Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Adam, Eve, Darwin, and Aristotle

There has been a lot of brouhaha lately over an article by John Farrell regarding the doctrine of original sin as understood by Catholics (and I suspect most conservative non-Catholic denominations) and its compatibility with modern theories of the origin of humans. Edward Feser has posted a response which documents the fracas and describes a very good Aristotelian answer to the whole ordeal. I'd suggest it as prerequisite reading for my own post here, as he lays out more fully the metaphysical presuppositions I'm working with.

In the combox of Feser's post, a commenter lays out the following dilemma. Granted what Farrell says about genetics, either
(1) Adam and Eve both mated with non-humans, and all of the organisms we now consider humans are descended from either Adam or Eve
(2) Some of the organisms who we now consider human are not in fact metaphysically human. They are merely biologically human.

I think the first option would be the way to go, though I wonder if the existence of certain of Dr. Feser's detractors provides evidence for the second suggestion. ;-) In seriousness though, it seems hard to accept the idea that some people are not metaphysically human. Agere sequitur esse--"action follows being"--and the fact is that, in the absence of any physical deformation, everyone we know of acts like a normal human being, or at least the vast majority of people do. There's not a significant part of the population which is truly brutish. Moreover, we might use the idea that Adam and Eve's descendents mated with non-humans to explain some supposed discrepancies in the Bible. For instance, in Genesis 4:17 Cain has children by his wife. But if Cain and Abel are the only listed descendents of Adam and Eve, where did the woman come from? Well, maybe from some of the hominids who had not been given rational souls. Since it is most consistent with everyday facts as well as theology, the first claim seems the more reasonable view.

However, the commenter brings up the interesting problem that this hypothesis could some day be falsified by genetics. First, we might simply bite this bullet, though as a matter of fact I'm not sure if it's entirely correct to say that we can test this genetically. (I honestly don't know, though I vaguely recall from a biology course this not being how modern genetics works.) But second, there's an interesting point I'd like to make which should make this a little less unappealing. I would say that our first parents could have been even earlier hominids and that this possibility should make our theory nice and unassailable again:

Consider Dr. Feser's conclusions. He shows that even if there were 10,000 members of the biological species homo sapiens, this wouldn't prove that they were all metaphysically human. But we can look at this another way as well:

For all we know, God infused the rational soul into an earlier biological species. Of course, it's open to analysis of the anatomy of earlier species whether it would have been possible to infuse a rational soul into them, since as Feser points out a certain amount of physical development is a necessary condition for having a rational soul. However, I'd suggest that the amount of physical development necessary may be less than one might suspect. Here's why: I think that for every biological species there is some particular form characteristic to that species; after all, the form is the principle of life for any living thing, and the natural ends of a given form determine how a particular organism will develop. Since homo sapiens members develop differently from, say, homo erectus members, it follows that in some sense they have different natural ends (at least with regards to physical development) and we should conclude that they have different forms. This isn't very controversial really. To quote Feser:

"In fact, some A-T philosophers would hold that the specific genetic and phenotypic traits typical of homo sapiens sapiens are not even essential to human beings considered as a metaphysical category: Anything that was both animal and rational would arguably be “human” in the relevant sense, even if it had a body plan radically different from ours. "

But what this means is that having the particular form that we have is not necessary for being a human being metaphysically speaking. The only things necessary and sufficient for being a human person is to be both rational and an animal.

This is an important point. Since having a homo sapiens form isn't strictly necessary for being a human being, this means that the amount of physical development necessary for exercising rational faculties will be different for each form. So having a smaller brain would be an impairment for a member of homo sapiens, since this is a defect relative to the homo sapiens form. But having a smaller brain may not be an impairment for a member of homo erectus. In fact, a brain the size of a very dysfunctional homo sapiens may very well be the brain size of a flourishing homo erectus. I think that this, in conjunction with the fact that the operations of a rational animal's intellect are primarily immaterial and suited by God particularly for that species' form, shows that there could have been fully functioning, rational animals in earlier hominid species. And we could have very well descended from a pair of these.

As an example to make my point clear, consider elephants (dolphins may be a similar case). These animals exhibit some of the most intelligent behavior in the entire animal kingdom. They'd seem to be ideal candidates in case God felt like endowing another species with intellect and will. Now, although elephants have much larger brains than we do (they weigh 11 lbs.!), God could endow them with an intellect which exercised the exact same functions we do, and metaphysically speaking we would all be on the same plane; we'd all be humans--homo sapiens, elephants, and all. In the same way, although we have larger brains, God could have endowed earlier hominid species with intellects particularly suited to their physical form which could have carried on rational functions just like ours do. Since they would have been both rational and animals, they would have counted as humans.

