Our great great great… grandparents?

I found the discovery of the fossils of Australopithecus sediba (Au. sediba) fascinating. On secondsightblog.net I have noted some links for those who want to study these South African finds more closely. Here, I will confine myself to major points of interest.

The fossils of several remains are dated to about two million years ago, that is, just earlier than our oldest fossils of homo erectus, whom scientists believe to be our direct ancestor. Many will know of the Australopithecus family through “Lucy” (who predates Au. sediba by about a million years).

The fossils show some interesting details. While the hand is suitable for climbing, the fingers and thumb make it also suitable for precise grasping; it may well have been a maker of tools. Its ankle is similar to the human ankle, but the shin bones and feet have some chimpanzee characteristics. The best guess is that it could walk bipedally but was also accustomed to living in trees.

Its brain was small – about the size of a grapefruit – but study of the brain shape, from casts taken on the inside of the skull, show changes in the frontal lobe which suggest brain development in a human direction. But, interestingly, the female pelvis is wider than expected. This suggests that the wide human pelvis was not simply a development to allow for the cranial size of modern humans.

Is Au. sediba our direct ancestor? At that time, and before that time, it would seem that a number of lines pointing in the human direction developed and were extinguished for one reason or another. But one of these must have been sufficiently successful to act as the transitional link to Homo erectus and eventually Homo sapiens: you and me. Au. sediba is at least a likely candidate, in that it shows both chimpanzee and human characteristics. Further studies will help us here. Sediba is a word from the Sotho language; it means wellspring.

Pius XII taught in Humani Generis that it was legitimate to hold that man’s body was the result of evolution but that the soul was a direct creation of God. The view that there may be humans not descended from Adam, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents, is held to be inconsistent with revelation and tradition.

Neither of these points need cause us much difficulty. Au. sediba, or some similar creature, must have been in the evolutionary line which leads to the physical aspects of Homo sapiens. But the soul requires different consideration.

A good marker for the existence of a soul is moral sense – that is, the capacity to recognise good and evil and to choose freely between them. In infancy and, in some circumstances in later life, moral sense cannot be exercised. But at all times the soul is the animating principle of the whole body, and the human soul has the potential of moral sense as a profound element.

While our moral sense can be developed and extended, its potential in our nature either exists or it doesn’t. Our nature cannot nearly have moral sense. It follows that it must be a direct, and not evolved, creation.

Our common descent from one man (Adam means “man” in Hebrew) does not seem to be an issue in principle from a scientific point of view. Researchers posit a single female and a single male ancestor from whom we are all descended. But these are not contemporary with each other and are thought to be our most recent common ancestors rather than the first of our common ancestors.

We do not know whether a moral sense was first present in sedibus or in habilis or in erectus or in sapiens. I would put sapiens as prime contender, but who knows? A recent report on a skull found in Iwo Eleru, Nigeria suggests a specimen midway between archaic man and modern man. Its characteristics accord with skulls dated over 100,000 years ago, but its actual age is about 13,000 years. A legitimate inference is that modern man and archaic man in western Africa continued to interbreed until relatively recently. It has been known that, out of Africa, sapiens has interbred with Neanderthals and Denisovans. Most of us in the West will be up to three per cent Neanderthal. It is even possible that an ensouled sapiens bred directly with a similar, but unsouled, species – and so produced ensouled offspring. We can but speculate.

Pius XII’s concern is to link the whole race to Adam, and therefore inheritors of Original Sin – committed by the first Adam, redeemed by the second. And certainly we are aware that our common inheritance is a sorry disintegration between our animal and our spiritual natures. Paul’s experience, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do”, encapsulates our disharmony between body and soul, which Adam actualised through his first sin. Resurrection will not be the perfecting of the soul but the integration of the whole human being into God’s likeness. That is what redemption means. It is not by chance that the only human beings who have resurrected so far are the two who were conceived without the disharmony which we call Original Sin.

I realise that I am touching on some difficult theological concepts, but one of the great joys of writing without authority is that anyone who wishes can, and should, either disagree with me or refine what I say. The place to do that is Secondsightblog.net, where you will meet a number of thoughtful people who like to discuss such matters seriously.

Useful Link: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110908104201.htm

Useful Link: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110908104159.htm

About Quentin

Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Catholic Herald columns, Philosophy, Spirituality, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

75 Responses to Our great great great… grandparents?

  1. I have to wonder why an ability to manifest ‘moral sense’ should define immortality of an individual any more than the performance of algebra; or perhaps highly evolved traits that other species have already been known to display under close study.

    And studies seem to reveal more about the capacity and God-given potential of other creatures every year.

    In an arena of absolute speculation, tainted by so many centuries of human hubris, it’s as well be prepared to surrender jaded and pessimistic theological ground.

    For those with a spare 10 minutes, there’s a particularly reflective interview with astrophysicist, Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson worth watching on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zsjgM_GME-Y

    • Quentin says:

      John Gilheany, I think you may have taken the argument a step too far. The immortality of the soul is not, in the ordinary sense of the word, provable. We only know of it through Revelation.

      It is also through Revelation that we know that man was created to be “in the image and likeness of God”. This cannot be in material terms, for God is not material, thus it must be in immaterial or spiritual terms. Moral sense, that is, the recognition of moral obligation to seek the good – and the freedom to do so, would seem to me to be a prime candidate. But no doubt you can suggest convincing alternatives.

