Adam, Eve, and Monogenism: More Perspectives (and more of the same)

australopithecus_family

It’s been some time since I’ve written on the Fall.  Partly, I got a bit burned out on the topic after the many, many posts I did.  Another factor was that I changed my mind on some aspects of the issue.  Finally, after fifty-four posts, I concluded that I didn’t have a conclusion yet.  I still don’t, quite.  However, in the process of surfing about the Internet, I ran across some articles discussing just this issue–to wit, how does one square modern knowledge of human origins with the (apparent) Biblical requirement that all humans descend from a single priaml couple–and I thought it worthwhile to point them out and briefly discuss them.

It’s interestingly appropriate, given the content and image for today’s Rubá’í of the Day.  Since I schedule the Rubá’í of the Day posts months ahead of time, I rarely remember what the specific verse for the day is or what image I selected for it until it posts.  I was thinking about this post last night, and when I decided to write it today, lo and behold:  there were Adam and Eve in today’s rubá’í!  I certainly can’t ignore such a synchronicity, so on we go!

The starting point is this Forbes article, which apparently touched off much response in cyberspace.  The author points out what I’ve noted here many times:  it is not possible, based on what we’ve learned of population genetics, that the human race is descended from a single couple.  Moreover, there is increasing evidence that different species or subspecies contributed to our ancestry–that is, there is evidence for polygenesis.  Interestingly, the author points to the acknowledgement by the late Pope John Paul II that this issue is indeed a challenge for the faith.

In any case, moving on from there, I read the following articles dealing with the subject:  “Adam and Eve and Ted and Alice” at The TOF Spot blog;  “What sort of revision does scientific research call for on the Catholic doctrine of the fall?” at Just Thomism; and a two-part article by Edward Feser, “Modern biology and original sin”, here and here.

The first article is very entertaining, and interestingly posits a sort of quasi-existentialist account of Original Sin, with the first truly sapient (or ensouled) human, “Adam”, having self-awareness with the concomitant possibility–even inevitability–of  selfishly acting only for himself.  Original Sin is thus the first occurrence of something we all go through as we grow from the innocence of childhood into the experience of “fallenness” as adults.  I’m not completely sure that O’Floinn address all problematic aspects of the issue, but his article is one I’ll ponder and come back to.

The article at Just Thomism is really not worth bothering with.  It argues that even if Adam was not the literal “first” human, all could be descended from him and his wife.  This is true–in much the same way, every living person is likely descended from Confucius–but it settles none of the theological issues related to Original Sin.

In this regard, I should briefly restate those problems:

1.  Adam is said, by eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, to have committed the first sin.  Since then, all other humans, by descent from Adam, are tainted with Original Sin.

2.  However, it can be demonstrated with near certainty by population genetics that humans do not–and cannot–descend from one primal individual (or couple).

3.  Thus, there must have other lineages of humans not taking their descent from Adam, and thus not afflicted with Original Sin.  Since Christian theology as usually understood sees Christ’s Atonement of the human race to God as undoing the effects of Original Sin and making possible the restoration of humanity to God’s friendship–since, that is, the Redemption depends on the Fall–this is highly problematic.

Obviously if there are–or were–humans running around free from Original Sin, only ultimately to be replaced by those of us who are so tainted, not only does this undermine Christian teaching, but it seems horrendously unjust to the innocent humans.  On the other hand, if non-Adamic humans were no different from Adamic humans, this, too, calls everything into question.

The way around this most often heard is exemplified by this, from the first Feser link above (my emphasis):

Supposing, then, that the smallest human-like population of animals evolution could have initially produced numbered around 10,000, we have a scenario that is fully compatible with Catholic doctrine if we suppose that only two of these creatures had human souls infused into them by God at their conception, and that He infused further human souls only into those creatures who were descended from this initial pair.  And there is no evidence against this supposition.

This scenario raises all sorts of interesting questions, such as whether any of these early humans (in the metaphysical sense of having a human soul) mated with some of the creatures who were (genetically and, in part, phenotypically) only human-like. 

