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Adam and Eve and Ted and Alice

Adam and Eve

John Farrel recently wrote a column at Forbes.com entitled "Can Theology Evolve?", quoting from an epistle of Jerry Coyne:

"I’ve always maintained that this piece of the Old Testament, which is easily falsified by modern genetics (modern humans descended from a group of no fewer than 10,000 individuals), shows more than anything else the incompatibility between science and faith. For if you reject the Adam and Eve tale as literal truth, you reject two central tenets of Christianity: the Fall of Man and human specialness."

Now, by "literal truth" Coyne undoubtedly intended "literal fact," since a thing may be true without being fact, and a fact has no truth value in itself. I do not know Dr. Coyne's bona fides for drawing doctrinal conclusions or for interpreting scriptures, although he seems to lean toward the fundamentalist persuasion. Nor am I sure how Dr. Coyne's assertion necessarily entails a falsification of human specialness (whatever he means by that). I never heard of such a doctrine in my Storied Youth1 though it is pretty obvious from a scientific-empirical point of view. You are not reading this on an Internet produced by kangaroos or petunias.

It is not even clear what his claim means regarding the Fall. Neither the Eastern Orthodox nor the Roman Catholic churches ever insisted on a naive-literal reading of their scriptures, and yet both asserted as dogma the Fall of Man.

Now modern genetics does not falsify the Adam and Eve tale for the excellent reason that it does not address the same matter as the Adam and Eve tale. One is about the origin of species; the other is about the origin of sin. One may as well say that a painting of a meal falsifies haute cuisine.

Still, there are some interesting points about the myth of Adam and Eve and the Fall. Not least is the common late-modern usage of "myth" to mean "something false" rather than "an organizing story by which a culture explains itself to itself." Consider, for example, the "myth of progress" that was so important during the Modern Ages. Or the equally famous "myth of Galileo" which was a sort of Genesis myth for the Modern Ages. With the fading of the Modern Ages, these myths have lost their power and have been exploded by post-modernism or by historians of science.

On the Ambiguity of One

 
Dr. Coyne's primary error seems to be a quantifier shift. He appears to hold that the statement:

A: "There is one man from whom all humans are descended"

...is equivalent to the statement:

B: "All humans are descended from [only] one man."

But this logical fallacy hinges on an equivocation of "one," failing to distinguish "one [out of many]" from "[only] one." Traditional doctrine requires only A, not B: That all humans share a common ancestor, not that they have no other ancestors.

For example, all Flynn men and women share a common descent from one John Thomas Flynn (c.1840-1881) but of course we are also descended from other ancestors as well. In my case, that includes a Frenchman from the Pas de Calais, numerous Germans from the upper Rhineland, plus some folks from other parts of Ireland, all of whom were contemporary with the aforesaid John Thomas. If you think of a surname as an inherited characteristic from the father, it is easy to see how a group of people may have a common ancestor without having only one ancestor.

Dr. Coyne believes the mathematical requirement of a population numbering 10,000 somehow refutes the possibility that there were two. But clearly, where there are 10,000 there are two, many times over. Genesis tells us that the children of Adam and Eve found mates among the children of men, which would indicate that there were a number of others creatures out there with whom they could mate—perhaps no fewer than 9,998 others. So even a literal reading of Genesis supports multiple ancestors, over and above a single common ancestor.

Of course, this is not the usual poetic trope or artistic image of one man and one woman alone in a Garden in Eden, but then popular and artistic conceptions of evolution or quantum mechanics are not always precise and accurate, either. Not everyone has the time, inclination, or talent to delve into such matters very deeply, and the end of art is different from the end of philosophy—or genetics. Yet there may be a sense in which Adam (and Eve) were indeed alone.

The Red-Clay Men

 
Dr. Coyne makes much of Mitochondrial Eve not being contemporary with Y-chromosomal Adam; but these are common ancestors only in the strict male descent or the strict female descent. Christian doctrine holds only that all men are descended from Adam, not that they descend through an unbroken line of fathers. The same applies to descent from Eve through mothers, although oddly enough, that is not doctrine, for reasons adduced below. Since mito-Eve and chromo-Adam are not necessarily the Adam and Eve of the story, what difference does it make if they were not contemporary?

Now obviously, if all men are descended from Adam, then all men are descended from Adam's father, ne c'est pas? At one time, the possibility that Adam's father was a lump of clay was the cutting edge of science. After all, the word adam simply means "red clay." (And still does in Arabic.) When a man dies, his body corrupts, and becomes...red clay. It was not then unreasonable to early observers of nature that regardless how subsequent generations have been propagated, the first red-clay man came directly from red clay.

In other words, the mythos of Adam and Eve employed the best-known science of its time. Were it being originally written today, it would undoubtedly employ the imagery of modern science—just so people in AD 6,000 could laugh at its naiveté.

So why Adam and not his progenitor, Bruce?

 
Evolution points to the answer. Darwin tells us that at some point an ape that was not quite a man gave birth to a man that was no longer quite an ape. He was H. sapiens—or at least he likes to call himself that. He had the capacity for rational thought; that is, to reflect on sensory perceptions and abstract universal concepts. He could not only perceive this bison and that bison, but could conceive of "bison"—an abstraction with no material existence of its own. Poetically, we might say that a God "breathed" a rational soul into a being that had previously been little more than "red clay."

How long after the red-clay man was formed was the rational soul breathed in? The texts do not say. It may have been tens or hundreds of thousands of years, at least according to one Eastern Orthodox theologian2; and Thomas Aquinas in at least one place regards humanity in general as "one man." If there is a God and he did such things, he was not punching a time-clock.

Hence, Adam as first man, and not simply first man-like hominid.

Whaddaya Mean "First" Man?

 
There is an argument similar to Zeno's Paradox of Dichotomy that holds that sapient man arose by slow, gradual increments. That is, arguing from the continuum rather than from the quanta. Now, "a little bit sapient" is like "a little bit pregnant." It may be only a little, but it is a lot more than not sapient at all. There is, after all, no first number after zero, and however small the sapience, one can always cut it in half and claim that that much less sapience preceded it. But however long and gradual is the screwing-in of the light bulb, the light is either on or off.

Modern genetics finds that genetic change may be specific, sudden, and massive due to various biochemical "machines" within the gene. The ability to abstract universal concepts from particular sensory percepts is an either-or thing, no matter how much better developed it might become over time. You either can do it even a little bit or you can't do it at all. So, Adam may be considered the first man no matter how many man-like apes there were on his family tree.

And that includes those among his 9,999 companions. It is not clear how Dr. Coyne envisions the same sapient mutation arising simultaneously in 10,000 ape-men. It is not impossible, I suppose, but it does seem unlikely. So let us default to the sapiens/loquens mutation appearing first in one man and then gradually spreading through a population and, following tradition, let's call him Adam.

This in no way contradicts the existence of 9,999 other ape-men with whom Adam is interfertile. They may have been necessary to comprise a sufficient breeding population insofar as the body is concerned, but they need not have been sapient.

The Trent Affair

 
Consequently, what Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice were up to with Lilith among the 10,000 makes no difference, doctrine-wise. For that matter, what Eve was up to doesn't matter much, either! The anathemas of the Council of Trent mention only Adam. They require belief in original sin and related doctrines; they do not require belief in a factual Genesis myth beyond the simple existence of a common ancestor. (Which is why the church consistently taught that mankind was all one species and that all material beings with intellect and will, including hypothetical blemyae and sciopods, were "men.")

The anagogical point of the Genesis story was to teach a doctrine, not to relate a history. The truths are not in the facts. Dr. Coyne has discovered that naive-literalists have a coherency problem, but that has been known for centuries. Indeed, St. Augustine pointed it out 1,600 years ago:

"For if he takes up rashly a meaning which the author whom he is reading did not intend, he often falls in with other statements which he cannot harmonize with this meaning. And if he admits that these statements are true and certain, then it follows that the meaning he had put upon the former passage cannot be the true one: and so it comes to pass, one can hardly tell how, that, out of love for his own opinion, he begins to feel more angry with Scripture than he is with himself." (On Christian Doctrine, I.37)

In his book on the literal meanings of Genesis, wherein he extracted multiple literal meanings from different passages,3 Augustine wrote:

"In the case of a narrative of events, the question arises as to whether everything must be taken according to the figurative sense only, or whether it must be expounded and defended also as a faithful record of what happened. No Christian will dare say that the narrative must not be taken in a figurative sense. For St. Paul says: 'Now all these things that happened to them were symbolic.' And he explains the statement in Genesis, 'And they shall be two in one flesh,' as a great mystery in reference to Christ and to the Church. If, then, Scripture is to be explained under both aspects, what meaning other than the allegorical have the words: 'In the beginning God created heaven and earth'?" (On the Literal Meanings of Genesis, I.1)

Note that he regards the figurative [anagogical] sense as the default, and other readings are layered upon this. He discusses how one knows when a figurative meaning is intended, and describes the various figures that are used in both literary and vulgar speech. Thomas Aquinas explains the four reading protocols used by the Church in ST I.1.10, but they go back at least a thousand years before him.

Homo loquens

 
Aristotle illustrated the difference between the sensitive animal form and the rational human form by saying that an animal sees flesh, but a human also sees what flesh is. It is the difference between knowing this bright red crunchy apple perceived by the senses and knowing about "apple" conceived by reflection of the intellect on the many individual apples of experience. And so we might imagine Adam sitting around the campfire after an exciting hunt and remembering the bison they had chased and the moment of truth and he suddenly utters the hunting cry that signifies "bison here!"—a cry that is in principle no different from those made by other animals, and possibly his fire-mates look about in alarm for the bison the cry signifies.

But Adam has done something different. He has used the sign as a symbol, one that refers to the bison-that-is-not-here-but-remembered. He has become sapient and has invented grammar.4 Or perhaps he was just born that way and like any small child reaching seven has just achieved the age of reason. But in all likelihood, his ability to speak in abstractions—to speak of 'bison' rather than any particular bison—is coterminous with his sapience.

Alas, none of his fire-mates understand, and he goes through life as lonely as a man who can speak when no one else can listen. (He has become the First Politician.) It is as if he is alone in a garden (since that is all that "paradise" meant.) For a while, he amuses himself by giving names to all the other animals, but that soon palls. Is there no one else he can talk with?

Then one day he meets a woman-with-words. Perhaps a woman from another band or tribe who has coincidentally received the same mutation, or perhaps someone who has simply cottoned on to what he has been doing. Sometimes an environmental cue is required to activate a gene. Here at last is someone he can talk to. (Perhaps he regrets this later, when she will not shut up. But that is a tale for another time.) The rest, as they say, is history. Later, some of his descendants will fly to the Moon, still chattering away.

Pleased to Meet You. Hope You Know My Name.

 
Like any animal, the red-clay ape-men were innocent. They lived, hunted, ate, mated, and died, pretty much in that order. What was good was what perfected their ape-manliness; but they did not know it was good. In a sense, they did not know anything. Like perfect Zen masters, they simply did. (See the zebras in the Underground Grammarian's essay, linked in the previous footnote.)

But Adam is different. Having a rational human form in addition to his sensitive animal form, he is capable of knowing the good. As Paul writes in Romans 2:12-16, the law is written in the heart.5 God being the author of natures is, in the Christian view, the author of human nature in particular; hence the law "written in the heart" was written there by God. But for Adam to know the good means that Adam is now capable of turning away from the good. Thus, when Adam wills some act that is contrary to what his intellect tells him is good, he is acting in disobedience to "God's commands written in his heart." A turning away from the good is called "sin" and, since no one had ever been capable of doing so before, it was the original sin. This is all communicated by allegory in the tale of the tree.

We can observe this today with children, who mature to a point when they begin to recognize good and evil. We call it the Age of Reason. Once upon a time, this recognition must have happened for the first time, and not necessarily in childhood. Today's children have parents and an entire society of other sapient beings to serve as examples and hasten the onset; but Adam had no one to teach him, so the realization could have come late. All of a sudden, he knew he had disobeyed the voice in his head, he was naked like an animal, he knew that someday he would die.

So death came into the world—not as fact, but as truth. Animals die in fact, but they do not know that they will. They live, as it were, one day at a time; and then one day they don't. "Truth is not just a judgment," writes Chastek, "but an affirmation of how this judgment stands to us with respect to its truth." Death became true when Adam realized it. (What a bummer that must have been. He probably invented whiskey next.)

And so he was expelled from the edenic existence of the innocent ape-men animals into a world of worries. Perhaps it was literal. How did the other ape-men react to the odd ones in their midst? Evolution proceeds through reproductive isolation. If Adam and the others like him had stayed in ape-man eden, his genes may have been lost in the larger gene pool and never achieved "take-off" concentration. So some sort of secession seems reasonable.

Maybe Adam and those he found like him started calling themselves "the Enlightened" or "the Brights" or even just "the Sapients" and this really annoyed the other 9,000 or so, who then drove them out as obnoxious little gits.

Original Sin

 
Most sin, the old joke runs, is not very original. But supposedly the "sin of Adam" has been inherited by all his descendants. This hardly seems fair. If we didn't do the deed, why should we bear the mark?

But this misses the mark. Thomas Aquinas made note that original sin is not a particular transgression, like a crime committed for which one deserves particular punishment, but is the origin or source of such positive sins. It is a predilection inherent to human nature.

Doctrine is concerned with the origin of sin, not the origin of species. Hence, "origin-al" sin. The only time Thomas Aquinas touches (in passing) on the origin of species, he ascribes its possibility to the powers inherent in nature itself as created in the beginning:

"Species, also, that are new, if any such appear, existed beforehand in various active powers; so that animals, and perhaps even new species of animals, are produced by putrefaction by the power which the stars and elements received at the beginning."

(We could take that further and say that the physical universe itself existed beforehand in various active powers, like gravitation or quantum mechanics. If only a physicist of the stature of Hawking would be courageous enough to say that in the beginning there was the word: "Let F=G(Mm)/d^2." But we digress.)

When Thomas Aquinas discusses Adam and Eve, he focuses on Adam. He goes so far as to say that had it been Eve who sinned, we would have no problem!

But how is this original sin transmitted to descendants? Again, we shouldn't suppose that no one has ever thought of these late-modern objections before. Aquinas writes:

"Yet if we look into the matter carefully we shall see that it is impossible for the sins of the nearer ancestors, or even any other but the first sin of our first parent to be transmitted by way of origin. The reason is that a man begets his like in species but not in individual. Consequently those things that pertain directly to the individual, such as personal actions and matters affecting them, are not transmitted by parents to their children: for a grammarian does not transmit to his son the knowledge of grammar that he has acquired by his own studies. On the other hand, those things that concern the nature of the species, are transmitted by parents to their children, unless there be a defect of nature: thus a man with eyes begets a son having eyes, unless nature fails. And if nature be strong, even certain accidents of the individual pertaining to natural disposition, are transmitted to the children, e.g. fleetness of body, acuteness of intellect, and so forth; but nowise those that are purely personal."

