Further Reflections on Joan Roughgarden

The more I learn about Joan Roughgarden, the more I am intrigued by the idea of a church group undertaking an extended discusssion of her views on the compatibility she sees between her version of Evolution and the body of beliefs that most Christian denominations hold in common.

To begin with, Dr. Roughgarden (Harvard Ph.D in Ecological Studies) is without question a challenging author.

Born in Indonesia in 1946 to American Episcopal missionary parents, her original birth name was Jonathan. That's right. She is a transgendered male who in 1997 marched in San Francisco's annual Gay Pride Parade alongside a float sponsored by a support group for transgendered people. When she was about to undergo her transition from male to female, she went -- as Jonathan -- directly to his boss -- the then-Provost of Stanford University Condoleeza Rice -- and explained his reasons for wanting a year's leave of absence and to seek re-assurance from Provost Rice that he would not be fired when he returned to Stanford as Joan. She was not fired, and it is rumored that Condoleeza Rice -- in a display of the verbal skills she later used as Secretary of State -- told Dr. Roughgarden during the interview that he would "make a lovely woman." (It's hard to get the pronouns straight on subjects like this.)

Since that time, Roughgarden has continued to pour out scientific articles and books as well as personal and popular essays. Her scientific articles are generally published in peer-reviewed journals; her books are generally published by respected publishing companies. However, many of those personal and popular essays are published in The Advocate, one of oldest and most widely read magazines aimed at the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered market.

See what I mean? As members of the church group discover these sorts of biographical tidbits, there are sure to arise challenging questions about this very challenging author.

Another challenge is raised by Roughgarden's reputation among her fellow evolutionary scientists. Many of the established authorities in the field of evolution consider her a maverick because she attacks the big names like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens saying that their theory of the "selfish gene" is exactly wrong. Poke about in reviews of her books and you will find her being counter-attacked in terms that range from merely dismissive to downright vitriolic. And some of her theories, for example, that homosexual activity is really normal and that social norms should be considered when constructing the definitions of male/female and man/woman -- well, some of her theories really upset some of her fellow scientists.

And the upset arises in other quarters as well. For example, when an Illinois school board learned that one of their high school English teachers had given an optional assignment of reading and then writing a report on Roughgarden's views, the teacher was immediately suspended.

Where Roughgarden's world-view is concerned, many people find it a challenge to remain civil.

Which brings us to her religious views. I have only read the introduction to her book on evolution and Christianity. (It's available on Google Books website along with excerpts from her other books.) She claims in that intro that she would not be an evolutionary scientist if she thought what she was teaching would in any way undermine the Bible's teachings. She says that the sermons she hears every Sunday give her the courage to speak about religion even though she is not a real Bible scholar.

Oh boy! In my opinion, what we have here is a very challenging situation.

I don't really know the discussion leader Mr. Short, but I think he doing the right thing in discussing evolution.

As I said earlier, however. I don't want to get involved in such a discussion.

Somebody is likely to get upset by discussing seriously such a challenging topic.

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