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The Salvation of Dog-men and Orangutans

Salvation

I recently read, with fascination, Michael F. Flynn's article at Strange Notions, entitled "St. Christopher, ET, and the Middle Ages". There, Flynn discusses (among other things) the possibility of extraterrestrial life, and the question of what it means to be "human" (is it a matter of evolutionary descent or something else?). He makes a very interesting case by referring to written Medieval encounters with a race of dog-headed people, which include even the strange story of St. Christopher, who some believed had been one of them (changing to human form, I believe, only after being baptized ... making his conversion a particularly life-changing experience).

What I liked best about the article was the fact that Flynn didn't try to explain what these dog-men might have been. Instead, Flynn gets to the more philosophical question of our identities as human beings, and how we can consider beings so different from us (whether dog men or extra-terrestrial intelligences) to be like likes, and capable of receiving and benefiting from GOD's message and presence in the world.

Of course, this is not really a new question. C.S. Lewis famously considered it in his Space trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet and its sequels), and Europeans had to grapple with the discovery of entirely unknown (and in their minds inexplicable) people in the Americas (the subsequent enslavement of the American Indians is a sadly forgotten chapter in U.S. history). In light of this, it is when Flynn discusses the nonetheless human nature of these strange dog-headed people that things get particularly interesting. I quote him:

"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 ... ?"

These questions may be speculative, but they are relevant, even in our time. And not because, even if there are no dog-headed people, there may be aliens or other forms of intelligent life elsewhere in the cosmos. I think that we can already ask such questions of creatures perhaps less exotic, though certainly interesting (and familiar) to most of us: The great apes, such as the orangutans of Indonesia.

“I Wanna Be Like You”

Anyone who has seen the Disney animated classic The Jungle Book (1967) remembers King Louie, the orangutan who desires to be human. In his memorable song, he sings to Mowgli, the feral child he has kidnapped:

"I wanna be a man, mancub

And stroll right into town

And be just like the other men

I'm tired of monkeyin' around!"

King Louie hopes that Mowgli can teach him the secret of making fire, he says to him, "So I can be like you". Interestingly, since Mowgli was raised by wolves (literally), neither does he know the secret of making fire. Yet does this make Mowgli less than human in King Louie's eyes? ... Let's move on.

Orangutans probably didn't descend from Adam the way these dog-headed people were believed to have been. But the question I am interested in right now is this: What makes a rational being “rational”? What counts as a uniquely "human" thought or ability? What makes a dog-headed convert to Christianity human, yet is somehow denied King Louie in the Disney film?

With King Louie in mind, let's look at orangutans.

Physiologically, orangutans share a long list of similarities with Homo sapiens, as recounted by anthropologist Lyn Miles, which include, she states,

"a similar gestation period, brain hemispheric asymmetry, characteristics of dentition, sexual physiology, copulatory behavior, hormonal levels, hair pattern, mammary gland placement, and insightful style of cognition".1

Orangutans have also been observed to stand and walk fully upright while occupying tree branches, using their free hands to pick fruit from overhanging limbs otherwise beyond their reach.2 This has lead anthropologists such as Susannah K. S. Thorpe to theorize that a similar bipedal stance was common to all tree-dwelling apes up to five million years ago, until diminishing forest lands in Africa imposed changes onto the apes that would serve as the ancestors of present-day gorillas, chimpanzees, and Homo sapiens.3

The conclusion of such a view is that while the ancestors of Homo sapiens eventually regained their ability to stand fully erect, as other African great apes advanced no further than knuckle-walking, the Asian ancestors of the orangutans preserved this ancient ability.4 The orangutan thus serves as an important link to Homo sapiens' most distant prehistoric past, for it retains both a lifestyle and physiological features once possessed by both their common ancestors, abandoned by every other species of great ape. This sentiment is reiterated by Miles, who notes,

“Both the fossil data and comparisons of DNA and other biochemical measures suggest that the orangutan is the most conservative, or primitive, of the great apes. They are most like the ancestral hominoid (ape-like primate) living about twelve million years ago that later gave rise to apes and humans. Orangutans have retained more of the characteristics of this hominoid than have the African apes. As a result, orangutans have been labeled a 'living fossil', and thus are a kind of time traveler."5

In addition to such physiological traits as bipedalism, the observation of orangutans in both their natural habitat and in captivity has revealed startlingly Homo sapiens-like behavior and abilities. While orangutans in the jungles of Sumatra and Borneo have been observed to build shelters and teach one another to use simple tools,6 orangutans in captivity have been taught to tie knots,7 make stone tools (specifically blades out of flint), and put them to practical use.8 The facts of physiological and behavioral similarity, common ancestry, and capacities for culture and tool use all point to the conclusion that the orangutan should be viewed as an ideal candidate for consideration in the quest for humanity beyond the species Homo sapiens.

Of course, the power of speech is one thing which orangutans obviously lack. While their vocal chords are not suitable for spoken language,9 the red apes of Sumatra and Borneo have nevertheless demonstrated linguistic abilities through experiments in which captive individuals were taught to use American Sign Language. Lyn Miles was the first anthropologist to conduct such an experiment with an orangutan. Miles, for over a period of nine years, instructed and observed a young orangutan named Chantek, whom she raised from infancy as she would have a human child.10 At the age of ten months, Chantek began to demonstrate his understanding of the signs being taught to him by signing to his caregivers on his own.11 As time passed, Chantek displayed an ability to use 150 different words.12 He also showed himself to be capable of understanding the corresponding terms for the signs in spoken English, as his teachers often vocalized the words they signed when they addressed him. Chantek demonstrated this ability to recognize spoken words by performing the signs corresponding to words he recognized while listening to the radio.13

Chantek also demonstrated the ability to sign for things which were not in front of him, like ice cream (showing he retained the idea of things even after they were no longer in view and could signal his desire for them), and the ability to lie (he would take little objects he wanted to keep, like pencil erasers, hide them, and then claim not to know where they were).14

Of course, Chantek is just one orangutan, but as mentioned already, many orangutans have been observed to skillfully carry out intelligent actions, such as, again, making stone tools and shelters. But one other orangutan deserves a mention, because his story is so interesting (and as a native Nebraskan, I am happy to share it).

In the 1960s the Omaha zoo gained the addition of a baby orangutan named Fu Manchu. In due time, Fu Manchu became notorious for his habit of escaping from his cage. The first time it happened, head zookeeper Harry Stones discovered Fu Manchu and several other orangutans lounging about in trees outside their habitat, the door connecting his habitat/exhibit to the furnace room wide open. At first, the zookeepers assumed that it had been left unlocked by accident, until it happened again and again. Jobs were on the line ("I was about to fire someone," Stones said), as it was assumed that the staff were being negligent about securing the orangutans after feeding them.15

Finally, though, Stones was able to catch Fu Manchu in the act. Hiding one day and watching the orangutan exhibit after hours, Stones watched as Fu Manchu jumped up and climbed the air vents. He reached the furnace room door, forced a gap open, and then slipped the piece of wire into the gap to unhook the latch on the other side. Until then, no one had noticed the wire Fu Manchu used because Fu Manchu had bent it to fit between his lip and gums, where he concealed it in between his escapes.16 

“Tell them that is human nature”

Now, what does all this mean? This is where I have to stop and leave you to speculate. After all, I have no answers, only questions. If the rational human soul is thought to be in evidence by the intelligent behaviour of its possessor, where do we draw the line? What about human beings who lack the abilities of the orangutans I have just discussed, due to developmental disabilities? How can we deny the humanity of one while defending the humanity of the other?

While the medievals had no concept of species as we do today in contemporary biology, the fact that the dog-people were descendants of Adam (and thus of the same "kind" as us, regardless of their appearance) means they had a familial understanding of human nature (that being human includes being descended from another human being).

Is it reasonable to expand the definition of "humanity" to include other apes? Do we do this already when we regard now extinct members of the genus Homo as humans, like Homo erectus or Homo neanderthalensis (better known as the Neanderthal)? Of course speculating on their human nature matters very little to them, at this point, for all this is left of them are their bones and tools.

This is not to say that the question is not important, though. In fact, it is critical. For as their environment is destroyed and as poachers diminish their numbers, the continued survival of our surrogate "dog men", orangutans and the other great apes, becomes ever more unlikely. If they are humans after all, would it make a difference in how we treated them? (Knowing humans--that is, knowing Homo sapiens--perhaps not).

Finally, one last thing to consider. The question of extraterrestrial life is a fascinating one, and our response to its possibility may also influence our decision here, regarding the nature of the apes with whom we share this planet. If we can imagine aliens being intelligent and receptive to God's Word and presence (like the beings in C.S. Lewis' Out of the Silent Planet), then we would imagine that their souls come not from Adam and Eve, but through a separate Creation by God. And surely we could, if we use our imaginations now, imagine God bringing new people to life from the stones on the ground outside (or make dragons and have their fallen teeth rise up as human beings).

If aliens can have souls, is it any less of a stretch to imagine that kindred species could have souls as well? Or perhaps that Adam and Eve were in fact not Homo sapiens at all, but an earlier species from which we, and all other apes, are common descendants? (Recall again Miles' remark that orangutans have retained more of the characteristics of more ancient ancestral apes than have gorillas, chimpanzees, or ourselves.)

What began as idle speculation becomes much more serious when we consider the plight of the great apes of our world, gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans alike, and if we wish to protect them from extinction.

Perhaps King Louie was already one of us?
 
 
(Image credit: Disney)

Notes:

  1. Ibid., 45.
  2. Bower, Bruce. “Red Ape Stroll.” Science News. 172 (Aug. 4, 2007). 72-73
  3. Ibid., 72-73.
  4. Ibid., 72-73.
  5. Miles, H. Lyn White. "Language and the Orangutan." The Great Ape Project: Equality Beyond Humanity, eds. Paola Cavalieri and Peter Singer. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993). 45.
  6. Ibid., 45-46.
  7. Herzfeld, Chris and Dominique Lestel. “Knot Tying in Great Apes: Etho-Ethnology of an Unusual Tool Behavior”. Social Science Information, Vol. 44, No. 4 (2005): 621-653.
  8. Miles, pg. 45. Miles notes a particular orangutan who broke off a sharp piece of flint, which he then used to cut the string tying down the lid of a box containing food.
  9. Miles. 46.
  10. Ibid., 46-47.
  11. Ibid., 46.
  12. Ibid., 47.
  13. Ibid., 48.
  14. Ibid., 48.
  15. Lindon, Eugene. “Can Animals Think?.” Time. Sunday, Aug. 29, 1999.
  16. Ibid.
Matthew Allen Newland

Written by

Matthew Allen Newland, PhD (c) studies at the Dominican University College of Ottawa, Ontario. He lives in Montreal, Quebec with his lovely wife, Olesia, and their two young children. He recently published his first book, Waiting in Joyful Hope: Reflections on Humanity’s Desire for Immortality and Its Possibility, which considers the possibility of bodily resurrection in greater detail.

