Reviews

A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Adam and Eve and Ted and Alice

Adam and Eve discover
they are naked. 
Human race follows.
John Farrel has written a column at his Forbes site entitled "Can Theology Evolve," quoting from an epistle of Jerry Coyne:
"I’ve always maintained that this piece of the Old Testament, which is easily falsified by modern genetics (modern humans descended from a group of no fewer than 10,000 individuals), shows more than anything else the incompatibility between science and faith. For if you reject the Adam and Eve tale as literal truth, you reject two central tenets of Christianity: the Fall of Man and human specialness." 
Now, by "literal truth" Coyne undoubtedly intended "literal fact," since a thing may be true without being fact, and a fact has no truth value in itself.  I do not know Dr. Coyne's bona fides for drawing doctrinal conclusions or for interpreting scriptures, although he seems to lean toward the fundamentalist persuasion.  Nor am I sure how Dr. Coyne's assertion necessarily entails a falsification of human specialness (whatever he means by that).  I never heard of such a doctrine in my Storied Youth(^1) though it is pretty obvious from a scientific-empirical point of view.  You are not reading this on an Internet produced by kangaroos or petunias.
It is not even clear what his claim means regarding the Fall.  Neither the Eastern Orthodox nor the Roman Catholic churches ever insisted on a naive-literal reading of their scriptures, and yet both asserted as dogma the Fall of Man.(^2

Now modern genetics does not falsify the Adam and Eve tale for the excellent reason that it does not address the same matter as the Adam and Eve tale.  One is about the origin of species; the other is about the origin of sin.  One may as well say that a painting of a meal falsifies haute cuisine.
Still, there are some interesting points about the myth of Adam and Eve and the Fall.  Not least is the common late-modern usage of "myth" to mean "something false" rather than "an organizing story by which a culture explains itself to itself."  Consider, for example, the "myth of progress" that was so important during the Modern Ages.  Or the equally famous "myth of Galileo" which was a sort of Genesis myth for the Modern Ages.  With the fading of the Modern Ages, these myths have lost their power and have been exploded by post-modernism or by historians of science.  Before we consider the Fall, let us consider the Summer.  No.  Wait.  I mean the Summary. 
___________________________
(^1) storied youth.  Literally.  My brother and I wrote stories when we were kids. 
(^2) Makes you wonder what their actual reasoning was, if it was not some backwoods 19th century American reading an archaic English translation of some Greek texts.

On the Ambiguity of One

Dr. Coyne's primary error seems to be a quantifier shift.  He and his fundamentalist bedfellows appear to hold that the statement:

A: "There is one man from whom all humans are descenced"
is equivalent to the statement:
B: "All humans are descended from [only] one man." 
Quantifier shift

But this logical fallacy hinges on an equivocation of "one," failing to distinguish "one [out of many]" from "[only] one."  Traditional doctrine requires only A, not B: That all humans share a common ancestor, not that they have no other ancestors.  For example, all Flynn hereabout share a common descent from one John Thomas Flynn (c.1840-1881) but of course we are also descended from other ancestors as well.  In my case, that includes a Frenchman from the Pas de Calais, numerous Germans from the upper Rhineland, plus some folks from other parts of Ireland, all of whom were contemporary with the aforesaid John Thomas.  If you think of a surname as an inherited characteristic from the father,(^3) it is easy to see how a group of people may have a common ancestor without having only one ancestor.
Adam and his friends
Dr. Coyne believes the mathematical requirement of a population numbering 10,000 somehow refutes the possibility that there were two.  But clearly, where there are 10,000 there are two, many times over.  Genesis tells us that the children of Adam and Eve found mates among the children of men, which would indicate that there were a number of others creatures out there with whom they could mate.  Perhaps no fewer than 9,998 others.  So even a literal reading of Genesis supports multiple ancestors, over and above a single common ancestor.
Of course, this is not the usual poetic trope or artistic image of one man and one woman alone in a Garden in Eden, but then popular and artistic conceptions of evolution or quantum mechanics are not always precise and accurate, either.  Not everyone has the time, inclination, or talent to delve into such matters very deeply, and the end of art is different from the end of philosophy - or genetics.  Yet there may be a sense in which Adam (and Eve) were indeed alone. 
________________________
Mitochondrial Eve, which is the night
prior to the Feast of Mitochondrial
(^3) Yes, I know; but historically children took the father's surname.  It was a cultural trait that bound the father to the household.  Since many fathers today go wandering off after sticking the mother with a kid, there seems little point to the surnaming custom. 

The Red-Clay Men

Dr. Coyne makes much of Mitochondrial Eve not being contemporary with Y-chromosome Adam; but these are common ancestors only in the strict male descent or the strict female descent.  Doctrine holds only that all men are descended from Adam, not that they descend through an unbroken line of fathers.  The same applies to descent from Eve through mothers, although oddly enough, that is not doctrine, for reasons adduced (^4) below.   Since mito-Eve and chromo-Adam are not necessarily the Adam and Eve of the story, what difference does it make if they were not contemporary?
Adam's father
Now obviously, if all men are descended from Adam, then all men are descended from Adam's father, ne c'est pas?  At one time, the possibility that Adam's father was a lump of clay was the cutting edge of science.  After all, the word adam simply means "red clay."  (And still does in Arabic.)  When a man dies, his body corrupts, and becomes.... red clay.  It was not then unreasonable to early observers of nature that regardless how subsequent generations have been propagated, the first red-clay man came directly from red clay.
IOW, the mythos of Adam and Eve employed the best-known science of its time.  Were it being originally written today, it would undoubtedly employ the imagery of modern science -- just so people in AD 6000 could laugh at its naivete.
______________________

Adam and God in a touching scene.
(^4) I have always wanted to use 'adduced' in a sentence.  I may now rest satisfied. 