In short, no matter how many other hominids (be they Homo sapiens or some earlier species such as H. habilis, H. erectus, or some such) lived before and concurrent with “Adam” and “Eve”, only the favored two were ensouled by God.  The others would be, in effect, philosophical zombies.  Not the kind of zombie that wants to eat your brain; but creatures which, while appearing and perhaps even behaving human, would have no self-awareness, no qualia, no interior consciousness–in short, beings that would lack that which we usually mean by the term “soul”.

Now, Dr. Feser is a bright man, but he seems to endorse this position, as is clear from the above post.  In another post which he placed between the two listed above, he has this to say (quoting Kenneth Kemp in the first paragraph):

These first true human beings also have descendants, which continue, to some extent, to interbreed with the non-intellectual hominids among whom they live.  If God endows each individual that has even a single [metaphysically] human ancestor with an intellect of its own, a reasonable rate of reproductive success and a reasonable selective advantage would easily replace a non-intellectual hominid population of 5,000 individuals with a philosophically (and, if the two concepts are extensionally equivalent, theologically) human population within three centuries.  Throughout this process, all theologically human beings would be descended from a single original human couple (in the sense of having that human couple among their ancestors) without there ever having been a population bottleneck in the human species.

So there is no problem of reconciling the claims in question.  [T]he modern human population has the genes it has because it is descended from a group of several thousand individuals, only two of whom had immaterial souls.  But only those later individuals who had this pair among their ancestors (even if they also had as ancestors members of the original group which did not have immaterial souls) have descendents living today.

This would indeed solve the problem; but I think it would do so by producing even worse problems.

First, one suggestion not broached in the quoted sections is that perhaps the first ensouled pair and their offspring did not interbreed with their non-esouled peers.  This is a non-starter; it would make Adam and Eve once more the sole genetic ancestors of all of us, and we’ve seen that’s not possible.   Even if you want to bump the primal couple back to a precursor species, as commenter A. Watkins seems to want to do in his comments to the first post, you still can’t get around the genetics of it.  Thus the interbreeding of true humans (or metaphysical humans, which I’ll henceforth refer to as M-humans) with soulless philosophical zombies (P-zombies) seems necessary in this scenario.

This is a problem in itself, though, since it obviously smacks of bestiality.  One can argue that God in effect gave the early M-human population a pass on this; but it seems odd that God would set things up this way.  One could also argue along the lines of another commenter on the first post, Crude, that

[C]alling this “bestiality”, while reasonable on one level, is a stretch here:  We’re talking about humans from the same population, breeding with each other after an external intervention of a grand sort. This is ‘bestiality’ only in a very technical sense.

He seems to be saying that P-zombies wouldn’t be that much different from M-humans.  This, though, is even worse.  If the implication (and I may be wrong about what he’s suggesting) is that in actual practice P-zombies wouldn’t behave that much differently from M-humans, then this seems to undermine the very idea of a soul at all.  If P-zombies existed and spoke, laughed, cried, and in all their exterior behavior were indistinguishable from M-humans–while of course lacking consciousness–this would be strong evidence that all forms of human behavior are adequately explained by truly material causes.  Thus, by Occam’s Razor, there’d be no reason to assume a soul to begin with.

Finally, the idea that the offspring of a couple at least one of whom has a soul “inherits” souledness from that parent is just totally ridiculous.  Sure, God could do that; but if we’re going that way, why doesn’t he ensoul the P-zombie mate so that his/her spouse can be married to a real human?   Why didn’t He ensoul everyone in the first place?  And why does He set it up so that an immaterial essence seems to behave like DNA?

Thus in the Adam-and-Eve-as-first-M-humans scenario you’ve either got the impossibility of all humans descended from one couple; or a creepy interbreeding with subhumans; or an argument against souls; and in all versions a really weird view of the soul.

The problems with this theory are major, and can be summed up as follows:

1.  It is totally ad hoc, a rather elegant Latin way of saying, in effect, making s*** up to make your theory work.  Were it not for the desire to uphold some aspect of the Genesis account that is felt necessary to interpret literally (i.e. Adam and Eve), no one would ever have suggested such a strange and convoluted theory in the first place.

