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Monogenism or Polygenism?: The Question of Human Origins


NOTE: Today we finish our two part series by Dr. Edward Feser exploring questions about evolution, creation, faith, and human origins. You can read the first part here.

How can the doctrine of original sin be reconciled with what contemporary biology says about human origins?  For the doctrine requires descent from a single original ancestor, whereas contemporary biologists hold that the genetic evidence indicates that modern humans descended from a population of at least several thousand individuals.

This is an issue I addressed a few years ago in a series of posts on my personal blog (here,here, and here).  Longtime readers will recall that I there rehearsed a proposal developed by Mike Flynn and Kenneth Kemp to the effect that we need to distinguish the notion of a creature which is human in a strict metaphysical sense from that of a creature which is “human” merely in a looser, purely physiological sense.  The latter sort of creature would be more or less just like us in its bodily attributes but would lack our intellectual powers, which are incorporeal.  In short, it would lack a human soul.  Hence, though genetically it would appear human, it would not be a rational animal and thus not be human in the strict metaphysical sense.  Now, this physiologically “human” but non-rational sort of creature is essentially what Pius XII, John Paul II, and the philosophers and theologians quoted above have in mind when they speak of a scenario in which the human body arises via evolutionary processes.

The Flynn-Kemp proposal is this.  Suppose evolutionary processes gave rise to a population of several thousand creatures of this non-rational but genetically and physiologically “human” sort.  Suppose further that God infused rational souls into two of these creatures, thereby giving them our distinctive intellectual and volitional powers and making them truly human.  Call this pair “Adam” and “Eve.”  Adam and Eve have descendents, and God infuses into each of them rational souls of their own, so that they too are human in the strict metaphysical sense.  Suppose that some of these descendents interbreed with creatures of the non-rational but genetically and physiologically “human” sort.  The offspring that result would also have rational souls since they have Adam and Eve as ancestors (even if they also have non-rational creatures as ancestors).  This interbreeding carries on for some time, but eventually the population of non-rational but genetically and physiologically “human” creatures dies out, leaving only those creatures who are human in the strict metaphysical sense.

On this scenario, the modern human population has the genes it does because it is descended from this group of several thousand individuals, initially only two of whom had rational or human 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 human souls) have descendents living today.  In that sense, every modern human is both descended from an original population of several thousand and from an original pair.  There is no contradiction, because the claim that modern humans are descended from an original pair does not entail that they received all their genes from that pair alone.

Of course, this is speculative.  No one is claiming to know that this is actually what happened, or that Catholic teaching requires this specific scenario.  The point is just that it shows, in a way consistent with what Catholic orthodoxy and Thomistic philosophy allow vis-à-vis evolution, that the genetic evidence is not in fact in conflict with the doctrine of original sin.  Naturally other Catholics and Thomists might reasonably disagree with it.

Having said that, I have yet to see any plausible objections to the Flynn-Kemp scenario.  This brings us back to Prof. Bonnette’s article.  In response to the Flynn-Kemp proposal, he writes:

"The difficulty with any interbreeding solution (save, perhaps, in rare instances) is that it would place at the human race’s very beginning a severe impediment to its healthy growth and development.  Natural law requires that marriage and procreation take place solely between a man and a woman, so that children are given proper role models for adult life.  So too, even if the union between a true human and a subhuman primate were not merely transitory, but lasting, the defective parenting and role model of a parent who is not a true human being would introduce serious disorder in the proper functioning of the family and education of children.  Hence, widespread interbreeding is not an acceptable solution to the problem of genetic diversity.
Moreover, given the marked reduction in the number of ancient HLA-DRB1 alleles found by the later genetic studies of Bergström and von Salomé, it may turn out that no interbreeding is needed at all, or at most, that very rare instances of it may have occurred.  Such rare events might not even entail the consent of true human beings, since they could result from an attack by a subhuman male upon a non-consenting human female."

I put to one side Prof. Bonnette’s remarks about the genetic evidence, which I’ll leave to the biologists to evaluate.  Bonnette allows that some interbreeding may have occurred, but he claims that it cannot have been “widespread” and that the reason has to do with natural law.  But what is the problem, exactly?

Back in 2011, when Flynn, Kemp, and I first wrote on this topic and the Flynn-Kemp proposal was getting a lot of attention in the blogosphere, some people objected that interbreeding of the sort in question amounted to bestiality.  But of course, no one is suggesting that we should approve of the interbreeding in question.  The claim is merely that in fact it may have happened, even if this was contrary to natural and divine law (just as Cain killed Abel even though this was contrary to the natural law, and just as Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, even though this was contrary to divine law).

Nor would it be a good objection to suggest that no one would plausibly have been tempted to engage in such interbreeding.  After all, the scenario in question would hardly be comparable to that of the average member of contemporary civilization being tempted to have sex with an ape, which would of course not be psychologically plausible.  For one thing, the sub-rational but genetically and physiologically “human” creatures in question would not be like apes, or indeed like any of the non-human animals with which we are familiar.  They would more or less look like us.  Furthermore, they would even act like us to some degree.  As I noted in a recent post, though a purely material system could never in principle exhibit true rationality, it might simulate it to a significant extent (just as if you add enough sides to a polygon you will get something that looks like a circle even though it could not really be a circle).  The sub-rational creatures in question would have been sphexish, but a sufficiently complex sphexish creature might seem not to be on a superficial examination.  Recall Popper’s distinction between four functions of language: expressive, signaling, descriptive, and argumentative.  The sub-rational creatures in question would not be capable of the latter two functions (which presuppose rationality) but they might have exhibited very sophisticated versions of the first two functions.

Meanwhile, the earliest true humans would not have had anything like the modern civilizational accompaniments of sexual activity, especially given the effects of original sin.  Obviously it would be absurd to think of their liaisons as involving smooth techniques of romantic seduction, contemporary standards of personal hygiene, etc.  So, the cultural “distance” between primitive true human beings and the sub-rational creatures in question need not have been so great as to make the sexual temptation psychologically implausible.  It might have been comparable to a very uncultured and unsophisticated person taking sexual advantage of an even more unsophisticated and indeed very stupid person.  Not that it wasexactly like that, since even a stupid person is still intelligent in the strict sense, whereas the sub-rational creatures in question wouldn’t even rise to the level of stupidity.  The point is that the situation could have been psychologically close enough to that for the temptation to be real.  (As I indicated, partly in jest, in one of the earlier posts, we might think on the model of Charlton Heston’s character “Taylor” being attracted to the Linda Harrison character “Nova” in Planet of the Apes -- not that the early sub-rational creatures would have looked quite that good!)

It doesn’t seem that the “bestiality” issue per se is really the heart of Prof. Bonnette’s objection, though.  His point seems instead to be that a “union” of a true human being with a sub-rational creature of the sort in question would be dysfunctional vis-à-vis the proper rearing of truly human children.  This is true, but it is hard to see how it is a problem for the Flynn-Kemp scenario, for nothing in that scenario requires that such “unions” be anywhere close to optimal from a child-rearing point of view, or even that there be “unions” (of some long-term sort) in the first place.  All that it requires is that there was enough interbreeding to account for the genetic evidence appealed to by contemporary biologists.  It isn’t clear how the question of whether, how, and to what extent the sub-rational creatures were involved in child-rearing affects the judgment that there was sufficient interbreeding.

Perhaps Bonnette thinks that child-rearing would have been so deficient that the population of true humans could not have survived long enough to displace the sub-rational creatures.  But it is hard to see why.  Surely the child of a “union” between a true human being and one of the sub-rational creatures would have an advantage over the offspring of two sub-rational creatures, for such a child would itself have rationality and at least one rational parent, whereas the other sort of offspring would have neither.  Moreover, we needn’t think in terms of such pairings in the first place.  Why not think instead of a scenario where a truly human male forms a union with a truly human female but also has several sub-rational but genetically and physiologically “human” females as concubines, where the resulting children are all essentially reared by the human couple?  And such arrangements need only have occurred frequently enough for the truly human population to supplant the population of sub-rational creatures.  There is no need to flesh out the Flynn-Kemp scenario in the specific way Bonnette (apparently) does.

So, it seems to me that neither Prof. Bonnette nor anyone else has raised any serious difficulty for the Flynn-Kemp proposal.  However, Prof. Bonnette is right to hold that many Catholics need to show greater caution when commenting on matters pertaining to evolution.
NOTE: Dr. Feser's contributions at Strange Notions were originally posted on his blog, and therefore lose some of their context when reprinted here. Dr. Feser explains why that matters.
(Image credit: Wikimedia)

Dr. Edward Feser

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Dr. Edward Feser is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Pasadena City College in Pasadena, California. He has been a Visiting Assistant Professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and a Visiting Scholar at the Social Philosophy and Policy Center at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. He holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of California at Santa Barbara, a master’s degree in religion from the Claremont Graduate School, and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and religious studies from the California State University at Fullerton. He is author of numerous books including The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism (St. Augustines Press, 2010); Aquinas (Oneworld, 2009); and Philosophy of Mind (Oneworld, 2007). Follow Dr. Feser on his blog and his website, EdwardFeser.com.

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  • Some pro-life arguments, that human life starts at conception, deals with that there is original human DNA at the moment of conception. This argument, that someone can be genetically virtually identical to a human and yet not metaphysically human, seems to strain the pro-life case.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Why? Are you thinking there are human-looking animals around that human persons are having sex with and producing offspring?

      • David Nickol

        Why? Are you thinking there are human-looking animals around that human persons are having sex with and producing offspring?

        Isn't that precisely what this article suggests happened in the past? If so, how can we be sure there are no isolated descendants of the original ancestors and contemporaries of Adam and Eve who have survived until this day?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Maybe they are the sociopaths among us.

          Still, if you don't know what is shaking the foliage, don't assume it is a deer and fire. It could be a hunter.

          If you don't know if an unborn child is human or not, don't assume it isn't and kill it.

          • Jeremy

            "Maybe they are the sociopaths among us."

            That is the danger in the kind of speculation posited in this article. I know the Catholic mentality is to be weirded out by the sexual aspect, (and really, the Planet of the Apes fantasy is a little much), but the real problem is if people latch on to the notion that there were once human-like creatures that had no soul. That could easily translate to misguided religious types deciding that there are still soulless humans alive today.

            What if a religious nut-job took this claim, and decided atheists were soulless beings who can be killed without thought, like they were insects? When apologists try to square the circle of dogma and science, they can produce some bizarre, potentially dangerous thought. This article is a perfect example.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think you are speaking nonsense.

          • Jeremy

            I couldn't possibly begin to formulate a response to such a compelling argument. I just discovered this site. I had hoped for intelligent debate. I hope I'm not wrong...

          • OK, Jeremy. Since, when you wrote: --- "When apologists try to square the circle of dogma and science, they can produce some bizarre, potentially dangerous thought." --- you suitably qualified it as CAN produce bizarre thought rather than DOES produce, you get a pass from me. :)

            Essential dogma and science, though, won't conflict for those who avoid category errors. I haven't encountered category errors in Professor Feser's work --- not in this article or other of his writings. He's not trying to square such circles. If you dutifully parse what he has written, his science, philosophy and theology are methodologically autonomous. I suspect you disagree with his philosophical speculation? Perhaps you'd like to elaborate? Your slippery slope argument was sloppy. I couldn't make sense of it. So, I have no serious quibble with anyone who considers it nonsensical.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Feser's God arguments rely on massive category errors. It takes macro observations about Act-Pot and falsely extends it to the early universe and the quantum scale.

            It's not exactly a category error, but treating rationality as a property of the soul isn't something that modern neuroscience would get behind.

          • Metaphysics, properly considered, won't conflict with physics, by definition, in principle. They're tautologies, which don't add new information (factual, probabilistic, descriptions) to our systems, to be sure, but that doesn't mean they are necessarily untrue. As heuristic devices they may be relatively helpful or useless.

            As far as the soul is concerned, that's a metaphysical concept, variously conceived by different metaphysical tautologies (philosophy of mind, etc), not in competition with neuroscience. As far as philosophy of mind stances, for example, whether nonreductive physicalism or cartesian dualism interprets the hard problem of consciousness, correctly, as a Christian, I couldn't care less, as long as human rationality and free will are affirmed.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Doesn't physics inform our metaphysics and vice versa? I don't think that fields of study can always be clearly demarcated.

            How do we know if a given metaphysical system is true? I don't think we can divorce it from our sensory experiences or our empirical observations.

