A Catholic Approach to the Genealogical Adam


#1

@vjtorley I am seeing enough correspondence between your thinking and many other catholics, that I think this merits its own thread. I want to engage here, how we can make sense of Catholic notions of the Image of God and Adam with some of the things we are both putting on the table.

Hope that @agauger will participate too.


#2

Hi Joshua,

Thank you for your reply. I’d like to respond to some of your comments.

@swamidass
It seems to me that our mental life would be totally unrecognizable to a Homo sapien living 20,000 years ago.

I have to say I respectfully disagree on this point. I maintain that the following features are found in all cultures, to such a degree that I’d contest a tribe’s claim to call itself “human,” in the absence of any of these features:

(i) worrying about the future (will tomorrow’s hunt be a successful one? will our tribe eventually be wiped out by our neighbors?) and about the future of one’s children (will my son find a bride?);
(ii) worrying about growing old and dying;
(iii) recalling incidents from one’s past at will, as far back as one’s childhood (i.e. not only episodic but also autobiographical memory);
(iv) worrying about what other people think of you (theory of mind), and scheming to make people of influence think better of you by flattering them, and to think worse of your rivals by spreading malicious rumors about them;
(v) having a mental map of one’s surroundings in all directions, and being able to draw it (say, to plan an attack);
(vi) a desire for self-ornamentation (by wearing fancy clothes, or applying body pigment);
(vii) artistic expression, especially in the form of drama (symbolic reenactment of significant events in tribal lore);
(viii) story-telling;
(ix) religious awe at the beauty and grandeur of Nature; and
(x) a desire to placate some Higher Power(s) in order to obtain favors and/or protection.

I would argue that humans have possessed mental lives incorporating all of these features for at least 100,000, and that none of them go back further than 500,000 years (well, maybe 700,000 at a stretch). And while I’m open to being persuaded otherwise, I’m inclined to think that these abilities all appeared at about the same time. I’m willing to allow that some of these abilities have been refined over the past few hundred thousand years (e.g. our social skills, which have been greatly enhanced as our brains became more and more globularized over the past 300,000 years), but I would say they’ve all existed in the Homo sapiens lineage for a very long time - perhaps from the very dawn of our species.

@swamidass
One approach that makes sense to me is to say that our value derives from the fact that God finds special value in us. Because he values us, he can bring us back from death and keep us immortal (which how we mean we have an our immortal soul), and why we have rights to life (because someone greater than us finds value in our life). In this relational account of the soul and rights, the point in our origin where God decides to value us this way might actually be what the Image of God is (in at least some senses).

So what you’re saying is that human beings aren’t intrinsically valuable: they’re only valuable because God deems them to be. The way I see it, that blurs the moral distinction between us and the beasts: after all, God might have deemed orcas, crows or elephants to be bearers of a right to life, instead of us.

@swamidass
However, that means that there two distinct species [i.e. Neandertals and _Homo sapiens_ - VJT] that were both “human” at the same time, and even became “human” at different times. How do you make sense of that?

I suggested above that the Neandertals may have lacked the foregoing abilities when they first appeared, but when they started interbreeding with Homo sapiens, some of their progeny would have acquired them. The same goes for Denisovan man. That is, I think the abilities which make us human have a genetic and neurological basis, and that any lineage of hominins which somehow acquired the relevant genes would ipso facto be granted immortal, immaterial souls as well. This would presumably have been a gradual process, however.

@swamidass
The problems are you are raising are only problems because you are collapsing them (as many others have) into a single idea: 1. The Image of God. 2. Rationality or reason. 3. Human dignity. 4. Human rights. 5. An Immortal Soul. It is dangerous to conflate these things together as if they are the same thing. For example, an embryo and a profoundly mentally disabled person does not have human-like reason, but I believe they equally bear God’s Image as all of us, and deserve dignity and rights as we all do. Linking rationality to God’s Image, dignity, and rights ultimately undermines the key things that concern you (and most of us).

Actually, I would say that embryos and profoundly disabled people do possess the ability to reason, but that they’re prevented from using it, either because the lower-level physical scaffolding on which this ability supervenes is not yet present (insufficient neurological development in the embryo) or because it is severely damaged (defective genes in the profoundly mentally disabled). Building or repairing the underlying scaffolding would make reason manifest in these individuals, but the actual ability is there all along.

Re the five notions you enumerate: I’m prepared to consider that some of them may be separable. However, 3 and 4 seem to imply one another, and to be implied by 1. 1 seems to require 5, although one might question whether the converse holds. Of course, Aristotelian-Thomists would argue that 2 is what grounds 1, 3, 4 and 5, but I am aware that many other Christians would contest that. Nevertheless, it seems difficult to deny that in a species of hominins, 2 is at least necessary (if not sufficient) for 1, 3, 4 and 5.

That’s all for now. Thoughts?

P.S. By the way, I thought the distinctions you made between your proposal and that of the pre-Adamites were very helpful. Seriously, Joshua, I’d recommend publishing an article outlining your proposal in a Catholic journal: maybe American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, or Nova et Vetera. I don’t know what the reaction will be, but I’m sure it will stimulate a lot of discussion. Alternatively, on the Evangelical side, you could try Philosophia Christi. What do you think?