2.  It takes a much too materialistic view of the soul, treating it as almost like hair color in its  heritability.

3.  It seems increasingly likely that some form of polygensis pertains to humans.  At least with the idea of souls spreading from an initial couple throughout a single population within a short time doesn’t leave too many P-zombies (or unfallen humans) shambling about.  If populations existed that might have been separate for millennia before interbreeding, though, this implies that large populations of either P-zombies (or unfallen humans) may have existed for a long, long time before interbreeding with Adamites.  This is conceivable, but it seems like a really odd way for God to create a rational species.

Thus we return to the problem.  In the second part of his “Modern Biology and Original Sin” essay above, Dr. Feser says the following, my emphasis:

Similarly, we inherit the penalty of original sin, not in the sense that we’ve got some “original sin gene” alongside genes for eye color and tooth enamel, but rather in the sense that the offer of the supernatural gifts was made to the human race as a whole through their first parent acting as their representative.

It seems difficult, without making absurd, repulsive, or ad hoc assumptions, to argue that there was a specific “Fall” caused at a specific time by a specific act committed by two specific humans “acting as representatives” of all future humans.

I don’t claim to have a solution to this yet, or that I ever will.  I would, however like to point to this excellent book:  The Evolution of Adamby Evangelical scholar Dr. Peter Enns.  I want to come back to it in a future post, after I finish reading it.  Here, I want to quote something I consider highly important from one of the later chapters (my emphasis):

I support the effort to take seriously both the theological heart of the Adam story and natural science, and to be willing to rethink the biblical Adam in the process.  But as well intentioned as this approach is–and many thoughtful people envision such a scenario–I see several problems.

First and foremost, it is ironic that in trying to hold on to biblical teaching a scenario is proposed that the Bible does not recognize:  gradual evolution over millions of years rather than the sudden and recent creation of humanity as the Bible has it.  Now I will say it is possible that, tens of thousands of years ago, God took two hominid representatives (or a group of hominids) and with them began the human story where creatures could have a consciousness of God, learn to be moral, and so forth.  But that is an alternate and wholly ad hoc account of the first humans, not the biblical one.  One cannot pose such a scenario and say, “Here is your Adam and Eve; the Bible and science are thus reconciled.”  Whatever those creatures were, they were not what the Biblical authors presumed to be true.  They may have been the first beings somehow conscious of God, but we overstep our bounds if we claim that these creatures satisfy the requirements of being “Adam and Eve.”

There’s no space to elaborate, but Dr. Enns basically argues that we have to look at the Genesis account as an allegorical re-telling of the history of Israel, and that we  have to understand Paul’s writing about Adam and Christ in this context.  He doesn’t give a specific answer to the problem as such; but if I interpret him correctly, he argues in his book that there is no need for a literal, historical Fall at all, at least not of the kind traditionally posed by theology.  As is evident from the quote above, he is very much opposed to the M-human interpretation of Adam and Eve which we have been discussing here.

Thus, however we want to look at the Fall, I’m convinced that jiggling it around to get Adam and Eve in by backdoor tactics is going down a blind alley.  As to possibly more fruitful approaches, I’ll discuss some in future posts.

Part of the series Legends of the Fall.

Also part of the series Polygenism Revisited.

Posted on 04/02/2013, in Bible, Catholicism, Christianity, humans, nature, primatology, religion, science, theology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Well, I don’t think we need to imagine the P-hominids talking etc. When saying they’re “not so different” perhaps you should imagine not that the P’s were close to modern humans, but rather remember that the first humans (and whether there was one couple or not, that transition must have happened at SOME point) were likely not much “higher” than their hominid predecessors. The existence of a soul didn’t suddenly mean Einstein and Mozart (and let’s remember: a fetus has a soul even though dolphins don’t, so it’s not “smarts” that make the difference). The difference could have, at first, expressed itself in as little as a system of a few grunts that the first M humans understood as “meaningful” in a very rudimentary (but also, in the long run, revolutionary) way. Even they (especially after Falling) might not have been aware of just how different they were (in possessing this “seed” of spiritual potential) from their P-hominid cousins, who would have continued to seem like perfectly natural mates. I’m not saying it had to happen that way, but it at least COULD have without contradiction. So I don’t expect dogma to change other than for them to sort of say “a variety of interpretations are allowed.” Heck, Catholics are still allowed to be creationists if they want. If you’re angling to see Enns theory anathemized and replaced by an outright admission of polygenism…I just doubt you’ll ever see that. But what we might see is greater latitude to explore ideas in a “hypothetical” manner. And that would be welcome.

