Dennis Jensen: A scientifically viable model for a first human couple?

@Robert,

I think your response to recent post is pretty obviously disingenous. Even @swamidass could see it as immediately.

Sorry I’m so long in getting back to the discussion. You guys are amazing. You make responses as quickly as someone makes a post it seems. With some of my other obligations it may be a couple of days, sometimes even more, before I can make my responses. So please do not think that because I haven’t responded in some time that I’ve disengaged from the discussion. To try to focus on the more important points I won’t respond to all of the issues which have been raised. I will probably respond to some or most of them later however. Here are some quotes from your last post, John, and my responses.

“One mutation doesn’t make a species, and it doesn’t make a subspecies. What it makes is a new alleles in the population.”

“The greatest naivete is reserved for your idea that it can possibly be a single allele that separates ‘human’ from ‘animal’.”

“And what makes you think that very small genetic changes (originating, you postulate, in a single individual) would in fact suffice?”

If a subspecies cannot be defined as those possessing this new allele, I’ll no longer use the term. I hope you understand that this is a point of detail and does not affect the major claim I’m making. You still have not shown that a single regulator mutation cannot make the differences that separate humans from their closest animal relatives. Being morally aware, self-conscious, conscious of other minds, and spiritually aware could involve an extremely small difference in genetic change. Most of the neurological machinery may already be there to allow for this change. Some other models will claim that no physical changes at all are needed, just a spiritual impetus or a distinct enculturation. I would think that the more likely final difference involves some genetic change. I stated in my last post, “Couldn’t one’s genetic makeup be built up to a point that with one final mutation a large number of non-functioning genes are finally set in motion?” Of course it could also be that some of these genes could have other previous functions as well.

Luke Janssen writes, “On a blog which I maintain, I have included a photograph which powerfully depicts how a very small genetic mutation can convey an amazing advantage to an organism and thereby catapult the organisms which inherit the change into a whole new level of competitive superiority” (Standing on the Shoulders of Giants, 97). I don’t know what example Janssen offered, I only know that your claim is disputed by other scientists and you have still not attempted to verify your claim.

“Nor does the ‘non-human’ population die out; the population is, if anything, transformed as your ‘humanizing’ allele spreads through it.”

No, they do die out. Each individual having the new allele is distinct from those not having it. For many generations, some will have the allele and some will not. Eventually those not having it will be selected against if the new allele has a survival advantage and those not having it could die out. To speak of the allele as though it merely “spreads through” the population is so vague that it misrepresent the process and leads to misunderstanding. Those lacking the allele do not receive it and blend in with everyone else. They survive without the allele until they die, future generations will have less members lacking the allele, and eventually in even further future generations, only those possessing the new allele will exist.

“Nor is there any evidence for such a sudden transition. Presumably it would leave cultural evidence, though not morphological evidence.”

One of the only lines of evidence it would leave would be some kind of indication of increase in intelligence. And as I’ve pointed out, even that may not be evident immediately with this mutation. Evidence of increased intelligence has happened more than once in our history. At the moment it looks to me as though the transition 100 or 130 kya would be the best bet.

Archeological evidence for the presence of religious awareness might provide some reason to look for some rough time constraints for the first humans. However, such evidence is rarely clear and religious activity and awareness might be much earlier than its first clear signs.

I stated previously, “If the crucial distinction between the first humans and their closest relatives, a species of advanced primates, involves their moral and spiritual awareness, I would think that very small genetic changes would suffice.” To this you responded with “If” as though that constitutes a criticism. All that we need to see is that this could be the distinguishing difference between humans and their closest animal relatives. I don’t need to demonstrate that this is definitely the case. Just this possibility is enough to remove the criticism that any distinction between the two must be greater.

“I see no sign that there is any such distinction [between the first humans and their non-human predecessors which involves moral and spiritual awareness].”

Are you saying that the first modern humans were not different in this regard from their predecessors? Do you think all animals have this awareness? If not, then when did it begin? My point is that it had to begin with some individual and it would be then that modern humanness originated.

“And if it were true, you would be able to locate the relevant single difference between Neandertal/Denisovan genomes and modern human ones.”

No, it wouldn’t necessarily be a single gene that we would need to look for, it would likely be a number of gene changes. Remember that I said that there may be a number of mutations adding or changing genes which are neutral in themselves and some may even be harmful but not enough to have a survival disadvantage. So if you have this gene buildup and then a final last mutation which gets some of them activated and some deactivated, then we could have the change into humanness. The prehumans just prior to them would have the gene buildup except for the last mutation. But that buildup may or may not be present in the Neandertal/Denisovan genomes. It may not even be present in what is called the modern human genomes until we get close enough to the true human origin point.

Species or What?

Part of what is going on here is a communication and conceptual gap between “species” in science and the “essentialist” understanding of “human” that is common among theologians. This is not an ultimate conflict, but it is impeding understanding here.

The way biologists think of species, we’d almost never think of it arising from such tiny amount of genetic changes. This hardly matters to the theologian’s point. The substantialist mean “human” as those with a certain set of traits (or intended traits). As soon as the final genetic elements are in place to enable such traits (and perhaps other components too), we have a “human.” Before that point we don’t. Even if the biologist finds this to be an insignificant change.