          • Physics employs inductive inference, probabilistic, experimental, evidential probes of reality, in conjunction with abductive hypothesizing and deductive clarifying. When it reaches the end of its epistemic advance, we cannot a priori determine whether we are temporarily thwarted, methodologically, or ontologically occulted, metaphysically. Metaphysics, including very highly speculative theoretic physics, for example, take the descriptive facts of probabilistic science and engage in further inferential cycling. That cycling produces heuristic concepts that don't robustly describe reality but can, if thought thru carefully and disambiguated dutifully, successfully reference reality and also produce tautological interpretive paradigms. If and only if these abductive-deductive inferential cycles can get interrupted by inductive testing will knowledge advance, however. These metaphysical tautologies can be guaged for relative plausibility by inventorying various epistemic virtues like hypothetical fecundity and consonance, abductive facility, external congruence, internal coherence, logical consistency, ontological parsimony, interdisciplinary consilience and so on. But abductive-deductive cycling, no matter how epistemically virtuous, still needs inductive testing for new information to be confirmed.

            Our language games tend to reflect how much value any given community of inquirers has cashed out of its concepts by virtue of which concepts it's negotiated or not. Theoretic concepts have been negotiated. Heuristic concepts are still-in-negotiation. Semiotic concepts are nonnegotiable because reason itself wouldn't be possible (first principles, etc). Dogmatic concepts are non-negotiated. In addition to other epistemic virtues, using as many negotiated concepts as possible, as few non-negotiated as necessary, should help inquiry. Ultimate reality references tend to traffic in more dogmatic concepts, unavoidably, due to the subject matter.

          • Kevin Aldrich


            What does "Catholic mentality . . . weirded out by the sexual aspect" mean?

            Who has argued here that there were once human-like creatures that had no souls? The argument is that they did not have rational souls.

            If a deranged person comes to a deranged conclusion, that is his derangement speaking, not A-T metaphysics.

            Please tell me what in Catholic doctrine could possible be construed advocating treating human beings like insects?

            That is the kind of conclusion that atheist socialists regularly reach.

          • Jeremy

            "What does "Catholic mentality . . . weirded out by the sexual aspect" mean?"

            If the premise is that there were human-like creatures, and God "infused rational souls" into two of them (squaring the circle, Adam and Eve HAVE to fit into the evolutionary narrative for Christian doctrine to be true), then there were humans with rational souls living with human-like creatures without rational souls. A fascinating concept. I did find it strange that among the first objections raised was akin to "Oh no! What if humans had sex with human-like creatures without rational souls!" It always comes back to sex. Bertrand Russell, commenting on the writings of Augustine, wrote that Augustine was distracted by his obsession with young women protecting their purity while Rome was being overrun by Barbarians. That is what I meant about Catholic mentality towards sexuality. Sexual sins seem to trump all others. You can disagree, but I feel Russell's analysis of Augustine is correct.

            "Who has argued here that there were once human-like creatures that had no souls? The argument is that they did not have rational souls."

            Since you were ungentlemanly enough describe what I wrote as "nonsense", I will return the favor. This statement makes absolutely no sense. When you are talking about something that cannot be empirically proven, the existence of the soul, how can you parse between rational and non-rational? What are the specific properties of the non-rational soul vs. the rational soul, I mean, aside from a lack of rationality? Or is that it? Are we to accept there are rational as well as non-rational souls, even though there is no evidence of the existence of ANY type of soul? Cart before horse.

            "If a deranged person comes to a deranged conclusion, that is his derangement speaking, not A-T metaphysics."

            I mostly agree with this statement, but not all people who misinterpret religious teachings are mentally ill, which is what I suppose you mean by deranged. Some people are zealots, and take religious teachings too far. Examples -- Self-proclaimed pro-life people murdering doctors, using a religion to justify murdering cartoonists, FLDS members taking 15 wives. BTW -- This answers Johnboy's question below. My argument isn't a slippery slope, it is that religious musings have a tendency to be brought to their extremes. That is no slippery slope, it is a fact of history.

            "Please tell me what in Catholic doctrine could possible be construed advocating treating human beings like insects?"

            I never insinuated it did. I merely meant that a being without a soul is more like an animal, or an insect, than a human, if one believes in such things as souls. Does Catholic doctrine currently teach that insects and other non-human creatures have similar souls to humans? I'm 20 years out of Catechism, but I don't recall that particular lesson.

            "That is the kind of conclusion that atheist socialists regularly reach."

            What does socialism have to do with this? My guess is that you meant "atheist socialist" in a derogatory way. Not that there is anything wrong with being an atheist socialist, but I would describe myself as agnostic. And I'm not really a socialist, at least no more than Pope Francis.

            Now, speaking of atheist socialists, Bill Maher is on. I'm curious to hear his take on the Charlie Hebdo massacre. I will bid you all a good evening.

          • BTW -- This answers Johnboy's question below. My argument isn't a slippery slope, it is that religious musings have a tendency to be brought to their extremes. That is no slippery slope, it is a fact of history.<<<

            Fallacy of misuse. The abuse of something is no argument against its proper use. Besides, human morality --- how we are to interact with self, other and our natural world --- is transparent to human reason without the benefit of any special divine revelation (how one interacts with putative ultimate reality). People perpetrating crimes, even fighting wars, based on an apparent religious impetus are confused, often conflating theological stances with moral positions via category errors but that doesn't change the essence of their misdeeds from moral to religious. Rather, that means that they are not only misanthropes but incompetent philosophers.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            There has been a lot of incompetent philosophy in religion then. The problem with religion is that it elevates an Orwellian dogmatism above individual reason and that through this dogmatism gains power, which tends to corrupt. Religion will always have people who abuse her power, it is in her nature. Add this to the fact that many religious doctrines are morally evil (hell for instance) and we have some problems

          • No doubt there are some problems but I still don't buy into the militantly atheological argument (grounded in the fallacy of misuse) that religion should be wholesale done away with. Neither do many agnostics and atheists who find much to celebrate and affirm in religious practice. The militants can't marshall enough facts in support of such stances to convince most people of large intelligence and profound goodwill that, for example, the 1st Amendment should keep its nonestablishment clause but ditch the free exercise clause or, for another, that religious freedom should be deleted from the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. All they can do is rant and troll and employ the ad hominem tautology that everyone else is not so bright.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I'm all for people believing whatever it is that they believe. I tend to think that religion has a lot of bad elements that need to be purged, and I would rather have a world without religion than one with it, but that world could end up being worse than the one that we are presently dealing with. I think religion does have a negative influence on some people's lives and those people would be better off without religion.

            I certainly don't want to ditch the free exercise clause or delete religious freedom from the 1948 declaration. I dislike secular dogmatism as much as religious dogmatism.

            There are many bright theists. There are a fair amount of atheists who are frustrated and angry with religion - I think that is usually the source of their vitriol. I tend the think the anger and frustration is justified in many cases, but the ad hominem attacks are counter productive.

          • Breezeyguy

            All of these evils require the use of words. Maybe words are the real evil. Down with words!!!

          • Jeremy

            I did not suggest that because religious teachings/speculations could be misused, that all religion should be eliminated. My suggestion is that religion should abandon the field of philosophy and reason, and rely exclusively on faith. It makes no sense to create fanciful explanations of how evolution fits into the Christian narrative, when in the end faith is paramount to the believer. The real misuse is using philosophy to arrive at a pre-conceived answer.

            Non-believers are supposed to "research on the Internet" to prove the existence of the soul, while believers cling to Thomism and Aristotelianism without really engaging the thought that God may not exist. I would suggest that anyone who believes in the existence of the soul should read Hume.

            Christians, and all religious believers, would do well to heed the words of Bayle and Kierkegaard. Rely on faith, stop trying to use reason to support otherwise fanciful, outrageous claims about gods and souls. Faith is supposed to be a leap in the dark. Using reason to justify belief cheapens faith. If you don't like that statement, take it up with Kierkegaard.

          • Philosophy, in my view, is necessary (to demonstrate the reasonableness) but not sufficient (to conclude the soundness) for any given existential leap, which cannot be robustly warranted, epistemically, but should be earnestly justified, normatively. In William James' approach to faith as a forced, vital and live option, philosophy tells us which are live (no anything goes fideism). Faith is an existential disjunction, a "living as if" but must be constrained by
            descriptive science, pragmatic criteria and moral reasoning. I'm all for leaping with Kierkegaard but
            not just any old epistemic cliff will do for me.

          • Jeremy

            I understand the desire to do this, if not, then how can one religion claim superiority over another? Catholics can claim truth about transubstantiation and many other fantastical notions, while at the same time ridiculing Xeno and his soul-stealing thetans. To do this, you must attempt to add a layer of reason to your dogma.

            If faith "must be constrained by descriptive science, pragmatic criteria, and moral reasoning," then agnosticism seems to fit best with that definition. New discoveries of "descriptive science" could render one's faith obsolete. For the agnostic, descriptive science is the boundary under which true belief must exist.

          • To the extent that faith deals with ultimate concerns, primal realities, the godelian-like axioms that would perdure even should the descriptive sciences unravel the initial, boundary and limit conditions of the cosmos, its objects, metaphysically, lie in the bottom drawer of the corner desk of the basement floor of our ontological library. God would not occupy the gaps of our proximate metaphysical milieu, but neither can Nietzsche, Camus and Sartre defend reality's perimeter, where probabilistic descriptive methods have no probative efficacy. As Hawking lately has come to acknowledge, Godelian-like incompleteness applies to speculative cosmology. Not to worry.

            The great religious traditions and even many indigenous religions, through various asceticisms, practices and disciplines, all seem to foster an essential authenticity (rigorously defined by Bernard Lonergan, expanded by Don Gelpi, but beyond the scope of this thread). In that regard, they all share an essential orthopraxic, orthodoxic and orthocommunal trajectory, soteriologically. This amounts, basically, to right behaving, right belonging and right relating to self, others and our shared world.

            To the extent ultimate reality is multifaceted, each tradition then tends to variously de/emphasize one or more aspects of same and celebrates through devotional modes and orthopathic dynamics different ways of being in love with transcendent reality via distinct sophiological trajectories. This being in love with God can augment the value-realizations of being in love with others, with the world, even oneself, leading to sustained authenticity.

            Humankind's understanding has advanced and philosophic rigor has helped us to recognize how science, philosophy, culture and religion, while axiologically integral, are methodologically autonomous. There are sociologic metrics to help discern when authenticity is being sustained or frustrated. There's much less competition between these traditions when they gather in deep dialogue and engage in serious comparative theology, as opposed to facile blogospheric caricatures.

          • That is what I meant about Catholic mentality towards sexuality <<<

            The impoverished anthropology that many traditionalistic/fundamentalistic Catholics employ, including many in the magisterial teaching office, is not derived from religious dogma but from philosophic approaches. Certain approaches are too essentialistic, biologistic, physicalistic, a prioristic, rationalistic and a host of other methodological pejoratives and then pervasively affect their thinking regarding life, sex and gender issues as related to moral doctrines, church disciplines and such. The social justice methodologies employ a more personalist approach and a relationality-responsibility model which have produced some guidelines that are universally respected and applauded. Those very same modernized approaches, if applied in the arena of personal morality, in general, sexual morality and gender issues, in particular, would cure a lot of what ails those impoverished strains of thought, which not even the catholic faithful practice or find credible or compelling. There are minority positions and dissenting voices, which have been stifled, that are still very much "Catholic" even while holding to other philosophical and metaphysical positions. You'll get no serious argument from me about a prevailing Catholic mentality regarding sex, except to point out that its not essentially a religious but a philosophical problem.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I'm pretty sure you will disagree with this but in our culture it is not the Catholic Church that is obsessed with sex, it is the liberal, progressive movement.

            As for the A-T concept of the soul, it actually is demonstrable and makes perfect sense. It should be pretty easy to research on the Internet.

            Can you acknowledge that secular ideologies are just as capable of dehumanizing human beings and slaughtering them as any religious ideology--like the 100,000,000 murdered by communist regimes during the 20th century?

          • David Nickol

            Who has argued here that there were once human-like creatures that had no souls? The argument is that they did not have rational souls.

            I think that, as the average person would understand the "Flynn-Kemp proposal," the ancestors and contemporaries of the newly ensouled Adam and Eve did not have souls. Most of us are not Aristotelians or Thomists, and the idea of vegetative or animal souls simply has no meaning.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            If you don't know something, obviously it has no meaning. If you want to understand any proposal in any field you have to be willing to learn what the terms mean.

          • David Nickol

            If you want to understand any proposal in any field you have to be willing to learn what the terms mean.

            If I understand what you are thinking, I disagree. It is not necessary to understand Scholastic Metaphysics, or Aristotelian/Thomistic philosophy to take part in this debate.