So why Adam and not his progenitor, Bruce? 

Evolution points to the answer.  Darwin tells us that at some point an ape that was not quite a man gave birth to a man that was no longer quite an ape.  He was H. sapiens - or at least he likes to call himself that.(^5)  He had the capacity for rational thought; that is, to reflect on sensory perceptions and abstract universal concepts.  He could not only perceive this bison and that bison, but could conceive of "bison" -- an abstraction with no material existence of its own.  Poetically, we might say that a God "breathed" a rational soul into a being that had previously been little more than "red clay."
How long after the red-clay man was formed was the rational soul breathed in?  The texts do not say.  It may have been tens or hundreds of thousands of years, at least according to one Eastern Orthodox theologian(^6); and Thomas Aquinas in at least one place regards humanity in general as "one man."  If there is a God and he did such things, he was not punching a time-clock.  
Hence, Adam as first man, and not simply first man-like hominid. 
________________
(^5) He is actually H. loquens.  Jury is still out on the sapiens bit.
Zeno of Elea, concerned about
catching his escaped tortoise.
(^6) Eastern Orthodox.  Atheists and other fundies often forget about the Orthodox Church, but it is the second largest Church in Christendom.  Together with the largest, the Roman Catholic, they comprise better than 63% of all Christians.  Throw in the third largest - the Anglican Communion - and we've got two-thirds of all Christians, well before we get down to the more exotic and idiosyncratic sects.  If I want to know "what Christianity teaches," I would be inclined to ask the Orthodox or Catholic churches, as they have near 2000 years of noodling over it.  Yet when the Coynes of the world want to tell us 'what Christians believe,' they agitate over the idiosyncratic beliefs of Bill and Ted's Excellent Bible Shack, whose teachings go back to last Tuesday.  Go figure.

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

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

And that includes those among his 9,999 companions.  It is not clear how Dr. Coyne envisions the same sapient mutation arising simultaneously in 10,000 ape-men.  It is not impossible, I suppose; but it does seem unlikely.  So let us default to the sapiens/loquens mutation appearing first in one man and then gradually spreading through a population.  Following tradition, let's call him Adam.  This in no way contradicts the existence of 9,999 other ape-men with whom Adam is interfertile.(^7)  They may have been necessary to comprise a sufficient breeding population insofar as the body is concerned, but they need not have been sapient.
___________________
(^7) You know what I mean. 

The Trent Affair

Bob, Carol, Ted, and Alice, embarrassed
to be seen in this motion picture, but
not by a knowledge of good and evil;
Hence: mere brute animals.
Consequently, what Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice were up to with Lilith among the 10,000 makes no difference, doctrine-wise.  For that matter, what Eve was up to doesn't matter much, either!  The anathemas of the Council of Trent mention only Adam.(^8)  They require belief in original sin and related doctrines; they do not require belief in a factual Genesis myth beyond the simple existence of a common ancestor.  (Which is why the church consistently taught that mankind was all one species and all material beings with intellect and will, including hypothetical blemyae and sciopods, were "men.")
The anagogical point of the Genesis story was to teach a doctrine, not to relate a history.  The truths are not in the facts.  Dr. Coyne has discovered that naive-literalists have a coherency problem; but that has been known for centuries.  Indeed, St. Augustine pointed it out in the long ago: 
For if he takes up rashly a meaning which the author whom he is reading did not intend, he often falls in with other statements which he cannot harmonize with this meaning.  And if he admits that these statements are true and certain, then it follows that the meaning he had put upon the former passage cannot be the true one: and so it comes to pass, one can hardly tell how, that, out of love for his own opinion, he begins to feel more angry with Scripture than he is with himself.   -- On Christian doctrine, I.37   
Gus Hippo
In his book on the literal meanings of Genesis, wherein he extracted multiple literal meanings from different passages,(^9) Augustine wrote:  
In the case of a narrative of events, the question arises as to whether everything must be taken according to the figurative sense only, or whether it must be expounded and defended also as a faithful record of what happened. No Christian will dare say that the narrative must not be taken in a figurative sense. For St. Paul says: “"Now all these things that happened to them were symbolic."  ”And he explains the statement in Genesis, "“And they shall be two in one flesh," ”as a great mystery in reference to Christ and to the Church.  If, then, Scripture is to be explained under both aspects, what meaning other than the allegorical have the words: “In the beginning God created heaven and earth?” --On the literal meanings of Genesis, I.1. 
Note that he regards the figurative [anagogical] sense as the default, and other readings are layered upon this.  He discusses how one knows when a figurative meaning is intended, and describes the various figures that are used in both literary and vulgar speech.  Thomas Aquinas explains the four reading protocols used by the Church in ST I.1.10 but they go back to the Patristic Age.(^10)
___________________________
(^8) At least when the Church prosecuted you for heresy, she took considerable pains beforehand to spell out just what the heresy was.  This is in contrast to modern versions of PC.
(^9) BTW, Augie was quite aware of the issue of light existing before the sun; and points out the ambiguity of "evening and morning" on a spherical Earth.  Late-moderns always think they are the first to think of these things.  
 (^10) "Metaphorical" counts as one of the various literal readings.  "You are the salt of the earth" depends on the actual, literal meaning of "salt."  To say "you are the asparagus of the earth" would not mean the same thing.  Fundamentalists often say that by using metaphor a passage can mean anything; but this is simply not so.  "You are the salt of the earth" cannot mean "Two pounds pastrami; bring home to Emma."  But we digress.   
Homo loquens and his pals