Which Scenarios of Adam Will be Helpful?
#3

I think I’d like to talk about that more. Would you be interested in develop a co-authored article with me for submission to a Catholic journal?

For reference, the distinctions from pre-Adamites are:


#4

@swamidass
I think I’d like to talk about that more. Would you be interested in develop a co-authored article with me for submission to a Catholic journal?

Sure. Feel free to contact me anytime, and we’ll talk about it.


#5

What does Catholic-Notion mean? Do you mean the teachings of the Catholic Church about Adam, including but not exclusive to genealogy?

Too many times protestants continue to this day to try to belittle the Catholic Church and its thinkers, scientists and culture leaders. I hope that won’t be a pattern that is repeated here by evangelicals who all the while claim objectivity. Speak larger & with more respect when you use that name, Joshua, is the advice I would give you.

Evangelicalism as a communal ideology wrapped in post-modern values in the USA today is a large part of the problem that your solution would need to address, directly or indirectly. It involves evolution denial and anti-science attitude among protestants that is simply uncomfortable for many people involved. Limiting your strategy of defending genealogical Adam and Eve first and foremost to protestants, anglicals and other national or regional sects of Christianity isn’t the best way forward imho.

Why do you feel you need to communicate a message about genealogical Adam to Roman Catholics, rather than just starting with & sticking only or mainly to evangelical protestants? The results of the choices and priorities of invitation do of course matter.


#6

@auntyevology

I think you should have another cup of coffee. When Catholic-inspired writers criticize @swamidass’ positions, it behooves a man to think maybe he needs to come up with a better way to explain something to those with a Catholic perspective.

There are plenty of words and sentences to go 'round, Aunty.

Are you really here to help with the task of advancing the acceptance of Evolutionary science in a religious world? Or are you here to take pot-shots at anyone with ideas more creative than your own?


#7

“I think you should have another cup of coffee.”

This kind of language is unhelpful & makes you appear as a bad dialogue partner, @gbrooks9. Thankfully, my conversation with others doesn’t depend on such interventions as what you just made.

Having read a few of your sectarian universalism salted posts, I can think of a lot of things that “you should have,” sir. Politeness requires not writing them. Good day.

Skipping back to the actual conversation, this move towards Roman Catholicism via “a Catholic journal” by @swamidass through @vjtorley could be very interesting.


#8

@vjtorley before I go farther, I want to emphasize that there are multiple ways of handling this. I was not presenting that view as normative. It is entirely possible that there a better way forward, or at least a way that you like better. I entirely support that.

So taking your view a bit farther, there is some things I cannot quite put together in your writing. It seems like an consistency, but I am not quite sure.

On one hand you are looking for evidence of a rational soul, but on the other hand you note that a rational soul can exist before a being is rational.

So if that is the view you take, that means rationality is intrinsic to our souls, which are immaterial, and can exist even if by all outward appearances we do not have rationality (e.g an embryo). If that is the case, it is possible that, for example, Homo erectus has a rational soul, but does not yet have the “underlying scaffolding” yet to make it evident. Right?

If that is the case, why even try and figure out “when” this occurs from scientific evidence/ You would just not be able to tell. For all we know, a “non-rational” ancestor of ours might just be an “embryonic” sort of state, with a rational state but not yet enough scaffolding.

So here, you are saying something else, that if Neandertals gain the genes to be “rational” then they ipso facto have a soul. I’m not tracking this on several levels,

  1. If descendents of Adam interbreed with others (e.g. Neanderthals) why do you care about genetic sole-progenitorship in the first place? In the end, it is just a red herring. We do not expect Adam and Eve to be our genetic sole-progenitors if there was interbreeding.

  2. Also, are you saying that the soul is determined by genetics? Does that mean a Sapien that looses this gene does not have a rational soul either? Why would we attach this to a gene?

  3. You seem to be saying that observable rationality (e.g. in a Neandertals-Sapiens hybrid) that is de facto evidence of a soul. Does that mean if humans ever made artificial intelligence with a rational mind, would then de facto have a soul?

  4. I should also point out your last criteria of religion is not knowable about our ancestors till within the last 10,000 years (“a desire to placate some Higher Power(s) in order to obtain favors and/or protection.”) So even if you see, for example, all the rest of these things, we could never be sure they had a rational soul by your definition, it seems.

I cannot make sense of all this together.

You seem to be looking for evidence of a rational mind in history, but you also hold that a rational soul can exist without a body capable of exhibiting that rationality. You seem to think that a rational mind, in all cases means there is a rational soul too, but I’m not sure how that could be true. I’m sure you do not mean that humans can construct a soul.

I’m not sure value is intrinsic in any context. It is only valuable if someone finds value in it. This blurs no lines, because Jesus died for all of us, not the animals. He clearly values us. This also echoes Scripture:

It is because of the value God places in man that we are to kill each other. That value, however, is granted to us by God (creator endowed). However, if you want to say we are valuable because we have souls, that is fine by me. I’m just not sure how having souls means we are valuable. It seems like a nonsequitur.