This is in many ways speculation. But in any case, I think the point still stands that we should be able to apply Feser's reasoning backwards. God could have infused rational souls into even earlier hominid species, and all human beings on this God's green earth could have descended from a pair of these hominids who were first endowed with that rational part of human nature. This line of reasoning might help to throw our theology back into the comfortable realm of unfalsifiability and consistency with modern genetics.


Noah Moerbeek said...

Modern Genetics has never been able to prove that during a genetic mutation their is an increase of genetic information which absolutely destroys evolution as a theory.

Furthermore you can't reconcile this speculations with Catholic dogma.

"If anyone does not confess that the world and all things which are contained in it, both spiritual and material, were produced, according to their whole substance, out of nothing by God; or holds that God did not create by his will free from all necessity, but as necessarily as he necessarily loves himself; or denies that the world was created for the glory of God: let him be anathema."

The key words for you to mediate on is their whole substance.

awatkins909 said...

Well, any time a mutation occurs, this affects what the organism does, so properly speaking no new genetic information needs to be created. It's just that some mutations are useful and are passed on, and those mutations which are not useful die off. I don't think this is inconsistent with what the Holy Council said, even about the whole substance part, or else it would follow that God created me according to my whole substance at the moment of creation. Evolution is consistent with believing that everything is created by God. Also, in Humani Generis the Pope says it is not against the Catholic faith to believe in evolution with regard to the human body, it's only with regard to the human soul. Also, polygenism, the idea that we are not descended from a true Adam and Eve, is ruled out:

"[T]he Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter - for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God."

awatkins909 said...

This article is helpful:

Michael Faulkner said...

1. Why do you want to place your theology in the comfortable realm of unfalsifiability? I presume you mean something no amount of evidence in principle could show that it was wrong? Surely from a philosophical perspective there something wrong with this? A qualifier here as Thomas Nagel points out would be certain basic logical and reasoning principles, which could never be proved wrong except by something more basic in logic and reasoning.
How is your aim here not different from Dogmatic thinking, that Marxists and Freudians would engage in of the sort that Popper criticised them for?

2. Before we get to the science itself (or rather the philosophical/theological implications of the science) what is the historical evidence for the actual existence of Adam and Eve? Or are these people meant to be understood as metaphors? I thought Catholics were not fundamentalists and did not take Genesis literally. So apart from the bible is there any independent evidence?
3. If the bible is there only evidential source, we can ask is it sufficient to ground the historical existence of such characters, given all the faulty history, contradictions and other absurdities the bible contains? Would it be more consistent with philosophy to simply suspend judgement on the question?
4. How do you respond to the apparent scientific fact that there was no two individuals who existed at the same time whose offspring constituted the human race:
“ Further, looking at different genes, we find that they trace back to different times in our past. Mitochondrial DNA points to the genes in that organelle tracing back to a single female ancestor who lived about 140,000 years ago, but that genes on the Y chromosome trace back to one male who lived about 60,000-90,000 years ago. Further, the bulk of genes in the nucleus all trace back to different times—as far back as two million years. This shows not only that any “Adam” and “Eve” (in the sense of mitochondrial and Y-chromosome DNA alone) must have lived thousands of years apart, but also that there simply could not have been two individuals who provided the entire genetic ancestry of modern humans. Each of our genes “coalesces” back to a different ancestor, showing that, as expected, our genetic legacy comes from many different individuals. It does not go back to just two individuals, regardless of when they lived.”

Supposing this true, did Adam exist before Eve? Did God implant the soul in Eve but then have to wait a few thousand years for Adam? How is this consistent with the biblical story? How is this consistent with original sin?
5. Another question, one which Feser has to answer: what is the evidence for an immaterial soul? What does this mean? Immaterial properties such as souls are deeply in tensions with modern scientific understandings of the brain and human rationality and consciousness. Note, that this is not an endorsement of eliminative materialism or epiphenomenalism, many thinkers are non-reductive naturalists ie Owen Flanagan.
6. God intervened in the world and implanted the human soul. What is the evidence for this claim? Furthermore, is this not in tension with science, i.e how can an immaterial entity (whatever God is) interact with a material set of properties? Is this not the problem of Cartesian interactionism?

