended." Major theologians and church fathers such as N.T. Wright (20th century), John Nelson Darby (19th century), and Tertullian (2nd century) have also admitted this concept stems from Greek, rather than biblical texts.

Wright, in his book Surprised by Hope, stated that, "Platonists believe that all humans have an immortal element within them, normally referred to as a 'soul'... In the New Testament, however, immortality is something that only God possesses by nature and that he then shares, as a gift of grace rather than as an innate possession, with his people." Darby likewise states in Hopes of the Church, that the idea of the immortal soul "is not in general a gospel topic; that it comes, on the contrary, from the Platonists..." Even Tertullian was explicit in admitting the source of his theology in this regard, citing the authority of Plato, not the Bible. In his work, Resurrection of the Flesh, the ancient church father stated, "I may use, therefore, the opinion of Plato when he declares, 'Every soul is immortal.'" We therefore must acknowledge that the concept of the immortal soul is eisegeted into scripture, not exegeted from it.

While Cartesian Dualism could in theory account for an eternal and therefore pre-existing soul being inserted into a mortal body which feels alien to it, the creation account in Genesis clearly describes an entirely different order in giving man life. God did not first create Adam's soul, separate from a body, and then sleeve it with a disposable shell. Genesis explicitly states that God created Adam's body first from the dust of the earth and then gave that body life. This sequence is critically important.

And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. -Gen 2:7 KJV

As a result of this sequence of creation and the biblical rejection of the Greek concept of the eternal soul, Thomistic Dualism doesn't view the soul as a separate entity from the body, but rather that the soul is an integral component of the body. This biblical framework establishes two things: that the soul is not immortal, and that human life requires both body and soul. This is the Thomistic Dualism understanding, that we are not just embodied souls, but ensouled bodies and we do not experience consciousness without both components integrated. Paul goes to great lengths to convey this truth in 1st Corinthians chapter 15, speaking of a seed that must die to sprout new life and stating that the mortal must clothe itself with immortality and the perishable body must be exchanged for the imperishable body for us to experience eternal life (1 Co 15:53).

The Neoplatonist/Cartesian concept myopically understands conscious existence (life) as solely a product of the immortal soul, which can float around in the ether completely disembodied both before birth and after death. The biblical authors however understood that life and consciousness required both body and soul to experience — that the elements producing life are indivisible and irreducible. In Hebrew, this combination of body and soul was called nephesh which we see in the Genesis account as when God breathed the breath of life (n'shamah) into Adam, his physical body became a living soul (nephesh), not his physical body was given one. With our earthly bodies being perishable due to the curse brought about by Adam, Jesus had to come as the second Adam to redeem the curse so that death would not be permanent, but at a set time a resurrection would occur and the heirs of Christ would be given new bodies, which are imperishable and thus give them eternal life or everlasting consciousness.

Sex, Gender, & the Soul

With a biblical framework in place, we see that misgendering a soul isn't really possible because the body comes first, and the breath of life which makes that physical body a living soul comes second. The mind, the will, and the emotion doe not pre-exist the body, they are intrinsically bound to the body, which is why the Bible speaks of the hope of the resurrection and eternal life in new spiritual bodies when Christ returns. Human consciousness requires a body and life only occurs when the body is integrated with the soul.

In this way, an aspect of materialism is correct in that the material body, or biology, determines mind. The genetic code which God designed to produce physical life sets the initial parameters of the human mind, however, the mind is not merely physical. There is a non-physical element then introduced by God which gives the metaphysical mind agency, free will, and the ability to be impressionable and influenced by outside forces. This is the classic nature vs. nurture argument and both are at play in humanity, but they also have limits and boundaries. Nature sets certain parameters, and as varied and vibrant as nurture can be, it must color within those lines. No amount of nurture can make a man a wolf due to genetic realities, but conversely, no amount of nature can make a man act against his will — we are not bound to certain behaviors by genetic determinism.

What the gender debate highlights, is the case for metaphysical realities. The fact that the mind can believe and behave in a manner which is completely contrary to material reality casts a rather large shadow of doubt over the materialist worldview. If matter is all that exists, then mind is merely a product of DNA and our thoughts are simply a product of material processes — chemical reactions and energy pulses which are programmed and predetermined by molecular machinery with no real agency or free will to speak of.

This determinism is a logical conclusion of materialism and is held by most atheists, but it simply cannot explain gender dysphoria. If mind is determined by matter, then a male with XY chromosomes, testosterone, male genitalia, and male developmental and biological characteristics, should not be able to reject all that genetic programming and physical reality to make the claim that their "true self" is a woman. What exactly is that true self? What does that true self consist of? By definition, it must be metaphysical as it clearly is not simply a product of physical matter. Essentially, gender ideology asserts that sex is a physical construct, but gender is a metaphysical construct. Their conclusion may be wrong, but their acknowledgment of the discrepancy between physical reality and the mind's metaphysical reality is accurate.

By jettisoning the idea of materialism and acknowledging the reality of the metaphysical world, the discrepancy can at least theoretically be explained. While Cartesian Dualism may appear to be the preferred model to accommodate gender ideology, actually both Cartesian and Thomistic Dualism would reject the notion that the soul of a woman could be trapped in the body of a male. And despite the two model's many differences, actually they would reject the idea for the same reason: mind is neither male nor female, man nor woman. In Cartesian Dualism, mind is pure intellect which emanates ultimately from The One, which is impersonal and immaterial, meaning it has no sex or gender. Pure intellect therefore has no gender, it only takes on such properties when embodied and therefore once again, gender is determined by sex and the physical body. So, this framework actually does little to explain why a human soul could believe itself to be sexually mismatched with its physical body.