      I have listened to Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson. I am sure he has a strong following of like minded people

      • ‘Revelation’ doesn’t reveal all that much about souls, other than their shared allocation in ‘the breath of life’ which ‘St. Joseph’ refers to; and if I’m not mistaken, there’s no literal distinction between the Hebrew for ‘breath of life’ (or ‘soul’) in relation to recipient species throughout Genesis.

        Our divine image is another matter altogether and no basis for the way in which we tend to discriminate against others just because it happens to suit our particular sense of theological vanity. Or as theologian Andrew Linzey writes in today’s Daily Telegraph: “Christians haven’t got much further than thinking that the whole world was made for us, with the result that animals are only seen in an instrumental way…”

        I could go on but agree that it would seem to be beyond the parameters of this particular discussion.

  2. momangelica says:

    The hierarchy of the Catholic Church were debating the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady and had come to a conclusion which was to be made into a Dogma, not many were privy to this, especially a little country peasant. Our Lady appeared to St Bernadette and gave her a message for her Parish Priest. ” I am THE Immaculate Conception”. The rest of the account is history.
    But that statement points to the certitude of Original Sin and that Our Lady was free from it.
    Some thoughts:
    Did Our Lady and all the Saints bother themselves in debated the descendancy of man and all the possibilities of which species we originate from?
    Is it vanity and pride which afflicts us to make us dig and delve and are we missing where we are suppose to be spending our brain power.
    Maybe it was the Jews that were free from animal contamination and why they were the Chosen Race?
    Once, St Augustin was spending time on Theological quandary’s, walking up and down a beach lost in deep puzzlement when a small child caught his attention, the child was digging frantically in the sand to make a hole and the sea would come over it making the child dig even more frantically each time the waves rolled back. Augustin asked the child “what was he was trying to do” and the child replied that he wanted to dig a hole for the ocean to disappear into, at which Augustin laughed and pointed out that the child was wasting his time as the feat was impossible.
    The child replied that he had a better chance of achieving it than Augustin had of understanding God’s mysteries.
    The dates and findings of Earths History are so precarious and one cannot base too much upon them as their are so many contradictions.
    Life is a Salvation Journey of the Soul which sometimes gets forgotten in the search for knowledge.

    • st.joseph says:

      Many years ago early 1990’s in fact, I read The Moral Dignity of Man-in fact my husband and I helped distribute it and various other Catholic Books across England and Ireland.
      Non profit making I will add.
      The Moral Dignity of Man, I thought and still do it is a bookk that all Catholicks ought to read.
      I am not educated in scientific facts but after reading this book used it as a reference for my learning.
      What interested me mostly was Part 1V the last chapter. ‘Man and the Environment: the Moral Basis of Ecology

      I often read it- a few sentences I dwell on-states ‘ God created the world with just the right balance for human life to live on it, with an ozone layer to filter the ultra violet rays of the sun and an atmosphere to keep in sufficient of the earth’s natural heat to make human life bearable,creating a natural greenhouse effect; with trees to turn the carbon dioxide back into oxygen; and fertilized topsoil for the earth to give nourishment etc;
      Ecclesiastes speaks of the harmony of creation when it says; into the sea all rivers flow, and yet the sea is never filled, and still to their goal the rivers go'(1;7)
      Here is a hint of what science was later to discover that the sea vapourizes giving rise to rain which in turn fills the rivers yet again. But this balance , in its perfection, was upset by original sin and continues to be disturbed by our personal sins It is important to understand how.
      Original sin is, of course moral evil, an offence not only against divine law but against God Himself. But it brings with it physical evil, death and suffering to man and, as we have seen an adverse effect on the earth itself.
      This plan of God to unite all things to Himself will take place in the fullness of time(cf.Eph 1;9-10) and bring about a new heaven and a new earth’ (Apoc 21;1) which will consist in the transformation of the present world. The prophet Isaiah already spoke about this when he said; ‘ The wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the kid and the calf and the lion with the fatlings together, and a little child will lead them.
      This suggests that the hostility within the animal and towards man is an imperfection that will be overcome and the superiority of man reasserted.
      The book then continues with the Moral Problem.

      I stated in an earlier comment that the past did not bother me only what is to become, and I did not mean that to say that it ought not to be discussed by those interested in it.
      But speaking for myself I prefer to look to the ways we can help as christians to bring the future that God has planned for us- with His suffering on the Cross.
      I hope this will make sense of how I feel!

  3. tim says:

    I take it as a basic (though not completely fundamental) principle that we do not learn scientific facts from study of the Bible or tradition. That is not what they’re there for. Accordingly, I am nervous about having to reconcile a doctrine that we are descended from a single human couple with current or future scientific investigations. Surely Original Sin (not a difficult doctrine in its more popular understanding) can’t simply be a question of heredity? There is talk, at least, of a single female ancestor – a so-called Mitochondrial Eve. But I wouldn’t want to put too much store on any such theory – any more than on using the astronomical Big Bang to prove the existence of God as Creator. The questions of when our ancestors became human, and how, are certainly fascinating, but quite how important they are is something else.