I look forward to hearing your answers.

Best Michael.

awatkins909 said...

ad 1: This isn't a scientific hypothesis. Kopper's criterion applies only there. Moreover, his criterion of falsifiability is not uncontentious. But anyway, I'm simply trying to show how evolutionary theory can be consistent with Catholic theology which supposes a literal Adam and Eve.
ad 2: No, we take the evidence from the Bible and theological consideration. I reject your mischaracterization of the Bible as absurd. Catholics believe the Bible is the inerrant and inspired Word of God. Of course, we have a Magisterium which delimits the interpretations of certain sections, i.e. whether some passages must be interpreted in the strictest literal sense or in a metaphorical sense or not. We don't take *everything* as literal But we don't believe in some sort of weak sense of the Bible's inerrancy. It's the Word of God. Either way, this is kind of irrelevant, because even if we could interpret the Bible's narratives non-literally, it still seems difficult if not impossible to reconcile the doctrine of original sin with something other than Adam and Eve, and to do so seems to flatly contradict what St. Paul says elsewhere.
ad 3: The reply ad 2 is relevant here, but also if there is good evidence for Christ's resurrection, and I think there is, I'd argue we have good reason to infer other things about the Christian revelation, such as the Church, which I would argue ultimately supports the standing of the Scriptures. That's just a general outline. It would obviously have to be brought out in more depth.
ad 4: Did you read my or Feser's posts? Once again, we're referring to the first metaphysical human beings, not biological. Potentially this could go back far further than even when homo sapiens appeared, as I argue in my post.
ad 5: That's a question for another post, but if you read his article he links to many of his discussions on the philosophy of mind where he gives evidence against materialist and naturalists views in philosophy of mind. Honestly, I think many of the arguments on his blog and in other places against naturalist explanations of mind are very compelling, and I think materialist/naturalist explanations extremely weak.
ad 6: Related to the reply above ad 5. If there is an immaterial soul and such a soul can't be derived from mere combinations of material, then some creator is necessary. We also have direct support for this from revelation through the Bible and interpretations by the Church.

Now, with regards to "unscientific", I think you misunderstand what Aristotelians mean by soul. We understand it in a very different way from Cartesians. I suggest looking some of this stuff up on Feser's blog, as well as typing in Google "hylomorphic dualism." But either way, I don't think the so-called interaction problem is that big of a problem for Cartesians anyway. If there's no mystery as to how one body interacting with another causes something to happen, I don't see any problem in a soul interacting with something material. In some sense, bodies *just do* cause things to happen to other bodies. Likewise, the soul *just does* cause the body to act in certain ways. A brute fact if you will. Moreover, if God being immaterial can affect the world, why couldn't a Cartesian soul? But I'm getting ahead of myself, because I don't accept this view anyway. I just don't think the so-called "interaction problem" is much of a problem at all.

awatkins909 said...

I think most of this is somewhat separate from the main issue of the blog post though. The inerrancy of Scripture, support for a revelation, arguments for the immateriality of the mind, the soul--these are all huge topics. If you want, how about you start a thread in some group or make a post on my wall on Facebook about some of these, where we could discuss with free reign? I'm sure Gav would be interested.

Michael Faulkner said...

Reply to 1.
You have not answered the question.
You appear seek to place your beliefs as immune from any kind of empirical data whatsoever. I ask what is the justification for this, unless the claim is a priori and necessary, which as I understand can only apply to logic and mathematics. So, why do you seek to make your belief safe from any kind new evidence that would serve to disconfirm it?

Reply to 2.

You have not answered the question.
I asked what historical evidence has we independent of the bible?
I also asked that if we have no independent evidence except the bible, is the bible sufficient to ground the historical existence of such people?

All argument have pre-suppositions, if a pre-supposition of an argument or theory is false or mistaken, then the argument falls. It would appear to beg the question that Adam and Eve existed, if Adam and Eve did not exist, and then there is no need to reconcile modern evolutionary biology with the bible.
So, have we any good reason to think that Adam and Eve existed? Yes, if we believe the bible. Is the bible a good source to ground this claim? Two considerations lead us to doubt this claim.
Firstly, the bible is not an unbiased source of information. Unlike a scholarly work of history or a scientific investigation, it seeks to establish beyond the theological, cultural and moral superiority of one group of religious people (Jewish then used by Christians.) additionally, the people who wrote the text that became what we understand as the bible were not engaged in disinterested inquiry, indeed they were writing their “sacred history.” What are their sources? Who told them of the existence of Adam and Eve? God did-, how do we know this? Because it says so in the Bible? Is this not circular?

