Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Call to Honesty? Global Warming "Alarmism"

According to a post I read on Facebook earlier today, global warming being caused by human-made atmospheric emissions was once and for all debunked. I thought, "hrm... that's curious," so I clicked on the link the post was referring to and came across James M. Taylor's article, New NASA Data Blow Gaping Hole In Global Warming Alarmism, about how NASA data apparently prove that global warming is not a big deal. The article is an interesting read, and obviously an op-ed piece, full of the same sensationalized language he chastises "alarmists" of having. What gets me is not the data Taylor cites, which doesn't say much aside from the fact that the more apocalyptic-leaning predictions of scientists may be wrong since the earth's atmosphere lets a significant amount of energy into space. As far as I could tell, the data did not say that global warming is an hoax nor did it say that we should stop caring about carbon emissions. One can read the press release here or the abstract or full article here.

The article does not make conclusions about what is causing climate change, but merely says that as of right now we do not know whether or not the climate is changing as a result of human-made emissions. The data also does not explain continuing data and observations about climate change that show that the climate is changing (the article I linked to I found on NASA's very own website on climate change, In the end, the article really does not say much other than computer models were wrong because they did not take into account this new finding on earth's atmosphere's ability to adapt. It does not say that global warming is a hoax, nor does it chastise what Taylor calls "alarmists."

But here is the interesting part. This is how Taylor ends his article:

"When objective NASA satellite data, reported in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, show a 'huge discrepancy' between alarmist climate models and real-world facts, climate scientists, the media and our elected officials would be wise to take notice. Whether or not they do so will tell us a great deal about how honest the purveyors of global warming alarmism truly are." (Emphasis Mine).

What I find most interesting about the article, as I said, is not the data it points to. What I find most interesting is Taylor's call for global warming alarmists to be honest. I say this is interesting because Taylor is the senior fellow for environmental policy at the Heartland's Institute. I find Taylor's call to honesty interesting because the Heartland Institute, a non-profit organization, received more than $600,000 from Exxon-Mobile. How can Taylor ask honesty of the scientific consensus when the company he works for received significant funding from Exxon-Mobile? A call to honesty, indeed.

There will need to be more research to see how much of a negative effect human-made emissions are making upon the planet, certainly. And I'm sure it will cause climatologists to adjust some of their findings. And, although the vast majority of data I've read and come across suggests that global warming and climate change is at least partially (if not primarily) caused by human activity, I know that carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases damage local ecosystems. Even if global warming really were once and for all debunked, as my friend's facebook status declared, it would not change the fact that humanity is having a negative impact on the earth. You need only look at polluted streams, disappearing ecosystems, rising cancer rates in urban areas, and vast islands of plastic in the ocean to see that.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Gender, Sex, and the Brain

I had the opportunity to listen in on a conversation between a young mother and a mother of a college-aged student as they shared experiences, stories, and wisdom. This was at a church function in an urban area. The young mother’s husband was sitting at the table as well, his child in his lap.

The conversation turned as the mother of the college-aged student said, “Just wait until she grows up, then you’ll be up all night worrying.”

Another mother joined in and said, “One time, my son stayed out several hours past his curfew. I was worried sick. And would you believe it? My husband went to bed! I woke him up and asked him how he could sleep when our son could be out there in danger or hurt. My husband replied ‘if there was anything wrong, we would have heard about it. Now I need my rest so I have the energy to kill him when he comes home.’”

Everyone around the table laughed. Then the mother of the college student said, “It’s true, though. My husband and I are the same way. It just goes to show you, mother’s worry about their children and nurture them and love them. The fathers are the disciplinarians. They love their children too, but in a different way.”

I watched the expression of the young father as this conversation continued. The joy in his face, playing with his young daughter, to the nervous agreement he made that yes, as a father, he loved his child in a different way than the mother.

What are the differences between the way a mother and father nurture their children? Well, for one, neuroscientist Lise Eliot shows that mothers and fathers both “respond more to a baby’s cries than the brains of male or female nonparents; the experience of parenthood is stronger than the fact of gender.” According to an article in Discover Magazine on Elliot’s research, published in 2009, there are some differences in brain chemistry between men and women at birth, but the majority of behavior is acquired through experience: “Nature sets the ball rolling, biasing boys and girls toward different interests, but the gaps themselves are largely due to learning and plasticity.”

