One More Round on Original Sin, Part Two

Picking up where yesterday’s post left off, we have one more point to consider. Recall that the set-up here is that Edward Feser suggested a reinterpretation of the Adam and Eve story to bring it into line with modern genetics. In particular, Feser’s scenario hypothesizes that Adam and Eve were selected from a population of hominids to receive the gift of an eternal soul. Those other hominids were biologically human, but since they lacked souls they were not metaphysically human. I replied in this post. Feser then replied to my reply here.

In yesterday’s post I discussed two objections to his scenario. I argued that it is theologically implausible in that it asks us to believe that God behaved in ways that defy all reasonable standards of logic and fairness. I also argued that it is biologically implausible, in that Feser explicitly based his argument on the claim that an ability for abstract and rational thought represents a difference in kind between humans and animals, while the scientific evidence is against that possibility.

Today we consider a final problem. Feser’s scenario seems to be flatly contradicted by the Bible.


In attempting to respond to my challenge, Feser writes:

Rosenhouse has criticisms of his own. But though he does not miss the point the way Coyne does, his objections have no more force than Coyne’s. Rosenhouse says, first of all, that:

The first piece of evidence against [the scenario summarized above] is that the Bible does not teach anything remotely like what Feser is describing… Where in the Genesis story does he find a preexisting population of physically human but unensouled creatures? And how does he account for the Genesis language, which explicitly tries to account for physical bodies and not just for mental endowments?

In other words: “Wait, you’re not a fundamentalist! That’s not fair!”

That’s a remarkable ellipsis, since it completely omits the main part of my argument. I pointed to five specific verses in the Bible and noted two clear contradictions between what they plainly said and what Feser is asking us to believe. Here is what Feser left out:

Let us recall Genesis 2: 4-8:

In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up–for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground–then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground,* and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

Notice that, prior to the creation of Adam, we are told explicitly that there was no one to till the ground. Notice further that this account quite explicitly describes the creation of Adam’s physical body, and not just his mental endowments. Of course, later we are told of Eve’s creation from one of Adam’s ribs. This is further evidence that the story means to account for the origin of Adam and Eve’s physical bodies.

All of these points are in conflict with Feser’s account.

That’s the text represented by Feser’s ellipsis. You can decide for yourself whether any of Feser’s readers would have a fair view of my argument based on his rather truncated presentation of it.

Now, I really don’t think you need to be a fundamentalist to believe that when the Bible says, “there was no one to till the ground,” it does not mean, “there were lots of human-like creatures tilling the ground, but they lacked souls and therefore were not metaphysically human.” And when the Bible speaks of forming man from the dust of the ground, it seems clear that it is man’s physical attributes, and not just his mental attributes, that are being described. As I noted, both of these points flatly contradict what Feser said. If I am being overly literal in understanding these verses, then please tell me the figurative or metaphorical meaning they were meant to convey.

The simple fact is that a story in which Adam and Eve are chosen from a pre-existing hominid population for a special relationship with God is very different from a story in which Adam and Eve are created physically as the first humans. It strains credulity, to put it kindly, that what certainly appears to be the latter was meant to be construed as the former.

Feser continues:

As I noted in my previous post, what Catholic theology requires is that all humans living today have Adam as an ancestor, and that Adam’s soul was infused directly by God. It does not require that Adam was literally made directly from dust or clay. And though Rosenhouse is correct that Genesis is interested in the formation of Adam’s body and not merely the origin of his soul, that too is consistent with the Flynn/Kemp account if we think of the matter God used to form that body as derived from pre-existing hominids rather than straight from the earth. I know Rosenhouse, Coyne, and Co. would like it to be the case that all Christians are crude literalists –after all, that would facilitate atheist combox smart-assery and other forms of Serious Thinking. But it just isn’t so. As a matter of fact, the most traditional Christians are not crude literalists. As Mike Flynn emphasizes in his post, that the literal and figurative senses of statements in the book of Genesis must be carefully distinguished is a long-standing theme in traditional biblical exegesis, and was famously explored by St. Augustine.

Of course, my point had nothing to do with what Catholic theology requires. I was discussing the Bible, not Catholic theology. I realize that Catholic authorities like to arrogate to themselves the exclusive right to hold forth on the Bible’s meaning, but for the purposes of this post I shall side with the Protestants on that one.

It’s nice that Feser at least concedes my point that the Biblical story means to account for Adam’s physical attributes and not just his mental endowments. Alas, he completely ignores the verse about how there was no one to till the ground just prior to Adam’s creation. Sadly, his further claim, that we can bring the text into alignment with his scenario so long as “we think of the matter God used to form that body as derived from pre-existing hominids rather than straight from the earth,” is ridiculous. Recall that under Feser’s scenario there was a population of hominids that were genetically and physiologically indistinguishable from human beings, but which nonetheless lacked souls. “Adam’s creation,” in his scenario, refers to the moment when God infused one of these already-existing bodies with a soul. Under that understanding, it makes no sense to say that God, in creating Adam, “formed man from the dust of the ground.” That just, flat-out isn’t what God did, according to Feser’s scenario.

Having exhausted himself by devoting an entire sentence to responding to my argument, Feser now reverts to form by hurling some random insults. His claim that I wish that Christians were all crude literalists is a figment of his imagination. It is not at all justified by anything I actually said. Since Feser invokes Augustine here, I feel compelled to point out that my understanding of the intent behind Genesis 2 and 3 is essentially the one defended by Augustine, not to mention countless other Christian teachers who came after him. If I am guilty of crude literalism then so are they.

Feser continues:

Flynn writes:

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.

To be sure, this does not mean that Catholic theology allows us to reinterpret just any old passage of Genesis as we see fit. The point is just that the situation is far more complicated than claiming either that it all must be taken literally or that none of it need be taken literally. A reader calls attention to some articles by Fr. Brian Harrison — here, here, and here — which detail the history of the Church’s doctrinal statements concerning human origins and evolution, and argue that Catholic teaching on the subject is more conservative than many realize. In particular, Fr. Harrison argues that the miraculous formation of Eve from Adam’s side is binding Catholic doctrine. At the same time, Fr. Harrison acknowledges that the Church does not condemn either “special transformism” — the view (which Pius XII evidently had in mind in Humani Generis) that in forming Adam, God conjoined a human soul to matter derived from pre-existing hominids and “upgraded” so as to make it suitable for such infusion — or evolutionary accounts of sub-human species. And special transformism is all that is essential to the point that Flynn, Kemp, and I have been making about the compatibility of the doctrine of original sin with the genetic evidence. In any event, as I say, the situation is more complicated than fundamentalists, theological liberals, and New Atheists suppose. (Go to the original for relevant links).

Feser’s endless hand-waving is really getting tiresome. For all his gushing about the difficulties of Bible interpretation and the need to avoid crude literalism, he simply refuses to explain why the specific verses I cited should be interpreted in a way that seems directly contrary to their clear intent. The obvious way for Feser to have refuted my argument would have been to explain why the Biblical text, properly understood, supports his interpretation and not mine. Instead he goes on and on, including a bizarre digression on the views of Brian Harrison, doing everything except that.

That Flynn quote is especially remarkable. We should keep in mind that the ideas he is describing as coming from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Bible Shack were the mainstream teaching of the Church for centuries.