Of course, some genetic changes can cause large changes. So maybe even the biologist would say that there is such a large change in attributes in, for example, mental abilities, that it might be understood a very different entity. There are something like 26 different definitions of species used by biologists, and a definition tightly focused on function might actually call this a new species. Of course, we don’t have the ability to peer at our past with enough certainly to tightly define “human” this way in science. It is not impossible to imagine that human language or mental abilities logically requires a large jump at some point (I wonder if @vjtorley can elaborate).

Disability and the Essentialists

As for this objection, as I understand substantialists (@dga471 and @vjtorley might help me here), “human” isn’t defined precisely by what attributes an individual has, but by the attributes they are intended to have in some sense. We are supposed to judge humanness in the counterfactual context of a disease free world. So a severely mentally disabled person might, absent illness, even if so disabled as to lack a full theory of mind, would still be considered a rational soul.

The same would not be true of Adam and Eve’s ancestors in, for example, @DJensen’s model.

My point

Regardless, my point here is that some of the disagreement is caused by a manageable misunderstanding between biology and an essentialist way of thinking about the world. That gap can be bridged with some careful framing.

For Jensen…

@DJensen, I suggest you abandon the language of “species” entirely, opting instead to explain what attributes you think are required for the image of God.

Next, it would helpful if you specified whether or not Adam and Eve’s lineage (the “humans”), when interbreeding with others, could produce a “non-human” offspring. Is that allowable or not? If “no”, you can’t really imagine this as the natural spread of an allele, even if it be the spread of a species defining allele. Perhaps the miraculous spread could work but not by natural mechanisms alone.

As for Eve being Adam’s daughter? That doesn’t make any sense. It seems entirely unneeded. Why not physical refurbishment or de novo creation of Eve?

Is it possible you are overly averse to proposing a miracle? I find a miracle far more plausible than some of the fantastical genetics you are proposing, and I am sure many of the atheists here would agree with me in that assessment.

1 Like

You should learn the language before you write. Improper use of terms is more than a trivial point; it implies that you lack understanding of the field and that you’re just parroting words you’ve seen. Your scenario displays that lack of understanding.

This implies a lengthy series of miracles over thousands or even millions of years just to prepare for that final mutation. Is that where you’re going? The idea of a big set of nonfunctional genes just waiting around for one switch to be tripped is far outside anything we’ve ever seen. How did they get into the population? How were they maintained as potentially functional against the forces of genetic drift? It makes no sense at all. All this shows only a superficial familiarity with some real evolutionary scenarios you may have seen in the literature.

Then you have no basis for bringing it up or discussing it.

Again, this is your unfamiliarity with the terminology. You’re talking about a particular allele becoming fixed and another therefore becoming lost. That involves those with the unfavored allele having fewer offspring than those with the favored allele. But their descendants don’t die out; it’s an interbreeding population in which mating partners are more and more likely to have the favored allele. It spreads.

What is the evidence of increased intelligence at 100 or 130 kya?

What exactly do you mean by “closest animal relatives”? You would see to be referring to a population of anatomically modern Homo sapiens but without your genetic, divine spark, something undetectable from fossils. Is that it?

I’m saying that we have no evidence of any sudden transition, just gradual evolution of morphology. There’s very little evidence at all relating to any spiritual transitions.

I’d think that, like most evolution, it would be hard to pinpoint a beginning. Do you think all mammals are exactly like blue whales? If not, when did blue-whaleness begin?

What you describe, again, is a long series of miracles that create and maintain useless genes in preparation for future utility. It’s a cumbersome scenario with no empirical justification and, as far as I can see, no real theological purpose.

2 Likes

I don’t know why you don’t know what the example was @DJensen, Janssen described it in the next sentences Immediately following the quote you gave. It was the example of how trichromatic vision evolved by the duplication and subtle modification of a rhodopsin gene, leading to a whole new world of colour (e.g. seeing red berries clearly in a green bush).

1 Like

Actually, that originally began as allelic variation in a single gene, and remains so in some New World monkeys. Since it’s sex-linked, only heterozygous females have trichromatic vision.

1 Like

I didn’t know it because I didn’t get the quote from the book but from a review quoting it. I wasn’t interested in talking about the example unless someone else wants to do so. I gave the quote for a different reason.

This may be my last response for a while. I have a deadline coming up and probably won’t be able to respond again until early next month. I also have to make some responses to Swamidass’ posts though I don’t think they are quite as crucial as the issues we are discussing now. I’ll be interested in seeing your response. You can be sure I will be responding again when my obligations are over.

I said, “If a subspecies cannot be defined as those possessing this new allele, I’ll no longer use the term.” To this you replied, “You should learn the language before you write. Improper use of terms is more than a trivial point; it implies that you lack understanding of the field and that you’re just parroting words you’ve seen. Your scenario displays that lack of understanding.”