            A contemporary individual can understand the idea of a "spiritual soul" well enough to have an opinion on the idea of humans with "spiritual souls" breeding with protohumans who have no "spiritual souls" whether or not that contemporary individual knows that in Aristotelian/Thomistic philosophy it is posited that animals have animal souls and plants have vegetative souls. Given an animal X without the ability to think abstractly and without the ability to make moral decisions, the mating of a human being with animal X is no different whether we think of animal X as having an animal soul or whether we think of it as having no soul at all. The concept of the animal soul is simply irrelevant.

            So if you are claiming one must master Scholastic Metaphysics or Aristotelian/Thomistic philosophy in order to determine what is true or not, I disagree. Aquinas exerts a tremendous influence over Catholic thought, but it is not the case that one must be a Thomist to be a Catholic.

            Here is what looks to be a fascinating paper by Joseph Komonchak on Thomism and Vatican II. I have not had time to spend more than a few minutes skimming it, but I think it is relevant. Vatican II declined to make Thomism the "official" philosophy of the Church.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't agree because of how "off" people can be with the word soul.

          • Alice Cheshire

            Jeremy: What keeps nut-jobs from appropriating any religion and using it to kill those who oppose said religion? We see it throughout history and today with the radical Islamists. Hitler killed millions of Jews, possibly because they were economically successful and stood in his way. Their religion was just a way to brand them. Hate can use any religion with any presentation. I think you underestimate the ability of radicals and those who hate to use anything they can to further their cause. We cannot in any way stop them from doing this, certainly not by trying to anticipate all their moves and preempt them, nor by trying to keep any useful ideas out of the media so it cannot be used by radicals.

          • That does seem to be the general thrust of the Roman Catholic stance? Take the safer practical path to achieve the optimal moral outcome. What makes it untenable for many, however, is that it invokes too much agnosticism regarding human personhood. See http://www.webpages.uidaho.edu/ngier/abortion.htm

            Who would rescue a cryotank of 200 frozen human embryos from a burning building rather than the screaming 2 year old in the next room? At the same time, who would, if able to rush back in, rescue personal belongings rather than the embryos?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            It is the basic moral principle that obliges everyone in the entire world to DO NO UNNECESSARY HARM.

          • Well, yes. The moral principle is philosophical and not derived from special revelation. What's controversial is not the articulation of the principle but its application. If the moral significance of the embryo advances with gestation, absolute inviolability needn't hold precisely because the embryo could be harmed when necessary when placed in competition with other significant human values?

            The substance of the point was that the analogy fails to the extent it suggests we know less about human personhood than we actually do, that there is more doubt than truly exists, for all practical purposes. The principle is not questioned here but its application wouldn't hold.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Human personhood as the threshold across which human rights exist is a bogus argument that the pro-aborts put forward and that the SCOTUS majority opinion swallowed hook, line, and sinker.

            Human life begins at conception. Everyone one of us was an embryo once. If the embryo can be murdered, so can you.

          • Who considers morning after pills and/or abortifacient birth control murder?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            If the effect is to cause an abortion, which is what "abortifacient" means, I do.

          • VicqRuiz


            If taking a morning after pill is "murder", then you should be prepared to punish every woman who does so with the death penalty, or life imprisonment.

            Are you so prepared, and do you agree that the pro-life movement should be candid about that result???

          • Kevin Aldrich

            All abortificients SHOULD be outlawed.

            Why must I or the pro-life movement obey your "shoulds"?

          • Caravelle

            The morning after pill is not an abortifacient though, so either you're slightly misrepresenting Kevin Aldrich's position (you should have used the example of an actual abortifacient like RU-486), or you're assuming that Kevin Aldrich, like many pro-life advocates, wrongly claims the morning-after pill is an abortifacient. Except he hasn't actually claimed this (if anything he seemed in his previous comment to expressly avoid claiming this, albeit ambiguously), and either way it's not a mistake one would want to play into.

          • VicqRuiz

            Fair enough. I simply want to make sure that those who equate abortion with murder are fully prepared to execute or imprison for life those who perform abortions by any method (even at day one of pregnancy) and to prosecute as accessories to murder those who procure abortions, including the mother.

            Acquiesence to lesser penalties implies a lesser crime.

          • Mike

            we don't put all murderers in solitary confinement or even in max security prison or even in prison at all - sentencing depends on lots of factors but the crime is either a murder or not a murder. Lesser penalties do not imply lesser crimes the christian roots of our justice system attest to this fact daily.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Apparently, some of your fellow Catholics do.

          • Doug Shaver

            Human personhood as the threshold across which human rights exist is a bogus argument

            What makes it so?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Personhood is a philosophical concept to describe entities with rationality and freedom of will. Human beings are said to be persons because these faculties are part of human nature. However, unborn babies and children before about the age of seven don't have these powers; people asleep don't have these powers; the comatose, some mentally ill people, many mentally handicapped people don't; some elderly people have lost these faculties.

            A valid criteria would be something like: (1) is this a member of the human species? And (2) is it alive? If the answers to both questions is yes, then the entity has human rights.

          • Doug Shaver

            Personhood is a philosophical concept to describe entities with rationality and freedom of will. Human beings are said to be persons because these faculties are part of human nature.

            Do you deny that? Do you think rationality and freedom of will are not part of human nature?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I do believe they are part of human nature. So is being a social creature, yet if I decide to be a hermit I don't stop being a human being.

          • Doug Shaver

            I'm not arguing over what makes us human. I'm trying to figure out your objection to the concept of personhood.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            My objection to the concept of personhood is only in its use to justify killing human beings. The SCOTUS in 1973 essentially denied that unborn children were persons. When asked when a baby gets human rights, Obama said it was above his pay grade. There is no reason that "lack" of personhood cannot be used to justify killing all kinds of people.

          • Doug Shaver

            I have not noticed that people who want to kill certain other people after they've been born have a hard time finding excuses to do so.

          • Not bogus at all.

            See http://philpapers.org/rec/TAUPAH for Tauer's conceptualization of personhood

            See http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=2833 for Hartshorne's concept of nonstrict identity

            Those approaches transcend some of the essentialism-nominalism, substance-process,
            structuralist-functionalist, nature-properties caricatures others traffic in.

          • Doug Shaver

            Interesting. I had to look up virtue ethics in a couple of encyclopedias of philosophy. It was never mentioned in the ethics class I took, so far as I recall.

            I don't think I missed much. As one of the encylopedias pointed out, it's not that hard for either a deontologist or a consequentialist to assimilate its insights into their own models.

          • Otherwise went by name of Aretaic ethics. Generally, each approach does draw on insights from the others as a moral reality gets weighed - not only in terms of acts (deontological) and circumstances (consequentialist), but - also in terms of intentions (aretaic). Of course, this widget remains rather sticky.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Like sociopaths?

          • David Nickol

            Like sociopaths?

            Presumably sociopaths are capable of abstract thought, so they must have (according to Catholic thought, as I understand you espouse it) spiritual souls.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Sure. Any being who uses language as opposed to merely signs is obviously abstracting. But it was the closest thing I could come up with that might get a flavor of the prehistoric distinction. Too many here, I think, are comparing humans today versus apes today rather than two critters that are more than apes, essentially alike in body, but one abstracts universals into words while the other merely uses them as signs for concrete particulars. We've been so acculturated to think of animals as meat puppets that we no longer realize what a supple thing instinct can be. Imagination can produce feats that we might normally ascribe to intellect.

            The distinction between sign-using and symbol-using was neatly summed up by Walker Percy:
            But what is a symbol? A symbol does not direct our attention to something else, as a sign does. It does not direct at all. It "means" something else. It somehow comes to contain within itself the thing it means. The word ball is a sign to my dog and a symbol to you. If I say ball to my dog, he will respond like a good Pavlovian organism and look under the sofa and fetch it. But if I say ball to you, you will simply look at me and, if you are patient, finally say, "What about it?" The dog responds to the word by looking for the thing: you conceive the ball through the word ball.
            -- Walker Percy, The Message in the Bottle, p.153

        • Dastardly

          David, you didn't read the article. In Para 8 he says "They would more or less look like us." What the author is saying is that the difference from the rational to the irrational being is on the interior and not outwardly visible.

          • David Nickol

            I did read the article, and I am confused about what it is you seem to think I overlooked. It goes without saying that given the "Flynn-Kemp proposal," the homo sapiens with and without spiritual souls would be physically indistinguishable. However, those without spiritual souls would, from a moral standpoint, be animals. Sex between a human person and an animal is bestiality no matter what the animal looks like, even if the animal looks exactly like a human person. A spiritual soul allegedly gives a human being the capacity to think rationally and form moral judgments. Without this capacity, it would be impossible for a human being to enter into marriage or even to consent to sex.

      • How could we possibly know for sure? Maybe people with Autism (or gingers, even) are simply human looking. They have the same genetics, but no souls. More to the argument, maybe the fetus is simply human looking. Same genetics and all, but doesn't become human until God puts the soul in at some later point, maybe at birth, or a bit before, or a bit after.

        The implications of the ensolement-after-the-fact-of-genetics argument are frightening.

        • Michael Murray

          Maybe He loads up all the sperm with half a soul and all the eggs with half a soul? That might explain why masturbation is so sinful.

        • James Scott

          As the father of three autistic children I can tell you from experience they are rational and quite different from the intellect of my late cat.

          OTOH a car with four flat tires and a busted engine is still a car in essence it is just a car with it's faculties damaged. An autistic person is in essence a rational animal it's just their faculties of human intellect are impaired.

    • Mike

      Are you implying that maybe the soul is not present at conception but maybe is present at say 8 weeks therefore ending the life of a human embryo before the 8th is morally neutral at worst?

      • David Nickol

        My understanding is that the Catholic Church considers it a reasonable assumption that a soul is infused at the time of conception, but that is not official doctrine. However, "twinning" can take place up to about 13 days after conception, when the developing pre-embryo splits in two, resulting in identical twins. One can raise the question of whether God creates one soul at conception and then has to create a second soul later if twinning takes place. Some have suggested that, since you don't know whether a developing pre-embryo is one individual, or two, or three (I have met identical triplets), perhaps ensoulment takes place at a stage in pregnancy when the number of souls/persons involved is definitively known. It certainly seems more "efficient."

        One could certainly argue, I think, that while aborting an embryo before it was ensouled is not the deliberate killing of a human being, it is the killing of a potential human being. Prior to Roe v. Wade, where abortion was illegal in the United States, it was not homicide. I don't think it is necessary to believe in a soul at all to make arguments against abortion. There is at least one well-known pro-life atheist (Nat Hentoff). Whether those arguments are convincing or not is another matter.

        • Mike

          Thanks that's interesting but it would seem to me that at the moment of conception a soul is 'infused' and then if a second or third or fourth embryo is created out of the one before it that at that moment another soul is infused; this seems simple enough to me but perhaps i am missing something.

          Just as an aside i don't think that killing a non-human would be morally equivalent to killing a human embryo bc a human embryo is never potentially human but is always either human or not it seems to me.

          Also before roe many states had passed legislation permitting 'therapeutic' abortion i think at least 20; the issue at the supreme was whether it should be decided state by state or whether the right to kill your own embryo was a constitutional right thereby taking away a state's right to determine the question democratically; the same thing is happening with marriage: some ppl say it's a state issue others say it is a constitutional issue.

        • Steven Miller
          • Mike

            Yeah but he was also a bit of a contrarian supporting the iraq war and all; who knows what he really believed or even what sort of an atheist he was; he once said he believed in the numinous in nature whatever that means if not immaterial transcendence.

      • Not necessarily morally neutral, but not tantamount to killing someone. It would be like killing a cow or a monkey or any other creature without a rational soul. Another standard would have to be considered.

        It also may not be morally neutral because someone could make the argument that this human-looking animal might have a soul, that there's a considerable possibility, and destroying something that might be a human being is not morally neutral.

        • Michael Murray

          But it might change the balance with the rights of the other person in the equation. The one whose rights seem to always get ignored in Catholic discussions. The one that makes abortion a unique moral dilemma.

        • Mike

          I see what you mean; thx.

    • As I understand the Catholic moral stance, it's not grounded speculatively but practically. It doesn't state, indubitably, when ensoulment takes place, i.e. whether at conception or later. It seems to implicitly acknowledge that legitimate philosophical distinctions might be drawn between, for example, incipient and sentient human life, and a sapient human person, as ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, embryonically. The teaching, instead, suggests that, for all practical purposes, human life, from the moment of conception, should be treated with the same dignity ascribed to all human persons. To oversimplify, it's basically an appeal to the safest route, practically, in order to ensure the optimal outcome, morally.

      • I can see that. Say that the fetus is probably not human. Just some hominid waiting for a soul. But we better not kill it off, just in case we're wrong. That's sensible and would seem prudent, but has some strong implications about what should happen if the life and wellbeing of a possibly ensouled hominid comes into conflict with the well-being of its certainly human mother.