  4. st.joseph says:

    I think that Horace made a good comment way back about Adam and Eve being the first man and woman ,that was when God gave them an understanding in a Spiritual sense.I think he said something like that-I dont want to misquote him,but I saw it as reasonable.
    Now -when God put a soul into man i think- when he reached the level of spiritual awareness,He chose the Jews as His Chosen people.Then they wrote the Scriptures- not England or any other country.We could say that understanding morality doesn’t happen in the deep Jungle amongst cannibals, do they have souls?Then we could say Hitler had no morals- did he have a soul?
    I may be being heretic now, but we can think about things like that-but not get to involved in it,only of ourse if one wants to .We also could think about atheists do they have souls? Are they part of the animal world? I am just summising now.
    I believe we need Scripture to enlighten us and Grace to seperate us from animals.
    God did put man over them, or so Scripture tell us! Where would we be without it?

    • Horace says:

      I think that my comment that StJoseph refers to above is probably:-
      [March 8, 2011]
      “When we consider the Bible and Evolution we should remember that the first account of creation is a very remarkable exposition of our ‘scientific’ ideas for primitive readers. Adam and Eve only appear in the second account which is focused not so much on what happened but on the meaning of creation. Here again we see the remarkably astute insight of the early writers when they emphasise shame as a distinguishing mark of humanity . . ”

      The concept of ‘shame’ in this context is, to me, the external manifestation of an internal ‘moral sense’. AS Quentin says; “A good marker for the existence of a soul is moral sense – that is, the capacity to recognise good and evil and to choose freely between them. . . .
      Our nature cannot nearly have moral sense. It follows that it must be a direct, and not evolved, creation.”
      It is this last sentence that worries me. Even granting the ‘all or nothing’ nature of a moral sense, why could God not have created this sense using the mechanisms which we hypothesise as ‘evolution’? Does not life itself have a rather similar ‘all or nothing’ quality?

  5. claret says:

    I liken much of this to our general obsession of life on other planets where we continually excite ourselves on new findings of microrganisms and ‘perhaps’ water that make the headlines for a day or two and are never spoken of again.
    We desperately search for some missing link by endlessly discovering fossil remains that bear a striking likeness to our humanity but tantalisingly don’t quite get there.
    If one was to disect a tiger it would probably be somewhere near human, but not quite there.
    Adam and Eve still makes more sense than the endless search for the alternatives.
    (Soul- seraching might be the better description.)

    • tim says:

      ‘soul-searching’ – nice one!

      The story of Adam and Eve makes a lot of sense (I say patronisingly) but I’m unwilling to accept it as history – not, at least, until the Church formally defines that it is to be understood as such. I believe St Jerome took the same view.

  6. mike Horsnall says:

    ‘The body belongs to evolution but the soul does not….’

    Nice thought that …I have long believed that we could be horse shaped for all it would matter. Human-ness is not defined by shape.

  7. st.joseph says:

    In Scripture the soul is initially spoken of as the ‘breath of life’. Thus Genesis describes the creation of man in the following way; the Lord formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath if life; and man became a living being. Hence the soul is the principle of life and unity of the being. The human person is a unity, but containing the duality of body and soul.

    It is often said that the Bible refers to man using the term ‘body to desiginate the whole man and stress his personal unity. This is tru, but the duality of man is equally emphasized in bibical tradition, as for example ‘Do not fear those who deprive the body of life, but cannot destroy the soul.
    The Church defines man’s soul as the substantial form of the body. The form here does not refer to the shape, precisely because the soul is spiritual, but rather to that which gives unity as well as life and movement to the person.
    This principle cannot be material since the matter of the body changes completely every few years and hence the person would have no continuing unity, so it must be immaterial. In the case of the person the soul is intrinsically independent of matter in the sense that it is capable of actions, such as immaterial knowledge and self reflection that do not have their origin in a material organ and hence, are what we call’spiritual’. Being spiritual the soul is not made of parts,and therefor cannot corrupt. which allows us to affirm its immortality.. As the Book of Wisdom says ‘man was made for
    incorruptability’. And Vatican 11 said ‘man is the only creature on earth whom God has wanted for Himself,that is, he is the product of eternal love.

    The above is taken from The Moral Dignity of Man. part of The human Soul and the Unity of Man.
    By Father Peter Bristow. 1993.

  8. mike Horsnall says:

    No one suggests that you accept the account as literal history in the form of a definitive description of facts-our origins are mysterious, to science, to philosophy and to theologians. Yet we have an inkling of definite origins-paleontologists argue the toss over this. But we have some sense of beginnings, some idea that there was a defining event and that there were a man and a woman who became something at some point. Definite origin is at least as likely as the notion that human beings somehow ‘became’ human like a creeping tide-a few here and a few there-crossing some mysterious barrier of evolutionary biochemistry…mainly I have seen that argument dismissed as fantastically unlikely.

    • Rahner says:

      “mainly I have seen that argument dismissed as fantastically unlikely.” By whom? Evolutionary biochemistry is presently a very young and highly speculative discipline but it would be foolish to rule out what it may be capable of doing in the future.But what is surely fantastically unlikely is that God would give the first human beings a power to bring pain and death to the rest of humanity?

    • Quentin says:

      Strictly speaking, every living entity has a soul which, as st.joseph reminds us is “the principle of life and unity of the being”. Traditionally there is the vegetative soul, the animal soul, and the human, immortal, soul. And we can use the Latin original “anima” for all these life (animate) forms.