Homo loquens

Aristotle illustrated the difference between the sensitive animal form and the rational human form by saying that an animal sees flesh, but a human also sees what flesh is.  It is the difference between knowing this bright red crunchy apple perceived by the senses and knowing about "apple" conceived by reflection of the intellect on the many individual apples of experience.    And so we might imagine Adam sitting around the campfire after an exciting hunt and remembering the bison they had chased and the moment of truth and he suddenly utters the hunting cry that signifies "bison here!"  A cry that is in principle no different from those made by other animals, and possibly his fire-mates look about in alarm for the bison the cry signifies.
But Adam has done something different.  He has used the sign as a symbol, one that refers to the bison-that-is-not-here-but-remembered.  He has become sapient and has invented grammar.(^11)  Or perhaps he was just born that way and like any small child reaching seven has just achieved the age of reason.  But in all likelihood, his ability to speak in abstractions -- to speak of 'bison' rather than any particular bison -- is coterminous with his sapience.
Alas, none of his fire-mates understand, and he goes through life as lonely as a man who can speak when no one else can listen.  He has become the First Politician.  It is as if he is alone in a garden (since that is all that "paradise" meant.)  For a while, he amuses himself by giving names to all the other animals, but that soon palls.  Is there no one else he can talk with?

Then one day he meets a woman-with-words.  Perhaps a woman from another band or tribe who has coincidentally received the same mutation, or perhaps someone who has simply cottoned on to what he has been doing.  Sometimes an environmental cue is required to activate a gene.  Here at last is someone he can talk to.  (Perhaps he regrets this later, when she will not shut up.  But that is a tale for another time.)  The rest, as they say, is history.  Later, some of his descendents will fly to the Moon, still chattering away. 
____________
(^11) For an amusing take on this, see the Underground Grammarian:

Pleased to Meet You.  Hope You Know My Name.
Like any animal, the red-clay ape-men were innocent.  They lived, hunted, ate, mated, and died, pretty much in that order.  What was good was what perfected their ape-manliness; but they did not know it was good.  In a sense, they did not know anything.  Like perfect Zen masters, they simply did.  (See the zebras in the Underground Grammarian's essay, linked in the previous footnote.)
But Adam is different.  Having a rational human form in addition to his sensitive animal form, he is capable of knowing the good.  As Paul writes in Romans 2;12-16,  the law is written in the heart.(^12)  God being the author of natures, is in the Christian view the author of human nature in particular; hence the law "written in the heart" was written there by God.  But for Adam to know the good means that Adam is now capable of turning away from the good.  Thus, when Adam wills some act that is contrary to what his intellect tells him is good, he is acting in disobedience to "God's commands written in his heart."  A turning away from the good is called "sin" and, since no one had ever been capable of doing so before, it was the original sin.  This is communicated by allegory in the tale of the tree. 
At the age of reason, children distinguish
right from wrong and get to bore priests
with all sorts of imagined sins.
We can observe this today with children, who mature to a point is when they begin to recognize good and evil.  We call it the Age of Reason.  Once upon a time, this recognition must have happened for the first time, and not necessarily in childhood.  Today's children have parents and an entire society of other sapient beings to serve as examples and hasten the onset; but Adam had no one to teach him, so the realization could have come late.  All of a sudden, he knew he had disobeyed the voice in his head, he was naked like an animal, he knew that someday he would die.
So death came into the world - not as fact, but as truth.  Animals die in fact, but they do not know that they will.  They live, as it were, one day at a time; and then one day they don't.  "Truth is not just a judgment," writes Chastek, "but an affirmation of how this judgment stands to us with respect to its truth."  Death became true when Adam realized it.  What a bummer that must have been.  He probably invented whiskey next.
And so he was expelled from the edenic existence of the innocent ape-men animals into a world of worries.  Perhaps it was literal.  How did the other ape-men react to the odd ones in their midst?  Evolution proceeds through reproductive isolation.  If Adam and the others like him had stayed in ape-man eden, his genes may have been lost in the larger gene pool and never achieved "take-off" concentration.  So some sort of secession seems reasonable.
Maybe Adam and those he found like him started calling themselves "the Enlightened" or "the Brights" or even just "the Sapients" and this really annoyed the other 9000 or so, who then drove them out as obnoxious little gits. 
The temptation of Satan
__________
(^11)  It is this doctrine that tells us that atheists are as capable of moral behavior as a Jew or a Greek or a Christian.  There was even a term for this: the naturally Christian man.  But we digress.

