Saturday, September 17, 2011

Response to a post by The OFloinn

The OFloinn's blog doesn't allow me to comment, and he had a post, pointed out to me by another commentator, that I wanted to offer a couple of small comments on, below the fold. As Thomastic writers go, he's got a light-hearted style that makes him an easy read. I give him credit for that. Since this is a Thomasian poster/blog/argument, I'll be trying to frame this in Thomasian terms, to the best of my limited ability.

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.

I agree modern genetics doesn’t say much about the Fall, but it has a much harder time filling in with modern anthropology. For the Fall to be true, it requires that Adam and Eve live far enough back that they can be ancestors of all humans, possess sufficient Intellect to understand and communicate concerning the concepts required of them, and possess sufficient Will to deliberately reject those concepts. So, we have people with an operative language. However, the archeological record shows that humans were using writing technology to track numbers abstractly some 24,000 years before they used similar technology to track verbal concepts abstractly. That's a long time to wait to apply an existing technology in a new way.

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.

First, note the inherent sexism. It's a man that gets the ability first, according to the narrative.

Second, even more surely than you can count on scientists to make bad philosophical statements, you can count on philosophers to make bad scientific statements. Evolution tells us that humans are apes. There is no sensible evolutionary organization of apes that excludes humans. You can separate humans from a group containing chimpanzees and bonobos, or from gorillas, evolutionarily. If you want to put chimpanzees and gorillas (or chimpanzees and any other species besides the bonobos) into the same evolutionary grouping, humans will belong there.

Further, this is even true in Thomasian terms. My understanding is that one school thinks that living things can participate in many forms, in which case humans participate in the form of Ape. Another school would say each thing has its own form, and that terms like "ape" are categories of forms. Again, by any reasonable definition (that is, one not specifically designed to exclude humans) of this collection, humans will be categorized as apes.

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.

People respond to the religions of their culture, and the US is dominated by those last Tuesdayers.

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.

This completely overlooks the argument from the plane, or n-space. Pregnancy entails separate steps (for example, arrival in the uterus and fertilization of the ovum). Sapience consists of different aspects (generalization, separation of immediate stimulus from remembered stimulus, separation of pattern from individual instances), all of which are possessed by mammals in differing degrees.

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.

There is no good reason to think positive numbers or light bulbs represent good models of sapience.

It is not clear how Dr. Coyne envisions the same sapient mutation arising simultaneously in 10,000 ape-men.

There is no reason to think the physical mutations that allowed sapience where followed by immediate sapience, either. Sapience comes at least in part from a learning the process of being sapient. The physical tools for sapience could have been present for a million years or more before the cultural tools for sapience began to develop. It that happened, even under the on/off model of sapience offered, sapience would have spread inside of a population of 10,000 with a couple of generations, with kids learning it from adults who were not their parents or from the other kids they played with.

Except, The OFloinn allows his metaphysics, founded in religious beliefs, to prevent him from considering this possibility. Original can't be passed from playmate to playmate, it must pass parent-to-child. Therefore sapience must pass the same way.

The anathemas of the Council of Trent mention only Adam.

It's not Eve's fault, she was just a woman.

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.

We might imagine a bee, looking for a new location for a hive, see the location for it, and then returning to the hive and doing a special dance that all the other bees interpret as telling them about the new hive. Except, we have actually observed it, as well.

But in all likelihood, his ability to speak in abstractions -- to speak of 'bison' rather than any particular bison -- is coterminous with his sapience.

So, will the OFloinn venture that bees are sapient? I find it unlikely.

But Adam is different. Having a rational human form in addition to his sensitive animal form, he is capable of knowing the good.

Sure, he just has three words, but he knows what it means to be good.

But for Adam to know the good means that Adam is now capable of turning away from the good.

Notice that "capable of knowing the good" has transformed into "know the good" in the blink of an eye. I wonder if Adam had time to draw a breath in between?

Well, that's enough for one post. The rest is not much different.

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