    • GCBill

      "For the embryology textbook tells me so" is certainly no good in light of this proposal. That's not to say a conjunction of theology and embryology couldn't save the the pro-life position. It's just that, on this view, there can be no good *secular* arguments against abortion because ensoulment needn't coincide with conception.

      • David Nickol

        . . . . there can be no good *secular* arguments against abortion, for ensoulment needn't coincide with conception.

        Does that mean if the religious folk are wrong and there is no spiritual soul, there can be no good secular arguments against abortion or even murder of an adult? If I believe that nobody has a soul, may I kill anybody I want to kill? Even if it were somehow revealed that souls are infused at the 13th week of pregnancy, would abortion up to 12 weeks be morally neutral? Might it not be argued that the life of potential person had a value greater than zero?

        • GCBill

          Hmm, you're right; can't forget about Don Marquis et al. I should have said *Christians* can't make secular arguments against abortion. The viability of these other ways of course depends on what, precisely, makes life valuable.

          The Christian view makes human dignity contingent upon the fact that we are made in the "image of God," which of course refers to our rational faculties. Which is the reason atheists supposedly couldn't have produced the modern conception of human rights, etc.

          So these "other ways," howevwr viable when grounded in othet approaches, aren't available to them. They can't get to the conclusion that fetuses possess the thing which grants people dignity from the mere biological facts. Nor can developmental potential allow for a Christian version of Marquis' argument, for the soul is not something that "develops." If whether or not fetuses possess "a future like ours" depends on divine ensoulment, the details of which come from theology, then it is indeed outside of secular argumentation.

          The best Christians can hope for in the secular arena is appealing to non-shared ethical premises and trying to build a pro-life case from those. But now that's veering dangerously close to consequentialism ("Let's convince them to be pro-life based on false premises!") which is off-limits for Christians as well. So I don't think that option should be viewed as acceptable by Christian standards either.

          • Doug Shaver

            The best Christians can hope for in the secular arena is appealing to non-shared ethical premises and trying to build a pro-life case from those.

            Robert M. Price (http://www.robertmprice.mindvendor.com/) is vehemently anti-abortion, saying it is morally indistinguishable from infanticide. He has an argument from premises involving Aristotelian metaphysics that I don't think any Christian would have a problem with. It took me a fair bit of intellectual work to come up with a decent counterargument.

          • GCBill

            FYI your URL doesn't work, but only because it detects your closing paren as part of the address. Once fixed it directs to his home site. I'm not sure which piece I'm supposed to be reading, though.

          • Doug Shaver

            I must have gotten a bit careless. Sorry about that. I just tweaked it, and it works now. At least for me.

            I had no particular part of the site in mind. I was just trying to help anyone who'd never heard of him and might wonder who he was. He is sort of famous in the skeptical community as one of the few relevantly credentialed atheist scholars besides Richard Carrier who doubts Jesus' existence.

        • Mike

          Well why not i mean if you really don't have any intrinsic value and there is no sky fairy watching you and reporting back to the big guy why is the killing of a person wrong if nobody finds out? Say you off a person no one knows about and will never miss and no one will ever find out; in this case is it still wrong or is it akin to slaughtering an animal?

          Does a "guilty conscience" convict or is it just some pesky bio-chemical brain activity that is at best a bio-warning system to the group that perhaps some breeding disadvantage may be on the horizon?

          • Doug Shaver

            Say you off a person no one knows about and will never miss and no one will ever find out; in this case is it still wrong or is it akin to slaughtering an animal?

            I can't answer that until you tell me why I want to kill that person.

          • Mike

            Say to tempt fate, for kicks, to provoke the wrath of an invisible God who doesn't exist, bc you can, bc you want to find out if you will feel guilty or will be able to brush it off - or bc he killed your best friend in grade school but nobody knew except you and now you have a chance to get away with it yourself - it doesn't matter, pick one.

          • Doug Shaver

            it doesn't matter, pick one.

            It might not matter in your moral philosophy. In mine, the rightness or wrongness of killing someone depends very much on why I'm doing it.

          • Mike

            Ok so say you kill them for a social experiment and no one finds out or inquires and you will never get caught and suppose you don't feel guilty about it at all - is it wrong?

          • Doug Shaver

            Ok so say you kill them for a social experiment and no one finds out or inquires and you will never get caught

            If no one is going to find out, it's not a scientific experiment, so I'm just satisfying my personal curiosity. That means I'm killing someone for my personal pleasure, and that would be wrong.

            and suppose you don't feel guilty about it at all - is it wrong?

            Now you've moved the goal posts. Your original question didn't mention anything about how I would feel. But to answer your question: My feelings would be irrelevant.

          • Mike

            Ok so it would be wrong how? just because or because there is some moral law 'floating' around in the universe that declares it wrong or bc that's just the way you've been 'raised' by your culture to consider it wrong?

          • Doug Shaver

            That means I'm killing someone for my personal pleasure, and that would be wrong.

            Ok so it would be wrong how?

            By being stupid. It is irrational to enjoy that sort of killing.

          • Mike

            Just irrational? But being irrational is not wrong is it? lots of ppl do irrational things that are not wrong.

            Also how is being stupid a moral failing? lots of very very good ppl are very stupid and do lots of stupid things nevertheless are/do very very good things.

          • Doug Shaver

            But being irrational is not wrong is it?

            I don't think a simple yes or no can answer that, but I see no justification for divorcing ethics from reason. In any situation where reason tells us to do something that is condemned by some ethical imperative, or it tell us to not to do something that is mandated by some ethical imperative, we need to be questioning either our reasoning or our ethics. In such a situation, I believe, there is a flaw either in our reasoning or in our ethical code.

            The ability of stupid people to do good things does not excuse their stupidity. Stupid people usually cannot help being stupid. That is their excuse. No one chooses to be either smart or stupid, notwithstanding many apparent exceptions.

            And we need to keep in mind that nobody is either perfectly rational or perfectly smart. This should not surprise any more than the notion that nobody is perfectly good. None of us is perfectly anything.

            According to Plato, Socrates believed that no one knowingly does evil, and I think he was on to something. If someone does evil, they either don't know that it is evil, or else they think that even though it is evil, it is in their best interest to do it. In either case, I would say that they are mistaken.

          • Mike

            Thanks for that; there's alot there - the last bit is interesting...i think i see your point that "doing bad things" is related to "being mistaken"; with that i agree but i don't think that that goes far enough as you know in that i think there is also a real dimension of choosing the bad over the good..anyway thanks for replying to my questions and for "allowing your views to be cross examined" so to speak.

          • Doug Shaver

            You're very welcome. I rather enjoy the exercise, and even if I didn't, I could hardly object to being questioned the same way I question others.

          • George

            Suppose there is a heaven and the victim goes there. Was it wrong? Or heck, even if they go to hell instead, Ive only heard that they deserved hell and in fact chose hell!

            Why is anything considered wrong under theism again?

          • Mike

            What i am driving at is that both christian and atheist admit that there is a moral law and imho the best way to account for that is that there is a moral law giver not that the moral law 'just is' a part of a merely physical universe and even if it 'just is' a part of the universe, a brute fact of sorts, then it is just a 'fluke' and can morally be ignored as it is no more important than any other 'fluke' of nature - hence atheists can kill another human being if no one will ever find out about it and it will not affect reproductive fitness one bit even if there is some 'moral law'.

          • George

            Still dont see your point. You can call a brute fact a fluke but not whatever a lawgiver decided to make into a law?You could ignore God's law and kill someone and technically you're just giving that person what they deserve right?

          • Mike

            I am sorry but i don't see your point either; there seem to be 2 choices that we have - both christians and atheists attest to the existence of a moral law -this is the question: where from?

            both agree that it is not material therefore materialism can not be correct; laws can only be established by agents something with intention with telos therefore that eliminates matter ie an impersonal material universe; this leaves us with some agent which can establish immaterial laws like the laws of physics chemistry etc. this agent must if it is a moral law care about good and evil therefore bc both christian and atheist agree we have freedom to choose care about us choosing good over evil and this matches up best with the christian god.

            this is my only point that all else being equal the hypo super intelligence who creates moral law makes way more rational sense than impersonal material universe by accident foisting on human a law of good and evil with no purpose.

            thx for engaging.

          • Caravelle

            Atheists agree that materialism can not be correct... That's a new one to me.

            I'm not sure why you feel the need to assert that large groups of people agree to things when many of them very clearly don't as a prerequisite to your argument. Why don't you skip some steps, say "all christians and atheists both agree that I am right" and then leave it at that because clearly, everyone agrees with you and further argument is unnecessary ?

          • Mike

            atheists agree that there is a moral law that is not physical that is immaterial and that applies to human actions and their consequences.

          • Caravelle

            That really depends on what you mean by "not physical" or "immaterial". I don't object to using those words to refer to things on a pure semantic level, but that's got nothing to do with the substantive issue of whether materialism is true.

            And I'd guess a large number of atheists, and pretty much all materialists (two groups with significant overlap, contra your assertion) consider morality to be a property of material systems, such as interacting sentient agents, social species, or human brains and species. If we want to call the properties of material things or of sets of material things "immaterial", as I said I'm fine with doing that (though many aren't), but the existence of those properties is completely dependent on the existence of the material things that have them, so it's just as reasonable to call them "material", and whichever word we pick it's all completely consistent with materialism.

          • Mike

            Do you believe that matter can have "moral" properties?

          • Caravelle

            Yes. Not any old hunk of matter obviously, but as I said, certain specific arrangements of matter like systems of interacting sentient agents, a human society, things like that, for sure.

          • Mike

            That's a fascinating view; so you mean that morality is in some sense an "emergent property" of matter, which (matter) is inanimate but "imbued" with many potentialities - interesting.

            Ok so if this is true, does "that" morality that morality that "emerges" from some special arrangement of matter, have Authority? Ie should you follow its rules or are they inspite of being real moral laws/rules merely properties of matter and therefore can they be ignored without any moral problems.

            So if morality 'emerges' from 'special matter' and one of its rules is do not kill innocent ppl, if you do kill innocent ppl and break the rule, is that "wrong" or is it just "what happens"?

          • Caravelle

            I don't know that I'd use "emergent", but then again why not.

            Your questions seem self-contradictory to me; clearly if there's a moral rule against killing innocent people, this is exactly equivalent to saying it's wrong to kill innocent people, because that's what the word "wrong" means. Same with "should"; "should" is about which action is preferable according to a certain standard. Morality is such a standard, so clearly morality implies a "should". This is completely regardless of whether moral rules are emergent properties of material systems, or imposed by a rule-giving agent.

            It also works the other way around. If we consider that a question like "is it morally wrong to break moral rules?" makes sense (and I don't think it does), then it can just as easily be asked of moral rules that come from a sentient Authority.

          • Mike

            I know what you're saying but well it seems to me that ok if i knew 100% that said moral 'law' came from some dude in a fancy outfit, say some one who declares himself 'god', well if i didn't agree with the law, i'd just break it - say there exists some 'public law' against mocking mohamed, what i'd do is ask if the law has authority, is it's source authoritative; if i found out it was cooked up at the new york times i'd ignore it.

            So if the real moral law some how originates and ends in some special arrangement of matter then it can't by defn have any authority for matter can not judge; if it appeared out of matter it probably did so by accident or it's just an illusion that we think of as real - BUT if the law came from "God" the classical christian God the it has real authority and real consequences bc by breaking the law you don't "offend" inanimate impersonal matter but "a person" namely the god of christianity.

            So do you also believe that matter not inanimate?

            do you believe that matter has moral intention so does it somehow not want its moral law to be broken?

            It seems to me that if there is a moral law and it seems most atheists agree there is that the law came from some personal agent, now maybe some person who was himself created and on and on and on but nevertheless a 'person' not matter ie protons, neutrons, electrons, mass, energy.

          • Caravelle

            I know what you're saying but well it seems to me that ok if i knew 100% that said moral 'law' came from some dude in a fancy outfit, say some one who declares himself 'god', well if i didn't agree with the law, i'd just break it - say there exists some 'public law' against mocking mohamed, what i'd do is ask if the law has authority, is it's source authoritative; if i found out it was cooked up at the new york times i'd ignore it.

            I wouldn't care about who "cooked up" the law, except insofar as said authority could impose sanctions on me if I disobeyed. I'd care about what the law's rationale is, what people were trying to achieve by putting it in place, and what the consequences of following or breaking the law would be. If I found out the law was put in place to achieve an objective I disagreed with, implemented in ways I disapproved of, and/or I didn't believe following it would have good consequences or breaking it bad ones, then I'd ignore it if I could get away with it (though to be fair I'd have a bias towards following the law anyway, due to the meta-principle that society tends to run better if as many people as possible follow as many laws as possible. But obviously some laws are so egregiously bad that disobeying them can even be a moral imperative).

