A renowned biologist denounced the trendy “inclusive” biology education for diluting important scientific categories and concepts that are perceived as being “harmful” to students who identify as transgender.
Jerry Coyne, a prolific evolutionary biologist and author of the bestselling book, “Why Evolution Is True”, hosts a website by the same name where he wrote a scathing review of a published paper that he says “vividly demonstrates the infiltration of ideology into biology education.”
“Biology is not, and should not be, a form of social work,” Coyne said plainly. “We should not tailor what we teach to the goal of affirming everybody’s identity. That is therapy, not biology.”
The world-famous biologist Richard Dawkins shared Coyne’s review of the paper to his Twitter followers on Wednesday, without comment. Dawkins famously lost his “Humanist of the Year” award in 2021 for asking his Twitter followers to consider the logical parallels between transgenderism and transracialism. Dawkins received the honor in 1996 for his “significant contributions” to science and humanism, but the American Humanist Association abruptly withdrew the award for “demean[ing] marginalised groups” using “the guise of scientific discourse.”
— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) October 19, 2022
The paper in question, published in Bioscience in 2021, is titled “Six Principles for Embracing Gender and Sexual Diversity in Postsecondary Biology Classrooms” and is aimed at training college biology professors on how to teach the subject in a way that does not “harm” the students by making them feel “unwelcome,” but in doing so waters down important concepts in science. According to the paper’s authors, failing to teach biology in an “inclusive” way has “dangerous repercussions,” though it remains unclear what dangers they are seeking to avoid.
“The explicit aim of this pedagogy is not just to teach biology but largely to advance the authors’ social program,” said Coyne. Coyne shared an excerpt from the paper that illustrates this point:
At their most harmful, biology courses can reinforce harmful stereotypes, leaving students with the impression that human gender and sexual diversity are contrary to “basic biology” or even that they themselves are “unnatural.” At their most beneficial, biology courses can teach students to question heteronormative and cisnormative biases in science and society. On a larger scale, by encouraging an inclusive and accurate understanding of gender and sex in nature, biology education has the power to advance antioppressive social change.
In response, Coyne offered his own explanation of the purpose of biology education: “At their most beneficial, biology courses teach students what biology is all about, to inspire them to learn biology, and to learn the methods by which we advance our understanding of biology,” said Coyne. “It is not to advance antioppressive social change, which, of course, depends on who is defining ‘antioppressive.'”
The first principle promoted by the paper’s authors is to emphasize the necessity of “diversity.” In “inclusive” biology education, this requires putting undue significance on teaching exceptions to the rules in nature, like the unique adaptation of male seahorses and sea dragons that allow them to get pregnant and carry eggs in their pouch.
“It makes little sense to me to teach the exceptions before the rules, or the diversity before the generalizations, unless you do so to advance an ideological program,” said Coyne.
Coyne makes the argument that while the authors of the paper claim to be avoiding an appeal-to-nature logical fallacy, they unintentionally make one. The appeal-to-nature fallacy occurs when something is claimed to be good because it’s perceived as natural, or bad because it’s perceived as unnatural.
“Human diversity is good because we see similar diversity in nature,” the paper reads, directly contradicting their stated goal of “avoiding the notion that anything found in nature is inherently good (the appeal-to-nature fallacy).”
By emphasizing exceptions to sexual reproduction, especially those that occur in non-mammals, and de-emphasizing the sexual reproduction that applies to the vast majority of species in the animal kingdom, the authors hope to validate the identities of “nonbinary categorizations, intersex characteristics, same-sex sexual behavior, transgender identities, gender nonconforming presentation and behavior, and so on.”
Coyne believes the appeal-to-nature fallacy is fallacious because it draws moral principles from biological facts, which is not something science is philosophically equipped to do.
“So Zemenick et al. do advance value argument—an argument designed to show ‘diverse’ students that they are not abnormal and should not feel bad about themselves,” said Coyne. “While I agree that we shouldn’t denigrate students for their sexual orientation or gender identity, or any other trait, you don’t need to teach in a way to validate the identity of all students.”
In order to cultivate an “inclusive” classroom, the authors suggest that instructors “confront their unconscious biases, such as homophobia, transphobia, or interphobia, through education and self-reflection” and attend “LGBTQIA2S + sensitivity training.”
“Somewhere along the line, the authors of this paper have forgotten that the purpose of biology class is to teach biology as it is understood today, not to coddle the identities of students,” Coyne said.
Coyne’s solution is to scratch “inclusive” pedagogy and simply tell students at the beginning of the class, and re-emphasize that no moral or social lessons about humans should be drawn from the facts of biology.
“If some students feel ‘non-included’ by facts taught in a civil manner in college biology, that is not up to the instructor to fix,” Coyne stated.