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St. Christopher, ET, and the Middle Ages

DogHead

It has long been held that the medievals would have been terrified of aliens, regarded them as "demons," and otherwise persecuted them in their religious ignorance and fanaticism, while we wise moderns would recognize them as intelligent and equivalent to humans, deserving of the same consideration as humans. The latter is a self-flattering mythos, but likely no more true than the former.

For illumination, we might turn to the well-known science-fiction novel, Eifelheim, but this too may be regarded as self-flattering. Besides, I have it on good authority that the author made it all up; so it can be seen as begging the question.

So let us turn to the story of Ratramus and the Dog-Heads (h/t James Hannam)

In his Encyclopedia, Pliny quotes from Megasthenes’ Indica regarding alien creatures living in India:

"Megasthenes writes that on different mountains in India there are tribes of men with dog shaped heads, armed with claws, clothed with skins, who speak not in the accents of human language, but only bark and have fierce grinning jaws.....Those who live near the source of the Ganges, requiring nothing in the shape of food, subsist on the odour of wild apples, and when they go on a long journey, they carry these with them for safety of their life by inhaling their perfume..Should they inhale air, death is inevitable."

The Dog-Heads were not the only aliens the medievals believed in. There were also the Monopods, the cyclops, the centaurs, men with eyes in their torsos, full hermaphrodite, and so on.

A Greek physician named Ctesias wrote:

"In the mountains dwell men who have the head of a dog; they wear skins of wild beasts as clothing, and they speak no language, but bark like dogs, and in this way understand one another’s speech. They have teeth bigger than a dog’s...they understand the speech of the Indians, but cannot respond to them; instead they bark and signal with their hands and fingers, as do mutes."
 
"All of them, men and women, have a tail above their hips, like a dog’s except bigger and smoother. They have intercourse with their wives on all fours like dogs, and consider any other form of intercourse to be shameful. They are just, and the longest lived of any human race; for they get to be 160, sometimes 200 years of age."

The existence of alien beings became popular in the medieval period. Sometimes they were used to frighten people (a la The Blob or Earth Versus the Flying Saucers) and sometimes they were used to illustrate virtues (ET: The Extraterrestrial) or vices (the Ferengi in Star Trek:The Next Generation). According to a Welsh poem, King Arthur fought with the creatures:

"On the mountain of Edinburgh; He fought with dog-heads; By the hundred they fell."

The story of St. Christopher from Ireland describes him thusly:

"Now this Christopher was one of the Dogheads, a race that had the heads of dogs and ate human flesh. He meditated much on God, but at that time he could speak only the language of the Dogheads. When he saw how much the Christians suffered he was indignant and left the city. He began to adore God and prayed. 'Almighty God,' he said, 'give me the gift of speech, open my mouth, and make plain thy might that those who persecute thy people may be converted.' An angel of God came to him and said: 'God has heard your prayer.' The angel raised Christopher from the ground, and struck and blew upon his mouth, and the grace of eloquence was given him as he had desired."

St Christopher was baptized and abjured his erstwhile human-eating. As a result he gained human appearance before getting martyred. Pay attention to that last: As a result of baptism, he "gained human appearance."

A 9th century churchman called Rimbert – later archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen – was planning to leave on a missionary journey to the northern reaches of Scandinavia. To prepare for his journey he wrote to Ratramnus, a monk of Corbie in Picardy, asking for information regarding the dog-heads, whom he thought he might encounter. According to a dossier Rimbert had put together, the dog-heads lived in villages, practiced agriculture, and domesticated animals. In response Ratramnus wrote his Epistola de Cynocephalis addressing the question of whether the dog-heads were "worthy of evangelism." The issue hinged on whether the mysterious creatures could be considered rational. (You may recall that in Eifelheim, Dietrich has a similar conversation with his old teacher Willi, a canon of Freiburg. If you don't recall this, that means you have not read the book, and you should rectify this error immediately and without hesitation.)

Ratramnus begins by describing the Dog-Heads' manner of speaking:

"...the form of their heads and their canine barking shows that they are similar not to humans but to animals. In fact, the heads of humans are on top and round in order for them to see the heavens, while those of dogs are long and drawn out in a snout so that they can look at the ground. And humans speak, while dogs bark."