    • I suppose it’s largely aesthetic–having one unsouled pair among many non-souled hominids doesn’t strike me as the way I’d see God doing things. Others, obviously, would differ.

      Heck, Catholics are still allowed to be creationists if they want.

      If by “creationist” you mean “young Earth creationist”, I’m not so sure; but if the Church does allow that on an official level, then I think that’s a bad policy. On the one hand, it’s not good to try to tie theology too closely to any one scientific model, since they’re always changing; but on the other hand, it’s not good to allow people to cling to older models that are clearly untenable. This nut, for example, argues that the sun in fact goes around the Earth, and makes complicated arguments relying on the fact that the Church never technically jettisoned the geocentric model (he argues that John Paul II’s apology re Galileo is only about how he was treated, not about his theories). The Church doesn’t have to accede to every new scientific view that comes down the pike; but it ought to suppress more of the outright stupidity.

      But what we might see is greater latitude to explore ideas in a “hypothetical” manner. And that would be welcome.

      I’d agree with you here; but as of now the Church hasn’t even acknowledged (officially, anyway) that “Adam” and “Eve” might not have been the first humans (first, period, not just first ensouled). I think there’s still a long way for them to go.

      • Well, a non-ensouled human makes no sense.

        As for allowing creationism, its fine policy. As long as people don’t claim it’s required by dogma or theology, the Church is not in the business (anymore!) of suppressing scientific theories. Heck, if someone wants to claim the earth is made of cake…the Church isn’t going to stop them. It’s stupid, but the Church is not the thought-police (not on those questions, at least). Admittedly, creationism is a more embarrassing position for the church because it has a religious provenance, but all the Church can say is “the Faith does not require such a reading of the Bible, so why someone would cling to that explanation nonetheless…is baffling.” The Church should not be in the business of “suppressing” ideas, and should not be disciplining people for “stupidity” if it doesn’t touch on dogma. And while young earth creationism is not dogma, the proposition that its NOT true…certainly isn’t dogma either. If it was good for the Fathers, it is at least “tolerable” today as an abstract opinion.

        As for one ensouled pair bearing the “divine spark” that would later roar into a mighty fire…why is that “not how God does things?” It seems you are “scandalized by particularity,” as it seems to me that’s ALWAYS how God does things. Christ was one man among other men and outwardly indistinguishable…and yet, God. Israel was one nation among others. The Logos is always borne that way, by obscure figures “invisible in the crowd.”

        A soul need not have meant much practically at first. It could have mainly been a potential, as in fetuses. But while a fetal human and fetal pig may be much alike at 6 weeks, they diverge enormously. I imagine the sane would be true for his M and P humans.

        Of course, I’m not saying that’s how it must have been. I too favor a “metaphysical” Fall and Eden related to how reality diverges for our Forms for representing our/God’s “ideal,” humans are born “fallen” because integration in wholeness is always an achievement not a given since we start as infants with unformed minds etc.

        But I don’t expect Church teaching to change. For one, it isn’t “wrong,” inasmuch as the mythological language secures all the metaphysical truths. THAT myth, and not some ridiculous new concoction about polygenism…is the meaning-making one in the system. The literal sense is the one the others hinge on. This is the sane reason the idea of outright condemning the creationists is dumb; because though it might be well-intended as targeting “taking the literal sense unnecessarily ‘factually'”…in truth many people would understand it as renouncing or revising the literal sense period.

        Also, given that some do prefer the “two soul-bearers” among other hominids idea…changing things to your pet theory for “aesthetic” reasons when the soul-bearer one (as unnecessary as I may find it) is basically non-falsifiable for all intents and purposes…just seems an odd conceit.

        Allowing theology to explore interpretations more expansively beyond a literalistic saving of appearances? Definitely. Imposing a “change” or “revision” to match science (or to withdraw from concrete historical claims) just seems to be the wrong way to look at dogma and its relation to reality.

      • Well, a non-ensouled human makes no sense.

        Agreed–whatever such a being is, it’s not human.