In ST II-1, Q.81, art. 1 he writes:

"For some, considering that the subject of sin is the rational soul, maintained that the rational soul is transmitted with the semen, so that thus an infected soul would seem to produce other infected souls. Others, rejecting this as erroneous, endeavored to show how the guilt of the parent's soul can be transmitted to the children, even though the soul be not transmitted, from the fact that defects of the body are transmitted from parent to child—thus a leper may beget a leper, or a gouty man may be the father of a gouty son, on account of some seminal corruption, although this corruption is not [itself] leprosy or gout. Now since the body is proportionate to the soul, and since the soul's defects redound into the body, and vice versa, in like manner, say they, a culpable defect of the soul is passed on to the child, through the transmission of the semen, albeit the semen itself is not the subject of the guilt."

So Aquinas has noted genetics, and has rejected Lamarckism, even if he doesn't know about genetics and says "semen" rather than "genes." This is what we might call Aquinas' "genetic" explanation. He identified original sin with concupiscence, hence with selfishness (or "wanting" as the Buddha put it). So he is here hypothesizing a sort of "selfish gene." (Perhaps we can find an evolutionary biologist willing to write a book about the selfish gene?)

However, Aquinas finds that this selfish gene is not quite sufficient, and adds a bit regarding "motion by generation," and says we must consider the human species as a whole ("as one man") and the sin (or defect) as applying to human nature per se, rather than to the acts of each particular man: "Original sin is not the sin of this person, except inasmuch as this person receives his nature from his first parent, for which reason it is called the 'sin of nature.'"

Conclusion

 
The mythos of Adam and Eve still makes sense when read in the traditional anagogical manner, not in spite of evolutionary learnings but because of them. Of course, Christians must always be wary of concordism, as atheists rightly point out. Being compatible with consensus science is a tricky thing—just ask the clerics who defended long-established geocentrism. If it ain't falsifiable, it ain't science; so we must allow the possibility that what we think we know about evolution is all wrong. That is why it is not a good idea to get too chummy with science, since you never know when she'll pack up her bags and leave you holding the bills.
 
 
Originally posted at TOFSpot. Used with permission.
(Image credit: The Blaze)

Notes:

  1. storied youth. Literally. My brother and I wrote stories when we were kids.
  2. Eastern Orthodox. Atheists and Fundamentalist Christians often forget about the Orthodox Church, but it is the second largest Church in Christendom. Together with the largest, the Roman Catholic, they comprise better than 63% of all Christians. Throw in the third largest—the Anglican Communion—and we've got two-thirds of all Christians, well before we get down to the more recent, exotic, and idiosyncratic strands of Christianity. If I want to know "what Christianity teaches," I would be inclined to ask the Orthodox or Catholic churches, as they have near 2,000 years of noodling over it.
  3. By the way, Augustine was quite aware of the issue of light existing before the sun; and points out the ambiguity of "evening and morning" on a spherical Earth. Late-moderns always think they are the first to think of these things. "Metaphorical" counts as one of the various literal readings. For example, "you are the salt of the earth" depends on the actual, literal meaning of "salt." To say "you are the asparagus of the earth" would not mean the same thing. Fundamentalist Christians often say that by using metaphor a passage can mean anything; but this is simply not so. "You are the salt of the earth" cannot mean "Two pounds pastrami; bring home to Emma." But we digress.
  4. For an amusing take on this, see the Underground Grammarian.
  5. It is this doctrine which affirms that atheists are as capable of moral behavior as a Jew or a Greek or a Christian. There was even a term for this: the naturally Christian man. But we digress.
Michael F. Flynn

Written by

Michael F. Flynn is an award-winning science fiction writer born in Easton, Pennsylvania. He began selling short fiction in 1984, rapidly becoming one of the leading lights in the magazine Analog. Since then he's published several novels including Firestar (Tor, 1996) and Eifelheim (Tor, 2007), which was a Hugo Award finalist in 2007. Follow Michael at his blog, The TOF Spot.

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

  • The Ubiquitous

    TOF has some fun illustrations on the side usually. Were these not reproduced on purpose?

    • We wanted the attention to focus on Mike's arguments instead of the (admittedly humorous) graphics.

      • The Ubiquitous

        This choice does sort of give folks the wrong idea about what he's doing and his manner of speaking. For example, consider Mr. Noah Luck, who lower in the thread seems to have an idea that most of what Flynn is saying is something other than firmly tongue-in-cheek, that most of it is "condescending." Well, no --- it's all very playful, as "Frank Bacon" would underline.

        If anything, the arguments are less clear than in the original because the whimsy is harder to detect.

  • Michael Murray

    Having had a long discussion with another commenter on this very topic recently I'd be interested in the Catholic Churches exact teaching. I know the Catechism refers to Adam and Eve as "first parents". Is the belief that if we go backwards in time through all possible paths of ancestors from any living human today we always hit Adam and Eve ?

    Of course I'm aware that the Church may not have a settled opinion on this. That's a reasonable answer as well.

    • Nicholas Hesed

      The Roman Catholic Church's precise teaching is the teaching of Divine Revelation (Deeds and Words of God). The Church doctrines spring up from what God has done and what God has said with the assistance of the sacred authors. So its like a Trinity. When one interprets Adam and Eve one must first assume faith and then apply critical thinking and rational analysis.

      In Sacred Scripture it is crystal clear that Adam and Eve were created in a miracle independent of any natural process. It is impossible to jerry rig lexical concepts. When one resolves the ontology of the referents it is clear that Adam is said to have been formed in a miracle from the mud of the Earth. It is irrational, impossible and inconceivable that the mud, clay, etc. of the Earth or rib (from Adam) in several passages could refer to a concept figuring a hominid, M & F hominid gametes, matter or whatever under the Sun, The whole figurative/literal dichotomy is weak and I might add a bit childish and simplistic. Interpretation (as well as reality) is way more complex than that. And the whole mythos thing is inspired by scholars who for the last two hundred years have been in the heat of love with the myths (Joseph Campbell et al).

      But here is a list of more obscure Sacred Scripts for everyone concerning Adam:

      From the Wisdom of Solomon

      {10:1} This is he, who was formed first by God, the father of the world, who was alone when created; she preserved him,
      {10:2} and led him out of his offense, and gave him the power to maintain all things.

      From Sirach/Ecclesiasticus

      {33:10} Some of them, God exalted and magnified. And some of them, he set amid the ordinary days. And all men are from the ground, and from the Earth, from which Adam was created.

      {49:19} Shem and Seth obtained glory among men. And above every soul, at the very beginning, was Adam.

      From the Prophecy of Isaiah

      {43:27} Your first father sinned, and your interpreters have betrayed me.

      From the Prophecy of Hosea

      {6:6} For I desired mercy and not sacrifice, and knowledge of God more than holocausts.
      {6:7} But they, like Adam, have transgressed the covenant; in this, they have been dishonest with me.

      From Job

      {31:33} If I have covered as Adam my transgressions, To hide in my bosom mine iniquity,

      From the Book of Tobit

      {8:8} You formed Adam from the mud of the Earth, and you gave Eve to him as a helper. .

      As far as the modern genetics. That stuff is no big deal. They make statements of facts in an assumption.

      A statement of the fact is a subjective statement from a witness concerning an event or an object. either a description of an object or a narrative, an objective listing (usually chronological) of a series of events. A particular interpretation of the evidence or of an observation. (synonyms: an opinion, a lie)

      They use their subjective statements of facts to explain a history. Their assumptions and explanations could be rational or irrational, possible or impossible, conceivable or inconceivable. Faith wed to critical thinking can correct their assumptions and theories and its not like anyone has to like it.
      The artificial validations they use to support their opinions, again, are fancy and sophisticated ways of saying that this is my opinion. Logical systems never go as far as the initial axioms. They solve derivational type problems.

      Facts, true facts, truths are every minute detail of what actually is, was, happens, or happened irrespective of witnesses or observers; A detailed film clip of an actual event that conceptually includes every frame for that interval of the Cosmic Movie.

      Of course no one could ever take it all in but even if they could the relating would still only amount to a statement of fact in an assumption. The extraneous validations are superfluous in regards to assuming and explaining the past.

      Critical thinking and rational analysis are a little more objective. These methods seek to kill the observer.

      In any case yes what we are suppose to be doing in our interpretations is assuming faith, first, and then applying critical thinking and rational analysis. I don't see a lot of that happening in Flynn's article, but I'm not going to spend time on it. I just wanted to say hi and sneak in my info about statements of facts in an assumption.

      • Well I will let you keep the faith and use only critical thinking.

        But after all of this I am still confused as to what you believe and what you think Catholics are supposed to believe. Or whether any of this matters to Catholics.

        Do you think that Adam had a mother? Do you think Cain married his sister? An unrelated or distantly related woman? If the latter did this woman have a soul?

      • Michael Murray

        Sorry but that doesn't answer my question. All my question really needs is an answer chosen from three options:

        Yes - the Church believes that every current living person descends only from Adam and Eve

        No - the Church doesn't believe that every current living person does not descend only from Adam and Eve

        Undecided - the Church holds neither of the above positions.

        Thanks

        • steve

          Michael, you will never get the type of answer you are looking for here.

          In fact, this is an operative definition of theology in general and most especially applies to the catholic variety: never, ever provide a yes/no answer to a yes/no question.

          Not that you can blame the poor apologists, usually by this point they have so painted thmselves into the corner of contradiction that either asnwer exposes their position for the post hoc stream of hope and fear based rationalizations that they are.

        • Andy Thomas

          Hi Michael, I think the answer would be partly Yes. You said 'only' from Adam and Eve, but if you only meant Adam and Eve must be on the 'line' somewhere, I would say a full "Yes". Do you see an evolutionary issue with this? As far as I can see, all that is required here from Adam and Eve is that they are common ancestors to us all, not that they both have to have unbroken maternal and paternal lines, respectively, to all females and males that are alive today

          • Michael Murray

            Thanks Andy. I was definitely thinking only Adam and Eve so every line of ancestors back from you and me hits Adam and Eve. Not just some lines of ancestors. I guess it's a question of what is meant by Adam and Eve being "first parents" !

            So how is what you are suggesting not polygenism as forbidden by Pope Pius XII

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_and_evolution

            The problem with only some lines going back is the one raised by David Nickol. Surely some of Adam and Eve's descendants who have souls mate with humans without souls, i.e animals?

          • The Ubiquitous

            Surely some of Adam and Eve's descendants who have souls mate with humans without souls, i.e animals?

            Yep. That's one of the possibilities. For more information.

          • Michael Murray

            Thanks. But I was really thinking of the souls the Catholic Church believe people have.

          • Andy Thomas

            Hi Michael, do you think that what is being suggested here is polygenism though? Our first sapient parents were still Adam and Eve after all, other 'humans' at that time were not really a member of our 'species' (where I use 'species' in a strictly non-biological sense). The theory is not suggesting multiple sapient couples, which I believe is what Pius XII is forbidding

            Also, what do you think is worse, bestiality or murder? After the fall Cain killed his brother Abel, which is far worse than bestiality. It is well acknowledged that the fall produced sin of much greater magnitude than bestiality, so I don't see an issue here

          • Michael Murray

            Andy I'm not a Catholic or even a theist so my opinion is a bit beside the point. Just interested in seeing what the Catholic position is and how it fits with the scientific evidence that rules out having everybody descend completely from two people.

            I'm starting to think there isn'a a Catholic position.

          • David Nickol

            It seems to me the OP is an attempt to give a "naturalistic" explanation (a mutation for "sapience" occurred) for what the Bible presents as a miraculous occurrence (the creation of the first two humans). The mutation for "sapience" occurred, and God saw the creatures with this mutation as "soul ready," and so he infused souls. This mutation had to be such that it was transmitted without fail to the offspring of any male or female who had it, and as a bonus, the offspring received a soul. The sons and daughters of Adam and Eve proceeded to have sex with the pre-humans in the community, and all of their offspring had the sapient genes and souls. At least some offspring had sex with the remaining pre-human population, and again, their offspring had the sapient genes and souls. Eventually, according to the scenario, a point was reached where all living offspring of the original 10,000 had Adam and Eve somewhere in their family tree. If the family trees were plotted out making no distinction between "sapient" and "non-sapient" ancestors, Adam and Eve's place in the family tree of most people would appear in no way special. As best I can imagine the working out of such a scenario, it is not necessary that there are in the human population today any individuals who can trace either their male lineage or their female lineage directly back to Adam or Eve. But I am not sure of that.

            Of course, even if we grant that such a scenario is theoretically possible, there is no evidence that things actually happened that way.

          • The Ubiquitous

            Actually --- the point seems to be is that sapience might be independent of genetics, that it might not be a mutation at all, just as Y Chromosonal Adam is not necessary Adam, or Mitochondrian Eve is not necessarily Eve. Sapience might be detectable biologically, but for the purposes of Flynn's argument sapience might not be detectable whatsoever. (At least, under any naturalistic lens.)

          • Michael Murray

            Y Chromosonal Adam and Mitochondrial Eve are definitely not Adam and Eve as they can change as the existing human population changes. That is not the case for the biblical Adam and Eve.

          • Andy Thomas

            Hi David, but do you think the Catholic has to provide evidence that it actually happened that way? Doesn't the Catholic merely have to show it's possible, given that Mitochondrian Eve and Y Chromosonal Adam was supposed to be a defeater for the Catholic notion of original sin?

          • Michael Murray

            Why were ME and YCA supposed to be a defeater for original sin? I doubt anyone who understood what ME and YCA where would say that. But happy to see an example of someone who did. The problem for original sin is we see no evidence of a two person bottleneck in the DNA.

          • Andy Thomas

            Thanks Michael, I was under the impression that Jerry Coyne had argued this as the Church could not argue that ME and YCA were contemporaneous and therefore the biblical rendering of the fall was substantially false. Happy to be shown that I am mistaken here, can't recall where I heard this.

            With regards to the DNA bottleneck, I believe this issue is also solved by the current theory on offer here, unless you can see otherwise?

          • Michael Murray

            Not sure about Jerry Coyne. I assume by the "current theory" you mean something like:

            There was a bunch of more than 10,000 early humans. God decided to give two of them immortal souls. Call those two Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve breed and their descendants breed with descends of the other humans. Everybody who was a descendant of Adam and Eve got a soul. Over time (I wonder how many generations ?) everybody breed with a descendant of Adam and Eve and eventually everybody got a soul.

            This doesn't clash with the DNA bottleneck evidence. I have to say though it's a long way from what I got taught when I was a young Catholic. I wonder why they forgot to tell me about all the other humans who where around when Adam and Eve got chosen by God ?

          • Andy Thomas

            Hi Michael. No, of course you wouldn't have been taught this, it is speculative and certainly not settled dogma. It is just an option available to reconcile the doctrine of original sin and the current scientific evidence. With regards to the immortal soul thing, it is a part of Catholic thought that the presence of sapience/abstraction ability necessarily involves an immaterial soul which can survive after death, as Thomists would argue that abstraction necessarily is an immaterial action. Whether that required another incremental mutation to have occurred in Adam and Eve, or whether their existing mental capacities were sufficient to acquire this new ability (which is certainly given by God in the Catholic view of things), I am not certain about

          • Michael Murray

            Does the Catholic Church have suggestion a suggested date for when this is supposed to have happened ? I assume after humans and chimps split some 6 million years ago. Before the "great leap forward' ?

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Behavioral_modernity

            Assuming the great leap forward is real.

          • David Nickol

            but do you think the Catholic has to provide evidence that it actually happened that way?