And yet, "despite their appearance," Rimbert's information clearly depicts them as capable of domesticating animals:

"‘I do not see’ wrote Ratramnus, ‘how this could be so if they had an animal and not a rational soul’ since the living things of the earth were subjected to men by heaven, as we know from having read Genesis. But it has never been heard or believed that animals of one kind can by themselves take care of other animals, especially those of a domestic kind, keep them, compel them to submit to their rule, and follow regular routines."

Ratramnus pointed to the way in which the dog-heads ‘keep the rules of society’ and recognized the rule of law. ‘There cannot be any law, which common descent has not decreed. But such cannot be established or kept without the discipline of morality’. Unlike Ctesias’s dog-heads, Rimbert’s report stated that they covered their genitalia. Ratramnus interpreted this as a sign of decency and these and others attributes convinced him they were human; in any case, St Christopher had once been one and converted.

Hence, Ratramnus concluded that the dog-heads were degenerated descendants of Adam, although the Church generally classed them with beasts. They may even receive baptism by being rained upon.

Here Ratramnus was following in the footsteps of Augustine of Hippo, who had written that if the monstrous races do exist, they were created according to God’s will and, if they are human and descended from Adam, they must be capable of salvation. This would extend the Churches missionary obligation to the farthest flung parts of the earth and make ‘monstrous missionising’ a necessary fulfilment of Christ’s charge.

Before we chuckle too much at medieval beliefs, keep in mind that their cosmology impeded their ability to think of these aliens as living on other planets, where we sophisticated moderns imagine our own "dog-heads" to dwell. At least the medievals had "travelers' tales" to fall back on. They could reasonably believe that someone had been "out there" and brought back reports. And they never suffered from the defect of thinking that allowed moderns to seriously debate whether Africans or Amerinds had souls or even (when Darwinism informed the discourse) whether they were of the same species. When a medieval said that the Dog-Heads were "degenerated descendants of Adam," they had in mind that they were rational beings, not that they belonged to a biological species, although "common descent" is implicit in it.

Which brings us back to "St Christopher the Dog-Head." Why was it that no ones seemed to be any more outraged that a Dog-Head could be baptized and become a saint than that, say, a Krenk in Eifelheim could be so? The key is this: As a result of baptism, he gained human appearance. Church doctrine was that the soul was the substantive form of the human body. And the soul of a human was defined as a "rational soul," one possessing intellect [abstract reasoning] and will [appetite/desire for abstract concepts]. This is the "human form" or appearance, the "image" in which humans were said to have been made.  Thus, while there was a clear distinction between humans and other animals, this was based on rationality.  Any race of creatures which displayed rationality– as the Dog-Heads did in keeping a code of laws, showing dominion over other animals, etc.– would be regarded as the equivalent of human beings.  In consequence, Church teaching has not changed in this regard, as Brother Guy Consolmagno, the Vatican astronomer, points out in this article: "Would You Baptize An Extraterrestrial?"

The Franciscan friar, John de Marignollis, travelled to the Far East in the 1330s and, in the spirit of true medieval empiricism, looked for "the monstrous races the ancients had spoken of." He asked the Indians about the existence of the dog-heads. They answered, "we thought they lived where you came from."

Alas, like today's aliens from other planets, the Dog-Heads always seem to live "somewhere else." I did not know the story of "St. Christopher the Dog-Head" or Ratramnus' reply to Rimbert when I wrote the original Eifelheim, lo these many years ago; but there is a certain uncanny similarity in the stories.
 
 
(Image credit: Flickr)

Michael F. Flynn

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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.

  • Thank you for expressing this theology. I suppose the underlying question here is, if it were found that sapient beings exist that could not have been blood relatives of human beings, would they be evidence against the existence of the God pursuant to Catholic theology.

    Unsurprisingly, we have here an approach that suggests scripture and tradition could be interpreted as to be consistent with such facts.

    I suppose that the idea is that God would not have created sapient being that could not be saved? Therefore it is not the biological lineage from Adam that counts, but the attributes of abstract thought and domestication of animals.

    This seems at odds with the apologetics that attempt to reconcile the evolution of humans over millions of years and the fact that humans never went below a few thousand members, with the Genesis account that there was a time with only one or two humans. I'm talking of the apologetic that suggests there were many humans as evolution has demonstrated, but only two were "ensouled" and all present humans are their descendants. Why would such an apologetic be necessary if original sin or being in Gods image, did not originate with Adam but is a function of our cognitive abilities?