      It is certainly true that we can speak of body and soul separately, but this is only an accommodation to our need for human expression.

      When we look at the story in Scripture it’s helpful to remember the underlying meaning rather than getting stuck on the literal meaning. Karen Armstrong’s The Bible, A Biography is an excellent account of different approaches at different times used in understanding the Bible.

      The struggle between sin and virtue (or, if you prefer, love and unlove) is undoubtedly a racial thing in the sense that we are all born with this gulf, and all offered the opportunity, through grace, to commit ourselves to love.

      As I would understand it, our tendency to sin comes from our animal natures. Non human animals are neither moral nor immoral, they simply follow their natural imperative to meet their own needs. The tendency to love comes from our spiritual natures, through which we aspire to virtue. I could say that we have inherited Adam’s sin, but that is just a poetic way of saying that man has inherited a human nature which is prone to selfish desire but is free to choose love for ourselves and for others. “Man’s sin” and “Adam’s sin” are two phrases with the same meaning.

      • Rahner says:

        “our tendency to sin comes from our animal natures.” This is certainly a more plausible account than the traditional Augustinian understanding of original sin which appears to affirm that early human beings existed in a primordial state of perfection or near perfection from which they “fell”.

  9. st.joseph says:

    Unless one believes in Heaven and Hell, Angels and all the Mystical sense of of our souls, we obviousley will doubt.But when we dig deeper into it ,it is ‘not fantastically unlikely’ that God would not have given free will. He didn’t give them the power to bring pain and death to the rest of humanity What God did was to send His only Son to redeem us and the Holy Spirit to give us the power to co-operate with our Lords Sufferings and bring those who do bring pain and death to humanity out of their sinfullness to a better life here on earth into the fullness of Truth.

    • Rahner says:

      “He didn’t give them the power to bring pain and death to the rest of humanity”
      1008 Death is a consequence of sin. The Church’s Magisterium, as authentic interpreter of the affirmations of Scripture and Tradition, teaches that death entered the world on account of man’s sin. Even though man’s nature is mortal God had destined him not to die. Death was therefore contrary to the plans of God the Creator and entered the world as a consequence of sin.

  10. st.joseph says:

    We must also not forget that there are people who get pleasure from doing evil and wont mind spending eternity with the Devil and his angels! Because they do believe in Hell and that Satan will look after them.
    Why do we hear of Black Mass’s where the Consecrated Hosts are stolen for devil worship!.We must allways be on the watch and stay ‘awake’

    • Animals are quite capable of love and other noble traits which (presumably) share the one common origin.

      It also seems to me that human history contains moral nadirs of such magnitude that the ‘animal nature’ of most species could never begin to emulate them, in terms of sheer ‘brutality’ and that includes wolves: whose mating males, upon defeat in combat, offer their throat to the victors who have not been known to murder them.

      We have much to aspire to… and so little scope to estimate the eternal worth of God’s other creatures on fallible criteria which has merely improved since eras of exploitation which denied the existence of souls in children, women and non-whites.

      • st.joseph says:

        John, I agree we have much to aspire to, but I dont know what you mean by eras of exploitation which denied the existence of souls in children,women and non whites.
        I understand that Christians are dying for their faith-but I have never heard of the denial of the existence of souls by Christians.When was that? Maybe I have misunderstood you.

  11. Rahner says:

    Rahner ,I think maybe you were mis-using the word power here. That is what I was pointing out to you!

    I what way am I mis-using the word?

    • st.joseph says:

      Rahner,do you think that it is ‘fantastically unlikely ‘that God the Creator would have given Satan and the bad Angels ‘ the ‘power ‘ to bring pain and death to humanity?

      • Rahner says:


      • st.joseph says:

        We are splitting hairs her Rahner,and I appreciate your reply’s.
        I would still call it free-will.
        As I said I appreciate your replies, as you are doing so now, maybe you could answer the first question I asked you, a while back ‘ Why were you busy with ‘the Daphne Mcleod experience? I am really interested to know.

  12. (My last reply involved a bit of a technical mishap there, St. Joseph and was intended to appear as a general posting rather than directed to your particular comment of 10:59 – just to clarify and sorry about that confusion).

    My remark about historical Christian denial of souls (to human slaves, child labourers and dis-enfranchised women) stems from hearsay, I should confess rather than any specific knowledge of Church doctrine.

    However, a quick google came up with an interesting record in ‘Woman, Church and State’ by Matilda Joslyn Gage (New York, 1893) which stated:

    “As early as the sixth century a council at Macon (585) fifty-nine bishops taking part, devoted its time to a discussion of this question, ‘Does woman possess a soul ?’…… Until time of Peter the Great, women were not recognized as human beings in that great division of Christendom known as the Greek church, the census of that empire counting only males, or so many ‘souls’ -no woman named. Traces of this old belief have not been found wanting in our own country within the century. As late as the Woman’s Rights Convention in Philadelphia, 1854, an objector in the audience cried out : ‘Let women first prove they have souls; both the Church and the State deny it.’ “

    • st.joseph says:

      Thank you John for that.
      It doesn’t say much for their knowledge of Our Blessed Lady.
      They probably thought she didn’t have a soul -that is why She was born Immaculate!

