William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Did Neanderthals Have Souls? Guest Post by Bob Kurland

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Editor says: do not miss two other essential articles on this topic. Mike Flynn’s “Adam and Eve and Ted and Alice“, and Ed Feser’s “Modern biology and original sin” Part I, and Part II. Also note that every thing that exists has a “soul”, i.e. a form. By “soul” Kurland means “rational soul”, i.e. the form of a rational animal.

Introduction

Pope St. John Paul II laid down issues of evolution, ensoulment and monogenesis in an address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences:

The magisterium of the Church takes a direct interest in the question of evolution, because it touches on the conception of man, whom Revelation tells us is created in the image and likeness of God….

Pius XII underlined the essential point: if the origin of the human body comes through living matter which existed previously, the spiritual soul is created directly by God…

As a result, the theories of evolution which, because of the philosophies which inspire them, regard the spirit either as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a simple epiphenomenon of that matter, are incompatible with the truth about man…

The moment of passage into the spiritual realm is not something that can be observed in this way—although we can nevertheless discern, through experimental research, a series of very valuable signs of what is specifically human life.

The Neanderthal genome has been explored in detail, and shows that there is a 99.7% similarity between human (homo sapiens) and Neanderthal DNA. John Hawkes in Rise of Humans: Great Scientific Debates notes that Neanderthals have the same two modifications in the FOXP2 gene, the gene that governs development of language centers in the brain, as do humans. Moreover, there is strong evidence that Neanderthals ceremonially buried their dead, perhaps an indicator that they believed in life after death.

There seems to be a conflict between what paleoanthropology and genomic research and what we are to believe from Catholic doctrine and dogma:

  • Evolutionary theory suggests that new species arise not from one or two individuals, but from populations. If new species arise from differences in DNA, and these differences occur because of mutations, how is it that for a large number of individuals the same mutations occur that give rise to a new species (within some limited time period)?
  • Definitions of soul from the Catholic Catechism and from the writings of Thomas Aquinas state that the soul is the “form” (in the Aristotelean sense) of the body, but immaterial. Rational faculties, the capacity to reason and to form abstractions, are attributes of a soul. These are presumably necessary conditions for there to be a soul. Are they sufficient conditions?
  • What kinds of archeological data would provide evidence for such rational faculties of a hominid–tool making, art, burial of the dead?
  • Does genetic similarity between two species, and the possibility that interbreeding has occurred, imply that if members of one species possess a soul, so do members of the other?

Monogenesis and Original Sin

Monogenesis supposes that humans descend from one pair of ancestors, male and female, as opposed to polygenesis, that many humans were ancestors. That humans descended from only two is a cornerstone of Catholic dogma on original sin. As set forth by Pope Pius XII in Humani Generis:

For the Christian faithful cannot maintain the thesis which holds that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that “Adam” signifies a number of first parents. Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the magisterium of the Church propose with regard to original sin, [emphasis added] which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.

Even if “biological” monogenesis does not obtain, what might be termed “theological” monogenesis could occur, and so Pius XII’s objection could be encountered. This proposition has been explored in some detail by Kenneth Kemp, in his article Science, Theology and Monogenesis, which will be discussed at greater length below. The essential base for this argument is a Thomistic view of body and soul, reflected in Pope St. John Paul II’s remark (quoted above) that “[even] if the origin of the human body comes through living matter which existed previously, the spiritual soul is created directly by God.”

Did Mitochondrial Eve Exist?

Did biological monogenesis did occur? Some evolutionary geneticists have justified the idea of descent from one ancestor (or a pair of ancestors) by the “Mitochondrial Eve” hypothesis, which proposes that all humans are descended from an African lady who lived some 100,000 to 200,000 years ago. It’s important here to realize that Mitochondrial Eve might have contributed only a small amount to our gene pool, given that there would have had to be many, many other great-great-…-great grandmothers.

The Mitochondrial Eve hypothesis has been criticized by evolutionary geneticists who argue that “bottlenecks” (small population sizes) lead to minimal genetic variation and thus lower survival of species. Francisco Ayala has examined the variation in the gene DRB1 and concludes the variation is too large to admit of a small population (bottleneck) as ancestors. Ayala’s calculations have been criticized as being biased and limited in assumptions. Let’s bypass the question of biological monogenesis and turn to Kemp’s proposal for theological monogenesis.

Theological monogenesis

Kemp’s thesis, theological monogenesis, rests on the notion of philosophical and theological species:

The biological species is the population of interbreeding individuals.