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  • This seems to be a discussion about what counts as "human", or "humanity". There may be theological and religious issues raised such as, "what beings have souls?"

    As I don't subscribe to this view of human souls I cannot really comment. One would have to explain to me what a soul is and what distinguishes an ensouled entity from a non-ensouled one.

    Another question arises as towards ethics and morality. Should we recognize moral obligations toward non-human beings or other entities? In other words, what is it that gives rise to moral agents.

    Well this depends on how you view morality. One might consider morality to be that which conforms with a deity's nature or intentions. If this is the case, there may very well be arbitrary lines based on, really any criteria. It may be more broad than how we treat other intelligent beings. For example, it might, under this framework be immoral to harm inanimate objects such as symbols or buildings considered holy, irrespective if any human would suffer or be harmed by this, while at the same time it would be moral to kill one's own child in sacrifice to the deity, or commit genocide on their command.

    For me morality had to do with the harm to other conscious beings with an awareness of suffering. The moral choice is one that minimizes such suffering overall. It makes no difference whether these beings are human, alien, ape or artificial.

    I expect most Catholics share this view towards humans but justify it not on an axiomatic basis of the moral value of human interests but with an appeal to an absolute objective standard that is god. I think the discussion in this article draws out a difficulty with this approach. Unlike me it is not open to Catholics to simply base morality on an axiom, but on an absolute standard. However, since they cannot know with any certainty, they don't know if all intelligent beings count, or only human intelligent beings, or even a line of intelligent beings descended from one couple. Doesn't mean their wrong or I am right. It just makes it more complicated for theists.

    • For me morality had to do with the harm to other conscious beings with an awareness of suffering. The moral choice is one that minimizes such suffering overall. It makes no difference whether these beings are human, alien, ape or artificial.

      Focus on harm-reduction is antithetical to talk of salvation. Like the would-be athlete who is willing to endure the pain and suffering of getting and staying in shape, the would-be follower of Jesus is called to take up his cross and endure the persecution which comes with pursuing what is true, good, and beautiful. More pain and suffering is endured, not for the pain and suffering, but because of what will be gained as a result.

      To re-frame, harm-reduction is like navigating reality as constituted by a bunch of repelling beacons: you want to stay away from the beacons. Following Jesus is like navigating reality as constituted by a bunch of attracting beacons, which all somehow point beyond themselves to one source. Harm-reduction focuses on fear, while following Jesus focuses on desire, and concrete, directed, intentional desire (not impulse!).

      We actually understand this quite well in every domain except religion. We praise the scientist who labors long hours and ultimately does work worthy of a Nobel Prize. We pay athletes millions of dollars a year who make their sport their lives. We pay CEOs millions of dollars a year to sacrifice all relationships not related to their company, in pursuit of the almighty dollar. In all these cases, the excellent, wonderful thing does not come through harm reduction. Oh no, no, no. It comes from faith, courage, hope, perseverance, etc.

      I do see one way to be a little less harsh on your view. That is to embrace radical individualism and claim that we have zero responsibility to pursue what is good for other people (to enhance the other's telos, not just mine); our only responsibility is not to harm other people. However, I see this view as unlivable and unlived, although oft-expounded and integrated into governing theory, economic theory, etc. Note that impersonal welfare, where I don't have to personally face the homeless person who suffered at the hands of policies which benefited me, fulfills but a pitiful form of our true responsibility.

      • Mike

        "praise the scientist who labors long hours and ultimately does work worthy of a Nobel Prize. We pay athletes millions of dollars a year who make their sport their lives. We pay CEOs millions of dollars a year to sacrifice all relationships not related to their company"

        i'd never thought of that but yeah we do praise self sacrificial suffering in many domains.

        • A general observation of mine is that people get all stupid when applying some concept within Christianity, while being pretty intelligent with that concept outside of Christianity. I'm still trying to characterize this phenomenon, but I suspect it has to do with Christianity making a claim on the whole person, which prohibits the kind of "sweeping the dust under the rug" which can happen otherwise.

          • David Nickol

            It seems to me you are taking about deferred gratification. The problem with certain interpretations of Christianity is that they extoll deferring gratification until after you are dead. For those who do not believe in an afterlife, that makes no sense.

            Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.

            Yes, but how many Christians in the United States don't expect to live pretty much as well as they possibly can? I used to know someone in a religious order who had taken a vow of poverty, and while I would say that in many ways it was a real sacrifice, he had more than adequate food, shelter, and clothing, and the order he belonged to had many "benefactors" who provided cars, tickets to sporting events, and many other perks that people living in true poverty could never have afforded.

          • Deferred gratification is part of it, but not all of it. Consider, for example, immigrant parents who are willing to suffer basically their entire lives, in order to give their children a better future. It's not actually clear here that suffering has outweighed the benefit, because the parents consider a better future for their children to be of extremely high value. Or consider Gandhi and MLK Jr.: one might say that they did not consider life worth living in a world that did not exhibit freedom and equality of opportunity. In a sense these are symbolic goods instead of hedonistic goods, but they are still goods that don't seem to fit into the "deferred gratification" scheme.

            As to the bulk of self-labeled Christians in America, don't get me started. I'll leave you with CT's When Are We Going to Grow Up? The Juvenilization of American Christianity (pdf), Hebrews 5:11–6:3, and a question: Do advertisers wish their target audience to be mature, or immature? (As background for this question, notice how pervasive advertising and monetization are in our modern world.)

          • David Nickol

            Deferred gratification is part of it, but not all of it. Consider, for example, immigrant parents who are willing to suffer basically their entire lives, in order to give their children a better future.

            Once again, you seem to be classifying hard work and sacrifice as suffering. I don't agree.

          • Ahh, but I am possibly denying that what you call 'suffering' has any ontological basis. Surely you are invoking some sense of 'needless' or 'gratuitous'?

          • David Nickol

            When I decide which charitable causes I support, I have never had to think of the word ontological. Feeding hungry people (especially children), helping poor people, providing medical care for those who can't afford it, providing relief for victims of natural catastrophes, aiding in the education of children who otherwise might not go to school, fighting deadly or crippling diseases, care for the elderly. I can think of all these things without ever thinking about the ontological basis of anything.

          • Who says you have to be aware of depending on an ontological distinction? Indeed, thought would be impossible under this condition. We subconsciously, pre-theoretically 'know' how "to follow a rule" before we consciously, self-reflectively know how. See also tacit knowledge, perhaps even unarticulated background.

            You have a way of classifying suffering. You are welcome to try and demonstrate that your classification carves out a natural kind; an alternative is that it is really a form of arbitrariness, of special pleading. Philosophical investigation is what distinguishes between the two.

          • Michael Murray

            Really ? I always give to Metaphysicists Without Borders.

          • Mike

            why?

      • George

        "Like the would-be athlete who is willing to endure the pain and suffering of getting and staying in shape"

        I couldn't help but immediately apply the avoid-harm view to that example. What if the athlete is conscious of the potential to be obese and die of heart disease early in life, and wants to avoid that?

        "persecution which comes with pursuing what is true, good, and beautiful"

        how do we know that's not just equivalent to avoiding the false, the bad, and the grotesque?

        "Following Jesus is like navigating reality as constituted by a bunch of attracting beacons, which all somehow point beyond themselves to one source."

        Why couldn't I re-frame that as wanting to avoid hell, loneliness, and all the formal opposites of the desirable concepts you could list?

        "We praise the scientist who labors long hours and ultimately does work worthy of a Nobel Prize. We pay athletes millions of dollars a year who make their sport their lives. We pay CEOs millions of dollars a year to sacrifice all relationships not related to their company, in pursuit of the almighty dollar."

        yes, these people all value something. why can't we also identify the formal opposite of their very act of valuing something, present at the same time? what would be wrong with that interpretation?

        • I couldn't help but immediately apply the avoid-harm view to that example. What if the athlete is conscious of the potential to be obese and die of heart disease early in life, and wants to avoid that?

          Can you name a single athlete who is praised by people, whose primary reason to be an athlete is as you describe?

          how do we know that's not just equivalent to avoiding the false, the bad, and the grotesque?

          Tell me: if a person who merely tries not to be a terrible piano player, can [s]he thereby become a praised pianist? Or perhaps mountain climbing would be a better example: if a person is merely trying to avoid going down, does this alone guarantee [s]he will get anywhere close to climbing the highest mountains?

          Why couldn't I re-frame that as wanting to avoid hell, loneliness, and all the formal opposites of the desirable concepts you could list?

          Your re-framing is logically correct but less articulate. It is the difference between a master only communicating to his apprentice when she does something wrong, vs. actively guiding her to what is right. Now, there might be some confusion here, as if there is exactly one 'right'. A more formal way to think about this could be to think in terms of "solution space" to computational problems whereby the number of actual solutions is infinitesimal in comparison to the possible solutions. Without a highly articulate strategy to find actual solutions, one is virtually guaranteed to never find one.

          yes, these people all value something. why can't we also identify the formal opposite of their very act of valuing something, present at the same time? what would be wrong with that interpretation?

          It communicates less and empowers less. If you know anything about computer programming, consider what happened if any error in your program were met with the compiler by a simple "No." Imagine that you get zero additional information: you are simply told that your program will not compile. The effort it takes to make functional programs is much higher in this paradigm, than one where more information is given.

          • George

            "Can you name a single athlete who is praised by people, whose primary reason to be an athlete is as you describe?"

            No I can not. I may have conflated 'athlete' with anyone who exercises. of course not all professional sports players consciously worry about a particularly unhealthy lifestyle. but I'm quite sure those athletes can define what it is they don't want. they don't want to feel like quitters, they don't want to feel like a failure. many of them can visualize the alternate world in which they don't compete and don't try harder.

            "if a person who merely tries not to be a terrible piano player, can [s]he thereby become a praised pianist?"

            I don't deny that there are degrees of proficiency and that every person's desires are at least slightly different than everyone else's, with emphasis on certain things more than others.

            "It communicates less and empowers less."

            That sounds like a relatively negative consequence, and I can understand someone's desire to avoid that.

          • I suggest finding a single famous person whom you can really describe purely in the negative, in the style you are now practicing. MLK Jr. surely isn't, for while he was against discrimination, he clearly had a positive dream which pulled him into the future. If you cannot do this, I think I might exit the conversation, as we seem to be playing the kind of "I can prove you wrong" game which was quite fun while staying up late avoiding problem sets at college, but is a bit too time-consuming for those actively trying to make the world a better place.

      • David Nickol

        That is to embrace radical individualism and claim that we have zero responsibility to pursue what is good for other people (to enhance the other's telos, not just mine); our only responsibility is not to harm other people.

        I don't think you have understood what Brian said, or at least I understand him differently from the way you do. He said, "The moral choice is one that minimizes such suffering overall." It seems to me that is not the negative, passive stance you make it out to be, but rather requires attempting to minimize all suffering, including suffering the morally acting individual is not directly accountable for. It would require doing what is possible to alleviate the suffering of ones less fortunate than oneself—the sick, the poor, the uneducated, the victims of natural disasters, and so on.