So sorry for the far ranging post, but I’m trying to figure out what you mean here. Can you clarify?


#9

@auntyevology

I look forward to the day when you have dropped all the antagonism you have donated unsparingly towards @swamidass. For a person to demonstrate such animus, it is usually required that the person provide some other countervailing value - - like information additional evidential support against Young Earth Creationism.

What do you think your most important contribution of information to this website has been to date?


#10

@swamidass
Hi Joshua,

Thank you for your queries, which are entirely reasonable. I’d like to respond to them as best I can.

First things first. I have, on this and other Peaceful Science threads, defended a broadly Aristotelian-Thomistic view of the human soul: namely, that its defining property is rationality (a property which other animals lack), that it is immaterial and hence immortal, and that it is created ex nihilo by God and infused into the human body long before a developing child exercises reason (modern Thomists would say that the soul is infused at conception, although Aristotle and Aquinas maintained otherwise). I have defended this view because I am a Catholic, and most of the points listed above are taught by the Catholic Church. The Church has never, however, infallibly taught that only humans are rational, although it does teach that only humans are made in the image and likeness of God.

But although I am a Catholic, I am a questioning Catholic. As you are probably well aware, there have always been Christians who have adopted a materialistic theory of human nature. Instead of adopting a belief in the immortality of the soul, these Christians maintain that death is a sleep and emphasize instead the resurrection of the body. They say that what makes us human is not our immortal soul, but our unique brain, which they regard as having been designed by God. It is an interesting view, although I can’t quite understand how they envisage a material brain as having a concept of God. They also believe in libertarian free will: that is, although they think the human brain makes moral choices, they do not think the brain’s behavior is determined by either genetics or the environment.

For a long time, I’ve thought that this theory might be correct. I’d hesitate to quantify my degree of belief in this Christian materialist hypothesis, but if I had to pick a number, I’d say 10 or 20%. I don’t know if you’ve ever read my online book, Embryo and Einstein - Why They’re Equal, which I wrote in 2011, but in that book, I adopt a materialistic view of human nature, as I am writing for an atheistic audience. Only in Part D, section (vii), after explaining why I believe a materialist can be pro-life, do I present arguments purporting to show that intentionality cannot be explained in materialistic terms.

In the last year or two, I have begun to wonder again whether the materialistic account may be correct after all, after reading about an interesting case involving craniopagus twins (Krista and Tatiana Hogan) who can talk to each other inside their heads, without saying anything to each other. This doesn’t seem to fit the Thomistic account of the mind at all, as I argue here:

The craniopagus twins from British Columbia: A test case for Thomistic dualism

The Craniopagus Twins and Thomistic Dualism (A reply by Professor Michael Egnor, who is a Thomist)

Craniopagus twins revisited: A response to Professor Egnor

I hope you can now understand why I’m very interested in the brains and the genes of prehistoric humans. More on that below.

I’d now like to address your queries.

@swamidass
So if that is the view you take, that means rationality is intrinsic to our souls, which are immaterial, and can exist even if by all outward appearances we do not have rationality (e.g an embryo). If that is the case, it is possible that, for example, Homo erectus has a rational soul, but does not yet have the “underlying scaffolding” yet to make it evident. Right?

Rationality can exist in an individual who never displays it (e.g. a PVS patient) - either as an immaterial capacity (on the Aristotelian-Thomistic view), or (on the Christian materialist view) as the default “norm” or proper state for that individual to be in, as a member of a rational species (i.e. we can say that if it didn’t have those faulty genes, it would exhibit, or would have exhibited, rationality).

However, rationality cannot be said to exist in a species which never displays it, such as Homo erectus. For if the species’ typical form of life as an organism does not include rationality, then in what sense can we meaningfully describe the species itself as rational? If the species is complete, asn an organism, without rationality, then rationality is not part of its nature. (By contrast, the embryo is not yet complete, as it is still developing, but it has a rational telos, as a member of a species, Homo sapiens, which simply could not survive as a species without rationality. And a PVS patient, as an individual possessing defective genes, is incomplete, as its genes have been damaged by a cruel twist of fate.)

@swamidass

  1. If descendents of Adam interbreed with others (e.g. Neanderthals) why do you care about genetic sole-progenitorship in the first place? In the end, it is just a red herring. We do not expect Adam and Eve to be our genetic sole-progenitors if there was interbreeding.

They would still be our sole human progenitors, even if our ancestors interbred with Neandertals which lacked reason.

@swamidass

  1. Also, are you saying that the soul is determined by genetics? Does that mean a Sapien that loses this gene does not have a rational soul either? Why would we attach this to a gene?