The philosophical species is the rational animal, i.e., a natural kind characterized by the capacity for conceptual thought, judgment, reasoning, and free choice. St. Thomas Aquinas argues that a certain kind of body is necessary for rational activity, but is not sufficient for it. Rational activity requires, in addition the presence of a rational soul, something that is more than the power of any bodily organ, and that therefore can only come into being, in each individual case, through a creative act of God. [emphasis added] The theological species is, extensionally, the collection of individuals that have an eternal destiny. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says ‘God created man in his image and established him in his friendship.’ [CCC 396]

Kemp supposes that a small population, about 5000, existed with the necessary physical characteristics (“body”) for rational activity. God selected two of these, a man and woman to be endowed with a soul, the capacity for abstract thought: e.g. to know that one would die, to have knowledge of one-self as an individual (self-consciousness), etc.

When would Adam and Eve have appeared in human pre-history? That point is not clear. Certainly tool-making is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for rational activity in the sense Kemp would take. Pebble tools go back to Homo Habilis some 2.6 million years ago, and in more advanced forms, possibly requiring rational forethought, to Homo Erectus, some 2 million years ago. Neanderthal man had a sophisticated tool-making capability, used fires, buried his dead with accompaniments.

As pointed out above, genomic analysis of Neanderthal DNA shows a 99.7% similarity to that of Homo Sapiens. Moreover, recent genome analysis of homo sapiens skulls show some interbreeding with Neanderthals, although that conclusion is controversial.

Summary

The questions raised here have been answered only partially. It is unlikely, but not impossible, that biological monogenesis occurred. If we accept (as I do) that mind, self-consciousness and what we please to call “soul” are not solely a physical thing, but are immaterial, then we still are in the dark as to what constitutes paleo-archeological evidence for rational activity, activity that is sufficient to show that individuals in a species are endowed with souls. We are unsure when in pre-history God gave two individuals their souls, and continued to do so thereafter for each of their descendants.

To the question put in the title, I would answer “Yes!”, Neanderthals did have a soul. I would argue that any species that buries its dead has knowledge that life will end, and is therefore endowed rationally.

40 Comments

  1. Thank you for this post Bob Kurland and for the linked articles.
    This topic of debate is not normally so well presented.

  2. One other point (included as a note in the original post): pollen analysis of archeological remains in the Sandar Cave, Kurdistan, from about 45,000 years ago show that a Neanderthal with a deformed/missing arm was buried at the age of about 40 years, with bouquets of flowers and tools. Surely this burial shows 1) compassion–that someone so handicapped lived to such a ripe age (for a prehistoric man) and 2) a sense of life after death.

  3. So Dick Cheney does have a soul! Huh!

    JMJ

  4. Ye Olde Statistician

    January 9, 2016 at 4:06 pm

    “However, recent work has suggested that perhaps the pollen was introduced to the burial by animal action, as several burrows of a gerbil-like rodent known as the Persian jird were found nearby. [The original report reported the existence of rodent holes around the burial along with the remains of the Persian jird. These animals live in large colonies, and they are known to store large amount of seeds and flowers in their burrows. Analysis of jird burrows has revealed the presence of many of the same flowers that were found around Shanidar 4.] In conjunction with the lack of ritual treatment of the rest of the skeletons in the cave suggest that the Shanidar 4 burial had natural, not cultural, origins.[16] Paul B. Pettitt has stated that the “deliberate placement of flowers has now been convincingly eliminated”, noting that “A recent examination of the microfauna from the strata into which the grave was cut suggests that the pollen was deposited by the burrowing rodent Meriones tersicus, which is common in the Shanidar microfauna and whose burrowing activity can be observed today”[17]
    [16] D.J. Sommer, The Shanidar IV ‘Flower Burial’: a Re-evaluation of Neanderthal Burial Ritual, Cambridge Archaeological Journal, vol. 9(1), pp. 127-129, 1999
    [17] The Neanderthal Dead, exploring mortuary variability in middle paleolithic eurasia. Paul B. Pettitt (2002)

    Shanidar 1 (the one with the extensive injuries0 is one of ten skeletons identified in the Shanidar cave and one of four complete skeletons. It’s age is estimated at 45,000 to 35,000 ybp, about the time when Cro Magnon people had already arisen. The well-known tendency of primates to “ape” other behaviors may play a role in this, but we are still faced with the fact that most of the remains in Shanidar cave seem to have been buried in rockfalls and some indeed consist of bones scattered among other debris and animal remains. If there had been ritual burial among the “clan of the cave bear,” why only here and why so few burials (given the time spans involved) and why only one burial getting special treatment?

