I’d like to put three hypothetical questions to my readers. They might sound rather silly, but as we’ll see, they have profound implications for the very concept of what it means to be human. Let us assume that the very first creatures on Earth who possessed a natural capacity to reason – i.e. the first people – had primate parents who lacked this capacity. Let us also assume for argument’s sake that there were only two people in the beginning – Adam and Eve – who later went on to have several children. Adam and Eve’s parents were therefore non-rational animals. Here are my three questions:
(1) Would it have been possible for Adam to have had an identical twin brother, Brad, who was physically identical to him, but who lacked the capacity for rational thought?
(2) Would it have been morally wrong for Adam’s eldest son, Cain, to start a family with Brad’s lovely daughter, Diana, who (like her father) lacked the capacity for rational thought, instead of starting a family with his younger sister Flora, the only other female of his generation who possessed the capacity to reason?
(3) If Cain had had intercourse with Diana, would this have constituted bestiality on his part?
Associate Professor Kenneth Kemp is the author of a recent article on Adam and Eve, entitled, Science, Theology and Monogenesis (American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, 2011, Vol. 85, No. 2, pp. 217-236). The article has attracted quite a bit of online discussion, both pro and con, garnering a positive review from a Thomist philosopher, Associate Professor Edward Feser (Monkey in your soul, 12 September 2011, and also Modern Biology and Original Sin, Part I, 6 September 2011) and a thumbs-down from an atheist mathematician and Science Blogs contributor, Associate Professor Jason Rosenhouse (see here and here). Professor Kemp’s paper was written with the intention of harmonizing science and theology on a point where they seem to conflict: according to recent scientific findings, the human race sprang from a stock of no less than 5,000 hominid progenitors, whereas Judeo-Christian theology has traditionally taught that we are descended from just two people: Adam and Eve. (Note: the current technical term for human beings and their immediate ancestors is not “hominid” but “hominin”. However, I shall defer to popular usage in this post.) Kemp’s proposed solution is that the human race is descended from only two people with rational souls (Adam and Eve), in addition to several thousand individuals who were biologically human – i.e. of the same species as Adam and Eve – but who lacked the capacity for rational thought, since they did not possess spiritual souls. Thus Kemp attempts to combine theological monogenism – the belief that we are descended from a single pair of individuals who were rational and in communion with God – with biological polygenism, which says that the human stock never numbered less than about 5,000 individuals at any stage in its history. Kemp proposes that Adam and Eve’s descendants continued to inter-breed with their sub-rational animal contemporaries for an extended period of time, and he suggests that any offspring resulting from matings between sub-rational hominids and people with spiritual souls were automatically endowed with a spiritual soul by God. Because rationality confers a biological advantage, Kemp argues that humans with a rational soul would have completely supplanted sub-rational individuals within the hominid population after about 300 years or so.
So how would Professor Kemp answer my three hypothetical questions? If I read him aright, the answers that he would give are as follows:
(1) Yes – as Kemp puts it in his article, “God did not owe Adam and Eve’s cousins a rational and therefore immortal soul” (p. 233), and he adds that the same principle would have applied to “their siblings” as well;
(2) Yes – for as Professor Kemp rightly points out, “the relationship between the individual mates would be incapable of having any personal dimension” (p. 232); and
(3) No – because in Kemp’s opinion, “The sin involved would be more like promiscuity – impersonal sexual acts – than like bestiality” (p. 232).
In this essay, I shall argue, contra Kemp, that the answer to question (1) is “No”, which means that questions (2) and (3) are completely irrelevant.
From an Intelligent Design perspective, it does not matter how many progenitors the human race had. However, in the next three posts, I will be arguing that Professor Kemp’s attempted reconciliation of science and theology suffers from philosophical, scientific and theological flaws. I would like to acknowledge at the outset that Professor Kemp’s synthesis is a bold one, and I have the greatest respect for his intellectual integrity, even though I also believe that the solution he puts forward is an unsatisfactory one.