For heaven’s sake, it wasn’t atheists who invented this problem. We’re not the ones who decided, based on the Bible’s teaching, that there was a time when there were only two people on Earth. We’re not the ones who used the Bible to formulate the notion of original sin and then made it a bedrock principle in our theology. We’re not the ones who continue to write books and journal articles trying to devise ever more creative understandings of original sin to bring it in line with modern science.

Isn’t it interesting, for example, that Kenneth Kemp, publishing in 2011, felt that reconceptualizing original sin in the light of modern science was enough of a problem for Catholics that a journal article on the subject was called for? Isn’t it also interesting that the journal didn’t reject the paper on the grounds that it addressed a problem that had been resolved decades ago? If this issue is as simple as Feser and his friends would like us to believe, then what am I to make of the writings of Catholic thinkers like Daryl Domning and John Haught? Both have spilled considerable ink presenting their own modern understandings of original sin, and neither presented anything like what Feser has in mind. Why did Haught, in his 2001 book God After Darwin, write, “Thus far I have said nothing about “original sin,” which for many Christians is the most difficult religious teaching to square with Darwinian evolution.”? He certainly did not follow up by saying, “But they are wrong to be troubled, because this is really a non-problem.”

So whatever else you want to say about this issue, stop pretending that its just dumbass atheists who, in their theological ignorance, see a problem here. If you just want to strut around in your little corner of the blogosphere and high-five each other for your cleverness then go right ahead. But I’m still waiting to hear serious answers to my questions. At this point I very much doubt that Feser or his friends have much to offer in that regard.

Feser makes one last point:

Even given a completely literal reading of the relevant passages in Genesis, there is less conflict with Flynn’s and Kemp’s proposal than Rosenhouse suggests. We are told that Cain feared that others might kill him. Who were these others? That we are not told, and thus have to speculate. Perhaps they were further progeny of Adam. But Flynn’s and Kemp’s account provides another possibility — that they were (to use Rosenhouse’s words) members of “a preexisting population of physically human but unensouled creatures.”

Pathetic. We simply ignore the explicit verse in Genesis 2 that there was no one to till the soil prior to Adam’s creation, and instead go pawing around two chapters later desperately looking for unexplained people we can transport backwards in time to make our scenario work.

In his original post, Feser explained the importance of this in Catholic thought:

After all, the doctrine is hardly incidental. It is de fide — presented as infallible teaching — and it is absolutely integral to the structure of Catholic theology. If it were wrong, then Catholic theology would be incoherent and the Church’s teaching authority would be undermined.

Declaring that the doctrine comes from an infallible source rather limits your options. Having accepted that view, what more can you do but defend whatever ludicrous scenario seems necessary, while trying to accomplish through arrogance and swagger what you cannot accomplish through reasoned argument?

But people not so in thrall to Catholic teaching will have noticed another possibility. It could simply be that “original sin” was a dramatic wrong turn in the history of ideas. Perhaps the failure of the Biblical writers to get the story remotely right reflects the fact that they were not writing with the benefit of divine guidance. And perhaps all of those Christian scholars who taught, based on the Bible, that Adam and Eve were at one time the entirety of the human population understood the text correctly but erred in thinking they were in possession of a communication from God.

The Bible has many obscure sections, but Genesis 2 really doesn’t seem to be one of them. Feser has not provided a plausible reinterpretation of the text. He has simply discarded the text and has replaced it with what he wished it said.

Comments

  1. #1 J. Quinton
    September 14, 2011

    “As I noted in my previous post, what Catholic theology requires is that all humans living today have Adam as an ancestor”

    I wonder how he demonstrates this requirement.

    What if all humans living today don’t have Adam as an ancestor? What happens to Catholic theology then? What about all humans living 1,000 years ago? If only 50% of people living 1,000 years ago had Adam as an ancestor, what does that do to Catholic theology?

    Does Feser have a model for how long it takes “metaphysical humanity” to propagate through a population?

  2. #2 eric
    September 14, 2011

    For all his gushing about the difficulties of Bible interpretation and the need to avoid crude literalism, he simply refuses to explain why the specific verses I cited should be interpreted in a way that seems directly contrary to their clear intent.

    I think it’s worse than that (for Feser). He could effectively and cogently give you an allegorical interpretation for each of the passages you cite. And he would win the battle, but lose the war, because at that point so much of the story has been deemed allegorical by its defenders that there is really no good reason to believe the whole is anything but allegory, myth. Feser is left claiming that just because the emperor’s underwear, socks, pants, and shirt are invisible, doesn’t mean his outfit is.

  3. #3 GAZZA
    September 14, 2011

    I love how he brings up the Cain thing as if it helps. To me, the Cain thing is just another of example of Biblical incoherence – the fact that the Bible doesn’t say who these others were is another problem, not a solution.

  4. #4 JimR.
    September 15, 2011

    I propose the name,Ed Hominem, for the earliest hominid ancestor since he is cited in so many posts on religion.

  5. #5 Wow
    September 15, 2011

    “It’s nice that Feser at least concedes my point that the Biblical story means to account for Adam’s physical attributes and not just his mental endowments.”

    So did someone else create the other humans that Adam and Eve were picked out from in Gods image because they’re best friends forever or something?

    Or did mankind arrive and God take Man’s image (which is absolutely contradicted by the bible and a completely non-allegorical way) after a few million years?

  6. #6 Iain Walker
    September 15, 2011

    J. Quinton (#1):

    Does Feser have a model for how long it takes “metaphysical humanity” to propagate through a population?

    I think he does, albeit indirectly, since “metaphysical humanity” isn’t hereditary as such – it’s just God contingently infusing a soul into all genealogical descendants of A&E and only genealogical descendants of A&E. So the question is basically: How long does it take for A&E to become common ancestors of all living humans?

    And that, as Another Matt astutely pointed out in the previous thread, is a matter of calculating when the Most Recent Common Ancestor of all living humans was alive, and then adding one generation (because the MRCA’s parents are also both common ancestors of all living humans). And since “metaphysical humanity” is being mapped directly onto this pattern of descent, this gives you the minimum time taken for it to propagate.

    Of course there are a few complications, but that would be the basic model – if Feser were interested in trying to apply his claims to the real world.

  7. #7 Wow
    September 15, 2011

    “it’s just God contingently infusing a soul into all genealogical descendants of A&E”

    At what point?

    At six to nine months old, when they exhibit mental traits available to chimanzees but beyond that of, say, geckos?

  8. #8 Tulse
    September 15, 2011

    it’s just God contingently infusing a soul into all genealogical descendants of A&E and only genealogical descendants of A&E.

    But why only those descendants? That another thing that doesn’t make any sense about Feser’s account — if his god can poof souls into A&E, why did he limit it to just those two people and their progeny? Why not poof souls into every proto-human at that time? If one isn’t going to take the A&E story literally, why think that it is only A&E who got poofed with souls?

  9. #9 Iain Walker
    September 15, 2011

    Wow (#7):

    At what point?

    At conception, apparently. He’s a Catholic, after all.

    And yes, this runs into a huge number of both biological and conceptual difficulties.

  10. #10 hyperdeath
    September 15, 2011

    It seems like there’s a very easy Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine out there for the taking. All they need to do is prove this hypothesis of theirs, and it will be lauded as one of the greatest scientific discoveries of the past century.

    Presumably an effort is underway to derive testable predictions, and to prepare for the necessary experiments. If not, then why not?

  11. #11 Wow
    September 15, 2011

    “At conception, apparently. He’s a Catholic, after all.”