Swamidass invited me to this forum because I admitted to him that I am not a specialist in this area and I want to see if the ideas I’ve come up with from my limited exposure to genetics and paleoanthropology have any possibilities. I was also encouraged to think that I might receive constructive criticism and information because this forum is called “Peaceful Science” and because the stated rules encourage helpful, irenic criticism and sharing such information. Instead of sharing information about how, say, terms should be properly used, you tell me that I should know this before coming to this forum. It appears that you do not want to entertain and honestly critique new ideas but you simply wish to tell us to come back when we are at your level of professional knowledge. My hope was that I could receive some of the information I need at this forum, that I could get a general grasp of the problems others might see and see if I do or do not have a sufficient a grasp of the field. I think I do have a general grasp of the field that is good enough to offer my model even though I am probably making errors concerning some of the terminology and possibly some of the exact mechanics of genetics and evolution. I would think that the members of this forum would not have to be such elitists that only those with the required background knowledge may talk among themselves. If you think you should not have to entertain my ideas because I have used some terms incorrectly or because I misunderstand some of the exact mechanics of your discipline, then maybe you should let me address my questions to someone else. If you think this, I will be disappointed because I believe I could receive some valuable information from you. My area of interest is more generally in theology, hermeneutics, and philosophy. I’m not a specialist in genetics and I do not want to become one. But I would like to be a generalist touching on genetics and paleoanthropology and I would hope that I have or can attain a sufficiently general understanding of these areas as to offer criticism and receive some information without reprimand for seeking to do so. I would have thought that this would be a place I could receive some of the information I need if or where indeed I do lack it rather than being told to come back later once I receive it from someone else.

You have yet to offer any good criticism of the scenario I have offered. Two of the points you raised for your claim that we should entirely disregard my model involved issues which I said are not at all essential to the model, the issues of dominant over recessive genes and of parent child incest for A&E. In other words, they shouldn’t have even been brought up as reasons to say that the model should be entirely rejected. So I have to question how honest you are in assessing arguments; it’s either that, or I have to question your intelligence in argument assessment. I’m sorry but I don’t see any other alternative. Well, maybe there is one other alternative. Maybe you were in a hurry and just were not thinking carefully enough when you made these points. People do that.

Your other objections were that a single mutation does not distinguish humans from non-humans and that species do not arise from a single mutation. I tried to be careful not to say that this was a change to a new species but rather to a new subspecies. These are the points we have been discussing and I think that we are making some progress here.

I have modified one of my claims. We are not making even a new subspecies, just the old species with some new characteristics. I do this because you tell me that “subspecies” is not the proper word to use. I thought that changing from non-human to human ought to be seen as significant enough to say that an organism is changing to a new subspecies, even if very minor genetic changes actually occur. I also thought the term would be appropriate to make it clear that the two are able to interbreed without any difficulty. But you seem to say that even sub-species should be more strongly distinguished, that a single regulator gene mutation is not enough to bring about a sub-species change. You also say that a single mutation does not distinguish a non-human from a human, a lot more must be involved. So there must be a strong difference between a human and its closest non-human relative.

Let me put some of this in dialogue form so we don’t miss the original statements:

J (Jensen): I stated in my last post, “Couldn’t one’s genetic makeup be built up to a point that with one final mutation a large number of non-functioning genes are finally set in motion?” Of course it could also be that some of these genes could have other previous functions as well.

H (Harshman) : This implies a lengthy series of miracles over thousands or even millions of years just to prepare for that final mutation. Is that where you’re going? The idea of a big set of nonfunctional genes just waiting around for one switch to be tripped is far outside anything we’ve ever seen. How did they get into the population? How were they maintained as potentially functional against the forces of genetic drift? It makes no sense at all. All this shows only a superficial familiarity with some real evolutionary scenarios you may have seen in the literature.

J: If having a large number of non-functional genes building up over thousands of years waiting to be switched is unlikely, then we could reduce their number and have their build up over a shorter amount of time. Also, remember I said that some genes could have a previous function. I pointed out earlier that the change from non-human to human may involve very few changes genetically, a claim you seem to have entirely ignored, except to say it just isn’t so.

You also brought up the claim that a long build-up of neutral genes would be miraculous. We should think about the difference between categories of miracles. In the course of our discussion and some previous ones we’ve talked about the miracle of de novo creation and the miracle of healthy children coming from first degree incest. In the latter case about half of the children are born without genetic defect. This happens by chance. But if God is controlling the process of allowing certain sperm to fertilize only certain eggs then God could be sure if a child has any defects or not. This seems to us a very easy kind of miracle. Yet because God is controlling the process it should still be seen as a miracle. Now consider the miracle of de novo creation. If God has a given quantity of non-living material to work with and has to create a living human from it directly, it is much more difficult to imagine how God could do this without extremely complicated and repetitious processes. Each human cell is an enormously complex machine. I think I’d heard it said that a cell is as complex as a factory the size of a city. My point is simply that some miracles are different than others. I’ve offered some alternative possibilities but if it turns out to be necessary that we have a build up of neutral genes which can only be switched on when the organism is about to be changed into a human, then this seems to me a much easier miracle than a de novo creation. It seems to me to be much more likely that God would specially arrange this kind of gene build-up over thousands or millions of years. Hugh Ross has often said that God does not squander his miracles. We think we have better reason to believe that humans came into existence through evolutionary processes than through fiat, de novo creation. If God created through these evolutionary processes, this would be an example of such a preference. If miracles must be involved in evolutionary creation, it would be much easier to pull off human creation by this kind of gene build up than through de novo creation. So I think human creation, if it must involve gene build-up by divine intervention to finally be switched on, is not that difficult to accept and it does not contradict any current scientific understanding.

H: It’s a cumbersome scenario with no empirical justification and, as far as I can see, no real theological purpose.

J: I don’t see that it’s cumbersome. Aren’t most of our genes believed to have no purpose? At the very least, don’t we have an awfully lot of junk DNA? No, I don’t have empirical justification for this claim. I’m just saying that it is a possibility if we do need a large number of inactive genes (or active with other purposes) in order to transition from a non-human to a human. I wonder if there would be any way to falsify this claim. It does not serve a theological purpose other than to provide a way for a human to be created in such a way as to fit the Genesis account better than some other evolutionary scenarios.