In this post, I will be arguing that Professor Kemp attempted harmonization of scientific polygenism and theological monogenism comes at a terrible price: he achieves his goal only by rending asunder the seamless concept of humanity. According to Kemp, there are no less than three distinct concepts of humanity: biological (belonging to the human species, genetically speaking: i.e. being able to readily inter-breed with people), philosophical (having an ability to reason) and theological (having the opportunity to be in a state of eternal friendship with God). The third is a subset of the second, which is a subset of the first; hence every rational human being is a biologically human animal, but not vice versa. (Actually, Kemp is not sure whether the second and third groups coincide, but he insists that the second group is smaller than the first. Thus he believes that not all biologically human animals are naturally capable of reasoning; only those that have been endowed with spiritual souls possess this capacity.) I will argue below that Kemp is committing a major philosophical error here. I recognize only one concept of humanity, and I shall argue that of necessity, anything which is biologically human also possesses a rational nature (and hence, a spiritual soul).
In my opinion, Kemp’s three-way fragmentation of the concept of humanity is philosophically flawed on several counts.
First, it would render meaningless the traditional philosophical question: “What is man?” Kemp would have to reply: “Which kind of man are you talking about – biological man, philosophical man or theological man?” In his paper, Kemp even distinguishes between three species of man: “biological man” (a population of inter-breeding individuals having the same kind of body that we have), “rational man” (a species whose members all belong to the species “biological man”, but also possess spiritual souls, with a capacity to reason), and “theological man” (a species whose members are all rational human beings, and who have also been offered eternal friendship with God). Kemp can tell me what biological man is, and philosophical man and theological man as well; but he cannot tell me what man is. Kemp evidently considers himself a philosophical disciple of St. Thomas Aquinas. I’m not so sure that Aquinas would agree. For Aquinas, unlike Kemp, can tell us what man is: he tells us that “the proper operation of man as man is to understand; because he thereby surpasses all other animals” (Summa Theologica I, q. 76 art. 1), and in the same passage, he adds:
[T]he difference which constitutes man is “rational,” which is applied to man on account of his intellectual principle. Therefore the intellectual principle is the form of man.
This brings me to my second objection: Kemp’s fragmentation of the concept of humanity would make it impossible to affirm the statement: “Man is a rational animal,” which Aquinas (following Aristotle) understood as a proper definition of what it is to be human. On Kemp’s account, this statement becomes either false or trivial. It is false when applied to biological man, for it is not true (according to Kemp) to say that having a body like ours is a sufficient condition for having a rational, spiritual soul. And it is trivial when applied to philosophical man, for then all it says is: “Every human being possessing a rational soul is rational.” In either case, the sentence, “Man is a rational animal,” fails to say anything genuinely informative.
My third objection to Kemp’s fragmentation of the concept of humanity is that it lends itself very readily to a false anthropology, in which our rationality (which we possess by virtue of being endowed by God with spiritual souls) is envisaged as something which is added onto our animality (which we possess simply by virtue of being “biologically human”). According to this false anthropology, every human person is an animal plus a rational agent. It is as if we had two souls: an animal soul which handles bodily functions and has various sensory capacities and appetites, and an immaterial soul which thinks and chooses. Let me hasten to add that Professor Kemp does not subscribe to this flawed anthropology; however, the distinction he draws between what he calls “biological man” and “philosophical man” certainly seems to invite that way of thinking about man. Such a conception of man puts Kemp at odds with the whole of Scholastic philosophy, as The Catholic Encyclopedia points out in its article on Man:
According to the common definition of the School, Man is a rational animal. This signifies no more than that, in the system of classification and definition shown in the Arbor Porphyriana, man is a substance, corporeal, living, sentient, and rational. It is a logical definition, having reference to a metaphysical entity. It has been said that man’s animality is distinct in nature from his rationality, though they are inseparably joined, during life, in one common personality. “Animality” is an abstraction as is “rationality”. As such, neither has any substantial existence of its own. To be exact we should have to write: “Man’s animality is rational”; for his “rationality” is certainly not something superadded to his “animality”. Man is one in essence. (Bold emphasis mine – VJT.)
Our rationality is part of our human biology, not something separate from it. Or as Fr. John O’Callaghan puts it in his perspicuous essay, From Augustine’s Mind to Aquinas’ Soul:
…Aquinas is effectively eliminating any suggestion that to be human is to be anything other than an animal whose form of life is rational. So the duality manifest in the definition rational animal does not correspond to a duality in the thing defined. On the contrary, the unity of the two elements of the definition corresponds to the absolute unity of the form of human life. The unity of intellect and will is not preserved in a special power that separates man from animals. Rather it is preserved in the unity of the soul that unites man to animals, insofar as it specifies the form that animal life takes in being human. (Bold emphases mine – VJT.)