Original Sin

Most sin, the old joke runs, is not very original.  But supposedly the "sin of Adam" has been inherited by all his descendents.  This hardly seems fair.  If we didn't do the deed, why should we bear the mark?
But this misses the mark.  Thomas Aquinas made note that original sin is not a particular transgression, like a crime committed for which one deserves particular punishment, but is the origin or source of such positive sins. It is a predelection inherent to human nature.
Doctrine is concerned with the origin of sin, not the origin of species.  Hence, "origin-al" sin.  The only time Thomas Aquinas touches (in passing) on the origin of species, he ascribes its possibility to the powers inherent in nature itself as created in the beginning: 
Species, also, that are new, if any such appear, existed beforehand in various active powers; so that animals, and perhaps even new species of animals, are produced by putrefaction by the power which the stars and elements received at the beginning.
(We could take that further and say that the physical universe itself existed beforehand in various active powers, like gravitation or quantum mechanics.  If only a physicist of the stature of Hawking would be courageous enough to say that in the beginning there was the word: "Let F=G(Mm)/d^2."  But we digress.) 
Tommy Aquino
When Thomas Aquinas discusses Adam and Eve, he focuses on Adam.  He goes so far as to say that had it been Eve who sinned, we would have no problem!(^13)
But how is this original sin transmitted to descendents.  Again, do not suppose that no one has ever thought of the late-modern trendy objections before.  Aquinas writes:
Yet if we look into the matter carefully we shall see that it is impossible for the sins of the nearer ancestors, or even any other but the first sin of our first parent to be transmitted by way of origin. The reason is that a man begets his like in species but not in individual. Consequently those things that pertain directly to the individual, such as personal actions and matters affecting them, are not transmitted by parents to their children: for a grammarian does not transmit to his son the knowledge of grammar that he has acquired by his own studies. On the other hand, those things that concern the nature of the species, are transmitted by parents to their children, unless there be a defect of nature: thus a man with eyes begets a son having eyes, unless nature fails. And if nature be strong, even certain accidents of the individual pertaining to natural disposition, are transmitted to the children, e.g. fleetness of body, acuteness of intellect, and so forth; but nowise those that are purely personal
In ST II-1, Q.81, art. 1 he writes:
For some, considering that the subject of sin is the rational soul, maintained that the rational soul is transmitted with the semen, so that thus an infected soul would seem to produce other infected souls. Others, rejecting this as erroneous, endeavored to show how the guilt of the parent's soul can be transmitted to the children, even though the soul be not transmitted, from the fact that defects of the body are transmitted from parent to child--thus a leper may beget a leper, or a gouty man may be the father of a gouty son, on account of some seminal corruption, although this corruption is not [itself] leprosy or gout. Now since the body is proportionate to the soul, and since the soul's defects redound into the body, and vice versa,(^14) in like manner, say they, a culpable defect of the soul is passed on to the child, through the transmission of the semen, albeit the semen itself is not the subject of the guilt.
So Tommy has noted genetics, and has rejected Lamarckism, even if he doesn't know about genetics and says "semen" rather than "genes."  This is what we might call Aquinas' "genetic" explanation.  He identified original sin with concupiscence, hence with selfishness (or "wanting" as the Buddha put it).  So he is here hypothesizing a sort of "selfish gene."  Perhaps we can find an evolutionary biologist willing to write a book about the selfish gene; though he would likely get the ontology all mucked up.
However, Aquinas finds that this selfish gene is not quite sufficient, and adds a bit regarding "motion by generation," and says we must consider the human species as a whole ("as one man") and the sin (or defect) as applying to human nature per se, rather than to the acts of each particular man.  "Original sin is not the sin of this person, except inasmuch as this person receives his nature from his first parent, for which reason it is called the "sin of nature." 

Conclusion

IOW, the mythos of Adam and Eve still makes sense when read in the traditional anagogical manner, not in spite of evolutionary learnings but because of them.  Of course, we must be wary of concordism.  Being compatible with consensus science is a tricky thing.  Just ask the clerics who defended long-established geocentrism.  If it ain't falsifiable, it ain't science; so we must allow the possibility that what we think we know about evolution is all wrong.  That is why it is not a good idea to get too chummy with science, since you never know when she'll pack up her bags and leave you holding the bills. 
__________________
(^13) To this day most crimes are committed by men, and women are more likely to be devout, etc. 
(^14) the soul's defects redound into the body, and vice versa.  Gosh, Tommy said that if you tamper with someone's brain, it will affect his thinking!  Who'd'a thunk it.  Certainly not late-moderns, who think they alone have discovered that the body affects the soul mind. 

42 comments:

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

    If I borrow from JAO's post from 2006, "Pius XII did not say that monogenism is a dogma of the faith ("de fide"). What he said was that Catholics did not have the liberty to discuss the idea that polygenism is true because it is "in no way apparent" how it could be reconciled with the sources of faith (HG 37). http://jimmyakin.typepad.com/defensor_fidei/2006/10/monogenism_scie.html

    I am a bit puzzled. Why was Pius XII so clueless? Why didn't he just say what you did and make it easy for everybody? As I read Jimmy's post and Mike Liccione's I get the feeling there's something deeper going on. Unfortunately I am rather shallow minded and can only skim the surface here.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ok, after I posted I saw the link for Mr. Chastek's post. Was Pius XII then only condemning a very narrow set of options?

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm inclined to suppose that the Vatican is almost always talking in a technical philosophical language that is generally misreported in generic language through the filters of the media's preconceptions. It literally never occurs to them that the Pope may be talking about something other than their own particular obsessions.

    The Ents of Rome prefer to think about things for a hundred years or so, by which time the science may have settled down.

    Just my take.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Given that the first red-clay man came directly from red clay, what's the objection to referring to said clay as his mother? But however long and gradual is the screwing-in of the light bulb, the light is either on or off, unless it is one of those new-fangled twirly things that has to shake itself awake, or one of the original carbon-fiber ones that seemed to yawn before brightening, and dimmed disconsolately if screwed out. Even the lamented incandescents took a while if you parse their time in nanoseconds. I believe it's called hysteresis.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Either on or off. If it is on, then it may be brighter or dimmer. There is always the medieval problem of "beginning to be." Zeno had a lot of fun with it.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I'm not sure what brought this to mind, but I do recall reading an article (which I cannot find at present, so this may not be reliable) about the evolution of the blond hair commenting on how the mutations that resulted in blond hair arose about 11,000 years ago and were probably restricted to an extremely small group of individuals which then spread throughout the population.

    So, why is a small number of individuals a big deal for original sin, and not a big deal for blond hair?

    ReplyDelete
  7. There is an argument similar to Zeno's Paradox of Dichotomy that holds that sapient man arose by slow, gradual increments. That is, arguing from the continuum rather than from the quanta. Now, "a little bit sapient" is like "a little bit pregnant." It may be only a little, but it is a lot more than not sapient at all.