    Evidence to the contrary lies in the fact that the Neanderthal toolkit shows no evidence of change or improvement over the lifetime of the species, close to 200,000 years, aside from adaptations to locally available materials. This is more comparable to instinct-driven tool-usage by animals than to the artifacts left by Cro Magnon.

    Likewise, sharing 99.7% of our DNA (99.5% per other sources) may only show how little DNA matters. After all, we share 98% with chimpanzees and 85% with zebra fish. Heck, we share 50% of our DNA with bananas (60% per another source).

    “It is not surprising that all animals and plants have the majority of their genes in common. The mechanism by which sugars are oxidised to release their energy (respiration) is almost universal. There are dozens of enzymes involved with this process alone. Each enzyme is a protein and each one needs to be coded for in DNA.”
    http://www.saps.org.uk/saps-associates/browse-q-and-a/473-how-much-dna-do-plants-share-with-humans-over-99

  5. Speciation occurs by isolation of subpopulations. Hence Adam nor Eve ever existed. Genesis is an Erklärungsmythos. Don’t confuse epic literature with science.

  6. Wilbur Hassenfus

    January 9, 2016 at 6:38 pm

    “how is it that for a large number of individuals the same mutations occur that give rise to a new species”

    They occur in one individual and spread. Speciation isn’t a sudden BANG — one big mutation and now you’re a frog. Isolated populations diverge gradually until they aren’t interfertile. I’ve read that here’s some reason to believe Neandertals and AMHs had some mutual fertility problems. Not sure if that was from John Hawks or Cochran/Harpending.

    I don’t understand how the number of chromosomes can change. But I’m not a biologist.

  7. Ye Olde Statistician

    January 9, 2016 at 6:48 pm

    Speciation occurs by isolation of subpopulations. Hence Adam nor Eve ever existed.

    You are supposing that metaphysical humans appeared by speciation and the possession of a rational soul is a biological event. You are also supposing that isolation occurs only geographically; but two populations may be isolated behaviorally while occupying the same ground, esp. in cases of sexual selection. In addition, a recessive gene (assuming genes are responsible) may spread within a population for many generations before its frequency becomes enough to mark off ape-men from man-apes.

  8. Ye Olde Statistician

    January 9, 2016 at 7:02 pm

    Isolated populations diverge gradually until they aren’t interfertile.

    Yet, there are some things that are all-or-nothing. A woman is either pregnant or not; she does not gradually become pregnant. My computer either boots up or fails.

    As regards the faculty of reason, a being is either able to abstract universals from particulars even a tiny little bit or he is not.

    Two populations may diverge because in the first generation a single individual is born with rational faculties in population A and none in population B. Then in generation 2, perhaps half of A’s children possess the faculty. In generation 3, half the grandchildren do. And so on. Eventually, there are enough in the population that they begin to mate, either fortuitously or because they find the jocks in their band unattractive, unable to carry on a meaningful conversation. Eventually, the faculties become universal within Population A.

    In that sense, the two populations differentiate gradually, but notice that the individuals within the populations either are or are not.

  9. YOS, I’m continually amazed and delighted at the vast spread of your erudition and analytical ability (those aren’t honeyed words or sarcasm–I really mean it). Nevertheless I think you’ve produced an incorrect argument from Pettit. If the pollen is brought by rodents, why only to this one grave, and not pollen in most Neanderthal graves? Moreover, the pollen is not from just one kind of flower but many different kinds. Further, Pettit ignores the ceremonial nature of Neanderthal grave commonly found: the person is buried on their side, usually the left, with knees bent (as in a fetal position?) and is generally accompanied with tools.
    Moreover, the argument ignores the nature of the Shanidar corpse: right arm deformed, no hand, and yet this man lived to 40 years, a ripe age for a caveman, and was honored by his folk. I don’t know that the comment about tool-making is correct; as I gather there are “Mousterian” tools found at more recent sites that differ from very early sites.
    It is true that the Neanderthal skull indicated a smaller frontal lobe region, which could indicate lower rational or analytical capability. Nevertheless there are genetic indicators that Neanderthals could have been capable of language and speech. Moreover, it is the case that people of European ancestry generally have about 4% of Neanderthal type genes in their genome. (Hans: that include the Dutch.)