To be a human being, then, is to be an animal whose form of life is rational. But according to Professor Kemp, our animality is something which is separable from – and at times actually separate from – our rationality: for according to him, the original population of 5,000 hominids consisted of animals who were of the same biological species as Adam and Eve (i.e. biologically human animals), but who lacked rationality. There is thus a real distinction between human animals and rational animals! By now, it should be readily apparent to readers that this proposal is totally alien to the thinking of St. Thomas Aquinas, whom Kemp quotes in his article to bolster his case.
I should add that Professor Kemp’s terminology at times inconsistent: thus he refers to Adam’s hominid ancestors as “biologically human” (p. 232), but he also says that “Only beings with rational souls (with or without the preternatural gifts) are truly human” (p. 232). I’m sorry, but that makes no grammatical sense. If I’m a happily married man, then I’m a married man; likewise, if I’m a biologically human being, then I’m a human being. It’s as simple as that.
It is also puzzling that on page 232 of hisarticle, Professor Kemp refers to Adam’s ancestors and relatives who lacked a rational spiritual soul as “genetically human-like” (which is unobjectionable), but also as “biologically human” (italics mine). Well, which is it? Human or human-like? You can’t have it both ways.
Kemp also discusses an article by Andrew Alexander, C.J., entitled “Human Origins and Genetics” (Clergy Review 49, 1964), which makes a somewhat different proposal to the one Kemp is making. According to Alexander, Adam and Eve belonged to a larger population of hominids, but unlike the others, they both possessed a final crucial mutation, which crossed a philosophically or theologically critical threshold. Unfortunately, in my view, Alexander spoiled his account by going on to say that this mutation did not establish biological barriers to reproduction. If he had proposed a mutation that created a barrier to reproduction, making it very unlikely – but not impossible – that Adam and Eve would interbreed with their companions, then it could have been truly said that they would have been the only biologically human animals in the original population of hominids, in addition to being the only rational animals in the group. Personally, I would have no problem with such a proposal, from a philosophical perspective, although I shall argue in my final post on Kemp’s article that even this modified proposal is extremely difficult to square with Scripture and the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Professor Kemp’s misreading of Aquinas constitutes a very powerful fourth reason to reject his proposed fragmentation of the concept of humanity. Incredibly, Professor Kemp argues that his distinction between biological humanity and philosophical (or rational) humanity is fully in keeping with the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), who taught that while a certain kind of body is necessary for rational activity, reasoning itself is not the act of any bodily organ; rather, it is an incorporeal operation performed by the human soul, apart from the body (Summa Theologica I, q. 75 art. 2). Aquinas also taught that because the human soul is capable of performing some actions (e.g. reasoning) without the body, it is impossible to generate a human soul simply by making a being with a human body. Instead, the human soul can only come into being as a result of a special creative act of God (Summa Theologica I, q. 90 art. 2).
Quite so; but Aquinas also taught that the human soul is essentially the form of the human body (Summa Theologica I, q. 76 art. 1); which means that nothing can be said to have a human body unless it also possesses a human soul. The ecumenical Council of Vienne (1311-1312), which was convened a few decades after Aquinas’ death, took the same view, for it declared in no uncertain terms: ”[W]e define that anyone who presumes henceforth to assert defend or hold stubbornly that the rational or intellectual soul is not the form of the human body of itself and essentially, is to be considered a heretic.” (This council was an ecumenical council of the Catholic Church.) However, Professor Kemp maintainsthat Adam and Eve had “biologically human ancestors” (p. 232), who belonged to a “biologically (i.e., genetically) human species” (p. 231), so it seems that he must therefore hold that these pre-Adamite hominids had human bodies; yet he also says that these hominids lacked rational souls – which means that for Kemp, the rational soul is not essentially the form of the human body. Now, Professor Kemp is a loyal and devout Catholic, and I do not wish to question his orthodoxy, but I think he owes his readers a better explanation of how he would reconcile his declared views with the official teaching of the Catholic Church than the brief and rather cryptic remark he makes in a passage near the conclusion of his article. In that passage, Kemp attempts to reconcile his position with the statement of the Council of Vienne by declaringthat “Adam’s non-intellectual cousins would have had a sensitive soul sufficient to engage in all the acts of image apprehension and manipulation of which other animals are capable, without the power to abstract from those images the concepts that distinguish human from animal cognition” (p. 235). All well and good; but on Kemp’s account, Adam’s cousins still had human bodies, yet they lacked rational souls – which entails that the rational soul is not essentially the form of the human body.