            If you are trying to demonstrate to someone who is already convinced that Adam and Eve existed, committed some transgression, lost their "preternatural gifts," and passed original sin down to all "sapient" humans, then inventing a way that it could possibly have happened might be sufficient. But to anyone else, this theory is an ad hoc explanation and is dependent on a highly dubious assumption (that "sapience" is a yes-or-no proposition, like pregnancy), a wildly improbable coincidence (that a "sapience" mutation would arise in two individuals at the same time), and a miracle (God infuses a spiritual soul in the two individuals with a "sapience" gene). And then, of course, it is at the heart of the theory that true humans mated with animals incapable of language or abstract thought. Dwell for a moment on the thought that the sons of Adam and Eve mated with apes, and Adam and Eve's grandchildren were born to apes who breastfed them. All of Adam and Eve's sons-in-law and daughters-in-law were nonspeaking apes. Imagine the family get-togethers! Many people find the idea that humans are descended from apes offensive, but in this theory, all of Adam and Eve's grandchildren had an actual ape for either their mother or their father. If you had been one of the sons of Adam, would you have wanted to see your sister marry an ape? :P

          • Andy Thomas

            Hi David, you have made a few points here that warrant further defense. You seem to want to push the point that this theory is highly improbable. The work of God is certainly required here, but unless you consider God highly improbable, probabilities are meaningless (if God wanted it to happen, probability is 1, otherwise 0). However, if you think God is improbable, I agree there is not much point convincing someone about the plausibility of this version of the transmission of original sin.

            You say that it is highly dubious that sapience (read: the ability to perform abstraction) is a yes/no proposition, can you explain how you came to that conclusion? Can you give an example of an instance of having 'kind of' the ability to perform abstraction?

            Finally, I think your use of the word "ape" here is a rhetorical flourish. Clearly these other beings would look pretty much like men and women today. It is not that hard to posit that the temptation to copulate with them was real and present to the descendants of Adam and Eve. After the fall there was clear moral disarray, that has never been denied, so I'm not sure what exact point you are trying to make here. As I posed to Michael, which is worse: some marginal bestiality or murder?

      • steve

        Shorter version: it's stuff other people made up a long time ago and I've abdicated personal and moral responsibility for my actions and have chosen to let these fables guide my ethical decisions.

  • David Nickol

    Darwin tells us that at some point an ape that was not quite a man gave birth to a man that was no longer quite an ape.

    This is not an idea one would find in a Darwinian account of the evolution of humans or any other species.

    The ability to abstract universal concepts from particular sensory
    percepts is an either-or thing, no matter how much better developed it
    might become over time. You either can do it even a little bit or you
    can't do it at all

    Darwin did not believe this. It is basically a religious belief (for those who believe in a spiritual soul), not a scientific one. According to Wikipedia.

    Darwin focuses [in The Descent of Man] less on the question of whether humans evolved than he does on showing that each of the human faculties considered to be so far beyond those of animals—such as moral reasoning, sympathy for others, beauty, and music—can be seen in kind (if not degree) in other animal species (usually apes and dogs).

    Flynn makes the following astonishing statement:

    It is not clear how Dr. Coyne envisions the same sapient mutation
    arising simultaneously in 10,000 ape-men. It is not impossible, I suppose, but it does seem unlikely.

    Of course, Coyne would not envision any such thing as a "sapient mutation," let alone a mutation arising simultaneously in a group of 10,000. The fact that Flynn even speculates that Coyne might entertain such an idea is baffling. The idea would be utter nonsense to Coyne or any believer in Darwinian evolution.

    He has used the sign as a symbol, one that refers to the bison-that-is-not-here-but-remembered. He has become sapient and has invented grammar. . . .Then one day he meets a woman-with-words. Perhaps a woman from another band or tribe who has coincidentally received the same mutation . . . .

    Take a pair of modern humans and hand them over to "nonsapient" animals (say chimps or gorillas) to be raised, and what would you expect to get? Thinking, reasoning, talking moral agents whose decisions would be well thought out to the point where God would hold the entire human race responsible for them? How are we to imagine, if Adam and Eve were raised separately, that they independently invented human language . . . and the same language, so they could speak to each other when they met? Even if two (and only two) first-humans who were "a little bit sapient" were raised together, what would we expect them to be like? Would they invent anything comparable to human language?

    So let us default to the sapiens/loquens mutation appearing first in
    one man and then gradually spreading through a population and, following tradition, let's call him Adam. This in no way contradicts the existence of 9,999 other ape-men with whom Adam is interfertile.

    This I simply don't understand. If Adam is infertile with all other existing creatures—the not-quite-humans that are nevertheless his family and community, how does he have offspring? Or if he and Eve are able to breed, how would their offspring be fertile with the existing population if Adam and Eve themselves were not. If Adam and Eve and their offspring cannot breed with the other 9,999 (or 9,998) creatures of their family and community, we are right back to square one. We have two individuals who must be the sole ancestors of the entire human race.

    But, if we are to understand that the offspring of Adam and Eve could and did breed with the existing community, then the children of Adam and Eve mated with soulless apes incapable of abstract thought or moral reasoning. I can't see how it can be considered anything but bestiality. Sex with a soulless not-quite-human would (if humans and not-quite humans can interbreed) would be procreative, but it wouldn't be unitive. A human male and a soulless, not-quite-human female could not have consensual sex, since the female would be incapable of giving anything resembling human consent. And of course imagine what kinds of wives and mothers soulless, not-quite-human females would make, or what kind of fathers soulless, not-quite human males would make. If you had been Adam and Eve, would you want to see your son or daughter mate with a not-quite-human animal? If Adam and Eve had been your parents, would you want to see your brother or sister choose an animal incapable of abstract thought or human language as a mate?

    And original sin or no original sin, is it not a little difficult to believe that God intended for the human race to propagate by human beings necessarily interbreeding with soulless, not-quite-human animals? After God said, "It is not good for man to be alone" and created woman as a "helpmeet" and the idea of "two in one flesh" (and marriage) was created, did God really plan for the the second-generation (the children of Adam and Eve) to all mate with animals?

    The Catechism (360) says, "Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents." Is the idea of Adam and Eve being "our first parents" consistent with them being somewhere in our family tree, which this all this theory requires? Imagine tomorrow a small, isolated band of almost-humans is found in a jungle somewhere—physically very much like human beings, but differing in having no spiritual soul. If a human being were to mate successfully with one of them, would it make sense then to think of the child as having Adam and Eve as its "first parents"?

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Darwin tells us that at some point an ape that was not quite a man gave birth to a man that was no longer quite an ape.

      This is not an idea one would find in a Darwinian account of the evolution of humans or any other species.

      The other possibility is that at some point an ape gave birth to a man, directly. But this is inadmissible by the Darwinian axiom of gradualism. If men are descended from ape-like ancestors, then somewhere along the line there must have been a tipping point.

      The ability to abstract universal concepts from particular sensory percepts is an either-or thing.... You either can do it even a little bit or you can't do it at all

      Darwin did not believe this. It is basically a religious belief (for those who believe in a spiritual soul), not a scientific one. According to Wikipedia.

      Well, if Wikipedia sez so... But what, pray tell, is a "spiritual soul" and what has it to do with the question?

      But surely most men and women of your acquaintance can perceive Fido, Rover, and Spot and abstract from their concrete particulars the concept of "dog." Science would be impossible otherwise. I don't see what makes this "spiritual."

      The point is that either you can abstract concepts out of percepts, even if dimly, or you cannot and Fido remains simply Fido. It is the emergence of this ability that marks metaphysical humans, as opposed to simply biological humans.

      Coyne would not envision any such thing as a "sapient mutation," let alone a mutation arising simultaneously in a group of 10,000.

      Does he imagine then that sapience just appeared "poof" out of nothing?

      How does he imagine an ancestral population of 10,000 metaphysical humans came about, unless either they all "poofed" together or they were all descended from an original mutant? (That's if you buy the mutation+natural selection thingie.)

      if Adam and Eve were raised separately, that they independently invented human language . . . and the same language, so they could speak to each other when they met?

      Doubtful. But if they had the same potency for language they could learn from each other. This happens all the time when people meet who do not share the same language. It's not too mysterious. We have no idea what the ur-language was like in all particulars, but the link to the Underground Grammarian is worth reading.

      In fact, the experience of Helen Keller is an instructive analogy, with her later description of the moment language came to her.
      http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2011/07/talk-to-animals.html

      If Adam is infertile with all other existing creatures—the not-quite-humans that are nevertheless his family and community, how does he have offspring?

      Why do you assume he is infertile with his fellows band-members? They belong to the same biological species.

      if we are to understand that the offspring of Adam and Eve could and did breed with the existing community, then the children of Adam and Eve mated with soulless apes incapable of abstract thought or moral reasoning. I can't see how it can be considered anything but bestiality.

      Why? They are members of the same biological species.
      I don't understand what you mean by "soulless." Are you talking about dead apes or inanimate apes?

      • David Nickol

        But this is inadmissible by the Darwinian axiom of gradualism. If men are descended from ape-like ancestors, then somewhere along the line there must have been a tipping point.

        This strikes me as saying that if the frequency of red light is 400–484 THz (and yes, I am using Wikipedia), and the frequency of blue light is 606–668 THz, there must be a frequency almost halfway in between 484 and 668 where the light is just barely red but almost blue, and just a little more than halfway where the light is no longer red but just barely blue. In reality, at the halfway point it will be neither red nor blue, but green. It is a mistake to believe there is a sharp dividing line that begins Homo sapiens such that there was a first Homo sapiens born to a non-Homo sapiens mother.

        But surely most men and women of your acquaintance can perceive Fido, Rover, and Spot and abstract from their concrete particulars the concept of "dog." Science would be impossible otherwise. I don't see what makes this "spiritual."

        Then you are a materialist. I tend to be a materialist myself, but I believe it is Catholic thought that human beings can think abstractly and rationally only because they have spiritual souls, not because a certain mutation took place affecting their thought-processing capabilities. The OP says, "Poetically, we might say that a God 'breathed' a rational soul into a being that had previously been little more than 'red clay.'" I believe the majority view among Catholics on this site is that there is no poetry involved at all. God does infuse a rational soul.

        How does he imagine an ancestral population of 10,000, every single one of which is metaphysically human, unless either they all "poofed" together or they were all decended from an original mutant?

        If he believes what every other proponent of Darwinian evolution believes, then he believes for millions of years leading up to that population of 10,000, there were mutations that were selected for that ever-so-slowly, in retrospect, would be seen as the evolution of abstract thought. He wouldn't see abstract thought as an all-or-nothing trait.

        But if they had the same potency for language they could learn from each other. This happens all the time when people meet who do not share the same language. It's not too mysterious.

        But what we are discussing here is two people who had no experience whatsoever of language and never knew anyone capable of abstract thought. It is one thing for two people who each have a language to communicate through an invented language. It is quite another thing for the first two beings on earth capable of language to invent their own. It is not unknown for deaf siblings to invent a crude language of their own, but they are in an environment where language is already in use and the adults they come in contact with are symbol-users. In the hypothetical scenario above, Adam and Eve would not merely have to invent a language, they would have to invent the concept of a language.

        Why do you assume he is infertile with his fellows band-members? They belong to the same biological species.

        Apologies. I misread the OP. The word is "interfertile." Nevermind!

        They are members of the same biological species.
        I don't understand what you mean by "soulless."

        I am going by my understanding of Catholic doctrine (actually, dogma, I would imagine) that the difference between Adam and all his ancestors (and all contemporaries, excluding Eve and their children) was that Adam had a spiritual, immortal soul, created by God "fused" as inextricably as hydrogen and oxygen are fused in water. If the Adam's soul was separated from Adam's body, Adam would be dead, and if the hydrogen and oxygen of water are separated, the water ceases to exist.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          It is a mistake to believe there is a sharp dividing line that begins Homo sapiens such that there was a first Homo sapiens born to a non-Homo sapiens mother.

          I don't by into Parmenides or Zeno, myself. If the first H.sap. were not born to a non-sap, then you are postulating saps all the way back, like turtles all the way down.

          I believe it is Catholic thought that human beings can think abstractly and rationally only because they have spiritual souls, not because a certain mutation took place affecting their thought-processing capabilities.

          You mean a "rational soul." But this is simply the sensitive ("animal") soul with some additional powers. "Soul" (anima) is simply what makes a living body alive ("animate"). It is the substantial form of the living body. In addition to the inanimate and vegetative powers and the animal powers of sensation→perception→emotion (appetite)→motion there is an intellective power that reflects on the percepts and a volitional power that is an appetite for the products of the intellect which feeds and overrides the sensory appetites.

          Apes (and dogs and oaks and petunias) are not soulless but possess animae of lesser complexity. This all goes back to the ancient Greeks.

          SInce form and body are inextricably connected, this means the body must possess the potential or capability of accepting such a form. Since the genome holds the instructions for self-assembly of the body, there is undoubtedly something in there that prepares the body to accept the rational anima.

          I believe the majority view among Catholics on this site is that there is no poetry involved at all. God does infuse a rational soul.

          And you find no poetry in that?

          then he believes for millions of years leading up to that population of 10,000, there were mutations that were selected for that ever-so-slowly, in retrospect, would be seen as the evolution of abstract thought. He wouldn't see abstract thought as an all-or-nothing trait.

          What exactly would fall halfway between the ability to abstract concepts and the lack of any such ability. Is it like being half-pregnant?

          In the hypothetical scenario above, Adam and Eve would not merely have to invent a language, they would have to invent the concept of a language.

          It's a dirty job, but someone had to do it.

          I am going by my understanding of Catholic doctrine (actually, dogma, I would imagine) that the difference between Adam and all his ancestors (and all contemporaries, excluding Eve and their children) was that Adam had a spiritual, immortal soul, created by God "fused" as inextricably as hydrogen and oxygen are fused in water.

          Hydrogen and oxygen are two distinct substances. Body and anima are not. There is only one substance: the human being. The body is its matter; the soul is its form. If we were to make an inanimate analogy, the "soul" of a basketball is "sphere." You could say the sphere is "fused" with the basketball, but the phrasing is misleading. The "soul" (or form) of a water molecule consists of one atom of oxygen and two of hydrogen set at particular angles and sharing valance electrons. (Actually, water is not entirely H2O; there is also some D2O and other substances involved as well.)

          And yes, a metaphysical human is one capable of intellection and volition. Since the objects of intellection are not material ("dog" does not exist materially; Fido does. Ditto for honor, justice, equals, three, etc.) there is no physical organ required, as the eye for sight, the ear for hearing, etc. Hence, there is no a priori reason to suppose that the rational part of the human soul would necessarily perish with the body.

          If the Adam's soul was separated from Adam's body, Adam would be dead,

          The other way around, in a sense. If Adam is dead, he no longer has the form of a rational animal, or indeed the form of any animal. What had been Adam's body is now simply a corpse and behaves as an inanimate heap of chemicals.

          • Michael Murray

            What exactly would fall halfway between the ability to abstract concepts and the lack of any such ability.