J: I don’t know what example Janssen offered

H: Then you have no basis for bringing it up or discussing it.

J: No, you have no grounds to dismiss it. I’ve only brought this claim up as an example of the statement one scientist makes that a small genetic change can have a very far reaching effect. Only if you are interested in discussing the claim should we determine what the claim says.

You stated, “Nor does the ‘non-human’ population die out; the population is, if anything, transformed as your ‘humanizing’ allele spreads through it.” I replied that it does die out and you said I’m showing my unfamiliarity with the terminology. Then you said, “That involves those with the unfavored allele having fewer offspring than those with the favored allele. But their descendants don’t die out; it’s an interbreeding population in which mating partners are more and more likely to have the favored allele. It spreads.” John, this is what one would normally called “dying out”!

My point is that the terminology as you are using it is misleading to any popular audience and because this language is used with popular audiences they are being misinformed. But I also strongly doubt that there is any special professional usage of these terms which would not also admit that those lacking a particular allele are “dying out.” If each generation has less members with a particular allele, we would simply say that that population is dying out.

Your other statement sounds as though you are saying that the non-human population is “transformed as [the] ‘humanizing’ allele spreads through it.” It is this kind of sloppy language usage which causes misunderstanding. The non-human population is not changed or “transformed,” they simply diminish generation after generation. The population as a whole (those possessing the new allele and those not possessing it) is indeed transformed but only in the sense that those possessing it gradually increase (with each generation) and those not possessing it decrease. But even to say that the population as a whole is transformed (without the above qualification) can be misleading since it may be taken to mean that those members of the population without the new allele are included among those being changed or transformed.

J: Evidence of increased intelligence has happened more than once in our history. At the moment it looks to me as though the transition 100 or 130 kya would be the best bet.

H: What is the evidence of increased intelligence at 100 or 130 kya?

J: It is a guess based on some current work and it certainly could be revised as new information comes to light. By 130 kya the prolonged drought of MIS7 was ending in Africa. A diminished population in south central Africa could be the source of the first modern humans which then spread to other locations after the drought. Other populations could have also then mixed with them. Symbolic acts began about this time (shell collecting, engraved bone, shell beads, etc.).

J: Are you saying that the first modern humans were not different in this regard from their predecessors?

H: I’m saying that we have no evidence of any sudden transition, just gradual evolution of morphology. There’s very little evidence at all relating to any spiritual transitions.

J: You seem to be taking a very gradualist approach such that non-humans very gradually evolve into humans and we do not have a sharp line of demarkation. We shouldn’t expect to have evidence of a sudden transition. I mentioned that the first humans need not have been more intelligent than their immediate non-human predecessors and contemporaries. It could have taken some time for this change to take place. And any archeological evidence for spiritual awareness and activities could be very hard to interpret. Burial of the dead even with evident ceremony does not necessarily indicate religious belief. We need not expect any changes in moral behavior. The non-humans would behave much the same as the humans only the non-humans would act only out of instinct. Again, the change from a non-human to a human could have occurred with one individual.

J: Do you think all animals have this awareness? If not, then when did it begin?

H: I’d think that, like most evolution, it would be hard to pinpoint a beginning. Do you think all mammals are exactly like blue whales? If not, when did blue-whaleness begin?

J: Except that characteristics like spiritual awareness would be an all or nothing category. You can’t get to that gradually. Once one has this awareness they would be human. Once one has free will and is morally aware, one is morally responsible. Without free will, one’s moral actions are determined and one cannot be morally responsible. You either have free will or you don’t.

Yes, and I’m suggesting that you are wrong in your perception. Please consider the possibility that I’m right about this rather than accusing me of various sins.

I suggest that you are not prepared to judge criticism of your scenario.

Perhaps you shouldn’t have brought them up. Your screed was much too long. Try paring it back to the parts you think really matter and then see what happens.

What do you mean by “human” as distinguished from “non-human”? I would suppose, myself, that all members of a single species ought generally be considered one or the other. What are these “non-human relatives”?

That doesn’t make it any better. You’re still talking about a series of miracles to produce these “genes in waiting”. Even giving them previous functions don’t help, since they would have to be carefully designed to be able to switch to a new function resulting from this one master mutation you’re proposing.

Making a claim is not the same as pointing out.

Who would “us” be in that sentence? How do you manage to rank miracles? If God is omnipotent, how can one miracle be more difficult than another?

Why does it seem to you? Do you have any sort of argument?

Why should one care what Hugh Ross has said, much less how often he says it?

Again you are claiming that an omnipotent God finds some things easier and others more difficult. On what basis? And yes, it quite contradicts current understanding. Science completely rejects any evolution aimed toward future rather than present utility.

How does it fit the Genesis account at all?

It produces a small phenotypic effect; in fact it’s allelic variation that would result in strong heterosis for females in some environments. You’re quote-mining, which is considered bad form.

Agree to disagree.

There is no “non-human population”. There is just one population, just as today there is no “blue-eyed population”, just a population in which some individuals have blue eyes. Your poor terminology makes your ideas less clear. And it still suggests you don’t know what you’re talking about, though in this particular case that suggestion may be wrong.

What current work? The only thing I see that could conceivably be evidence is this snippet:

I’m going to need a citation for that. And wouldn’t symbolic acts by neandertals, of which there are quite a few in the literature, undercut your claims?

That’s right.