    Would that be before he terminates the conception (natural abortion is a far bigger “killer of babies” than artifical abortion), or after?

  12. #12 Iain Walker
    September 15, 2011

    Tulse (#8):

    If one isn’t going to take the A&E story literally, why think that it is only A&E who got poofed with souls?

    Remember that Feser is first and foremost an apologist. Roman Catholic dogma (or his understanding of it) takes the A&E part of the story literally, but not the rest. So it’s not so much that Feser’s rationale is arbitrary – it’s the fact that he is trying to rationalise a doctrine which is itself arbitrary in the first place.

  13. #13 Tulse
    September 15, 2011

    Feser is first and foremost an apologist [...] it’s not so much that Feser’s rationale is arbitrary – it’s the fact that he is trying to rationalise a doctrine which is itself arbitrary in the first place

    I understand that completely, it’s just that I get incredibly frustrated at apologists using logic and evidence and reason only to the degree necessary to reduce their presuppositions to an acceptable level of absurdity.

    I guess this is why I find the fundies at least more intellectually honest — they realize that their position makes no sense, and simply accept it. The “liberals” abuse reason and evidence by only accepting it to the degree that makes them comfortable with their otherwise silly views, and then pretending that they’re rational. One can’t buy into reason only part way and not still be crazy.

  14. #14 Iain Walker
    September 15, 2011

    Wow (#11):

    Would that be before he terminates the conception (natural abortion is a far bigger “killer of babies” than artifical abortion), or after?

    Before, according to the fairly standard Catholic teaching to which Feser apparently adheres.

    However, I’m sure he has a theodicy to go with that hat …

  15. #15 Wow
    September 15, 2011

    Ah, so why does god kill those babies then? Maybe those pro-life christians need to burn down His house as opposed to those of the abortion doctors.

  16. #16 Deepak Shetty
    September 15, 2011

    I wonder why Feser and co. bother ? if you are willing to grant that God magically interfered and selected 2 people and performed some special magic on them, such that if affects everyone who was born from that lineage , why not just say he created these two people (as biblically described) with a DNA match of existing lifeforms or something. if Feser is indeed willing to pull stuff out of his ass as plausibe scenarios he might as well stick to the biblically correct forms.

  17. #17 Another Matt
    September 15, 2011

    Notice that, prior to the creation of Adam, we are told explicitly that there was no one to till the ground.

    I’m afraid the answer you’re going to get to this will be along the lines of:

    “Of course, silly! Subhumans don’t know how to till the ground!”

  18. #18 Another Matt
    September 15, 2011

    And that, as Another Matt astutely pointed out in the previous thread, is a matter of calculating when the Most Recent Common Ancestor of all living humans was alive, and then adding one generation (because the MRCA’s parents are also both common ancestors of all living humans).

    And really, for the “hypothesis” to “work,” A&E could be any of the MRCA’s ancestors, all the way back to the emergence of Homo Sapiens Sapiens (I think Feser would claim that that’s exactly when Homo Sapiens emerged – at the moment of ensoulment). I hate defending this nonsense; my reaction is “yeah, I get it, 50% is logically tidy — cool story, bro.” (thanks for the kudos)

  19. #19 gamon
    September 15, 2011

    Wait wait wait…I’m confused. Even if there was a population of 10000 not-human-but-still-human-enough-to-breed hominids, and then Adam and Eve, and everyone now alive is in some way descended ultimately from these two because we all presumably have souls…isn’t that STILL just a population bottleneck of two people?

    I could be reading that whole proposition of Feser’s incorrectly, and my understanding is flawed, but when I think about the position Feser is defending, it seems to me that the problem of everyone ultimately having A&E in common still exists. Given biology conclusively shows this to be wrong we’re back at square one. Right?

    As to Feser himself – what a pompous windbag. There’s distortions, assertions presented as fact (just because *he* doesn’t think apes can reason logically at all, defined by some arbitrary cutoff point of his own devising, does not mean that he’s got the final word on the matter), goalpost shifting and his usual word salad just to confuse things. I’ve got no doubt he’s an intelligent man, but the world would be better served if he actually did something productive with it.

  20. #20 Another Matt
    September 15, 2011

    Wait wait wait…I’m confused. Even if there was a population of 10000 not-human-but-still-human-enough-to-breed hominids, and then Adam and Eve, and everyone now alive is in some way descended ultimately from these two because we all presumably have souls…isn’t that STILL just a population bottleneck of two people?

    “Common Ancestor” does not imply “only common ancestor.” Think of it this way: your dad’s maternal grandmother and her mate are common ancestors of your dad, you and your siblings, all of their kids and grandkids, all of your nieces and nephews, all of their children, all your cousins on your dad’s side, their kids, etc. But there was no bottleneck of two for this prolific pile of progeny, because you still had six other biological great-grandparents, four of whom are not common ancestors of your dad or your cousins on your dad’s side, but are still common ancestors of you, your siblings, etc.

    In other words, “common ancestor” is a fairly easy criterion to meet for a set of related people; change the set and you likely change the common ancestor. Take it back far enough, and there happens to be a person who was at the right place at the right time, such that he/she was a common ancestor of everyone currently living — this is the “most recent common ancestor.” Prior to colonial times, that person probably lived in the paleolithic, but afterward, due to European breeding with the populations they colonized there is a chance that that person lived only 5000 BP (possibly not accounting for uncontacted peoples). ALL of that common ancestor’s ancestors are common ancestors, and for Feser’s thesis to “work” A&E would just need to be somewhere in that pedigree, which could have had thousands of individuals.

  21. #21 anthrosciguy
    September 15, 2011

    Feser (and others with similar arguments) seems to be saying that if the Bible said something other than what it did, if we use a story that’s different from the one in the Bible, then the arguments against the Bible story will be be valid. Quite so. And so what.

    That method is major goalpost moving.

  22. #22 anthrosciguy
    September 15, 2011

    Meant to say “then the arguments against the Bible story will be be invalid”.

    Invalid, not valid.

  23. #23 gammon
    September 15, 2011

    Another Matt:

    Thanks for clarifying that. I suspected my understanding was too simplistic, I just wasn’t sure where I was going wrong :) Clearly, whoever the MRCA was certainly got it on a lot. The original Don Juan de Marco or Fanny Hill, if you will.

    I do find it interesting that A&E had to be given souls on a conditional basis by God, but that after he kicked them out, apparently they were given out for free to all their descendants. It’s almost like “Hey, your parents weren’t good enough, and you’re tainted by that, but what the hey…have a soul just for the hell of it”. Why would souls continue to be given out if we’re the automatically flawed progeny of moral failures?

  24. #24 eric
    September 15, 2011

    gammon: It’s almost like “Hey, your parents weren’t good enough, and you’re tainted by that, but what the hey…have a soul just for the hell of it”.

    More like: “hey, your parents totally tainted their souls with their sin. Being omnipotent and all, I COULD give you taint-free souls just like I gave them taint-free souls. But I’m not going to. I’m going to give you tainted ones instead. If any skeptic asks why, just tell them I’m inscrutable.”

    Why do I feel the urge to add “…Muhahahaha!” to the end of that?

  25. #25 Iain Walker
    September 16, 2011

    eric (#24):

    hey, your parents totally tainted their souls with their sin. Being omnipotent and all, I COULD give you taint-free souls just like I gave them taint-free souls. But I’m not going to. I’m going to give you tainted ones instead.