    But what does "not sapient at all" even mean? I might agree if you replaced "sapient" by "conscious", but normally we accept that animals (at least the ones with flexible behaviors, like mammals and birds) have some form of consciousness. "Sapient" is a lot more nebulous, it's not clear that you could define it in any way that would show that mammals and birds are "not at all" sapient. Consider human growth--if you say that other primates are "not at all" sapient, I think it would be very hard to argue that babies are somewhat sapient, since they seem to be equally lacking in capacity for abstract thought. But do you think there is a distinct day in the life of a child--or for that matter a distinct second--when they go from "not at all" sapient to "a little bit sapient"? That would seem to be implied by your argument about the lack of possibility of a gradual transition in human evolution, yet it would be rather strange that no parent has ever noticed such a crucial and absolute sudden transition in the mentality of their child.

    ReplyDelete
  8. "Sapient" is a lot more nebulous, it's not clear that you could define it in any way that would show that mammals and birds are "not at all" sapient.

    "Sapient" is used here as shorthand for the ability to abstract concepts from concrete percepts. It is evidenced in such things as cave art, grammar, systems of physics, speculative mathematics, and metaphysical wisdom.

    I'm not sure which mammals or birds you have in mind; but I'm pretty sure that at best they can be trained using there senses and imaginations to repeat signs or to run brushes along pre-drawn lines, like the famous painting elephants of Bangkok, or to stamp feet like Clever Hans doing "arithmetic."

    If you go here: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/09/modern-biology-and-original-sin-part-i.html
    and scroll down to where it says:
    We can begin by asking what a human being is.
    you will find a brief explanation of the matter.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "I'm not sure which mammals or birds you have in mind; but I'm pretty sure that at best they can be trained using there senses and imaginations to repeat signs or to run brushes along pre-drawn lines, like the famous painting elephants of Bangkok, or to stamp feet like Clever Hans doing "arithmetic.""

      How about your average Great Ape? They can be taught sign language.

      As for birds, I recall an account of one African Grey Parrot who had true language capabilities - forming sentences to express concepts, not merely repeating memorized soundbites - but he died, and appears to have been a unique mutation rather than indicative of all parrots' intelligence level.

      Delete
    2. Maybe; but can they be trained to understand what they are doing? Koko the Gorilla had a famous on-line chat on AOL some years back, and it was embarrassing to watch her handler trying to interpret the responses like the Pythia of Delphi.

      Delete
  9. "Sapient" is used here as shorthand for the ability to abstract concepts from concrete percepts. It is evidenced in such things as cave art, grammar, systems of physics, speculative mathematics, and metaphysical wisdom.

    Why should this be an either-you-have-it-or-you-don't notion, though, as opposed to one with "fuzzy" boundaries? A "concept" itself seems not completely sharply defined, for example does it require verbal ability or could a highly autistic person who never developed the ability to understand language be said to have "concepts"? How about the bird in this video, which figures out that it can get a bucket out of a tube by bending a piece of wire to form a hook--presumably it had something like a visual flash of insight that a wire could be reshaped in this way before it purposefully bent it, is there some absolutely clear definition of a "concept" that allows us to say whether or not this means it had a "concept" of a hook?

    If you do insist that the category of "sapient" is not the least bit fuzzy, that every being either is or isn't sapient, then what's your response to my question about the baby? Is a baby sapient, and if not, doesn't your Zeno-like argument imply there must be a single precise moment when the child switches from non-sapient to sapient? I am genuinely curious about how you would answer this question, given your belief that there must have been a distinct first sapient hominid, which certainly isn't a mainstream scientific conclusion even if there is a possibility that there was some sudden change in mentality due to a mutation.

    ReplyDelete
  10. (continuing response above, since apparently the blog doesn't allow overly long comments)

    I'm not sure which mammals or birds you have in mind; but I'm pretty sure that at best they can be trained using there senses and imaginations to repeat signs or to run brushes along pre-drawn lines, like the famous painting elephants of Bangkok, or to stamp feet like Clever Hans doing "arithmetic."

    Well, apes have been taught to use signs in a way that isn't just responding to human cues, and shows that they have at least associated specific signs with specific objects, and they sometimes seem to combine them in meaningful ways even if they don't possess true grammar. For example, read Talking to the Animals from Philosophy Now, which discusses a research project by Sue Savage-Rambaugh in which a Bonobo named Kanzi who was taught to use a keyboard with lexigrams (this approach avoids the problem with sign language, that the ape's gestures may be interpreted too "generously" by researchers). In controlled experiments Kanzi showed that he not only associated lexigrams with specific objects, but also had acquired some knowledge of spoken words without being intentionally trained to do so:

    To test this ability Kanzi was shown an array of three photographs and lexigrams, after which a word was spoken to indicate which one he was to give the experimenter. He was neither trained for this test nor was he offered rewards for correct answers. Kanzi was involved in three testing sessions in which the requests alternated between spoken English and lexigrams. Savage-Rambaugh reports, “The tests included thirtyfive different items, used in 180 trials in English and 180 with lexigrams. Kanzi scored 95 percent correct on the lexigram trials and almost as well, 93 percent, on the English trials. We were able to determine that Kanzi understood 150 spoken words at the end of the seventeen month period.”

    The article also talks about Kanzi's tendency to create seemingly meaningful combinations of words:

    By contrast, Kanzi’s multi-word utterances were spontaneous. They weren’t responses to teachers’ requests nor were they imitations of teachers’ utterances. Kanzi formed spontaneous utterances such as “Matata grouproom tickle” to ask that his mother be permitted to join in a game of tickle in the group room. Many of Kanzi’s utterances had this character of novelty and functioned to suggest completely new actions and alternatives to the usual way of doing things. Another contrast occurred in the way Kanzi added more elements to his utterances so that the information content increased. Savage-Rambaugh writes: “Of Kanzi’s three-word utterances, the most interesting – and significant – were those in which he indicated someone other than himself as the agent or recipient of an action. Most of his three-item combinations involved the initiation of play, such as grab, chase and tickle. Some of these games involved Kanzi directly, but others were intended for his teachers. For instance, Kanzi might indicate “grab chase” at the keyboard, and then take one person’s hand and push it toward a second person: the chaser and the pursued. Statements of this sort were Kanzi’s inventions, as none of us suggested we play with each other leaving Kanzi as spectator.” Savage-Rambaugh also pointed out that compared with food requests or requests to be tickled, where the chimpanzee is always the recipient of the action, statements that initiate action between two other individuals are highly complex.