I’m saying that there’s a possibility that Christian materialism may turn out to be true. In that case, our ability to reason would be genetically based. Presumably there’d be some genetic threshold that was crossed at some point by our hominin ancestors, whereby some of them acquired the capacity for rational, abstract thought, thereby becoming true human beings. But if some individuals belonging to Homo sapiens subsequently lost some of the genes that confer rationality, then tat would pose no problem. For they would still belong to a species which is naturally incapable of surviving without rationality. (For instance: in the past, human babies would have required an extended period of parental care and training, provided by both a father and a mother, as anthropologists have demonstrated that solo mothers, or even mothers aided by grandmothers, would not have been able to gather enough food for their babies by foraging. That meant men had to make a long-term commitment to the mothers of their offspring, as family providers, which means they had to be capable of planning for the long-term future, which in turn means they had to possess the use of reason.) So since modern human individuals with defective genes still belong to a rational species, the genes which they lost were nevertheless genes which by nature they ought to have possessed. In other words, their telos is still rational, so in that sense, they still qualify as rational. Or putting it another way: we can imagine some super-scientist of the future fixing these individuals’ faulty genes and removing the impediments to their displaying rationality, without any loss of identity on their part: they’d still be the same individuals.

@swamidass

  1. You seem to be saying that observable rationality (e.g. in a Neandertals-Sapiens hybrid) that is de facto evidence of a soul. Does that mean if humans ever made artificial intelligence with a rational mind, would then de facto have a soul?

I have to say that right at the moment, I’m not terribly impressed with artificial intelligence. For one thing, it’s not even an “it”: that is to say, it’s not an entity possessing any individuality. Artificial intelligence is merely an algorithm. When you play against a chess-playing computer, for instance, you aren’t battling against a machine, or physical hunk of metal; rather, all you’re battling against is an insubstantial program, even if it is a self-improving one.

For another thing, even if an artificial intelligence were somehow an individual, it’s not a living thing. Consequently, it has no “good of its own,” or telos, as even the humblest bacterium has. Its goals are not intrinsic to it, but have to be programmed into it.

But in answer to your question, if at some distant future date, organic computing had made leaps and bounds, and some team of scientists had designed a living thing utterly unlike ourselves, such that rational computation was part of its telos which it needed to realize in order to survive as an organism, then I would have to recognize that organism as rational too. However, the very success of this project only makes sense on a Christian materialist framework. For if souls are immaterial and infused by God, then there is no reason to believe that a living computer, no matter how sophisticated, would ever be infused with a soul. A Thomist would say that such a computer exhibited “sham rationality,” as it had been programmed to mimic human rationality, which is immaterial.

@swamidass

  1. I should also point out your last criteria of religion is not knowable about our ancestors till within the last 10,000 years (“a desire to placate some Higher Power(s) in order to obtain favors and/or protection.”) So even if you see, for example, all the rest of these things, we could never be sure they had a rational soul by your definition, it seems.

On the Thomist view, any creature with the capacity for abstract thought is ipso facto capable of knowing God as the Creator of the universe. On a Christian materialist view, any creature with the brain structures which support or instantiate our concept of God is capable of knowing God. As far as we can tell, the brain structures associated with our theory of mind seem to be also associated with religious concepts, such as the concept of God. On such a view, belief in God would be much older than 10,000 years. I might add that Venus figurines, which are surely religious, go back 25,000 years.

@swamidass
However, if you want to say we are valuable because we have souls, that is fine by me. I’m just not sure how having souls means we are valuable. It seems like a non sequitur.

If having a rational soul entails that one is capable of having abstract concepts, including the concept of God, and if having a concept of God entails that one is intrinsically valuable, then having a rational soul does indeed imply that one is intrinsically valuable.

Well, it’s 2 a.m. over here, so I’m afraid I must retire for the evening, as I have to work tomorrow. I hope what I’ve written answers your very penetrating questions. Cheers, Joshua.


#11

“antagonism you have donated unsparingly towards @swamidass.” - @gbrooks9

You really must live in a fantasy world to write such things. @swamidass is doing just fine without your interventions in his defence. I’m sure a handshake rather than a punch to or from him would be the in-person introduction between us.

On the other hand, it does not sound like you could escape Unitarian universalist ideology to return to orthodox Christianity without having a strong, unique experience. Maybe that is what you came to BioLogos & now here to find?

“information additional evidential support against Young Earth Creationism.”

Additional information & evidence? What am I an anti-YEC punching bag? ; )

Knowledge that we are given by God and man and have received shall be displayed at the right time, and is being displayed with every jot and scribble of blog post, tweet & professional writing.


#12

@auntyevology

Huh? What?

My point was, if you are here to help defend Evolutionary science for sincere-minded Christians, then tolerating your antagonism would be part of the equation.

But if you are “kind of tired” and don’t have the energy to help refute YEC assertions… but you do have the energy to hover over @swamidass with a constant barrage of antagonism…

… then my respect for your presence will pretty much drop to zero.

Your call. If you don’t care what I think … carry on, and as you were…


#13

@vjtorley,

Okay, after a few days thinking about it, I can summarize your position in my head somewhat. I think part of what is going on is that you are mixing several things together. I’m not sure I can bind all you are saying into a coherent whole yet, but that might be because you are actually presenting two things at once, or I missed something critical.