Professor Kemp might attempt to respond by saying that Adam’s immediate ancestors were biologically human, but did not have human bodies – an assertion that I find altogether unintelligible. For although Adam’s ancestors lacked the power of reason, which is a spiritual capacity, their bodies still possessed exactly the same set of capacities that our bodies possess, according to Kemp. Hence they must have been human bodies. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if you’re a biologically human being, then you’re a human being. And if you’re a human being, then you must have a human body.
But perhaps what Professor Kemp has in mind can be better illustrated by the following example. Imagine a creature with natural capacities A, B and C, which arise from its form – i.e. that which makes it the kind of thing it is. Now imagine another kind of creature with the same natural capacities, plus another capacity D. Since this creature has a different set of natural capacities, it must be a different type of entity, and must therefore have a different form. Now suppose that A, B and C are the bodily capacities which make a creature biologically human, and D is the capacity to reason, which is a non-bodily capacity. Professor Kemp would argue that “philosophical man” (i.e. man the rational animal) is the second kind of creature, and that the human soul which the Council of Vienne is referring to is simply the form of this kind of creature, and not the first kind (biological man). Problem solved, right?
Well, I don’t buy that “solution”, for two reasons. For one thing, both of these creatures have exactly the same bodily capacities: A, B and C. Consequently, if the second creature (philosophical man) has a human body, then so does the first creature (biological man). However, if biological man has a human body but lacks a rational soul, then the human soul cannot be the essential form of the human body – which (once again) seems to put Professor Kemp’s position at odds with that of the ecumenical Council of Vienne.
For another thing, it is simply absurd to suppose that there can be two different kinds of creatures, possessing exactly the same bodily capacities (A, B and C), but different non-bodily capacities (none at all for biological man, versus capacity D for philosophical man). Once we understand what an Aristotelian soul is, we can immediately see why this idea makes no sense. On Aristotle’s account, the soul is not only the formal cause of the body (i.e. that which makes it the kind of body it is), but also its final cause (i.e. that which endows a living thing with a “good of its own”, or telos). In other words, the powers of the soul are precisely those powers which it should fittingly have, given the kind of body it has. Consequently, if two creatures have the same kind of body, then they must have the same kind of soul, since their bodies have the same telos.
Now, the really odd thing about human beings is that they are animals with two non-bodily capacities (the capacity to reason coupled with the concomitant capacity to make free choices), in addition to their bodily capacities. How, the reader may be wondering, can there be a kind of animal which, by its very nature as an organism, should possess non-bodily capacities, in addition to its bodily capacities? The answer, as I’ll argue below, is that if the body’s physical powers alone are insufficient to make an organism suitable for its biological role or niche, then it must rely on additional, non-bodily powers in order to fit into that role. So, what’s the role of a human being? Following Aristotle, Aquinas would say: we are not solitary beings; thus the human telos is essentially social. At the very least, it involves being a committed member of a monogamous nuclear family, as well as an active member of a local political community – be it a tribe or a nation-state. Both the domestic and political roles of a human being require the use of reason – in particular, an ability to engage in long-range planning, as well as an ability to put oneself in another person’s shoes (or else we could not follow the Golden Rule). Both of these abilities are rational abilities. As primates, human primates are social animals, who are physically well-adapted to fulfilling their domestic and political roles; however their bodily capacities alone are insufficient to allow them to fulfill these roles. Professor Kemp and I would both agree that having a big brain doesn’t automatically give you empathy or the ability for long-range planning. Thus the human primate is an organism that naturally requires the use of incorporeal reason, in order to be the kind of thing it is.