    ReplyDelete
  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  12. (apparently blogspot doesn't allow long comments so I'm breaking it up into three parts, here's the second)

    I'm not sure which mammals or birds you have in mind; but I'm pretty sure that at best they can be trained using there senses and imaginations to repeat signs or to run brushes along pre-drawn lines, like the famous painting elephants of Bangkok, or to stamp feet like Clever Hans doing "arithmetic."

    Well, apes have been taught to use signs in a way that isn't just responding to human cues, and shows that they have at least associated specific signs with specific objects, and they sometimes seem to combine them in meaningful ways even if they don't possess true grammar. For example, read Talking to the Animals from Philosophy Now, which discusses a research project by Sue Savage-Rambaugh in which a Bonobo named Kanzi who was taught to use a keyboard with lexigrams (this approach avoids the problem with sign language, that the ape's gestures may be interpreted too "generously" by researchers). In controlled experiments Kanzi showed that he not only associated lexigrams with specific objects, but also had acquired some knowledge of spoken words without being intentionally trained to do so:

    To test this ability Kanzi was shown an array of three photographs and lexigrams, after which a word was spoken to indicate which one he was to give the experimenter. He was neither trained for this test nor was he offered rewards for correct answers. Kanzi was involved in three testing sessions in which the requests alternated between spoken English and lexigrams. Savage-Rambaugh reports, “The tests included thirtyfive different items, used in 180 trials in English and 180 with lexigrams. Kanzi scored 95 percent correct on the lexigram trials and almost as well, 93 percent, on the English trials. We were able to determine that Kanzi understood 150 spoken words at the end of the seventeen month period.”

    The article also talks about Kanzi's tendency to create seemingly meaningful combinations of words:

    By contrast, Kanzi’s multi-word utterances were spontaneous. They weren’t responses to teachers’ requests nor were they imitations of teachers’ utterances. Kanzi formed spontaneous utterances such as “Matata grouproom tickle” to ask that his mother be permitted to join in a game of tickle in the group room. Many of Kanzi’s utterances had this character of novelty and functioned to suggest completely new actions and alternatives to the usual way of doing things. Another contrast occurred in the way Kanzi added more elements to his utterances so that the information content increased. Savage-Rambaugh writes: “Of Kanzi’s three-word utterances, the most interesting – and significant – were those in which he indicated someone other than himself as the agent or recipient of an action. Most of his three-item combinations involved the initiation of play, such as grab, chase and tickle. Some of these games involved Kanzi directly, but others were intended for his teachers. For instance, Kanzi might indicate “grab chase” at the keyboard, and then take one person’s hand and push it toward a second person: the chaser and the pursued. Statements of this sort were Kanzi’s inventions, as none of us suggested we play with each other leaving Kanzi as spectator.” Savage-Rambaugh also pointed out that compared with food requests or requests to be tickled, where the chimpanzee is always the recipient of the action, statements that initiate action between two other individuals are highly complex.

    ReplyDelete
  13. (third part of my comment)

    Finally, the article says:

    What is revolutionary about the work undertaken with Kanzi is that it avoids so many of the standard objections that were levelled against earlier projects. First, it avoids the dangers of the ‘training process’ approach. That is, Kanzi’s ability is not the result of habituated behaviour founded upon a reward or punitive-based training process. Nor is Kanzi’s ability confined to a reaction to a set of cues by his ‘trainers’. Using his computer keyboard, Kanzi also demonstrates understanding and comprehension of English sentences and of imperatives, questions and references. Very few of these abilities are tied to the mere satisfaction of wants. Kanzi will often initiate a conversation for no reason other than he wishes to: he doesn’t stand to elicit some food or some other reward. Moreover, he demonstrates the ability to recognize that a symbol ‘stands for’ something else through his references to a third person. This level of conceptual complexity was beyond the ability of Kanzi’s predecessors.

    Incidentally, Sue Savage-Rambaugh also gave a TED talk about her research with Bonobos which has some footage of Kanzi and others, you can see it here. And here is a shorter youtube video showing Kanzi responding to novel verbal requests, like "put the pine needles in the refrigerator", with Savage-Rambaugh wearing a mask that obscures her facial expressions (other videos of Kanzi are at GreatApeTrust's youtube channel)

    ReplyDelete
  14. @Jesse
    Too much. I'll respond on a post to as much as time permits.

    ReplyDelete
  15. As I said, I am most interested in your response to the question about the baby. Meanwhile it seems that the third part of my response disappeared, I'll repost it (it's just one more quote from the article along with links to videos of Kanzi, so it shouldn't really give you more to respond to)

    Finally, the article says:

    What is revolutionary about the work undertaken with Kanzi is that it avoids so many of the standard objections that were levelled against earlier projects. First, it avoids the dangers of the ‘training process’ approach. That is, Kanzi’s ability is not the result of habituated behaviour founded upon a reward or punitive-based training process. Nor is Kanzi’s ability confined to a reaction to a set of cues by his ‘trainers’. Using his computer keyboard, Kanzi also demonstrates understanding and comprehension of English sentences and of imperatives, questions and references. Very few of these abilities are tied to the mere satisfaction of wants. Kanzi will often initiate a conversation for no reason other than he wishes to: he doesn’t stand to elicit some food or some other reward. Moreover, he demonstrates the ability to recognize that a symbol ‘stands for’ something else through his references to a third person. This level of conceptual complexity was beyond the ability of Kanzi’s predecessors.