  10. YOS, I’ll add there’s considerable difference in the tool-making of early hominids and animals. There’s evidence that early hominids travelled a considerable distance (50 to 100 miles) to sites where minerals would be found for their tools. Apes and Chimpanzees use materials close at hand and generally there is little altering of the material used for a tool. Moreover, even the early hominids would have “art”–decorations on tools, use of shells as decorations. And the Neanderthals had fire.

  11. Wilbur, with respect to my remark
    “how is it that for a large number of individuals the same mutations occur that give rise to a new species”
    You’re quite correct. I’m not a biologist or geneticist either, but I’m learning more. To be off-topic, one example is the development in the last 7000 years of a lactase persistent allele in Northern Europeans and East Africans, coincident with their development of dairy farming. See “The Mathematics of Evolution–The Lactase Persistent Gene”
    https://discourse.biologos.org/t/the-mathematics-of-evolution-the-lactase-persistent-gene/3782/30

  12. Ye Olde Statistician

    January 9, 2016 at 8:13 pm

    If the pollen is brought by rodents, why only to this one grave

    If used to honor the dead, why only this one grave? Same question. The pollen and seeds from the same variety of plants are found in other burrows. No one requires the rodents to burrow fortuitously into a grave.

    IMHO, a lot of this stuff leaps beyond the actual evidence to some favored (or attention-getting) conclusion, reading into the facts more theory than they can support. Perhaps I have become skeptical simply because scientists want so much for it to be true and are thus more likely to “see” it in the data.

    It’s like the language business. The only fact is that a couple of genes “associated with” language in humans are found also in Neanderthals. But association is not cause and genes only make proteins. They are not magic.

    Cave art would be nice. Or some evidence of more rapid change that would be consequent to the ability to talk stuff over.

    Complicating the picture is that in the later millennia Neanderthals and Cro Magnons appear to have inhabited the same locations, either alternately or even simultaneously. Ape-men were quite capable of imitating human behavior, once seen, or of borrowing/taking human artifacts, and so on.

    Neanderthals were on the ground for 250,000 years. Anatomically modern humans appeared about 150,000 years ago, which means we have not yet been around for the same length of time. Compare the difference from the Lascaux cave paintings ca. 20,000 years ago and today with any 20,000-year span among Neanderthals and you will see a huge difference.

  13. YOS, I understand your objections. However, you haven’t replied to 1) that this particular burial was a non-survivor if he had not been aided by his fellows–it makes a lot more sense to surmise that he was honored because of some special ability or status–a shaman, or ??? And you have not answered the fact 2) that the burials were ceremonial, and time-wise, before modern humans and Neanderthals were contemporary, i.e. before 30,000 or so years ago. And why would rodents burrow in these gravesites and why would they bring pollen? There’s also evidence of material used to tie the flowers together. It takes a stretch, but it makes more sense to imagine a continuum than a discrete jump in rationality.

  14. Ye Olde Statistician

    January 9, 2016 at 8:27 pm

    Lactase persistance.

    That subset of humans comprise the only mammals that retain the ability to digest milk in adulthood. They generally correspond to the territory occupied by Indo-European, Ural-Altaic, and Afro-Asiatic peoples, IIRC. The breakout of these peoples from their Ukrainian homeland is sometimes called “The Attack of the Milk-Drinking Mutants.” There is a nice account of them in Nigel Calder’s book Timescale.

  15. YOS, are you sure humans are the only animals that can digest milk in adulthood? I had two cats that would belie that statement.
    And I had read that the European variety of the lactase persistent allele originated in Hungary–but what’s a couple of hundred miles among friends, eh?
    And I would have doubted that the East African variety had originated in the Ukraine… but possibly there was an early neolithic slave trade or such.

  16. Ye Olde Statistician

    January 9, 2016 at 8:33 pm

    if he had not been aided by his fellows

    A substantial number of animal species show this sort of behavior.

    it makes more sense to imagine a continuum than a discrete jump in rationality

    Describe what you would be by one-half rational on a continuum.

  17. Ye Olde Statistician

    January 9, 2016 at 8:34 pm

    I was told by other cat owners that kittens can digest milk but adult cats get stomach aches.

  18. YOS, our adult cats seemed to be fine–no gas, no stomach upsets, although milk (cream actually) was not their steady diet.
    And, if you want an example of a continuum of rationality look at the development from infancy to adulthood of the mental capabilities of our own species. Piaget and others have examined the development of rational faculties in children from infancy on.