  13. mike Horsnall says:

    Not sure that hearsay is much of a basis for such sweeping statements for who does and who does not have a soul!!

  14. mike Horsnall says:

    (sorry, I didn’t finish)
    Mind you there is an interesting point in it, the way that the subject could be so earnestly discussed -in the face of Genesis and Pauline teaching which is fairly clear – just goes to show how much us chaps need keeping an eye on in cased we go off on some merciless tangent or another…!

    • st.joseph says:

      Mike.’Me thinks’ (a catch phase from you- John could have touched on a point only the other way meaning that when God made man from the dust- I take it that he was made long before women.
      So maybe God was waiting for man to grow in knowledge before He Made a workmate for Adam!
      Making Eve from Adam’s rib. So her brain was ‘really’ mature from then. She just had to grow in Wisdom-which apparently she didn’t as she was tempted by the serpent!
      Adam being trempted then by Eve-falling so heavely in love with the woman (maybe lust).
      So there wo continue on the road to destruction.
      So it needed a female to become the Mother of Jesus.
      A perfect soul that could resist temptation, being full of Grace.
      Man did not have it in him at that time to save us.

      So maybe our souls come from our mothers at conception. And we need Baptism to start

      us on our journey in Christ.Heresy or not- ooh am I destined to be excommunicated

      • mike Horsnall says:

        St Joseph I don’t think your original thinking is exactly headed for excommunication but on the other hand I wouldnt get shouting about it from the pulpit if I were you!!!! On the other hand, my 16 year old daughter always complains about having to wait for the lads in her class to grow up in the hope that one day she can have a decent conversation with them!

  15. Quentin says:

    Gee! Thanks Horace.(1 Oct 4:12 pm) I like the difficult questions. I just wish I knew all the answers – but I’ll have a shot.
    There is no argument about altruism, thought of as an instinct to act cooperatively and protectively towards members of our group. And its flipside is an instinct of fear or hostility to “outsiders” – hence racial prejudice, industrial strife and wars. We can see that the development of this instinct through evolution clearly assists the group to survive, whether it is a human group or an ants nest. But since this is an instinct it has no moral quality of itself.
    Morality enters the picture when I can say that I ought or should, or ought not or should not, behave in a particular way. Ought is used here in its sense of obligation.
    Take the least controversial example. We recognise that we are social animals, and to flourish as such we must behave in certain ways. One of these is that we must be able to make and to rely on promises, because social life depends in an essential element on them.
    But where does the element of moral obligation come from? There is, as David Hume tells us, no ought to be derived from is. We know that it cannot be derived from evolution because evolution is a causal process, and moral responsibility requires the ability to make non causal, free will, choices.
    So if we do not hold that the moral sense come from God, we face the challenge of showing from where it comes. I have put this question to many atheists/agnostics over the years. I have not only not received an answer, I have never been told what a satisfactory answer would look like.
    Can you improve on their attempts?

    • Rahner says:

      Quentin, Even if we accept the is/ought distinction ( and some philosophers reject this distinction) an atheist can still affirm that a moral sense arises out of the shared realisation that there are reasonable and unreasonable ways of bringing about human flourishing and that human flourishing is likely to be a matter of very complex biology which we don’t currently understand. You state that a moral sense cannot arise in evolutionary terms because evolution is a causal process that conflicts with free will. But it could be a causal process that include elements of indeterminism and in any case there is a well established tradition in philosophy that argues that human freedom is compatible with determinism. The arguments presented may not be absolutely compelling, but few arguments in philosophy are and they cannot be dismissed out of hand.

      • Quentin says:

        Thank you for this, Rahner. I am a little wary of getting too deeply in here, and boring the pants off everybody. The last time I got so involved (with Dawkins’ disciples) it went on for around 30,000 words. And they still couldn’t explain moral obligation. But you may agree with me that it would be a relief if those who refused to accept the possibility of morality would refrain from their ever ready attacks on the moral perfidy of religion.

  16. mike Horsnall says:

    Quentin/ Horace,

    This notion that a moral sense could be simply part of the evolutionary outworking, why does it bother you? I ask because it seems to me that the ENTIRE fabric of our being, including the capacity for moral sense, MUST be part of the warp and woof of our being. As such the capacity for moral sense is,if you like, rooted in the chemistry of life. We know that emotions, habits, attitudes are real things having their echo in what we might call ‘stuff’ So the existence of a moral sense-an idea of ‘good’ and then ‘bad’ must in some way be a fact. In the same way that we can rush to the church, the pub, or to do another person harm, because we have legs and intentions, so then can we choose our acts according to the spirit within us.
    Surely the thoughts and character of God are non material to the extent that Gods character is ours in as deep a manner as the warp and woof of the biochemical basis of our thinking and choosing, which is if you like, the motor and the capacity for externalising what we call the intention of our hearts. Perhaps I’m dull but I can’t really see the problem. The fact that the moral sense is innate does not mean that we will neccessarily choose it. It is part of the strangeness of God that God can act in our hearts in a manner which is so hidden that we cannot ourselves ‘see it’ hence the blindness of the disciples towards Jesus? I thought this kind of duality was the basis for the church’s teaching on how the conscience may be ‘seared’ and how to avoid such occurrence.