How much of the Thomist view is cannonized? Maybe Aquinas was wrong on some things. How much of his view has become the official position of the Church? Regardless, let me take this forward as far as we can.

I will however leave the materialism possibility behind, because I do think that is not terribly tenable in Catholic doctrine. From a genetic point of view, I do not think it makes much sense when considering Adam. Remember, genes only inherit unreliably. So not all of Adam’s grand-children would be “human” if that is how we mean to define human.

Some Ways Forward

In some sense, the easiest solution for you will be just to affirm genetic sole-progenitorship, or nearly sole-progenitorship (because of interbreeding with Neanderthals). Maybe that is correct, and I see why you are drawn to it.

However, I think the question remains whether or not God’s Image must come uniquely from Adam and Eve, or if it could have pre-existed him in a community of “humans” that perhaps all were endowed rational souls and the Image of God at a singular moment in the past. It seems the only key point is that “original sin” and the “Fall” begins with Adam, not that the Image of God begins with him, at a singular origin. It seems that God could have endowed us as a community with His Image in one of several ways:

  1. Miraculously giving all our ancestors alive at a point in history, instantly, the genetic capacity for rationality, and also rational souls.
  2. Allow or guiding evolution endow all our ancestors with the genetic capacity for rationality over 100,000 years, but this capacity remained latent until He instantly and simultaneously granted them all rational souls.
  3. Allow or guiding evolution endow all our ancestors with the genetic capacity for rationality over 100,000 years, but this capacity was only partially visible until He later instantly and simultaneously granted them all rational souls.
  4. God granted all our ancestors a rational soul, which was initially latent (as it is with an embryo), and then allowed or guided evolution to endow all our ancestors with the genetic capacity for rationality over 100,000 years, thereby revealing our rational souls.

Then later Adam would arise and Fall. Humans of theology would be descendenta of Adam, but theology would be silent about the humans that did not descend from Adam.

Latent Rationality and Telos

Why not? Where does that rule come from? Seems option #4 is as reasonable as the rest. The reason why it would be considered rational is because, just like an embryo, it is destined to be rational and has a rational soul.

The point is that the latency of their rationality does not in any way impair the rationality of their soul. Their is a disconnect between the observed rationality and the rational soul. As you would say, their telos is still rational, even though they are not yet rational. So in the same way that the telos of an embryo is rational, so it has a rational soul even before it has a brain, why cannot a Homo erectus have a rational soul, because of the telos of becoming humans?

Yes, but the point is that the latency of their rationality does not in any way impair the rationality of their soul. Their is a disconnect between the observed rationality and the rational soul.

Without belaboring this point more, I’d just say that we cannot tell from archaeological evidence when the rational soul arises. Your own use of the soul in these cases demonstrates it is not connected to what we observe in these key boundary cases. Origins is just another such boundary case.

How do we know they are religious? I’m not convinced we can be certain. Without any text explaining the mental state of those who made them, how can you come to confidence that they are religious? Even if they were, perhaps that is the point when the Image of God comes (e.g. taking one of the models above), right?

Loose Ends

That is a statement of genealogical sole-progenitorship. That is fine, but it has not much at all to do with genetics. That makes genetics a red-herring for you. You are putting forward a genealogical Adam model, not a genetic Adam model.

I’m not sure I see any problem here. My atheist colleagues certainly see a concept of God being contained in material brains. I am not sure why they would be wrong.

True, but these people who are before Adam would be “human” in many senses (rational souls, and Image of God), but not in all the ways we mean it now (Fallen). It seems that positing the existence of these beings, exclusively in the deep past, is not violating any of Catholic Doctrine, which should be silent on such matters.

Also, there must be bounds to this statement. In historical context, it seems to be speaking of animals vs. humans. I do not think, for example, that this is a claim that God never made aliens in his Image on some other planet or universe. Is it? Is God not free to make people when ever he likes in His Image? Of course, Scripture and doctrine would be silent about these people, not denying their status as rational souls, but just not giving this information.


#14

Another option @vjtorley was put forward by Antoine Suarez (catholic philosopher). He argues that rational souls can be endowed by the sacrament of marriage.

  1. God would infuse rational souls into the neighbors of Adam and Eve’s offspring as they interbred together. Of course, in present day, everyone has a rational soul, so this is not relevant any more. It would have only been important in the distant past, for a season, and may have been entirely invisible to those at that time.

#15

For the most part, my response took a Thomist view. However, is that really the way Catholicism sees it as canonized fact? Must the Image of God be linked to a rational soul in this way? I do not see this in the papal pronouncements. Rather, they just insist that an immaterial soul eventually came to all mankind, and that this soul is immaterial.


#16

Hi Joshua,

I’ll answer your last query first:

@swamidass
For the most part, my response took a Thomist view. However, is that really the way Catholicism sees it as canonized fact? Must the Image of God be linked to a rational soul in this way? I do not see this in the papal pronouncements. Rather, they just insist that an immaterial soul eventually came to all mankind, and that this soul is immaterial.