  19. YOS, let me add it’s obvious there are discrete steps in the development of rationality as a child develops, but it is not the case (even though G.B. Shaw wished it), that the fully rational human being developed at the age of 16 or 17 as if hatched from an egg shell. And I guess, as one would judge from comments to Briggs’ blog, that rational development isn’t complete even up to a much later age of the adult.

  20. Ye Olde Statistician

    January 9, 2016 at 9:30 pm

    an example of a continuum of rationality look at the development from infancy to adulthood of the mental capabilities of our own species.

    But infants and adults belong to the same species, and man is a rational animal. Naturally, the capacity is not exercised immediately any more than the capacity to walk. But there is a difference between a growing facility in the use of intellect and will and having an intellect and will in the first place. Consider a beverage can: it may possess a hole or crack, a “leaker.” If it does possess a hole, that hole can be bigger or smaller; but there is no such thing as “half a hole.” The veriest child who points and cries out “Horsey!” exhibits the possession of intellect. He has recognized a universal. The more so when he cries “No!” or “Maybe!” or “Tomorrow!”

    Human and chimpanzee children are largely alike up to a certain age, when human children begin pointing in an effort to elicit from a parent the name of a thing. After that, there’s no looking back.

  21. YOS, one pertinent criterion for rationality is the ability to abstract from a particular to a generality; to deduct from this three-sided figure with straight lines the concept of triangularity. Now that’s an extreme example. One can think of less high-level example, and I would claim that you have no way of disproving that Neanderthals or, indeed, other hominid species did not have this particular ability. Another criterion is the concept of self, as distinct from being (the psychological, not the movie term) a “Zombie”, with no self-awareness. Can you show that Neanderthals or other hominids did not have this self-awareness? Can you show that they did not “name” things, both in particular and in general?
    You refer to intellect and will–those are both abstract quantities, but are measured on a continuum,or if not a continuum, a set of discrete steps.
    The “half a hole” analogy, I don’t think applies. The size of the hole does.

    If you take a random sample of 1000 adult US citizens, I imagine by your criteria perhaps 20% of them would be rational, and the percentage for Trumpkins? Or Warmists? Or Statisticians? (Pace, Briggs).

  22. I don’t know if Neanderthals had souls, but you might be able to blame your allergies on them:
    http://www.foxnews.com/science/2016/01/08/sex-with-neanderthals-may-explain-modern-allergies.html?

  23. They had Neatherthal souls. Whether they are like our souls, and immortal, who knows? I enjoyed the piece and the speculation, but I think the answer to the question is that the older view of souls (vegetable, animal, and rational) is true and the answer is not possible to know, as they are no longer around for us to examine.

  24. Neanderthals had giant souls. Our own, puny in comparison, are in fact entirely due to Neanderthal admixture.

  25. The search for Adam and Eve (and yes, for Adam and Eve, not “Adam and Eve”, as if they were metaphors only) within the natura pura (‘pure’ nature) postulated by classic Thomism, casts some useful light on a real danger to faith inherent within classic Thomism.

    For the entire exercise, serious to some, is merely charming to others, and charmless indeed to more than a few. Thus, to identify classic Thomism too closely with the faith of the Church risks failing to confront Men with the necessity of Baptism, the single doorway to the Most Holy Eucharist; which is to say, for some men, in finding the quest for Adam and Eve within natura pura charmless, and yet also finding this quest conflated with the faith of the Church, may turn away from Christ, before they ever see and crave His Baptism.

    Of course, I do not hope to convince those who argue with a straight face that the Aristotelian Deus Unus>/i>, which provides absolutely and decisively no, zero, nada, zilch, metaphysical warrant for the Most Holy Trinity, can nevertheless be ‘proved’ to be the Most Holy Trinity, if only we follow St. Thomas’s ‘proof’ of this — more precisely, his mere nominalization of this insolubility — closely enough.

    And yes, this quest for Adam and Eve within a pagan cosmology is venerable, though only in its age. It is nonetheless completely mistaken, for we can only find the First Adam, and hence his Fall, with recourse to the reality of the Second Adam, “through Him all things were made.”

    CCC 365 reads, in English, thus: “The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the ‘form’ of the body: i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature.”

    But in CCC 365 a word is in quotes: “form”. Thomists take such nods to Thomism as blanket ratifications of Aristotelian categories, which they are not. Rather, the Church in CCC 365 deploys the word “form” in the first part of the sentence to teach the real, spiritual truth, which is contained in the second part of the sentence: “i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature.”