    Incidentally, Sue Savage-Rambaugh also gave a TED talk about her research with Bonobos which has some footage of Kanzi and others, you can see it here. And here is a shorter youtube video showing Kanzi responding to novel verbal requests, like "put the pine needles in the refrigerator", with Savage-Rambaugh wearing a mask that obscures her facial expressions (other videos of Kanzi are at GreatApeTrust's youtube channel)

    ReplyDelete
  16. I couldn't find your email but here is an important statistical analysis showing the connection between vampires, presidents and politics. Must be true, I read it on the internet.

    http://www.cracked.com/article_19402_6-mind-blowing-ways-zombies-vampires-explain-america.html

    ReplyDelete
  17. Since when does a Flynn not know how to spell a Farrell??

    Sheesh! And now First Things has perpetuated the insult...

    ;)

    ReplyDelete
  18. The "Ents of Rome"! Not since the first person said "I love you" have three tiny words expressed so much. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  19. You are quite the clever fella, Mr. Flynn: well-read, inventive, and amusing, to boot. I mean these as genuine compliments, without snark. Your thought-experiment does as well as anyone I've read in trying to respect, in old timey terms, both faith and reason.

    But I am left with some questions. Primary is this: if, according to your scenario, one male hominid --carrying the otherwise powerful range of ancestral primate passions, habits and limitations--achieved human rationality (by genetic jump)and knew good and evil, I find it hard to believe that this alone gave him freedom of choice. The Fall of Adam doctrine has always assumed that concupiscence and a darkened intellect were the results of the sin. I cannot imagine that Adam's intellectual leap could overcome the millions (?) of years of animality.
    To me, the scenario makes the Fall virtually certain, hence not free...

    What am I missing?

    ReplyDelete
  20. See: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1081.htm

    ReplyDelete
  21. I should credit Mark Shea with the "Ents of Rome" label.

    ReplyDelete
  22. @John Farrel or Farell or Farrell

    Oops.

    ReplyDelete
  23. BTW, people:

    Dr. Coyne took some umbrage that anyone actually answered his challenge. His response was essentially: It's not in the Book!!
    Both men are relying here not on the Bible, but on some “traditional doctrine”
    Since that is precisely what the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholic churches do, it's apparent his grounding is in fundamentalist Protestantism.

    See his comments here:
    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/09/16/catholics-claim-that-lies-are-truer-than-truth/

    ReplyDelete
  24. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  25. For JesseM's sake, I'd like to throw in a comment about animal sentience.

    I propose that if animals had capacity for language and intelligence apart from behaviors learned from humans (intentionally or not) we would have noticed the following: animals would show clear signs of recognizing intelligence in human beings.

    Think about it: when was the last time you were walking through the park talking with a friend, and a pair of dogs came up and tried to communicate with you because they recognized an intelligent pattern in your communications with your friend? Jane Goodall thought she recognized intelligence in gorillas, but as far as I know the gorillas never recognized intelligence in her by trying to communicate with her independently even though they knew she was around. Why not?

    My point: a key quality of intelligence is the ability to recognize intelligence in other beings. Intelligence recognizes intelligence.

    God bless,
    Tele

    ReplyDelete
  26. On Original Sin and the Eden Myth from a Jungian analyst:

    The capacity to distinguish between the opposites is at the very root of human consciousness—indeed, it virtually defines human nature. Paradoxically, it is both an offense against God's creation and an opportunity given by God. According to Herder, the human being is a creature set free from nature. Unlike other creatures, humans are not completely bound to nature by means of their instinctual endowment. They can and must pit themselves against nature; that is the source of their presumption, forlornness, and disorientation. Adolf Portmann described human nature as "openness to the world" and "freedom of choice," qualities that distinguish humans from animals, which are "environmentally-embedded" and "instinct-secured" (Portmann 1958).

    Openness to the world and free will imply a certain loss of instinctive confidence. Still, human beings cannot divorce themselves entirely from their biological and instinctual foundations, however rudimentary these may be. One of the most difficult tensions that human beings have to cope with as a species comes from simultaneously belonging to nature and reflecting consciously on it. It is no wonder that we experience consciousness as a double-edged sword, even as "original sin."

    Jacoby, Mario (2007-03-16). Shame and the Origins of Self-Esteem (p. 17). Taylor & Francis. Kindle Edition.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Think about it: when was the last time you were walking through the park talking with a friend, and a pair of dogs came up and tried to communicate with you because they recognized an intelligent pattern in your communications with your friend?

    I never suggested that animals had their own "native language" and thus would have a natural concept of symbolic communication (do you think a "raised by wolves" human who had never acquired any sort of language would do this either?) But those animals that have been taught a basic form of language by us, like the bonobo "Kanzi" from the article and videos I linked to above, might well try to use some sort of pantomime style communication if they found themselves in a situation where they had to interact with humans who didn't understand the language the animal had been taught. In fact apes in situations where they regularly interact with humans are already known to use limited forms of pantomime when they have something they want to communicate, see this article for example.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Well, TOF, I have been censored from responding further to you on the NCR site.

    If you care to receive my response, say so.

    Otherwise may I say that I understand what your motivation is, that your intention is to defend the Church.

    Your error is that you believe that conflicts between Faith and Reason must be settled in favor of......Reason.

    The Catholic Faith teaches that Faith is above Reason, and so, any true, irreconcilable conflict must be settled in favor of Faith.