Likewise, Thomistic Dualism rejects the misgendering of a soul as it doesn't pre-exist the body at all, but rather is part of the body and therefore once again, sex and gender is determined by the physical body or nephesh. But where it agrees with Cartesian Dualism is in what happens after the physical body dies, because the soul itself is not merely physical, but also metaphysical. So, what happens to a metaphysical soul after its physical components which determine sex and gender have perished? Like in Cartesian Dualism, the soul then becomes neither male nor female.

"For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven." -Mat 22:30 NASB

"For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven." -Mar 12:25 NASB

After the resurrection, when the redeemed in Christ are given their new eternal bodies, those bodies, being spiritual in nature (again, see 1 Co 15), are like the angels — genderless. Thomistic Dualism, like Cartesian Dualism, affirms that sex and gender are solely products of the physical body as sex — both as a noun and a verb — was only designed at the beginning of creation for physical procreation in the material world.

And He answered and said, "Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE..." -Mat 19:4 NASB (emphasis original)

"But from the beginning of creation, God MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE." -Mar 10:6 NASB (emphasis original)

The Holistic Explanation

So, if the metaphysical soul has no sex or gender as both are determined by the physical body, which framework can account for, or offer any explanation of gender dysphoria? Here is where Thomistic Dualism demonstrates a clear advantage as it incorporates not just science and philosophy as Cartesian Dualism does, but also theology. Without the latter, we aren't accounting for all the factors and therefore see a very incomplete picture and can only propose very inadequate explanations.

With the theological or spiritual dimension added, metaphysical truth not only exists, but free will and moral agency exists, meaning a soul can choose to align with and accept truth, or rebel against and reject truth. Thomistic Dualism acknowledges the soul is more than just pure intellect, but also the will and emotions, and those elements have a tendency to go rogue and be quite irrational. With the theological dimension added, truth isn't an impersonal abstract concept, but is embodied by a very personal being who also has intellect, agency, and emotion. An infinite being who is good, and whose truth is therefore the highest possible good — the perfect standard by which all others are measured and all others fall short. This truth, if adhered to, therefore produces the best outcome possible, because it is entirely good, having been identified among all possible possibilities and personified by an infinitely intelligent, wise, and good being with the agency to do so. This truth produces life and life abundantly, with all other paths and possibilities producing less desirable outcomes, all ultimately ending in death. Truth, like in math, means that there is one right answer, but countless wrong ones.

In this holistic paradigm, truth is not an amoral abstraction, but the highest possible good intelligently identified and personified by a supremely good being. In this holistic paradigm, that infinitely good being chose in his infinite wisdom to give moral agency to mankind allowing humans to choose to walk in that truth or turn from it. In this holistic paradigm, gender dysphoria then makes sense and sadly falls in line with all other human behaviors which reject truth and deviate from the highest possible good — behavior collectively known as sin.

This assessment does not necessarily require spiritual discernment as it can readily be made by utilizing just material and physical metrics. We can easily judge that gender dysphoria and the resulting transgender identities and behaviors do not produce the highest possible good. Those in this category suffer some of the highest rates of mental illness of any demographic alive as well as some of the highest rates of suicidality. They have a drastically lower expected lifespan and if subjected to hormonal therapies or surgical interventions, are likely to also suffer from chronic debilitating health issues producing drastically lower quality of life. This condition hinders them from healthy reproduction and the mental, emotional, social, and financial stability provided by traditional marriage, parenthood, and nuclear family. If medical interventions are pursued, healthy reproduction isn't just hindered, but made impossible along with all sexual function, rendering these individuals sterile and barren eunuchs serving in the court of popular culture which venerates them, but should not at all envy them.

There are of course individuals who are born intersex, or with genetic defects which prevent normal sexual function. This reality can also be explained within the biblical theological framework as deviating from the highest possible good doesn't just affect the individual, but the whole of humanity. Scripture makes it clear that sin brought about suffering, disease, and death which affected all mankind and even all of creation (Rom 5:12, Rom 8:19-22). Creation is suffering the corrosive effects of man's sin and everything is in the process of breaking down, including genomes. As more genetic information is lost and more harmful genetic mutations accumulate, man's physical body is wracked with the consequences of the choices of his metaphysical soul. Sickness, disease, suffering, death, and destruction were not God's original design; they were the natural product of rejecting truth and thus deviating from the highest possible good. This is the unintended but natural and inevitable domino effect of cascading failure initiated by even a single component failing in any finely tuned complex system.

"For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother's womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it." -Mat 19:12 NASB

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. -Rom 8:28 NASB

"He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away." And He who sits on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." -Rev 21:4-5 NASB

The good news is that God is still good, and as a being of infinite knowledge, wisdom, and power, is able to redeem man even at his worst if we simply turn from sin and return to truth. The physical world is still broken and suffering the consequences of the sin which has already been inflicted upon it, but this too will someday be redeemed and made whole once again. What is done can not always be undone, which is why our hope is not in this world, but in the one to come when all will be made new again, and all wrongs will be made right. This is the promise of the Gospel and the ultimate solution which can only be seen with the spiritual dimension joining the physical and the metaphysical. Without it, not only is there no ultimate hope for the future, but also no coherent explanation for the present.


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