OK. Here’s a quote from the ecumenical council of Vienne (1311):

Moreover, with the approval of the said council, we reject as erroneous and contrary to the truth of the catholic faith every doctrine or proposition rashly asserting that the substance of the rational or intellectual soul is not of itself and essentially the form of the human body, or casting doubt on this matter. In order that all may know the truth of the faith in its purity and all error may be excluded, we define that anyone who presumes henceforth to assert defend or hold stubbornly that the rational or intellectual soul is not the form of the human body of itself and essentially, is to be considered a heretic.

And here’s a quote from the Fifth Ecumenical Lateran Council (1512-1517):

Consequently, since in our days (which we endure with sorrow) the sower of cockle, the ancient enemy of the human race, has dared to scatter and multiply in the Lord’s field some extremely pernicious errors, which have always been rejected by the faithful, especially on the nature of the rational soul, with the claim that it is mortal, or only one among all human beings, and since some, playing the philosopher without due care, assert that this proposition is true at least according to philosophy, it is our desire to apply suitable remedies against this infection and, with the approval of the sacred council, we condemn and reject all those who insist that the intellectual soul is mortal, or that it is only one among all human beings, and those who suggest doubts on this topic. For the soul not only truly exists of itself and essentially as the form of the human body, as is said in the canon of our predecessor of happy memory, pope Clement V, promulgated in the general council of Vienne, but it is also immortal; and further, for the enormous number of bodies into which it is infused individually, it can and ought to be and is multiplied.

So there we have it. The human soul is referred to as “the rational soul.” It is immortal, and it is not merely accidentally united to the body, but essentially, as its form. Lastly, each human being has his/her own rational soul.

As for the image of God, here’s what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say, quoting the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes:

1703 Endowed with "a spiritual and immortal" soul,(5) the human person is “the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake.”(6) From his conception, he is destined for eternal beatitude.
1704 The human person participates in the light and power of the divine Spirit. By his reason, he is capable of understanding the order of things established by the Creator. By free will, he is capable of directing himself toward his true good. He finds his perfection “in seeking and loving what is true and good.”(7)
1705 By virtue of his soul and his spiritual powers of intellect and will, man is endowed with freedom, an “outstanding manifestation of the divine image.”(8)
Refs:
5 GS 14 § 2.
6 GS 24 § 3.
7 GS 15 § 2.
8 GS 17.

Thus the position that the image of God consists in our spiritual powers of intellect (i.e. rationality) and free will reflects official Catholic teaching. I hope that answers your question.


#17

Hi Joshua,

Back again. You write:

The short answer is that in Aristotelian philosophy, your telos relates to what is good for you, as an individual. You appear to be confusing intrinsic with extrinsic finality. The latter relates to a purpose (often a long-range one), external to the thing itself, while the former relates to a thing’s self-contained purpose, or what is good for that particular thing. Telos relates to the former notion: it is intrinsic to a creature.

Now ask yourself: could God give a rational soul to a chimp, or even a chimp-like early hominin living 5 million years ago? The answer is no. A rational soul can only exist in the kind of body which (when healthy and fully developed) is capable of manifesting rationality, and of satisfying the demands of being rational. Being rational requires an individual to have a brain that is capable of storing, manipulating, ordering and linking information in a very advanced way. We know, from observation, experimentation and interactions with them, what chimps’ brains will allow them to do, and it still falls short of rational behavior. So the question we need to answer is: did Homo erectus have a brain that would have allowed him to be taught to use language and engage in other behaviors we define as rational? If the answer is no, then it would make no sense to say that he possessed a rational soul, any more than it would make sense to say that a chimp or a cat possessed one.

I’ll be back later, as I have to go out shortly. Cheers.


#18

Hi Joshua,

Back again. You suggest that “God could have endowed us as a community with His Image in one of several ways:”

For reasons outlined in my previous post, we can rule out option 4. It makes no sense to ascribe a rational soul to a creature which, even when mature and healthy, is incapable of manifesting rationality. If it did make sense to do so, then we might as well say that the very first living thing had a latent rational soul, since it was the ancestor of rational human beings (among other organisms). I take it nobody would want to argue for that position.

Option 1 is certainly theologically possible. The only question is whether it is biologically plausible. Much as I’d like to believe it, I have to say that there’s absolutely no evidence that hominins suddenly acquired any set of genes during the past 7 million-odd years, let alone the genetic scaffolding required by a rational soul.

The leaves options 2 and 3. What both of them presuppose is that two creatures can exist which are atom-for-atom duplicates of one another, where one possesses a rational soul, while the other does not. I find that view unacceptable, because it would seem to imply that the rational soul is not essentially the form of the human body, as decreed by the ecumenical council of Vienne in 1311. Instead, it would mean that the human body can have either a rational human soul or a non-rational bestial soul as its form.

I’m also not sure what you mean by “partially visible” in option 3.

You also mention another option, proposed by Catholic philosopher Antoine Suarez:

  1. God would infuse rational souls into the neighbors of Adam and Eve’s offspring as they interbred together. Of course, in present day, everyone has a rational soul, so this is not relevant any more. It would have only been important in the distant past, for a season, and may have been entirely invisible to those at that time.