    Indeed, the entire first part of CCC 365 could be eliminated without a whit of damage to the profession of the Church in CCC 365’s second part. And Matt (not Dr. Kurland, who is not responsible for his editor’s remarks) is on rather perilous ground when he, presuming that CCC 365 does more than merely refer to a Thomistic category but actively endorses it as coterminous with the Faith, opines that ‘form’ is not merely a philosophical category but a category of the truth of the Faith, and thus, each animal has a ‘form,’ which can then be called a soul (without the quotes).

    In sum, substantial Reality is available to Man, but that realism is Sacramental Realism, Reality created “through Him all things were made,” Jesus the Lord, “one and the same” God and Man. It is not the ‘realism’ of the pagans, nor any such natura pura postulated by classic Thomism, for that way lies quests to find Adam and Eve in some way apart from the Second Adam and the Second Eve: fruitless quests which are not only wholly unavailing, but also can wrongly challenge prematurely the incipient faith of the curious and the searching.

    Man: come, rush headlong, to the actual sacraments of the actual Catholic Church; and don’t let irrelevancies, even pious, learned, ancient irrelevancies, delay or thwart you. All you could ever hope for or imagine is still Present for you, if you but will.

  26. Arggh. Obviously I need to html-check, not only spell-check. My sincere apologies, and my firm purpose of amendment. Here are the offending paragraphs, corrected:

    Of course, I do not hope to convince those who argue with a straight face that the Aristotelian Deus Unus, which provides absolutely and decisively no, zero, nada, zilch, metaphysical warrant for the Most Holy Trinity, can nevertheless be ‘proved’ to be the Most Holy Trinity, if only we follow St. Thomas’s ‘proof’ of this – more precisely, his mere nominalization of this insolubility – closely enough.

    In sum, substantial Reality is available to Man, but that realism is Sacramental Realism, Reality created “through Him all things were made,” Jesus the Lord, “one and the same” God and Man. It is not the ‘realism’ of the pagans, nor any such natura pura postulated by classic Thomism, for that way lies quests to find Adam and Eve in some way apart from the Second Adam and the Second Eve: fruitless quests which are not only wholly unavailing, but also can wrongly challenge prematurely the incipient faith of the curious and the searching.

  27. Good lord, what a ridiculously strenuous bout of mental gymnastics to prop up a creation myth. Just curious, did the Neanderthal Eve actually eat the apple when prompted by the snake? Or is that part just waived away as an allegory of some vague “original sin”? Would it not have been just as easy for the author of Genesis to state that God selected two of an existing race and go from there, instead of actually saying that he created them from scratch? How is all this reconciled with the Bible saying that Eve was created from Adam’s rib. She was not a pre-existing being, at least according to one thread of the story.

  28. Ye Olde Statistician

    January 10, 2016 at 8:09 pm

    one pertinent criterion for rationality is the ability to abstract from a particular to a generality; to deduct from this three-sided figure with straight lines the concept of triangularity. Now that’s an extreme example. One can think of less high-level example[s]

    Indeed, one can. For example, anyone who can use a language is exhibiting conceptual behavior. For example, “dog” without meaning specifically “this dog right here.”

    you have no way of disproving that Neanderthals … did not have this particular ability.
    Can you show that Neanderthals or other hominids did not have this self-awareness?
    Can you show that they did not “name” things, both in particular and in general?

    The classical difficulties in disproving a negative are why in the natural sciences the burden of proof lies on the one making the claim.

    Another criterion is the concept of self

    No, the knowledge of self is a subjective experience. It is something perceived, not something conceived. I do not know myself by abstracting from concrete experience. I know myself directly as a concrete experience. It is one form of evidentia naturalis that leads to knowledge as certain as evidentia potissima.

    Basically, awareness of self stems directly from the common sense. But the original meaning of this abused term must be understood first:

    Modern science has confirmed that the various sense impressions reach the brain at different times. We feel, smell, taste, see, and hear at different instants. There is no sensible reason why all these signals should be experienced as coming from the same object. The eye sees red, but it doesn’t see sweet. Unless disparate sensations are somehow united in a singular object, they are just a cascade of sounds and colors and such with no apparent connection one with another. Such a perceived world would make no sense. The animal would smell its food but not connect the smell with the sight of nearby munchies.