What are these differences?

Another article, “Do Men and Women Have Different Brains?” (Discovery Fit and Health, 2008) by Molly Edmonds, outlines a few of these differences. For one, men generally have larger brains than women. But, that does not mean that men are smarter, as women have ten times more white matter than men (white matter being dense with neural connections). In this way, one could say that women’s brains compensate for size by having a more complicated setup. Scientists suggest that the reason men have larger brains is simply because they tend to be taller and larger in size, but that women’s brains are set up differently to counteract the size difference.

Another difference is that women tend to use both the right and left hemispheres of the brain while men tend to rely more heavily on the left side of the brain, perhaps relating to the fact that women’s brains are more complex in set-up then men’s brains.

Furthermore, the article cites that men tend to score higher in math than women. The article asks the question if this is a result of nature or nurture—whether men are just inherently better at math and the sciences because of the way their brains work, or if it is acquired through societal expectations and constructs, nurture, and learned behavior. The article almost immediately dismisses this conclusion on the basis of Sandra Witelson’s research. Witelson, a psychologist, examined Albert Einstein’s brain. She said portions were significantly different than that of the average person’s brain. Since there is no evidence of Einstein having a significantly different childhood than the average person, Witelson suggests in her research that brain structure is developed at birth.

One might think that this article proves that there are biological differences in the way men and women think. I do not think that Einstein’s brain can be a proof-case. Certainly, a genius’ brain will look different than that of an average person. But a genius’ brain in and of itself cannot prove that women and men think differently solely because of biology.

Cited before, Eliot’s research, published after the article by Edmonds, believes that there are slight differences in male and female brain structure that accounts for small differences in behavior. These differences are accented by societal constructs. For instance:

“When the toddler son of peaceniks pines for a toy army truck, she argues, he is expressing an inborn tendency toward active, physical play that has been shaped by social influences, not by the effects of a ‘gun gene’ on the Y chromosome. Until about one year of age, boys and girls are equally drawn to dolls; it is only later, when boys become more active, that they strongly prefer balls and cars. Parents also play a role in shaping their children’s interests, often in ways that they may not be fully aware of” (Dickinson).

The article also picks up on the differences between men and women when it comes to math.

“There are certain areas of math involving spatial skills that males definitely perform better at. Even in infancy, boys do a little better at visual mental rotation. But we need to appreciate how much this ability is enhanced through play like sports, building toys, and video games. When it comes to other aspects of math—addition, subtraction—girls actually have an advantage. They do slightly better. So you can’t generalize about all math abilities” (Dickinson).

This is further discussed by Allison Ford in her article “Busted! Five False Myths About Gender Differences.” She writes:

“It’s been established that boys tend to do better on math tests and are more likely than girls to choose math-centric career paths, such as engineering, technology, and computers. The real problem, though, is not an actual biological handicap, but the perception that girls are inferior at math. Many tests, like one professors at the University of Texas and New York University conducted, found that when they tested groups of people who were primed to think about the bias against women, the women scored poorly, but in groups that were primed to think about gender-neutral subjects, the score gap disappeared. This ‘stereotype anxiety’ is a well-known psychological phenomenon in testing, and many researchers now believe it accounts for much of girls’ lower performance on math tests” (Ford).

Ford’s article also looks at other myths, such as women being more emotional, intuitive, and talkative, and men being more competitive, proving that they are just myths.

So what is the answer?

First, it seems that all of the research in these articles is inconclusive. The differences between adult men and women can be just as much acquired as biological. For instance, women might think with both hemispheres more often than men simply because they are taught to do that in an early age, whereas men are taught to think logically at a young age, resulting in more limited development between hemispheres. Also hinted at in some of the articles but not shown extensively is the role hormones play. The levels that hormones (such as testosterone and estrogen) play in all this neurological stuff is still being discovered. Thus, any neurological differences between men and women must be taken with a grain of salt since, at least currently, we do not have the resources to figure out how much truly is biological and how much is developed behavior.