        As for allowing creationism, its fine policy. As long as people don’t claim it’s required by dogma or theology….

        I agree that the Church is “is not in the business (anymore!) of suppressing scientific theories,” or promoting them, either. But suppose someone insists, based on his interpretation of Scripture or whatever, that the Earth is flat. Or suppose, like Sungenis, he insists on geocentrism. Or what about the 5th Century monks of Alexandria who rioted at the suggestion that God doesn’t, in fact, have a literal body? If any of these doesn’t “claim it’s required by dogma or theology”, is that “fine”? I’m not saying he might not be good and wonderful person, and a far better Christian than I; but promoting falsehood, for however well-intentioned a reason and by however holy a person, just isn’t right.

        And while young earth creationism is not dogma, the proposition that its NOT true…certainly isn’t dogma either. If it was good for the Fathers, it is at least “tolerable” today as an abstract opinion.

        Disagreed. It’s not dogma that 2 + 2 doesn’t equal 5; but to say such a thing is acceptable because the Church never officially condemned it is absurd. The only way YEC could possibly be true is if a) almost everything we know about science is wrong in a profound way, or b) God deliberately deceived us by making a 6000 year-old universe appear to be billions of years old.

        Now strictly speaking, science never says we can ever know anything with 100% certainty. Maybe I’m not really sitting at my house typing this; maybe I’m hooked up to the Matrix. However, short of evidence in that direction (Morpheus unplugs me!), there’s no reason to adopt such a belief. Thus, a) fails for this reason; and b) implies that God is a liar who sets up weird tests of faith. Thus, I can’t see how YEC is “abstract’ (it has real implications, if true) or tolerable. Maybe the Fathers believed it; but they believed other stuff that has been repudiated (e.g. the aforementioned geocentrism), too.

        Again, I agree with you that it’s not the Church’s business to police science, or to crack down on every crank like Sungenis. I do think it could say something like this explicitly and formally, though:

        1. The belief that the Genesis account of creation is literally true is not required for the integrity of the Faith.

        2. There is no reason, based on the best current science, to think that this account could be or is true, and in fact, the opposite obtains.

        3. Therefore, no one is to teach YEC (or geocentrism or the flat earth, etc.) as established, necessary for doctrine, or approved by the Church. If one does so in the Church’s name, he must stop and the Church must proclaim that his teachings are not the Church’s.

        4. Continual dialogue between faith and science is necessary.

        What would be wrong with that?

        As to the first couple (or lack thereof), it’s not really particularity that is the problem, and my earlier statement about aesthetics was infelicitous, too. It’s not even about polygenesis per se, although a lot of theologians seem to think so. Let me put it like this: I think the Western Church wants to “pin down” the Mystery way too much.

        Analogy: The Church says that the Eucharist is not a mere symbol, but actually, really, and truly is the literal Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. Now I believe that. In fact, I try to go to Adoration when I can–something that would be not only absurd but blasphemous if the True Presence weren’t there. However, when the Church insisted on the term “transubstantiation” in the specific context of Aristotelian philosophy, it made a bad move. Modern physics tends to make hash of the substance/accidents distinctions of Aristotle; and therefore, to the extent that the Church insists on such a linkage, it
        damages its credibility. On the other hand, the Orthodox Church, though it does sometimes use “metousiosis”–the Greek for ‘transubstantiation”–it doesn’t pin it down to a particular philosophical framework. The Eastern Church is content to say, “It’s a mystery,” and let it go.

        In my view, the Church should say, “Humans were created by God–we don’t know when or how–and fell from primal innocence–we don’t know when or how–and thus Jesus must save us–we don’t understand how this works, but we have faith that it does, since we believe in Christ,” and let it go at that. Theories that could (in principle) be falsified, or which are totally ad hoc (no one could prove or disprove the souls-as-spreading-throughout-the-primal-population theory) are, in my mind, dangerous and inappropriate, as they tend to be damaging to the faith in that they posit a strict dichotomy between faith and reason; a dichotomy that shouldn’t be there.

        For one, it isn’t “wrong,” inasmuch as the mythological language secures all the metaphysical truths.

        Agreed.

        The literal sense is the one the others hinge on.