    Catholics will interpret and revise their interpretations to fit the findings of science, never the other way round. For atheists this issue is of no concern because we have no such theology to reconcile with science or the discovery of extra terrestrials.

    • Peter

      On the contrary. I believe that the discovery of rational extraterrestrials will be an infinitely greater blow to atheism than to theism. It will reveal a universe which is not a hostile, meaningless and indifferent place where life is a one-off freak occurrence, but one which is configured from the outset to be fruitful and fertile for the widespread creation of intelligent life and consciousness.

      This indicates purpose, a reason for the universe's existence, which denotes intent. Where there is intent there is will, and where there is will there is a mind, a supreme mind, which exercises that will.

      • That depends on how prevalent life is in the cosmos. Even if every planet that existed were teeming with life, the vast, vast majority of the universe would be utterly inhospitable to life as we know it. I am talking far less than a thousandth of a percent. But only one of our planets has been show to have life. There is a slight hope for a bit more. Most of the planets we have discovered around other stars are inhospitable.

        I think further exploration of Mars and the moons of our solar system will be indicative. Some meet many of the prerequisites for life. Especially water. If they have no evidence of life, or of no intelligent life, what would this entail? To me it suggest that there is no designer tweaking the natural variable to make suitable habitat for life. Rather, the cosmos unfolds according to natural principles, not artificial ones.

        • Peter

          The entire earth's biomass is less than a billionth of the planet's mass, and the overwhelming mass of earth - its core - is utterly inhospitable to life, yet earth is considered a haven for living things. The inhospitableness argument of the universe therefore does not hold.

          Finally, a designer would have no need to artificially tweak or manipulate any variables to produce life, but simply to design natural principles from the start.

          • I disagree that the earth is considered a haven for life, as you say it is mostly inhospitable. It is even less hospitable for humans. Even if we look to the surface only, most of this is water, much is desert, high mountains, arctic. The rest is covered with animals and plants that are deadly to us.

            An omnipotent designer would have no need to have much if any areas that are inhospitable. Rather the Ptolemic model of the universe would be much closer to what we would expect. A cosmos creating, laws of nature designing god could have created any number of vast beautiful universes designed for human life. This is simply not what we observe.

            Consider a giant house with thousands of rooms in it. But 99% of the rooms contain deadly traps that will kill humans and virtually all life. Would you say such a house was designed for humanity, or for life?

          • Mike

            i'd say that the fact that there is any life at all seems like a miracle.

          • Peter

            There could be a trillion trillion planets out there in the observable and unobservable universe, each harbouring intelligent life, all of which could be deadly for human life.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            If the universe had had much less mass than it has, it would have expanded into heat death eons ago. That is, the universe is as big as it needs to be to produce an inhabitable planet, whether it is one planet or a gazillion planets.

          • neil_pogi

            the earth is very, very smal ln terms of its size with the universe. how come that the universe' vast size couldn't 'engulf' the earth? other galaxies 'engulf' some galaxies.

            is there 'Someone' else that 'withold' it from threats of 'engulfing' it?

        • Mike

          "natural principles, not artificial ones"

          precisely but we just differ on the defns of those.

      • Doug Shaver

        I believe that the discovery of rational extraterrestrials will be an infinitely greater blow to atheism than to theism.

        You can believe it all you want . . . just like lots of Protestants believe a bunch of falsehoods about what the Catholic Church teaches.

        • Peter

          Atheism is a passive position; it's not supposed to teach anything.

          • Doug Shaver

            Exactly. That is why no teaching can contradict it, except for teachings that presuppose God's existence. Since naturalism rejects any presupposition of God's existence, no discovery consistent with naturalism can contradict atheism.

          • Mike

            yeah but only if your defn of nature is so broad it includes well everything we'll ever find.

          • Doug Shaver

            but only if your defn of nature is so broad it includes well everything we'll ever find.

            Mine isn't quite that broad. A disembodied (i.e., immaterial) mind would be inconsistent with nature as I define it. If such a mind is proven to exist, I will no longer accept naturalism.

          • neil_pogi

            why not believe in disembodied mind, and yet atheists believe in a creative power of 'nothing'?

          • Doug Shaver

            yet atheists believe in a creative power of 'nothing'?

            I have told you several times that I do not believe in any such thing. You are obviously paying no attention whatsoever to anything anybody here says to you.

          • neil_pogi

            that's why i use 'atheists' and not 'you'..

            in general, atheists believe that, and i don't know why, you alone, doesn't believe that. or you may say that atheists are not organized!