Incidentally, I’d like to note in passing that back in July 2000, Professor Kemp delivered a lecture entitled, The Theory of Evolution as part of a series of three talks (available on his home page) that were given at the Thomistic Summer School in Birstonas, Lithuania, in which he put forward essentially the same hypothesis that he recently published in his 2011 paper, Science, Theology and Monogenesis, but without the awkward terminology that distinguishes between three different types of man (biological, philosophical and theological). In his earlier talk, given in 2000, Kemp simply says that the population of 5,000 hominids consisted of “beings which look rather like human beings, but lack an intellect”. If he had simply said that in his recent paper, without inventing a spurious distinction between “biological man” and “philosophical man”, he might have saved himself a lot of bother.
Nevertheless, readers may still be wondering whether Professor Kemp had a valid point in his recent article. After all, if (as Aquinas maintains) each human person’s soul is created by a special act of God, then it would seem to follow that if an individual could be generated with a body like ours, but without a rational soul being infused by God, then it would have a human body without a rational soul. In Professor Kemp’s terminology, it would be “biologically human” without being “philosophically human” (i.e. rational); and it would certainly not be “theologically human” (i.e. able to be on friendly terms with God).
My reply to this objection is that the antecedent is impossible: no individual could ever be generated with a human body, but without a human soul. “Why not?” you may ask. The answer is that a human body is the kind of body that requires a rational soul in order to properly flourish; human beings, as a race, require the use of reason for their very survival, and without the ability to reason, the human race would not be viable and would swiftly perish. (I’ll explain why in more detail in my next post. All I’ll say for now is that given the kind of bodies that human beings possess, an extraordinary level of co-operation would have had to develop between members of each human community, in order that they could satisfy their energy requirements and feed themselves adequately. This level of co-operation would have required the ability to reason.) As a devout Catholic, Professor Kemp would surely hold, as I do, that God intended the process – whether it was natural or supernatural is irrelevant here – by which the human body originally came into existence. Since human beings, as a biological life-form, require the use of reason for their very survival (as I shall attempt to show in my next post), then God could never intend that human beings, as a life-form, should come into existence without also intending that they should have a soul which is suited to their biological nature: namely, a rational soul, which (unlike the soul of a non-rational animal) requires a special act of creation by God. Since this generic intention on God’s part would apply to the entire human species, it must apply to each of its members. Consequently, it is impossible that God could allow a human creature to come into existence without endowing it with a rational soul – for if He did, He would be contradicting His own will for the human species as a whole.
Philosophers are accustomed to distinguishing between various kinds of possibility. I would suggest that Professor Kemp has been misled by the fact that the existence of an individual creature having a human brain and body but lacking the capacity for abstract thought is logically and metaphysically possible – a point on which I would agree with him – into mistakenly inferring that the existence of a race of creatures human body but lacking the capacity for reason is really possible – a point on which I would disagree with Kemp. I maintain that it would be theologically impossible for God to intend that human beings, as a life-form, should come into existence without also intending that they should have a soul which is suited to their biological nature. Hence there is no real possibility of a creature having a human brain and body but lacking the capacity for abstract thought, actually coming into existence, as a result of any process intended by God. Since Kemp believes, as I do, that human evolution is in some way guided by God, it will be difficult for him to find fault with to this line of reasoning.
A fifth reason for rejecting Professor Kemp’s three-way fragmentation of the concept of humanity is that it is morally hazardous in its implications. For it seems to imply that we can never know for sure whether any human being who has never exercised, or who can no longer exercise, his/her reason is actually a person with a rational soul or merely a sub-rational, biologically human animal. I have recently argued, in my online essay, Embryo and Einstein: Why They’re Equal, that the human rights of the embryo are grounded in its biological humanity, which is why an effective pro-life case can be effectively made even when arguing with atheistic materialists, so long as they are prepared to grant at the outset that rational human adults have a natural right to life. Given that admission on their part, it can be demonstrated that embryos also have a right to life. (If you’re a materialist, then of course, you’ll hold that our capacity to reason is ultimately grounded in the developmental program in our genome, which is present from the moment of conception; and if you reject materialism, then you’ll still hold that it is grounded in human nature, which is also present from the very beginning.) Sadly, many pro-choice proponents have, in recent years, attempted to argue that the human capacity to reason is imparted to the developing fetus from its external environment – a position I have refuted in my online essay. These pro-choice advocates acknowledge that the embryo/fetus is biologically human, while denying that it possesses a rational nature – hence, they say, it is not a person. As I see it, the danger of Professor Kemp’s fragmentation of the concept of humanity is that it is vulnerable to being misused by pro-choice proponents to further their cause.