            As someone who could well be called "ye olde pure mathematician", having taught it for 25 plus years at university, I can assure you even the existing population of homo sapiens possesses an enormous range of ability to understand abstract concepts.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Given any capacity, there will be those who possess the capacity to a greater or lesser degree. For example, one may be two months pregnant or eight months pregnant. But there is a qualitative distinction against being not pregnant at all. It's like having a bank account with a zero balance versus not having a bank account at all. In the same way, one may have a greater or lesser intellect -- which does not mean just knowing a lot about a specialized topic.

            The ability to abstract a concept from a set of particulars need not mean, let's say, distinguishing between conjoining and splitting topologies on a function space. It only means that, given Fido, Rover, and Spot, one can form the concept of "dog." Or given this dog, that dog, and the other dog, once can form the concept of "three".

            The Underground Grammarian thought that this had to be coterminous with the invention of language, meaning not mere signifiers but grammar; not words for "rain" or "cave." but words for "but" and "tomorrow" and "maybe." Indeed, the ability to use words like "dog" even though there is no physical thing corresponding to it is sufficient.

          • Michael Murray

            You missed my point. I'm not talking about knowing a specialised topic I'm talking about the ability to abstract. Learning pure mathematics requires handling more and more abstraction. Most students get to a point they can't cope anymore. They can handle concrete calculations, very complicated concrete calculations but they can't make the conceptual leap required to handle the abstract theory.

            At an elementary level it's like the jump from knowing 2 pencils and 2 puppies and 2 rulers versus being able to think about 2 by itself. Then there is the jump from being able to manipulate numbers to manipulating x and y -- algebra.

            Now ratchet all that up to more complicated abstractions. Integrating a function versus theorems about integration versus abstract measure theory on measurable spaces maybe.

            Some people handle abstraction better than others. As you expect for something that evolved over time.

            Michael

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            At an elementary level it's like the jump from knowing 2 pencils and 2 puppies and 2 rulers versus being able to think about 2 by itself.

            To be able to do so indicates the power to abstract in thought, although you only really need the puppies for that. As also the ability to think about "puppies" etc.

            Now ratchet all that up to more complicated abstractions. Integrating a function etc. etc.

            The term "abstraction" is meant quite literally and precisely -- ab strahere, "to pull out from." It is not used here in its secondary meaning as "difficult to grasp, abstruse."

            Some people handle abstraction better than others. As you expect for something that evolved over time.

            Actually, it's what I would expect of any variable randomly distributed over a population. Some aluminum beverage cans have a higher column strength than others. That doesn't mean they evolved. Also, it is the ability to abstract concepts from percepts that is the key point, not the "handling of abstractions." And certainly not the ability to handle "higher" abstractions vs. lower.

          • Michael Murray

            I don't by into Parmenides or Zeno, myself. If the first H.sap. were not born to a non-sap, then you are postulating saps all the way back, like turtles all the way down.

            The point is there was no first sap. Just a bunch of descendants of increasing sappiness. That's how evolution works. Look at your parents, not much different to you, look at your grandparents, not much different to them. Keep going backwards. At no time is anyones much different to their parents but eventually you end up with fish and ...

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Actually, evolution seems to work in quantum leaps. At least the fossil record would seem to indicate so. Gradualism was an assumption made by the 19th century naturalists, and you can't cite an assumption as a conclusion. They believed that traits were inherited by a continuous process -- hence the language of "bloodlines." But we now know that inheritance is digital, not analog. And while traits passed by the blood might be indefinitely divisible (like Achilles race after the tortoise), traits passed by genes tend to be either/or. And they can be massive, sudden, and particular.

            It would be nice if we could cite actual evidence of abstract reasoning going back and back, perhaps even to the first protist or whatever. For example: artwork, literature, etc. The closest I've ever seen was the alleged Neanderthal bone flute; but this is now thought to be tooth holes smoothed by water. You are welcome to propose that australopithecines could reason abstractly; but extraordinary claims require extraordinary proofs.

          • David Nickol

            Actually, evolution seems to work in quantum leaps.

            But remember that "fast" in evolution is significant changes in less than 100,000 years, not an animal of an old species giving birth one day to an animal of a new species.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The Mediterranean wall lizards transplanted to an island off Croatia evolved in less than 20 years into a new species of wall lizards, complete with a new organ. Epigenetics, and "natural genetic engineering" are upending all the old 19th century certainties.

          • David Nickol

            evolved in less than 20 years into a new species of wall lizards, complete with a new organ

            Rapid change, yes. New species, no. (Not that it is theoretically impossible for a new species to arise rapidly.)

            Epigenetics, and "natural genetic engineering" are upending all the old 19th century certainties.

            No, not really. I don't think anyone discussing Darwinian evolution here has been exposed only to "19th-century certainties." It is well known that there can be rapid evolutionary changes. The peppered moth is featured in every evolution textbook. However, there can be long, slow evolutionary changes, and there can be species that do not change over millions of years. And as for the OP's scenario about Adam and Eve, the alleged mutation giving the capacity for abstract thought did not create a new species.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Rapid change, yes. New species, no.

            Ouch. An old creationist response, no less. That's not "really" a new species. Of course, Darwin was a nominalist when it came to species, so what counts as "new" is notional. He did not think they were things in the world, but only names we gave to things that closely resembled each other. But then, the origin of species becomes trivial: a new species originates whenever humans want a new name to talk about them. Not much excitement in that one.

            The peppered moth is featured in every evolution textbook.

            "Rapid change, yes. New species, no," to quote someone.

          • David Nickol

            An old creationist response, no less. That's not "really" a new species.

            The reason I said, "Rapid change. New species, no," is that I found no mention in any of the articles I read about the changes in the wall lizard population on the island being a new species. In fact, the abstract for the 2008 article that documented the changes says, "Genetic mitochondrial DNA analyses indicate that the lizards currently on Pod Mrčaru are indeed P. sicula and are genetically indistinguishable from lizards from the source population . . . . " If you maintain it is indeed a new species, you are using the authors' work to make your case for rapid evolutionary changes, and then you are turning around and claiming something they did not—that a new species has arisen.

            Of course, Darwin was a nominalist when it came to species, so what counts as "new" is notional. He did not think they were things in the world, but only names we gave to things that closely resembled each other.

            The philosophical question "What are species?" makes for fascinating discussion, but I think it is a red herring in this thread. We are, after all, discussing a theory of how a new mutation produced Adam and Eve. It is hardly appropriate at this point to turn around and imply that the theory of evolution is actually fraudulent.

            It is well known that there is no single approach to classifying organisms that attains mathematical precision. Whether or not Darwin was a nominalist does not prevent scientists of many different philosophical approaches to the concept of species from considering themselves Darwinians or neo-Darwinians. I am fascinated by the philosophy of science, but if scientists wait until big philosophical questions are answered to get on with doing science, everything would come to a halt while the problem of induction is solved.

            "Rapid change, yes. New species, no," to quote someone.

            I did not cite the peppered moth as an example of a new species arising from rapid change. I cited it as an example of rapid change. And I added parenthetically, "Not that it is theoretically impossible for a new species to arise rapidly." Species may not be the most precise concept imaginable, but there are myriad cases in which a new species can be definitively said to have come into existence, and that is when the genetic changes in the new population are such that it can no longer interbreed with the original population. If the wall lizards of Pod Mrčaru are unable to interbreed with other P. sicula from outside the island, then they are no longer P. sicula.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Well, if the nature of a species is up in the air and is used notionally, it should not surprise when interfertile populations like the northern spotted own and the California spotted owl are counted as distinct species for political reasons. The intriguing thing about the wall lizard is that it possesses an organ not possessed by its conspecifics, and yet its genes are the same. (Nor is this the only instance illustrating there is more to phenotype than genotype.) But it's certainly the beginning of a speciation, provided the two populations are kept separate by being on two different islands.

            The assumption that evolution must be gradual and consist of small incremental changes hands too much ammunition to mathematicians and others who note there has simply been not enough time for random chance. Swift speciation matches the fossil record rather well, and allows the observed diversification to happen within geological time.

          • David Nickol

            Well, if the nature of a species is up in the air and is used notionally . . .

            Are you trying to imply that all of taxonomy is illegitimate because of (a) philosophical disagreements about what constitutes a species and (b) disagreements in classification even among those who might agree philosophically? That is truly a creationist strategy—to point out disagreements among scientists or between groups of scientists in an attempt to impeach science in general. It's all a house of cards!

            The assumption that evolution must be gradual and consist of small incremental changes hands too much ammunition to mathematicians and others who note there has simply been not enough time for random chance.

            By referring to those who "who note there has simply been not enough time" for evolution of to take place by random mutation and natural selection, are you saying they are right? I don't see evidence being buried in debates about the pace of evolution. Punctuated equilibrium is the theory that evolution takes place in bursts. It seems that some instance of evolution take place relatively abruptly, and others are very slow, with gradual changes accumulating over extremely long periods of time before a new species arises. I am a little confused by the fact that you are mounting a defense of the compatibility of the story of Adam and Eve with the scientific account of the origins of the human race, and at the same time you seem (at least to me) to have significant doubts that the scientific explanation is true. You seem to be saying that the biblical account of Adam and Eve, and the Catholic doctrine of Original Sin, are compatible with the evolutionary account of human origins, and then you at least seem to be implying that the evolutionary account is not true.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Heck, name another mid-Victorian theory that we still regard as essentially correct.
            The confusion over what a species is does not make taxonomy illegitimate (whatever that means) but it may make it incoherent. You can reconstruct phyletic trees using either morphology or genetics and in either case you can wind up with contradictory reconstructions.
            The Darwinian notion that "survivors survive" is almost trivially true. Fortunately, we have genetics to give us a more scientific account.
            It's not easy to get a handle on the sheer time scale needed to accumulate the number of necessary mutations if we require:
            1) that mutations are random
            2) that they accumulate gradually
            All this disappears if we realize that mutations may not be random and that they do not accumulate gradually. This has the advantage of being more in line with the fossil record.
            Punctuated equilibrium was another theory that was attacked by the orthodox. Eldrege and Gould were actually accused of giving "comfort to the enemy."

          • David Nickol

            If the first H.sap. were not born to a non-sap, then you are postulating saps all the way back, like turtles all the way down.

            No, you are postulating that "sapience" is either absent or present, and that it would have been impossible for humans to have ancestors that advanced in tiny increments from "definitely not sapient" to "definitely sapient," with a long stretch in between where no bright line could be drawn. Starting with Darwin himself, that is not how proponents of Darwinian evolution have conceived of things. Alfred Russell Wallace broke from Darwin on this very issue. You are welcome to your own views, but they are not the views of those who believe in Darwinian evolution.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            No one has yet explained how one can have half the ability to abstract concepts from percepts. You can either do it or you can't. Even if Ugg only does this for Fido, Rover, and Spot and gets "dog," he has done it. Once it is present, a power may be present to greater or lesser degree, of course. But what exactly is the first number after zero?

            Darwin was a mid-Victorian naturalist. He knew nothing about genes, let alone the genetic mechanisms we have been discovering over the past few decades. Gradualism was an assumption he made, not a fact that he discovered.

          • David Nickol

            No one has yet explained how one can have half the ability to abstract concepts from percepts.

            What needs to be explained is how one mutation (or any number of mutations) in the genome of an animal utterly incapable of abstract thought can transform it into an animal with even the most modest capacity for abstract thought. For a materialist, that might not be a problem (although I doubt that many materialists who were also Darwinians would accept that a bright line can be drawn between thought that is abstract and thought that is not). But if abstract thought can arise by mutation and natural selection, then there is no need to adduce a spiritual soul to explain abstract thought.

            For the materialist point of view, all you need to do is google animals abstract thought and you will find a wealth of information to support the fact that many animals do have some capacity for abstract thought. But if materialism is correct, there is no need for the concept of a (spiritual) soul.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            What needs to be explained is how one mutation (or any number of mutations) in the genome of an animal utterly incapable of abstract thought can transform it into an animal with even the most modest capacity for abstract thought.

            So, maybe not. I used it as a convenient metaphor, as Dawkins did in The Selfish Gene. At best there might be genes that fashion the bodily parts that are used to perform the action; but genes only instruct on the building of proteins and the like. If you prefer to think that the ability to abstract concepts from percepts was endowed in some other fashion, feel free.

            I doubt that many materialists who were also Darwinians would accept that a bright line can be drawn between thought that is abstract and thought that is not.

            Not my fault if they lack the facility to grasp the distinction. It is not the "thought" that is abstract or not. Among humans, nearly all thought is abstracted (from experience). Abstraction is a power, a verb. It is the ability to pull a concept out of a percept, to pull "dog" out of Fido, Rover, and Spot. Or to pull "Socrates is mortal" from the propositions that "All men are mortal" and "Socrates is a man." This is distinct from the imagination, which is also a kind of thought, but which deals only with percepts, memories of percepts, and manipulations of memories of percepts.

            If your friends cannot distinguish between someone who thinks "dog" and someone who perceives only Fido or Spot, they might have a problem. An illustrative quote from 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.

            --The Message in the Bottle, p.153

            But if abstract thought can arise by mutation and natural selection, then there is no need to adduce a spiritual soul to explain abstract thought.

            Heck, it's not even clear that physical traits always arise through mutation and natural selection. And again with the "spiritual" soul. Are you a Neoplatonist or something? The anima does not "explain" the power of abstraction any more that it explains the power of sensation. It is simply that the power to abstract is typical of the rational soul, and the power to sense is typical of the sensitive soul. You keep responding as if the soul were supposed to be a thing rather than the substantial form of a thing.

            many animals do have some capacity for abstract thought.

            Sure. Clever Hans could do arithmetic, right? Late Moderns tend to confuse "abstract thought" with "imagination" or even things like "tool-using." In the early middle ages, blemyae, sciopods, centaurs, and other fabulous creatures were also thought to have the ability to abstract concepts, and hence to have souls. Augustine was uncertain of the dog-heads, whose language was said to consist entirely of barks. But then he wasn't committed to believing that these alien creatures actually existed. He only said that if they did, then they were just as human as you or I. (An indication that "human" meant "substantia individua naturae rationalis" and not "member of biological species H.sap.)

          • David Nickol

            If your friends cannot distinguish between someone who thinks "dog" and someone who perceives only Fido or Spot, they might have a problem.

            So you are saying that Adam and Eve—born and raised by animals who could not make such distinctions or even speak—invented their own language and said things to each other like, "This is a fig, and this is a date. Figs and dates are fruits. Milk and honey are liquids. Fruits are tasty, and to eat them is good, except it would be wrong to eat fruit that God tells us not to eat."

            And again with the "spiritual" soul. Are you a Neoplatonist or something?

            I am someone who was educated in Catholic schools and has read the following in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

            365 The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the "form" of the body: i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature.

            I would think I have an inkling of what that means, were it not followed by this:

            366 The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God—it is not "produced" by the parents—and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection.

            "The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the 'form' of the body," but it is created by God separately from the body coming into existence at conception and growing, and the soul leaves the body at death and (if the person was virtuous) goes to purgatory and then heaven. In heaven, the soul of Mother Teresa (to take an example) is somehow aware of prayers addressed to her, and can intercede with God to ask for the prayers to be answered with a miraculous cure. It is not the idea of intersession or miraculous cures that puzzles me. It is the claim that Mother Teresa's soul is said to have left her body at death and now resides in heaven. And yet, "Abraham's soul is not, strictly speaking, Abraham himself; it is rather a part of him (and so too for others). So Abraham's soul's having life would not suffice for Abraham being alive. . . . The life of the whole compound is required: soul and body." So Mother Teresa's soul in heaven is not Mother Teresa, and yet it seems to act on behalf of Mother Teresa, and Mother Teresa is credited with what Mother Teresa's soul in heaven does (intercedes with God and obtains a miracle).