          • Doug Shaver

            that's why i use 'atheists' and not 'you'..

            When you say "Atheists believe X," the existence of any atheists who don't believe X contradicts what you say.

            in general, atheists believe that

            That's how you should have said it the first time.

            i don't know why, you alone, doesn't believe that.

            I am not alone. I have learned what other atheists believe by reading what they themselves have said about their beliefs. None of them has told me that they believe what you say they believe.

            you may say that atheists are not organized!

            A few of us are. Most of us are not.

          • neil_pogi

            then tell your Krauss and other prominent atheist scientists that their theory about 'nothing' is incorrect! now, only atheists who don't believe in a creative power of 'nothing' versus atheists that do believe in a creative power of 'nothing' are now in conflict. theists are just watching them fight to their 'last breath'

          • Doug Shaver

            then tell your Krauss and other prominent atheist scientists that their theory about 'nothing' is incorrect!

            What would be the point? They don't have to answer to me any more than I have to answer to them.

          • neil_pogi

            why not just accept their 'scientific' theory that a 'nothing' created the universe?

          • Doug Shaver

            That is not their theory. That is how you are representing their theory. It is a misrepresentation.

            [Edited for typo.]

          • neil_pogi

            ok.. so be it.

            but they remain atheism

          • Mike

            but even your mind is not material and yet you do not reject naturalism.

          • Doug Shaver

            I was referring to a mind that existed independently of anything material. My mind cannot exist independently of my material brain.

          • Mike

            you're begging the question again.

            your mind is definitely not material and neither is the number 45 or the notion of Justice.

            when your body dies not all of you dies.

          • David Nickol

            your mind is definitely not material and neither is the number 45 or the notion of Justice.

            If the number 45 is not material, then what is it? Is it "spiritual," like God? When people go to heaven, will they be able to look upon the number 45?

            When people debate about justice, they may disagree quite dramatically. I am just reading something (not important what) saying various ancient Greeks had different notions of justice. For some, it consisted of equality. For others, it consisted of each person getting what should rightfully belong to him according to his place in society. If justice exists as an objective reality, where do we go to see it and determine whose concept of justice is more nearly correct? Is it in a big hall somewhere with the number 45?

          • Mike

            45 is an abstraction i think but it is definitely not material.

            yes justice is akin to "45" in that it exists as an abstraction based on human nature. so define human nature and reason what is Just given it and what isn't.

            the fact that we can even discuss "justice" is a finger pointing up not down.

          • Doug Shaver

            your mind is definitely not material

            I'm not saying it is.

            when your body dies not all of you dies.

            You say so.

          • Mike

            i say so based on the evidence but we diff on what counts as "real" evidence.

          • Doug Shaver

            we diff on what counts as "real" evidence.

            I wouldn't be at all surprised, but we'll never know until you show me what you consider evidence that I could lose my brain without losing my mind.

          • Mike

            you're begging the q again against my defn of evidence.

            to you only empirical evidence counts. logic metaphysics do not.

            btw apparently there have been cased of ppl born with like 10% of their brains and yet can function and somehow what's left of the brain 'adjusts' - this means 2 thing for sure: that brain is required to an extent but also that mind is not brain.

          • Doug Shaver

            you're begging the q again against my defn of evidence.

            In the first place, I don't recall seeing your definition of evidence, so you're just assuming I would dispute it. In the second place, disputing a definition is not begging the question. Begging the question is a fallacy, and a fallacy is a faulty argument, but definitions are not arguments. If you and I do not agree on what "evidence" means, then there can be no resolution to our disagreement over whether you have any evidence for the existence, possible or actual, of disembodied minds.

          • Peter

            Atheism makes no claims so there is nothing to contradict.

          • neil_pogi

            quote: 'Since naturalism rejects any presupposition of God's existence' - but atheists accept any presupposition of alien's existence. what's the difference between God of the bible, and the aliens of the atheists?

            that the God of the Bible requires moral values?

          • Doug Shaver

            atheists accept any presupposition of alien's existence.

            No, we do not.

          • neil_pogi

            yes you do (panspermia)

          • Doug Shaver

            yes you do

            Not just because you say so. We know what we believe. You do not.

          • neil_pogi

            then tell your scientists that wickramasenghe and other supporters of this 'alien' thing that they are scientifically wrong. they are shameful.