        • But it takes suffering to minimize suffering: ask any medical doctor about his/her training. How much did the scientists of the Scientific Revolution have to suffer in order to get benefit out of their work? How many of them suffered far more than they benefited, and yet gave us great gifts which allowed more effective alleviation of suffering in the future?

          There is a reductio ad absurdum, by the way: destroy humanity. It might hurt a bunch for a little bit, but all suffering would indeed be minimized. And yet, we know this is wrong. It's obvious that this is wrong. The reason is that the minimization of suffering simply isn't priority #1. It isn't, and any thinking which pretends that it is, is guaranteed to exhibit all the nonsense that Christian apologists are accused of when they are said to "perform intellectual backflips", etc.

          • David Nickol

            But it takes suffering to minimize suffering: ask any medical doctor about his/her training.

            I don't think the hard work involved in becoming a doctor is suffering, at least not in the way I understand Brian to be describing it.

            The reason is that the minimization of suffering simply isn't priority #1.

            I think it depends very much on the way you define suffering. I would assume that if Brian were to elaborate on what he means, if taken to it's logical conclusion it would not prescribe lethal injection for the population of the world. It seems to me he is basically describing utilitarianism.

          • I don't think the hard work involved in becoming a doctor is suffering, at least not in the way I understand Brian to be describing it.

            Having mentored an orthopedic resident through a possibly-suicidal phase, I have to question what possible distinction can be made between the suffering he experiences there, and whatever kind of suffering Brian was describing. Maybe though, the distinction is between pointless suffering and, for lack of a better term, informational suffering? But the Christian would argue that, since reality is designed by God, all suffering is informational. That we cannot properly comprehend all suffering could easily be due to sin, which not only damages the comprehension but also lets the bad situation compound, and increase in the complexity of its brokenness.

            LB: The reason is that the minimization of suffering simply isn't priority #1.

            DN: It seems to me he is basically describing utilitarianism.

            I am not aware of any forms of utilitarianism which make suffering-avoidance priority #1. Indeed, the most basic form of utilitarianism has happiness-increasing as priority #1. So I'm not sure what point you're making, here.

          • David Nickol

            Having mentored an orthopedic resident through a possibly-suicidal phase, I have to question what possible distinction can be made between the suffering he experiences there, and whatever kind of suffering Brian was describing.

            Well, my nephew is a doctor, and he did not have the same experience during his internship or residency.

            How would you sum up, in a sentence or two, the correct principles for making a moral choice? Please don't say "doing God's will."

          • How would you sum up, in a sentence or two, the correct principles for making a moral choice? Please don't say "doing God's will."

            Sorry, I cannot sum up like that, at least without a paragraph of background.

            I would contest this concept of 'morality', on the basis that it is a degenerate form of promoting the telos of the other. (I'm riffing on Alasdair MacIntyre's insistence on teleology in After Virtue and Emil Brunner's disdain of 'morality' in Man in Revolt, p51ff—he prefers 'responsibility'.) How it is best for me to treat you is different for how it is best to treat my wife. Likewise, I dislike it when people love me as if I were a carbon-copy of them. So, what I need to establish is that there is a way every individual is different, and needs to be treated differently, but there is also a way that all these individuals, when maximally realizing their téli, can all combine to form a magnificent symphony, full of glorious harmony and the good kind of discord (see the first chapter of Tolkien's The Silmarillion).

            With the above understanding as background, what is 'moral' is to love God and love your neighbor as you would like to be loved. Loving God is a deep topic, but one element of it is to meditate upon how my telos and your telos can be merged, such that neither dominates the other. (For example: "How might God have designed things, such that the result would be awesome for both people?") Stephen Covey gets at both the fear of this merging, and the wonder, in habit 6 ("Synergize") of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People:

                The creative process is also the most terrifying part because you don't know exactly what's going to happen or where it is going to lead. You don't know what new dangers and challenges you'll find. It takes an enormous amount of internal security to begin with the spirit of adventure, the spirit of discovery, the spirit of creativity. Without doubt, you have to leave the comfort zone of base camp and confront an entirely new and unknown wilderness. You become a trailblazer, a pathfinder. You open new possibilities, new territories, new continents, so that others can follow. (263)

                Many people have not really experienced even a moderate degree of synergy in their family life or in other interactions. They've been trained and scripted into defensive and protective communications or into believing that life or other people can't be trusted. As a result, they are never really open to Habit 6 and to these principles. (264)

          • ClayJames

            Just curious if you are asking about the correct principle within a religious framework or in general?

            And on a related note, why would it be wrong for me to say that the correct principle for making a moral choice is to do what minimizes suffering and increases happiness for me instead of for someone else or society in general?

      • It seems from your comment that you and I actual share the same moral framework, namely that human interests, avoidance of harm and freedom to pursue pleasure and our own individual goals are the values to be considered in moral matters. The difference being that you believe in something about reality that info not, namely salvation. You seem to believe about salvation that our likelihood of achieving this is tied to how much we suffer, which I think is an odd perspective. But if I believed it too I would generally share your perspective, which I take to be: the worst harm is not being saved, we are saved through human suffering and strife in this world, the more we suffer and the more harm that happens to humans the more likely we are to be saved, being saved is so bad (harmful to humans) and being saved so good (pleasant or in some way infinitely satisfying to humans) that suffering should not be avoided in this life, and should be encouraged to promote the enormously greater good of salvation.

        None of this tells me about whether you would extend moral protection to non human entities, which is the subject of this piece. We are back to the question of whether you beleive only humans are able to be saved, and if not what does engage the potential for salvation.

        That said , a few comments on your comments. This idea of our suffering being somehow necessary or even involved in a significant way in whether or not are saved seems to me to be at odds with Christianity. If, after all Jesus suffered and died for our sins, and this was the only way for us to be saved, why should our suffering be relevant? I guess you'd have to say that Jesus' suffering and blood was a prerequisite to allow our suffering to generate salvation. Ok, but then does to mean that the more we suffer the better? If not, and only some suffering counts, how do we tell? Should we be torturing people to save them? Should we decline to heal ourselves and others, not to deprive them of divine saving pain?

        I am really at a loss to understand your comments about perseverance and hope. I would say we judge these by the values and goals hard work, sacrifice and faith are devoted to. For example, an Islamic suicide bomber sacrifices his life, but we consider it abominable, whereas a firefighter sacrificing his life to save others is heroic. The sacrifice is an intenisfier of the value if the value is bad it makes it worse, if it is good, it makes it great. The same for hard work hope and faith.

        • Whoops, there were multiple major misunderstandings.

          It seems from your comment that you and I actual share the same moral framework, namely that human interests, avoidance of harm and freedom to pursue pleasure and our own individual goals are the values to be considered in moral matters.

          We almost certainly do not share anything remotely like "the same moral framework"; I would disagree with the very idea that "our own individual goals" is a coherent concept, given how socially constructed people are†. Your phrasing seems to put you directly in the crosshairs of Alasdair MacIntyre's attack on the idea that Enlightenment-style individualism is (i) coherent; (ii) good, in After Virtue. Specifically, what is lost is a communal telos, to which every person's telos can contribute, such that there is no threat of a Hobbsean "war of all against all", nor is there a threat of a totalitarian flattening of individuality. To help illustrate this kind of community, MacIntyre discusses the ancient Greek polis, among other things.

          There is another matter, which Charles Taylor discusses in A Secular Age:

              As we move from the Cambridge Platonists through Tillotson to Locke and the eighteenth century, apologetics, and indeed, much preaching, is less and less concerned with sin as a condition we need to be rescued from through some transformation of our being, and more and more with sin as wrong behaviour which we can be persuaded, trained or disciplined to turn our backs on. This concern with a morality of correct conduct has been observed by many historians of the period. Religion is narrowed to moralism.[9] (225)

          One way I might try to characterize this difference is that between (a) the need to alter one's fundamental intuitions; (b) the need to gain more sense-experience or expurgate contradictions. In my experience, many internet atheists think that (b) is the only thing that is required. I think this is entirely wrong, and I think Taylor does a great job of damaging this intuition in his influential 1971 essay Interpretation and the Sciences of Man, especially pp46–47. Hmmm, it could be that ¬(a) ∧ (b) is what defines 'positivism'.

          As far as I can tell, (a) will manifest uncomfortably like the authoritarianism which is hated in religion, yet accepted in much teaching, especially outside of the United States. The reason for this is that in order to change fundamental intuitions, the student has to suspend his/her own intuitions to some extent, which can be construed as an egregious violation of Enlightenment individualism. To take a tendentious example in the religious domain, many Christians would say that the intuition that homosexual activity is moral is a flawed intuition. If my use of 'intuition' is sufficiently acceptable, we can see that your 'morality' could easily act in a conservative way, on people's intuitions. We could even talk about whether intuitions are sourced in one's most fundamental conception of reality, and then bring in the first 1. at WP: Secularism § Secular society.

          You seem to believe about salvation that our likelihood of achieving this is tied to how much we suffer, which I think is an odd perspective.

          No, this would be an terribly distorted interpretation of e.g. Rom 8:16–25, along the lines of the Christian Flagellants. Think in terms of a feudal knight demonstrating his loyalty to his lord. This loyalty will probably be demonstrated by actualized willingness to suffer, but it won't be the suffering simpliciter which constitutes evidence of loyalty. No, it will be the case that in order for the lord to transform reality into his conception of 'better', suffering is required. (This is as it has always been; the only question is "Who suffers?"; Jesus gave one answer, but there have been popular conflicting alternatives; see e.g. Jefferson's remarks on the bloodiness of the French Revolution.)

          Take, for example, the 7 + 1 instances of one who conquers in Revelation. The idea I get from this is that these people wanted the same thing that God wants—a renewed creation which experiences shalom, a much better term than 'justice' and 'peace'. Not only this, but they wanted it in the same way that God wanted it; the means matter just as much as the end. A major portion of the means are that the ones doing the transforming do the suffering; they don't shove this work off onto others. Jesus didn't put himself above a gruesome suffering ending in shameful death, and his disciples are not to think them above him. But the point is pushing toward a renewed heavens and earth, not accruing suffering-points. To accrue suffering-points would be like accruing money. Yeah, some people only want "more money", but the more intelligent folks want to actually do something with it, and to spend their money wisely while doing that something.

          I also don't believe there's any necessary connection between "amount of suffering" and "likelihood of achieving salvation"; I wouldn't even say that "amount of suffering" is correlated with the kind of heavenly rewards discussed in 1 Cor 3:10–15. No, salvation is by living faith, or more properly, by pistis and pisteuō—the English words have been corrupted. Contrast the knight who claims he is loyal to his lord, vs. the knight who is actually loyal. Both could do the same great deeds, and both could have just been knighted and therefore not yet done any deeds.