            So if the real moral law some how originates and ends in some special arrangement of matter then it can't by defn have any authority for matter can not judge;

            Sentient agents can judge.

            if it appeared out of matter it probably did so by accident or it's just an illusion that we think of as real - BUT if the law came from "God" the classical christian God the it has real authority and real consequences bc by breaking the law you don't "offend" inanimate impersonal matter but "a person" namely the god of christianity.

            I wouldn't care about offending inanimate impersonal matter, but of course the thing about systems of sentient agents, human societies or human minds is that they're animate, personal matter.

            do you believe that matter has moral intention so does it somehow not want its moral law to be broken?

            That does indeed describe the specific bits of matter known as "humans".

            It seems to me that if there is a moral law and it seems most atheists agree there is that the law came from some personal agent, now maybe some person who was himself created and on and on and on but nevertheless a 'person' not matter ie protons, neutrons, electrons, mass, energy.

            If that were true, why would we care what that person thinks ? It would also make all moral reasoning a mockery - killing people wouldn't be bad because of anything intrinsic to the act of killing people (such as its consequences, the nature of killers, the reasons for the act, people not wanting to be killed, people having an instinctive aversion to killing, etc), but only because the 'person' decided it was. I wouldn't even call that morality.

          • Mike

            But "the person" is God not you and me; obviously everything turns on the "category" of being.

            Thx for the exchange but i think we've reached an impasse: ultimately if there is no law giver some agent "higher" than us then i think morally anything is permissible especially if there is no afterlife and no possibility of judgement AFTER death.

            Thx again.

          • Caravelle

            But "the person" is God not you and me; obviously everything turns on the "category" of being.

            And yet it is extremely important that this be a person, or so your argument suggests. But clearly "a person" isn't sufficient, as it matters that the person be God, not you or me.

            So what's the attribute of God that means we should obey His rules but nobody else's ? Is it that He created the world ? I can see how that would give one "authority", but creating something doesn't make one a moral arbiter per se. Omnipotence means He can enforce His rules better than anyone, but surely we aren't just following those rules for fear of punishment.

            Personally the quality that most fits the bill for me is omniscience; obviously an omniscient being would "know better". Would best understand what actions have what outcomes, which rules are best to follow, see the biggest possible picture, all that. But all this "which rules are best" implies a standard that could be defined independently of God. You don't need to be omniscient to make rules and proclaim them good; I'd think you need to be omniscient to know which rules are good, but that implies that "good" isn't just what you say.

            I guess there's omnibenevolence, but that just begs the question; saying "God is good" doesn't say why we should care about good or about God.

            What would you say the quality of God is that makes him the only possible person who can define morality ?

            Though seeing the rest of your comment, I can understand if you don't answer these, if you do feel we're at an impasse.

          • Mike

            These convos are funny as in peculiar not haha bc the atheist and the catholic have before them the exact same set of "facts" and yet come to different conclusions but not that different it sometimes seems to me. The atheist position it seems to me ends in "i am god if such a "thing" exists" whereas the catholic ends in "i am NOT god if such a "thing" exists"...and from that tiny starting point all the differences come.

            See as i see it rationality is not enough, the "heart" your deepest desires also have to come into play; you the real you the deepest part of "you" whatever that may be also has something that it "wants" it may be a naturalistic universe it may be God it may be whatever else but i believe that we all have that "voice" that wants something. And so as i always say at this point: i "Want" God to exist, it makes so much sense to me that he does and it opens up so many good possibilities in my opinion if he does that both my intellect and my "heart" "Want" the christian God...and from there i look for evidence to strengthen that "want" which some ppl call faith or hope.

            As for the morality question i think what you're getting at is euthrypho or however you spell his name: is God good bc he is god or bc he follows all good rules: the solution to that classic problem is resolved by Christian theology which has always held that the 2 are the same: that God "IS" Goodness itself, there is no "good" apart from God.

            Anyway take care and thanks for the exchange.

          • Caravelle

            The atheist position it seems to me ends in "i am god if such a "thing" exists" whereas the catholic ends in "i am NOT god if such a "thing" exists"...and from that tiny starting point all the differencescome.

            Again with claiming atheists say things that they very clearly don't... Well I guess you said "it seems to me" this time. I still don't see the point though. You don't care at all about portraying the positions of people who disagree with you accurately ?

            As for the morality question i think what you're getting at is euthrypho or however you spell his name: is God good bc he is god or bc he follows all good rules: the solution to that classic problem is resolved by Christian theology which has always held that the 2 are the same: that God "IS" Goodness itself, there is no "good" apart from God.

            Yes, some of my questions were related to the Euthyphro dilemma, which you misstated by the way, but I'm not interested in the standard Christian answer to a standard question related to what I actually asked. I'd like answers to the questions I actually asked. The "Godgood" answer is what I addressed in my paragraph on omnibenevolence, so a reply to the objection I gave there would be more appropriate.

          • Mike

            I know you don't think the classic answer is totally satisfactory or even a little bit but it isn't meant to be; to me it seems that the entire project of christian apologetic s is to give ppl "enough" reasons to believe if they so want to NOT to make it a slam dunk case - after all God is NOT a scientific hypo an entity which you can measure and weight and do experiments on but a "relationship" which means that there has to remain some "room" for personal will/choice.

            Some ppl want to believe, some atheists on here say as much, but can't bring themselves to it - that's a tragic situation the worst possible.

          • Caravelle

            Wow. You're referring to your exchange with Brian Green Adams on another post, where he said he'd probably be happier if he believed in God, you replied saying that was a crappy headspace to be in and that it was sad that he couldn't "bring himself to it" like you say, and he replied that no, he was "a very happy person", and making the analogy that he'd be happier if he believed he'd won the lottery or that they'd found a cure for cancer too, but that didn't mean that facing the reality that he hadn't made him sad.

            That's not "wanting to believe". Unless you think BGA also wants to believe he won the lottery or that they've found a cure for cancer regardless of whether it's true.

            This is the THIRD wrong position you've wrongly ascribed to atheists who didn't hold that position in only this exchange. Again... why?

            As for the rest of your comment : you're still completely ignoring the questions I asked. You asked why we should care about morality if morality was a property of the world and social systems and didn't emanate from a divine person; you figured under that circumstance anything would be morally permissible. I'm asking you why we should care about morality if morality does emanate from a divine person, and you don't seem to have an answer to that. So why should you expect an answer to your own question ?

            Interestingly, "look into your heart" is also a big part of the materialistic answer to why morality matters (or exists rather, since like I said "mattering" is an intrinsic aspect of what the word "morality" means)

            Finally, since we don't seem to be going forward I thought I'd try to go backwards, call it morbid curiosity: you agree now that in the opinion of many atheists, the existence of morality is completely consistent with materialism, right?

          • Mike

            Yes i think that atheists agree there is a moral law which is objective and authoritative - they just think it makes more sense that it is an "emergent property" of matter than something that "emanates" from God.

            They think it is consistent yes but i think they believe in magic but i don't think it is consistent of course as you know and even if it did "come from" matter it would have zero authority over me and i could just flaunt it and bc there's no afterlife i would never have to "answer" for my actions - but we're going around in circles now.

          • Caravelle

            I'm not sure we're going in circles at all, for one thing we managed to agree on one thing at least atheists believe ! :) (though I wouldn't be so confident that "atheists agree there is a moral law which is objective and authoritative"; I'm not sure this is something all atheists agree on, or even atheists in general. But I do so I can't really speak to the other point of view)

            I'm also interested in your bringing up the afterlife and having to "answer" for ones' actions as an important difference between material vs divine sources of morality. This seems to provide part of an answer to my question of what it is about God that means we should care about His moral rules. Would you say the ability to reward good moral behavior and punish bad moral behavior is an important factor for deciding whether we should care about/follow moral rules ? The most important factor ?

            I realize that you've said twice now this conversation isn't going anywhere, I disagree that's why I'm continuing, but I'll understand if you leave at any point if you're not getting anything out of it.

          • Mike

            Yes in short punishment can be a good thing but a much better word for it is Justice; but i can't think of a justice system that doesn't include some form of punishment - that's one of the biggest reasons i became a catholic bc i started to really want justice for ppl who are starving who are persecuted for the children exploited for the parents who lose children for victims of wars earthquakes etc. my "thirst for justice" drove me into "God's arms".

            Is it the most important no the most important motivator should be "love" btw if you ask parents they'll know that they'll accept "fear" but want "love".

            Justice involves punishment and reparations for the hurt but both are necessary. Problem is that really most atheists will openly admit that there is no punishment or reparations in their system but that these "shortcomings" are more than made up for by other things which they value more so "liberation from superstition" a more "accepting" morality which doesn't "judge ppl" and the other well known liberal secular values.

        • >>>Might it not be argued that the life of potential person had a value greater than zero?<<<

          Sounds right. While not morally neutral, instead of absolute inviolability, though, prior to personhood, the value of the embryo could reasonably be placed in competition with other human values of similar moral significance.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Thank you for saying that.

    • Phil

      Hey Paul,

      It is a very interesting point that Dr. Feser is making, and I look forward to reflecting on it. In regards to your pro-life comment, I see what you are getting at--and it is a good point. But to have any real rational traction, one would have to show that we have reason to believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there are really a group of biological humans that do not have a rational soul.

      We have no reason to believe this at this point, so therefore the pro-life argument is still a good one in that all biological humans that come from biologically human parents would therefore be infused with a rational soul, and not merely a "sensitive soul", as an Aristotelian would call the sub-rational soul.

      • I can see that. The fetus is some sort of hominid that at some point (maybe at conception, maybe later, we don't know for sure) is granted a soul, and becomes truly human. And it's not good to kill an animal that might be a human.

        Kreeft used an example of driving on a road and seeing a coat. There might be a person in the coat. You don't know. You purposefully run the coat over. That's a bad thing to do. I understand that.

        But then imagine that you are driving your car. In one lane is a young woman, and in the other is a coat. The coat may have a person in it or not. You have to run into one. You have a good chance at killing or seriously injuring the woman, or you have some unknown chance of running over someone in the coat.

        My moral intuition is that you run over the coat.

        Whether there's a real live chance that the fetus is a hominid that only later becomes human seems to have real moral implications, if the life of the fetus comes into conflict with the life or well-being of the mother.

        Equally frightening implications if for some reason you think that the developmentally disabled, or the autistic, or gingers, or what have you, might not have souls. For whatever reasons.

        • Mike

          It might help to consider the catholic doctrine of 'double effect' in these scenarios: intent matters but secondary effects even if deadly can be morally acceptable - if baby is threatening the life of its mother deliver the baby early and try to save its life; don't kill the baby first.

    • Howard

      A bigger problem is that it can easily lead to a really nasty racism, as it has in the not-so-distant past. How do we know that all the "physiologically" human organisms walking around really have souls? If there was once a time when there were human-looking creatures without a rational soul, how can we be sure there are none today? Because they speak? But apes can be trained to use sign language, and dogs can learn to understand a couple of hundred words.

      • Howard, I completely agree. Racism and other ugly things. I worry about implications for the developmentally challenged.

        On the other hand, the self-awareness apparently exhibited by certain animals, elephants for example, does seem to raise certain ethical concerns about their treatment. Concerns that are different than for fish or ants or trees.

        • Michael Murray

          There there is the question


          of whether it is ethical to turn off simulated minds. If you think minds need souls added to them then simulated minds can be turned off. But if you are a materialist then there isn't really any difference between a mind and a simulated mind.

          • Doug Shaver

            But if you are a materialist then there isn't really any difference between a mind and a simulated mind.

            Quite a few hard-core materialists--or people who at least claim to be hard-core materialists--think it's trivially easy to see a difference.

          • Michael Murray

            Have you got an example ? Are you thinking of Chalmers or someone like that ? It's not something I've thought about a lot to be honest the discussion above just reminded me of that post on the Richard Dawkin's site.

          • Doug Shaver

            I've read more about Chalmers than I've read of his own work. I was thinking mainly of Searle and Penrose. Searle is probably paradigmatic of the philosophers I have in mind. I don't know whether Penrose has explicitly claimed to be a materialist, but he does sound like one.

            On further reflection, "trivially easy" might have been the wrong term to use. I think everyone admits that a humaniform robot could, in principle, be constructed so as to be very difficult to distinguish from an organic person. There is one point, though, that complicates the logic of any discussion about simulated minds, and that is: If we stipulate that any apparent instance of a mind is a simulation, then we stipulate that, in some sense, it is not the real thing. This can lead to some circularity in the arguments that isn't always easy to detect.

