by Ilia Delio 

woman with binary code

I was raised in a matriarchal household by a Sicilian mother who was a staunch feminist long before the term was in vogue.  I was taught from an early age that I could achieve anything with hard work and determination.  My mother was an advocate for the poor and disenfranchised and did not hesitate to confront male authority on issues of justice and fairness.  At five-foot two, she was a fearless stick of dynamite whose laser beam words could easily crush the male ego or leave one in the dust. I sometimes feared for her life because she herself was so completely fearless; and yet when I reflect on her life I know where my own power and determination were born.

Whereas I grew up with the privilege of education and liberalities I often take for granted, my mother grew up in a male-dominated culture and had to prove herself every step of the way.  It is because of her that I both empathize with the #MeToo movement and the plight of women seeking justice and dignity and, yet, I am frustrated by the inertia of institutional change. From where I stand, I see two main pillars of gender discrimination and gender management that continue the system of patriarchy, namely, the Catholic Church and the Academy, in which Science is the core.

The roots of the Adam and Eve myth are deeply rooted in the ancient notion that women are weak and inferior. 

In two fascinating studies of the Church and Science, the late Canadian historian David Noble accrued a score of historical evidence (although much of it as secondary sources) to show that the Church and Science have the same aim, namely, the apotheosis of the male Adam and the subjection of the female Eve.  The roots of the Adam and Eve myth are deeply rooted in the ancient notion that women are weak and inferior.  Plato wrote in his Timaeus that men have a superior soul than women and Aristotle held that women have incomplete intellects so that “the male is by nature superior and the female inferior, the male ruler and the female subject.”  These philosophical ideas were carried over to the Christian world where women were deemed by many Church Fathers as incomplete images of the image of God, despite the fact that many women heroically exemplified Christian ideals.

In his book, A World Without Women, Noble challenged the commonly held assumption that modern science developed in opposition to an authoritarian Church, claiming instead that the celibate, male- dominated Catholic tradition provided both support and inspiration for the scientific tradition that would virtually supplant it.  Christianity originated as a potentially egalitarian religion, Noble says, but almost from the beginning, women were forced to struggle against political and cultural forces aimed at pushing them out of the spiritual mainstream and into the home.  He argues that the clerical culture of medieval Europe, as a result of specific historical events, was misogynistic. Because science as practiced in medieval and Renaissance Europe was a Christian activity, conducted by clerics, there was little, if any, room in the scientific community for women.  Noble links the great names in the Scientific Revolution, Protestant and Catholic alike, with monastic, misogynistic, ascetic attitudes.

…the lines of gender are becoming porous, hybridized, and technologized.

It was a male-dominated, misogynistic Church, then, that established the European colleges from which modern science sprang—colleges in which the pursuit of knowledge was considered a sacred act; scholars were treated as a kind of monk, celibacy was encouraged, and women were categorically excluded. According to what Noble calls the “clerical ascetic” view, sexual desire was an ineradicable and volatile source of temptation; even baptized Christians were under its power. Under such circumstances, clerical ascetics concluded that it was better to avoid contact with women completely, lest their seductive powers lead to sin.  Clerical asceticism was virulently misogynous; women are dangerous to spiritual health.  Clerics seeking to maintain their power sharpened their attacks on heresy but at the same time adopted practices of heretical sects —including celibacy which came to signify the superiority of the clergy over the mass of married laity. The universities that grew out of cathedral schools during the high Middle Ages adopted the clerical ascetic ideal. This exclusively masculine setting was later impressed on the early institutions of modern science which operated, according to Noble, as a “scientific asceticism.”

In A World Without Women, as well as another book, The Religion of Technology, Noble claims these origins have led to today’s curiously anomalous scientific priesthood in which women continue to be discriminated against and dismissed.  Western science, in his view, is largely an effort to produce technologies, including reproductive and relational technologies (such as in the movie Her) that would make the existence of women unnecessary.

Whether or not one accepts Noble’s thesis that the Church and Science are actually in collusion against women (rather than the Church as the enemy of Science) is a subject for discussion; however, the trajectory of the 21st century seems to be moving in a new direction.  Whereas Noble thought that modern technology (especially artificial intelligence) would abet the aim to divinize the fallen Adam, the development of artificial intelligence is leading in a new direction beyond what Noble suggested.  Rather than divinizing Adam and eliminating women from fallen creation, technology is seeking a new means of techno-salvation and digital immortality.  The ability of nature to be hybridized and refashioned through informational nets (even through the platforms of social media) are rewiring the human brain.  The new techno-brain (or “ibrain”) perceives the ontology of gender as an open process of cross-fertilization, yielding to notions of polygender or agender; that is, the lines of gender are becoming porous, hybridized, and technologized.

Techno-evolution is empowering ontological shifts in personhood, among which both biological sex and gender are being reframed.

Martine Rothblatt, author of Virtually Human: The Promise—and the Peril—of Digital Immortality, sees the future of gender as a new freedom and fluidity of form.  This idea is still shocking to most 21st century persons but it is not mere coincidence that the rise of artificial intelligence coincides with the loss of institutional religion. Techno-evolution is empowering ontological shifts in personhood, among which both biological sex and gender are being reframed.  Despite the battles women must continue to fight in pursuit of dignity, respect, and equality, the power of patriarchy is weakening (resisting the fight, of course, on every level.)  While justice for women is paramount, the human person is on the threshold of an evolutionary transition.  What are we becoming up ahead?  A techno-sapien, androgynous species may either be liberating or deadening.  Human personhood must situate itself within cosmic evolution and find its meaning within a larger purpose, and in this respect the revitalization of religion can play a critical role, a new type of Church that is governed by a new type of person.  In a universe this large, we are just waking up to the newness of God.