    Hence, there must be what Aristotle called a common sense that unites sensations into perceptions, i.e., into a singular whole. E pluribus unum, mon dude. So various sensations becomes a perception of an apple or (when unified over time) various sensations of sounds becomes a perception of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto.

    Common Sense is the principle of sensitive consciousness. By it, we identify some sensations as belonging to ourselves or to external objects. We not only see, smell, etc., but we are aware of doing so and so become conscious of the subject/object duality.

    Basically, all animals possess this power of self-consciousness, certainly all higher animals. It is not a sign of intellect, nor of abstraction. It is simple sensation and perception.

    You refer to intellect and will–those are both abstract quantities, but are measured on a continuum,or if not a continuum, a set of discrete steps.

    Again: what is half the ability to abstract a universal concept from perceived particulars? This is a different question from how many universals one has abstracted. There may be a great deal of variation in the intellective skills of various people, just as there is in their pedal skills. But that some people may sprint faster than YOS does not mean that YOS is not bipedal. (For that matter, should YOS suffer an amputation, that would not mean he is not naturally bipedal.) But there is a qualitative difference with starfish, amoebae, horses, and other (universals) which are not naturally bipeds.

    If you take a random sample of 1000 adult US citizens, I imagine by your criteria perhaps 20% of them would be rational

    Nope. I’d put it at 100%. Pretty much every human being, unless severely damaged, can use language — and those who are damaged still have the capacity to do so. Cf., Helen Keller:
    http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2011/07/talk-to-animals.html

  29. YOS, I find your arguments cogent, but unconvincing (at least to me–does that mean I’m irrational?).
    It seems that you’re using the capacity for language as a sole criterion for rationality, is that correct?
    “Nope. I’d put it at 100%. Pretty much every human being, unless severely damaged, can use language — and those who are damaged still have the capacity to do so. Cf., Helen Keller”
    What do you make of the following: it was a heritable language deficiency in an English family that led to the discovery of the essential role of FOXP2 in language development. Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens share two changes in the FOXP2 gene (changes from Chimpanzees) which, suggests to me that Neanderthals shared a language capacity.
    But of course, rationality is more than the capacity for language.

  30. And burying one’s dead seems a poor criterion for rationality.

    “I would argue that any species that buries its dead has knowledge that life will end, and is therefore endowed rationally.”

    Animals like elephants have shown burial behavior (in their own limited way, covering with leaves, etc). And some animals show basic tool-making ability.

    Just say humans are different because they have souls and you just have to accept that on faith. Either take the bible story literally, or declare it allegory, and that “original sin” is just some unknown part of being human that passeth understanding. All this bizarre mental juggling to crown some random Neanderthal as Adam (or is it “Adam”?) is really close to the nuttiest Creationist efforts to logically prove that it was possible for Noah to get all those animals on the boat and so forth.

  31. Ye Olde Statistician

    January 10, 2016 at 11:51 pm

    It seems that you’re using the capacity for language as a sole criterion for rationality, is that correct?

    It would be a fundamental evidence. Perhaps you are using “rationality” in an equivocal sense, such as “agrees with me” or “uses tools.” Scientists were always coming up with “uniquely human traits” that turned out not to be so unique. But “[d]o we really need to ask whether non-human animals have developed systems of physics, speculative mathematics, and metaphysical wisdom?”
    https://thomism.wordpress.com/2008/10/11/what-really-are-uniquely-human-traits/

    What do you make of the following: it was a heritable language deficiency in an English family that led to the discovery of the essential role of FOXP2 in language development.

    It means that defects in a gene can express the body’s development, including brain activities. Suppose there were a gene such that certain defects in the gene resulted in withered hands. Would we say that having this gene results in piano playing? Or that a defect in this gene impairs the organ[s] involved with piano playing? They are not quite the same thing; esp. when we see that mice also have FOXP2 and are not known as sparkling conversationalists.

    But of course, rationality is more than the capacity for language.

    Such as?

  32. Ye Olde Statistician

    January 11, 2016 at 12:12 am

    Animals like elephants have shown burial behavior (in their own limited way, covering with leaves, etc). And some animals show basic tool-making ability.

    Neither activity is indicative of an intellect abstracting universal concepts from particular percepts. Instinct will do nicely.

    Just say humans are different because they have souls and you just have to accept that on faith.