I find this objectionable for the same reason as I object to 2 and 3: it seems to be at odds with the Council of Vienne’s declaration that the rational soul is essentially the form of the human body.

What my interpretation of the teaching of the council of Vienne implies is that if God infused any hominins with a rational soul in the distant past, then (a) they must have been genetically distinct from other hominins which were not infused with a rational soul, and (b) the infusion must have been occurred at their conception.

Another probable corollary is that (c ) the mutations which would have endowed these hominins with the genetic prerequisites for rationality were probably divinely engineered, as it is unlikely that one or two mutations would have sufficed: presumably a suite of mutations would have been needed to transform a hominin from a clever creature which did not require rationality in order to eke out a living into a sapient creature which could not have survived without the capacity for rational thought.

One might speculate that a set of mutations leading to a sudden increase in the size of the human brain in a small population of hominins - perhaps even a primordial couple (genetic Adam and Eve?) - would make the energetic requirements of feeding and raising an infant so costly that the long-term commitment of fathers would have been absolutely essential in order for these hominins to survive. Long-term commitment, of course, requires rationality. (Life-long monogamy would have been required for the rearing of children whose prolonged infancy and whose large, energy-demanding brains would have made it impossible for their mothers to feed them alone, without a committed husband who would provide for the family.) The mutations that led to a sudden enlargement of the human brain might also have led to a reorganization of the brain, endowing our ancestors with the neurological wherewithal for autobiographical memory (which, as far as we know, is unique to human beings) and a full-blooded theory of mind (and hence, genuine empathy).

I could of course be wrong here, but I think it’s a scenario worth discussing. Evolutionists won’t like it much because it requires tinkering on God’s part. Creationists won’t like it either because it frankly acknowledges that humans and apes share a common ancestor.

The timing of this set of mutations is critical. Certainly, by 400,000 years ago, the largest brained hominins had cranial capacities considerably greater than the 850 cubic centimeters associated with the Turkana boy (Homo ergaster), 1.5 to 1.6 million years ago. It would be tempting to suggest that this sudden increase coincided with the appearance of Homo sapiens, but probably wrong. It seems that Heidelberg man (if that taxon is valid) already had a brain size of 1250 cubic centimeters, compared to an average of just about 1000 cubic centimeters for Peking man, who was roughly contemporaneous. The mutations permitting the development of higher cognition and social networking appear to have arisen at a later date, with the arrival of Homo sapiens. On the other hand, there is also evidence suggesting that Neandertals did not practice pair bonding, which may have been one of the factors giving Homo sapiens a competitive advantage.

I’d now like to address a couple of incidental points you raised.

@swamidass
I do not think, for example, that this is a claim that God never made aliens in his Image on some other planet or universe. Is it? Is God not free to make people when ever he likes in His Image? Of course, Scripture and doctrine would be silent about these people, not denying their status as rational souls, but just not giving this information.

I quite agree that if God wished to create aliens on other planets, or even another race of rational creatures on this planet, He could certainly have done so. What He cannot do, however, is endow a being which is inherently incapable of manifesting rationality with a rational soul. Were that possible, then one might as well say that clouds may turn out to have rational souls.

@swamidass
My atheist colleagues certainly see a concept of God being contained in material brains. I am not sure why they would be wrong.

It’s difficult to see how a material entity could store a representation something utterly immaterial, let alone transcendent. But if you have any ideas, then I’m all ears.

Anyway, I think that’s enough for now. Over to you.


Kenneth Kemp, Monogenesis, and Polygenesis
#19

Thanks @vjtorley and @AntoineSuarez for joining the conversation. I’m going to answer here, in a post that might bring some resolution to all this. @Agauger I hope you can take a look at this too, and let us know what you think.

Clearing Some Underbrush

Great, you accept this theologically. Good news, it is biologically possible. So, I’m going to put a pin here, and make use of this later. Do not forget that you are okay with Option 1 as a way to make sense of the rise of rational souls and the Image of God. The timing of this is not that important. Pick a time. I just does not matter from a scientific point of view, and you can use archeology to guide you (perhaps using your argument for 400 kya, or @agauger’s for 2 mya, or behaviorally modern humans 50 kya).

I think you are missing something very big here. (1) Even if there is no evidence for this, it may have still happened. (2) It would not necessarily have required a large number of new genes, but perhaps just a 10 or 20 coordinated mutations. Just because it cannot be proven does not mean it did not happen. That puts it beyond science, but we are not doing science here. We are doing, instead, science-engaged theology.

If God did, for example, miraculously give all our ancestors 400 kya a set of 10 mutations that gave them a rational soul, what would it look like today? From our point of view, these 10 mutations would appear just like the 30 to 40 million mutations that different between chimps and humans. We would have no way scientifically of separating the “signal from the noise.” A God who can raise Jesus from the dead, also, can certainly do something like this. So there is no reason for a Christian to be troubled by such an proposal. The same could have happened 2 mya ago too, in an @agauger model.

I entirely affirm methodological naturalism in scientific discourse (even though it is incorrectly named). However, this is not scientific discourse. You are doing science-engaged theology where there should be no problem with God doing things that have a large effect, but human has a hard time discerning.