          † I don't say totally socially constructed. I'm inclined toward Christian Smith's Moral, Believing Animals: Human Personhood and Culture; see:

          What all of this means for a theory of culture is that the moral order that motivates and shapes human action is not merely something internalized through socialization. Human action is wrongly understood as simply the external behavioral product, operating in neutral social space, of individuals’ internal programming, directives, or specified ends. Rather, the moral order that generates and guides human action permeates all aspects of the social order within which human lives are embedded and from which human animals draw their identities and capacities. Moral order permeates human existence. [...] The human actors who both produce and are produced by social institutions thus engage moral order both objectively and subjectively. And the moral orders both inside and outside of human persons reflect and reproduce each other. This duality is lived in practice through a unified process that is historical, dialectical, and reciprocally self-reinforcing. (26–27)

        • None of this tells me about whether you would extend moral protection to non human entities, which is the subject of this piece.

          As Eve was `ezer to Adam, God was `ezer to mankind, and I suspect mankind is supposed to be `ezer to the rest of creation. After all, consider:

          The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Rom 8:16–25)

          The "children of God" have "freedom of the glory" which is what creation itself will "obtain", in order to "be set free from its bondage to corruption". This sounds like God building into Adam and Adam building into creation. This is none other but the economy of grace. It is a process of transformation, of the type in that A Secular Age excerpt. It transforms evil desires to good desires, among other things. It is not a mere satisfaction of extant "human interests... and individual goals". No, you see, some of those are evil. But the key, as it always was, is how one decides what is 'good' and what is 'evil'.

          This idea of our suffering being somehow necessary or even involved in a significant way in whether or not are saved seems to me to be at odds with Christianity.

          Really? See:

          Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Mt 16:24)

          Also consult the "cost of discipleship" passage: Lk 14:25–33. Furthermore, tell me how this conception of Christianity (which I do not dispute is widely believed, sadly) reconciles with the beginning of the Romans passage I excerpted: "provided we suffer with him".

          The rest of your comment seems addressed by some of the things I said in my previous comment, so I'll stop here. Fun conversation!

    • Matthew Newland

      Brian - You've seen my other articles here, and may or may not recall that I have a more emergent understanding of the soul: that is, the soul is the function of a sophisticated organism, which allows it to feel, move, and think. As such, the soul is body-dependent (we couldn't imagine digestion continuing to occur after the death of the stomach). If we consider the ability to feel pain to be a necessary criterion, then I would say that all creatures have souls in this particular way.

      • Mike

        sorry to jump in but the classic conception is precisely that that all living things have souls but souls are not 'mystical' but are just their subsistent form.

        heck even non living things could be said to have a soul but it would just be called it's substantial form.

        • Matthew Newland

          Yes, I'd agree with that, Mike. The question is, are we prepared to redraw the line that defines humanity in light of this fact?

          • Mike

            i suppose that that depends on what that entails.

          • Matthew Newland

            Well if it means people can't get rich cutting down the rainforest that might be an obstacle.

          • Mike

            why i mean what if we figure out a diff way to produce the balance? the planet has intrinsic value only TO THE EXTENT that it supports us and what we need.

            imho.

        • I would say then that the word is meaningless. The word for the form of humans is "human". What we seem to be discussing in terms of other animals is cognitive capacity, intelligence, empathy.

          • Matthew Newland

            Well, in the second chapter of Genesis we read: "And the LORD GOD formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul" (Gen 2:7). "Soul" here seems to refer not to some spiritual component (a "ghost in the machine"), but to the whole living person.

          • Mike

            here's the test for "form": is the new substance greater than the sum of its parts.

            water is hydrogen and oxygen, alone these 2 atoms are radically not water yet together they form this new substance...if you stop to think about it they both have ONLY electrons protons and neutrons NOT "hydrogen" e, p, and n and NOT oxy. e, p, and n. So if the constituent parts are EXACTLY the same how can something differentiated come from that unless...
            there is something that determined 'natures' in a way analogous to the way excel does v lookup tables.

          • Mike

            bc you are a stubborn materialist when there are only a few good reasons to be a materialst and MANY MANY good reasons to not be a materialst.

          • If it's meaningless, then what is it that makes you, "you", given all the recycling of atoms and molecules that goes on? What is the invariant, among all the variants?

          • Mike

            "What is the invariant, among all the variants?"

            Will to Power.

          • I think I disagree. I think that "invariant" I spoke of is closer to:

                What this brings to light is the essential link between identity and a kind of orientation. To know who you are is to be oriented in moral space, a space in which questions arise about what is good or bad, what is worth doing and what not, what has meaning and importance for you and what is trivial and secondary. I feel myself drawn here to use a spatial metaphor; but I believe this to be more than personal predilection. There are signs that the link with spatial orientation lies very deep in the human psyche. In some very extreme cases of what are described as "narcissistic personality disorders", which take the form of a radical uncertainty about oneself and about what is of value to one, patients show signs of spatial disorientation as well at moments of acute crisis. The disorientation and uncertainty about where one stands as a person seems to spill over into a loss of grip on one's stance in physical space.[1] (Sources of the Self, 28)

            Not only does this give an invariant, but it matches a major strand of how 'soul' has been used by Christians. @briangreenadams:disqus seems either ignorant of the many discussions of Personal Identity, or somehow thinks they are irrelevant or capturable by something better, which he has yet to specify.

            P.S. Charles Taylor's book has 8500 'citations'; it's quite influential and so is he. It's not just some random thing I found. :-)

          • David Nickol

            If it's meaningless, then what is it that makes you, "you", given all the recycling of atoms and molecules that goes on?

            If your should makes you who you are, and my soul makes me who I am, suppose we both reach heaven as disembodied souls. What is it about your soul that is different from my soul? How do you tell two souls apart?

          • I object to your use of "disembodied souls", on both philosophical reasoning (see David Braine's The Human Person), as well as theological reasoning (1 Cor 15:35–49, also J. Richard Middleton's A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology and N.T. Wright's After You Believe). I will try to respond as if you did not need to predicate anything on "disembodied", except for a mere intermediary state between this life and the next, the possibility of which is firmly supported by all current formulations of quantum physics, which have all quantum state evolving in a unitary fashion, such that information is perfectly preserved, and can be recovered from entropy bits.

            How does one tell two souls apart? I am tempted to draw on the dichotomy of Bose–Einstein statistics (e.g. bosons are indistinguishable in Bose–Einstein condensates) and Fermi–Dirac statistics (which depends on the Pauli exclusion principle). The Pauli exclusion principle doesn't have a "why" or a "how", it's just an "is". Here's how Feynman dealt with the "why" of another aspect of quantum theory:

            There seems to be no way around this. But we have verified experimentally that that is not the case. And no one has figured a way out of this puzzle. So at the present time we must limit ourselves to computing probabilities. We say “at the present time,” but we suspect very strongly that it is something that will be with us forever—that it is impossible to beat that puzzle—that this is the way nature really is. (The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Volume III § 1.7)

            I hope you realize that you've basically just re-asked the long-standing Problem of the Many, which is a still-vigorous debate in philosophy. If you want a theological treatment of it, see Colin E. Gunton's The One, the Three and the Many. If you want to see a part-theological, part philosophical anthropological treatment, see Alistair McFadyen's The Call to Personhood: A Christian Theory of the Individual in Social Relationships. He specifically talks about there being a "social space–time" (104), which deals with distinguishing individuals, but not via physical space–time.

          • David Nickol

            I think I must have hit on a good question, since you have gone to so much trouble to avoid it. :-)

            It may be that you are not speaking from a Catholic perspective, so I will rephrase my question slightly and ask, from the Catholic perspective, how do you distinguish between two disembodied souls in heaven? Let's say it's Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II.

            In Catholic belief, both Mother Teresa and John Paul II are in heaven, but since the soul and body are separated at death and not reunited until the end of the world, Mother Teresa and John Paul II exist as disembodied souls. According to Catholic thought, they are still active as themselves. Somehow, they hear prayers of the living, and they intercede with God to answer those prayers, sometimes asking God to work miracles.

            My point is that it seems to make a kind of sense to say for living individuals that it is their souls that make them who they are. But when they exist only as souls, it does not seem to be adequate to say their souls make them who they are. One souls must be different from another, otherwise all souls in heaven would be indistinguishable one from another, and it would make no sense to pray to an individual saint.

          • I avoided your question because I rejected a premise: that heaven is composed of disembodied souls. No, heaven is really a new heavens and new earth, fully redeemed and reconciled to God, with new resurrection bodies that don't have the problems that ours do—indeed, all of creation will no longer have the problems it currently does.

            If you want to talk about the intermediate state, between corporeal existence now and corporeal existence in the new heavens & earth, I'm afraid I know very little about that. Protestant theologian Roger Olson talks a bit about a debate he had on the matter with theologian Stanley J. Grenz in Memories of Stanley J. Grenz with Special Attention to Criticisms of His Theology (and Some Hitherto Unrevealed Facts). I haven't thought much about the "intermediate state", not much at all.

            However, since there was a deeper aspect to your question—that of what constitutes personal identity, I did try and take a whack at it. If it wasn't very good, it's because I haven't investigated the matter very much. The particular way you formulated the question is unique, in my 15,000+ hours talking to atheists on the internet.

          • Rob Abney

            Here's an answer from Aquinas.

            Article 2. Whether it will be identically the same man that
            shall rise again?

            For the soul, even after separation from the body, retains
            the BEING which accrues to it when in the body, and the body is made to share
            that BEING by the resurrection, since the BEING of the body and the BEING of
            the soul in the body are not distinct from one another, otherwise the union of
            soul and body would be accidental. Consequently there has been no interruption
            in the substantial BEING of man, as would make it impossible for the self-same
            man to return on account of an interruption in his BEING.

          • David Nickol

            This does not answer the point that I was trying to raise. Let me see if I can make it more intelligibly.

            The question was, "What makes you you." The implied answer was, "The soul."

            My question was, then, "What makes you you, and not someone else, when you and others are souls in heaven? The answer, it seems to me, cannot be the soul. There must be something about your soul that differentiates it from other souls. It is presumably the soul's history, its memories, it's inclinations, and so on—all the qualities that were manifested during bodily existence. But why, then, why not answer the question of what makes you you simply by saying, "My history, my memories, my inclinations, and so on"? As I read your quote from Aquinas, he seems to be saying that the soul itself has an identity ("substantial being") that differentiates it from other souls. So if I ask, "What makes you you," the answer really isn't "my soul." Everyone has a soul.

          • Rob Abney

            How do you distinguish someone by their body, we all have one but we don't call our body just our face or our legs.
            My history and memories and inclinations are parts that make up my immaterial soul.
            A disembodied soul is probably identified by it's actuality also, what it actually does as a disembodied soul, such as responding to prayers and to love. It is probably more potentiality than actuality. God is pure actuality.

        • David Nickol

          heck even non living things could be said to have a soul but it would just be called it's substantial form.

          It seems to me that if Ye Olde Statistician has taught us anything it is that only living things have souls. So non-living things can't be said to have souls.