    That’s one model of how we might acquire original sin – as a pre-damaged soul divinely infused at conception. In which case, original sin is not hereditary at all, and God arbitrarily and deliberately creates each one of us damaged, which looks bad for God. A Calvinist like Heddle might find this theologically unproblematic (or at least brushable under the carpet with a “I’m sure God has his reasons even if they’re not clear to me”), but I suspect that Feser might shy away from it.

    There are two alternative models which might work better:

    1. There is some soul-damaging property present in the environment which corrupts the otherwise sinless soul we receive at conception. Again, original sin isn’t hereditary, but acquired through environmental exposure.

    2. Some soul-damaging property is handed down from generation to generation through A&E’s descendents, which again corrupts the soul received at conception. This at least retains the notion of original sin as being hereditary.

    However, both of these still leave God ultimately responsible for our sinful nature. Either the soul-damaging property was present in the environment/human genome to begin with, in which case it’s no wonder that A&E sinned, and God is guilty by reason of negligence. Alternatively, these are properties that he deliberately introduced to the environment/human genome after A&E sinned, in which case he is as guilty as if he created us with pre-damaged souls.

    I can see one possible variant on 1. that might get God off the hook, which is that the soul-damaging environmental influence is the social environment – our initially pristine souls pick up sinful influences from the culture in which they are raised, and this is repeated generation after generation. In other words, it’s all the parents’ fault.

    However, because developmental and social environments vary, this seems to imply that the taint of original sin is a matter of degree, and that it might even be possible to raise someone free of original sin given the right environment. Traditionally, Christianity has treated original sin as an either/or thing and also something that we possess from birth (or even conception), neither of which sits too well with this interpretation.

    Also, note that 2. also seems to allow the possibility that some people are born without original sin. If the soul-damaging property is passed down genetically from A&E, then the probabilistic nature of genetic recombination means that sooner or later some of their decendents will possess none of their original genetic material. But if that genetic material is the requisite for the taint of original sin, then those descendants will be free of it.

    Of course, the defender of hereditary original sin can still appeal to some kind of parallel “metaphysical” heredity that works differently (i.e., magic).

  26. #26 Wow
    September 16, 2011

    “A Calvinist like Heddle might find this theologically unproblematic”

    Except over at Phanygula Hedless insisted that since God was perfect, that nothing he could do was wrong BY DEFINITION.

    The moronic buffoon would have severe problems with God doing something wrong.

  27. #27 Wow
    September 16, 2011

    gammon: “Hey, your parents weren’t good enough, and you’re tainted by that, but what the hey…have a soul just for the hell of it”.

    Worse, since those kids had souls, he could AND WOULD punish those souls for eternity if they didn’t do things his way.

    Looked at in this light, the soul isn’t a gift but the mother of all shackles.

  28. #28 Iain Walker
    September 16, 2011

    Wow (#26):

    Except over at Phanygula Hedless insisted that since God was perfect, that nothing he could do was wrong BY DEFINITION.

    Precisely – no matter how vile something looks to the rest of us, a Calvinist can always excuse it on the grounds that it isn’t wrong because it’s God that’s doing it. Hence, God deliberately infusing us with pre-tainted souls would not be a theological problem for someone like Heddle.

    That’s one of the joys of presuppositionalist apologetics – not only can you make your claims about God completely immune to disproof, but in doing so, you can also make the words you apply to God (e.g., “perfect”) completely meaningless.

  29. #29 Wow
    September 16, 2011

    Ah, I thought that you meant he’d accept the idea that God could have dome something like that because he’s not DEFINITELY certain that his specific reading of christian faith is wrong.

    Which is, of course, what he says he does here:

    http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2011/09/congratulations_nick_matzke.php#comment-5184205

    But rather, in fact, that he’d assert that his specific reading of christian faith is DEFINITLY right as he seemed shocked to hear reported.

  30. #30 Another Matt
    September 16, 2011

    There are two alternative models which might work better:

    Iain, even the usual “classic” dodge would “work” — the fall brought death and decay (and, for some creationists, the 2nd law of thermodynamics) into the universe; you can think of it as an ontological change that “we brought on ourselves” rather than a punishment, per se. Everything living dies, right? So obviously everything living is tainted by it. The same would go for our souls. Why would god be so monstrous as to allow this? Because a universe in which this wouldn’t be possible would be a world without free will, and god loves us too much to allow free will. It’s the usual “death and cruelty is love, submission is freedom, down is up” kind of fun. Religious “belief in paradox because it seems deep” is well-known, yes?

    This is a complete aside, but I’m reminded of this lovely parable by Raymond Smullyan:
    http://themindi.blogspot.com/2007/02/chapter-20-is-god-taoist.html

  31. #31 eric
    September 16, 2011

    Iain Walker: I can see one possible variant on 1. that might get God off the hook, which is that the soul-damaging environmental influence is the social environment – our initially pristine souls pick up sinful influences from the culture in which they are raised, and this is repeated generation after generation. In other words, it’s all the parents’ fault.

    Two related problems there. One, original sin is supposed to be so bad that it leads to hell unless you accept salvation. Being born to a ‘bad culture’ doesn’t really seem to qualify for that level of punishment. Its not like you get to choose your parents.

    Second, AIUI it’s supposed to have something to do with rejecting God. And plenty of imperfect, flawed cultures don’t reject God. So why should their imperfections be considered ‘original’ sin worthy of death, rather than just run-of-the-mill sins for which forgiveness is sufficient?

    I’m guessing you are trying to defend ‘the other side’ with your answers, and neither one of us is really going to find any explanation fully satisfactory.

  32. #32 Iain Walker
    September 16, 2011

    Another Matt (#30):

    Iain, even the usual “classic” dodge would “work” — the fall brought death and decay (and, for some creationists, the 2nd law of thermodynamics) into the universe

    But would it work for Feser? Since he accepts a broadly evolutionary view in which nearly all the history of life pre-dates the Fall, he can’t claim that death and decay were a consequence of the Fall. He can only claim the taint in our souls as a consequence.

    think of it as an ontological change that “we brought on ourselves” rather than a punishment, per se

    And the classic riposte applies too – there’s no reason why the consequences of the alleged “sin” of two individuals should end up being inflicted on subsequent generations in this particular way, unless God set things up so that if A&E sinned, this would be the outcome (and so the standard charges of incompetence or malice apply).

    a universe in which this wouldn’t be possible would be a world without free will

    It seems plausible enough that free will requires that actions have consequences, including bad consequences for bad actions. What doesn’t seem remotely plausible is that a particular action has to have this particular bad consequence. The Free Will Defence might adequately explain why God allows us to sin, but as a justification for original sin, it’s completely hopeless.

    So even if Feser were to adopt a version of the classical dodge modified to take evolution and deep time into account, he’s really no better off.

    Although I think that might have been your point …

  33. #33 Another Matt
    September 16, 2011

    Although I think that might have been your point …

    Indeed.

    You’re absolutely right about evolutionary “death and decay” precluding their provenance from the fall. A favorite trick, then, is to just say that it’s “metaphysical death and decay” (why are you so literal?). I don’t think there’s a way to do it without making a total hash of it.

  34. #34 Dan L.
    September 16, 2011

    @Another Matt:

    I have really enjoyed your devil’s advocate position in this thread. Like watching a rugby player play American football or something.