  17. mike Horsnall says:

    Thinking about it a bit more I guess that the thoughts expressed above may just push the argument back a step on the ‘slippery slope’ toward infinite regress, it depends what we think ‘moral sense’ is; for me it must consist of the potential to act upon and inclination to choose to act upon something. I guess that the ‘potential’ bit evolved with the rest of the kit.

  18. st.joseph says:

    Mike I can see your daughters point..
    I dont want to be ordained, but sometimes I would love to get up on the pulpit and shout about lots of things.
    But understand that time will bring it all into ‘fruitition’

    • st.joseph says:

      P.S. I will add I dont need to get frustrated where I worhip, the priest has it just right.

      • st.joseph says:

        Maybe that is why God chose a Woman first the second time around as man would be unable to be Christlike without a mother, as the saying goes ‘The hand thats rocks the cradle rocks the world’ They dont need to be biological mothers, just those with a mothers instinct!

        I hope I am not making a lot of enemies with the opposite sex!!!!

      • st.joseph says:

        Sorry my reply below should read, ‘The hand that rocks the cradle- RULES the world’.

  19. st.joseph says:

    And also That is why I believe that Our Blessed Mother is the Mother of the Church, when Jesus on the Cross gave St John to His Mother, and the Woman to St John a mother to all priests.
    I believe that we most probably would not have had all the scandals in the Church if the priests had thought of Mary as their mother and prayed to Her for purity and to save them from temptation!

  20. mike Horsnall says:

    St Joseph,
    Coming from a protestant evangelical and charismatic background I find this subject quite interesting (and a welcome respite from terse philosophical fencing)
    In strands of Christianity as the above- which simply do not emphasise women- there is a tendency towards harshness. A strong focus on self control, worship etc but little on love except in an abstract kind of way. In my experience the chief reason individuals and families leave evangelical churches is harshness toward them and a sense of loneliness within those church gatherings which are, oddly enough, doctrinally focussed on community. I’m personally a bit sceptical about an excess of Marian devotion-but there’s definitely something in what you say.

    • st.joseph says:

      Mike, thank you, I have always found comfort in devotion to the Mother of God!( I am pleased you called it that and not Worship) people do confuse the two.
      Sentimentality is often confused with true love of our Blessed Mother. and also to Jesus
      I know Jesus said anyone who believes in me and listens to My voice is my mother and sister and my brother. I take that as meaning that we all ought to take it as a compliment to Mary as She being His Mother- listened to Him and had great confidence that He was the Son of the Father and equal as God!
      Why would we not love Her when She was chosen to be His Mother, I dont believe that She should be considered as doing Her duty on earth and needed no more to lead us through Jesus to God the Father.
      Proffessor Janet Smith always speaks of God as the greatest Lover of all.
      If we love God we cannot fail but to love everything about Mary our Mother.
      We are Her children! We say- ‘We have recourse to Thee!

  21. claret says:

    What is required here is a liberal dose of simplicity. Where shall we start ?
    ‘In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,’ might be a good place.

  22. st.joseph says:

    Why was the The Gospel According to St John stopped after Holy Mass?
    In the beginning was the Word………..Perhaps you know Claret!

  23. mike Horsnall says:

    Yes Claret I really think thats what it comes down to. Ive been thinking about this while cycling out with my friend Bob…Many of the “technical”arguments placed on this site are pleadings from a near atheist perspective. The Genesis verse you quote still seems to trump them all even though of course there can be no ‘proof’ none… ever.. and the final issue is trust. It seems to me that the same mystery pervades eucharist as pervades creation as pervade sthe whole issue of ‘moral sense’…we are ‘God intentioned’ or we are not.

    • Vincent says:

      Mike, since I don’t think of you as using a scattergun approach, I suppose you have in mind some specimens of technical arguments, which can be described as pleadings and which you can demonstrate be near atheistic. Perhaps you would share one or two with us so that we can understand what you mean and, if appropriate, go away duly chastened.

    • st.joseph says:

      Mike, I have often thought of what Jesus said when He was speaking about the Bread fom Heaven,His Body and Blood being real food.
      You mentioned the Eucharist,and I wonder what thoughts you may have on this, when Jesus said’This is Manna from Heaven,not the food that they ate in the Desert! They ate and are dead.Did He mean they were dead until He died and the Gates of Heaven were opened, and they would rise again on the Last Day? But the vision that Jesus saw and the Apostles at the Transfiguration -must have been the souls that died before in the Old Testament ,Moses and Elijah. So Jesus must have recognised them as the prophets of old,so He must have respected what they wrote,and Moses is supposed to have written Genesis! Jesus existed before that from the beginning-so I think He would have explained the Old Testament to the Apostles, but Jesus spoke of Adam! What do you think, I just think about it and wonder.Maybe someone else has any thoughts on this?

    • Rahner says:

      “Many of the “technical”arguments placed on this site are pleadings from a near atheist perspective.” The questions that atheists raise are also in the minds of many believers – unless they are brain dead….

  24. mike Horsnall says:

    Now Vincent, the very last thing I would desire is that you should go away feeling duly chastened !