          • Doug Shaver

            then tell your scientists that wickramasenghe and other supporters of this 'alien' thing that they are scientifically wrong.

            You continue to exhibit a monumental ignorance of how science works. The rules of science allow two scientists to disagree without either of them being scientifically wrong.

          • neil_pogi

            then tell me how a 'nothing' created the universe? go on!

          • Doug Shaver

            then tell me how a 'nothing' created the universe?

            Why should I?

          • neil_pogi

            it's because you don't know!

          • Doug Shaver

            The reason I should do something is that I can't do it? That is quite illogical.

          • neil_pogi

            you can't do it, but Krauss and Hawking can!

            FYI, they have earned their physics degrees, and very famous!

          • Peter

            Naturalism proposes a multiverse to explain away the appearance of fine-tuning and design. A multiverse is an infinite array and eternal sequence of universes.

            If an infinity of universes had evolved consciousness over an eternity of time, such consciousness would have achieved perfection. It would have suffused the multiverse and achieved omnipotence and omniscience. The multiverse would have become God.

            The consequence of naturalism rejecting any presupposition of God , by inserting a mutliverse in his place, results in naturalism endorsing the very thing it intends to reject and in consigning atheism to oblivion.

          • Doug Shaver

            Naturalism proposes a multiverse

            No. Some naturalists propose it, but naturalism itself does not. Some Christians teach the doctrine of sola scriptura, but Catholics would not agree that Christianity teaches sola scriptura.

          • Peter

            What explanation does naturalism have for the presence of fine tuning if not a multiverse?

          • Doug Shaver

            Naturalism per se doesn't explain anything. It's just an assumption about what kinds of explanations we should accept. It would be consistent with that assumption for me to deny that what you call fine tuning even needs an explanation.

          • Peter

            How can naturalism reject presuppositions about God if it has no presuppositions of its own?

          • Doug Shaver

            I didn't say it has none. I said that it is an assumption. Any distinction that might be made between an assumption and a presupposition need not concern us at this point of our conversation.

          • Peter

            Ok, what assumption does naturalism make which rejects presuppositions about God?

          • Doug Shaver

            It assumes that the universe is causally closed, that there are no causes other than natural causes.

          • Peter

            I can understand why naturalism would reject any notion of a divine sorcerer magically conjuring up the big bang out of nothing, or of a celestial alchemist lighting the blue touch paper to spark the universe into being.

            But neither of these is God. God does not prevent natural processes, not even an infinite series of natural processes. These are changes, even the big bang is a change, and God does not directly cause changes.

            What God does is instantaneously and at every moment cause natural processes to exist instead of not existing, and these natural processes cause the changes.

            In the sense that reality is based on natural processes that cause changes, and not on magic conjuring tricks or feats of alchemy, I too am a naturalist as I said on another thread.

          • Doug Shaver

            What God does is instantaneously and at every moment cause natural processes to exist instead of not existing, and these natural processes cause the changes.

            In the sense that reality is based on natural processes that cause changes, and not on magic conjuring tricks or feats of alchemy, I too am a naturalist as I said on another thread.

            I don't care to decide who the Real Naturalists are, any more than I care to decide who the Real Christians are. Most of us who call ourselves naturalists think it's a mistake to assume the existence of anything that could "instantaneously and at every moment cause natural processes to exist instead of not existing." If you think we're the ones making the mistake, suit yourself.

          • Peter

            Of course it's more parsimonious to posit natural processes by themselves than natural processes with God behind them. In that case, how do you explain the fine tuning of the universe?

          • Doug Shaver

            In that case, how do you explain the fine tuning of the universe?

            Didn't you already ask me that, and didn't I answer then?

          • Peter

            I don't recall you giving a coherent answer.

          • Doug Shaver

            And I don't recall your saying anything at all in response when it posted it. "That is incoherent" would have been a good counterargument, if you could have defended it.

          • Peter

            Did I not reply that it was simpler to posit a multiverse?

          • Doug Shaver

            That is what you said.

            However, even if it made sense to say that many universes would be simpler than a single universe, it is not the case that an increase in complexity entails a loss of coherence.

    • Mike

      are you saying that if God gave other creatures rational souls and made them "human" that that would mean that they couldn't have sinned (bc adam lived on earth) or just that if they are out there and yet haven't sinned that they continue to enjoy God's grace and preternatural gifts?