    “Oh, here’s where I can just throw the ball, right? It doesn’t seem very sporting, but I guess when in Rome…”

  35. #35 heddle
    September 16, 2011

    Iain Walker,

    That’s one model of how we might acquire original sin – as a pre-damaged soul divinely infused at conception. In which case, original sin is not hereditary at all, and God arbitrarily and deliberately creates each one of us damaged, which looks bad for God. A Calvinist like Heddle might find this theologically unproblematic (or at least brushable under the carpet with a “I’m sure God has his reasons even if they’re not clear to me”), but I suspect that Feser might shy away from it.

    As far as my theology goes, you missed the boat. A pre-damged soul inserted by God would be problematic beyond belief. It would be catastrophic. The Calvinist view of original sin is that it is not a damaged soul slipped in by god but an inherited moral inability. Far from finding it unproblematic, I would say that it is a theodicy along the lines of the so-called unpardonable sin–it attributes what is evil to what is good. It makes God the author of evil, a Calvinist no-no.

    And for what it is worth, I am fairly certain that I never used the explanation “I’m sure God has his reasons even if they’re not clear to me.”

  36. #36 heddle
    September 16, 2011

    And to summarize my views on this debate, I think the one difficult question is what Jason points out–the reconciliation of Gen 2:4-8. That is no small problem, and I have no satisfying solution.

    If you set that aside I remain unconvinced by arguments that selecting Adam and Eve from a group of physically indistinguishable hominids presents any theological problem related to original sin. And it potentially solves a few thorny problems–such as where the spouses came from and yes, who Cain feared. It is consistent with the view that the entire earth was not a paradise–that benefit was limited to the garden (which is why it was special), and that Adam and Eve would have died even without the fall.

    Again, it requires (in my mind) only the acceptance that the death caused by Adam’s sin was a spiritual death. Sure, that can be dismissed as a cheap trick to avoid a problem–but that is a lazy counter-argument, because a strong case can be made that it is far more consistent with the rest of scripture. And that it was viewed, by some, as a spiritual death long before scientific discovery made it “convenient” to do so.

    As for the race of zombies–as I said on a previous thread that is easy. If god can create a universe, then it is kid’s stuff to ensure that the race of hominids without souls dies out when no longer needed.

  37. #37 Another Matt
    September 16, 2011

    I have really enjoyed your devil’s advocate position in this thread. Like watching a rugby player play American football or something.

    “Oh, here’s where I can just throw the ball, right? It doesn’t seem very sporting, but I guess when in Rome…”

    Dan L., that’s about as nice a compliment as I could hope to receive. Much appreciated — I have enjoyed the conversation and have learned a lot.

  38. #38 Iain Walker
    September 17, 2011

    OK, first attempted reply disappeared into moderation, presumably because it didn’t like the formatted link. Let’s try this again.

    Heddle (#35):

    The Calvinist view of original sin is that it is not a damaged soul slipped in by god but an inherited moral inability.

    Actually, I’m aware of that. My observation was meant to be conditional – if they accepted such a model, a Calvinist probably could rationalise it so that no blame attaches to God. I should probably have made that more explicit.

    Far from finding it unproblematic, I would say that it is a theodicy along the lines of the so-called unpardonable sin–it attributes what is evil to what is good. It makes God the author of evil, a Calvinist no-no.

    Firstly, it’s a doddle to get God off the hook again by the application of Divine Command Theory. However, if you’re not the kind of Calvinist who dotes on DCM, I withdraw the “like Heddle” clause and apologise for citing you as an example.

    Secondly, if authorship of evil is a problem even if no moral blame attaches to God, then it’s not clear how you can avoid it in any case. Who is it who sets things up so that the moral inability of original sin is hereditary in the first place?

    And for what it is worth, I am fairly certain that I never used the explanation “I’m sure God has his reasons even if they’re not clear to me.”

    I was paraphrasing from this post of yours on Pharyngula a couple of years back, re biblical genocide:

    “3) I ways I can’t begin to fathom, it must not be evil in that time and in that place only, as God commanded it for those specific, limited cases.
    [snip]
    Wouldn’t you, given how well you know me, have predicted I’d pick option 3? I speechless that you are speechless. It seems obvious that that is my position and that you would know, from previous discussions, that it is my position. Not to mention that I have stated it on numerous occasions.”

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/07/atheist_fundamentalists.php#comment-1799537

    The paraphrase may have been a little loose, but I nevertheless think that it captures the relevant and important part of what you said. If you think I’ve seriously misrepresented you, please explain why.

  39. #39 heddle
    September 17, 2011

    Iain Walker

    In isolation “In ways I can’t begin to fathom, it must not be evil in that time and in that place only, as God commanded it for those specific, limited cases.” is close to “I’m sure God has his reasons even if they’re not clear to me.”

    But if you have followed all my comments on, say, the conquest of Palestine, you would note a deep concern and trouble about what occurred. To me the phrase “I’m sure God has his reasons even if they’re not clear to me.” implies a shoulder-shrugging cavalier attitude/flippancy which I never express. But just comparing the two sentences side by side, I concede the point.

  40. #40 Iain Walker
    September 17, 2011

    heddle (#39):

    But if you have followed all my comments on, say, the conquest of Palestine, you would note a deep concern and trouble about what occurred.

    True (although that doesn’t mean that I find your solution to the ethical problem any less distasteful). However, I admit that my implication of flippancy in #25 was itself more than a little flippant …

  41. #41 Patrick
    September 17, 2011

    Regarding the side conversation on God being limited in his options…

    Virtually everything is enormously problematic for God, no matter how you try to get out of things. Modern monotheism teaches that, unlike in pagan faiths, no pre-existing universe or order was around or used in the creation of this universe. In the beginning there was God, and this next bit is crucial, NOTHING BUT GOD. Nothing material, nothing conceptual, no rules of existence or morality or laws of magic… nothing at all.

    This means that nothing can restrain God’s choices, because anything that might restrain his choices has to either be 1) part of his nature, or 2) something he created, or 3) a logical impossibility.

    The first is problematic because it gets a bit ridiculous and ad hoc to just claim that God’s nature requires him to repeatedly engage in specific, highly contingent acts.

    The second is problematic since God is supposedly omnipotent, which means that to say that he is restrained in his choices by something he created is the same as saying that he chooses not to do something of his own free will, ie, he is not restrained.

    And the third is rarely useful in actual practice, because not much that is ever under discussion is actually logically impossible.

  42. #42 Lenoxus
    September 18, 2011

    Tulse @ 8:

    If one isn’t going to take the A&E story literally, why think that it is only A&E who got poofed with souls?

    Indeed, it’s a common argument by defenders of the Bible’s consistency that a story can be truthfully told while leaving out seemingly connected details, eg, if three women went to Christ’s tomb then it’s totally fine to write that two women did. (I call it the February argument, as in the old joke “How many months have 28 days? All of them!”)

    It’s about as reasonable to suppose that the story arbitrarily singles out just two of the many humans God ensouled as to suppose that God actually ensouled two humans arbitrarily; it makes about the same sense either way.

    Gammon @ 23:

    Clearly, whoever the MRCA was certainly got it on a lot. The original Don Juan de Marco or Fanny Hill, if you will.

    Not necessarily true at all — s/he need merely have a line of descent that consistently had an average of more than two children per person. No one individual had to have an unusual number of offspring (although undoubtedly that did occur now and again). Lines of descent naturally expand exponentially, and even though entire genomes may be lost, the fact of one’s ancestry never is — it always “sticks”.

