Author Greg Koukl
Published on 06/10/2024
Sexuality and Gender

Disagreement over Transgenderism Is a Disagreement over Fact

Greg and Amy discuss the difference between denying a person’s claim to be a different sex and denying a person’s claim to be a Christian and then give ideas for how to respond to someone who says the two are parallel.


Question: An atheist acquaintance of mine compared my denial of someone’s “womanhood” if they are biologically a male to his denial of my belief in Christianity. How would you go about navigating this conversation, although these two things do not seem analogous to me?

Greg: Well, if a person denies the belief in Christianity because they think it’s a false belief, then it’s perfectly parallel to a Christian saying that a woman is not a man if that individual has female sexual organs. It’s perfectly parallel, but it’s not a difference in kind, and it’s certainly not hateful in either case. It’s a disagreement about matters of fact. But it seems to me that one’s sex is a lot easier to determine as a matter of fact than one’s religious claims.

There is a difference in the kind of claim being made. What we are claiming is that Christianity is true to the way the physical world—the external, mind-independent world is in itself. Our beliefs match the way the world is. That’s an objective truth claim. Now, he could say it doesn’t match and give the reasons why. Okay. Fine. That’s what these kinds of discussions entail.

But in the case of gender, what the claim there is, is my belief about myself, for the transgendered person, does not match the way the objective world is, and the objective, external, mind-independent world is irrelevant to the truth of my claim. Truth is all in my head, not in the world, as it were.

So, in this sense, the kinds of claims being made are opposite of each other. Where the Christian is making objective claims about the world that are either true or false, the gender dysphoric person or the transgendered person is making subjective claims about their beliefs, which can’t be false because just simply believing them makes them true in their system. So, on the one hand, they’re exactly the same in one sense, but they’re exactly the opposite in another sense, and that’s the way to answer this. The distinction is, if you think my view is false, well, we’re similar, because I think that view is false.

But notice there is a difference in the kind of claim we’re making. We’re making claims about the objective world, which can be assessed and analyzed, and that’s the classical definition of truth. The Christian is making the same kind of assessment of the transgendered person and looking at the objective world, yet the transgendered person, and their advocates like this other individual, is saying truth is actually in their head, subjectively. That’s where the real truth is. So, there’s a very different way of understanding truth.

Now, it just occurred to me, the way to play their rules against them is to say, “In my head, that person with male genitalia is a male. In their head, they’re not. So, that’s not true for them, but it is true for me.” So, even if we play by the relativist’s rules, they’re still not going to be able to ground a reasonable objection against our view. If reality is in our heads, then I’m going to tell you what my reality is regarding that other person. Now, they’re not going to like that. They’re going to consider that cheating, but it’s playing by the same set of rules, which just goes to show, what’s mine is mine, and what yours is mine, too. That’s kind of their approach.

Amy: As I’m looking at this, I’m wondering if, because we are thinking of this in terms of what’s true about reality in both cases—what’s true to reality about their sex and what’s true to reality about Christianity—because they’re thinking that your beliefs make you a woman, what I’m seeing here, and what I’m wondering if they’re saying is, they’re denying that they’re a Christian because denying that someone’s womanhood is wrong because that’s what they think, therefore that’s what they are, therefore I’m going to deny that you’re a Christian because just because you think you’re a Christian doesn’t make you a Christian.

Greg: So, they’re presuming you’re playing by the same subjective rules that the transgendered person is playing by—whatever is in your head.

Amy: That’s what I think. But they might not even be asking about whether or not Christianity is true. They might just be saying, “Well, I don’t have to accept that you’re a Christian just because you say you are—just because you believe you are.” But, of course, this is where we can explain to them, we’re talking about something different. We’re talking about two different things. I can think I’m a Christian, or I can identify as a Christian, and it’s not a fact of our physical bodies whether or not we’re a Christian. That actually is dependent on our beliefs. Whether or not I’m a Christian actually does depend on what I believe.

Greg: Yes, but what you believe about the nature of the objective world. This is why I think that the Christian is not actually cornered in any way, shape, or form with this challenge, for some of the reasons that we’ve been discussing already. Although I think it is a sophisticated kind of challenge, and I can see how Christians will get—“Oh. What do I say? What do I do? How do I get there?” Because we could just say, “All right. You’re free to do that. You can diss me, or you could say, ‘You’re not really a Christian just because you believe it.’ I say, “Okay. You’re welcome to that.” They’re not willing to do that with us. If somebody just thinks that’s a mere belief in my head and has no relationship to objective reality—look, the number of people are legion who actually think that about Christians. I’m not losing any sleep about that. I’m not saying you must affirm that I hold this as objectively true. No, I’m not going to do that. That’s not our style. It doesn’t even matter to us, in a certain sense, but it matters to them. We must affirm their view of things or else we get canceled or we get called names or we get fired or a whole host of things. So, this is another way where the Christian can just say, “Well, if you’re going to dismiss me because it’s merely my belief, okay. Go ahead if you want to do that. No skin off my nose.”

Amy: This would be a great chance to bring up all these different things. You could even make the point, “Look. I think Christianity is true because it accords to reality, and I think a person’s sex is part of the physical reality, and that’s where I’m coming from.” Now, if you’re saying that you’re denying that I’m a Christian, well, when I say that person is not really woman, I have a reason for that. I’m saying that it does not accord with reality. So, what is the aspect of reality that makes you think I’m not a Christian? Because, if you have a reason like that, then, I think it’s legitimate for you to question that.

Greg: This is just, “Oh, yeah. Well, I’m going to say that back at you, too,” instead of having a purposeful reason for raising that objection. It’s just schoolyard nonsense.

Amy: I think they legitimately don’t understand our issue because people in this culture have been so trained to think of things like gender as being a matter of our own beliefs. They genuinely don’t understand why we’re opposed to it. So, I would start with, “You know, it could be that you really don’t understand where I’m coming from, so let me just explain to you why I think our sex lines up with the biology—that I’m connecting it with reality, that I think it’s part of the natural world that God created.”

And you can say, “Look, you probably won’t agree with me, but I just want to make sure you understand the claim I’m making because I could sound crazy or just mean if I go against somebody saying that they’re a woman when they’re not, but I want you to know, that’s not coming from a place of hatred. That’s coming from a place of principle, and here are my principles.”

Greg: And you could also ask, “What do you mean by that?” In other words, clarify for me why you think that there is actually parity in our two claims—my claim about the transgendered and your claim. How are these similar? Now, that’s where they might clarify for themselves, all of reality is in our heads. So, if you’re going to deny the reality in their head, then I can deny the reality in your head kind of thing. But, then, there’s this other element. I have a reason for questioning the reality in her head—an external reason, objective reason. What is your reason for denying the so-called reality in my head except for just, kind of—well, you don’t have to say this, but this is what it amounts to—just simply mean-spirited retaliation, because I think that’s part of what’s going on here. It’d be interesting to hear why they think that the circumstances are actually parallel, and of course, you can also make the distinctions that you just suggested.

Amy: And I do agree—you said earlier, Greg—finishing this off with, “You know what? It’s okay, what you think about whether or not I’m a Christian. That doesn’t affect whether or not I’m actually a Christian, and that’s okay. We can disagree.”