    There can be, in the end, no doubt whatever that the Church of all ages, all the Doctors, Saints, Councils, and the entirety of the papal magisterium, agrees with me.

    That this shocks the modern mind so profoundly, is a measure of the triumph of modernism in the Church in these awful times.

    Ayala is wrong.

    The Church is right

    God be with you.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Ooops they allowed my post through (several times).

    Back on over at NCR.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Re Rick.

    If I remember my Aquinas correctly, faith may transcend reason but not contradict it. Faith requires an assent beyond reason, but not the kind of assent that would require a man to believe irrationally. Consequently, any apparent contradiction between faith and reason would be taken by a Catholic to mean that the interpretation of reason in that particular case was mistaken.

    And I do not think that a scientific theory, --which can always, in principle, be revised in the presence of new information--regardless of how widely believed, would necessarily (but may) fit the definition of "ratio".

    Aquinas again: gratia not tollit naturam sed perficit.

    ReplyDelete
  31. One reason why natural science was not perfected in the House of Submission was because Islam never produced a Thomas Aquinas. Where Thomas said that there were not "two truths" (philosophical vs. theological) but only one; al-Ghazali (his opposite number) resolved the apparent contradiction essentially as Rick seems to: the incoherence of philosophy.

    Thomas, like Augustine, distinguished between what the faith teaches and what the faithful believed. Many back then believed (quite reasonably) in what we now see (with centuries more data) to be mistaken models of natural events. (Just as the Men of the Future will regard our current beliefs regarding nature.)

    Consequently, when they illustrated their beliefs using the science or history or geography of their day, it was the beliefs that mattered, not the way they expressed them. The Syriac civilization was big on parables, riddles, and stories, and used the imagery of their time and place. But as Augustine said, Christ wanted to make Christians, not astronomers, and we learn at school all we need to know about astronomy.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Well, apes have been taught to use signs in a way that isn't just responding to human cues....

    Except, of course, insofar as they have been taught by humans to use them.

    The apes' "use" of language is still entirely dependent on the design and intent of human beings. Humans are still the creatures who are using language. They are using it to communicate with apes. Indeed, the humans are "using" not just language, but the apes whole and entire. The humans have co-opted the apes' innate facility for language, such as it is, for humans' own use. In this case, demonstrating what they can teach apes to do.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Whereas you, of course, derived the English language from first principals...

      Delete
  33. One reason for PiusXII's hesitation may be that until the gene for the sin of sapientism had spread through a large enough population, the process of its spread necessarily involved the breeding of soulful saps with (presumably) soulless red clay people. I don't know if the bible or RC doctrine have any explicit prohibition on bestiality, but I can certainly see how it may take a couple of centuries of butt scratching before the "ents" can feel entirely comfortable with it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. a) What gene or genes bestow sapientism?*
      b) How can there be bestiality between members of the same biological species?
      c) All living creatures have soul, in the same sense that all basketballs have sphere.

      Delete
    2. a) I have no idea what gene or genes bestow sapientism, but if self-awareness and moral judgement do turn out to be genetically based (and I see no reason for confidence that they are not) then there would be some.
      b)c) I have no problem with either of these nor any objection to your idea of how to reconcile the biblical story with available evidence of our descent, but I was just trying to imagine why the church might have qualms about endorsing the idea that descendants of Adam and Eve interbred with others who were not so descended - ie that there were at one time true humans who were not "sons of Adam".

      Delete
    3. Sapientism is not a physical property, like muscles or hearts or glands, and is therefore unlikely to be determined by a gene. Yet you made a confident kerygma that "...until the gene for the sin of sapientism had spread..." How can one say this without a deep-seated faith that Genes R Us? We leave aside the peculiar notion that "sapientism" (whatever that is) is a "sin." A sin is a defect in a good, some deficiency in what a thing ought to be. But human nature is "a rational animal." Thus, if I understand what you intended by "sapientism," it would be a fulfillment or a perfection of human nature, not a deficiency or a lacking. Recall that the three intellective virtues are Understanding, Knowledge, and Wisdom. (Sapientia actually refers to Wisdom rather than mere Knowledge.) However, "sin" is usually used in reference to a moral deficiency. The moral virtues are Justice (which gives to each his due), Courage (by which the Will moves toward what the Intellect knows as good even when disinclined), and Temperance (by which the Will refrains from what the Intellect knows as bad even when so-inclined). No one is blameworthy for being an inept artist or a bad scientist; but is for being a thief, a coward, or a rake. There are also sins against (deficiencies in) Prudence, the link between the intellective and moral virtues, by which the Will chooses proportionate means to an end.

      You can find some discussion of the distinction between biological humans and metaphysical humans here:
      http://www3.nd.edu/~afreddos/papers/kemp-monogenism.pdf

      Delete
    4. I think your answer about Pius XII statement may come with the politics of the time. The theory of polygenism as it was first put forth in the 19th century wasn't about us all coming from a small group of interbreeding humans. It posited that humanity developed multiple times on different continents, each time spawning a different "race", so maybe the Aryans were descended from Adam, but the Asians were descended from Ben, the Africans were decended from Bob and so on. This went hand in hand with racial conflict theory that stated that each "race" was one whole, and was locked into a struggle for survival with the other "races". This so happened to be the main background of Nazi racial theory. Pius XII's condemnation, I think, makes more sense in that light.

      Delete
    5. There must have been some interbreeding/bestiality/etc., as the sons of Adam took wives who must have come from the "nonsapient" 9,999.

      Delete
    6. I hit publish without enough reflection.... My meaning is that the '"nonsapient" 9,999' were not fully human, were in the state of animals rather than humans because they were instinctual rather than rational, and thus were beasts.

      Delete