        Well, yes, in the trivial sense that one has to understand what the text is saying before one can decide how (or if) to allegorize it. For example, I have to know what “ark”, “rain”, “flood”, “Earth”, and so on mean if the story of the Flood is to be readable and if I am to know how to allegorize it (Flood equals type for baptism, etc.). However that’s very much different from saying that I have to admit that the entire world actually was covered by water and that Noah’s Ark actually contained two of every species of animal on Earth just because the Bible says so, if the things in question are impossible.

        This is the sane reason the idea of outright condemning the creationists is dumb; because though it might be well-intended as targeting “taking the literal sense unnecessarily ‘factually’”…in truth many people would understand it as renouncing or revising the literal sense period.

        This is the nub—in essence, a “don’t disturb the faith of the simple believers” argument, which is the same one Robert Bellarmine used against Galileo (since the Cardinal was far too erudite to reject out of hand the possibility that Galileo was right). There is a certain point to it; but the best response is not to leave the “simple faithful” undisturbed; but to educate them and the faithful at large as to why “taking the literal sense unnecessarily ‘factually’” is a bad thing, and that allegorical readings are not, in fact, inimical to the faith.

        In this series in general, and this post about the Old Testament in particular, I discuss my views on Scriptural interpretation at greater length.

  2. “I’m not saying he might not be good and wonderful person, and a far better Christian than I; but promoting falsehood, for however well-intentioned a reason and by however holy a person, just isn’t right.”

    But the people promoting Young Earth creationism or whatever presumably believe its a fact. That’s sort of a prudential judgment. They would seem to be misguided, and pastors might do some serious probing to see why the person (on the subconscious level) is really pushing this theory that isn’t required by Faith and which doesn’t stand up to Reason. But who knows? Maybe they just have the evidence wrong or a different view of what it means. Outside faith and morals, disagreement isn’t a moral issue unless their is a perverse spiritual issue under the surface. If someone believes the Chinese built the pyramids, they’re wrong, but it’s not Church business.

    “Disagreed. It’s not dogma that 2 + 2 doesn’t equal 5; but to say such a thing is acceptable because the Church never officially condemned it is absurd.”

    Depends what you mean by “acceptable.” It’s not a sin against Faith, as it contradicts no article. If a mathematician had a theory there, he’s not a heretic or whatever, and if he’s convinced it’s true, it’s not a lie either, subjectively. All the Church can do is encourage everyone else to follow our Reason, and hopefully Right Reason will rule the day. I would be appalled if the Church excommunicated someone for 2+2 = 5. That’s a slippery slope. Next you’ll be excommunicating for certain views of historical fact too (say, believing bishops were complicit in abuse cover-up, etc). No, best to keep the Magisterium itself strictly on faith and morals and leave math to the mathematicians.

    “Maybe the Fathers believed it; but they believed other stuff that has been repudiated (e.g. the aforementioned geocentrism), too.”

    “Repudiated”? The Church has merely said it’s not dogma. But geocentrism didn’t suddenly become HERESY either.

    “I do think it could say something like this explicitly and formally,, though”

    Fair enough. I think that would be a great statement for them to make. That’s not exactly condemning YEC or geocentrism, though, just saying that it has nothing to do with the Church one way or the other.

    “Let me put it like this: I think the Western Church wants to ‘pin down’ the Mystery way too much.”

    Maybe. I definitely see what you’re saying, but any “pinning down” that has been at the dogmatic level will “map onto” truth somehow. So take your “transubstantiation” example; it doesn’t require accepting the language of “substance/accidents” really, but it does provide a linguistically grounded account in one system that serves as reference point for translating into other systems. It’s sort of apophatic in that way. The substance/accident language (like the hypostasis/ousia language earlier) doesn’t so much serve to essentialize the mystery, as to circumscribe limits regarding what we CAN’T ever say. Another system may approach things in a radically different way, but it would have to use a “hermeneutic of continuity” that would show how the new angle didn’t contradict “transubstantiation” or “three persons, one essence” when considered “Internal” to their own systems/contexts.

    Whatever “monogenism” means “really”…the only possible “progressive” hermeneutic cannot overturn the previous dogma, merely “develop” it in a way that clearly demonstrates how nothing excluded by the old is really included in the new.