Brains are material. Minds are not material, but are apparently connected to Brains. Concepts are not material, and held within Minds. There is no special challenge to a “concept of God”, any more than is there a “concept of numbers.”

I think the notion of “information” is helpful here. Information is immaterial, but is often encoded in material things. Even materialists affirm the existence of information, but (perhaps) assert it must always be encoded in material things. Materialism is not and never has been a total denial of information or numbers, etc.

This is a key point. Hold on to this. Keep in mind, also, that these rational beings would not descend from Adam. That means we agree God could have made rational creatures on this planet (or another planet, or another universe) that do not descend from Adam. This is a key point I am going to rely on soon.

You may be right, but I doubt for this reason. A non-rational Homo erectus has a different Telos than a chimp or a cat, because his descendents are destined to give rise to rational beings. This is very different than a chimp or a cat. So the analogy does not hold.

I’m not confusing the two. If a beings intrinsic Telos is to give rise to rational beings (in some ways like an embryo, but not like a sperm and egg), then it is possible that it has a rational soul that is even the top down causation of developing that rationality on a biological level. This is a minor point, because you already accept Option 1. So we can let this go, but I do want to clarify you are missing a category here. A non-rational Homo erectus is clearly different than a Chimp, because he is going to give rise to us. That gives him a very different telos, which I am arguing is not much different than an embryo.

Looping in @AntoineSuarez: Why a Single Couple Matters

Regarding the Image of God and rational souls, @AntoineSuarez, I totally agree. Monophylogeny is a sufficiently strong disputation of polygenesis, that it should be just fine to imagine that the rational souls, at some point at the past, are granted to who community by God’s miraculous work (even if it requires mutations).

However, that is not all the Catholic teaching holds important in origins. I believe, even in Catholic teaching, the reason for wanting a single couple is because fo the Fall. It is thought by most people (including Catholics I though!) that the Fall must come through one person, Adam. @vjtorley, @AntoineSuarez, and @Agauger, I’d be interested in seeing (1) if I’m misreading Catholic thought here, and/or (2) what those specific binding statements are for you.

A Catholic Genealogical Adam

So, therefore, we could take all this conversation to propose a model that, it appears, satisfies all the doctrinal constraints of Catholic thought.

First (Genesis 1), God creates all humankind, male and female, in His Image, as rational beings, with rational souls, as a community. He does this by miraculously giving all our ancestors alive at a point in history (either 400 kya or 2 mya), instantly, the genetic capacity for rationality (by putting a set of 10 to 20 key mutations instantly into their genomes), and also rational souls. To be clear, they are all Adamites in the Image of God, in that they all have the same biological type of as Adam (e.g. Homo sapiens, or Homo genus).

Second (Genesis 2), at a later time or maybe the same time (perhaps 15 kya with the rise of agriculture, or 6 kya with the rise of written language), God creates (or chooses) Adam and Eve and places them in a divine Garden. They live for a time here, but then they fall. As their offspring interbreed with others, they become ancestors of us all. In this way, they give rise to a new type of rational souls, that entirely supplants the first.

This happens quickly too, so when Scripture is given, there is no need to reference the race of Adamites that do not descend from Adam. Instead, Scripture only references the fallen descendants of Adam, all of us.

Responding to Objections

Objection 1: Beastiality, or God Imaged and ensouled people breeding with non-ensouled people. This does not apply, because (1) God makes the whole community rational at the same time, and (2) those outside the garden are souled and rational people too.

Objection 2: All men are supposed to be fallen, so Unfallen people in the distant past is a theological problem. However, we already agreed that God could have made another race of rational souls that do not descend from Adam, in the distant past, another planet, or another universe. So there is nothing any more troubling about this than life on other planets. No modifications are theology in the present day are required, because all men today are fallen.

Objection 3: This is not a scientific proposal. Of course it not. It is science engaged theology, and it might even be true. Science does not consider God’s action, but it begs the question to conclude that he did not act. We find, rather, that if God did this, we would not even be able to see evidence for (or against) it.

Objection 4: God’s Image comes through one couple, not to a population as a whole. That does not appear to be in Scripture or in Catholic teaching. Rather all the “single couple” statements are confined to the fall. Also, we’ve already agreed that Option 1 above is a viable way that the Image of God could have come instantly to a population as a whole.

Does this Work?

From what I gather, this is an entirely plausible model within a catholic context. What I have learned, however, is that much more attention to the Catholic conception of the Image of God, souls, and rationality is required. Honestly, I have learned a lot.

Do you agree that this could be a Catholic model? What remaining objections are there? How would you adjust this from here?


Adam and adams, not Adamites
Kenneth Kemp, Monogenesis, and Polygenesis
#20

@vjtorley, @AntoineSuarez and @Agauger, there was a suggestion to develop this into an academic paper. That could be a fun collaborative project if you are interested. Let me know as this develops what you think. Obviously, you’d have to agree this is one option (not necessarily your preferred view), and that might take some more discussion.