      • No I am saying neither of these. I am asking whether it is original sin that we inherited that required Jesus' atonement, or our own individual actions of sin, or one of the above? I suppose that it is still consistent that aliens could be capable of sin, but might not ever sin and require no atonement. Or, that they have their own alien Jesus. Or that they are just damned. Or could human Jesus atone for other blood lines?

        • Mike

          very good qs.

          1. adam's sin NOT individual sin per the Summa so the sin is a special kind not through "fault" but through "lineage" or "descent" or whatever.

          2. aliens only if they are "human" could sin and need "redemption" via JC..i've seen speculation on this in various places.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          a) "Sin" is not to be understood in the same sense as a "crime" or an "infraction." It is a deficiency in a good, or a turning-away.
          b) "Original" sin does not mean the "First infraction." It means the "origin" of sin. Aquinas (and the Buddha) ascribed this to selfishness. That is, it is a deficiency in the human soul that predisposes us toward selfishness.
          c) If an alien species, supposing one to exist, is thus predisposed, then it is subject to the same curse. What provisions have been made for such cases may have to wait to discover if there actually are such cases.

          • David Nickol

            It sounds to me you are giving a "naturalistic" interpretation of Original Sin. But the Catechism says:

            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.

            According to the Catechism, Original Sin was a deed—a fault freely committed by our first parents.

            Also, it is dogma that Original Sin is transmitted from one generation to the next "not by imitation but by propagation."

            A hypothetical alien species could not have human Original Sin, because human nature has not been "transmitted" to them. I do not think it is Catholic teaching that the sin of Adam and Eve has "dragged down" all other intelligent life in the universe (should there be any).

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            So take it up with Aquinas. Original sin being transmitted by propagation is certainly compatible with some genetic factor, say a "selfish gene," and Aquinas considered this. But ultimately he decided that the transmission was by formal cause, not efficient cause. That is, it was transmitted by the nature of man, passed on from generation to generation. And of course, this fault must have been actualized in some deed. So I don't see what your problem is.

          • David Nickol

            And of course, this fault must have been actualized in some deed. So I don't see what your problem is.

            The problem with what you are saying is that you are assuming a fault in Adam and Eve, when they were allegedly created without human faults.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            They were created in a state of innocence, like other animals, incapable of wrong.

          • Phil Rimmer

            Original sin being transmitted by propagation is certainly compatible with some genetic factor, say a "selfish gene,"

            A selfish gene is one that evolves to ensure its own propagation and propagates because it has so evolved. Necessarily all genes are, in this sense, selfish and "about themselves".

            It is entirely because of this that mutuality can emerge. Shared genes will operate in their hosts to their own mutual (and selfish!) benefit. We hosts reap the astonishing rewards of this underwriting mutuality.

            "Selfish Genes" are not how you portray them nor what you need for your argument.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            A selfish gene is one that evolves to ensure its own propagation

            A bit teleological, don't you think?

            I was hypothesizing a gene for selfishness, since it is the fashion to imagine genetic causes for everything. I was not referring to the principle that "survivors survive" however it may be tarted up. Actually, genes are collections of molecules and cannot be selfish any more than a cookie can be angry.

            "The Selfish Gene", Dawkins tried to have it both ways: using "selfish" to mean the Aristotelian principle of acting-for-its-own-sake or to mean the character flaw of a rational being, depending on the rhetorical needs of the moment. This enables one to bask in the glory of selfishness simlpicter, then retreating behind the barera of "it's only a metaphor" when pressed to vigorously by other biologists and logicians.

          • Phil Rimmer

            Nonesense all.

            The telelogical appearance is in your head as you choose to look at it from some start and knowing a current staging post (and imagining it a conclusion!).

            Scientific thinking on these matters is always and necessarily retrospective. What did it take to get to here? Survival needs survivors. No teleology invoked.

            (Dawkins- "We are the lucky ones....")

            "Selfish" was never intended or used as a description, or part description, of a phenotype. Find me the Dawkins quote for it being so and I'll gladly concede. It is a joke idea that a gene may actually be selfish, but to get you to understand it can act only to serve itself never (directly) the host.

            I think you might conceive Simon Baron Cohen's "Zero Degrees of Empathy" the double defecit of empathy of the psychopath as suiting your needs. This is the double whammy of an absence of a visceral empathy (exhibited by some 2% of the population and some Autists) and the additional absence of a rational need for social integration and smooth acceptance and tolerance (exhibited by, say, 1%).