    “Modern physics tends to make hash of the substance/accidents distinctions of Aristotle”

    How so? It was never a physical assertion, but a metaphysical one; it regards categories of human thought (and how we distinguish properties from their object) not anything about matter itself.

    “The Eastern Church is content to say, “It’s a mystery,” and let it go.”

    A bit of a generalization perhaps. Either way, the Church wants a framework whereby we can speak. Saying “it’s a mystery” doesn’t answer questions like “Are we allowed to say ‘the Eucharist has a beard’?” or something like that. The paradigm of “transubstantiation” provides a framework for determining what linguistic relations we are allowed to construct about the Mystery. Nothing more.

    “Theories that could (in principle) be falsified, or which are totally ad hoc (no one could prove or disprove the souls-as-spreading-throughout-the-primal-population theory) are, in my mind, dangerous and inappropriate, as they tend to be damaging to the faith in that they posit a strict dichotomy between faith and reason; a dichotomy that shouldn’t be there.”

    I don’t disagree there. There shouldn’t have to be a theory; we simply don’t know. But the Church doesn’t teach a theory really, does it? It says “Humans have at least two common ancestors, at some point they sinned and death entered the world. How this is squared with other stuff we know, we don’t know.” The attempts of people trying to show it’s true seem, to me, to be not so much attempts to say “This is the truth” for sure, as to provide at least once counter-example to those who would claim that the less-specific less-concrete teaching is totally impossible on its face.

    “However that’s very much different from saying that I have to admit that the entire world actually was covered by water and that Noah’s Ark actually contained two of every species of animal on Earth just because the Bible says so, if the things in question are impossible.”

    Agreed. But people are stupid. They will see saying a statement regarding the factual non-historicity as meaning the story is “a lie,” or “mere fiction” because modern man has lost the sense of how Scriptural allegory works. There’s a real (sad) chance that if you, say, were trying to construct a system pairing the seven sacraments with the seven days of Creation, many would miss the elegance and beauty of that idea and just say “Bah! The earth wasn’t created in seven days! This is a lot of crock!” because they too have “literalized” Truth in their own way.

    “There is a certain point to it; but the best response is not to leave the ‘simple faithful’ undisturbed; but to educate them and the faithful at large as to why ‘taking the literal sense unnecessarily ‘factually’’ is a bad thing, and that allegorical readings are not, in fact, inimical to the faith.”

    Maybe, but big dogmatic statements renouncing the past aren’t the way to do it. The Pope should never sit on his throne and say “Human life is not the center of existence; the earth revolves around the sun!” because “internal” to the Catholic symbolic system, that’s equivalent to saying something like “Man is really insignificant,” in reality, the non-factuality of the former symbol is not mutually exclusive of human life still being “the center,” obviously; the symbol falling away doesn’t destroy the content it contains, but in other sense for many people it can. Same thing with evolution. The Pope should never say, “God didn’t really create us out of the earth; we evolved from apes!” Because really the whole point is that the two things are not mutually exclusive, and the spiritual truth of the Genesis account remains true. But for some people (I think of lots of atheists who seem very simplistic to me) “teaching” evolution means teaching “God did not create man.” Teaching heliocentric models means teaching “Human life is not special.”

    Obviously the two can be abstracted, but I think it’s a more delicate operation than you’re making it out to be. It can come across as Thomas Jefferson’s Gospel where he excised things he thought the Historical Jesus didn’t really say.

    Now, maybe the Historical Jesus didn’t say “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” I once heard someone say, “A Word does not announce itself” and that these were words “put in Christ’s mouth” to elaborate on what He MEANT to the Community of Believers. May be true as a historical matter, I have no problem with that interpretation. But to say “He never said that” can very quickly come across as an assertion that He isn’t, in fact, the Way, the Truth, and the Life for people who don’t understand how the authority of Scripture works. Saying He never cursed the fig tree is dangerous, because while the Historical Jesus might not have, the Christ of Faith did…yet trying to separate the two mentally must be extremely delicate, and possibly even dangerous. I fear, like “dissection,” that to “see inside” one winds up having to the kill the thing. Or like Carbon Dating that destroys the artifact in the process. Trying to get “through” all hermeneutic lenses back to the past (whether that’s Creation or Christ, Science or Scripture) is sort of naive.