            Exactly how this conception of soul differs from "the ghost in the machine" is difficult for me to understand.

            BONUS MATERIAL: According to a number of Catholic sources I have run across, Adam and Eve are said to have had "infused knowledge" (and a number of other "preternatural gifts"), and consequently it would seem that they did not have to invent their own language.

          • But what exactly is the first number after zero?

            You've used this example a few times. BTW, there is no first number after zero. There's a first such whole number, of course, but if "whole" is included in the analogy then it's even clearer that there's no reason to believe animals must have a whole adult-human-level sapience or none at all.

            That's not even how it works with humans. Children aren't brute beasts until at a critical point in their development they snap into whole adult-human-level sapience. Their sapience grows and develops within them gradually over decades.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            But what exactly is the first number after zero?

            You've used this example a few times. BTW, there is no first number after zero.

            D'uh? That's the point.

            there's no reason to believe animals must have a whole adult-human-level sapience or none at all.

            Who's talking about "sapience" (whatever that is). We're talking about the ability to abstract concepts from percepts. Please explain, since others have not, what it means to have half this ability.

            Children aren't brute beasts until at a critical point in their development they snap into whole adult-human-level sapience. It grows and develops within them gradually
            over decades.

            Your theology is sound, but theology is not at issue. Children begin using words at very early ages and will spontaneously point and ask "What's that?" The use of language is suitable evidence of abstraction. It is the association of a set of sounds, like "Gift" with some thing in the world, like poison. ("Gift" is German for "poison.") Drawing pictures is another evidence; so is composing music. (And we ought to add that "composing music" is not the same thing as "making sounds" even if the sounds are pleasant.)

            But so far as pre-verbal children or (more broadly) children before the age of reason, it helps to think in terms of the Whole Person. In relativity, a thing seen at a point in time is only a three-dimensional slice of the whole thing. Time is a fourth dimension of the manifold, simply another dimension of the thing. The child is as much a part of the whole person as his foot, just in a different direction. A "four-dimensional worm through space-time" is the imagery that is sometimes used. Consequently, it is the potential for active abstraction that matters whether or not any particular locus on the 4-D worm actively exercises it. After all, man is a bipedal animal, but if you lose a foot in an accident (including a genetic or epigenetic accident) you do not cease to be human.

            Steve Singer may have a different take on matters, since he supports infanticide and does not regard newborns as yet entirely human.

          • But what exactly is the first number after zero?

            You've used this example a few times. BTW, there is no first number after zero.

            D'uh? That's the point.

            Yes, though the analogy was ineptly used to bolster a conclusion it doesn't support, I pieced your purpose for it together after reading some more of your comments. Sorry for the mistake. Unfortunately Disqus wasn't accepting my edits of that post.

            Who's talking about "sapience" (whatever that is).

            You. It's usually the ability to act with appropriate judgment; in science fiction and fantasy it is personhood; in your OP and some comments here you also use it for the capacity to develop abstract concepts. Of course any of those definitions is fine as long as we know which one we're talking about in context.

            Please explain, since others have not, what it means to have half this ability.

            Sure, I'd be happy to. A has half the sapience of B if and only if A's body encodes half as many abstract concepts as does B's.

            Children aren't brute beasts until at a critical point in their development they snap into whole adult-human-level sapience. It grows and develops within them gradually over decades.

            Your theology is sound, but theology is not at issue.

            More importantly, the science is sound, and the science is what is at issue. Sapience in the usual sense is a property that all living things have to varying degrees. So is sapience in the sense emphasized in your OP, most likely. You also brought up the personhood sense of sapience in the above comment, and to my mind (as a supporter of animal rights) that sense of sapience is also something all living things have in degrees corresponding to their capacities; though I admit that unlike the first two senses, this one depends primarily on a moral position rather than a scientific one.

            In any of the three senses of the word, there isn't justification for supposing an all-or-nothing capacity.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Who's talking about "sapience" (whatever that is).

            You.

            Actually, I was talking about the power to pull concepts out of percepts. "Sapience" is too ill-defined to use, except inasmuch as men are called H. "sapiens" it becomes a shorthand. The problems come when after using the term precisely, others start using it in a loosey-goosey manner. For example:

            It's usually the ability to act with appropriate judgment; in science fiction and fantasy it is personhood

            "Usually"? "In science fiction"? Sorry, in philosophy terms are more precisely defined. You might notice that "sapience" and "personhood" are two distinct words and therefore might just have two distinct meanings.

            Please explain, since others have not, what it means to have half this ability (to abstract concepts from percepts).

            Sure, I'd be happy to. A has half the sapience of B if and only if A's body encodes half as many abstract concepts as does B's.

            I'm not sure what you mean by the "body encodes...abstract concepts."

            But your definition is obviously deficient. That A has abstracted half as many concepts as B does not mean that A lacks the power to abstract concepts. On the contrary, how could A abstract even a single concept without having the ability to do so? This is very different from lacking the ability to do so. An analogy:

            Bank accounts differ in their contents. There may even be a bank account with a zero balance. But these are merely quantitative differences and are not the same kind of thing as not having a bank account at all. (This is the difference between zero and nothing.) So, too, one may possess the power of abstraction more or less and this is different from not having the power of abstraction at all.

            As for the other living things, it is not beyond reason that some other species may also engage in speculative thought. I will take this up with the next kangaroo that raises the question. But I much doubt that a clam or a shitake mushroom possesses "sapience". And even reptiles, which do not remember and cannot be trained are lacking in something possessed by dogs and tigers. The thing is, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proofs.

            It might be useful to explore the distinction between intellect and imagination. See here:
            http://thomism.wordpress.com/2006/01/04/a-comparison-and-contrast-of/
            and here:
            http://thomism.wordpress.com/2012/11/23/intelligence-in-non-human-animals-a-comment-that-turned-into-a-post/

            Chastek writes: http://thomism.wordpress.com/2008/10/11/what-really-are-uniquely-human-traits/
            "When I read over the list of six traits, I couldn’t come up with a single example of one that was mentioned as distinctively human in St. Thomas or Aristotle. For them, man is defined properly by reason, and reason is most of all verified in speculative wisdom. None of the traits listed were even in the same genus as speculative thought, and I doubt it would cross anyone’s mind to test the hypothesis. Do we really need to ask whether non-human animals have developed systems of physics, speculative mathematics, and metaphysical wisdom?"

          • Actually, I was talking about the power to pull concepts out of percepts.

            That was one of the definitions given for sapience. Replacing the word by the definition does not bring about a distinction. You're just playing word games.

            "Sapience" is too ill-defined to use

            I gave three definitions all of which can be easily used, so this is bogus.

            "Usually"? "In science fiction"? ...

            Please address the actual content of the post rather than spewing out evasive word games.

            I'm not sure what you mean by the "body encodes...abstract concepts."

            The most interesting way that bodies encode abstract concepts is in neural networks. There are plentiful lesser cases in genetics.

            But your definition is obviously deficient.

            Likely it appears this way to you because you continue to insist, without the merest scrap of evidence, on a nonsensical misunderstanding of sapience. Under any of the three definitions, it's not all or nothing, but rather gradual.

            Please explain, since others have not, what it means to have half this ability.

            Sure, I'd be happy to. A has half the sapience of B if and only if A's body encodes half as many abstract concepts as does B's.

            But your definition is obviously deficient. That A has abstracted half as many concepts as B does not mean that A lacks the power to abstract concepts.

            Duh. Of course it doesn't. I was addressing the request that was asked. Now you're being evasive and circling back around to a different question that was already answered above.

            But I much doubt that a clam or a shitake mushroom possesses "sapience".

            You really need to get out of the habit of just making shiitake up because you like how it sounds. That works in writing fiction. It doesn't work for talking about reality. All you have to do is use Google these days. For example, I just learned that some clams respond to abstract spatial and temporal patterns of light and shadow. Shiitake have no nervous system but like most everything else alive do have active enzymatic responses to patterns in their environment and fascinately complex movements of cellular level components to accomplish their survival and reproduction, abstract behaviors that have been programmed into them genetically instead of neurally by the much slower method of natural selection.

            Do we really need to ask whether non-human animals have developed systems of physics, speculative mathematics, and metaphysical wisdom?

            YES. People who imagine they can just proclaim truths about complex subjects like these without even attempting to find evidence have a major defect in their thinking, one that is, we should note, strongly encouraged by Christianity as it trains people to take things on faith. There used to a long list of traits and behaviors that were imagined to be unique to humans, and the people who went out and looked instead of pontificating have gradually whittled away that list to almost nothing.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            "Sapience" is too ill-defined to use

            I gave three definitions all of which can be easily used, so this is bogus.

            Juxtapose "three definitions all of which can be easily used" and "ill-defined" and you might get it.

            The most interesting way that bodies encode abstract concepts is in neural networks.

            Perhaps more familiarity with neural networks is in order. This is like saying that the "Moonlight Sonata" is encoded in the fingers. It sounds scientificalistic to say that concepts are encoded in a body, but it is more correct to say that the pianist plays the sonata, or the human abstracts the concept.

            you continue to insist, without the merest scrap of evidence, on a nonsensical misunderstanding of sapience.

            Even though it was one of the three definitions you gave. The ability to abstract concepts from percepts is not nonsense. Without it, there is no language, no science.

            That A has abstracted half as many concepts as B does not mean that A lacks the power to abstract concepts.

            Of course it doesn't. I was addressing the request that was asked. Now you're being evasive and circling back around to a different question that was already answered above.

            No, it's still the original question. How does A have "half the ability" to abstract concepts from percepts rather than simply exercising this ability less often. A power might be exercised more or less, but this is distinct from having the power at all. Recall the analogy of a bank account with more or less of a balance, including zero, versus not having a bank account at all, the classic distinction between zero and nothing.

            I just learned that some clams respond to abstract spatial and temporal patterns of light and shadow.

            Good grief! You have discovered that animals have sensitive souls! This is shown schematically in the "stimulus-response" portion of the model: sensory impression→percept→emotion(appetite)→motion(action). (The annex on the right is the specifically human animal, whether it is biologically H.sap. or not.)

            (Also, patterns of light and shadow are neither "abstract" in the adjectival sense that you are using, nor have they been "abstracted" in the verbal sense that we have been using here.)

            There is a vast difference between reacting to stimuli and abstracting non-physical concepts from physical percepts.
            "When a zebra out on the edge of the herd sniffs a lion in the tall grass, he does not say to himself in any fashion, "I had better tell the others." (Nor would you, for that matter.) He simply does what is appropriate for a successful zebra to do under those circumstances. His startled neighbors, startled by what he does whether they sniff lion or not, do likewise. That's part of how they got to be grown-up zebras in the first place. The zebras who are slow to startle have a way of dropping out of the herd early in life. In a moment, the whole herd is in flight, but it cannot be properly said that a zebra has sent a message. It would be more accurate to say that the zebras have caught something from one another. .....

            Think what happens when you encounter an unexpected snake, the usual kind. There is no word in your head, no language at all, in the instant of automatic recoil. Then you say, if only in your head; "Oh, a snake." The word "snake" makes you feel better, because it opens the gates for many other words. It occurs to you, because you have the words in which it occurs to you, that most snakes found in Manhasset are harmless and unaggressive and that you're not really in danger. You have transformed a creature in the world of sense experience into a whole system of related ideas in a world that is not the world of sense experience. That little chill was real, and, for a moment, it remains, but you are not in flight. You are in another world, the world where snakes are made of discourse, not blood and bones and teeth. Your language gives you access to that world.

            The Jiukiukwe are also afraid of snakes, and they have better reasons than we. The swamps are full of them, and none of them is harmless. Members of the tribe sometimes die of snakebite, and little children out looking for dead fish have occasionally been swallowed by anacondas. In the company of an anaconda, any forest animal is afraid, just like any Jiukiukwe. The difference, though, is that the Jiukiukwe have a language so that they don't have to wait to be afraid until they actually find themselves in the company of the anaconda. They can be afraid ahead of time. In language they remember the anaconda of the past and take thought for the anaconda of the future. Those big snakes are not around to inspire fear; they are in other worlds. Language evokes them."
            -- Richard Mitchell, Less Than Words Can Say (Ch. 2, "The Two Tribes")
            http://www.sourcetext.com/grammarian/

            Shiitake have no nervous system but like most everything else alive do have active enzymatic responses to patterns in their environment and fascinately complex move ments of cellular level components to accomplish their survival and reproduction....

            Congratulations! You have discovered that plants have a vegetative soul. (Shown in the illo in conjunction with the inanimate powers.)

            Do we really need to ask whether non-human animals have developed systems of physics, speculative mathematics, and metaphysical wisdom?

            YES. People who imagine they can just proclaim truths about complex subjects like these without even attempting to find evidence have a major defect in their thinking.... There used to a long list of traits and behaviors that were imagined to be unique to humans

            I look forward to your finding of evidence that kangaroos have metaphysical wisdom. That list of "purely human" traits goes back to the Enlightenment. The Age of Reason re-imagined animals as "meat machines." That is, all non-rational activity was reduced to mechanism. But no Aristotelian would make that mistake. See here for comment:
            "What is the thomist account of ‘uniquely human’ traits?" (October 11, 2008)
            http://thomism.wordpress.com/2008/10/11/what-really-are-uniquely-human-traits/

            Hope this helps.

          • If you'd follow the site guidelines and edit out your constant snotty condescension, I'd be much more interested in this conversation. It'd be fun to reply in the same vein, but the moderators have made it clear that atheists here are held to a much higher standard than the Catholics.

          • Paul H

            "Please explain, since others have not, what it means to have half this ability (to abstract concepts from percepts)."

            I still haven't seen an answer to this question. Noah Luck responded to it, but didn't really answer it. He seemed either to dismiss it, or to have a substantially different understanding of what it means to abstract concepts from precepts.

          • David Nickol

            Perhaps by the ability "to abstract concepts from percepts" you mean the ability to look at five sparrow, four elms, and a rock and say, "The sparrows and the elms are living things and therefore unlike the rock. The sparrows are birds and the elms are trees, and the sparrows are in the same category 'birds' as hawks, while the elms are in the same category 'trees' as oaks. Sparrows, hawks, elms, and oaks have the property 'living' in common with each other but not with rocks." It is difficult to imagine having half that ability (in a certain sense, at least). For one thing, it requires language and a significant amount of prior learning to do that. Take any human baby (whether Adam, Eve, or a newborn child in the 21st century selected by grossly immoral researchers), put him or her in the care of, say, gorillas, and the ability will never develop. This is one reason why the Church's "official" account of Adam and Eve includes preternatural gifts from God, one of them being inborn knowledge. It is also why the allegedly "scientific" account of the OP is entirely implausible. It requires Adam and Eve to invent a language, figure out all abstractions on their own, and also achieve a state of moral development such that they can be held so fully accountable for sinning that their transgression causes misery for the entire human race.