    Given enough time, you too will be a common ancestor of all living humans (and thus, for a brief period, the most recent common ancestor, before it’s someone else’s turn) — or, perhaps, an ancestor of none whatsoever, even if you have great-grandkids within this century. Look up “identical ancestors point”.

  43. #43 eric
    September 19, 2011

    Heddle @36: If you set that aside I remain unconvinced by arguments that selecting Adam and Eve from a group of physically indistinguishable hominids presents any theological problem related to original sin.

    I am not sure what counts as a theological problem, but as I tally them, here are the main complaints:

    1. ‘Two out of many’ is not what the book says. (You are setting this problem aside. I’m not sure why.)

    2. Its immoral of God to not-grant souls to the remainder. Forget about whether the unsouled eventually died out, the problem is with how God acted when they were around. And he did not act morally towards those populations.

    3. Its immoral (or implies impotence) of God to set up the universe in a way that we ‘inherit moral inability.’ As has been stated by others, whether God gives you a tainted soul directly or merely sets up the rules which will lead to you inheriting a tainted soul, it’s all God’s fault either way.

    4. The whole argument is cherry picking. You have a set of verses in Genesis 2, and it is seeminly arbitrary which ones you attempt to preserve as literal and which ones you don’t. Maybe arbitrary is the wrong word: christians decide post hoc which ones are literal and which one’s aren’t based on how much science they are willing to accept. Such post hoc justifications are very poor theology.

    It is consistent with the view that the entire earth was not a paradise–that benefit was limited to the garden (which is why it was special), and that Adam and Eve would have died even without the fall.

    This is a prime example of cherry picking. Genesis 2:4 says there was no plant life on earth at all when Adam was formed. No streams, either. Reinterpreting Genesis 2 to claim there were other homo sapiens out there living their lives, and the garden was special only in its fecundity or orderliness or what have you, completely ignores this verse.

    Again, it requires (in my mind) only the acceptance that the death caused by Adam’s sin was a spiritual death.

    No, this doesn’t make sense either. If Adam’s spirit had died that day, there would’ve been no spirit for his descendants to inherit.

    Its almost as if you have to pile an allegory on an allegory to make that ‘on the day…you will die’ verse work. Not only must you interpret the ‘you’ to be some nonphysical soul, but you must also interpret ‘die’ to mean continuing-to-exist-but-corrupted.

    As for the race of zombies–as I said on a previous thread that is easy. If god can create a universe, then it is kid’s stuff to ensure that the race of hominids without souls dies out when no longer needed.

    You missed the other point of that argument though, which is:

    5. Its immoral or at least highly disturbing to think of souled, sentient people having sex with unsouled, unsentient people. We 20th century humans certainly wouldn’t see this as acceptable behavior. Yet, your and Feser’s interpretation would make such actions part of God’s plan. Your comments in particular, Heddle, make it seem like you think God didn’t bother giving souls to anyone else because he knew the souled people would outpopulate/keep interbreeding with the unsouled until the problem went away. How many generations of what is effectively child abuse (on the part of the souled) and indifference to/approval of it (on the part of God) does that entail?

  44. #44 Wow
    September 19, 2011

    “Such post hoc justifications are very poor theology”

    Unfortunately, it’s all the woolly minded religious have.

  45. #45 Wow
    September 19, 2011

    “5. Its immoral or at least highly disturbing to think of souled, sentient people having sex with unsouled, unsentient people. We 20th century humans certainly wouldn’t see this as acceptable behavior.”

    Wasn’t Eve created after SkyDude ™ told Adam to shag one of the animals created and Adam didn’t want to go bestial? So he made Eve out of Adam’s rib and they got Bizzay.

    Those animals would be unsouled. So apparently SkyDude doesn’t mind shagging the subhuman.

    It’s also bestiality, which is considered a waste of sperm, isn’t it? Something Onan got pasted for, yes?

  46. #46 heddle
    September 19, 2011

    Eric,

    Two out of many is not the problem per se. The problem is Gen 2:4-8. I have no satisfying solution for that–so for the moment I set it aside.

    As for your other points:

    2. Its immoral of God to not-grant souls to the remainder.

    According to whom? Who makes that call that if God gives a soul to some he must give souls to all?

    3. Its immoral (or implies impotence) of God to set up the universe in a way that we ‘inherit moral inability.’

    According to whom? Note that the moral inability was not present in those whom God created by special creation, he created Adam and Eve with moral ability which they squandered. Those born with moral inability were not special creations of god, but rather they arrived by natural generation. And it only implies impotence if god intended a different outcome but was thwarted by a higher power.

    4. The whole argument is cherry picking. You have a set of verses in Genesis 2, and it is seeminly arbitrary which ones you attempt to preserve as literal and which ones you don’t.

    It is not arbitrary. I have what is for me a perfectly fine explanation of Genesis One in the Framework view. I can’t extend it easily to Genesis 2, or I would. I don’t believe Genesis 2 should be taken literally either, but I don’t know a satisfying way to read it.

    5. Its immoral or at least highly disturbing to think of souled, sentient people having sex with unsouled, unsentient people. We 20th century humans certainly wouldn’t see this as acceptable behavior.

    What modern humans find acceptable is not my standard. And at any rate there is no proper analogy. We are not talking about a different species.

  47. #47 Wow
    September 19, 2011

    “According to whom? Who makes that call that if God gives a soul to some he must give souls to all?”

    If he’s going to see them burn in hell because he gave them broken souls, this is vindictive.

    If he’s not giving souls to all, he’s picking a select few to live forever in paradise, this is horrific.

    Of course, you may not have a problem with a vindictive god who is horrible to almost all of “his” creations. But it would be interesting to see how you can make a vindictive personality enacting eternal torment or refusing eternal happiness as being a moral choice.

    “What modern humans find acceptable is not my standard.”

    We know. You’re wedded to a Stone Age standard.

  48. #48 eric
    September 19, 2011

    heddle: What modern humans find acceptable is not my standard

    Well, that pretty much solves all of my ‘it is immoral..’ problems. But I think it does so in a way most people will find unacceptable. You are now claiming God is perfectly moral…for some nonstandard definition of ‘moral.’

    This does not solve the problem of evil or bad behavior on God’s part. You are simply giving the behavior that we modern humans today find offensive a different name. So what? It’s still offensive. (IMO) You should not worship some thing that condones child abuse, practices unfair and arbitrary selection, and sets up laws that collectively punish innocents. It doesn’t matter whether you call those behaviors evil, good, or taupe. Why are you worshipping a thing that acts this way?

  49. #49 Wow
    September 19, 2011

    “Why are you worshipping a thing that acts this way?”

    It would be interesting (and a first) to hear the answer to that…

    PS given heddle insists that he doesn’t know his version of God is definitely true, maybe he can admit here that maybe there isn’t a god and therefore no soul, or that the god that does exist is the vindictive nasty bastard he appears as in the bible.

  50. #50 Johannes
    September 20, 2011

    The Feser interpretation, or a modified version thereof, can perfectly agree with the Genesis text.

    I will use this notation:

    t-men = true men = theological men = metaphysical men = with an infused spiritual soul

    q-men = quasi men = without an infused spiritual soul

    where “men” above can be replaced by “women” or “people” as fit.