You give no reason to suppose that there was any such event.

Why do you assume that?

That’s another problem: free will is not a coherent concept, and it can’t be demonstrated by evidence even for living people. How do you know I have free will if there’s no visible difference?

1 Like

I’ve finally gotten the time to respond to this post. Thanks for your patience. Here it is.

J (Jensen): I think I do have a general grasp of the field that is good enough to offer my model

H (Harshman): Yes, and I’m suggesting that you are wrong in your perception. Please consider the possibility that I’m right about this rather than accusing me of various sins.

J: Of course I do consider that possibility. But I need to see good arguments. You need to show that my grasp of the field is so bad that it affects the viability of the model I offer. You need to honestly point out any failings of the model and not just make a generalized accusation that I fail to grasp the field.//

J: You have yet to offer any good criticism of the scenario I have offered.

H: I suggest that you are not prepared to judge criticism of your scenario.

J: If you offer no argument that I am unprepared to judge criticism and yet make that claim, what am I to conclude except that you are merely resorting to essentially name-calling rather than rational critique? You want to take an elitist position that your critique of my model stands and yet you offer no solid criticism except that you think that your gradualism is true and that I have no right to critique your claim. That’s not a feasible criticism, it’s just an assertion backed up by a claim to special authority. If you think I’m not capable of judging your arguments or claims, you still must listen to my responses and tell me how they are mistaken. You can’t just say, “Oh, you’re not qualified so I don’t have to listen to you.” Well, of course, you can do that, but that would be pretty childish if you did. There are not many scientists who would not be quite embarrassed by such intellectual snobbery. If you are correct that I am unprepared to judge your criticism of my scenario, I would think it should be fairly easy to point out how my criticisms fail.//

J: In other words, they [H’s criticism of my non-essential claims] shouldn’t have even been brought up as reasons to say that the model should be entirely rejected.

H: Perhaps you shouldn’t have brought them up. Your screed was much too long. Try paring it back to the parts you think really matter and then see what happens.

J: Since you have read it, there is no need to cut it down; you should know what I’ve argued. I stated very clearly what was not essential. I brought up the non-essential features because I thought they were good alternate features of essentially the same model. I still do, except for the claim that the mutation should be dominant. I would like to discuss with a geneticist and try to understand this point further—why a mutation cannot result in a dominant gene and how we get dominant genes if all evolutionary change occurs through mutations—but I’ll accept your statement for now. I think it is important to offer variations on a model to see if any of those variations will stand. This is a concern quite distinct from my desire to know whether my basic model works in any possible form.//

J: I thought that changing from non-human to human ought to be seen as significant enough to say that an organism is changing to a new subspecies, even if very minor genetic changes actually occur.

H: What do you mean by “human” as distinguished from “non-human”? I would suppose, myself, that all members of a single species ought generally be considered one or the other. What are these “non-human relatives”?

J: One reason my OP was long was so that I could answer these basic questions at that time. You complain that it was too long yet you don’t seem to have read it since you repeat these questions now. Since you ask, I’ll repeat and maybe add a little to what I said in the OP. The humans of the same species as the non-humans simply have some genetic differences which give them certain distinct characteristics. I’ve stated that these must include moral awareness and responsibility. It also includes spiritual awareness and responsibility to act in relation to this awareness. I think it should include language, self-consciousness (awareness of oneself as a conscious being), and what some call theory of mind (the ability to attribute mental states to oneself and others) yet I would be hesitant to say that a non-human must lack these latter characteristics. In fact, to interbreed with the humans, the non-humans must surely have language, otherwise they would be too incompatible. I would think the humans also otherwise likely have greater intelligence in order for the non-humans to have a survival disadvantage and to eventually become extinct, but I’m not sure this is essential until later. I pointed out in the paper that increased intelligence could develop later in those with the human mutation.

So where does this put us? We must have moral and spiritual awareness and responsibility which the non-humans would not have. Humans need certain consciousness attributes though these may or may not also be present in the closest non-human relatives. Both need language. I’ve mentioned earlier that characteristic distinctions such as these might even need no genetic changes whatsoever. God might simply give spiritual and moral awareness and responsibility to an individual with a brain which is already wired for such. However, I would want to think that there is some specific genetic change which allows for these new characteristics since this would be the easiest way to imagine the transfer of these characteristics over generations. I do not see that the minimal phenotypic changes would require more than very few genetic changes. Indeed, even if the non-humans lack self-consciousness, the transition from non-human to human may still be very small genetically.

If one has these distinct minimal characteristics of humanness, then those preceding this individual and lacking those characteristics would be non-human. Thus there could be a clear distinction between the first human and his non-human parents, ancestors, and contemporaries. And I think this brings us to the bottom line of my argument. We can have a clear distinction between humans and non-human predecessors of one’s species given a normal evolutionary scenario.