            It is not difficult at all for me to imagine abstract thought developing stepwise. Very humble animals recognize food from non-food. They recognize threatening animals from nonthreatening ones. Cat's don't say, "That is a mouse, and I am going to catch it an eat it," but unless you feel all nonhuman animals are purely automatons with nothing taking place in their brains, something must be happening when a cat recognizes a mouse. Some very rudimentary form of thought must be taking place in the brains of birds and snakes. A higher level must be taking place in the brains of cats and dogs. An even higher level must be taking place in the brains of dolphins and chimps. The fact that there is a major gap between man and the second, third, fourth, etc., most intelligent animals does not imply to me that as humans evolved, intelligence and the ability to think abstractly could not have progressed stepwise and had to appear full blown in the "first humans." If you google "animal cognition," you will find all kinds of information on rudimentary abstract thought being observed in nonhuman animals.

            But it is not difficult for

          • David Nickol

            Steve Singer

            Peter Singer?

            . . . he supports infanticide and does not regard newborns as yet entirely human.

            But you digress, no?

            (I think Peter Singer would say a newborn baby is entirely human, but not yet a person. I also do not think it is accurate to say he "supports infanticide," but rather that he thinks there are circumstances under which it would not be immoral. If I think war is sometimes justified, although very rarely, I would not want someone to characterize my position as one of "supporting war.")

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Peter Singer. Gaah. Correction accepted.

        • Loreen Lee

          There is just one thing troubling about this article and that is the 'assumption' that the ability of rational thought (abstractions, whatever) was a result of 'the fall'. I believe that the text of genesis shows that God gave Adam the 'power' to name the animals etc. before the fall. This would suggest to me that language was a 'fact' before the fall. I have generally confided the fall to 'symbolize', (for want of a better word) the 'advent' of normative thought, something I consider to be 'different' from language per se. Indeed, I find that generally the content of biblical text is directed primarily to morals, although granted, intellectual thought, as in the Natural Law, is an important part of moral choice(s). But sapient, I associate with 'wisdom', and thus indirectly 'morals', specifically judgment, as in Kant's final critique. This thought of mine I realize just doesn't 'square' with all the relevant factors, but I do think we should remember that the emphasis is particularly directed towards avoiding 'the tree of 'knowledge of good and evil', not knowledge per se. I have yet to find a coherent attempt to reconcile the sequence of cognizant abilities with a 'scientific' explanation of any kind of evolution. Monsignor Pope did however, relate the 'eating' of the apple with the 'Experience' of good and evil, in one of his posts, but there was no explanation of what possible cognitive factors might/would be involved in such an 'experience'.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            "the 'assumption' that the ability of rational thought (abstractions, whatever) was a result of 'the fall'."

            No. The 'assumption' was that 'the fall' was the result of the ability of rational thought (abstractions, whatever).

          • Loreen Lee

            Thanks. Yes. I got it 'backwards'....I should have said 'eating of the fruit'....But thanks for the chance to put forth the idea that with language comes the ability to abstract- is this not true? - indeed is not language the ordering??? of 'universals', and as per another comment, Adam may have had this ability before eating of the fruit I believe. This in question to Adam's sudden abstract use of the word 'bison' in the article. Can you help here? Thanks.

          • David Nickol

            And yet Adam and Eve seemed to have very limited knowledge before they ate the forbidden fruit. Afterward, they were "sadder but wiser" (Genesis 3:22).

            Then the LORD God said: See! The man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil!

            I suppose one might argue that God is being sarcastic, but the meaning truly does seem to be that Adam and Eve have gained in knowledge and understanding. If knowing good and evil is meant to imply moral knowledge, then it is difficult to call the transgression of Adam and Eve a "sin," since sin (or at least mortal sin, in Catholic thought) requires full knowledge and full consent.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Sin is "defectus boni," a deficiency in a good. It is not strictly comparable to the violation of a law, but more to falling sick. (Health is a good, illness is a deficiency in that good.) If we suppose that God is Good (and Truth and Beauty and Love, through the convertibility of the transcendentals), then it is good to be directed toward God. Then to turn away from God for one's own selfish desires is a defectus in that particular bonum. The Buddha also located the root of all sorrow in this unbridled wanting in human nature. In Western terms, it is the "origin" of "sin." Hence, "original" sin. It is "inherited" by all men by virtue of all men having the same human nature.

  • Vincent Herzog

    I particularly like the beginning, about the matter of descent. I'm less sure about some of the rest. Is the idea here that Original Sin is being identified with the imperfection of the material? That seems wrong. We will remain imperfect even in Heaven after the general resurrection, for we will always be creatures. I'm not sure I have understood him here. The new heavens and new earth likewise will necessarily be imperfect, but not subject to sin. Second, Adam did not merely discover that he was going to die and it therefore "became a reality" for him. For real, he wouldn't have died had it not been for sin. Also, Zen simplicity does not seem to capture Adam and Eve's innocence or their friendship with God. However, I expect I have misunderstood Mr. Flynn on these points and I hope I'm corrected!

    • Vincent Herzog

      I can see that Original Sin has something to do with the imperfections of the material, but it seems it must be a body-soul reality, even if it is passed on through the material (for the soul comes immediately from God).

  • "The mythos of Adam and Eve still makes sense when read in the traditional anagogical manner, not in spite of evolutionary learnings but because of them."

    Of course you can read Genesis anyway you like. Yes it can make a kind of sense, if you do NOT read it as: All humans are descended from one man and one woman who were directly created by God out of dust and who had earthly parents.

    But rather read it as: Ages ago, two hominids (Adam and Eve) became "sapient", meaning their development crossed some threshold of abstract thought which allowed them to be aware that they could sin. And they did sin. There were thousands of other hominids of Adam and Eve's species who did not have this sapience or awareness of sin. Adam and Eve's children mated with these other hominids, transmitting sin and sapience to them through their DNA. Now, only the decedents of Adam and Eve are living and all humans are part of this family.

    This seems to me to be a stretch of the text of Genesis and the involvement of a deity in the emergence of sapience or as an accounting for guilt seems to be to be superfluous.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Why do you suppose that the author of nature is superfluous to any working of nature?

      • I see no evidence of an author for nature at all. You can argue that Genesis can be interpreted in such a way as to deflect any conflict with biology, paleontology, geology, astronomy and other fields of study. But it is these fields of study that actually explain our origins, not the first three chapters of the Hebrew Bible. What does it tell us about the dozens of non-human hominids we keep finding? The best you can say is that in contrast to my reading, that it implies we should not be finding these fossils, it is not really in conflict with the facts that science is establishing. The Bible is being figurative when it says Eve was made from Adam's rib, that people lived for hundreds of years, that there were giants in those days.

        Our understanding of the vast tapestry of cosmology and human history works just fine without any deities being invoked as anything more than the imaginings by an intelligent pattern-seeking species. Humans have imagined hundreds of other "authors" and believed in them so much as to all too often sacrifice their children to gain their favor. I see no reason to think Yahweh was any more real.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Our understanding of the vast tapestry of cosmology and human history works just fine without any deities being invoked

          Where'd the vast tapestry come from? And why does it behave in a lawful manner? Sure, you can drive a car without giving a single thought to auto mechanics. You can ride in a jet liner and never think of Frank Whittle. But that doesn't mean there is nothing else. It just means you don't bother thinking about it.

          But you are simply repeating the axioms of the Christians of the medieval West, who held that the reasons for "the common course of nature" should be sought in nature. God was supposed as a "first cause" not a "second cause."

          • Where did the cosmos come from, I do not know and neither do you. It doesn't behave in a lawful manner, we have observed patterns in it. Not sure what auto mechanics has to do with this, but if I want to find out about it I know where to look. If I want to learn about human origins and ancestry, Genesis doesn't tell me much. What it does say appears to be wrong and needs to be interpreted figuratively.

            I am not saying there is nothing else, I am saying that an ancient book saying that a god breathed life into clay is at best a distraction from the real inquiry into human origins,

            I do not know what the source of the patterns in the universe are. But every time we have found answers to our questions: what is lightning, what is the sun, is there a relationship between humans and primates? how do we best deal with disease, what materials will best hold up a bridge? The answers have never involved anything other than nature."god did" it doesn't explain anything, it is a place-holder for an explanation.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Where did the cosmos come from, I do not know and neither do you.

            Oddly, "cosmos" is a Greek word and carries the connotation of something that has been artfully arranged. "Cosmetic" comes from the same root.

            It doesn't behave in a lawful manner, we have observed patterns in it.

            How can there be observed patterns unless there is lawful behavior in the first place. Unless you buy Dennett's notion that humans impose patterns on reality, in which case kiss natural science good-bye.

            Not sure what auto mechanics has to do with this

            Simply that whether you need the hypothesis or not depends on the scope of what you are trying to do. You don't need "deities" to explain "the vast tapestry of cosmology" because you are only trying to explain what it is and how it operates. If your objectives are limited to technical matters, your hypotheses are limited to technical matters. You can measure every dimension of a jet engine and will never discover Frank Whittle. You can study every line of Macbeth and not one will mention Shakespeare. You can record every tone and frequency of Eine kleine Nachtmusik and it will not sing out Mozart.

            If I want to learn about human origins and ancestry, Genesis doesn't tell me much.

            Not biologically. But then Ch 1 is a poem and Ch 2 is a myth. They are doing poetical and mythic things, not biological things.

            an ancient book saying that a god breathed life into clay is at best a distraction from the real inquiry into human origins

            You must have been hell on wheels in poetry class.

            every time we have found answers to our questions ... The answers have never involved anything other than nature.

            Certainly. But that is an assumption of our mode of questioning, not a conclusion. As Heisenberg wrote
            "What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed
            to our method of questioning.
            "
            – Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science

            That is, if your method of questioning is a hammer, you will discover everything is adequately explained by nails.

            "god did" it doesn't explain anything

            Now you are just parroting medieval Catholic teachings:

            "[T]he natural order does not exist confusedly and without rational arrangement, and human reason should be listened to concerning those things it treats of. But when it completely fails, then the matter should be referred to God. Therefore, since we have not yet completely lost the use of our minds, let us return to reason."
            -- Adelard of Bath, Quaestiones naturales

            "[They say] 'We do not know how this is, but we know that God can do it.' You poor fools! God can make a cow out of a tree, but has He ever done so? Therefore show some reason why a thing is so, or cease to hold that it is so."
            -- William of Conches, Dragmaticon

            “In studying nature we have not to inquire how God the Creator may, as He freely wills, use His creatures to work miracles and thereby show forth His power; we have rather to inquire what Nature with its immanent causes can naturally bring to pass.”
            -- St. Albertus Magnus, De vegetabilibus et plantis

            "I propose here… to show the causes of some effects which seem to be miracles and to show that the effects occur naturally… There is no reason to take recourse to the heavens [astrology], the last refuge of the weak, or to demons, or to our glorious God, as if he would produce these effects directly…
            --Nicole d’Oresme, Bishop of Liseaux, De causa mirabilium

            Heck, even if I said of the Lincoln assassination "Booth did it," I haven't really explained the matter. But that does not make the statement false, or even useless.

          • I agree with you that the first two chapters of Genesis are myth and poetry. So is the rest from what I can tell.

            I understand that we can use things without understanding everything about their origins.

            I guess the point is that I look at what we know about human and cosmological origins and what reasonable inferences we can draw from observation and apparent patterns. We can know none of this with absolute certainty, our conclusions are only as strong as these observations and inferences.

            I accept that we are very unlikely to gain much certainty about the behaviour and cognitive development of soft tissues of humans and other hominids over 200,000 years ago. We can speculate, but that is about it. But we might be able to get there by identifying something genetically, but as of yet we haven't. The same can be said for the origins of the cosmos.

            But it would be wrong to say that we now know how this happened. It is worse to say that the book of Genesis is of assistance any more than are the Upanishads or Norse mythology. I could certainly write a piece on how the myth of the world being created from the body of a giant in Norse mythology tracks with our understanding of a cooling planet and so on. But we need to recognize that while to can be entertaining, we are stretching the myth to fit what we now have better information on these subjects.

            Heck, if the whole argument is just "I believe a necessary but invisible being ultimately answers all ultimate questions, and we can't demonstrate this being exists with reason" we can save a lot of time.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Don't know why you are so fixated on this eternal being and whether he exists. It is surely independent of the point under discussion, which is that the existence of 10,000 ancestors is entirely compatible with the existence of 1.

            I agree with you that the first two chapters of Genesis are myth and poetry. So is the rest from what I can tell.

            No. The first chapter is a poem (in honor of the Sabbath, as it happens) and the second is myth. By "the rest" do you mean the rest of Genesis or the rest of the Bible. Later chapters of Genesis begin to shade off into tribal history, for example by using geneologies to explain which tribes are related to which; or by using the travels of Abram to exemplify the migration of the Amorites from Sumeria across the Fertile Crescent to Canaan. This is more comparable to Homer's use of Troy than to Hesiod's Works and Days. It's not too hard as long as you remember the markers of mythic story telling, and that a myth is a story a society tells to explain itself to itself. For a comparison, consider the myth of Galileo, a sort of Genesis myth of the Modern Ages, versus the actual history. The purpose of the myth is not to detail the history but to contrast the Culture Hero against the forces with which he must contend to create the Modern Ages. Sort of like the Yellow Emperor.

          • David Nickol

            It is surely independent of the point under discussion, which is that the existence of 10,000 ancestors is entirely compatible with the existence of 1.

            To say "entirely compatible" implies much too much. Even if we accept all the assumptions (new "sapience" mutations in a contemporaneous man and woman, "sapience" genes passed along in every instance of breeding even with pre-humans without "sapience" genes, mating on a large scale between "sapient" and "non-sapient" humans, raising of "sapient" children in many cases by parents of whom one was not "sapient," eventual die-off of all "non-sapient" humans and their offspring), there is no evidence that the scenario in the OP happened. If language was impossible before the "sapience" mutation, does the estimated age of human language fit with this scenario? Is the timing of the spread of human out of Africa compatible? And on the theological side, how does the scenario match up with teachings of the Church about Adam and Eve. Were they actually physically immortal? Did they have other "preternatural gifts"? Did they lose "infused knowledge" (perhaps even language) as a result of the fall?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            there is no evidence that the scenario in the OP happened.

            Sure, but that can be said about any Darwinian just-so story.

            Recall that the original accusatio to which the OP was addressed was that genetics made the story of a single ancestor impossible. All the post does is show that it is at least possible.

            "sapience" genes passed along in every instance of breeding even with pre-humans without "sapience" genes, etc.