    We have two basic possibilities for the creation of Adam & Eve:

    1L. Spiritual-only Leap: they were biologically identical to the surrounding q-people, differing only by having been infused a spiritual soul.

    2L: Physical & Spiritual Leap: they underwent both a speciation event (DNA change) at conception (mainly affecting brain capabilities) AND the infusion of a spiritual soul.

    2L has a variation 2L+ involving more divine intervention, which was proposed by Drew in Professor Coyne’s blog on June 2, 2011 at 9:07 am:

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/06/02/adam-and-eve-the-ultimate-standoff-between-science-and-faith-and-a-contest/#comment-107005

    Now, even though Professor Rosenhouse may think that all human intellectual capabilities reside purely at the biological level, I assume he is kind enough to allow theists to posit that the highest of those capabilities derive from the operation of a spiritual soul.

    With that assumption, both basic possibilities for the creation of Adam & Eve perfectly agrees with Genesis 2: 4-8, as q-people were just not intellectually able “to till the ground” by themselves. Which is plain obvious, since t-people actually started agriculture 10,000 years ago. And it is also plain obvious that, from a metaphysical viewpoint, q-people, like chimps or gorillas, were just “dust of the ground”.

  51. #51 Wow
    September 20, 2011

    “I assume he is kind enough to allow theists to posit that the highest of those capabilities derive from the operation of a spiritual soul.”

    How would it manage that? It’s nonomaterial and doesn’t interfere with the material universe (NOMA) so can’t actually affect the firing of the neurons.

    If a soul CAN exhibit action on the material plane, then what method does it use to do that? Electromagnetic? Strong, weak or gravitational forces?

    Why, in fact, should it be allowed for theists to posit that there are “higher capabilities” without defining what these capabilities are and why they aren’t available in the physical human brain.

    With assumptions that you’re right in theism you can show that you’re right in theism. This, however, is called “circular reasoning” or bollocks.

    “since t-people actually started agriculture 10,000 years ago.”

    How do you know they’re t-people? If even one was not, then your assertion is wrong, and you have no evidence that these people were t-people.

    And they already grew SOME crops from before then, just not in large city states (see, for example, the slash and burn agriculture of the Amazonians).

    “q-people were just not intellectually able “to till the ground” by themselves.”

    Why? All you need is an Ox (they had them) and a pointy stick to drag through the earth (they had pointy sticks too). The mechanism of so doing is no different from digging up tuberous roots for eating, so the cognitive aspect is available to all that eat tubers and decide to replant.

    “And it is also plain obvious that, from a metaphysical viewpoint, q-people, like chimps or gorillas, were just “dust of the ground”.”

    So are t-people to the exact same degree of obvious.

    Which is “none at all”, but there you go…

  52. #52 Blaine
    September 21, 2011

    If you want to play these games, then a more plausible thought experiment is the following:

    We are living in a simulation ( ala Nick Bostrom: http://www.simulation-argument.com/ ). We’ll call god the grand programmer. The simulated avatars have been given some modicum of free-will within the simulation ( how that would be possible in a truly deterministic simulation I don’t know but hang on for a moment ). God has given his avatars certain rules within which to exercise their freedom. But being disobedient avatars, we disobey. The avatars are purely negentropic energy sinks with no soul, spirit, etc, because there is no need. Instead, after we ‘die’, god can resimulate us in a new world in order to reward or punish us for our behavior during the current simulation. If you lean more towards Eastern thought, we can toss in reincarnation, etc. This thought experiment is no sillier than Feser’s and has a non-trivial probability of being true ( if you accept Bostrom’s reasoning ).

  53. #53 eric
    September 21, 2011

    Johannes: With that assumption, both basic possibilities for the creation of Adam & Eve perfectly agrees with Genesis 2: 4-8, as q-people were just not intellectually able “to till the ground” by themselves

    No, that doesn’t agree at all. Genesis 2:5 says two things: there were no plants, period, because there was no water/rain. Second thing: there were no people to work the ground. Saying “there were people, and plants, but no people who could work plants” is completely inconsistent with the first part of 2:5.

    It is also inconsisent with a plain reading of the second part, because “no people to work the ground” is not equivalent to “no people who could work the ground.”

  54. #54 Iain Walker
    September 22, 2011

    Johannes (#50):

    2L: Physical & Spiritual Leap: they underwent both a speciation event (DNA change) at conception (mainly affecting brain capabilities) AND the infusion of a spiritual soul.

    Careful here – a speciation event and a “DNA change” (by which I assume you mean mutation) are not the same thing. There’s more to speciation than mutation, and indeed speciation can (in principle) occur without mutation at all (e.g., speciation by hybridisation, or a case where intermediate populations of a ring species die out). Conversely, mutations happen all the time without speciation occurring – what usually gives rise to speciation is the accumulation of mutations in reproductively isolated populations over many generations.

    What you’re actually proposing here is speciation by macro-mutation, which while not biologically impossible is highly improbable (just so that you know). Divine intervention at the genetic level probably would be required here.

    However, even if we allow this, this scenario won’t work for Feser. The genetic evidence seems to preclude the idea that modern humans are descended from just two individuals, so Adam and Eve must have been able to produce fertile offspring with other members of the population they were born into. In which case they cannot have been members of a separate species, and their ensoulment cannot have been accompanied by a speciation event.

    So cognition-enhancing mutations without speciation – well, maybe. But cognition-enhancing mutations with speciation – not an option for Feser.

  55. #55 Iain Walker
    September 22, 2011

    Johannes (#50):

    I assume [Professor Rosenhouse] is kind enough to allow theists to posit that the highest of those capabilities derive from the operation of a spiritual soul.

    Speaking solely for myself, I have no problem with theists positing such a thing – just as long as they are prepared to give a coherent account of what exactly this means and how it is supposed to work. And that always seems to be the tricky part …

    q-people were just not intellectually able “to till the ground” by themselves. Which is plain obvious, since t-people actually started agriculture 10,000 years ago.

    However, we have ample archaeological evidence that the human capacity for abstract thought (and hence, presumably, the possession of a “soul”) predates the dawn of agriculture by several tens of thousands of years. But the Genesis account has agriculture arising within a single generation of “ensoulment” or at least soon afterwards (Gen 4:1-2). So in “solving” one inconsistency between science and the biblical text, you’ve just created another.

    And it is also plain obvious that, from a metaphysical viewpoint, q-people, like chimps or gorillas, were just “dust of the ground”.

    Have you looked up the meaning of the words “plain obvious” recently? Also, you don’t get to claim metaphysics for yourself. There are other metaphysical viewpoints from which the great apes and the various hominins species are far from just “dust of the ground” – they are/were sentient agents with value in their own right. Sorry, but you can keep your soul-centric exclusivism – it’s poor metaphysics and morally repellant.

  56. #56 Johannes
    September 22, 2011

    @Iain Walker #54

    Thank you for the correction. In creation case 2L it is exactly as you say, brain-enhancing mutation. Only in creation case 2L+ can it be full speciation, which of course would involve divine intervention, as other features of that case.

    (Case 2L+ posits that modern humans are in fact descended from two individuals while it looks like there was never a population bottleneck smaller than a few thousand.)

  57. #57 Wow
    September 22, 2011

    Johannes, that demonstrates why it’s so hard to debunk (or rebunk) unmitigated tosh like Freser’s work (or indeed any apologist who isn’t being honest): the making of a terrible case is a lot easier than the proving that a case is terrible.

