August 08, 2005

"Innate" Gender Differences and ... Autism?

Today's New York Times features an Op-Ed by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge University arguing that, when viewed on the level of broad statistical tendencies across the whole of the human race, males and females exhibit marked neuro-psychological differences, in some ways similar to those suggested by Harvard president Lawrence Summers (you all remember the uproar that ensued). Eager to avoid the mistake made by Dr. Summers, Professor Baron-Cohen is very careful to emphasize the "on the level of broad statistical tendencies" part, and for this I applaud him. As he says in the article, "the differences that show up in brain research reflect averages, meaning that they emerge only when you study groups ... The evidence to date tells us nothing about individuals."

Professor Baron-Cohen's study divides people into Type E, Type S, and Type B brains based on answers to survey questions (neuro-physiology was also studied, but we're getting to that part). Type E brains are those who have a predisposition for emotional empathy over systematic thought, Type S brains are more disposed to systematize the world than to empathize with the emotions of others, and Type E brains perform each function approximately equally. According to the study, 44% of women are Type E, and 17% are Type S. The numbers are almost exactly reversed for men, with 54% Type S and 17% Type E.

Interpreted as purely statistical data, rather than as "law" regarding the innate aptitudes of persons of different gender, these statistics are more or less common knowledge; they line up with experience. But what is the cause of this difference? Professor Baron-Cohen's group argues that at least some of this has to do with biology rather than environment, noting, for instance, that "on average, at 24 hours old, more male infants will look at a mechanical mobile suspended above them, whereas more female infants will look at a human face." No statistics are provided on this, but it sounds pretty convincing to me, and it doesn't particularly surprise me. The explanation provided by the study is that an individuals "brain type" in the classification system is determined by pre-natal testosterone levels. These findings also correlate to statistics about the size of various portions of the brain, etc., which again suggest heredity rather than environment.

The real clencher is that the article goes on to argue that autism is caused by excessive pre-natal testosterone levels, so that, in essence, autistics are "extermely male" in brain-function. He supports this by the two observations that (a) it is very common for autistic children to have parents who are both extreme Type S brains, and (b) autistics generally have an extremely pronounced disposition to systematize the world around them. Most interesting...

Posted by kpearce at 09:16 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 27, 2005

The Source New Testament on Gender Roles

Better Bibles Blog now has more excerpts from The Source New Testament, this time on the contentious subject of gender roles. Dr. Nyland's last book was subtitled "The Campaign to Control Gender Translation in Bibles," and in her BBB interview she asserted that "most people do not want to know what the Greek .... really says" in "the women passages." These comments, combined with her background as a lexicographer, and the new archaeological research she has access to, made me very interested in what she had to say here.

Before I dive into an examination of these passages, a word about my (lack of) qualifications: I am entering my third year of undergraduate education at Penn. I am majoring in computer science, philosophy, and classical studies, the latter with emphasis in Greek language and literature. As such, I have had three semesters of Attic prose (the Greek of classical Athens - Koine, the Greek of the New Testament, is generally seen as a much simplified form of this dialect), one semester of Homer, and one semester of formal linguistics (syntax). I've also been reading the NT in the Greek on my own time (when I have any) for the last two years. I've covered most of Matthew, all of Ephesians, and most of 1 Timothy so far (I expect to finish Matthew and 1 Timothy and get through 2 Timothy by the end of the summer). Other relevant areas of study include Roman history (I'll be taking Greek history this semester) and ancient philosophy. The reason I bring this up is that I think it is relevant to how the things I am going to say should be interpreted: I do read Greek, and I hope I have something to contribute to this discussion, but I am at least ten years of study away from being anything like an authority in the field. I have spent a few minutes comparing Dr. Nyland's translations to the Greek; she, in addition to having a Ph.D. in this area, spent six years, and most other modern translations involve teams of Ph.Ds, DDs and Th.Ds and periods of study that long or longer. That's my disclaimer. If you are still interested in my analysis, read on.