            Given the already resident genes of a pre-social progenitor animal (pre-mammal necessarily), no invention of anti-social genes would be needed just the deletion of our pro-social, mammalian ones.

            Edit to get quantities the right way around at 10 minutes.

          • Mike

            Dude: this "A selfish gene is one that evolves TO ensure its own propagation"

            is NOT teleological? is it just the words that you use that have that mark?

          • Phil Rimmer

            There is no intention to survive.

            Observe, I rephrased for clarity.

          • Mike

            check out this fascinating series on eliminating intention:

            http://edwardfeser.blogspot.ca/2013/08/eliminativism-without-truth-part-i.html

          • Phil Rimmer

            This is very timely for me, Mike. Thanks for it. I am already set the task of tackling Feser by Luke Breuer.

            But, crumbs, I find little use in Aristotelianism in improving the probabilities of life and its artifacts over what I think is already there. Also Feser's view of materialism is self-servingly sparse.

            Do you know of any of his writings on embodied and/or situated cognition? The comparative absence of culture from his thinking is curious; the insistence of a perfectly unitary nature to minds, seems under-informed, and both these seem perhaps reflected in the (reductive and lossy) simplicity of his metaphors.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The telelogical appearance is in your head as you choose to look at it from some start and knowing a current staging post (and imagining it a conclusion!).

            You wrote:
            "A selfish gene is one that evolves to ensure its own propagation."
            One needn't imagine that "its own propagation" is a conclusion, or "equilibrium point" (to put it in physics language). It is still a "towardness" in nature.

            Survival needs survivors. No teleology invoked.

            "Survivors survive" isn't teleology. It's tautology.

          • Phil Rimmer

            Observe. I rephrased for clarity.

            Back to front thinking still.

          • neil_pogi

            if so, why do we have morality if a 'selfish gene' exists?

          • neil_pogi

            WHY DID YOU DELETE ALL YOUR COMMENTS?

          • Michael Murray

            Hi Neil

            Phil asked me to tell you that he didn't delete all his posts. He has been banned from Strange Notions and had his last months posts deleted. You can still interact with him over at Estranged Notions.

            http://outshine-the-sun.blogspot.com

            Thanks - Michael

          • neil_pogi

            ok, thanks for the info.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Clever of them to have revised and interpreted it so long ago, well before we have any actual examples.

  • Mike

    "(when Darwinism informed the discourse) whether they were of the same species"

    precisely...naturalism would have meant the destruction of "weaker" in the name of Progress of the "Stronger" as that's what nature alone seems to demand or proceed according to per natural selection.

    • Doug Shaver

      naturalism would have meant the destruction of "weaker" in the name of Progress of the "Stronger" as that's what nature alone seems to demand or proceed according to per natural selection.

      No, it wouldn't. Some of us naturalists understand the difference between "That's how nature does things" and "That's how things ought to be done." We also know how to distinguish between evolution and progress. They are not the same thing.

      • Mike

        i don't think "ought" can be accounted for if all there is is nature.

        • Doug Shaver

          We are products of nature, and we produced the notion of "ought." That makes "ought" a product of nature.

          • Mike

            well that's where we disagree of course.

    • No, it's differential reproductive success- Could lead to being stronger, faster, better camouflage, literally any trait that leads to increased survival rates for offspring.

      Mike, it seems to me you are more in line with the Ray Comfort school of biology than the RCC. Am I wrong about your views? the RCC's? or do you think the RCC is wrong to accept near-mainstream scientific consensus on evolution?

      • Mike

        so could more food and space by wiping out the weaker folks.

        evolution is provable logically w/o any evidence but the fact that this process seems to favor or reward life is very strange.

  • neil_pogi

    if E.T. is real, then who or what created it?

    atheists love to credit E.T. as the originator or the creator/s of life on this planet.

    i don't know why they refuse to believe in the God of christians, jews and moslems.. what if this E.T. is 'God'?

    do they hate the moral requirements of God for them?

  • neil_pogi

    there are at least 3 theories of the origin of life, according to the beliefs of atheists:

    1. life just 'pop' (if the universe just 'pop', therefore, life, too.)

    2. life evolved from non-life.. i wonder, why a life would someday be dead!

    3. life was 'seeded' by aliens or E.Ts.. (why shy-away of using the term 'God'? is there any difference?)