    It also shows why so many use hand-wavey arguments: if you don’t be specific, you can always move your meanings or definitions slightly and then you have to rebunk it all over again. If, indeed, it’s even possible to work out what is meant by the fuzzy gibberish being promoted.

  58. #58 Iain Walker
    September 22, 2011

    Johannes (#56):

    Case 2L+ posits that modern humans are in fact descended from two individuals while it looks like there was never a population bottleneck smaller than a few thousand.

    But now you’re getting into Omphalos territory – not only is the idea inherently untestable, but it also implies a deceitful deity. Is that a theological consequence you’re prepared to live with?

  59. #59 eric
    September 22, 2011

    Johannes, I agree with Iain in @58 but don’t think he took it far enough. If you’re going to posit that nature doesn’t look like what actually happened, why bother with 2L+ at all? Why not just say that the entirety of Genesis is literally true and it merely “it looks like” it never happened?

  60. #60 Johannes
    September 22, 2011

    @Iain Walker #58
    @eric #59

    You are both right. I have been mentioning case 2L+ just to cover all theoretical possibilities, not because I endorse it. If you follow the link to the comment on Professor Coyne’s blog where it was defined, it was proposed by an atheist, not by a theist. You can also see that it was not just me who found it clever:

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/06/11/winners-adam-and-eve-contest/

  61. #61 Johannes
    September 22, 2011

    @eric #53

    If we are going to take the Genesis narrative literally, pointing out that Gen 2:5 says that there were no plants before man was created, then we can dismiss the Bible altogether because it has no internal consistency, as Genesis ch. 1 says that plants were created on the third day, three days before than man.

    @Iain Walker #55

    In the same line as what I said above, there are much bigger inconsistencies between Genesis narrative taken literally and scientific data than the relative timing of the appearances of man and agriculture. E.g. Genesis ch. 1 places the creation of plants before that of the sun.

  62. #62 BJN
    September 22, 2011

    Scholars of the Bible know that there are two separate creation stories in Genesis, and that they’re different not just in style, but in detail. It’s very easy for any reader to identify the two distinct stories. To even begin a discussion about what just-so ensoulment story is consistent with Genesis, I’d think it would be prudent for the sake of consistency to pick one story and explain why it wins over the other.

  63. #63 Wow
    September 23, 2011

    “then we can dismiss the Bible altogether because it has no internal consistency”

    Yes, we can. This is the point. Now, given that the ensoulment is supposed to be by that God whose work the bible is, we can propose a malevolent trickster god like Loki or that there isn’t any ensoulment.

    “E.g. Genesis ch. 1 places the creation of plants before that of the sun.”

    And yes again. So we have the same conclusion: if the bible is the word of god, he’s lying to us. If it isn’t, then ensoulment isn’t required by referring to that book and so you have to look elsewhere for your reason for a soul.

    “there are two separate creation stories in Genesis, and that they’re different not just in style, but in detail.”

    There are also two separate birth stories in the NT, different not just in style but in detail.

  64. #64 Jordan Bissell
    September 23, 2011

    As G. K. Chesterton once said, original sin is actually the only doctrine that’s empirically verifiable; all one has to do is open up the newspapers–or peruse the comboxes, I might add.

  65. #65 eric
    September 23, 2011

    @64 – nope. I just checked the NYT and WSG.
    There’s no “Man bites apple, keels over spiritually dead!” stories.

  66. #66 Jordan Bissell
    September 23, 2011

    Dear Eric—Sure enough. But you couldn’t have missed the “Man Bites Man” stories, which crop up not only in Micronesia but even in the Miami Herald. “Man Bites Apple” is simply the inference of a responsive mind.

  67. #67 Iain Walker
    September 24, 2011

    Jordan Bissell (#64):

    As G. K. Chesterton once said, original sin is actually the only doctrine that’s empirically verifiable; all one has to do is open up the newspapers–or peruse the comboxes, I might add.

    Well, Chesterton was given to saying dumb things like this. This is a classic (and extreme) case of a hypothesis being underdetermined by the evidence. So humans as a species exhibit a widespread tendency to do selfish, cruel or thoughtless things? Well, there are multiple explanations for this, of which original sin is amongst the least parsimonious, appeals to the most opaque and least testable mechanisms, and carries with it the least explanatory value.

    Empirically verifiable, my ass.

  68. #68 eric
    September 24, 2011

    Jordan @66 – no, it isn’t, a man biting another man has nothing to do with original sin.

    Unless you take the Genesis story as being an allegorical reference to any bad act we might do. Given the nature of Jason’s original post, that would not support the notion of original sin, it would undermine it.

  69. #69 Wow
    September 26, 2011

    Iain, you can’t say someone is wrong! That would be an ad hominem attack!

    Unless, of course, you’re attacking a scientist who doesn’t devoutly assert God as the reason for all things, of course. I mean, the godless DESERVE ad hom attacks! If they didn’t God wouldn’t let someone make such ad hom assertions!

  70. #70 Lenoxus
    September 28, 2011

    Yet another insane thing about the continued appeal to original sin, by Chesterton and so many others, as an “explanation” for the human tendancy/ability to do wrong (yet not, presumably, for Adam and Eve’s?) is that Genesis itself doesn’t present the story that way, nor did Jews interpret it as such. (So any non-literalist Christians arguing for the story being a metaphor for a fallen state of humanity, and basing their arguments on their understanding of what the original storytellers would have been thinking, are not necessarily on the right track.)

    The story does directly tell us three consequences of the event: snakes needing to slither on their bellies, women experiencing pain during childbirth, and agriculture becoming very difficult. If anything, it makes more sense to call those things “evidence” for the event having occured; all we lack is the mountains of additional evidence necessary to even raise the hypothesis to a level where it would merit our consideration.

    Of course, enough Christians are given to saying “How do you explain the empty tomb?” that this point may be hard to explain to them.

  71. #71 Always Curious
    September 30, 2011

    Sorry Jason, you are fighting shadows: By never deciding on the “proper” reading of Genesis or A&E, Feser is able to just declare what it means and further declare that science supports it (or at least doesn’t deny it).

    I guess I feel this is a time wasting exercise:

    Proposition 1: The Catholic church has a single, dogmatic understanding of what the A&E story says and what it means.

    Feser either accepts this and must abide by it (as limiting as it may be) and show how this isn’t rejected outright by science. Or he rejects the church’s teachings on A&E (a foundational thing to be rejecting) and wants to build a new & “better” understanding (that just happens to be both understandable and not downright nonsense).

    -OR-

    Proposition 2: The Catholic church has a range of ways to understand it or degrees of acceptable methods & meanings to derive meaning from A&E.

    Feser must then show how this entire spectrum of possibility is still within the range of science.

    Failing to accept either proposition & taking it on openly, honestly, and completely indicates deception to me.

    I get the feeling that he’s trying to rewrite or gloss over what the Catholic church really intends when it teaches A&E on Sunday. He better rewrite fast & hard because it took the Catholic church a few hundred years to decide that the Earth wasn’t the center of the Universe.

  72. #72 Karen (Suzanne) Buck
    October 4, 2011

    I have never understood why anyone takes what it says in the bible seriously. Who would have been present to record what God did to create anything? And about souls…Since none of the human senses can detect a soul, how would anyone know anything about one?

  73. #73 Kevin
    November 2, 2011

    Fantastic post I very much enjoyed it, keep up the good work.