Atheists tend to be strong supporters of transgenderism and the wider LGBTQ+ movement. For instance, a 2022 study by the Pew Research Centre in America found that the cohort within society who are most supportive of transgenderism are atheists (76%). This is not surprising. In their ongoing opposition to faith generally and Christianity in particular, atheists will champion any philosophy that contradicts the central tenets of Christian belief, including Bible’s clear teaching on the binary nature of sexuality. This is not to say that everyone who agrees with transgenderism is an atheist, but simply that the atheist movement in general has applauded transgenderism and openly promotes it as part of its ongoing campaign to undermine Christian beliefs and values.
But there is an inconsistency at work here that most people have not taken the time to consider. There is an implied spirituality to transgenderist philosophy that directly contradicts the fundamental tenets of atheism. Let me explain.
Consider the case of a man who thinks he is really a woman trapped inside a man’s body. He is saying that the male body in which he finds himself is not the ‘real him’ (I will continue to use the male pronoun for this person). The ‘real him’ is actually a woman, and the male body within which he resides is the wrong body – an outer shell that he inhabits; a body that is a mistake because it does not match the ‘real him’.
Stay with me. Let’s follow this through to its logical conclusion. If this is true, then we have to ask, what is this esoteric ‘real self’? Where does its essence reside? What is it? Is it the person’s spirit? If that is so, who was responsible for making this terrible blunder? Who put the wrong spirit into the wrong body? God? The angels on the production line? This view of the immaterial ‘real me’ would seem to completely contradict the stated atheism of many who support transgenderism – who do not believe in God or the existence of a spiritual or metaphysical dimension at all.
This is an important point. Hard atheism denies the existence of anything beyond the material universe. According to this philosophy, the material universe is all there is, and everything that happens within it has a purely natural, physical cause. This leaves atheist supporters of transgenderism in a quandary. How can they explain gender dysphoria if there is no metaphysical basis for ‘self’?
At this point many atheists point to the ‘real me’ as being the person’s mind; his personality and thoughts. But where does this mind reside? How did this person’s mind get into the wrong body? How was a male body given a female mind? Surely the mind resides in the brain. So, does this mean that a male body has been given a female brain? Is there such a thing as a male brain and a female brain?
Neuroscience studies of brain anatomy indicate slight variations between male and female brains when averaged across the whole population, mainly in terms of size. On the whole, male brains are slightly larger than female brains. But these differences are meaningless at the level of an individual in terms of diagnostic distinctiveness. For example, males, as a whole cohort, tend to have a slightly larger amygdala and hippocampus than females. They also have a slightly denser right frontal lobe, whereas females have a slightly denser left frontal lobe. These are very slight differences when the whole population is considered. But at an individual level, there is considerable variation within a gender. Male brains vary considerably from one individual to another. So do female brains.
The size and density of male and female brains can be charted on overlapping normal distribution curves, in exactly the same way that most other physical characteristics can. Importantly, these overlapping distribution curves show that a man with a smaller brain is not a woman, and a woman with a larger brain is not a man. They are simply normal variations within the normal distribution curve of their respective genders.
Furthermore, the sex hormones and chromosomes that are responsible for determining the gender of the body as it forms within the womb are also equally formative in the creation of the brain. The developing foetus does not have two conflicting sets of hormones and chromosomes which develop two distinct components of their physiology – one set for the brain and one set for the body. There is no physiological process whereby a male body can develop a female brain. Additionally, there are documented instances of identical twins where one twin subsequently becomes transgender and the other doesn’t. Identical twins have anatomically identical brains, so, clearly, the concept of the wrong gender brain in the wrong body is completely without scientific merit.
Thus, the argument that gender dysphoria results from a particular gendered brain somehow being formed in the opposite gendered body is facile and unscientific. There is simply no pathological or anatomical support for this explanation of a differentiated ‘real self’.
But that leaves us with only two remaining possibilities. Either the differentiated concept of the ‘real self’ is imagined or it is real. If it is imagined, it is therefore a mental illness. If it is real, it means that the ‘real self’ must be metaphysical – of a different order entirely from the atoms comprising the physical body. Yet both these conclusions are abhorrent to most supporters of transgenderism, particularly those who subscribe to an atheistic worldview.