  25. mike Horsnall says:

    St Joseph

    Regarding those who ate the manna but still died. I gues the emphasis is similar to the woman beside the well-water which leads to thirst again or water which wells up to eternal life. The manna was life saving but it was not life giving. I would be drawn towards a slightly metaphorical reading of the text you mention -but on the other hand Jesus’ listeners did stand on the threshold of the ages and were about to step into a different dispensation with the institution of Eucharist and the sacrifice of Christ.

    • st.joseph says:

      Thank you Mike, I just think about these things,because we dont always know the answers to things closer to home.But maybe a theologian might know!
      I just thought that the Gates of Heaven must have been open to the Prophets if Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus.
      This is why I believe that Our Lady is appearing in another dimension-if that is the right word.

  26. mike Horsnall says:

    Yes I get your meaning-its a lovely idea isnt it that beyond time, through the gates of heaven as it were there is something else through which we may pass unshackled by time-I guess it must be so otherwise Moses and Elijah certainly would have long beards by now!!! I’m frankly baffled by the appearances of Our Lady but its nice to include them under the same sort of rubric

    • st.joseph says:

      Thank you Mike for your reply,
      It is surprising that Peter James and John didn’t saymore about it!
      I know Jesus told them not too, but it would have given them some belief for what was to come on Calvary somehow.
      The appearances of Our Lady-well I think maybe, it was to be -so that we would believe more clearly of Her appearances!

      • st.joseph says:

        Thank you Mike for your reply.
        Maybe God gave us an insight so that when Jesus rose from the dead and Ascended into Heaven we could imagine where He went,and to give us some understanding of what He had in store for us that love Him. And also confidence in Our Lady’s appearances, that these things are possible and our souls have a Mystical form -something like that.

  27. Rahner says:

    Quentin, “But you may agree with me that it would be a relief if those who refused to accept the possibility of morality would refrain from their ever ready attacks on the moral perfidy of religion.”
    Certainly, though few serious contemporary philosophers would endorse moral nihilism.

    • Quentin says:

      Rahner, you are probably right although I don’t know whether this has been investigated. And it depends what you mean by moral nihilism. I think of Ayer and Russell and the Logical Positivist set; but possibly they are too vieux jeu to count. But what I had in mind was, primarily, the militantly atheistic scientists, but also some of the neuroscientists.

      If you haven’t heard it, try http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/iots/all. You’ll find the “In Our Time” piece on neuroscience (13 Nov 08).

  28. st.joseph says:

    Sorry Mike about the double take, but I lost the blog somehow and forgot what I said and posted again wit a littledifference but the same meaning.
    A pylon near me has just blown a fuse an has affected the web!! But electric back on.

  29. mike Horsnall says:

    Hmm, perhaps it was Elijah passing the pylon on his way home!!

    I reckon Peter James and John were all a bit sheepish after that encounter-but you can bet the subject must have come up again on some fishing trip or another when they probably took the mickey out of Peter yet again. You know St Joseph we pay too little account to the mystical nature of our faith-its not fashionable in this day and especially here. Yet the Mystery of Love is at the very dead centre of things. I am reading a book about the ‘Atlas Martyrs’ at the moment. They were the seven Trappist monks executed by Islamic rebel fighters in Algeria’s bloody civil war around 1996. If you get a chance see the film “Of Gods and Men” it is the most profoundly moving thing I have ever seen.

    • st.joseph says:

      Mike I do like your sense of humour,a bit like mine in a way!
      I think it may have been ‘Old Nick’ doing his rounds!!his tail getting caught in the electric wires, apparently all Avening is in darkness!! A bit like Hell!!!
      A friend mentioned that film to me the other day-I must remind her to lend it to me.
      I have a feeling that some people are frightened to speak about the Mysticism of our faith-
      It is avoided as if it is speaking of death I think, I dont know really.
      But thank you anyway.

  30. mike Horsnall says:

    That link is very good thanks.
    I think moral nihilism, though having a peculiar echo in the apothatic tradition is, in a sense for different days than ours so has fallen away for the time being. Currently instead of believing nothing we all believe too much in everything.

  31. mike Horsnall says:

    Sorry, I took a break to listen to your neuroscience discussion. I see that the thing you call moral nihilism of neuroscientists is that discussion which says basically that ‘mind’ is basically a construction of thoughts and has no existence because the brain in reality is the only thing there. Along this line we are to believe that our sense of ‘mentality’ is in fact a delusion and our intrinsic bias toward it something inexplicable. From this position it is a mere hop to atheism-and a neccessary one at that.
    But even the neuro scientists on the programme say that they cannot personally ditch their innate sense of dualism despite their own magnetic expeditions into brain function etc. It seems to me that if one goes along the path of assuming that the brain ‘does it all’ then one assumes that everything: from sense of smell, locomotion, morality, religious experience,rage,sexual attraction etc etc- is a pure function of tissue chemistry. Now that either tips us into an utterly new and foreign place which is practically indescribable or it points to the fact that we simply understand less about ourselves than we thought and our theories of ‘mind’ are up for grabs. It was interesting that the speakers resolutely refused to even discuss or entertain the idea of soul saying that the concept was not addressed by their subject…too deep those waters for comfort.

    • Quentin says:

      Mike, your vivid reaction to the broadcast pretty well mirrors mine, when I first heard it. and I can’t say that it has changed much since then. I hope that your account will stimulate our friends on the Blog to listen — and then tell us how they feel.

      For convenience I copy the link down here.
      If you haven’t heard it, try http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/iots/all. You’ll find the “In Our Time” piece on neuroscience (13 Nov 08).

  32. st.joseph says:

    I listened to it and found it interesting but only in the fact that it may be helpful to further knowledge in the area of brain damage,I dont think it will help anyone in a spiritual sense or to further anyones ‘intellegent’ level’, only in that field of work.But I may be wrong as I dont know much about the subject.The thoughts that came into my head were the Miracle of Jesus raising Lazarus to life after being dead for four days-presumably brain dead.I would have liked them to have brought that into the discussion!!

  33. mike Horsnall says:

    St Joseph thats quite funny…

    One can just imagine Melvyn Braggs mellifluous tones introducing Lazarus to the audience:
    “And now ladies and Gentlemen , to enlighten us further on the subject of being brain dead we have Lazarus…!”

    There is a fascinating slant to all this too. Recent research has indicated that our brain machinates away making decisions well before they reach our consciousness…well..half a second before at least which is apparently a very long time in neuro science. This research has caused a bit of a stir in many quarters and thrown us all into a tizzy.
    Yet any Contemplative or Buddhist Monk could have told us this without batting an eyelid. For anyone who sits silently gazing on the beloved it becomes quickly evident that this thing we call ‘consciousness’ is less than the sum of its acts- acting as randomly as a coot and telling lies by the second!
    Not only that but something else far more obscure and deeper within, rooted far out of sight, seems to be closer to the source of anything worthwhile. Even I know this!!
    So it seems to me that when scripture discusses the thoughts and deeds of the heart, though this is partly to do with cultural context, it hints at something which is that same thing bothering the scientists today-the brain may not be the seat of all we think it to be.

    • st.joseph says:

      Mike that me smile,also I could imagine those who take it seriously ‘and I am not saying it shouldnt’ in medical science’- thinking about me Oh she’s a Wo-man, as the song goes ‘W O M A N!’, meaning most of us only have half a brain anyway!!

  34. James H says:

    I’m a bit late coming to this, and it’s a bit tangential, but there’s a fascinating article here:


    The article is a response to some daffy atheist attack on Christianity, but there are some great insights into some of the questions discussed here. The writer, Mike Flynn, is a practicing statistician, maths genius, Thomist and published SF author. Definitely worth a look!

    • Quentin says:

      This is interesting stuff, well worth study. Just one small (defensive) point — Flynn suggests that the word Adam means “red earth”. For all I know, it may do. But the OED gives the origin of Adam as the Hebrew for man, and the Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture tells us: “‘adam’ is a collective noun possessing no plural. Mankind in general is meant” (141f)

  35. mike Horsnall says:

    In the words of Augustine..”Late have I loved thee”

    But better late than never James H and the article you quote is so good that I’ve pinched a few lines of it for here just to encourage folk that way:

    “There is an argument similar to Zeno’s Paradox of Dichotomy that holds that sapient man arose by slow, gradual increments. That is, arguing from the continuum rather than from the quanta. Now, “a little bit sapient” is like “a little bit pregnant.” It may be only a little, but it is a lot more than not sapient at all. There is, after all, no first number after zero, and however small the sapience, one can always cut it in half and claim that that much less sapience preceded it. But however long and gradual is the screwing-in of the light bulb, the light is either on or off.

    Modern genetics finds that genetic change may be specific, sudden, and massive due to various biochemical “machines” within the gene. The ability to abstract universal concepts from particular sensory percepts is an either-or thing, no matter how much better developed it might become over time. You either can do it even a little bit or you can’t do it at all. So, Adam may be considered the first man no matter how many man-like apes there were on his family tree.
    And that includes those among his 9,999 companions. It is not clear how Dr. Coyne envisions the same sapient mutation arising simultaneously in 10,000 ape-men. It is not impossible, I suppose; but it does seem unlikely. So let us default to the sapiens/loquens mutation appearing first in one man and then gradually spreading through a population. Following tradition, let’s call him Adam. This in no way contradicts the existence of 9,999 other ape-men with whom Adam is interfertile.(^7) They may have been necessary to comprise a sufficient breeding population insofar as the body is concerned, but they need not have been sapient..”

  36. st.joseph says:

    Mike , that is a good comment .
    I can only say with my dimished knowledge, that is ‘Late have I loved Thee-Oh Beauty so Ancient and New’!
    It a bit like taking the first step-its alway there, but when we find Him the progress is amazing!
    If that makes sense.

  37. mike Horsnall says:

    The pleasure of Flynns work (see link above) is that it approaches the subject of genetics evolution and biochemistry lucidly and intelligently yet from a clear position of principled faith.I spoke earlier about the pleadings from a near atheist perspective one frequently meets here under the banner of progress. By this I refer to an unspoken demand that somehow catholicism needs to justify itself before some haughty court of neutral logic represented by and large by important sounding words flensed from the odd article here and there. Yet catholics are called first and foremost to see the world as through the lens of Jesus Christ, cetainly we can weigh sift and wonder, but we need not crawl , cap in hand, to the thoughts of whichever scientist or philosopher comes to hand as fuel for the fire.Flynn seems to understand this well.

    • Rahner says:

      Flynn deals with monogenism but ignores other, more difficult, problems associated with the traditional doctrine of OS.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s