This is not to say that some severely mentally handicapped humans are not human, as Swamidass suggests my model would require. If someone lacks moral and spiritual awareness and the ability to make the moral and spiritual decisions scripture and society assume normal humans are able to make, that does not make them non-human. It just makes them unable to perform normal human functions. They are here in this world for other reasons than the reasons normal humans are here. The genetic differences between the first humans and the non-humans of their species distinguishes those God had given a human soul from those who are not. God deals with the two differently. We don’t really know how God deals with the higher animals. But the genetic differences provide a means by which normal humans can come into the world and can normally be distinguished from non-human animals. If someone’s handicaps result from the genetic mutations which would normally distinguish humans from their non-human predecessors, they could still be human by a special act of God. Again, they may lack the same awareness as a normal human yet they could still be human and deserving of the same rights of all humans. I suppose God could put a human soul in our family cat. Neither the cat nor our hypothetical mutant human faces the moral and spiritual obligations of a normal person. I’ve heard some Christian thinkers claim that they have dealt with extremely mentally handicapped individuals who even in their mental darkness have been able to respond to the idea of moral and spiritual obligations and to the Christian message. It may be that there are no mentally handicapped individuals who lack moral and spiritual awareness and cannot so respond. I am here simply assuming the hypothetical that there are some who are so genetically damaged that they cannot so respond. This seems to me to be the most likely understanding of the severely mentally handicapped, though I wouldn’t want to be dogmatic about it.

You said, “I would suppose, myself, that all members of a single species ought generally be considered one or the other [human or non-human].” I think you are saying that a species, specifically this species, is made up of either entirely human or entirely non-human members. I don’t see why you think this must be so. If a mutation can produce the small changes which push one over the threshold to clearly distinguish a human from a non-human, characteristics such as I’ve suggested above, why cannot both coexist within the same species for some time, some members having the human mutation, some not?//

J: If having a large number of non-functional genes building up over thousands of years waiting to be switched is unlikely, then we could reduce their number and have their build up over a shorter amount of time.

H: That doesn’t make it any better. You’re still talking about a series of miracles to produce these “genes in waiting”. Even giving them previous functions don’t help, since they would have to be carefully designed to be able to switch to a new function resulting from this one master mutation you’re proposing.

J: We are shifting back into my other argument that there may be more significant genetic changes needed to separate humans from non-humans. The argument I’ve just been offering (above) is that there may be very few genetic differences between humans and their non-human parents and the wider non-human species.

With your statement about “genes in waiting” and multiple miracles, I feel almost inevitably drawn to think about the ID arguments which have become popular since Michael Behe’s work concerning irreducible complexity and specifically the bacterial flagellum. He and others have claimed that these biological machines are so complex that they cannot be put together in some simpler form and then step by step eventually be formed into the flagellum. Critics have responded by pointing out that we have a less complex molecular machine which looks like it is a flagellum predecessor. There is something that looks like the flagellum simplified and cut down and has the function of a pump. ID people respond that it would take multiple miracles to get the pump to change in just the right ways and then to get it attached to just the right position on the outside of the bacterium to actually perform its new function. Gradually moving from pump to flagellum would involve numerous steps each one of which the machine would have no function. If biologists assume there is no genetic problem moving from the pump to the flagellum, why do you think there is a problem moving from functional or functionless genes to a new functional gene? How is your argument different from the ID argument?//

J: This seems to us a very easy kind of miracle.

H: Who would “us” be in that sentence? How do you manage to rank miracles? If God is omnipotent, how can one miracle be more difficult than another?

J: I’ve sometimes used we or us because I’m thinking in terms of what most people usually do think and I’m including myself among them. For example, I said, “We [most people who think about it a bit] think we have better reason to believe that humans came into existence through evolutionary processes than through fiat, de novo creation.”

You repeat your second question in different terms in some of your other responses, so I’ll try to respond to it here. It is pretty evident that if there is a God, he does not work many miracles. Normally God seems to allow natural processes to go on on their own without interruption. That’s one reason evolution appeals to many. We don’t need to have God specially acting by occasional miracles to bring about the various forms of life. It just fits our normal perception of the world that God does not work miracles unless he has to. That or, if there is no God, we see so few events which some might claim to be miracles or hear of so few miracle claims compared to natural occurrence claims because there are no miracles. So if there are so few miracles in the world and there is a God, it appears that God would rather not work miracles unless he has to and that when God does have to or has special reason to work a miracle, God would prefer miracles with less interference in the world than those which require more interference. When I write of an “easy . . . miracle” I simply mean the miracles which require less interference in the causal nexus of the universe. Now I don’t mind an occasional interference in nature. If we think that there is good reason to believe there is a God, that knowledge gives us no reason to think God won’t sometimes perform a miracle. It just appears that this does not happen often.//

J: It seems to me to be much more likely that God would specially arrange this kind of gene build-up over thousands or millions of years.

H: Why does it seem to you? Do you have any sort of argument?

J: Because of the sentence previous to my statement you just quoted: “if it turns out to be necessary that we have a build up of neutral genes which can only be switched on when the organism is about to be changed into a human, then this seems to me a much easier miracle than a de novo creation.” And again, the “easier miracle” is one I’ve shown to be more likely to occur than a harder one; a harder miracle is one requiring more interference in nature which will accomplish the same thing.//

J: Hugh Ross has often said that God does not squander his miracles.

H: Why should one care what Hugh Ross has said, much less how often he says it?

J: You may not care but many people do. And hopefully, I’m speaking to other people than just yourself. I offer his statement not as any kind of evidence for my claim but as a summary of the point I’m making.//

J: So I think human creation, if it must involve gene build-up by divine intervention to finally be switched on, is not that difficult to accept and it does not contradict any current scientific understanding.

H: Again you are claiming that an omnipotent God finds some things easier and others more difficult. On what basis? And yes, it quite contradicts current understanding. Science completely rejects any evolution aimed toward future rather than present utility.