Ilia DelioIlia Delio, OSF is the founder and visionary behind the Omega Center. She is a Franciscan Sister of Washington DC, respected academic and theologian, and author of numerous books and articles. She is an internationally sought-after presenter, speaking on the intersection of Science and Religion, with particular interests in evolution, physics, neuroscience, and artificial intelligence. Join Ilia and our other speakers for our first Omega Center conference this July 20-21 in Kansas City. Full details can be found here.


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Reading for an evolutionary age

As you engage with the Omega Center content we encourage you to review Ilia Delio’s instruction: READING FOR AN EVOLUTIONARY AGE: OMEGA LECTIO DIVINA. 

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This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Thank God for minds that can articulate what we deeply sense. “Remain in me and I in you” Makes ya want to dance!

  2. As usual Sister Delio invites new perspectives and insight. I am grateful for her blogs and books. Keep them coming, Sister!
    Fred Macon, retired United Methodist clergy in Asheville, NC

  3. I think that the inclination to explore different gender roles and characteristics within the domain of new technologies will be driven primarily by sexual appetite. Much in the same way that people pretend to be women or men in current virtual environments. This can be liberating, enlightening or malevolent depending on motives and actions. My hope would be that as technology facilitates such exploration it leads to greater insight, sensitivity, discovery and the expansion and refinement of consciousness. But I think steering such experimentation from veering toward pornographic experience will always be a challenge and a temptation.

  4. … Wow… just… wow. Having been absent to this blog while I researched alternative views to the Telihardian perspective on evolutionary cosmology and how they might shine differing lights on Orthodox Christianity (I’ve never been so glad to have done that than after reading this article) it’s quite amazing to see just how off the rails an intellectual can go when living in an ivory tower surrounding herself with people who all agree with each other. What insanity, what delusional arrogance, what ultra-feminisitic, male-hating prejudice it must take to, in an effort to “solve” prejudice against women (which seems to be rampant only in universities and Hollywood) the answer is the eradication of gender, the dumping of male and female differentiation so we can focus on the “personhood”. Never mind the role gender has in personhood… By all means keep sharing your opinion. You only fuel the popularity of the Ben Shapiro’s, Jordan Peterson’s and William Lane Craig’s of our time. Perhaps you ought to consider that any prejudice you may be experiencing from the “male-dominated, misogynistic Church” has very little to do with you being a woman and has much more to do with your using supposed male-prejudice as the root of every evil imaginable.

  5. One last thing before I’m on my way once again. I’ve enjoyed some of the more speculative articles to begin but it’s clear things have progressed beyond mere speculation. You’d be doing yourself and everyone else a massive favour in revisiting the foundations upon which you’ve built your radically faulty (albeit increasingly popular) worldview. As far as I can see you’ve built upon conjecture after conjecture now speaking of them as if they are fact. Here’s a couple of links for those wishing to get an alternate foundation upon which to view Teilhard de Chardin’s perspective on evolutionary cosmology and consequent interpretations of Christianity. The first link presents the argument of the reality of transhumanism’s ultimate meaninglessness. The second is on the faulty logic behind the panentheistic view of reality upon which a lot of these reinterpretations of basic facts of reality being presented as Christianity are being premised upon.

  6. No, actually, I’m not quite done. But this will be the last. I’m fed up with supposed theologians teaching this stuff. How utterly demeaning it is to women who choose not to have careers but wish to commit their lives to building families. On and on we hear about how unfair it is that women are nowhere to be seen at the top of this career path or that. Jordan Peterson, a staunch actual feminist (as most men are these days because, you know, we live in the present not centuries ago), points out as an example, that top law firms fail to attract and keep female partners because the majority of them, as their “biological clock”, begins to run out take a good look at the insane number of hours and work load required to actually have a career, want a family and simply choose to stop. I’m fed up with ultra-feminists claiming how badly done-by women in the west are. The truth is, its a tiny percent of people (men and women) who actually have careers. The overwhelming majority have jobs! It’s primarily in Hollywood (media included, bunch of overrated, overpaid pretenders living lives of luxury) and career women who chose not to have families (because it’s freaking HARD or near impossible to do both), claiming that a woman’s worth lies in becoming a top scientist or top clergy or top whatever. I’m 100% feminist (in the non-crazy sense)and absolutely think that women have equal rights to do as men do if they please. But that’s been achieved for the most part. Why don’t you give specific areas where this is not the case and I’ll protest with you? I don’t know any women in the work-force (and she’s almost always there not because she chose it but because both husband and wife are forced to work just to make ends meet) that aren’t getting paid the same or more. The impact this kind of drivel is having on young people today is insane. You’re undercutting both men and women’s intrinsic worth. Why don’t you check out the number of men committing suicide because they’re all but viewed as villains in divorce court. You’re living in the clouds. And yeah great solution! Let’s promote the idea that gender is a social construct and screw society up even more. Bravo 😉

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