          • Mike

            no i am very confident that he'd only confirm that soul means anima or the latin word for alive NOT that in animate matter doesn't have sub. form.

            can you account for water ONLY using electrons, protons and neutrons WITHOUT appealing to a vlookup function like in excel? ie by only referring to the same "level"? ie can you explain h2o by only appealing to electrons, neutrons and protons but NOT their number or position?

          • David Nickol

            And how exactly would it help to say that water has a soul? Does water itself have one soul? Or would a tubful of water have a soul? Does each of the Great Lakes have its own soul? When a well defined quantity of H-O-H in the form of ice melts, does it lose its ice soul and get a water soul, and when that same H-O-H boils does it then have a steam soul?

          • Mike

            this seems like a q for basic chemistry. h2o is h2o whether in liquid solid or gas state no?

            all of science, yes literally all of science is in the very business of finding out new "souls" or sub. forms of naturally occurring things. that's why chemists create new molecules to see what they can do bc they can't know all of their properties from the math alone.

      • Right, forgot that was you. What you describe as a soul is nothing I would disagree with, I just do not consider this a distinct thing from our bodies and its activity. It may just be labels. But this leads me to many questions. How do you interpret the Adam and Eve story and original sin? Do you believe that there is original sin? If so is it inherited? Are all humans born with a sin which must be atoned for irrespective of their conduct? Or do humans generate sin through their conduct alone?

        • Matthew Newland

          Those questions I don't have the answers to, Brian. But perhaps someday I will. My main interests for the time being focus on the soul as I've described it, Plato's Republic and the idea of the soul we read about there (the topic of my dissertation, in fact), and the possibility of bodily resurrection (tangentially related to my thesis as it helps illustrate the mind-body problem with an eye to the long-term.

          My hope is that I have many years of philosophy ahead, and that one day I'll have the chance to delve into those other questions a bit more. In the meantime I gotta finish that dissertation.

          Short answer, though ... I'll just say that I am very interested in Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's take on the human individual and Original Sin. Without saying that his view is my view, I think it is interesting.

    • Mike

      "harm inanimate objects such as symbols"

      but it IS evil to destroy inanimate symbols...have you heard about those Buddhist statues that the taliban blew up?

      destroying a person's home is more than bricks and beams no?

      • I would go further. To truly harm a person, don't touch his/her person. Destroy what [s]he most values. Let the person live forever. Hence, in the movie 300, Leonidas says to the traitor Ephialtes: "May you live forever."

        Yes, some people really do only care about themselves. But for the rest, I suspect that the total units of suffering one can inflict is much higher, with the above strategy.

      • The distinction I am drawing out is that for some theistic moralities there can be immoral acts that will not have any negative effects on humans or gods. The destruction of a house is not bad, depriving someone of their shelter and so on is. The destruction of the statues is only bad in so far as it deprives us of the pleasure and historical information they represented.

        By contrast, the desecration of the Holy Gu'ran is a terribly immoral act, despite the fact that these books are readily available and easily replaced.

        • Mike

          well yeah but christianity ain't islam.

          edit i should add that france could easily rebuild notre dame tomorrow if it were to be destroyed by some earthquake or a terrorist attack but that wouldn't change the reality that we are material beings in our substrate and the world which is "good" is material...heck even Heaven will be material.

          edit: i am not sure if the first edit is clear as i am into the wine.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      One would have to explain to me what a soul is and what distinguishes an ensouled entity from a non-ensouled one.

      "Anima" (translated as "soul") is the substative form of a living being: hence, "animate." So for "ensouled" read "alive" and what distinguishes an ensouled entity from a non-ensouled one is precisely what distinguishes a living thing from an inanimate one. The former has an inner principle by which it organized itself, grows, maintains its balance, reproduces. Various animate forms have additional powers, but you asked for the basic distinction between animate and inanimate.

    • Rob Abney

      "...since they cannot know with any certainty, they don't know if all intelligent beings count, or only human intelligent beings, or even a line of intelligent beings descended from one couple. Doesn't mean their wrong or I am right. It just makes it more complicated for theists."

      No, that seems to be an easy one for Catholics:

      God blessed them and God said to them: Be fertile and
      multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea,
      the birds of the air, and all the living things that crawl on the earth.

      All Catholics may not treat the earth and other creatures morally but we have been commanded to do so, and we have good teaching on the subject from Saints such as Francis of Assisi.
      Some readers of the bible may be bothered by words such as subdue and dominion but they are probably trying to read their own agenda into it.

      • So would intelligent aliens be in the category of those to be subdued with dominion or those who should be baptized as equals?

        • Rob Abney

          Baptize anyone who believes in Jesus Christ.

          • Do you think babies believe in Jesus Christ? What is it about belief in Jesus that requires baptism? I thought it had to do with original sin.

          • Rob Abney

            I was not imagining these intelligent aliens to be infants. But infants are baptized with the understanding by their parents that they will need post-baptism catechism. Adults need pre-baptism catechism so they can know that they do believe.
            Baptism does wash away the stain of original sin, if the aliens didn't have original sin then they could still benefit from the Grace that is given to enable eternal life.

  • If salvation is connectable to beatification, theosis, and deification, then I should think an organism can receive salvation if its telos is communion with God, and if that telos has suffered Fall-like damage. No need to talk about e.g. human physiology. Scifi seems to have done a plenty fine job arguing that one can have intellect, emotions, and soul without human DNA, perhaps without DNA at all.

    • Matthew Newland

      Could it be that the ability to relate to GOD and experience the divine is a pivotal part of human identity? Does it make us unique out of all the other life forms on our planet (and on other planets), or does it mean that any creature that reaches that level could be considered "human"?

      • I'm inclined to pillage the great chain of being and say that there is no guarantee that humans are the 'highest' non-God beings, and so the relevant question is really more in the form of: "How do I best channel the gifts God has given to me, to the rest of creation?" This way of framing the question doesn't put complete knowledge of the capabilities of other beings in a central position; it doesn't render such knowledge irrelevant, but instead lets us be 'fuzzier' about it. We see but through a glass, darkly.

        Now, passages such as Rom 8:16–25 do put sons of Adam in a central role, as does 1 Cor 11:7. On the flip side, we have Jesus' "... what is that to you? You must follow me." All God is 'obligated' to give us, is enough knowledge and wisdom to do our part in creation. And so, I try to restrict my truth-claims to that realm—or at least, label anything else as highly speculative. To be more precise, I think imagination and understanding have to be tempered by experience (note that I started at Rom 8:16, not 8:18); as we gain more experience (perhaps spread the knowledge of the glory of God further and further?), and are sufficiently sanctified, we can learn to say more that is probably true (or headed toward truth).

        • Matthew Newland

          And THIS is a fine point. It's entirely possible that we remain "low rungs on the chain", in spite of our abilities to connect with Divinity. And in that case, doing our best to resist being anthropocentric, we could see all those other links as converging with us toward a single shared destiny.

          • I do think that we need to take to heart Mt 20:20–28 and Jn 13:1–20, which utterly redefine words like 'submission', 'authority', and 'humility'. Nowadays, the more powerful seems inevitably thought of as paternal at best, oppressive as worst. There really doesn't seem to be a notion of the more powerful using their power to lift up the less powerful, even if this threatens the more powerful. Instead, there is almost always a reserve of power used to maintain position. Contrast this to Jesus, who gave to the point of being executed. I suspect that the difference here is absolutely crucial.

            If we think about our place as "low rungs on the chain" without these redefinitions, I think our whole way of thinking about reality (and God) will be radically different than if we use our power like Jesus, Paul, and Schindler did. Jesus is our Lord and our servant. He commands but he also lifts up. Talk about screwing with worldly intuitions!

  • Robert Macri

    Traditional Catholic thought identifies three faculties of the rational human soul: memory, intellect, and will. While it has often been claimed in recent decades that certain animals possess at least some primitive form of the first two of these faculties (though the degree to which this can be said is debatable), I have not seen any evidence which even remotely suggests that any animal possesses the faculty of will.

    Allow me to clarify. I am not speaking here merely of choice (e.g. to eat berries or bananas), nor am I speaking merely of problem solving, rudimentary language, or even claims of "self-awareness". I grant that some animals exhibit a certain amount of cleverness not traditionally attributed to them, and some are said even to "plan for the future", for instance by hoarding extra food when a shortage is anticipated. The level to which instinct mixes with conditioned or learned responses in such cases can of course be debated, but even if we attribute a certain amount of human-like intelligence to such behavior I argue that it still would not clearly illustrate a capacity anything at all like human will.

    Perhaps one could examine this by endeavoring to test whether or not an animal could act against its desires in order to achieve some other good. I am not speaking here about altruistic behavior which may easily be instinctive, such as sacrificing health and safety for the sake of the young of a species, but of something rather more thoughtful on the part of the animal.

    That is, can an animal deny a strong desire in order to achieve some selfless future good? (I add the requirement of a "selfless future good" in an attempt to eliminate instinctive altruism and also a mere choice between competing immediate goods.) To illustrate what I mean here: the thought "My spouse needs to lose weight to improve his/her health" might lead a human being to forego dessert and fried foods himself of herself to help eliminate temptation for the spouse, but could an animal be said to possess a similar power of will (unless by training) and turn away from a strong desire, led by reason rather than instinct or conditioning? That is, could an untrained animal willingly choose suffering to obtain a future selfless good for another animal? Can an animal experience genuine love, not as an emotion or conditioned behavior but by deliberately willing the good of another, particularly when that other is in some way detestable?

    I suspect the answer to each of these questions is "no", but I am interested in any defense of the opposite opinion, and particular in any ideas about how a suitable experiment might be devised. I recognize the difficulty in even adequately defining something such as "human will" for scientific purposes, but to my mind the attempt is central to the point of the original post, for I do not think that cleverness alone is sufficient evidence of the existence of a rational soul.

    • Matthew Newland

      But what is the soul exactly? Some incorporeal substance? Or is the soul the sum total of the body's processes and abilities? If that is the case, we can see the soul as an emergent property of evolution, and as such something with a rather blurred boundary. The pivotal question is, is human cleverness different from ape cleverness by a matter of kind or degree?

    • Mike

      i've heard it described as the ability to abstract or pull out universals from concrete particulars and to form those into proposition and then to reason from 1 proposition to another.

      you can either do this even alittle or not at all.

      the classic ex is socrates is a man, men are mortal therefore socrates is mortal.

    • Michael Murray

      That is, could an untrained animal willingly choose suffering to obtain a future selfless good foranother animal?

      http://infidels.org/library/modern/ken_daniels/why.html#Morality

      An experiment by Wechkin and Masserman in 1964 provides another demonstration that ours is not the only species with the capacity for self-deprivation in the interest of others.

      They found that rhesus monkeys refuse to pull a chain that delivers food to themselves if doing so shocks a companion. One monkey stopped pulling for five days, and another one for twelve days after witnessing shock delivery to a companion. These monkeys were literally starving themselves to avoid inflicting pain upon another. Such sacrifice relates to the tight social system and emotional linkage among these macaques (de Waal 2006, 29).