J: I’ve answered your question about easier and more difficult acts of God. As for your claim that science rejects any teleological evolution, this is certainly true when we assume that there is no divine or other spiritual involvement in evolution. But on the possibility that there is such involvement, which science per se cannot preclude, science does not (or should not) reject “evolution aimed toward future” goals. Arbitrarily importing such a negative principle into science simply cannot be justified. Science is in no way handicapped when scientists consider hypotheses which assume future goals. Science, at it’s best, does not assume that there is or is not a future utility. An honest science should allow both possibilities. The goal of science is to discover truth. Any principle which limits one’s ability to attain that goal by restricting what hypotheses will be considered should certainly be rejected.//

J: [it is a possibility if we do need a large number of inactive genes (or active with other purposes) in order to transition from a non-human to a human. . . . It does not serve a theological purpose other than to provide a way for a human to be created in such a way as] to fit the Genesis account better than some other evolutionary scenarios.

H: How does it fit the Genesis account at all?

J: I added the context of a previous sentence and sentence portion (in brackets) to remind both of us just what we are talking about. If we do need a significant genetic change to transition from a non-human primate to a human (a point I’ve contested earlier), then even if God must manipulate the process of gene build-up to some degree, we can end up with one individual who is human and can pass on the appropriate mutations to his or her descendants. Thus we can have an original first human and then a first human couple like the one described in Genesis.//

J: I’ve only brought this claim up as an example of the statement one scientist makes that a small genetic change can have a very far reaching effect.

H: It produces a small phenotypic effect; in fact it’s allelic variation that would result in strong heterosis for females in some environments. You’re quote-mining, which is considered bad form.

J: I’m not quote mining unless you mean by that simply finding a statement by someone else which confirms a claim. If that’s what it is, I don’t see why you think this is “bad form.” Quote mining usually refers to taking quotations out of context, which is certainly not the case here. The writer claims a small genetic change can have “an amazing advantage,” you claim it “produces a small phenotypic effect.” Instead of just ending with a disagreement between you and the writer, could you offer some evidence for your claim and a rebuttal of the writer’s claim? Now if it turns out that you can make a good case that this is actually a very small change, then I will accept your argument and thence remind you that I have said the differences between the first human and his parents and wider species may be very small. If you can show me that my one argument fail, you will also need to show me that my alternate one fails.//

J: The non-human population is not changed or “transformed,” they simply diminish generation after generation.

H: There is no “non-human population”. There is just one population, just as today there is no “blue-eyed population”, just a population in which some individuals have blue eyes. Your poor terminology makes your ideas less clear. And it still suggests you don’t know what you’re talking about, though in this particular case that suggestion may be wrong.

J: You are arguing over the definition of words! This shows you are not honestly concerned about the issues at stake. All you seem to be able to do is chase red herrings. There is nothing anathama about speaking of a “non-human population” within the entire interbreeding population. To protest that there is is to strain at gnats. There is a “blue-eyed population” within our wider population. To insist that there is not is to constrain language with arbitrary and artificial limitations. There is nothing unclear about my terminology.//

J: It is a guess based on some current work

H: What current work? The only thing I see that could conceivably be evidence is this snippet:

J: Symbolic acts began about this time (shell collecting, engraved bone, shell beads, etc.).

H: I’m going to need a citation for that. And wouldn’t symbolic acts by neandertals, of which there are quite a few in the literature, undercut your claims?

J: John, I told you I don’t want to be dogmatic about this. I have no strong objection to the first humans existing prior to the first split from the Human-Neandertal-Denisovan line. It is simply that the degree of artistic expression and some other factors at the later stage suggests to me that this could be when the first humans came to be. I would tend toward the latter date but I’m not averse to an earlier date. And it surprises me that you say you need a citation for these artistic events. This is pretty well known even for non-specialists. This isn’t a “first” like the first European to fly the Atlantic or the first US president to die in office. These are the absolute first symbolic expressions we know of. Since most are questionable in some way as to whether they are actually symbolic or to what degree they should count as symbolism, we need to consider them all together. These absolute firsts are landmarks everyone should know. So I am surprised you didn’t know these dates and artifacts. (And you say that it is I who do not know enough about this subject to talk about it?) Here’s a good source for some of these dates and artifacts: https://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2019/PSCF3-19Wilcox.pdf, p. 44. //

J: Again, the change from a non-human to a human could have occurred with one individual.

H: You give no reason to suppose that there was any such event.

J: I don’t need to. And this is something you don’t seem to understand. I’ve just shown that it is possible and that there is no good scientific evidence that it could not occur. It is the claims of some that there could not be an original first couple that I have refuted. It is not mine to prove that it actually occurred. That is something which must be taken up in discussions of the evidence for Christianity or Judaism and in discussions of how those who do accept Christianity or Judaism are to understand their scripture.//

J: Except that characteristics like spiritual awareness would be an all or nothing category. You can’t get to that gradually.

H: Why do you assume that?

J: Certainly we can imagine a kind of gradual increase in awareness of spiritual entities or realms in a sequence of individuals. My point is that once one has even some awareness of a being outside of one’s natural environment, a being of whom one has a sense of moral obligation of honor and awe as well as an innate sense of honor and awe, one has passed the critical point and has become human. This is one God would consider human. I would say that the other necessary human characteristic of moral awareness of rights and obligations to others could also occur within the same individual since the two are so close, they are both kinds of moral obligation. If God created the first human by normal evolutionary processes, then God gave him this moral awareness when he received the spiritual awareness. At the very least we should recognize that even if theism is not true, there is no unlikelihood that the first individual to have this moral awareness could also have had this spiritual awareness. Again, I am not trying to prove or even give evidence that this must have occurred. I am only saying that we have no scientific evidence that it could not occur and thus it is very feasible given all that the sciences tell us, that there could be a first human couple.//

J: You either have free will or you don’t.