Second, these are just tendencies. Yeah, the majority of men might be better at math (for whatever reason), but some women are geniuses at math. No one should be restricted or expected to fail in any subject simply because they are more likely to because of their sex. As shown, the evidence is not conclusive, and, more likely to fail does not mean will fail. Tendencies are just that: tendencies. Many women can be extraordinarily smart when it comes to math and science, even if the majority of their sex is not. The problem is when these tendencies become rules for the norm, restricting women and men from subjects (or things, emotions, experiences, etc.). Just because a woman might not do as well at math does not mean that a woman should not do math or be discriminated against in hiring or schooling.

Third, humans have a remarkable ability to overcome biology, both for good and for ill. For instance, breast cancer is no longer a death sentence and smallpox has been eradicated from the earth. Also, childhood obesity is on the rise in certain countries, which is primarily due to a harmful and unhealthy diet, interfering in the normal development of a human child. I say this to point out that even if science were to conclusively say that the different ways in which men and women think are solely caused by biology it does not mean it has to stay that way. Some extreme feminists have envisioned a future that would not require women to have children to continue the human population. Perhaps part of this future means that women and men no longer have to be bound to the biological differences in the way they think. Perhaps there will be a future in which women and men truly are able to have an equal footing in all aspects and realms, both physically and mentally. Who knows, it may even happen naturally as humanity continues to evolve.

But, for now, we should stop throwing around these misconceptions about the differences between men and women, at very least for that young father, who was told by the “wise elder” that he should not show compassion, as that’s the mother’s job; for the mother who is expected to be always full of compassion for her children even if she desires to be the disciplinarian; or for both if they want to share equal aspects of parenting in their children’s lives. But most of all, we need to stop this gender stereotyping for the women of yesterday and today who were and are told that they are not smart enough, and therefore not good enough.

A few notes:

1. I am not a scientist. Nor am I analytical in thinking. I perform horribly in math and science. I tend to think much more abstractly. This alone proves that not all men are inherently better than women at math and science. I also say this simply to let readers know that my understanding and knowledge, by my own admission, are not nearly as complete or credible as the sources I quote. There has been a lot of great work done by feminist and non-feminist scientists and psychologists alike, and I direct you to them for more information and further reading. Aside from the articles I quote, I also lift up Lynda Birke’s book, Feminism and the Biological Body, which seeks to bridge the gap between feminist philosophy and biology.

2. A word about the terms “gender” and “sex.” I use the word “sex” to mean one’s biological sex: male, female, or intersexual. I use the word “gender” to mean one’s acquired gender identity and traits, which may or may not be linked to their biology: masculine, feminine, etc. While I try to exclusively use gender and sex as so defined, I cannot say the same for the articles and quotes from other sources. I apologize if this is a source of confusion.

3. I also humbly ask that if you notice any factual errors, please let me know and I will do my best to correct them. Disagreements with points I make, or with the sources I use, can certainly be discussed in a professional manner—in fact—I encourage such discussion. However, comments that are inappropriate, aggressive, or combative will be deleted at my discretion.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Introduction to "Her Voice, The Pine"

On Becoming

My sister, JennaMarie Warfield, inspired me to kind of renew or refresh this blog. She recently devoted her own blog to her journey of becoming. By journey of becoming, I mean an ongoing, continuing journey to becoming who one is. For my sister, well, here are her words from her introductory entry: "I have been on a journey, a journey towards new understanding. To be more specific I have been on a journey towards feminism. I have gotten to the point in my journey where I have decided that I can no longer keep it to myself." I encourage any readers of my blog to check her blog out.

I spoke a little about my own journey, specifically as a man, towards feminism in a previous entry. What that entry did not say was that along my journey it got to the point where I could barely sit through a worship service without the strong desire to walk out or watch an episode of my favorite television show without the urge to turn the television off. The exclusive language, the patriarchal images and themes... all unintentional (I hope), but painful and wounding nonetheless. I can only imagine what it would be like as a woman to sit through a worship service week after week, be barraged with these advertisements and television shows daily.