Kemp, who is ardently pro-life, would doubtless respond by saying that if the embryo/fetus lacked a rational nature, then it would have to undergo a change of nature at some subsequent stage of its development, when God gave it a rational soul – a philosophically unparsimonious hypothesis – and that it makes more sense to say that it possesses a rational nature from the moment of conception. Indeed, Kemp does explicitly state, in a footnote on page 233 of his article, that God’s giving an existing individual a rational soul “would make it a different kind of being and a fortiori a different individual.” However, a pro-choice advocate could reply that when a human person acquires his/her capacity to reason, it is merely superimposed on its existing biological humanity, without changing the fetus’ underlying biological nature. On this proposal, when a new human person emerges at some time subsequent to conception, it still remains the same individual animal as it was before becoming a person. I am sure that Professor Kemp would strongly object to this response, but it is difficult to see how he could rule it out, given the real (and not merely logical) distinction he has drawn between our biological humanity and our rationality.
The only way to decisively refute the pro-choice line of argument described above is to show that our rationality and our animality both spring from a common source: our human nature. As Aquinas would say, to be a human animal is to be an animal which is by nature rational. (This was a point which Aquinas never lost sight of: for even though he was misled by the faulty biology of Aristotle into believing that the fetus did not become an animal until several weeks after conception, he nevertheless insisted that the fetus acquired rationality at the same time as it became an animal. Thus for Aquinas, our rationality is part and parcel of our animality.) But Professor Kemp cannot argue in this manner, because he believes that being biologically human does not entail having the capacity to reason. On his view, rationality is something which can be tacked onto an existing biologically human animal. Thus Kemp’s proposed distinction between three concepts of humanity (biological, philosophical and theological) severely hampers the pro-life case – needlessly, I might add, since the very unity of human nature attests to the fact that our rationality and our animality both spring from a common source. It is one and the same “I” who reasons, chooses, senses, desires and obtains nourishment.
Let us return to the three questions I posed at the beginning of this post. We can see now that the supposition that the first rational man, Adam, might have had an identical twin (Brad) who was non-rational is an absurd one. If Adam had any non-rational brothers, then they must have been physically different from himself in some important way, making them of a different nature, as I shall explain in my next post.
We can also see that Cain’s hypothetical choice between starting a family with Brad’s biologically attractive but non-rational daughter Diana, and starting one with his rational younger sister Flora, poses a real dilemma, if we adopt Kemp’s perspective. For if Kemp is correct, Diana would have shared a common biological nature with himself. But from a strictly biological standpoint, it would be very silly of Cain to start a family with his younger sister instead of choosing another, biologically fit female from his tribe: Cain could not make a worse choice than to marry Flora. And yet Professor Kemp feels bound to accept that this is what Cain should have done, for he writes that any relationship between a rational human male and a non-rational female “would be incapable of having any personal dimension” (p. 232). Even so, Kemp cannot quite bring himself to condemn Cain for bestiality, for he writes that “The sin involved would be more like promiscuity – impersonal sexual acts – than like bestiality” (p. 232). Kemp’s half-hearted condemnation of Cain’s behavior in my hypothetical scenario is a direct consequence of his failure to recognize that any rational beings who appeared in the ancestral population of hominids millions of years ago must have had a nature that was different from that of their non-rational relatives. They were no longer the same kind of animal. Their relatives were hominids, but they were something more: they were human animals. I shall argue in my next post that the first rational human beings would have also been physically marked out as different from their hominid relatives, making any couplings between Cain and the non-rational females in his tribe extremely unlikely. A far more likely scenario is that any rational human beings such as Cain would have been booted out of their tribe, when they reached the age of maturity.
In this post, I have been chiefly concerned to argue that the concept of humanity is one which we rend asunder at our philosophical peril. Human beings are rational animals, and our rationality is precisely what characterizes us as animals, for our whole way of life, as a species, requires us to be able to engage in reasoning, as I shall argue in my next post.