          • Michael Murray

            Have you got an example ? Are you thinking of Chalmers or someone like that ? It's not something I've thought about a lot to be honest the discussion above just reminded me of that post on the Richard Dawkin's site.

    • James Scott

      Catholics are "Creationists". In this context that term is used to describe the view God creates each human soul and infuses in at conception. God is free to create creatures who might have our physical form but without and intellect or soul who morally would be no better than mere animals.

      Your criticism here seems to betray an unspoken materialist or Cartesian view of the soul which is at odds with the Catholic and or Thomistic view.

      That all creatures with the human form today are beings with created souls does not change.

  • There's no need to defend every element in Genesis as if it were an historical account of the past since, instead, it's a myth formulated to explain our present "human situation." THAT we are thus situated, anthropologically, and in need of an outside assist, soteriologically, are the take-aways, theologically.

    The imperatives of natural selection, survival and reproduction, suffice as an account of HOW we got thus situated in our pervasively selfish milieu, both personally and socially. The emergence of a radically free will in our "symbolic species" from the coevolution of language and brain accounts for the phylogenetic dawning of a moral agency, which only then colored selfish behaviors in terms of evil and made at least some of what were previously only apparent altruistic behaviors, indeed, authentically loving.

    There's no need to conceive the human situation, then, in terms of some ontological rupture that happened in the past, i.e. "the" Fall, because it might better be understood in terms of a teleological striving that's oriented toward the future. Static and essentialist accounts are less robust than dynamic and processive perspectives. It's difficult to solve problems using the same mindset that created them. The narrative of evolution explains the origin of evil but essentialism made it into a problem.

    This is more consistent with the minority report of the Scotists, those Franciscans who believed that the Incarnation was loaded into the cards from the cosmic get-go, not in response to some so-called happy fault (felix culpa).

    See this alternative:

    • Loreen Lee

      Hi. Just read the article. As this is my comment #1000, I wanted to put it to good use, and have thus been diligently reading the comments, but finding I didn't have anything to add. Then I read this article just now, and thus feel that a thank you is the best way to move on to 1001. Yes. A very good article, but it does not fully explain the development of 'consciousness, etc. and the various and 'conflicting' explanations of same. There's always more work to do. Again, thank you.

      • You are welcome. And you are astute. The very reason an emergentist perspective has been elaborated in conjunction with a semiotic pragmatism is because none of the various philosophy of mind tautologies provide explanatory adequacy. Similarly, the origins of life, like the emergence of consciousness have long stumped and still do our different philosophical panels, notwithstanding that some have rather arrogantly described their stances as "consciousness explained."

        The primary takeaway from the article, then, is not an explanation of HOW consciousness emerged but an affirmation THAT something incredible happened when it did, reinforcing a type of semiotic exceptionalism for the symbolic species, which realizes values not only through signs like icons and indices but via symbols. No popular author addresses this in a more accessible way than Walker Percy in his novels and essays. No neuroscientist does a better job of translating this semiotic in technical terms than Terry Deacon. Articles he's written with Ursula Goodenough are more generally accessible.

        • Loreen Lee

          Thank you for responding. I guess I'm committed now to continue this quest, as I am posting #1001. I feel I will have quite enough 'work to do', following your comments, and checking out the vocabulary which is new to me: (like supervenience). This opens up a whole new field of study/learning for me. I was not even aware for instance,that I was being 'astute'. So I guess a lot of my thinking might be intuitive rather than explicitly 'rational'.

          I still think the 'evolution' continues to this day. How often have I hoped to see more analysis which is based on some 'principles' I have found within say continental philosophy, which at least hypothetically, would like to see more anthropological study, for example. If only such studies were applied to the bible, for instance, with such possibilities as seeing the 'story of Adam and Eve' within perhaps an iconic context, which remarkably even today can be defended as coherent with scientific findings.

          I have been musing about developments from about 600 B.C. both within 'pre-Socratic' thought and within the few facts I have found on developments within the second temple. Without going into detail, I have speculated that the development of Christianity could have extended that far back, but with the acceptance of such things as the 'static' logical proofs of Aristotle for instance, never reached the synthesis that was believed to be found within the culmination of Christianity, 800 or so years later.

          So if we are going through a similar developmental process, even, now, I believe I shall take it easy, as it is perhaps wise not to expect things to 'happen over night'. Please know that I agree with most everything you say. Indeed I came to this site, believing that it would be beneficial, and indeed may be necessary, for Catholicism to process more thoroughly the developments that have occurred within modernism. Of course change is a two-way street, so perhaps at least with respect to myself, I shall in the future learn more about Thomism, even though, personally, I find the scholasticism very difficult to 'process'.

          Thanks again. You're going to be my teacher, here on in.

    • Loreen Lee

      Hope I don't get into 'trouble' for copying this excerpt from SN. I did point out to them in a comment, the irony of finding a link to Platonic/Aristotelian/Thomistic/Catholic thought on their website. Just in case you too might be interested. Thanks.
      This article on the discontinuity between human and non-human animal
      cognition has been highly cited and seems to be a great resource for
      anyone interested: http://staffwww.dcs.shef.ac.uk...
      (note that the main article is only the first 21 pages--the
      commentaries, references, and the authors' reply make up the next 50!
      Edit: Just know that the authors points could be used by
      the SN folks to argue for a soul. The reason why it's highly cited is
      probably because it's controversial.
      This New Advent article
      details the concept of intellect shared by many Catholics (or at least
      the philosophically-inclined ones). It notes correctly that psychology
      uses the term in a much looser sense.
      Your own linked article looks very interesting and pertinent. As far as I can tell, the powers which the authors deny that animals possess are ones that Scholastics consider "intellectual."

      • The link seems truncated. If it affirms a marked degree of human exceptionalism vis a vis free will without deemphasizing our rather obvious continuities with the natural world, that would strike a balance I would be seeking :)

        • Loreen Lee

          Just noticed that the link to an New Advent article didn't take, so I have just corrected that above. I believe this article, as well as the first imply what you are hopeful for.
          Am also comparing this to the condition of suffering inherited by mankind within the Buddhist tradition. In contrast to Catholicism/Christianity I believe, humanity is not held responsible for the cause and effect law of karma, but by the same token I do not believe there is the same 'continuity' with the physical universe. )I saw such a theory put forward recently on television as an alternative that we should adopt, but which I could now see as a reason for retraining the idea of responsibility through original sin of questions pertaining to morality).
          May I suggest, that possibly belief in some kind of individuality within a resurrection was perhaps becoming acceptable within Jewish tradition before the 'birth of Jesus' (conjecture here?) replacing, my understanding, a conception of the more general rebirth that is the Hindu/Buddhist tradition. (Forget name will look up and correct().
          In any event just read another article: original 'sin' - death and loss of sanctifying grace/justice, is inheritable on the basis of such a concept of community/(paternity?) as the individual is in the race, the race is in the individual. Interesting.
          Thanks for your patience towards my attempts to keep up with your remarks and understanding.

  • David Nickol

    Having said that, I have yet to see any plausible objections to the Flynn-Kemp scenario.

    It seems unlikely that there can be scientific objections to the scenario, because it is not a scientific theory. It is the kind of scenario fundamentalists come up with to explain how the Bible can be literally true. In this case, it is not so much the Bible that is at stake, but the doctrine of Original Sin and its transmission.

    As I have noted in the past, one might also propose that the offspring of Adam and Eve engaged only in incestuous unions, but God intervened to introduce genetic diversity to the point that within several generations, the number of different genes in Adam and Eve's descendants equalled the number of genes in the (say) population of 10,000 pre-humans from which Adam and Eve were selected and given souls. I don't see any plausible objections to that scenario, either. God can do anything he wants with the human genome, including causing a virgin to conceive a male offspring.

  • David Nickol

    . . . . some people objected that interbreeding of the sort in question amounted to bestiality. But of course, no one is suggesting that we should approve of the interbreeding in question.

    The question might be raised if it is reasonable to attribute to God a plan that required bestiality to get the human race up and running. Here's Matthew 19: 4-6:

    He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”

    At its "best," the Flynn-Kemp proposal requires early humanity to have engaged in incestuous marriage with extramarital bestiality to produce additional children. How does this jibe with the sanctity of marriage implied in Genesis and in the teachings of Jesus?

    And let's be clear. Given the arguments here made about the soul, even the most nearly human creatures without souls would be animals, and animals without free will or a moral sense. Breeding with them would be, morally, a combination of bestiality and a kind of statutory rape. They would not have had the capacity to consent.

    • Doug Shaver

      The question might be raised if it is reasonable to attribute to God a plan that required bestiality to get the human race up and running.

      If I'm understanding Feser correctly, his proposal is that the matings in question occurred between people who were both biologically human. Whatever other differences there might have been between them would not justify a charge of bestiality.

      Back in the days when many people regarded blacks as subhuman, slavemasters were never, to my knowledge, accused of bestiality when they raped their female slaves.

      • Michael Murray

        But is that the Catholic position? The world divides into humans, subhumans and animals ? I thought it was just humans and animals and homo sapiens without souls were animals.

        • Doug Shaver

          But is that the Catholic position?

          In this forum, I'm not going to try to answer that :-)

          My impression, after reading what the last few popes have said, is that evolution, insofar as it is concerned strictly with human biology, is consistent with the church's teachings, according to the church itself. It must be noted in this context that the church's teachings apparently do not endorse or require any interpretation of the Bible that contradicts evolution. This is in contrast to the teachings of some Protestant churches, for which Catholics are obviously not accountable.

          Some skeptics think the church is just in denial about this, for reasons having nothing to do with scriptural exegesis. The church affirms the doctrine of original sin, and according to these skeptics, there is just no way to make it consistent with evolution. I agree that it's not an easy fit, but I haven't seen a good argument yet that it simply can't be done.

          • Michael Murray

            The church affirms the doctrine of original sin, and according to these skeptics, there is just no way to make it consistent with evolution.

            Personally I think you can fix anything in these kinds of discussions. As David Nickol points out all it needs is for God to shrink the human race to a bottleneck of two and then afterwards fiddle with mutation rates so it looks like a bottle neck of two thousand. If God is going to interfere in His creation but yet make it look like He doesn't then He must have to do the odd patch up job.

            Why He does this is of course another question!

          • Doug Shaver

            Another question indeed.

            As a skeptic, though, I don't mind when Christians say they have no problem with evolution. It's the doctrine of original sin that really bothers me. That, in my judgment, is one of the most toxic memes that Christianity ever endorsed.

          • Doug, is it the concept of OS, in and of itself, that troubles you? Even if, for example, it is reconceived as the cumulative effects of our collective personal sins?

            Or, instead, is it the notion of some so-called "Fall," which you find problematic?
            It's not a very compelling theodicy to many and does, in my view, tend to unnecessarily disvalue our phylogenetic heritage, which makes for a rather pessimistic theological anthropology (not very incarnational, n'est pas) and estranges us from our experience of being at home in the cosmos. Couple this Augustinian pessimism with a rather sterile scholasticism with its overly narrow (biologistic, physicalistic, rationalistic, etc) natural law approaches and our interpretations (celebrations) of human sexuality suffer.

            Ironically, Dawkins, Dennett and some cognitive scientists have, through their own genetic, mimetic and computational fallacies, similarly devalued human nature, not
            recognizing the degree of nonalgorithmic conscious we enjoy semiotically, however otherwise algorithmic much of our behavior may be. I doubt your primary thrust above had to do with advancing the concept of the meme but did want to clarify your usage. The executive summary of Terry Deacon's critique is simply that we mustn't confuse replicas and replicators.

            All that said, we remain in search of a Goldilocks anthropology, one that accurately interprets our "human situation," not overly pessimistic (some scholasticism gone awry, some Augustine, who was importing too much personal baggage, at times, some misinterpretations of Dawkins, Dennett and their ilk) and not overly optimistic (e.g. some transcendental thomists, who imagined that all are rather spontaneously longing for beatitude and beatific vision).

            Not to be coy, I embrace an emergentist stance with no allegiance to a given philosophy of mind, although my sneaking suspicions incline me toward a physicalist account.

            Finally, I haven't addressed your contributions here but read most of them. You contribute much to every discussion, I find, and very dialogically. I'm glad to find you here.

          • Doug Shaver

            Thank you for the kind remarks, Johnboy.

            I don't care a lot about whether, or how well, original sin works as a theodicy. I think all Golden Age myths are erroneous, but my main problem with original sin is not what it says about how we used to be, but what it says about how we are now. I reject any claim that there is something irremediably evil about human nature, that we are all born so morally flawed that we cannot improve our situation and are guilty of the sin of pride if we even try on our own to improve it.