I decided, inspired by my sister's courage and example, to rededicate this blog. I am tired of posting the sermons that I tried to fit into the box of "right" theology. I am tired of constricting myself and my beliefs to align with the limited (and often very sexist) views of Luther and the other reformers. I instead want this blog to be a place to try out new language and thoughts in a public sphere. I want a place to test my new-found and evolving thea/ologies and understandings of the divine, to dip my toes into the water, or, if necessary, taking a running head-first dive into the pool.

One might say that this is very conceited or self-serving. But, I respond, since when was blogging not conceited or self-serving? Even so, I hope this will be more than just an experiment in vanity, but a place for discussion and discovery.

So what might you see on this blog? Well, my passions in social justice, ecology, and feminism, for starters. Perhaps some book recommendations. Perhaps some good discussion (please feel free to disagree with anything I say through comments or messages). But definitely a safe place to discover and be discovered. Perhaps this little experiment will fail, which is alright, too. Simply put, as my sister said, "I have gotten to the point in my journey where I have decided I can no longer keep it to myself."

On Language

You may notice when reading the entries (especially from here forward, but also throughout) that I often refer to the divine as "she." I do this for many reasons, most of them personal. But I'll try to explain a little of my lexicon of the divine here.

First, it is my personal belief, though shared by many, that the divine is neither male nor female. In fact, the divine could simply be the sum total of all the laws of the universe. The divine could be the force from the Star Wars films. Who really knows? But, regardless of what the divine actually is, I do believe that humanity, the earth, and the entire cosmos are a part of the divine (a kind of panentheism, lit. "all in God"--you can check out a previous entry I wrote about the distinctions between panentheism and pantheism). As such, the divine is neither a man nor a woman. The divine is so much more than that. Yes, you might say, but if God is not a man, then God is also not a woman, so why use "she?"

Well, all language of the divine (or anything else) is inadequate. Language is flawed, broken, human. Language often reflects the values, images, and identities with which it was formed. As we live in a patriarchal world, language unfortunately reflects that patriarchy. Masculine terms, such as "mankind" and "men" are incorrectly assumed to include the feminine. Same with the term "God."

The term God has taken on a male identity. God is solely referred to as male, and reflects traditionally "masculine" traits, such as Warrior, Savior, Lord, Father, Son, Master, King, Almighty... the list goes on. The word God then, at least in use and general understanding, is masculine. Sometimes I will use the word "God" to refer to the divine. But, in my use of the word I realize the patriarchal and masculine assumptions tied in and attached to the word, although it is my hope (perhaps a hope in vain) that the word God and other such words can someday be divorced from these broken attachments.

The word goddess is the female equivalent to god. Goddess has traditionally been assigned to female deities of what are often patronizingly called "primitive" or "pagan" religions. As such, many who do see the divine as more than just a penis in the sky will not go so far as to ever refer to the divine with the term "Goddess" because of the assumptions and connections to these "primitive/pagan" religions. I personally find the word "Goddess" liberating in my own understanding of the divine, so you will probably see me refer to the divine from time to time with the word "Goddess."

The terms I probably will most often use to refer to the divine are "God/ess" and, yeah, you guessed it, "the divine." The term "God/ess" is one I first encountered in Rosemary Radford Reuther's book Sexism and God-talk: Toward a Feminist Theology. She introduces the term "God/ess" by saying

"I use the term God/ess, a written symbol intended to combine both the masculine and feminine forms of the word for the divine while preserving the Judeo-Christian affirmation that divinity is one. The term is unpronounceable and inadequate. It is not intended as language for worship, where one might prefer a more evocative term, such as Holy One or Holy Wisdom. Rather it serves here as an analytic sign to point toward that yet unnameable understanding of the divine that would transcend patriarchal limitations and signal redemptive experience for women as well as men." Reuther, P. 46.

In a sense, the word "God/ess" is a word of hope, a word of becoming. In a way, it raises up the very distinctions made by Jacques Derrida when he wrote of "différance," pointing to a meaning outside of itself, something greater, deferring and differentiating all in one.