One of the general trends of Dr. Nyland's translation of these passages is her use of the term "be supportive" for hupotasso, traditionally translated "submit." This word is from the prefix hupo (which often means under - this is where we get the English prefix hypo, as in hypothermia, being "under" healthy body temperature) and the verb tasso, "to array troops for battle." Accordingly, the original meaning of this word, according to LSJ, the standard Greek lexicon in classical studies departments, "to place, or arrange, under." This is used in the Greek historians in a military sense, as the root word suggests: "to arrange troops under [a commander]." In the interview Dr. Nyland commented that interpreting word based on their etymology is "a big mistake in Greek." While many Greek words have meanings which are not obvious from their etymology (for instance, virtually ever Greek prefix can in some cases be used to make a word emphatic, rather than to actually change its meaning, and sometimes the totality of a compound word has a meaning which is completely unrelated to the meaning of its parts), I have to disagree with her. Here it is clear that the early usage of the word was related directly to its etymological components, and Plutarch, who was contemporary with the NT (he lived from 46 to 120AD) continued to use the word in its military sense (I don't have access to the Greek text of Plutarch, but LSJ cites Life of Pompey 64, and I assume they mean the phrase which my English translation renders "[Brutus] put himself under [Pompey's] command"), so this usage was not wholly obsolete. This fits perfectly with Paul's ongoing military metaphor, to form a picture of the family as a "platoon" in God's army, in which the husband is the commanding officer. In the middle voice (the middle voice is a quirk of Greek - different words mean different things in the middle which are not necessarily related to their meanings in the active and passive voices in the same way in all cases. Every use of hupotasso in the passages cited is in the present, and in the present tense the middle and passive forms are homonymous, so we have no way of knowing which is which), tasso, the root, can mean "to fall in order of battle." So if the military metaphor were to be preserved, and the word was interpreted as being in the middle voice, the passages could be rendered "wives, organize yourselves for battle under your husbands;" or, if passive, "wives be commanded by your husbands." These translations are probably too strong and may overemphasize a metaphor that Paul may not intend here (though I think he does, since he uses it repeatedly, and this section of Ephesians feeds into the "whole armor of God" section). In light of Ephesians 5:21, which instructs believers to "submit to one another in the fear of the Lord" (the next section of the book is, I think, intended to address the obvious questions, "how does that work? What kind of army has every soldier commanded by every other soldier?), and based on the types of relationships this word is applied to, translators decided on the weaker "submit." One virtue of Dr. Nyland's translation is that it emphasizes the purpose of the submission: the husband does not dominate the wife as though this, domination, were the objective. Rather, the wife (and the rest of the family; see Eph. 6:1, etc.) submits to the husband in order that the whole family might have clear leadership as it goes through the "battle" of life, and in order that the husband might have support from his "soldiers" in the "military operations" he chooses to undertake. I kind of like the differing perspective, and I think she makes a good point but, to someone who was not familiar with the more traditional translations, I think Dr. Nyland's rendering could be misleading.

I think her rendering of Colossians 3:18 is interesting. LSJ does give the traditional meaning of "to be fit or proper", but cites ONLY THE NEW TESTAMENT as authority on this. The Septuagint uses the word to mean "to belong, appertain." However, Dr. Nyland's translation, "to be connected" is by far a more common usage of the word in the classical Greek corpus. Very interesting.

Her translation of 1 Timothy 2:11-14 is a paraphrase. The meaning she gives may very well be correct. However, she is giving the MEANING. It is my belief that wherever it is possible a translation should have exactly the same degree of ambiguity and confusion as the original text would have had to the original readers. Here, context was necessary in order to get a precise understanding of the meaning. This context, where it comes from outside Scripture and is not part of our modern cultural context, could be included in a footnote. The phrase "I most certainly do not grant a woman to teach that she is the originator of man" is very interesting, but I can't see it in the text. The text says "I do not permit a woman to teach, nor to tyrannically dominate a man" (yes, the word traditionally translated "usurp authority" literally means "to be a tyrant"), and unless there is some funny grammar going on here that I don't understand, it just can't be read her way. The NT typically uses very simple grammar, and the simplest, most obvious reading of the grammar is the one above. Paul does not specify the content of what the woman in question is teaching.

I strongly agree with her rendering the text in 1 Timothy 3:11 as "the female deacons." There is no possessive pronoun there, nor even an article, so an interpretation as "likewise the women also," meaning the women who are deacons, is much more likely than "likewise the wives also," meaning the wives who are deacons. Plus, Romans 16:1 uses the female form of the word deacon (Greek masc. diakonos, fem. diakona) in reference to a woman named Phoebe. The NT appears in many places, particularly in the earlier writings, to use the word loosely, refering to all who serve in the church and not just those who fulfill some specific office for which there are requirements, but I nevertheless strongly favor the position that, in light of these considerations, 1 Timothy 3:11 is a reference to female deacons.

1 Corinthians 11:4-12 is translated very similar to traditional versions.

I really want to get my hands on a copy of this book, but it's pretty expensive and there are other things higher on my list of desired Bible study tools. I may break down and buy it soon, but for now I put in a request to the Penn library to buy it. If anyone reading this is affiliated with Penn, do me a favor and put in a request for this book here. The information you need for the request is available at the publisher's web-site here.

Posted by kpearce at 06:21 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack