Chattering chimpanzees

The difference between man and chimpanzee in genetic terms  is, as we know, very small – about 1.5 per cent. Yet the different outcome between the two species, which share a common ancestor, is very large. Investigating why is extremely interesting. It is also complex, but evolutionary biologists appear to have opened a promising door on to a lengthy passage of exploration. You will forgive me, I trust, for ruthless simplification; we are not a science journal. And I am not here writing of the infusion of the soul, but rather the biological changes which made our species fit for the integration of the soul.

The story starts with the identification of DNA sequences which have changed most since our lines diverged. The most dramatic discovery was a section of DNA which had remained stable, with only two changes, in the line from the chicken down to the last ancestor we share with the apes. A period of 300 million years. Since then (six million years) this section of DNA in the hominid line has undergone 18 changes. It is known as Human Accelerated Region 1 (HAR1). The rate of acceleration may seem small to us but in relative terms it is immense.

Ironically, HAR1 consists of what was once known as “junk DNA”, but it is now understood that some of this plays an important part in modifying the behaviour of genes, which, in turn, relate to other genes. As a result, a relatively small change here can bring about very large changes elsewhere. In this case it relates directly to the cerebral cortex – the outside crinkly part of the brain – which processes our higher and complex brain activity. Incidentally, more than half the genes near to other HARs are concerned with brain function.

The size of the human brain, which generally correlates with cognitive ability, has increased by more than three times since the split from our common ancestor. Brain size is apparently controlled by just four genes. If they had expressed themselves differently then childbirth (also made difficult by our conversion to bipedalism) would have been a very straightforward matter. But then the mothers giving birth and the babies emerging would have been a very different matter too.

There are several other HARs identified, and they are ranked according to the number of differences which have occurred in hominids. HAR2, for example, controls the foetal development of the wrist and thumb – significant since the flexible use of our hands has been important to human development from the construction of tools to the mastery of playing a piano concerto.

The ability to digest starch varies between humans, according to the number of copies of a particular DNA sequence. These appear to have multiplied at the time when the use of fire for cooking and the (much later) development of agriculture provided diets containing quantities of starch.

The ability to control fire appears to have been crucial. Hominids are unique in being able to control and use it. The oldest known hearth dates from about 800,000 years ago, pre-dating homo sapiens by some 600,000 years. It has been argued that the ability to provide light through fire changed the action of hormones pushing us along the line to modern man.

But fire has another important use. Apart from providing warmth and protection from predators, it enabled our forebears to cook meat, allowing us to digest it more easily, and to derive greater nutrition from it. Such advantages would have changed hunting patterns – allowing more time for other pursuits, and increased survival capacity. And this would probably have been accompanied by adaptations in the alimentary system to maximise the advantage. Much closer to our own time, around 9,000 years ago, we developed a version of a gene which enabled human adults to digest lactose, thus enabling us to benefit from milk products derived from herded animals. This occurred in European and African populations, but not in Asian and Latin American populations. These last groups, where they still carry an ancient primate version of the lactose gene, remain intolerant.

Unsurprisingly, changes in the hominid immune system have been many, since the efficiency of the system has a direct bearing on survival. Viruses, which play an important part in the evolutionary process, abound. Retroviruses, which can insert their genetic material into our genomes, are insidious. Fortunately many which can be identified have lost their potency, but others still lurk. Animal immune systems have evolved to deal with different circumstances. A major example here is the Aids virus against which we, unlike non-human primates, are far from immune. However, the characteristics of this difference may eventually show us how to provide human immunity.

The action of viruses reminds us that the development and spread of variants in the human genome are by no means always the result of the classic random mutation which Darwin described. We might add to the list genetic drift, which results from the natural variability occurring through the sexual reproduction (as in non-identical siblings), and which may give survival advantage resulting from certain characteristics. Much variation is also thought to occur, not simply through selection, but through the location, movement and interbreeding of ancient populations.

As they peer through the door, evolutionists naturally argue about aspects of what lies ahead. But at least they are agreed on one thing: we only know a tiny fraction of what there is to learn. The exploration of the passage which invites us will be exciting indeed.

So come and comment. We need your thoughts. Contributions from those with specialised knowledge would be valuable, as indeed would be queries about any faith questions which you think could arise.

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Bio-ethics, Catholic Herald columns. Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Chattering chimpanzees

  1. Vincent says:

    I couldn’t find this article on Thursday night. Some computer glitch perhaps?
    Anyhow, it’s an interesting and constructive line of enquiry. But I don’t think anyone has really looked at the question of what God infusing a soul means. All it really says is that at one stage of development we did not have an immortal soul, at this stage we have – and that this was a direct action of God.
    Do we believe that God decreed a soul at the moment the last necessary gene fell into place? If the control of fire, as Quentin suggests, came long before homo sapiens, was a soul present in an ancestor – say homo erectus? How about Neanderthals with their apparently intelligent ways of living?

  2. No, a Quentin glitch I fear. Sorry.
    Some interesting questions from Vincent. Of course we are in the realms of speculation. So let’s speculate.

  3. Ion Zone says:

    I think the soul is inherent in all living things, that it grows, moving from life to life, until finally, when its time has come, it finds God.

    It might not be a truly Catholic belief, but it is what I think, all life is inherently special, without exception.

  4. Ion Zone says:

    Though that’s just what I think. ;}

  5. Superview says:

    As usual a stimulating and surprising Second Sight. All I can do at this point is add to the information.

    I thought I’d seen something recently about the chimp/human gene sharing percentage and a websearch on ‘genetic differences between man and chimps’ gave several results reporting the new theory that the gap is larger at around 5%, with this from the BBC:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/2278733.stm

    It also has links to interesting recent work on Neanderthals.
    I’m reminded also of William Golding’s brilliant novel ‘The Inheritors’ where he imagined the last days of the last family of Neanderthals:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Inheritors_(William_Golding

    Then there are the utterly amazing Chauvet Cave paintings which date from maybe 35,000 years ago; see this site for example:

    http://www.bradshawfoundation.com/chauvet/index.php

    The beauty and sophistication show that over 30,000 years ago we could work hand and brain in a thoroughly modern way, yet without language?

    Forgive me, however, if I’m departing from the main theme. And I can’t resist, given your mention of the chicken, if we are any nearer answering the question – chicken or egg?

  6. I cannot see that Ion Zone’s theory of the emerging soul is inconsistent with orthodox belief. I have some sympathy with it. I find this sort of speculation fascinating. Though I’m darned if I know how we would ever be certain.

    What Superview has to say about different estimates of gene difference is indicative both of how far scientists need to travel, and also the different ways in which the percentages can be calculated. 1.4% is the figure most often quoted still, but the important thing is discovering what the active DNA differences are and what they effect.

    Much argument goes on about when true speech (as opposed to communication) developed. Estimates as wide as 100,000 to 50,000 years ago have been made. Good article on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origin_of_language

    Since drafting my column I have discovered a new suggestion that the relatively slow development of the human child, compared with the ape, enabled cognitive ability to develop much more fully. Makes good sense to me. It would also suggest that the modern tendency to push children towards aspects of adulthood without being allowed to pass through their childhood phases at a more natural pace may be counterproductive in terms of the mature balanced people we would hope they will become.

  7. Superview says:

    I’ve read and re-read your article, and learn more each time, but I have to confess that, because of a combination of my limitations of imagination and the truly awesome timescales, I cannot add to or develop any of the ideas arising from the findings in the DNA science which you report so succinctly. I follow the various stages in the more recent story, however, and along with many others exercise a general interest in the ‘Out of Africa’ thesis and the development of language and languages. On the other hand, the cave paintings such as at Chauvet do fire the imagination. This was us, but 35,000 years ago. That is, some 33,000 years before Christ. If we could capture the world around us like that so long ago, what did it say about our intelligence? It just seems to me that there must have been more to us and more immediate possibilities – and yet tens of thousands of years had to pass before we have a history known to us? I realise that I’m not expressing this very well; maybe I am too impressed with artistic ability, not being able even at this remove to equal the achievements of the Chauvet artists.
    As to faith questions, I’m not sure what approach to use – was God watching and waiting? Was there a point when He said, ‘That’s it they’re ready’, or is it better understood as an emergent process that continues for as long as God only knows?

  8. chauffer says:

    I’ve tended to assume, increasingly, over the years that all animated life probably bears a ‘soul’ of whatever capacity in every instance.

    Who’s to say that individual flowers lack a relationship with their Creator in reaching towards daily fulfillment?

    “All creation rightly gives you praise…” – we hear it every Sunday, perhaps without due reflection.

    I am of course making full use of the scope for ‘speculation’ which Quentin has sagaciously afforded for this debate and realise that my own supposition could all too easily have been submitted to many a Catholic blog with only facetious intent.

    Indeed, where so little is really known it may always be better to err on the side of generous theology!

  9. Ion Zone says:

    I don’t think we should assume we alone posses a soul, it is much the same as in the harsh days before animal rights when we assumed they felt no pain. I have heard that horses have roughly the intelligence of a five year old, and I think they will continue to surprise us.

  10. There is a good article discussing chimp v human behaviour and genes at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/scienceandtechnology/science/evolution/5695045/Are-human-beings-impossible-to-ape.html
    It also discusses the issue of percentage genetic similarity to which Superview refers.

    He also talks of the question of early human intelligence. My view is that it requires as much intelligence to invent a wheel, as it does to invent a computer. Human knowledge – a different thing – is cumulative. And it takes a great deal more intelligence to produce a beautiful cave painting than Tracy Emin’s bed.

    The concept that soul was immanent in living creatures from the beginning sounds perfectly possible to me. It would suggest that a neurological development allowed it to be fully released. It does not conflict with the idea that the spiritual side of the human soul was based in the material, but is not itself material. That is, whatever the process, it came about through the power of God.

    Another question. If we were to recognise the presence of the spiritual soul through the capacity to make moral choices (a proxy criterion) might this have been present in earlier hominid forms, and the Neanderthals?

  11. Ion Zone says:

    Science is only just now considering that there might be different types of energy we cannot see or, for the most part, feel. And there is even more resistance now than there ever was for such things as germs, electricity and evolution (At least, that is the way it seems).

    I don’t think, though, that the wheel was invented as early as we are told it is by popular conception, after all, it is more the sort of thing you would invent after agriculture by, for example, sawing a tree trunk into sections and making a hole in the middle. I do agree, it is something of a flash of genius to see something rolling, and try to take that idea of free rotary movement and turn it first into a toy, then a wheelbarrow (Which is how I think it probably happened).

  12. Iona says:

    Didn’t Teilhard de Chardin say something rather similar to what Ion Zone has expressed?

    On the subject of drawing/painting and its relationship to language, there have been a very small number of cases of autistic people with very limited/disordered language but the ability to produce wonderful art works; from which one might conclude that the two types of ability are not necessarily related.

  13. RMBlaber says:

    As Jeremy Taylor points out, (cited by Sanjida O’Connell in the Daily Telegraph article Quentin mentions above), _Homo sapiens_ shares 98% of his genes with the chimpanzee (actually, the bonobo chimpanzee, _Pan paniscus_, as opposed to _Pan troglodytes_, the common or robust chimp), but that no more means that he is 98% bonobo than the fact that he shares 50% of his genes with _Musa paradisiaca_ means that he is 50% banana!
    St Thomas Aquinas, adapting Aristotle’s hylomorphic account of the soul in the _De Anima_, distinguishes between the vegetable, the animal and the rational soul. All three function teleologically as ‘forms of the body’ (entelechies, from Greek, en, in, telos, end or purpose, echein, to have), but the first two are mortal, whereas the last is immortal, and survives the death of the body (it is immortal, in his view, precisely _because_ it is rational; the ability to reason confers immortality).
    This is an idea that really makes no sense in Aristotelean terms, being very much more akin to the Platonic view of the soul, but Aquinas has to uphold it as a Catholic Christian.
    In answer to ‘Ion Zone”s point, then, that ‘we should [not] assume that we alone possess a soul’, Aquinas would say that plants have vegetable souls, non-human animals have animal souls and humans have rational (and therefore, immortal) souls.
    Descartes, who famously argued that ‘Cogito, ergo sum’ – ‘I think, therefore I am’ – (which he conceived as an answer to the ultimate sceptic’s question, ‘How do you know you exist?’) was very much in the Platonic mould, and postulated that the soul, or mind, was a non-material substance, having a definite location in the world, and a definite duration while it remained here, but zero extension. Mathematically speaking (and Descartes was a mathematician, as well as a philosopher), the soul was a point in Euclidean space. We would also say that it is a world-line in Minkowski space-time. Descartes thought the soul might be found inside the pineal gland, but we know better.
    Returning to Aquinas’ idea that the human soul is immortal because of its capacity to reason, what of those humans with severe mental handicap, who are by virtue of congenital brain damage, left with minds that never develop beyond the stage of earliest infancy?
    A Thomist (a follower of Aquinas) cannot resort to the notion of potential in that case, and that is where I think his argument falls down. The competing view of the soul presented by his Franciscan rival, John Duns Scotus, the ‘Subtle Doctor’, seems to me to be much stronger, and in many ways vastly more Christian, because instead of emphasising the primacy of the intellect, and rationality, it emphasises the primacy of the will and of acts of love. It is love (and specifically, love of God and of neighbour – _agape_) that is immortal, not reason. See http://www.island-of-freedom.com/SCOTUS.HTM.
    There are three things to avoid that seem to rearing their heads in the discussion so far. One is panpsychism, the theory that all of nature has a psychic element (I suspect this is ‘Ion Zone”s view), another is pantheism, the belief that God is identical to the universe, without remainder (Spinoza’s ‘Deus sive natura’), and finally there is this ’emergent soul’ idea.
    This, if I have understood it correctly, is the view propounded by the French philosopher Henri-Louis Bergson (1859-1941, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henri_Bergson ; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creative_Evolution_(book) ; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergent_evolution.) In his book, French title _L’evolution creatrice_, published in 1907, Bergson coined the term ‘elan vital (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89lan_vital), or ‘vital impetus’, and used it to account for the emergence of life and consciousness. The concept was ridiculed by materialists, who pointed out that vitalism no more ‘explains’ life than Moliere’s ‘Bachelierus’, in the 3rd Intermezzo of _Le Malade Imaginaire_, ‘explains’ how opium puts people to sleep with reference to its ‘soporific power’ (‘Vertus dormitiva’). The ‘explanation’ is circular, and gets us nowhere.
    It is significant that Bergson’s argument drew fire from the Vatican, as well as from materialists, and was placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum. Bergson, like the British philosopher AN Whitehead (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/whitehead/), was a process theologian, and thought of God as though God was in time, and had the same perspective on time that we do.
    For us, the future is unknown, and indeterminable, except to a very limited degree. Bergson thought it was the same for God, which is why he thought of creation as being a process, and as being imperfect, continuous, open-ended and unfinished. So life and consciousness – the soul – _emerge_.
    I don’t accept that, and neither does the Catholic Church. Such a view is not compatible (_pace_ Quentin) with orthodoxy. The reason is simple: God is not limited by time. He transcends it. To him ‘all time is eternally present’, to use TS Eliot’s phrase, ‘at the still point of the turning world’. _Nothing_ ’emerges’. Everything that has ever happened, is happening or ever will happen, here on Earth or anywhere in the universe, right down to the very last motion of the smallest sub-atomic particle (quantum mechanics notwithstanding) is not only known to God, but is willed by Him. It cannot be otherwise.
    What room, then, for human (or angelic) freedom, and free-will? Plenty, as it turns out, for God is like a Master carpet-weaver who has allowed his apprentices to work on part of his carpet. Naturally, they frequently botch the job, but he knows what he is doing, and is keeping a very careful eye on them the whole time. He takes their, otherwise hopeless, efforts, and weaves them into something exquisitely beautiful.

  14. Reading RBBlaber, I’m not sure that Ion Zone’s speculation is so far off the mark. Aquinas, following Aristotle, believed in late ensoulment. That is, the embryo started off in a form which had a vegetative soul, replaced by a sensitive, or animal, soul; only when the embryo has developed to the necessary form did it have a human, immortal soul which God had created. The two preceding souls were necessary steps. (Aquinas is often incorrectly quoted as saying that this ensoulment took place at 40 days for males and 90 days for females.) While this is not an “emerging” soul there is a good parallel here, in which the earlier forms are present in the ancestry of man, so that the embryo starts life fully ensouled. If we take the view that God oversaw the appearance of man through evolution, then it is reasonable to infer that he foresaw the potential of life to develop to a form to which ensoulment was naturally suited. I think the term “emerging” is quite appropriate here.

    To speak of God’s actions in the past tense is merely a human accommodation. Thus we naturally speak of God having created the world, whereas strictly we should say that God creates the world. But even that does not match up to the reality of God being outside time. We can only use metaphor for that.

  15. jimc says:

    Chattering Chimpanzees seems to suggest that language progressed upwards from grunts and groans to sophistication.Research finds and states that the earliest languages are more sophisticated than their modern counterparts – jimc

  16. jimc says:

    btw as regards being closely related to the chimp, it seems we are even more closely related to the jelly fish and the water melon – jimc

  17. Iona says:

    Jimc, could you give us “chapter and verse” on each of your last two contributions (earliest languages being more sophisticated than modern ones; and our shared genetic heritage with jellyfish and melons)?

    I have heard it said that all languages are equally complex, there being no such thing known as a “primitive” language (though in view of the fact that some languages are phonetically much more complex than others, and some have a substantially bigger vocabulary than others, I wonder how “complexity” is being judged). Certainly I’m suspicious of the idea that languages evolved gradually, starting with “grunts and groans” and slowly becoming more complex. But, early languages MORE sophisticated than modern ones? – please explain.

  18. RMBlaber says:

    I’m afraid ‘jimc”s information is incorrect. The watermelon, _Citrullus lanatus_, has 2 chromosomes and 52 genes, and its genome is a total of 424 million DNA base pairs long. Human beings have 46 chromosomes (23 haploid pairs), ~20-25,000 genes and their DNA is some 3 billion base pairs long.
    As for the jellyfish, if one restricts ‘jellyfish’ to members of the class Scyphozoa, then there are some 66 genera and 200 different species, so it is difficult to say to which one ‘jimc’ is referring. The species _Aurelia aurita_ (the ‘moon jelly’), found in coastal waters between 55 degrees N and S, has 44 chromosomes, close to the human number, but some jellyfish have as many as 216.
    The number of chromosomes a species has is, in any event, no indicator of its intelligence – the garden snail, _Cantareus aspersus_, has 54; the Southern Adder’s Tongue Fern, _Ophioglossum vulgatum_, found in Europe, Asia, NW Africa and eastern N America, has no fewer than 1,400.
    As to language: I remember one of my teachers at Victoria County Junior School, Wellingborough, a Mr Berrill, describing for his class (to much hilarity) the mode of communication of cavemen. One would say ‘Ug’, the other ‘Ug ug’, and that would receive the reply ‘Ug ug ug’.
    This humorous picture will not do, however. A moment’s reflection is enough to show that no social group could manage without language, and that entails a system of signs, and the ability to create meanings.
    Animals sign to one another when they indicate threat, alarm, fear, or submission. Human signing includes this kind, but goes much further, employing complex vocalisations – words – as conventional signs for objects, ideas, actions and emotions, and grammatico-syntactical rules for constructing even more complex semantic structures from them.
    Modern human behaviour appeared about 50,000 years ago (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origin_of_language; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Behavioral_modernity). It is speculated that a mutation of the FOXP2 gene (on human chromosome pair 7) in the E African human population at some point prior to that date was responsible for enabling _H. sapiens_ to communicate.
    Linguists such as Aharon Dolgopolsky, and archaeologists such as Prof Sir Colin Renfrew, are leading advocates of the Nostratic Hypothesis, which argues that the hunter-gatherers of Palaeolithic SW Asia, circa 15,000 BC, spoke a language, ‘Proto-Nostratic’, which eventually gave birth to most – though not all – of the languages spoken in Eurasia and N Africa today (see http://www.nostratic.ru/books/(38)Hage.pdf).
    It is quite easy to imagine this language as the ‘Adamic’ one that was replaced with the multiplicity of tongues at the Tower of Babel. Doubtless the scientists would throw their arms up in horror at this idea, but when else can we look to for the lost innocence of our race, but in the Old Stone Age, some 13,000 years or so before the birth of Abraham? Could it be that the Genesis ‘mythology’ is not so ‘mythological’ after all?

  19. Superview says:

    The genetic details of the water melon, jelly fish, garden snail and the Adder’s Tongue Fern seem almost to be recalled from memory by RMBlaber, who is always so informative. It is with some trepidation therefore that I return to Chattering Chimpanzees with a related comment on simplistic grounds only.

    I can’t see how it can be otherwise that language emerged (in ordinary time!) as an indication of intellect and the mind’s capacity to hold ideas. If so, can we say there must have been a point when the recognition or knowledge of good and evil became possible, and at that point humans were truly differentiated from the rest of animal life – that is, they were not just cleverer but profoundly different?

    The next step would be to say that this is the point also when the Genesis story – without our science we should add – so poetically captures the creation of the human race. But are we at all able to talk about reconciling the science that we have with the idea of Original Sin – beyond the apple that is – which surely required language for God to ‘speak’ to Man and Man to understand that disobedience was ‘sinful’ – more than that, it was so enormous that it would meter out to the Human Race God’s punishment for ever?

    I know I am on dangerous ground here, but in my defence I have to say that I have never thought this through before, excepting that I have always from childhood harboured the notion that for Adam and Eve’s sin to be visited upon their children was unjust. I have read some of St Augustine on Original Sin, but it did little to appease my feelings that something isn’t right. Perhaps it is the way I am approaching it?

  20. Iona says:

    It is reported of some animals that they can be taught to use language in a simple way (some apes; some cetaceans) but this doesn’t have anything like the complexity of human language, with its capacity to refer to past and future events, express logical relationships and hypotheticals etc. Like Superview, I feel inclined to link the acquisition of language with the capacity of the first human beings to make a very fundamental choice related to the knowledge of good and evil, and a heightened level of consciousness (they knew they were naked…). Somebody (can it possibly have been Wittgenstein?) said language enables us to hide our thoughts; which implies that once we have language we can tell lies.

    Thank you, RMBlaber, for enlightening me about the genetic likeness or otherwise of humans, jellyfish and watermelons. The more I read about genetics, the more questions seem to be raised. Why on earth does a fern need so many chromosomes? I thought ferns were relatively primitive plants.

  21. Vincent says:

    I think Superview is struggling with questions which we all share. But if we are entities formed from both the biological and the spiritual it seems reasonable to suppose that there will be a tension between the “animal” aspects and the spiritual aspects. Furthermore, since this is built into humanity, one would expect it to be inherited.
    The concept of Original Sin was only developed into its traditonal form by the fifth century (Augustine). It seems to have developed from the question of the need for infant baptism.
    The story of Adam and Eve is a primitive one which explained the tension between good and evil in human nature. We have no reason to suppose that it was taken as, or was intended to be, a literal account.

  22. RMBlaber says:

    Vincent says that the Genesis account of the Creation and Fall of humanity (Gen.2:4-3:24, Yahwist Tradition, c1000-900 BC) is a ‘non-literal account’, and I would not wish to argue with that assessment. However, once you have said that, what have you said? Such a characterisation is purely negative; it does not say what kind of narrative the story actually _is_, and nor does it exclude the possibility that within the story there is a core of historical truth.
    For indeed there must be a core of historical truth, if there is to be any theological truth. If there had been no Fall, we would have no need of salvation – no need for Christ, or His Cross, or His Resurrection.
    By historical truth, I do _not_ mean ‘geschichtliche Wahrheit’ as opposed to ‘historische Wahrheit’ – I am not playing linguistic games, of the kind German permits, which allows for the sort of theological doublethink indulged in by German liberal Protestant biblical scholars of the 19th and 20th centuries, such as Martin Kahler (1835-1912) and Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976). Such scholars often refer to the time dimension of Scripture as ‘salvation history’ (‘Heilsgeschichte’), by which they mean, not ordinary time, but a mythological construct, which has to be ‘demythologised’ in order to be correctly understood.

  23. RMBlaber says:

    My apologies for the above incomplete post (a case of accidentally clicking on the ‘Submit Comment’ button prematurely), which actually contains an entire paragraph I was about to delete as unnecessary!
    As I was saying, before interrupting myself, there must be a core of historical (= what in fact happened) truth to the Yahwist Creation/Fall story, or there is no theological truth to it. I make no apology for my Rankean positivist historiography in this regard. It may not be possible to produce a _completely_ impartial and objective account of ‘what in fact happened’ (Ranke’s ‘wie es eigentlich gewesen’), but we can approach that ideal. The biblical account can do even better, because it is part of Scripture, and ‘must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into the sacred writings’ (_Dei Verbum_, III, 11).
    I can well understand and sympathise with ‘Superview”s point about Original Sin. In fact, I agree with almost all of what he has to say – especially about human language. Without language, we could not think, and without thought, we would not have attained the level of awareness and self-awareness required for a knowledge of good and evil. I think, in other words, that you have to have language in order to be able to sin. Pre-linguistic infants do not sin – they have no _personal_ sin. Animals do not sin.
    So: _if_ it was not until about 15,000 BC – or thereabouts – that _Homo sapiens_ acquired language – Proto-Nostratic (see http://www.dspace.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/196512 for Aharon Dolgopolsky’s Nostratic Dictionary [also a Grammar]), then we can pin the time of the Fall down to circa 15,000 BC, and we can also locate it spatially – to the Nostratic ‘heimat’, SW Asia, and more particularly, the Mesolithic Near East. Sir Colin Renfrew favours the Kebaran culture of Palestine (fl.18,000-10,500 BC) as the likeliest progenitor of the language, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nostratic_languages). The second possibility is the later Zarzian culture of the Zagros Mountains, the Caucasus and Iran (12,400-8,500 BC).

  24. RMBlaber says:

    As to the issue raised by ‘Superview’, namely the justice, or injustice, of God, in inflicting the penalties incurred by our first parents as a result of their disobedience of Him on all the succeeding generations of mankind, there are a number of things to say, but a danger of going well off-topic in saying them here.
    Firstly: St Paul tells us that ‘the wages of sin is death’ (Rom.6:23). It was through one man, Adam, that sin entered into the world, he says, and through sin death (Rom.5:12).
    However, we know better. We know that life has existed on Earth for at least 3.5 billion years, and that these living organisms have been dying for that length of time. Death has, in fact, nothing whatsoever to do with sin.
    We resolve this by interpreting St Paul in a non-literal sense (and there are passages in Rom.7 which allow us to do this without doing too much violence to St Paul’s intentions), so that ‘death’ means ‘spiritual death’ – i.e., damnation – rather than physical death.
    I am, nevertheless, a little uneasy about this. It smacks just a little too much of of what social scientists term ‘cognitive dissonance’, which is what happens when belief comes up against reality and loses. An example would be all those predictions of the End of the World by the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
    The End of the World is next Friday at 2 o’clock. Next Friday at 2 o’clock comes and goes and the World is still here. What do you do, if you are a True Believer, capital T, capital B? You either abandon your belief – unthinkable – or you modify it in some way. The modifying is cognitive dissonance. Maybe the ‘next Friday at 2 o’clock’ didn’t mean ‘next Friday at 2 o’clock’. It was actually a code – it contained a secret, hidden message, revealed only to a select few of the Faithful. What it really meant was ‘a fortnight on Saturday at 3 o’clock’.
    Secondly: it is impossible to make sense of Original Sin (or Original Guilt) in purely _scientific_ terms. These are theological terms and have to be understood theologically and within the context of the Christian moral and metaphysical world picture. It is not like cystic fibrosis or muscular dystrophy, or some other hereditary disease. There is no ‘sin gene’ in the human genome! The problem is spiritual, not physical. To that extent, certainly, the non-literal interpretation of Rom.6:3 is justified.

  25. Superview says:

    I’m grateful for RMBlaber’s comment on my musings on the question of whether the inheritance of Original Sin by all the human race is just. I don’t think Quentin will call us out for ‘going off topic’, as it would seem that all discussions about evolution for Christians lead back to the eye of the needle – Adam and Eve. A Creationist adversary of Quentin’s in a letter in the CH on March 13 2009 quoted, with the claim that it was arguably infallible and immutable, the following from Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical ‘Arcanum Divinae Sapientiae’ (1880):
    “We record what is to all known, and cannot be doubted by any, that God, on the sixth day of creation, having made man from the slime of the earth, and having breathed into his face the breath of life, gave him a companion, whom He miraculously took from the side of Adam when he was locked in sleep. God thus, in his most far-reaching foresight, decreed that this husband and wife should be the natural beginning of the human race, from whom it might be propagated and preserved by an unfailing fruitfulness through all futurity of time.”
    We might now say, defensively, that this is of its time, but it begs the question when is the Church (a Pope?) going to harmonise the science and the theology?
    RMBlaber says that we must have a Fall because ‘If there had been no Fall, we would have no need of salvation – no need for Christ, or His Cross, or His Resurrection.’
    Jaroslav Pelikan in his chapter on ‘The Son of Man’ (in his book ‘The Illustrated Jesus Through the Centuries’) quotes Vatican II, “Only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light.” He goes on to observe that ‘Rather than making the punishment fit the crime, Christian thought had to gauge the magnitude of human sin by first taking the measure of the one on whom the divine punishment of the cross had been imposed; thus the diagnosis was made to fit the prescription.’ In other words, put simply, what had happened, what had man done, that was so awful that Jesus, the Son of God, had to suffer and die to redeem us? St. Augustine’s reasoning was that it was the Fall and Original Sin and this is the foundation of Christian belief. No wonder, then, that speculations on the literal truth of the Genesis account of the Fall causes consternation. Question: In the resolution of this science verses faith dilemma which way round has it to be -does the theological truth have to fit the historical truth or vice versa? For Augustine resort was only needed to the Scriptures; what would he have done, one wonders, with the science availbale to him?
    None of this, incidentally, helps me with the justice issue; if anything, I am stuck with how, judicially, such was the scale of the sin against God at some point in our pre-history – and we are speculating on a point when evolutionary man had, through language, a knowledge of good and evil -it brought down the terrible wrath of God on the human race.

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