      • This is interesting, but it begs the question of whether this is the way the function evolutionary developed. For example, I'm not aware of any instance in nature where you'd get anything like the cage situation. Indeed, my suspicion is that outside of this highly artificial environment, the refusal to act such that a fellow monkey is hurt would result in future self-benefit, and/or the acting so that a fellow monkey is hurt would result in future harm to self.

        It is very dangerous to argue too much from highly artificial experiments. This isn't to say you're necessarily wrong, but I think there is reason to be skeptical of the point you're trying to establish, with the data you've provided. Recall that monkeys will be much more controlled by their evolutionary instincts (vs. being able to self-consciously challenge them, or where the instincts are now inculcated via development instead of encoded via genes) than humans.

        • Doug Shaver

          I'm not aware of any instance in nature where you'd get anything like the cage situation.

          And therefore, what? Should we doubt that they were refusing to eat, or should we doubt that they wished to avoid inflicting pain on their companions?

          Recall that monkeys will be much more controlled by their evolutionary instincts (vs. being able to self-consciously challenge them, or where the instincts are now inculcated via development instead of encoded via genes) than humans.

          If empathy is itself instinctive, then this objection would seem irrelevant.

          • We should question what precisely the highly artificial experiment reveals about rhesus monkey nature. We should be very careful to avoid anthropomorphizing them. There are many possible ontologies for the phenomenology the experiment revealed; unlike humans, who can tell you what's 'inside' (with errors), we don't have that luxury with rhesus monkeys.

            Here's an example. When cats rub their heads on you, it is not necessarily because they love you. We want to believe it is. We want to say that the phenomenology of head-rubbing matches the ontology of loves-its-owner. This is not always the case, and may not ever be the case. (With respect to the "sign of affection" in the article, we need to be careful what that means for animals vs. humans.)

            As to your comment on empathy, of course humans are social creatures. They protect their own. Jesus knew this:

            “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43–48)

            Jesus also knew that there is a dark side of being "social creatures", and challenges his disciples to buck that dark side, to act against their instincts, or their socialization—it doesn't really matter. (My guess is that evolution shifted instinct-knowledge to the more plastic knowledge that comes through enculturation.)

            If you want, feel free to describe to me "the proper functioning of empathy", and how you know it. That could be an intriguing conversation. I was shown little [effective] empathy by my peers growing up, so I know intimately how empathy can fail. I also had a conversation with a homeless women last night where she recounted being beaten in front of plenty of witnesses, with the police being unwilling to take a report. I believe that this would happen, even if this particular instance is false or too distorted. Another failure of empathy. And you know what? Society still works well enough. So it seems to me that the kind of 'empathy' you get from evolution is a "good enough" type which is happy to screw over some people. It's not clear that adjusting from "good enough" to "perfect" is a quantitative or qualitative change. If qualitative, that could get very interesting.

          • Doug Shaver

            We should question what precisely the highly artificial experiment reveals about rhesus monkey nature.

            We should be careful not to infer more than the data imply. The data do imply that in some situations, it is possible for rhesus monkeys to choose hunger over the infliction of pain on their companions.

            We should be very careful to avoid anthropomorphizing them.

            We should avoid assuming that they are just like us. It doesn't follow that we should assume they are not in any way like us. In particular, we should not think it improbable that animals closely related to us have similar mental capabilities. If, in certain circumstances, they act the way we would act in those circumstances, then it is reasonable to think it is because their brains are doing what our brains would do in those circumstances.

            As to your comment on empathy, of course humans are social creatures. They protect their own. Jesus knew this

            Good for him. Or maybe, good for you, if you can interpret the Bible to make it consistent with scientific observation.

            Jesus also knew that there is a dark side of being "social creatures",

            You may think in those terms. I think in terms of there being no free lunch. Living in cooperative groups has been a good survival strategy for us, but as with any strategy, every benefit comes with a cost.

            If you want, feel free to describe to me "the proper functioning of empathy", and how you know it.

            At this particular moment, what I want is to avoid sidetracking this discussion into a debate about what constitutes, or is meant by, the proper functioning of any natural phenomenon.

          • I would be happy to restrict the conversation to:

            RM: That is, could an untrained animal willingly choose suffering to obtain a future selfless good for another animal?

            MM: http://infidels.org/library/modern/ken_daniels/why.html#Morality

            My position is that @michaelkmurray:disqus has not clearly provided an example of what @robertmacri:disqus requested. It is not at all clear that, when all things considered, placed in nature and not an artificial situation, the rhesus monkey would be properly describable as 'selfless'. Furthermore, the phrase "willingly choose" seems tendentious, if it is meant to be univocal with human, self-reflective "choosing".

          • Doug Shaver

            Murray will have to speak for himself on this point. I do not equate altruism with selflessness.

            the phrase "willingly choose" seems tendentious, if it is meant to be univocal with human, self-reflective "choosing".

            I would not insist that rhesus monkeys are capable of self-reflection, but whether they are or not, the cited experiment shows clearly (to me) that they can choose to go hungry in order to prevent a companion from suffering. And in this context a choice is, more or less by definition, an act of will.

          • Murray will have to speak for himself on this point. I do not equate altruism with selflessness.

            This is very important. Murray wrote as if what the rhesus monkeys did could qualify as 'selfless'. Of course his comment was gloriously ambiguous, since he provided zero commentary.

            I would not insist that rhesus monkeys are capable of self-reflection, but whether they are or not, the cited experiment shows clearly (to me) that they can choose to go hungry in order to prevent a companion from suffering. And in this context a choice is, more or less by definition, an act of will.

            I think you would benefit from recalling, or acquainting yourself with, Daniel Dennett's intentional stance. The rhesus monkeys acted as if they were making the choice in the way you phrased it, with the intentionality you imputed. But there are other reconstructions, as there are always multiple ontologies for any given phenomenology. For example:

            In the wild, for a rhesus monkey to obtain food at the price of another rhesus monkey suffering would be immediately discerned as antisocial behavior and would result in punishment or even banishment from the group. Therefore, a rhesus monkey resists the behavior to which it is tempted by said experiment, because under natural circumstances, failing to so-resist would result in heavy punishment.

            See how I framed the matter quite differently, and thereby eliminated any senses of 'selflessness' or 'altruism'? You might also note that I used "as if" twice before in this comment. This was intentional. :-p

          • Michael Murray

            Of course his comment was gloriously ambiguous, since he provided zero commentary.

            I added no comment because it seemed obvious to me that the experiment appears, on the face of it, to be an interesting example of what Robert Macri was suggesting wouldn't happen. I gave a reference so people can research the matter further themselves as they wish. Although in these days of google that is hardly necessary.

          • That's fine, but as I said, there are multiple possible ontologies for any phenomenology (this is the problem of Underdetermination of Scientific Theory), and not all of the possibilities in the experiment do in fact falsify Robert Macri's claim.

          • Doug Shaver

            I think you would benefit from recalling, or acquainting yourself with, Daniel Dennett's intentional stance.

            Your apparent assumption that I'm either forgetting it or am unfamiliar with it is noted.

            But there are other reconstructions, as there are always multiple ontologies for any given phenomenology

            I know about the underdetermination of scientific theories, if that's what you're talking about. It does not preclude us from justifiably regarding some theories as more probable than any others.

            See how I framed the matter quite differently,

            Yes, and I readily concede the possibility that your framing is correct. But possibility is not probability, except that whatever is possible must have a probability that is not zero.

          • How do you compare the probabilities of the various options, of the various ontologies? Would you spell out some of that reasoning for this particular scenario?

          • Doug Shaver

            How do you compare the probabilities of the various options, of the various ontologies?

            I'm inclined to use Bayes' Theorem.

            Would you spell out some of that reasoning for this particular scenario?

            How much explanation do you need? Are you at all familiar with Bayes' Theorem and its derivation?

          • Sure, but what are the priors, how are you doing the updates, and what are the posteriors? You said "possibility is not probability", which seems only relevant when you have sufficiently trustworthy probabilities. Before you get those, it seems that intuition has to do the deciding. So, I'm trying to figure out whether you can do probabilities, or whether it's really intuition at this stage in the game.

            Personally, I'm not sure how I would compare the probability of Michael Murray's "selfless", your "altrusim", and my self-preservation. However, you seem more advanced in this than I, so please share.

          • Doug Shaver

            Sure, but what are the priors, how are you doing the updates, and what are the posteriors?

            That gets seriously complicated, so it's going to take me a while to compose a response. Please stay tuned.

            You said "possibility is not probability", which seems only relevant when you have sufficiently trustworthy probabilities.

            You mean, if my probabilities are not sufficiently trustworthy, then I should think that anything not impossible is probable?

            Before you get those, it seems that intuition has to do the deciding. So, I'm trying to figure out whether you can do probabilities, or whether it's really intuition at this stage in the game.

            I'll try to include, in my exposition, some remarks about the role of intuition in a Bayesian analysis.

          • If you'd like, feel happy to start by merely listing prior probabilities, and indicating whether they span the space of possible explanations.

            You mean, if my probabilities are not sufficiently trustworthy, then I should think that anything not impossible is probable?

            I'm not sure; I meant what I said to be qualified by the following sentences:

            LB: Before you get [sufficiently trustworthy probabilities], it seems that intuition has to do the deciding. So, I'm trying to figure out whether you can do probabilities, or whether it's really intuition at this stage in the game

            We could discuss what it looks like to have probabilities between a completely uninformative prior and probabilities with sufficiently compact distributions.

            I'll try to include, in my exposition, some remarks about the role of intuition in a Bayesian analysis.

            I would definitely appreciate that. I am very interested in the interface of fuzzy, intuitive thinking, and precise, formalized thinking.

          • Doug Shaver

            but what are the priors, how are you doing the updates, and what are the posteriors?

            I'm not quite clear on what you mean by "updates" or "posteriors," so I'll just go through the analysis starting at the beginning.

            First a note about the particular formula I’m using. It is:

            P(H|E) = P(H)*P(E|H) / [P(H)*P(E|H) + P(~H)*P(E|~H)].

            The formula usually given is simpler than this, but some sophisticated algebra demonstrates that they are equivalent, and this one makes it clearer why the formula works as advertised. And keeping in mind that P(~H) = 1 – P(H), there are only three remaining variables to which values need to be assigned: P(H), P(E|H), and P(E|~H). And one more thing: For every term in this equation, there is an implicit “given background knowledge.” Written in full, every term would have a “.B” appended. Since it appears in every term, we can simplify the writing a little by omitting it, but we don’t get to pretend it isn’t there. Now let’s proceed.

            We have a hypothesis: Monkeys experience concern for certain of their conspecifics that is, in some relevant sense, like the concern that we humans experience for certain of our conspecifics. We can say for short that they experience empathy.