In the case of the first possibility, the attribution of gender dysphoria as a mental illness continues to be vigorously opposed by both the transgender and atheist movements. There are ongoing and vociferous objections to the formal diagnostic classification of gender dysphoria as a treatable mental disorder. Yet, at the present time, this is indeed how it is formally classified. For example, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSMMD), which is the internationally recognised gold standard diagnostic tool for the identification and treatment of mental illness, published in conjunction with the American Psychiatric Association, categorises gender dysphoria as a treatable mental disorder. In other words, the current official view of world-wide psychiatric professionals, expressed in the DSMMD, is that people who experience clinically significant distress because of their belief that they are one gender trapped inside the opposite gender’s body, are sufferers of a mental illness.
The transgender community has strongly objected to this and are currently mounting a campaign in the United States to pressure the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to remove the classification. The APA has, to date, resisted this pressure, arguing that declassifying it as a mental illness would extinguish the federal funding that currently subsidises the treatment of this condition. And what treatment does the APA and the gold-standard diagnostic tool, the DSMMD, recommend? Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT is a psychosocial intervention that involves intense counselling which challenges and corrects thought patterns that are unhealthy or disconnected from reality.
It is only a matter of time, however, before the official categorisation of gender dysphoria as a mental illness is overturned and diagnostic manuals such as the DSMMD are rewritten. The vehement and highly organised objections of the transgender movement are making an impact. They want transgenderism to be viewed as a beautiful and desirable lifestyle choice rather than an illness that needs to be treated. But if this is their viewpoint, it leads them inexorably into a philosophical dead end. For the only remaining explanation for the existence of a differentiated ‘real self’ is a metaphysical one.
If a differentiated ‘real self’ is neither anatomically based (it can’t be explained by gender specific brain pathology) nor a false ideated construct (a mental illness), the only other possibility is that the ‘real self’ resides within the physical body but is distinct from it. This infers the existence of a non-physical component to life and consciousness – a metaphysical or spiritual dimension. Yet the atheist movement, which has unequivocally championed transgenderism, has a majority viewpoint that is fundamentally opposed to this conclusion.
I say “majority viewpoint” because it must be conceded that there is a minority of atheists who deny the existence of a personalised deity but remain open to the possibility of some kind of nebulous, non-cognisant spiritual dimension (whatever that looks like!). But apart from this minority exception, it is fair to say that most atheists adhere to the fundamental premise that the material world is all there is and that no metaphysical realm exists. For example, the noted atheist, Bertrand Russell, once proclaimed, “The universe is just there, and that’s all!”
Thus, atheism, in supporting transgenderism, finds itself championing a cause which inexorably leads to a conclusion that is completely antithetical to one of its own fundamental premises. To put it simply, the atheist support for the transgender movement ultimately undermines one of their fundamental tenets. Unless they are willing to concede that transgenderism arises from a mental illness, atheists must inevitably arrive at the metaphysical explanation, which fundamentally contradicts their majority viewpoint.
Sadly, most proponents of transgenderism have not engaged in this kind of logical, deductive reasoning. Support for transgenderism most commonly operates at a much more superficial level. Atheists support it primarily because of its contradiction of biblical teaching and Christian values, while many who are less philosophically predetermined tend to agree with it simply because it seems the politically correct thing to do.
It is vital that clear-thinking Christians maintain an active voice in this space. But let us be clear of our ultimate purpose in doing so. Our aim is not to convince people that a particular moral viewpoint is wrong. Even if we could win that argument, it would get us nowhere, because there are a thousand more moral arguments we would need to win after that. What people need in order to be saved is not moral reform, but to be helped to an awareness of themselves (and all mankind) as spiritual beings who are deeply flawed and in need of redemption and restoration through the grace of Jesus.
Pointing out the philosophical flaws in a particular viewpoint such as transgenderism is simply a means of helping people to think more deeply about spiritual issues such as the nature of life, the basis of consciousness and questions of ultimate origin and purpose. In fact, we should welcome discussion and debate about transgenderism, because it leads to the contemplation of the ‘real self’ which derives from God and finds its ultimate meaning and purpose in a restored relationship with him.
 “Americans’ Complex Views on Gender Identity and Transgender Issues”, Pew Research Centre, June 28, 2022.
 Bertrand Russell BBC Radio Debate on the Existence of God, Bertrand Russell v. Frederick Copleston (1948)