    Everything living has a soul, otherwise it would not be living. [Hint: the Latin word translated as “soul” is anima, which means “living, animated.” This matters because the people who developed the whole thing wrote in Latin [or Greek, but the Greek word had the same import]. It is only in the messed-up Cartesian view that this straightforward empirical observation gets obscured.]
    The human is different from other animals because the powers of its anima include the ability for speculative reason. [And a concommitant appetite (a/k/a “will”) for the products of the intellect.] We can think not only about the snake that is here now, but the snake that might be there then. (See Richard Mitchell’s Less Than Words Can Say, Ch.2 “The Two Tribes”)

  33. Soul is the form of body. This familiar description is often applied naively.
    The statement is categorical and applies to the species and not to the individuals that comprise that species.
    That is, all the cats, for instance, have the form “catness”. That’s why they all get to be called “cats”. It is not meaningful in the Thomistic scheme to talk about form of a particular cat as opposed to the form of another particular cat.

    Similarly, the statement “man is rational animal” is categorical, applying to the species man. It would be absurd, again under Thomism, to say that some men are not rational.

    The second abuse of the definition “man is rational animal” is to think that all rational animals are man. If we were to find an intelligent alien species, it would be absurd to call them man on the basis of Thomistic definition. It would be more sensible to modify the definition of man, for instance to
    “man is rational animal found on Earth” or “man is rational aninal descended from Adam and Eve”.

  34. There is a certain tension between the philosophical “soul is the form of body” and the spiritual soul that each person has individually and is spoken of in spiritual sense as being good or evil or oriented to God or not and that receives punishment for its sins after death. I think this equivocal meaning of soul that causes misunderstanding.

  35. YOS, I don’t engage in comments for the sake of winning arguments but to learn and to teach. As I said, I find your arguments unconvincing, and I’m not learning from them. Moreover, I don’t think you’re following or reading carefully what I say. When you write
    “when we see that mice also have FOXP2 and are not known as sparkling conversationalists.”
    although I had written
    “Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens SHARE TWO CHANGES in the FOXP2 gene (changes from Chimpanzees) which, suggests to me that Neanderthals shared a language capacity.”
    It is not the FOXP2 gene generally that is essential to language capability, but the FOXP2 gene specifically, shared by Homo sapiens and Neanderthals. That kind of distinction, by the way, involves language, but is more than the use of language, distinguishing between general and specific (which you yourself pointed out). So, as I said, I’ve learned all I can from your discussion–Elvis has left the room.

  36. YOS, one other point–it would take a book, not a comment to enlarge on faculties and capabilities other than language associated with rational behavior, but I’ll point out a few: knowledge of a higher power, art, music, mathematics.

  37. “Neither activity is indicative of an intellect abstracting universal concepts from particular percepts. Instinct will do nicely.”
    Good, so burying is not a reliable indicator of rationality. Thank you for destroying Kurland’s argument above: “I would argue that any species that buries its dead has knowledge that life will end, and is therefore endowed rationally.”

    “Everything living has a soul, otherwise it would not be living. [Hint: the Latin word translated as “soul” is anima, which means “living, animated.” This matters because the people who developed the whole thing wrote in Latin [or Greek, but the Greek word had the same import]. It is only in the messed-up Cartesian view that this straightforward empirical observation gets obscured.]”
    You’re a suprising guy, YOS. I wouldn’t have thought you had a sense of humor, but that is the best laugh I’ve had this week.

  38. Ye Olde Statistician

    January 11, 2016 at 3:49 pm

    faculties and capabilities other than language associated with rational behavior, but I’ll point out a few: knowledge of a higher power, art, music, mathematics.

    All things that are require the ability to abstract universals from particulars. No argument, from me. All of them grounded in language in one way or another. All of them so far as we know exclusively human.

  39. swordfishtrombone

    January 12, 2016 at 7:37 am

    @YOS: “Everything living has a soul”

    What, even viruses?

    Would a person travelling by means of a Star Trek transporter arrive at their destination without a soul? If so, how would they differ from their untransported self?

  40. Ye Olde Statistician

    January 12, 2016 at 10:14 am

    @YOS: “Everything living has a soul”
    What, even viruses?

    Only if viruses are alive. At the bare minimum, this would imply the powers of metabolism, homeostasis, digestion, and reproduction. Otherwise, they are the pencil shavings of the sharpener of evolution.

    Would a person travelling by means of a Star Trek transporter arrive at their destination without a soul?

    Would they arrive alive?

    The diagrams of the models for various kinds of soul have at long last come down off the web. At some point I may attempt to reproduce them, but until then I can give no easy reference save to William Wallace’s book, The Modelling of Nature.

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