            We have some evidence: the aforementioned experiment. To apply Bayes' theorem, we need estimates for three variables, all of them based on our background knowledge. The variables are the prior probability of the hypothesis, P(H), the probability of the evidence assuming the hypothesis is true, P(E|H), and the probability of the evidence assuming the hypothesis is false, P(E|~H). And our background knowledge, essentially, is everything, relevant to the hypothesis, that we knew or thought we knew before the evidence was discovered, i.e. before the experiment was conducted.

            So we start with P(H). How much credence should we have given the hypothesis before we found out about this experiment? Based on everything I thought I knew about the evolutionary history of Homo sapiens, I would have judged it to be more likely true than false. But let me not stack the deck. Suppose I had no particular reason to believe it. Even so, I would insist that I had no particular reason to disbelieve it, either. And for any proposition, if I have neither more nor less reason to believe it than disbelieve it, I must consider it to have a probability of 0.5, and so that is my P(H).

            Now for P(E|H). If the hypothesis is true, then we should have a high expectation that monkeys will do what they were seen to do in this experiment. I don't think we could justify saying they would certainly act that way. If we could, we would assign P(E|H) a value of 1.0, but since we can't, we need a lower value. Since the hypothesis asserts a similarity with humans, we could get a number by figuring out the probability that a human, placed in a similar situation, would act the same way. I don't happen to know of any hard data on that topic, so I'll have to guess, and I don't think 0.7 is an unreasonable guess. In other words, I'm estimating that at least 7 out of 10 people would skip a meal in order to prevent someone else from suffering. And then I'm supposing that, if monkeys experience the same motivation that humans experience in such a situation, then it is similarly probable that they will act the way humans do in that situation. This gives us P(E|H) = 0.7.

            As for P(E|~H), here we're asking: How probable is it that this evidence would exist if the hypothesis were false? If monkeys don't experience anything relevantly like human empathy, then how likely is it that, notwithstanding their lack of empathy, they would act as if they did have empathy?

            It is not immediately obvious how we might estimate this probability, but I think I can suggest a way. Those who deny the hypothesis are not just talking about this particular species of monkey. Their claim is that empathy is unique to humans, that no other animal experiences anything like it, even if some of them, on some occasions, act as if they do?

            Let's call this behavior, this acting-as-if, a simulation. Then we're asking for the probability that these monkeys would simulate empathy. And we could start by asking for the probability of any nonhuman species doing it. The claim is that only humans have empathy, and so if any nonhuman species seems to exhibit it, it's only a simulation. So then, in how many nonhuman species do we observe this simulation?

            Practically none, as far as I know, but it might be objected that it wouldn't be fair to sample all nonhuman species. After all, nobody is about to claim that insects have empathy, or fish, or reptiles, or even most mammals. So let's shrink the reference class as much as we can. Shall we just check the primates? How many primate species simulate empathy?

            Aside from these experiments, I don't know if anybody has even tried to look, but if it were common, I think it would have been noticed even without a deliberate search for it. This experiment, when reported, seemed to really surprise a lot of people, and so pending further discoveries, I think it reasonable to assume that such behavior rarely occurs among animals that don't really experience empathy. This gives us a P(E|~H) considerably below 0.5. Shall we say 0.2?

            And now we can run the numbers, and we get P(H|E) = .78.

            Those who think that figure is way too high have some options for counterarguments, but there are some mathematical constraints. Of course, if the counterargument is, "Bayes theorem is just irrelevant to questions of this sort," then the mathematical constrains don't apply. For the time being, I address my remarks to those who say, "OK, maybe you can use Bayes, but you must be using it wrong."

            But the only way to use it wrong is to use wrong estimates for the three variables. Let's see how the output changes as we tweak those estimates.

            Here is the first mathematical constraint: No matter what prior you use, if P(E|H) = P(E|~H), then the consequent probability of the hypothesis is equal to its prior probability: P(H|E) = P(H). In other words, if the evidence is just as likely to have obtained whether the hypothesis is true or false, then it is epistemically irrelevant to the hypothesis. It does nothing to either confirm or disconfirm it.

            Next constraint: If P(E|H) > P(E|~H), then P(H|E) > P(H), and the reverse inequality also holds. That is to say, whether the consequent probability is greater or less than the prior depends strictly on whether the evidence is more or less likely on the assumed truth of falsity of the hypothesis. Further, the amount of increase or decrease between prior and consequent depends on the degree of difference between P(E|H) and P(E|~H).

            Next constraint: If a prior probability of either 0.0 or 1.0 is assigned to the hypothesis, then evidence becomes irrelevant. For P(H) = 1.0, P(H|E) = 1.0 regardless of any probabilities assigned to the evidence, and likewise, for P(H) = 0.0, P(H|E) = 0.0 in all cases. For any other prior, the difference between P(H) and P(H|E) depends, as already noted, on the difference between P(E|H) and P(E|~H).

            Whatever the correct values, I think it apparent that the observed behavior must be judged more likely if monkeys really do feel empathy than if they don’t, which means P(E|H) > P(E|~H), by some margin. And for this reason, the consequent probability of the hypothesis must be higher than whatever prior probability we give it, thus P(H|E) > P(H). And, for reasons I have given, I think P(H) = 0.5 is a very low estimate. This results in a consequent probability greater than 0.5, meaning that given the evidence, the hypothesis is more likely true than not.

            But suppose you think my P(H) is still too high? In that case, whether the consequent probability exceeds 0.5 depends on how much higher P(E|H) is than P(E|~H). For any difference between P(E|H) and P(E|~H), you can find a value for P(H) that results in P(H|E) < 0.5, but you need to justify that value.

            So, I have explained why I think my estimates are reasonable. If you think they’re unreasonable, we can discuss your reasons.

            And if I’ve left some of your questions unanswered, let me know and I’ll try to get back to them.

          • Thanks for doing this. I have a long response drafted, but I would first like some clarification.

            1. What is the difference between instinct-driven "willingly choose" and self-reflection-driven "willingly choose"? You key in on that:

            As for P(E|~H), here we're asking: How probable is it that this evidence would exist if the hypothesis were false? If monkeys don't experience anything relevantly like human empathy, then how likely is it that, notwithstanding their lack of empathy, they would act as if they did have empathy?

            This is very reminiscent of Daniel Dennett's intentional stance. Perhaps one could rephrase the question here: are rhesus monkeys true moral agents, or more like philosophical zombies? Perhaps you reject the dichotomy?

            2. There is also the question of whether rhesus monkeys could ever transcend the 'us' vs. 'them' dynamic, which seems very similar to the tribalism we see in the ANE, as well as in parts of the OT (but only parts!). Humans figured out that slavery was wrong. Could rhesus monkeys do the same?

          • Doug Shaver

            Perhaps one could rephrase the question here: are rhesus monkeys true moral agents, or more like philosophical zombies? Perhaps you reject the dichotomy?

            Like Dennett, I reject the possibility of philosophical zombies. I believe that for any creature whose behavior is, in every observable respect, indistinguishable from ours, actual self-awareness, self-consciousness, self-reflection, etc., is necessary. You can have, and in most species with brains you do have, instinct without any capacity for self-reflection. But in those that have it, ourselves included, self-reflection does not replace instinct but only supplements it. There is much that we do that we could not do without self-reflection, but that doesn't mean instinct is uninvolved in our doing them.

            There is also the question of whether rhesus monkeys could ever transcend the 'us' vs. 'them' dynamic, which seems very similar to the tribalism we see in the ANE, as well as in parts of the OT (but only parts!). Humans figured out that slavery was wrong. Could rhesus monkeys do the same?

            I didn't know they could enslave other rhesus monkeys. If they do, then whether they can get over it depends on the extent to which it is purely instinctual and how much is due to their conscious thought. And whether we have abolished slavery even yet depends on how narrowly you define the word. What we have unambiguously abolished is chattel slavery. There are plenty of other ways to make people work for you when they'd rather work for themselves.

          • Like Dennett, I reject the possibility of philosophical zombies. I believe that for any creature whose behavior is, in every observable respect, indistinguishable from ours, actual self-awareness, self-consciousness, self-reflection, etc., is necessary.

            But is your italicized bit correct? See what Mortimer Adler said in his 1967 The Difference of Man and the Difference It Makes:

                And by far the greater part of animal communication—outside of laboratories and apart from human tutelage—is instinctive rather than learned. Konrad Lorenz stresses this point.

                Animals do not possess a language in the true sense of the word. in the higher vertebrates, as also in the insects, particularly in the socially living species of both great groups, every individual has a certain number of innate movements and sounds for expressing feelings. It has also innate ways of reacting to these signals whenever it sees or hears them in a fellow-member of the species. The highly social species of birds such as the jackdaw or the greylag goose, have a complicated code of such signals which are uttered and understood by every bird without any previous experience. The perfect coordination of social behavior which is brought about by these actions conveys to the human observer the impression that the birds are talking and understanding a language of their own. Of course, this purely innate signal code of an animal species differs fundamentally from human language, every word of which must be learned laboriously by the human child. Moreover, being a genetically fixed character of the species—just as much as any bodily character—this so-called language is, for every individual animal species, ubiquitous in its distribution.[5]

                Lest there be any quibbling about the words "innate" and "instinct," concerning the meaning of which American behavioristic psychologists do not see eye to eye with such European ethologists such as Tinbergen, Thorpe, or Lorenz, let us adopt as the minimum meaning that can be agreed to by all parties, the formula proposed by Donald Hebb: namely, that a pattern of behavior can be called innate or instinctive insofar and only insofar as it is "species-predictable," which is to say, in Lorenz' words, "ubiquitous in its distribution" among all members of the species without exception.[6] (115–116)

            [5] King Solomon's Ring, pp. 76-77.
            [6] See Donald Hebb, A Textbook of Psychology, pp. 123–126, and 129–130, esp. p. 126. With regard to the differentiation between innate and learned behavior, see N. Tinbergen, The Study of Instinct, Konrad Lorenz, Evolution and Modification of Behavior, Adolf Portmann, op. cit. [Animals as Social Beings], Chapter 5; Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt, "Experimental Criteria for Distinguishing Innate from Culturally Conditioned Behavior," in Cross-Cultural Understanding, ed. by F. C. S. Northrop and H. H. Livingstone, 1964, pp. 297–307.

            Has this observation been falsified by any later research? Note that the distinction between innate, unflexible language is very different from the kind of freedom we humans have with language. As I recently said to Jonathan Pearce:

            LB: I think it will be important to take into account Wittgenstein's private language argument. What Adler is constantly concerned about is whether the difference between (i) human use of language and (ii) any other creaturely use of anything that could possibly be called language, is quantitative, or qualitative. If qualitative, then one must account for the emergence of it. One cannot just say 'emergence'; the word is not a magical incantation.

            I can get as formal as you would like, here; for example, from David Braine's 2014 Language and Human Understanding: The Roots of Creativity in Speech and Thought:

                It is primarily this informality and flexibility in the use of words which enables us in speech, in Von Humboldt's words, to make an "infinite use of finite means"—made possible through the interplay between language-possession and language-use. (8)

            One can also consult his 1992 The Human Person: Animal and Spirit, which can be seen as building toward his recent book.