    • Let me try to boil down my point.

      You say (my emphasis):

      J But people are stupid. They will see saying a statement regarding the factual non-historicity as meaning the story is “a lie,” or “mere fiction” because modern man has lost the sense of how Scriptural allegory works. There’s a real (sad) chance that if you, say, were trying to construct a system pairing the seven sacraments with the seven days of Creation, many would miss the elegance and beauty of that idea and just say “Bah! The earth wasn’t created in seven days! This is a lot of crock!” because they too have “literalized” Truth in their own way.

      You seem to be saying that since people are stupid, they’ll tend either to lose faith (they see the story as a lie) or become insensitive to allegory because they’ve become too literal in the opposite direction (instead of “the Bible says it, that settles it”, they’re saying, “the Bible says it, it can’t be true”). Therefore (if I’m interpreting you rightly), you’re saying that there should be more latitude for letting people believe in a literal Genesis so that the simple may be undisturbed in their faith and so that there will be less cynicism from those so inclined.

      I’m saying that if stupidity is the problem, work to cure the stupidity. Help people understand that “non-historical” or “mythical” does not mean “lie” or “mere fiction”. Help them understand how something that is not literally true can be more profoundly true than the mere factual. If you can do this, then the simple will have a better understanding and not be disturbed, and the cynical will have less cause to be cynical. Look, I don’t believe that the stories of Greek myth literally happened; but I draw profound meaning from them. All the more so for the Bible.

      There will be some people, no matter what, who will be unreachable no matter what one does–some who will insist on a literalist reading of the Bible, or who will insist that “non-historical” means “mere fiction”. I guess in regard to everyone else, we differ on the solution. You see human stupidity as something to more or less be tolerated in service to the greater good of the faith (if I’m not misrepresenting you); I see stupidity as something to be fought and to the extent possible, extirpated. Neither will work perfectly, so we differ as to which is more effective and/or which is the philosophically better approach. I see where you’re coming from (I think), and can respect it, in a sense, but I forcefully disagree, for the reasons I’ve put forth.

  3. Another Matt

    Well, I don’t think we need to imagine the P-hominids talking etc. When saying they’re “not so different” perhaps you should imagine not that the P’s were close to modern humans, but rather remember that the first humans (and whether there was one couple or not, that transition must have happened at SOME point) were likely not much “higher” than their hominid predecessors. The existence of a soul didn’t suddenly mean Einstein and Mozart (and let’s remember: a fetus has a soul even though dolphins don’t, so it’s not “smarts” that make the difference). The difference could have, at first, expressed itself in as little as a system of a few grunts that the first M humans understood as “meaningful” in a very rudimentary (but also, in the long run, revolutionary) way. Even they (especially after Falling) might not have been aware of just how different they were (in possessing this “seed” of spiritual potential) from their P-hominid cousins, who would have continued to seem like perfectly natural mates. I’m not saying it had to happen that way, but it at least COULD have without contradiction.

    I’m way late to this party, but this quote really struck me. For this to be acceptable you would need to have an account of what the Fall meant in light of the idea that the “first M humans” were barely sapient enough to communicate,* but not enough to know that they were set apart from the other hominids, much less have the complex understanding of God, nature, and themselves necessary to knowingly sin, or to have moral responsibility to the degree that it could condemn all of their descendants. That seems to me a pretty steep obstacle to overcome, but I’d love to see the attempt.

    A side note — usually P-Zombies are defined so that they are indistinguishable in behavior from “real” humans, not just in genetics and physiology. If I somehow got it into my mind that you were a P-Zombie, there’s nothing at all that you could say or do that could convince me otherwise. The state of the unensouled hominids is a bit more ambiguous.

    *Animals already apparently communicate and find each others’ “rudimentary grunts” quite meaningful, so I think you will need to set your baseline evidence for “ensouled” a bit higher. I’m also not sure, but this conception seems to depend upon a rather Cartesian model of what the soul does, and what it means for something not to have one. It might be better to think of souls as something that allow abstract thought and language over and above “mere cognition and communication,” and stop making it the necessary condition for qualia.

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