            This would indeed seem unlikely if we still used the "bloodline" theory of inheritance that Darwin tried to get around. If inheritance is a continuous process, a single mutation might easily have been diluted out by mating with all the other biological humans. However, inheritance is digital, not analog. There are these things called "genes" and they can be passed along:
            http://images.search.yahoo.com/images/view;_ylt=AwrB8pdtIwVT0nUApimJzbkF;_ylu=X3oDMTIyZ3N0OTQzBHNlYwNzcgRzbGsDaW1nBG9pZAMwNzE3ZDJlMDdkNTI0NTg4MWNlM2UyOTdhZWU3ODhjMwRncG9zAzMEaXQDYmluZw--?back=http%3A%2F%2Fimages.search.yahoo.com%2Fsearch%2Fimages%3F_adv_prop%3Dimage%26va%3Ddominant%2Band%2Brecessive%26fr%3Dmoz35%26tab%3Dorganic%26ri%3D3&w=450&h=468&imgurl=library.thinkquest.org%2FC0123260%2Fbasic%2520knowledge%2Fimages%2Fbasic%2520knowledge%2Fgenes%2Fdominant%2520and%2520recessive.gif&rurl=http%3A%2F%2Flibrary.thinkquest.org%2FC0123260%2Fbasic%2520knowledge%2Fdominant%2520and%2520recessive.htm&size=19.5KB&name=%3Cb%3ERecessive+and+Dominant+%3C%2Fb%3EInheritance&p=dominant+and+recessive&oid=0717d2e07d5245881ce3e297aee788c3&fr2=&fr=moz35&tt=%3Cb%3ERecessive+and+Dominant+%3C%2Fb%3EInheritance&b=0&ni=21&no=3&ts=&tab=organic&sigr=12nc2glet&sigb=13gvtb4p4&sigi=13fl12quv&.crumb=x2WaJiT8KHl&fr=moz35

          • Like you say my reasons for interest in to issue is not the topic. My original comment was that your piece makes a mundane point. It seems to clear to me that you consider the origin of humanity story in Genesis to be mythical, or at least highly metaphorical, to the point that you will accept all the findings of evolutionary biology in this regard but feel some need to insert a supernatural explanation into our gap in understanding of the emergence of the current state of human cognition.

            I put it to you that there is nothing in the Bible that suggests there were more than two humans in existence when Adam and Eve were created. That there is zero Biblical basis to suggest that human-like creatures existed before Adam and Eve and that God just gave them sapience. Rather the plain and ordinary meaning of the text is to the contrary. I further put it to you that the only reason to write a piece like this is because you are smart enough to recognize that the evidence for the plain reading of Genesis being wrong is overwhelming. This adds nothing to our actual understanding of origins, and does violence to a reasonable interpretation of the text.

            All you are really saying is that the Bible is mythical where it conflicts with science, poetry when it conflicts with itself, accurate when it does not, and provides filler for our gaps in knowledge.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            you ... feel some need to insert a supernatural explanation into our gap in understanding of the emergence of the current state of human cognition.

            Where have I done so?

            nothing in the Bible that suggests there were more than two humans in existence when Adam and Eve were created.

            It is hard to explain such things to Bible-thumping literalists.

            That there is zero Biblical basis to suggest that human-like creatures existed before Adam and Eve and that God just gave them sapience.

            It is hard to explain such things to Bible-thumping literalists. The Bible stems from Christianity; not Christianity from the Bible. (That is, the Christians picked and chose what books to include and how they were to be understood based on the beliefs they brought to them. Augustine would accept almost any reading so long as it was based on what he called "the two-fold love" (i.e., of God and neighbor).

            Rather the plain and ordinary meaning of the text is to the contrary.

            It is really hard to explain such things to Bible-thumping literalists who emphasize "the plain and ordinary meaning of the text," i.e., "naive literalism."

            the only reason to write a piece like this is because you are smart enough to recognize that the evidence for the plain reading of Genesis being wrong is overwhelming.

            Actually, the reason was to show that Coyne was wrong to say that the two were impossible to reconcile. That is only the case for those who read with remorselessly naive literalism, like atheists and fundies. Consider the following:
            http://www3.nd.edu/~afreddos/papers/kemp-monogenism.pdf
            http://thomism.wordpress.com/2010/06/23/mere-monogenism-and-adam-and-eve/

            But consider what Augustine wrote a millennium and a half ago:
            "In all the sacred books, we should consider the eternal truths that are taught, the facts that are narrated, the future events that are predicted, and the precepts or counsels that are given. In the case of a narrative of events, the question arises as to whether everything must be taken according to the figurative sense only, or whether it must be expounded and defended also as a faithful record of what happened. No Christian will dare say that the narrative must not be taken in a figurative sense. ... If, then, Scripture is to be explained under both aspects, what meaning other than the allegorical have the words:" etc. etc.

            This adds nothing to our actual understanding of origins, and does violence to a reasonable interpretation of the text.

            Keep in mind that the text was not intended as a scientific treatise on human origins, but rather a mythic account of humanity's fallen nature. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle agreed on humanity's propensity toward sin. The Buddha, too. And none of them were familiar with the text of Genesis. The key item in the narrative is the turning away from the Good, not the origin of species.

            The interpretation of the text is best left to those specializing in ancient languages and exegesis. The idea that a Late Modern American reading a trendy English translation of a document written by another people in another language in another era -- especially an era when the technical specification was not a known genre of writing -- is ludicrous.

            The notion that people who had no reason to believe otherwise took the text as naively literal is no big deal, either.

            All you are really saying is that the Bible is mythical where it conflicts with science, poetry when it conflicts with itself, accurate when it does not, and provides filler for our gaps in knowledge.

            Nope.
            It is mythic when it is written in the mythic style, employing the tropes of myth: stories that a culture uses to explain itself to itself. They are typically marked by larger-than-life "culture heroes" implementing cultural institutions, like agriculture, sheep-herding, whatever is important to that culture.
            (Along these lines the book Oral Tradition as History by Jan Vansina is useful, as it notes the distinctions in a variety of cultures across the globe. http://www.amazon.com/Oral-Tradition-History-Jan-Vansina/dp/0299102149)
            It is poetry when it is written in poetic language and style within the context of the culture. In Hebrew, that means parallelism, repetition, hyperbole, and so on. (Note the parallelism and repetition in Gen.1, for example.)
            It was never intended to "fill" "gaps" in our "knowledge." As Augustine wrote (in Contra Faustum manichaeum):
            "In the Gospel we do not read that the Lord said: ‘I send you the Holy Spirit so that He might teach you all about the course of the sun and the moon.’ The Lord wanted to make Christians, not astronomers. You learn at school all the useful things you need to know about nature.”

            I always urge fundamentalists to read
            http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1202.htm
            but of course they seldom do.

          • David Nickol

            The key item in the narrative is the turning away from the Good, not the origin of species.

            Tell that to Pope Pius XII who said:

            When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.

            Or tell it to the authors of the Catechism who said:

            390 The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents.

            Some of what is offered by the Catholic Church as the correct and necessary interpretation of Genesis is not exactly pronouncements of "Bible-thumping literalists," but, on the other hand, does rather sound like the old joke about the works of Shakespeare not having been written by Shakespeare but by someone else of the same name.

            If Genesis is not about the origin of the human species, why do so many Catholics, including Pius XII and the authors of the Catechism, seem to insist that the story of Adam and Eve, while figurative, is nevertheless the story of the two first human beings ("our first parents") who may not have eaten forbidden fruit, but who did something to wreak catastrophe on "the whole of human history"? These kinds of interpretations treat Genesis not so much like a creation and origins story in figurative language, but like a roman à clef. Their names have been change, the setting has been changed, exactly what they did has been changed, but nevertheless it is based on true events. We are to assume in basic outline the story is true—the first two human individuals, "our first parents," committed some offense that every human being must live with the consequences of.

            I think it is absolutely true that sometimes atheists and other critics of religion read the Bible as literally as fundamentalists, if not sometimes more so. But I think that in the case of the story of Adam and Eve, Pius XII and the Catechism might just as well accept the story at face value. Once they wring the essential meaning out of the figurative language, they still have "first parents," the first two people in the world, who commit a sin that affects all their descendents, that is to say, the entire human race.

            Here's a question: Do you actually believe the entire human race descended from two people, our "first parents," who were at first destined to be immortal, who had "preternatural gifts," who committed some kind of offense for which they were punished, and the consequences of whose actions we all suffer for today?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            There is discussion of the matter here:
            http://www3.nd.edu/~afreddos/papers/kemp-monogenism.pdf

            Note the expression "true men" in the encyclical you quote.

  • David Nickol

    So let us default to the sapiens/loquens mutation appearing first in one
    man and then gradually spreading through a population and, following
    tradition, let's call him Adam.

    This would appear to be a materialist explanation for abstract thought arising in human evolution.

    It appears to say that a mutation occurred in one individual (Adam), which made that individual capable of abstract thought. And then God chose that individual as the first to receive a spiritual soul. And at about the same time, the same mutation occurred in Eve, and she was given a spiritual soul as well. This is exactly backwards from what the Church (and all who reject materialism) teaches. It is not that the first humans were chosen to receive souls because they were capable of rational thought. It is that the first humans were capable of rational thought because they were given souls.

    In order to salvage this theory (and I see no reason why anyone would try) as having something to do with evolution, it seems to me it would have to be posited that the mutation that took place was a bodily change that would not only allow the human body to function in union with a soul, but would make the human body dependent on the soul for survival. According to the Catechism, death occurs when the soul separates from the body. It would seem only logical to conclude that the body is dependent on the soul in order to live. So this "mutation" both accommodated and required a soul.

    If we go with the original concept—the mutation that makes "sapience" possible, there is no compelling reason why spiritual soul needed to be infused until the mutation had spread throughout the population, which would all then be capable of abstract, rational thought. Then, at least, if two of the group received spiritual souls, it would not have been necessary for their offspring (also with souls) to breed with animals incapable of rational, abstract thought.

  • Michael Murray

    Can we just clarify for the sake of the record that apes means "gibbons, orangutans, gorillas and chimps". The nearest of these "cousins" to humans is chimps with whom we shared a common ancestor some 6-8 million years ago. I assume the author is aware of all this and not committing the creationist howler of thinking humans descended from apes. It would be clearer to write something like "pre-human" and "human".

    As for "sapience" I see no reason to think it happened in one generation or was restricted to homo sapiens. Regardless of the name implying that. I'm not even sure exactly what it means. It could be rationality, speech, abstract thought, morality, altruism, awareness of mortality, first artwork or something else. It seems quite likely Neanderthals where aware of their mortality and hoped for an afterlife and they buried their dead with rouge. Monkeys and other primates demonstrate some notions of morality. Perhaps it had something to do with the "great leap forward" if that really happened.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Behavioral_modernity

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Rather than coin a word like "sapient" and then wool over what it might mean, why not devise a concept and give it a word like "sapient"? The definition of human as "a rational animal" was predicated on existing words in the Greek language, rendered in Latin as Naturæ rationalis individua substantia.
      This need not include "morality" or "altruism" or "awareness of mortality." But you cannot have religion, art, or language without abstract thinking, so these are useful markers.

    • Ant Allan

      ‘Can we just clarify for the sake of the record that apes means "gibbons, orang-utans, gorillas and chimps".’

      No, because “apes” means, “gibbons, orang-utans, gorillas, humans, chimpanzees and bonobos,” given canonical monophyletic groupings.

      ‘the creationist howler of thinking humans descended from apes’

      While humans are not defended from (other) modern apes, the common ancestor of humans, chimps and bonobos was certainly recognisable as an ape, probably rather similar to proto-gorillas, with which it shared a common ancestor. Ditto all the way back to the common ancestor of gibbons and great apes.

      /@

      • Michael Murray

        Thanks. I don't mind putting humans in with apes but it's not what wikipedia does

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ape

        which did surprise me. But they do put humans in Great Apes

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_ape

        They also put common chimpanzees and bonobos into chimpanzees.

        But my main point was that whenever rationality, language etc arrived for humans (maybe 200,000 years ago) it was a long time after the split with chimps (around 6-8 million years) so apes is a silly descriptor for pre-rational humans.

        • Ant Allan

          Because Wikipedia is the last word on evolutionary biology and cladistics … ;-)

          “apes is a silly descriptor for pre-rational humans”

          Not at all. Humans are rational apes.

          Depending on your definition of “rational” other apes may be rational too. Problem-solving ability is one criterion you might use — but that extends rationality to some birds (corvids, psittacines) and molluscs (octopodes) too!

          Maybe our distinction is being philosophical apes.

          /@

        • Agni Ashwin

          So pre-rational humans evolved from apes?

          • Michael Murray

            It depends what you mean by an ape ?

    • Ant Allan

      *not descended

      • Michael Murray

        You can edit ?

        • Ant Allan

          I didn’t! Thx.

          /@

  • Moussa Taouk

    For some reason I kept thinking of G.K.Chesterton while reading that article. Maybe the shadows of "The Everlasting Man" were reflected by the idea of the article. And what is that idea? The idea as I understand it is that one should not over-extend the findings of science into drawing the conclusion that those findings don't allow for the validity of God's existence or the truths of the Catholic faith.

    Thank you Mr Flynn. I enjoyed reading that article a whole lot. I look forward to Catholics being at peace with regards to the account of Genesis and the teachings of the Catholic Church. I particularly liked the analogy of the light bulb representing sapience.

    • Michael Murray

      I particularly liked the analogy of the light bulb representing sapience.

      Better to give the light a dimmer switch though. Then you can turn it up slowly: zero photons, one photon, two photons, three photons .... That would be analogous to how evolution slowly turned up the brightness of rationality in early humans.

      • Moussa Taouk

        "Better to give the light a dimmer switch though."

        I don't know, Michael. It doesn't seem to make sense. There must have been a first:
        There must have been a first time when someone looked at the stars and breathed a sigh of wonder. A full, deep sigh of wonder.
        There must have been a first time when someone took up some clay and painted an image on a wall.
        A first time when someone contemplated how he looks like (they had no mirrors at that time I guess).
        A first time when someone saw lightning, and imagined that there is a power beyond what he can know.
        A first time when a man uttered the (evuivalent of) the words: "I AM".

        There may well have been gradual things leading up to those events. But the completion of those pre-sapient events (I hope I'm using "sapience" in the correct way) in the actual occurence of THE sapient events is something radically different. I can't imagine it. Obviously I could be wrong, but it seems to make sense to me that there had to be a first.

        • Michael Murray

          It doesn't make sense to me. Look at how much we differ now in our ability to appreciate art, understand abstract mathematics, write beautiful poetry, do Nobel Prize winning science, etc, etc. There was no moment we all "got it" because many of us still haven't "got it".

          • Moussa Taouk

            The difference between my sheep (or the smartest dolphin) and me is orders of magnitude greater than the difference between me and Einstein. (Although... sometimes I'm a bit like a little lost sheep - Haha). Here I call on the expert philosophers for the correct terminology etc. But I believe one is a difference in "kind" the other is a difference in "extent" or "potential".

            Man, that coffee must've tasted good (re. your picture). That's a pretty big cup!

          • Michael Murray

            I don't see what that proves though. It's still a distribution of abilities amongst humans. So that distribution has moved over time so that it is completely disjoint from the distribution of abilities in sheep. That doesn't mean it couldn't have got there slowly by evolution.

            There was a time when we didn't stand on two legs. Doesn't mean one day some pre-human just stood up and went for a jog and from then on we all did.

            Yes coffee shop in Glasgow. They got a bit carried away. But I had jet lag so it was a good thing.