          • Doug Shaver

            But is your italicized bit correct?

            In what respect? I'm not saying any such creature actually exists. I'm just saying that if there were one, whether it was a product of natural selection or human engineering, we would have no good reason to believe it was not as self-aware as we are.

            I'll have to get to the rest of your post later.

          • I'm not saying any such creature actually exists. I'm just saying that if there were one, whether it was a product of natural selection or human engineering, we would have no good reason to believe it was not as self-aware as we are.

            Ahh, ok. I will have to contemplate that, and compare & contrast it to The Reality of the Unobservable: Observability, Unobservability and Their Impact on the Issue of Scientific Realism (NPDR review), as well as Grossberg 1999 The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness (partial tutorial).

            I'll have to get to the rest of your post later.

            I look forward to it! As you can perhaps see, I've gotten very interested in language as of late. I'm especially interested to see how Wittgenstein's private language argument interacts with the 'language' that is seen in non-homo sapiens mammals.

          • Doug Shaver

            I had to read Wittgenstein's Tractatus while working on a paper about the history of logical positivism, because he was a major influence on that movement. I'm not quite sure yet what to make of his ideas, and I understand that he himself retracted some of them in his later years.

          • I've yet to read Wittgenstein, although I've read quite a bit about him (primarily via David Braine, Charles Taylor, and Richard Bernstein). My guess is that the Tractatus came from the concrete, analytical, and precise part of his brain, while the Philosophical Investigations came from the speculative, analogical, fuzzy part of his brain. Let either run too far away from the other and you've got problems! I'm very interested to see how good my guess is. :-)

          • Doug Shaver

            And by far the greater part of animal communication—outside of laboratories and apart from human tutelage—is instinctive rather than learned.

            Of course, but certain instincts are crucial to our ability to learn language. Chomsky proposed that notion in the 1960s, and I think Pinker's work has confirmed it beyond reasonable doubt. Our communicative abilities differ from those of other animals by a degree that constitutes a difference in kind, but we could not begin to communicate the way we do without those instincts.

            let us adopt as the minimum meaning that can be agreed to by all parties, the formula proposed by Donald Hebb: namely, that a pattern of behavior can be called innate or instinctive insofar and only insofar as it is "species-predictable," which is to say, in Lorenz' words, "ubiquitous in its distribution" among all members of the species without exception.

            I think that will work for me for the time being. If it causes a communicative problem between us, we can revisit the issue at that time.

            Has this observation been falsified by any later research?

            I can't figure out which specific observation you're referring to.

            Note that the distinction between innate, unflexible language is very different from the kind of freedom we humans have with language.

            That there is such a distinction is entirely consistent with everything I believe on the subject.

            What Adler is constantly concerned about is whether the difference between (i) human use of language and (ii) any other creaturely use of anything that could possibly be called language, is quantitative, or qualitative. If qualitative, then one must account for the emergence of it. One cannot just say 'emergence'; the word is not a magical incantation.

            A proper accounting would require a level of scientific expertise in several disciplines that I have not attained. I don't think that means I'm unjustified in believing that natural selection suffices to account for the observable differences between our linguistic capabilities and those of other species.

            I can get as formal as you would like

            Formal or informal, what I both like and need first is intelligibility. Some of what you've been writing is hard for me understand.

          • David Nickol

            When cats rub their heads on you, it is not necessarily because they love you.

            You take that back!!!

      • Robert Macri

        That's very interesting. Thanks for posting that.

        I don't think it quite rises to the level of selfless will I was getting at, though. Monkeys are social animals, and may be "hardwired" for this kind of altruism. It would be hard to prove that they were acting out of anything like compassion (not that I can even easily "prove" that even with human behavior).

        It would be more convincing to find some change in habitual behavior for an altruistic purpose. We see such things in humans when they "change their lives" after a religious conversion or rehabilitation, and start looking after the good of others as a result of this change in mindset.

        I may be asking too much of animals here, but then perhaps that implies the answer: "no, they aren't capable such things".

  • Matthew Newland

    I'd like to thank my dad for taking me to see The Jungle Book when I was four (it was, I believe during the 1984 re-issue). The first movie I ever saw in a cinema. :)

  • Peter

    Sentient human-like aliens would share their planet with their own "orangutans" who would retain the original characteristics of their common ancestors.

    • Matthew Newland

      Very good Peter. But why deny them "humanity" (in the sense that we might regard Mister Spock as a "human" being by virtue of his intelligence, etc.)

      • Peter

        I would not deny humanity to sentient human-like aliens since they would simply be versions of us on another planet. I would, however, deny humanity to their "orangutans" just as I deny humanity to our orangutans here on earth.

  • GuineaPigDan .

    What I liked best about the article was the fact that Flynn didn't try to explain what these dog-men might have been.

    I have a guess. Maybe these descriptions of dog-men were actually people witnessing primitive furry conventions where attendees wore costumes made out of animal skins instead of costumes made with fake hair like on modern fursuits. St Christopher gaining a human appearance after his baptism was actually him just taking his dog fursuit head off after getting too hot in it.

    • Matthew Newland

      Now there's a theory.

    • Mike

      well when the native indians of the Caribbean first saw the spanish on their horses they thought, correctly, that they were animal/human combos!

  • Phil

    I've found the key distinction in the personhood discussion is that between a living being being capable of conceptual thought/language and one that is only capable of perception and perceptual "language"; also known as "proto-language".

    So while we can teach certain non-human animals to use signs and sometimes even teach them to speak a good amount of words properly, this does not necessarily mean that the animal is using conceptual language. We have to do something to show whether this animal understands even basic concepts rather than just using the concept.

    In the end, it seems that the easiest test for rationality/conceptual understanding is if an animal can naturally come to understand and speak a type of conceptual language. Short of this, we wouldn't have great evidence of true intellectual/rational capabilities; that is, the existence of what we call a "rational spiritual soul".

    So at some point an animal must move beyond conditioning and begin forming and using new concepts on their own which would show forth the ability to transcend the mere physical.

    • Matthew Newland

      Okay, but that harkens back to Thomas Nagel's old question, "What is it like to be a bat?" The answer lies beyond our ability to see or know. The best we can do is imagine or give the benefit of the doubt.

      What about the examples I provided in this post? And what about human beings who, due to disabilities, are unable to communicate or suffer mental impairments? We cannot deny their human souls.

      • Phil

        You are exactly correct that we cannot know what it is like to be any other being from the inside out. All we can know is what we observe in a normally developed being (why I suggest using the natural development when searching for signs of the capability of conceiving/rationality.

        And what about human beings who, due to disabilities, are unable to communicate or suffer mental impairments? We cannot deny their human souls.

        The soul is the nature underlying the actions that show forth the immaterial nature/form of a being. So a being cannot show forth rational/conceptual activities without have a rational spiritual soul, but a being can have a rational spiritual soul without showing forth the normal activities of the soul if the physical body hasn't developed properly.

        These would be humans that did not develop physically as they normally ought to. We must always remember that a things nature is shown forth by its normal powers/capabilities, but it is not purely reducible to those activities. Therefore a human that does not show forth capabilities for rationality because of physical development doesn't mean they don't have the nature of "human being".

        The "form" or nature is always shown forth in a particular material being. If that material hasn't developed in a way that is capable of showing forth fully the nature that is present, then we won't be able to fully see the underlying nature.

        • Matthew Newland

          But wait ... couldn't the soul be the activity arising from the functions of the body? Neurons firing, stomachs growling, etc.?

          • Matthew Newland

            Because otherwise it would imply a Platonic form of humanity. But evolution is going to throw a very large brick into that explanation, for it implies that there are no set categories (just the gaps caused by extinctions between what we now recognize as species) and it suggests that we are evolving and may not have realized our ultimate nature yet. So we could say the same thing of orangutans.

            I think seeing the soul as an emergent property of the body works much more neatly.

          • Phil

            I think that the biggest stumbling block for holding a coherent emergent view is that the same problems that have plagued dualism show up here. There becomes this "magical soul" that somehow appears in living creatures. How/why this happens and how the soul and body communicate becomes utterly mysterious. The questions that have been the demise of dualism come up again for emergent views of the soul. This isn't a problem for an A-T, because the soul doesn't arise from anything apart from the Creator. It exists side-by-side with the matter that it is informing. (In fact, in normal material reality form and matter never exist apart from eachother, whether it be in living beings or inanimate objects.)

            If one holds that the soul is the animating principle of the body of a living being, this means that the soul affects downward ontological causality on the material body. This means if one believes that the soul is the animating principle, one could not hold an emergent view where the body affects downward causality on the soul (i.e., in the emergent view, the body makes the soul to be what it would be). In the A-T view, the soul makes a living body to be what it is from the moment it comes into existence. It is good to note that the body does not emerge from the soul. They exist as a unity, where the soul is the real animating principle that must exist at an ontological level.

            The form/soul is also what stays the same while the physical body is constantly changing. (Why we can say that even though much has changed about you, there is something that is the same from when you where 4 to your age now.)

          • Matthew Newland

            Good news, Phil. This is the topic of my doctoral thesis. Which I am supposed to be working on right now (only I am hanging out at StrangeNotions instead). I'm about 250 pages into addressing this very issue.

            But as forums require us to be a bit more concise ... what do you think of panpsychism?

          • Phil

            I have little experience studying panpsychism itself, can you provide a couple sources/articles that would give a good overview of it?

            I will also look forward to the dissertation in the future as well then!

          • Matthew Newland

            But of course. Panpsychism is the suggestion that all matter possesses some proto-mental aspect (Thomas Nagel's proposed term). This in light of the fact that "ordinary stuff" is the source of our bodies (ordinary water, carbon, and calcium is all any of us are made of ... we're nothing special physically in that regard). Yet the correct arrangement gives rise to living thinking beings. The panpsychist suggests that those mental aspects were always there in some rudimentary form, and that because the atoms in our bodies are "ordinary", this proto-mental aspect must be a universal part of matter across the universe.

            Observing the behaviour of subatomic particles has made this suggestion really quite interesting.

          • Phil

            I do remember doing a little reading on panpsychism when you first mentioned it last year. While many questions I would have at this point are probably a part of your research for your dissertation, I am curious if you have any sort of thoughts on them even right now.

            Firstly, what exactly would "proto-mental" be, and what evidence would one need to find, empirical or otherwise, to say that matter does have this proto-mental "property"?

            Secondly, the reason that A-T (and dualism at that) proposes that a self-conscious intellectual life must include some immaterial part is that it can't be reduced to the physical in a manner that would be coherent. In other words, no matter how much brute stuff you put together, the creature is either self-conscious or it is not, there is no middle ground (i.e., being "partially self-conscious"). This is one reason why I am curios to know exactly what this "proto-mental" thing would be.

            To put a key question more specifically, is this proto-mental purely reducible to the material? The answer to this question will help direct whether we are proposing a type of materialism or dualism/hylomorphism.