Polygenesis Revisited: The Theology of Cavemen

Now that we’ve seen what polygenesis–hard polygenesis, specifically–actually is, let’s look at its theological ramifications.  I’m not going to rehash the whole series heretofore, but it will be useful to look at the main issues briefly.

Christianity traditionally has taught that all humans descend from one primal couple, Adam and Eve.  As a result of their sinning in Eden, Adam and Eve  passed Original Sin on to all of their descendants, down to us.  On the other hand, the scientific evidence is that modern humans descend not from a primal couple, but from a primal population.  Thus, there would be several primal lineages, some of whom would not have been descended from Adam and Eve, and thus, presumably, to transmission of Original Sin.  This seems to conflict with traditional Christian theology.

It’s important to point out that this is also closely tied in with the Christian concept of the soul.  Dharmic religions  posit that all sentient beings have souls (Buddhism doesn’t actually posit a soul at all, but that’s a nuance for another time), and that a given soul may incarnate as human, animal, god, demon, etc.  The Abrahamic faiths, however, have traditionally held that only humans have immortal souls, and that only human souls are sapient and in the image of God.  In this perspective, a being, such as an animal, which lacks a soul is not a subject.  In other words, it has no sense of self-awareness, no perception of “I”, no internal monologue.  It is a thing, no different from a machine (at least in the extreme Cartesian conception) except that it’s furry, feathered, or scaled.

A  human–or humanoid–that lacked a soul, even if it were intelligent, even if it seemed exactly like one of us, would also be a thing–in effect, a human-appearing, walking, analogue computer.  It would not be a true human, but what is referred to as a philosophical zombie; or to put it another way, it would be a mere animal that just looked and acted like a human; or perhaps it could be thought of as an organic robot.  As such, it would no more have intrinsic human rights than would a kangaroo or an iPad. Thus, it is important to stipulate that the first humans–whether Adam and Eve, or someone else–must have had souls.  The ancestral creatures of humans–bacteria, fish, amphibians, mammals, early primates, everything up to the last non-human hominid, whatever it was–were soulless animals.  The last link, true humans (of whatever species), were the first creatures to be ensouled by God, the first true “humans”.

This is the more or  less standard Christian account.  with the slight tweaking needed by evolutionary theory.  I’m not unequivocally prepared to say I necessarily buy this account.  I certainly don’t regard animals–at least the higher ones–as mere fuzzy automata.  There is some evidence that some of the very highest–primates and dolphins, and maybe dogs, and perhaps even some species of magpie–have a primitive self-awareness.  However, I’m not interested in sorting all this out here.  It would lead us too far afield, and for the purposes of this discussion, I’m trying to deal with the problem of the Fall while cleaving as closely to orthodox theology as possible (while reserving the right to depart from it as much as needed, depending on where our investigations lead us).

So:  If we postulate hard polygenesis–Adam and Eve in Africa, Deucalion and Pyrrha in Europe, Chao and Mei in China, and so on–how does the Fall of Mankind work?

For this post, I want mainly to look at theories that I think are unworkable or problematic, before postulating what I think is the best model in the next post. Thus, let’s look at some possible answers.

1.  All animals have souls, therefore all primal humans had souls.  Well, as I said above, I don’t want to go this way at the time, for the reason stated.  It also doesn’t solve the problem of the spread of Original Sin.  One could use a model such as I have suggested before, which would work, but it would have the same problems as 4 below; plus, I’m not willing to posit universally sapient souls just yet. .

2.  Only one pair of primal humans–Adam and Eve–had souls.  As their descendants intermarried with non-sapient humans, “ensouledness” spread.  In other words, having a soul is “dominant”.  If either parent has one, the children do, too.  Eventually, “ensouledness” would propagate throughout the population until all humans were ensouled, the soulless groups being assimilated or dying out.  This is the position of my interlocutor A. Sinner, discussed in this comment thread, though we’ve discussed it before at Vox Nova.

I find this highly problematic for many reasons.  One, it treats having a soul as practically a genetic trait, which seems to me much too materialistic and reductionist.  Two, and much worse, it posits what would in effect be beastiality.  The sapient humans had to marry non-sapient humanoids–philosophical zombies, human-looking animals, automatons with hair–in order to propagate the species.  Frankly, I’m not even sure you can  have a philosophical zombie–I don’t think a soulless being actually would be indistinguishable from a normal human.  That makes this concept even creepier–children with fathers and mothers, or adults with spouses, who are basically no different from a highly trained chimpanzee.

Note well that in the Christian account, only ensouled beings can inherit eternal life.  Creatures without souls perish utterly (I actually disagree with this regarding the higher animals, but once more, that’s not something I want to argue here).  Thus, you’d have hundreds, perhaps thousands, whose parents or spouses would not join them in the World to Come, since they were soulless and died forever.  It’s hard to express how disturbing I find such a notion.

This would also be problematic in a scenario of polygenesis.  Some soulless populations might persist for millennia before meeting up with ensouled populations.  Whole ancient societies might have been no more than fancy beehives built by human-appearing automata!

One could tweak this by postulating that if an ensouled human mated with a soulless spouse, God immediately ensouled said spouse.  That’s not impossible, but it’s too ad hoc–and, frankly, downright silly–to take seriously.

The only reason I can see to adopt this model is a desperate attempt to preserve the authority of the Bible in teaching a single couple as ancestor to all (ensouled) humans.  The many, many bugs in this model, in my mind, vastly outweigh the single real feature, as I’m not committed to literal Biblical interpretation, anyway.  Thus I heartily reject this hypothesis.

3.  Some precursor to Homo sapiensH. erectus, or something even earlier–was the first human to be ensouled, and the Fall occurred for that species.  Thus, all later populations of H. sapiens, even if they evolved at different places and times, already were subject to Original Sin.

This is interesting, and has some possibility, though it sounds a bit ad hoc for my taste.  Also, as I pointed out last time, it seems that there may have been interspecies breeding–or the potential for it–even at this earlier stage.  Thus, this really just pushes the problem back without solving it.

4.  All human populations from some point onward–whatever point you want to postulate–were ensouled.  Then (assuming a polygenetic model), Original Sin spread socially and metaphysically as I’ve posited before.  This would work, but I don’t like it.  It implies that sinless populations might have endured for thousands of years before being overwhelmed by the descendants of the Original Sinners.  The injustice of this seems worse than would be the case with rapid metastasis of sin throughout a small, primal community.

So now that we’ve eliminated the “easier” hypotheses, what do we do?  Stay tuned.

Part of the series Legends of the Fall.

Also part of the series Polygenism Revisited

Posted on 10/08/2012, in Bible, Catholicism, Christianity, metaphysics, philosophy, religion, theology and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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