          • Geoffrey Miller

            Most modern histories of mankind begin with the word evolution, and with a rather wordy exposition of evolution...There is something slow and soothing and gradual about the word and even about the idea. As a matter of fact it is not, touching these primary things, a very practical word or a very profitable idea. Nobody can imagine how nothing could turn into something. Nobody can get an inch nearer to it by explaining how something could turn into something else. It is really far more logical to start by saying 'In the beginning God created heaven and earth' even if you only mean 'In the beginning some unthinkable power began some unthinkable process.' For God is by its nature a name of mystery, and nobody ever supposed that man could imagine how a world was created any more than he could create one. But evolution really is mistaken for explanation. It has the fatal quality of leaving on many minds the impression that they do understand it and everything else; just as many of them live under a sort of illusion that they have read the Origin of Species.

            But this notion of something smooth and slow like the ascent of a slope, is a great part of the illusion. It is an illogicality as well as an illusion; for slowness has really nothing to do with the question. An event is not any more intrinsically intelligible or unintelligible because of the pace at which it moves. For a man who does not believe in a miracle, a slow miracle would be just as incredible as a swift one. The Greek witch may have turned sailors to swine with a stroke of the wand. But to see a naval gentleman of our acquaintance looking a little more like a pig every day, till he ended with four trotters and a curly tail would not be any more soothing. It might be rather more creepy and uncanny. The medieval wizard may have flown through the air from the top of a tower; but to see an old gentleman walking through the air in a leisurely and lounging manner, would still seem to call for some explanation. Yet there runs through all the rationalistic treatment of history this curious and confused idea that difficulty is avoided or even mystery eliminated, by dwelling on mere delay or on something dilatory in the processes of things. There will be something to be said upon particular examples elsewhere; the question here is the false atmosphere of facility and ease given by the mere suggestion of going slow; the sort of comfort that might be given to a nervous old woman traveling for the first time in a motor-car.
            —G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man

          • David Nickol

            How could someone I have always assumed was highly intelligent be so profoundly mistaken about a concept that really is not all that difficult to grasp?

            By the way, people believed in evolution well before Darwin published The Origin of Species. Darwin's momentous insight was that the mechanism of evolution was natural selection.

            Chesterton seems to base his thinking on the notion of "kinds." Wolves are things of one "kind" and dogs are things of another "kind," and one "kind" cannot be changed into another "kind." But of course that is nonsense, and dogs are descended from wolves just as humans are descended from earlier primates.

          • Moussa Taouk

            You said:

            Look at how much we differ now in our ability to appreciate art, understand abstract mathematics, write beautiful poetry, do Nobel Prize winning science, etc, etc.

            What I was trying to say by comparing myself to Einstein is that the difference in the appreciation of art between a human in Ancient Mesopotamia (or some older society) and a human now is negligible compared to animal-human difference.

            Maybe I'm misreading what you mean when you say "look how much we differe now". What do you mean? Now compared to when? I suggest that compared to any time you can identify a human being in history, the difference is minor. It's just that now we have the accumulation of information at our disposal.

            I thought your human going for a jog was pretty funny. Haha. Maybe he did, maybe he didn't. I'll never know. I'm betting that there was a first time when a creature ran from his enemy without using his hands... a trait he might have taught to his friends/offspring.

            I'm not evolutionary scientist, but I understand that there is now a greater acknowledgement that genetic changes happene in step changes rather than miniscule changes. i.e. light bulb lights up at a point in time ;)

  • Loreen Lee

    I read somewhere that what is definitive of the human species, unlike other sentient beings, is that we can be described as the only sentient creature that can be represented as following: the species is in the individual and the individual is in the species. Thus, although I am in accord with the historical parameters of this article which conform to the importance of history with respect to biblical texts, generally, can we also not regard Adam, and Eve! as a definitive primarily description of what makes man, man, be this the ability to abstract, or to develop within a normative context. This may raise difficulties if we regard Jesus as the new Adam, and thus are forced back into the problem of the relation of a possible individual to species within an historical context.

  • Consequently, what Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice were up to with Lilith among the 10,000 makes no difference, doctrine-wise. ...

    You referenced Trent, but why didn't you bother to reference the primary dogmatic document on this specific topic, Humani Generis?

    "When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents." (issued by Pius XII in 1950)

  • Now, by "literal truth" Coyne undoubtedly intended "literal fact," since a thing may be true without being fact, and a fact has no truth value in itself.

    That's a curious position to stake out, particularly as you didn't bother to justify or make use of the verbal quibbling, except perhaps as an attempt to condescend against Coyne. Most people either don't bother to distinguish the two (because they intend only to rely on true facts) or use the scientific sense in which facts are the kind of truths that are based on direct observation. It's a safe bet that Coyne intended the scientific sense, and in that sense the Adam and Eve myth can't be fact because the story is not based on observation. Of course it could still be true, which would just mean that the story actually happened.

    I do not know Dr. Coyne's bona fides for drawing doctrinal conclusions or for interpreting scriptures...

    Ah, yes. Definitely condescending. I know it's the established way of things here at SN, but really, it isn't required that apologetics articles attack atheists themselves. If Catholics have good reasons to believe, they should be able to limit the articles to the evidence and arguments.

    ...human specialness (whatever he means by that). I never heard of such a doctrine...

    You could use Google. CCC1951, quoting Tertullian: "Alone among all animate beings, man can boast of having been counted worthy to receive a law from God: as an animal endowed with reason, capable of understanding and discernment, he is to govern his conduct by using his freedom and reason, in obedience to the One who has entrusted everything to him."

    ... If you think of a surname as an inherited characteristic from the father, it is easy to see how a group of people may have a common ancestor without having only one ancestor.

    OK, that paragraph was entirely unnecessary cutesy snark. It's a ridiculous misunderstanding of the topic at hand. Playing word games to escape addressing a difficulty is not the same as addressing the difficulty.

    Dr. Coyne believes the mathematical requirement of a population numbering 10,000 somehow refutes the possibility that there were [only] two. But clearly, where there are 10,000 there are [only] two, many times over.

    Where there are 10,000, there are not only two. Here's another reason to think you're just trying to get in digs, and not trying to be internally coherent in your argument, as just two paragraphs up you claimed Coyne's argument needed an "only" quantifier, yet here you drop conveniently dropped it.

    At one time, the possibility that Adam's father was a lump of clay was the cutting edge of science.

    Of course that was never science. Let's not kid ourselves anymore that Flynn is presenting a serious contribution in this article.

    When a man dies, his body corrupts, and becomes...red clay.

    Uh, no, that's not what happens. Such unconcern for facts (or truths) is problematic.

    Darwin tells us that at some point an ape that was not quite a man gave birth to a man that was no longer quite an ape.

    Darwin didn't say that. More importantly, evolution doesn't say that. We're still apes.

    He had the capacity for rational thought; that is, to reflect on sensory perceptions and abstract universal concepts. ... Poetically, we might say that a God "breathed" a rational soul into a being that had previously been little more than "red clay." How long after the red-clay man was formed was the rational soul breathed in? The texts do not say.

    OK, so in order to avoid a falsification of traditional doctrine, you're proposing an evolutionary scenario and not providing any evidence whatsoever, but just trying to pattern-match it to some speculations of a few ancient theologians. That is a spectacular example of wishful thinking.

    Furthermore, we have mountains of evidence against it. Mammals rat-and-higher solve puzzles requiring abstract thought, as do octopusses and many birds.

    Theoretically, there's nothing especially different about abstract thought versus concrete thought. Neural networks are great at learning and responding to abstract patterns of sensory information.

    There is an argument similar to Zeno's Paradox of Dichotomy that holds that sapient man arose by slow, gradual increments. That is, arguing from the continuum rather than from the quanta. Now, "a little bit sapient" is like "a little bit pregnant."

    Yeah, pretty much everything that's alive is at least a little bit sapient. Even some single-celled organisms have evolved subtle, complex, strategic multi-stage responses to noxious stimuli. The more cells there are working in concert, the more they tend to be capable of acting with appropriate judgment.

    Since you're a science fiction author by trade, perhaps you meant "sapience" as the sci-fi equivalent of philosophy's "personhood". For me there's no difference; I think animal rights proportioned to their capacities are morally correct. That's not a settled matter, though, and there are plenty of atheists who think personhood is a qualitative rather than quantitative change and that therefore there is a sharp change in moral value between animals and humans rather than a gradual one.

    It is not clear how Dr. Coyne envisions the same sapient mutation arising simultaneously in 10,000 ape-men.

    As has been pointed out elsewhere in the comments, Coyne envisions no such thing. Later when speculating about Eve, you point out that "Sometimes an environmental cue is required to activate a gene" already present in a population, so clearly this objection to Coyne was fake.

    So let us default to the sapiens/loquens mutation appearing first in one man and then gradually spreading through a population and, following tradition, let's call him Adam.

    Suppose we were to grant that your proposed evolutionary scenario made sense. It's worth pointing out that the fact that you specify the first was a male rather than a female. In terms of probability theory, every additional detail weighs against a theory, and this one alone cuts its subjective probability in half. You didn't have any evidence for this scenario in the first place, and specifying a male first means owing 1 more bit in evidential debt, i.e. being 1 bit of evidence farther from being rationally justified. I wanted to highlight that here, but the same happens with every such ad hoc detail.

    This in no way contradicts the existence of 9,999 other ape-men with whom Adam is interfertile. ... Consequently, what Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice were up to with Lilith among the 10,000 makes no difference, doctrine-wise.

    Except for Pius XII's teaching in Humani Generis that Catholics may not believe there were any humans after Adam for whom Adam was not their first parent.

    It is the difference between knowing this bright red crunchy apple perceived by the senses and knowing about "apple" conceived by reflection of the intellect on the many individual apples of experience.

    Neural networks handle both with great ease.

    we might imagine Adam ... suddenly utters the hunting cry that signifies "bison here!"—a cry that is in principle no different from those made by other animals ... But Adam has done something different. He has used the sign as a symbol, one that refers to the bison-that-is-not-here-but-remembered.

    There would be no real difference in that distinction. It was a symbol before and it's still a symbol. Hebbian learning by neural networks goes both ways, so that if seeing bison triggers the hunting cry, the hunting cry similarly triggers thoughts of bison. Dogs commonly understand a few words, and Koko the gorilla understands maybe a couple thousand.

    He has become sapient and has invented grammar.

    Grammar isn't in individual words. There's some evidence linking grammar to the FOXP2 gene, which is shared by many animals besides humans.

    Like any animal, the red-clay ape-men were innocent. They lived, hunted, ate, mated, and died, pretty much in that order. What was good was what perfected their ape-manliness; but they did not know it was good.

    Dogs and other animals can feel guilt and pride, by the way. There's no need to suppose something changed between humans and pre-humans about our moral senses.

    So death came into the world—not as fact, but as truth. Animals die in fact, but they do not know that they will. They live, as it were, one day at a time; and then one day they don't.

    Yet again, you didn't offer any evidence for this claim. From what I can tell Googling around, the truth is that we don't know yet which animals understand death and what they think of it. This is something that we'll have to do science and gather evidence about before we can claim to know the answer.

    There's something broken in how religious apologists are approaching reality when they don't have the curiosity to Google first and proclaim a truth about the world second.

    That is why it is not a good idea to get too chummy with science, since you never know when she'll pack up her bags and leave you holding the bills.

    I'm glad you concluded with sentence, because it is an excellent summary of what went so drastically wrong in your thinking to produce this article. Naturalist and other atheist readers take precisely the opposite lesson. You've shown why it's a good idea to keep up with science but not get attached to religious doctrine, since you never know when science will progress to better things and religion will be stuck behind with debts it's incapable of paying.

    • Michael Murray

      A fine example of why it is the comments that attract me here not the articles ! Thanks.

    • The Ubiquitous

      Throughout the fisking, I don't think you grok exactly what he was getting at with any of his points. To take a random example, it's clear that in citing the ancient idea of "red clay" being the end of a dead man's body he's appealing to appearances, and the Bible --- the Old Testament in particular --- is written in the language of appearances. It appears that man becomes red clay, and so that's why it's used as a image to describe the reality of decomposition and returning to our component elements. The point is not whether red clay is actually our end but that our end is an end back to where we came. Or, to quote the very same essay, which you yourself quoted:

      Poetically, we might say that a God "breathed" a rational soul into a being that had previously been little more than "red clay."

      So far as the libel regarding M. Flynn's ideas about science, please note he is a science fiction author, after all, whose novels, especially his middle period, veers towards harder sci-fi. In no sense does he disregard science. He simply does not consider science The Only Epistemology. This is fitting, too, because science by definition cannot know certain things. Looked at another way, to single out science as your only epistemology is to end up applying it where it cannot apply. In fact, to quote this very comment thread:

      That is, if your method of questioning is a hammer, you will discover everything is adequately explained by nails.

      I don't like to downvote, but, unfortunately, fisking as you just did does miss the point of what he's saying. Look along, and not just at, what he's saying.

      • Throughout the fisking, I don't think you grok exactly what he was getting at with any of his points.

        He's not that bad of a writer, so I don't buy it. I think he got his ideas across rather well, and that they're just irresponsibly formed ideas.

        To take a random example, it's clear that in citing the ancient idea of "red clay" being the end of a dead man's body he's appealing to appearances

        You might have a point if dead bodies looked like red clay. They don't.

        The point is not whether red clay is actually our end but that our end is an end back to where we came.

        That's a common theological point made from the Biblical text. It's not a point Flynn was making. In the relevant paragraphs he says that early observers would have noticed literal decayed bodies literally looking like red clay, and that for this reason the myth of Adam and Eve was a bit like science for those early observers.

        In no sense does he disregard science. He simply does not consider science The Only Epistemology.

        He disregards it in at least the senses of the thirteen examples I gave from his article where he disregarded it.

  • Brain Kelly

    If the figurative flows from the literal then the literal is not to be dismissed where it is clear and the terms understandable in the literal sense. A day did not mean 24 hours, but it did mean a duration called evening and morning before there was a sun rise. There was nevertheless a light and a darkness in the universe. This of course is a mystery as the first day existed before there is mention of any known thing illuminated or giving illumination. However, when it comes to Adam and Eve the language of creation is simple and clear. And there was a tree of life and a tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A mystery, yes, but real trees. This is much easier to believe than any sophistical speculations. Also, the defect in the semen was in the seed of Adam passed on. The soul is created directly by God and has no defect as to nature. But as to grace it does!! For original sin is not concupiscence (that remains after original sin is wiped out in baptism) but, as St. Thomas taught, it is the absence of sanctfying grace. There was never a state of nature, but a state of supernature and a fallen state.

  • Hitchhiker

    Ye Olde Statistician,

    Do only rational souls have personhood? This conversation has shaken my theological belief that only humans, angels, and God can refer to themselves as "I." You stated sensitive souls have emotions. Does that mean animals can say, "That hurts me," or "I feel pain?" If so, do animals have personhood?

    • David Nickol

      Let me append some questions of my own for Ye Olde Statistician (or anyone else who wants to tackle them). Are all living things except human beings simply organic machines or automatons? Is an emotional attachment (often very much like love, if not truly love) to, say, a dog appropriate, or is a dog essentially just a very complex organic automaton? Do animals make free choices? Do they have free will?

  • Javier Sánchez

    Perdonen que escriba en español; entiendo el inglés pero no lo escribo todo lo bien que me gustaría.

    He disfrutado mucho leyendo el artículo. Es tremendamente divertido y, sinceramente, cuenta las cosas con mucha claridad.