H: That’s another problem: free will is not a coherent concept, and it can’t be demonstrated by evidence even for living people. How do you know I have free will if there’s no visible difference?

J: I include free will because we cannot have culpability without it. You are right that one may feel a sense of responsibility to others and to God without truly having free will. If God created us without free will as some of my Calvinist (and Lutheran) friends would claim, then that is what a human would be. And secular determinists may also be right (if there is no God) and humans would then lack free will. I think you are right that we cannot prove the existence of free will. If it exists, we can’t show that people would act any differently. They would think they are free when they actually are not. However, if we truly are responsible for our moral actions as the Bible and our legal systems and our society generally and normally assumes, we must be free in a libertarian sense. If our actions are determined by prior causes and a regress of causal chains prior to those causes without ending in an uncaused first cause in the self, then it is absurd to praise or blame anyone for their moral actions, whether good or evil. No one would be responsible for their actions. There is no incoherence in the concept of free will though there are features of it which are not understood. Certain evidence in the world and in my experience has persuaded me that Christianity is true. Because of this, I have reason to trust the scriptural teachings. Because it tells me that humans are responsible for their actions, this gives me reason to believe we are free. If we are responsible moral agents, we must be free. If secular or religious determinism is true, then we and the first humans and everyone else are not and have never been free. So this is a characteristic which the first humans possessed or they did not possess depending on whether determinism or libertarianism is true. But if we are responsible humans, as I think we have reason to believe we are, we must be free. And if the first humans were free, their predecessors were not.//

**Finding my way in this forum is sometime a little confusing so I hope the form of my posts are understandable. I suspect that this post is repeated in some spots where it does not belong. I have repeated it in a post to John Harshman’s last response. Hopefully, it is only repeated there.

I would not want to say that some severely mentally handicapped humans are not human, as Swamidass suggests my model would require. If someone lacks moral and spiritual awareness and the ability to make the moral and spiritual decisions scripture and society assume normal humans are able to make, that does not make them non-human. It just makes them unable to perform normal human functions. They are here in this world for other reasons than the reasons normal humans are here. The genetic differences between the first humans and the non-humans of their species distinguishes those God had given a human soul from those who are not. God deals with the two differently. We don’t really know how God deals with the higher animals. But the genetic differences provide a means by which normal humans can come into the world and can normally be distinguished from non-human animals. If someone’s handicaps result from the genetic mutations which would normally distinguish humans from their non-human predecessors, they could still be human by a special act of God. Again, they may lack the same awareness as a normal human yet they could still be human and deserving of the same rights of all humans. I suppose God could put a human soul in our family cat. Neither the cat nor our hypothetical mutant human faces the moral and spiritual obligations of a normal person. I’ve heard some Christian thinkers claim that they have dealt with extremely mentally handicapped individuals who even in their mental darkness have been able to respond to the idea of moral and spiritual obligations and to the Christian message. It may be that there are no mentally handicapped individuals who lack moral and spiritual awareness and cannot so respond. I am here simply assuming the hypothetical that there are some who are so genetically damaged that they cannot so respond. This seems to me to be the most likely understanding of the severely mentally handicapped, though I wouldn’t want to be dogmatic about it.**

Aren’t I agreeing with you here? What are you disagreeing with what I wrote?

Sorry, I misread your post. Thanks for the comment, Joshua.

One word of advice: edit. Seriously, that response is so ridiculously long that it’s hard to work up the ambition to read it.

2 Likes

Harshman has for the moment not given any new criticism of my model. He’s a little upset that I had sent such a long response to his last critique so I’m not sure he will be responding at all. Maybe he’s had enough of (what he takes to be) my uninformed views. I do hope that someone will offer some substantial criticism. What scientific problems inhere in a model which claims that the first human couple came into being through some possibly small genetic changes in a non-human primate population? However gradualistically we might see evolutionary processes, once one individual has a new characteristic which was lacking previously (like moral and spiritual awareness), that could be the point at which humanness began. Yes, the humans do continue interbreeding with the non-humans of their species for some generations, a claim Swamidass finds troubling. Does anyone else find that bothersome? Of course, this is not a scientific problem. Are there any real scientific problems with this model?

1 Like

Bothersome isn’t quite the word I would use. “Icky” comes to mind. It also seems unlikely that, given the choice between a human or non-human mate, anyone would choose the non-human.

The biggest problem is that moral and spiritual awareness is a very big new characteristic which could not plausibly result from a single mutation. It would be a major assemblage of many mutations. But your scenario requires that they all be handed down as a single unit, which is not how genetics works.

@DJensen

Please remember that Genesis 1, which appears to be discussing humanity BEFORE the rise of Adam/Eve, describes the pre-Adam human population as bearing God’s image.

Most Bible researchers accept that this is some kind of mental image …rather than anatomical one.

What kind of “fantastical genetics” do you think I am proposing? I’ve argued for the possibility of very significant as well as very small genetic changes. I need to understand what you think I am saying that you think is “fantastical.”

1 Like

The part that is fantastical, or so it seems to me, is the way how it spreads.

You can’t explain any further?

1 Like