Secondly, the bible as a matter of fact is full of contradictions. I invite you to read William H Burr’s Self- contradictions of the bible, here you will find page after page after page of completely self-contradictory passages in the OT and NT. Kant said that the first duty of a philosopher is consistency, Aristotle though he may not have agreed exactly with Kant would, however, have agreed with the importance of this claim. God in his wisdom is not bound by such human reason. God would appear to be the first post-modernist – consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

Reply to 4.
Yes, indeed that is a way of resolving the issue. However, and this I confess my ignorance, what does this mean for original sin? What does it mean to say that Adam defied God and therefore sinned? What was it that this Adam did that was so bad?

Reply to 5 and 6.
Assertion without proof. Appeal to revelation is also not something I think any reasonable person can accept. I think it is also fairly accurate to say that the only people who oppose modern scientific empirical based accounts of the mind are people of a religious persuasion. Two philosophers who do oppose the possibility of a naturalistic explanation: Thomas Nagel and Colin McGinn, do not, I repeat do not give any support to theistic belief in immaterial souls.

A new question.
Could you please explain to me what you mean by immaterial soul. I have noticed that some Catholics appear to equivocate on this issue (or rather there appears to be two understandings.)
I will put the question thus:
Catholics appear to believe in some kind of immaterial entitiy that houses a person’s essence, which when the body dies and decays, the soul will somehow migrate or be reconstituted in heaven or hell. The best illustration of this belief, I think comes from Harry Potter, I.E the one were Cyrus Black nearly gets his soul stolen from his body by the Dementors.
I think that will do for now.

Noah Moerbeek said...

If macro evolution is true then that means single cell organisms gradually changed into multi cell large organisms.

That means that in the mutations their was an INCREASE in genetic information. Scientists (even evolutionists) acknowledge that this has never been observed to have happened. A whale has a lot more genetic information than a single cell organism.

Just because you can believe in evolution does not mean that you should . Did you know that we must hold as a belief that Eve was created from the rib of Adam? Which makes absolutely no sense if God took 6 billion years to create Adam.

228a For I confess that all men from Adam, even to the consummation of the world, having been born and having died with Adam himself and his wife, who were not born of other parents, but were created, the one from the earth, the other [al.: altera], however, from the rib of the man [cf. Gen. 2:7, 22], Will then rise again and stand before the Judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the proper things of the body, according as he has done, whether it be good or bad[ Rom. 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10]; and indeed by the very bountiful grace of God he will present the just, as vessels of mercy prepared beforehand for glory[Rom. 9:23], with the rewards of eternal life; namely, they will live without end in the society of the angels without any fear now of their own fall; the wicked, however, remaining by choice of their own withvessels of wrath fit for destruction[ Rom. 9:22], who either did not know the way of the Lord, or knowing it left it when seized by various transgressions, He will give over by a very just judgment to the punishment of eternal and inextinguishable fire, that they may burn without end. This, then, is my faith and hope, which is in me by the gift of the mercy of God, in defense of which blessed PETER taught [cf.1 Pet 3:15] that we ought to be especially ready to answer everyone who asks us for an accounting."

^ Enchiridion Symbolorum, Thirtieth Edition, 1954, paragraph 2280

So does it not seem a little schizophrenic to accept the unproven theory of evolution and yet still accept Adam and Eve (and eve created from the side of Adam).

Anonymous said...

I do not know why such walls of text are necessary, Michael. Basically, we Catholics assent to Revelation as stipulated by the divinely-appointed Magisterium of the Catholic Church. We make that assent for several different reasons, and we think those reasons are sufficient to establish the infallible authority of that Revelation. Explaining and defending those reasons is a matter of religious apologetics and, therefore, not within the scope of this blog post. This blog post assumes the truth of Catholicism and, therefore, seeks to resolve the apparent discrepancy between the teachings of the Church and natural history.

awatkins909 said...

Michael, I'm sorry, but I'm not going to explain necessary truths, falsification, the justification for a revelation, the Magisterium, the inerrancy of the Bible, and the immaterial soul here. These are simply not topics of the blog post. I'm happy to discuss this elsewhere. Once again, I'd be happy to talk about this on Facebook for instance.