            The advancement of memetics was not the purpose of my comment, but I do accept the concept. I don't think meme theory qualifies as a true theory yet, in the scientific sense, but it does seem to me like a very useful model, at least.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Doug, your view of original sin is not the one the Catholic faith holds. I can tell you what it is if you are interested.

          • Doug Shaver

            I'm interested. Please elucidate.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I reject any claim that there is something irremediably evil about human nature, that we are all born so morally flawed that we cannot improve our situation and are guilty of the sin of pride if we even try on our own to improve it.

            Me too.

            The Catholic view of human nature is that it is intrinsically good yet wounded. Original sin describes the wound. First, we are not in a state of friendship or we are alienated from God, ourselves, each other, and the natural world. Second, it is hard for us to know the truth and to choose to do what is right. Third, we have concupiscence, which I would describe as the attempted tyranny of our emotions and passions over what our reason could tell us what is the right thing to do. This explains our tendency to sin. And finally, we are subject to all kinds of suffering and eventually we will die.

            The contention that we are so morally flawed that we cannot do anything on our own to improve morally is proven wrong by the Church's full embrace of Aristotelian virtue-ethics through Stoic philosophy.

          • A Catholic stance doesn't include moral depravity and that's much more optimistic than many other accounts. The word sin, unfortunately, is a confusing misnomer since the concept doesn't entail culpability. Scotus and many Franciscans took a more optimistic view than Aquinas & Augustine, rejecting their interpretation of concupiscence, as those are merely natural traits, just like human fallibility and other aspects of our radical finitude. THAT we are finite and experience misery and a tragic human condition, badly in need of an outside assist, seems the theological takeaway, both anthropologically and soteriologically. HOW this came about seems rather adequately explained by our evolutionary heritage without the need for rather unsatisfying lapsarian and postlapsarian notions. Tell me, for example, was Adam, whether mono- or polygenically conceived, immune from earthquakes, disease and such? That wouldn't seem factual.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            God--or his guardian angel--could have preserved him from natural evil. The Catholic view is that in addition to all his human gifts, God also gave Adam preternatural gifts which were withdrawn after the fall.

          • Kevin, that sounds consistent with or, at least, similar in a few ways to an imaginative Thomist account by my late friend Jim Arraj:


            I haven't read it in years but, if you find the time and have an interest, you may find it both enjoyable and illuminating. Jim was a sharp mind with a large heart.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Thanks, I will.

          • Doug Shaver

            Thank you, Kevin. My Christian education up to now has had a Protestant bias. That noted, it seems still to be the case that, insofar as Christianity has had an influence on Western culture, it has been a predominantly Protestant influence in modern times. And, while Protestants might have modified the notion of original sin, they didn't invent it.

            The Catholic view of human nature is that it is intrinsically good yet wounded. Original sin describes the wound.

            In the Catholic view, who or what inflicted the wound, and what must we do to heal it?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't know with certainty the answer to the first part.

            New Advent (the 100-year-old Catholic encyclopedia) says,

            According to Catholic theology man has not lost his natural faculties: by the sin of Adam he has been deprived only of the Divine gifts to which his nature had no strict right, the complete mastery of his passions, exemption from death, sanctifying grace, the vision of God in the next life.

            In other words, God "inflicted" the wound on us by taking away preternatural gifts.

            As to the second part, we can't heal the wound ourselves. What we can do is cooperate with grace to (negatively) avoid sin and (positively) love. We get grace through the sacraments of the Church, through which God gives his life and other helps. Our cooperation in this life is a struggle. We are greatly aided in this struggle by virtues. The goal is to become a person of self-giving love. The wound is only fully healed in the next life.

          • Doug Shaver

            That was helpful. Thank you.

          • We largely agree, then, both regarding any overly pessimistic assessment of human nature and that the meme concept has heuristic value but not theoretic explanatory adequacy.

            You might enjoy this article about how we might best leverage the heuristic value of the meme within an emergentist, semiotic perspective:http://projects.chass.utoronto.ca/semiotics/srb/10-3edit.html

  • So this means that God picks two people and ensouls them, and then all of their descendants get 100% soul and interbreed with the non humans. Those that did not interbreed died out.

    That would work. I see no reason to believe it happened because I don't believe any deities exist or that there is anything immaterial such as an immaterial "intellect". But yes, under this interpretation of Genesis, there is no conflict with Evolution that I can see.

    • Mike

      FINALLY! YES! Step 1 to conversion complete ;) just kidding.

  • Some years ago, National Geographic ran a project asking people to submit their DNA for analysis to ascertain their origins.

    My friend, who's Chinese participated and his analysis showed that he has 6% Neanderthal genes.

    Maybe Neanderthals were the sub-humans who mated with humans?

    • Mike

      Not 'sub humans' but not metaphysical humans, so not apes and you and me but you and me and some genetically healthy 'human' guy named 'dan' for example who has zero ability to reason but is perfectly healthy - if 'dan' kills an old lady for some triviality he is not guilty of wrong doing just like if a tiger kills someone; 'dan' doesn't "know" right from wrong.

      EDIT: 'dan' has to be healthy and NOT mad like some sociopath as mentioned above who is an actual metaphysical human who's gone crazy.

    • Caravelle

      More like the other way around, since we're talking about two people with souls that mated with all the other people without souls, i.e. the first ensouled people were the genetic minority.

      Of course it doesn't work either way, since both Neanderthals and Homo sapiens had large populations of their species.

  • Sid Ceballos

    What was the garden of Eden in this model?
    Do we believe the earth was perfect, without sin, in this model?
    How are the consequences of sin visible in this world?

    I'm not sure on questions of origins. I want somebody to answer these objections?

    • Mike

      What does the word eden in the original hebrew mean?

      • Sid Ceballos


        • Mike

          So they were in some delightful state? Like animals which don't know worry, anxiety, that death is coming but somehow fulfill all their natural potentials and like blissfully?

  • Peter

    Perhaps God designed evolution to arrange matter to a critical point of complexity, such as the human brain, where it would automatically achieve ensoulment. In this way it could be deemed that God grants ensoulment to every human being. This does not rule out other sentient races on other planets which may have also achieved ensoulment or will achieve it in the future.

    Adam and Eve are symbols of the first humans. There must have been a point in our chain of ancestors where this critical point of complexity was reached and they achieved ensoulment, whereupon they began to know the difference between good and evil and were able to choose accordingly. This point would mark the end of our ancestors as intelligent animals and their beginning as human beings. Once the ability to recognise and choose between good and evil was acquired, humans would have selfishly begun to gravitate towards the evil. Could this represent the "Fall"?

    This of course implies polygenism. Pius XII said 64 years ago that it was not apparent how polygenism could be reconciled with original sin. However, this did not preclude the likelihood that it could become apparent in the future. Nowadays we know much more about evolution and can conclude with confidence that there is nothing in evolution in general or polygenism in particular which contradicts the doctrine of original sin.

  • FreemenRtrue

    Why waste time worrying about the science of evolution? It is flawed as all science is. Let's see what they say 100 years from now. One may believe our Creator created humankind without really taking Adam and Eve literally. How He creates is nothing to worry about. Let science do its thing - it is always changing.

    • Ignatius Reilly

      Science doesn't change like you think it does. Newtonian physics is till largely correct for big masses moving slow.

      • FreemenRtrue

        I think you make my point.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          Judging by your previous comments on science - I think not.

          • FreemenRtrue

            As an EE and MSCS I'm hardly concerned about a dumb fat boy's opinion.

  • Great Silence

    Personally I accept this scenario as being possible enough to be an acceptable answer to a question that is more important, and that has more ramifications, than what a lot of Catholics may accept.

    Now, if we could complete the exercise by establishing how, from this proposition, the atonement (in the widest possible sense) of Jesus fits in there. Or, put differently, given such proposition, why did Jesus die.

    Maybe that requires a separate article..


  • Ignatius Reilly

    So, if original sin is transmitted via the soul and God ensouls humans at the moment of conception, how do we inherit original sin from our parents? It would seem that God gives us a soul with original sin. After all, we inherit our genetics from our parents and God gifts us with a soul tainted with original sin.

  • Howard
    • Ignatius Reilly

      I guess elephants are spiritual too.


      • Howard

        The elephant burial ground is a myth. Also, it is not real. That's not to say that elephants aren't more pleasant company than some people, though.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          I didn't say that they had a burial ground, but rather that they had a death ritual. Or are you saying that is a myth as well? The article I linked to links to another article in the Times.


          • Howard

            Very briefly:
            1. Myth does not mean false. The Titanic is a great story because it is a great myth: a huge luxury ship, said to be unsinkable, that sinks on its maiden voyage.
            2. I have no firm opinion on elephants or other such animals. There is no reason for me to make a guess and pretend it is knowledge.
            3. Frontier Communications is my Internet provider, and they have been doing a crappy job over the past 3 weeks. I might have internet for 6 straight hours, or less than 5 minutes for the whole day. I won't waste any more of this time just because you want to waste yours.

  • Daryl K. Sauerwald

    The opening lines say it all this has to do not with scientific evidence but trying to make science support notion of original sin. Religion put the horse before the cart,so the church is trying to mold evidence in order to support a myth in order to defend it position on morality. The church is not pursuing science its pursuing political power. There is no such thing as original sin. Thus the church has no validity and never did and it knows people are figuring it out.

    • Great Silence

      You're right, the Church is not pursuing science, it is establishing how that science and one of its dogmas interact and to what extent these two concepts are compatible. This particular issue has been around for decades, and it has been discussed and debated ever since. As the data grows and changes, so the Church continues to take part in the debate.

      What would you have said if it did not take part in the debate?

  • David Nickol

    If everyone inherits Original Sin—that is, has Original Sin "on their soul"—and God creates each soul directly, then apparently God creates souls with Original Sin "on" them. But it is Catholic dogma that God created the soul of the Virgin Mary without Original Sin "on" it.

    Why didn't God try again when Adam and Eve sinned? He could have annihilated them. Or he could have created the souls of their offspring without Original Sin "on" them, and then it would not have been inherited by the rest of the human race.

    As I have pointed out before, Pope Benedict XVI, prior to his election to the papacy, wrote the following on Original Sin, for which ultraconcervative Catholics accuse him of heresy:

    In the Genesis story that we are considering, still a further characteristic of sin is described. Sin is not spoken of in general as an abstract possibility but as a deed, as the sin of a particular person, Adam, who stands at the origin of humankind and with whom the history of sin begins. The account tells us that sin begets sin, and that therefore all the sins of history are interlinked. Theology refers to this state of affairs by the certainly misleading and imprecise term 'original sin.' What does this mean? Nothing seems to us today to be stranger or, indeed, more absurd than to insist upon original sin, since, according to our way of thinking, guilt can only be something very personal, and since God does not run a concentration camp, in which one’s relative are imprisoned, because he is a liberating God of love, who calls each one by name. What does original sin mean, then, when we interpret it correctly?

    Finding an answer to this requires nothing less than trying to understand the human person better. It must once again be stressed that no human being is closed in upon himself or herself and that no one can live of or for himself or herself alone. We receive our life not only at the moment of birth but every day from without--from others who are not ourselves but who nonetheless somehow pertain to us. Human beings have their selves not only in themselves but also outside of themselves: they live in those whom they love and in those who love them and to whom they are 'present.' Human beings are relational, and they possess their lives—themselves—only by way of relationship. I alone am not myself, but only in and with you am I myself. To be truly a human being means to be related in love, to be of and for. But sin means the damaging or the destruction of relationality. Sin is a rejection of relationality because it wants to make the human being a god. Sin is loss of relationship, disturbance of relationship, and therefore it is not restricted to the individual. When I destroy a relationship, then this event—sin—touches the other person involved in the relationship. Consequently sin is always an offense that touches others, that alters the world and damages it. To the extent that this is true, when the network of human relationships is damaged from the very beginning, then every human being enters into a world that is marked by relational damage. At the very moment that a person begins human existence, which is a good, he or she is confronted by a sin-damaged world. Each of us enters into a situation in which relationality has been hurt. Consequently each person is, from the very start, damaged in relationships and does not engage in them as he or she ought. Sin pursues the human being, and he or she capitulates to it.

    As I read this, it would be perfectly consistent with the idea of humanity evolving to some critical point, whereupon the actions of one or more individuals brought "sin" into the world, damaging the community as a whole, and this damage is part of our heritage as their descendants. I believe Ratzinger/Benedict elsewhere even said the name "Original Sin" was misleading, and he would prefer not to use it.