The word "divine" is another term I use often. To me (I cannot speak for anyone else) it is detached from the patriarchal connotations of the word "god," and also the (perhaps unfair) "pagan" connotations of the word "goddess." It has been used to describe any divinity of any religion, and as such it is a purposefully broad term, spacious enough for my mind to fail to grasp the full possibilities of the term.

As for pronouns about the divine…. Well, unfortunately, the English language does not have an adequate third person sex-less pronoun. It is her/his, she/him, she/he. The word "one" can sometimes be used, as the word "it," but neither have the same weight of the sexed pronouns. So, while I will use "one" on occasion to refer to the divine, I am usually stuck using a "masculine" or "feminine" pronoun. The question then is, which do I use? I will say this right now. I will more often use the "feminine" pronouns to refer to the divine then the "masculine." I do this for many reasons. For one, God has been exclusively referred to as a He for way too long, and it's about time we change that. When it comes to God, the He is assumed. By using She instead, we work against the assumptions that God is in fact male.

She, in a sense, is a shock of recognition. The shock that God is not just a he, but the recognition that follows that oh yeah, God really is not just a he.

More than that, I, for inexpressible reasons in my journey of becoming, simply have grown to relate to the image of the divine as "She Who Is" (Elizabeth A. Johnson, She Who Is). As I have said, I had gotten to the point that any masculine reference to God was painful to me, not to mention causing anger and sorrow rolled up in one. For a while, I could only refer to the divine as completely devoid of sex, never using a she or he. But over time, I tried out the female pronouns. I began to imagine the divine as Mother of the universe, having held the entire cosmos in her womb. I then began to see and experience the divine as Daughter. Over time, the divine, as she often does, broke out of even those images (the images of mother and daughter, after all, are flawed and broken with patriarchy) until... I could only describe what I felt, saw, experienced, lived, as "She Who Is."

So when I refer to the divine as "she," know that for me it is a term of liberation from a very broken and very small old image of who "He" was.

I also might add that I did not always feel this way. Older entries show me using very exclusive language. I considered editing these older entries but realized that would betray the journey. Part of any journey is looking back to see how far you have come.

On the Title "Her Voice, The Pine"

"Her Voice, The Pine" is a reference to a lyric of song. Well, that's actually only partially true. It is in fact a reference to a misheard lyric of the song "Seven Swans" by Sufjan Stevens (from the album Seven Swans, 2004). The actual lyric goes "I heard a voice in my mind / 'I am Lord, I am Lord, I am Lord.'" The first time I heard the album, driving along Pennsylvania's turnpike one fall day, I heard the line as "I hear a voice in the pine / 'I am Lord' [etc.]" (thanks in part to Sufjan's closing to the “n” in "mind" early... bad enunciation, dude). Even though by the second time I heard the song I figured out the actual lyric, the idea of a voice on the pine saying "I am Lord" struck me deeply. It's a powerful image. I picture myself in a field, the stars out in ribbons overhead, the sky a deep purple, the moon a silvery eye. The wind shakes the pine, the pine rattles a whispery tone: "I am Lord."

In my journey of becoming the image has stayed with me. The divine who seeps up from the firmament of the universe, the divine whose body is the very soil under my feet, the air I breathe, the water in my eyes as the sun's light bursts along the optic nerve. When I hear her voice on the pine, I think of the closing to Rosemary Radford Reuther's book, Sexism and God-Talk: "She, in whom we live and move and have our being -- She comes; She is here" (p 266).

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

My god's a burning bush

My god’s a burning bush—
     with spry peals of fire
     woven between her nimble branches
a dancing covenant.

My god’s a burning bush,
      a pillar of fire by night and cloud by day,
      a setting sun, a glowing ash,
a quiet whispered sigh.

My god’s a burning bush,
      with hearts entwined like nesting birds
      upon a leafy glowing bough,
a crackling, a smolder.

My god’s a burning bush,
      a poisoned tree, a broken heel,
      a concrete knee upon blood and soil,
a lost wisp, a phantom.

Our god’s a burning bush,
      chains laid to rest, quiet skies broke open,
      freedom, song; spark, catalyst
an open question… ?