    • Great Silence

      Maybe "our" Adam was Adam 2.0. Or 77.0.

    • Great Silence

      As people like Jack Mahoney SJ and others also indicate, a lot our current challenges surrounding original sin stems from the Church's acceptance of St Augustine, which is not really exactly how St Paul saw OS.

      With all respect, I believe the Church can ease all of this hullabaloo with the most minor of adjustments, or even by ditching OS in totality. That would require some consideration as to the various atone theories, but again, not a fatal difficulty.

  • Mike

    for the AT philosophers: are all rational human souls 'fallen' or can a rational human soul exist that is not 'fallen'? so before the fall before we chose evil over good we had rational souls that were somehow not 'stained' but afterwards all are stained or are all rational souls from god 'innocent' but something somehow 'in the material world' corrupts it bc of original sin? would an unfallen soul be just like ours except not inclined to sin?

    • David Nickol

      Remember the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Mary was conceived without sin. Jesus had a human nature and therefore a soul, and he was without original sin. (Of course, Adam and Eve, before the fall, had souls that were free of original sin.)

      • Great Silence

        A possible answer could be that the incarnation of Jesus was unique and that consequently everyone involved with that, everyone that was necessary to make that event happen, had to be dealt with in a necessarily unique manner. To exempt everyone else from sin, original or otherwise, may not have been possible or desirable. But, of course, that answer largely depends on how we view original sin, and all that goes with it.

      • Mike

        Good questions but i am not so much interested in the q of evil: why god doesn't just start over with us in an instant miraculously which has been discussed for millenia and to my mind the church's teaching makes sense but in sort of the 'celestial mechanics' of souls.

        it seems to me that rational souls as a category were 'good' as all things from God are good and the world including 'adam' were 'good' so the category itself can exist w/o 'the trace of sin' but then "we" as the category Human Being, a huge genetically related family of distant cousins, go 'wrong somewhere' by committing Osin and since then we're all 'fallen' -

        so the question is (and i wonder if biology will ever stumble upon something in our 'dna' that seems to point to some "original corruption or whatever") is Sin present bc we are 'stuck' in this universe which once was all good or bc the category Rational Soul has been corrupted?

        ps why god chose to 'exempt' mary is a good one and i think its the same that protestants ask but it also just gets us back to the prob of evil which has been thought about since the beginning of time when the first metaphysical human wondered what will happen if i do this will i really die or is the big man in the sky just insecure?

    • Original sin is not a question of personal innocence or guilt. It is a question of inheritance. It is a question of the condition of the human body inherited from Adam. In the state of innocence, Adam’s intelligence and freedom were readily facilitated through his body. After the fall, in some ways, the body became a drag on his intelligence and freedom. It’s like the athlete and the klutz. They are both fully human.

      • Mike

        Thx for commenting: is this a fair summary?

        - before adam there were humans but not human 'beings' so our bodies but not rational souls
        - then the first metaphysical human is created aka adam
        - adam has intellect and freedom BUT bc he isn't 'fallen' doesn't 'feel' inclined to sin and in some sense doesn't 'know' about death, like animals don't know/worry about death
        - but then sin enters the world and somehow inclines or 'stains' his good rational soul which among other things 'opens his eyes' to death (now maybe it's not like he didn't know about death before but in some sense it didn't worry him or bother him or whatever)
        - his descendants us one huge family of distant cousins inherits that 'stain' somehow, but without it we'd be not inclined to sin
        - so it seems that sin is transmuted via our bodies like some physical thing so maybe biology will one day find something 'strange' that occurred in our dna many years ago? Just pure speculation but this would seem to be a falsifiable aspect of christian doctrine, but i am aware of the dangers of natural theology and of 'confirming' doctrine via natural science.

        is this generally what the church teaches?

        • No one maintains that the practice of virtue or vice changes our genetic makeup. Taking ‘stain’ literally, rather than analogically, raises the dilemma of ‘kinds’ of souls. All human souls are of the same nature, before and after the original sin of Adam. Original sin is the absence of gifts no longer inheritable. The Catechism (CCC 404) states, “original sin is called sin only in an analogical sense: it is a sin ‘contracted’ and not ‘committed’ – a state and not an act.”

          • Mike

            ok i think i follow. So is it like thinking that before and after we were the same ie we had rational eternal souls but before we in some way didn't need "spiritual help" as we were in some way in more "direct" contact with our creator but after the fall we need the "spiritual gifts" from the church such as the sacraments or whatever in order to try to get back to where we were before the fall?

            So it's not like adam and eve didn't know about good and evil before the fall but IF they hadn't been tempted into evil they would've known about it but not been "unaffected" by it?

            I am new to this so bear with me and thanks for replying.

  • “Hence, widespread interbreeding is not an acceptable solution to the problem of genetic diversity.”

    The size of the initial gene pool is not the only way to explain genetic diversity within species. Suppose the genetic material transmitted from generation to generation were externally modified. We could call such modification, mutation, and the process of increasing genetic diversity, evolution. Also, the effects of original sin, namely the darkening of the intellect and the weakening of the will, are by means of material causality. The soul as immaterial is extrinsically dependent upon the body for its activity. All human souls are equal. Their differentiation from one another is due to matter as the principle of individuation. Grace alleviates, but does not eliminate the effects of original sin.

    • Caravelle

      Well, no, we wouldn't call such modification "mutation" and the process "evolution", because those names are already used for specific processes of genetic change, those we are aware of from observing genes today, and it's by looking at the genes of humans and using our knowledge of those processes that we can determine that humanity went through a bottleneck of some thousands of people in the past, and not less.

      In other words, if today's genetic diversity were the result of accelerated but otherwise ordinary genetic mutation then we'd be able to tell we were all descended from two people. If we're all descended from two people and their genes were externally modified to create today's genetic diversity, then they were modified in very specific ways to make it look like we aren't all descended from two people, ways that are very different from how we observe them to mutate today and how evolution works.

      • “Well, no, we wouldn't call such modification ‘mutation’ and
        the process ‘evolution’"
        You may be entitled to your personal lexicon. In common scientific usage, the five races of humans, which are distinguished by their within species mutations, are commonly characterized as the result of evolution. http://scienceline.ucsb.edu/getkey.php?key=1138

        • Caravelle

          Right. And these mutations were studied, and it was discovered that all those alleles weren't mutated versions of four alleles that occurred in two people, but that there were many more alleles than that at every point of human history, and the smallest the population got was many thousand people.

          So if one wants to argue that humanity was constituted of two (or a handful, if you go back to Noah) people at some point, and that the diversity of today's genes is the result of modifications of those ancestral two people's genes, then those modifications cannot have been the same mutations and evolutionary processes that scientists know about and refer to using those words in common scientific usage. If they had been, today's genetic pool would be very different and scientists would be able to tell there had been a two-person bottleneck in the last few million years.

          Also, "common scientific usage" very much does not divide humanity into five races. It's pretty mindblowing to see such outdated assertions on the website of what looks like an otherwise ordinary university. If you look up the terms on Google Scholar you see all the top results are from the 60s and 70s and recent results are much rarer and mostly referring to the categories ("in 1960s CS Coon classified humanity into the following races...") instead of using them.

  • Mike

    BTW is this why wright said if vulcan's had a religion it'd be catholicism:


  • James Scott


    According to Jewish Tradition Adam it seemed had soulless humanoid contemporaries.

    So the idea we have in the Flynn Kemp proposal is not against tradition religion.

  • Therese

    Are the sub-humans you have in mind, possibly, the Neanderthals? They would fit your criteria and I have read that Homo sapiens co-existed with Neanderthals for an evolutionarily brief period.

    • Caravelle

      They wouldn't fit any criteria at all. Feser's sub-humans would have constituted the majority of our genetic ancestry - that's the point of the hypothesis, to explain why today's humanity are the genetic descendants of many thousand people, not two. And Neanderthal genes make up a tiny proportion of the gene pool of a few human populations, and are thought to be the result of very rare interbreeding events (otherwise the proportion would be higher). When that interbreeding took place (apparently 50,000 years ago) also doesn't coincide with when population bottlenecks are thought to have occurred either (not that those population bottlenecks need to coincide with Adam and Eve's appearance under Feser's hypothesis), and it's much, much later than the appearance of traits we associate with having a soul, like painting, music, jewelry, or honoring the dead.

      • Therese

        I really appreciate your thoughtful response. I teach Biology in a Catholic High School and am always looking for a solid explanation for these types of questions.

        • Caravelle

          Aw, thanks :)

          Though come to think of it the existence of Neanderthals does have interesting implications under Feser's hypothesis. It depends on what we think souls imply; Neanderthals apparently used advanced tools, including making dugout boats and sailing the Mediterranean; they buried their dead, and genetically speaking it appears they had language like us. If we infer from these facts that they had souls then that would mean that Adam and Eve existed in the ancestral species that led to both modern humans and Neanderthals (so, about 350,000 - 400,000 years ago at the latest) (Wikipedia suggests this would have been Homo heidelbergensis).

          If we don't infer from these facts that the Neanderthals had souls (I was going to refer to the lack of Neanderthal art, but a quick Googling to check shows even that stereotype may be false, they found Neanderthal-inhabited caves with strange abstract art-like markings in 2012), then Adam and Eve could have been modern humans, and the interbreeding events with Neanderthals would have involved ensouled humans mating with soulless "sub-humans", even if it wasn't the specific large-scale interbreeding event that Feser's hypothesis involves.

  • Mark Chapman

    This is the sort of thing that drives me nuts. It is why I am not a Thomist. It is why this sort of Neo-Thomism and Neo-Scholasticism inevitably hits a dead end, and then stubbornly keeps butting that wall believing there really is something on the other side. The whole idea of reconciling science and the Christian faith is already a retreat and submission of Christian faith to the cult of science. If one were to climb out of this scholastic-metaphysical hole, you would see two centuries of a wealth of biblical exegesis and interpretation regarding Genesis 1 -3 which in no way requires any recourse to science, genetics and evolution to make sound -- theological sense -- out of the creation narratives and how those narratives shape and influence biblical theology. Aside from extremes like St. Augustine and St. Jerome -- from whom St. Thomas Aquinas got his ideas and was so badly led astray -- Christianity has never seen a need to reconcile faith with science -- which is something fundamentally different from the unity and continuity of faith and reason. We live in a world that has reduced "reason" to "empirical science" and made faith stand to defend itself in the court of empirical science, which claims an objective superiority to "truth" over that of the truth of Revelation. The new evangelization which is today's mission of the Church is not informed or helped one bit by this speculative scholasticism.

  • Bob K.

    There is no such thing as perfect knowledge for humans. In the end, we are all forced to make a "leap" into the dark either with a nay or a yay--an agnostic stance is, in ultimate and practical terms, a nay. The best we can do is study the evidence, weigh it, decide what end we want to come down on, and allow for human freedom to choose one's eternal/termporal end. But I have come to agree with Paschal who (paraphrazing) said: God has revealed himself in such a way and just enough that those who want to find him can come to him through reason and faith, and those who do not want to find him will not be forced to do so." In this sense, God is a gentleman who proposes courtship with a mysterious, wooing song instead of a hard contract (which anyone who ever loved and courted another knows there is not 100% emperical proof or even "undeniable evidence" that the courtship is "the true one" and will deliver the return desired. That is the fallacy to those who sit on the fence until they have all the proofs they desire). Eventually, one has to put down the measuring tape and instruments--even reason--and exhale in surrender. ...Or, there is no God, and none of this means a horse's ass anyway.

  • Robert Herman Flock

    Perhaps the real solution is that the "Sin of origins" as Pope Benedict XVI called it, is not really dependent upon a single ancestor, or a single couple. Once sin is present, all of creation is deprived of the perfection of goodness, holiness and love that would otherwise be experienced and this deprivation causes our depravity until grace can overcome de deficiency.

  • Kevin Mark

    It is sad that so many Catholics so readily jettison Holy Tradition and Holy Scripture to accommodate "science", falsely so-called. If a scientist comes up with some conclusion that seems to conflict with a tenant of the faith, why is the scientist believed over infallible Tradition and Scripture? We know that the science of today will be largely discarded only 100 years from now and the science 100 years from now will be largely discarded 100 years from then. Thus, drawing dogmatic conclusions based upon science is a fools errand, especially since Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition conclude, definitively, that creation (including that of man) was a miraculous and thus supernatural event - to deny this is to deny the faith, and to affirm this is to admit that you are attempting to extrapolate backwards in history using natural means to attempt to shed light on an original event that was entirely unnatural. How can such a Catholic readily believe in the supernatural Eucharistic change of substance that happens at every mass, yet believe that our origins were naturalistic, in direct contradiction with Holy Scripture and the tradition of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church?