Sunday, July 09, 2006

Evolution and the Soul

Pope Pius XII in his 1950 encyclical Humani Generis, recognised the following problem and it applies to the majority of Christians of all denominations who accept evolution. It is this: at what point in the continuum of the evolution of humans did God decide we should all get souls and why then? The standard christian defense is that we cannot know the mind of God. This catch all seems unsatisfactory though. Have any of you theological Ninjas out there got a patch for this bug?
Ideas are welcome.

29 comments:

ephphatha said...

I don't understand why it needs a patch. It's just a question; not a problem. What's so unsatisfactory about saying, "I don't know"?

I remember when I was about 14, I was trying to reconcile evolution with Genesis, and I started writing a story. The premise of the story was that Adam and Eve were the first human beings to have the "breath of life" breathed into them, meaning he gave them spirits. So they were the first souls, which is why they became "living souls."

Personally, I think the question of evolution is irrelevent to the topic because of how I understand souls. I think any being with a mind has a soul, because I don't think it's possible to be sentient without having a soul.

Psiomniac said...

ephphatha,
I don't think there is a problem with saying 'I don't know' per se. The counter intuitive aspect which gave me the feeling that a patch might be required is as follows:

For the sake of argument let us assume that the soul has the properties you say. Then you either having a soul or not corresponds with being sentient or not. That is where the difficulty comes in. Evolution is gradual. What postulating the soul does is impose a kind of 'tipping point' onto the continuum before which our ancestors were not sentient and after which we were. So a generation of proto hominid parents gave birth to children with souls. Imagine having parents who were not sentient. (Easy for some of us perhaps). This seems unrealistic. It is tempting to think that sentience is a boolean variable in the sense of either having it or not, without intermediate stages. But if we look at models of different stages of consciousness in the development of children the picture seems much more complex. As it does as far as the rest of the animal kingdom is concerned. Does that give a flavour of the problem?

ephphatha said...

psiomniac,

I agree it's something to puzzle over, but I still don't consider it a problem. I think sentience is also boolean, but I have no clue when a fetus goes from being not sentient to being sentient. And if evolution is true, it seems like you'd have the same difficulty. And, in fact, it isn't clear to me whether some insects are sentient or not.

Psiomniac said...

ephphatha,
No it isn't clear to me either but if I had to guess I would say that insects are biological automata.
Also, I think the structure and nature of consciousness in its different forms is not captured by a simple boolean variable for me. Consciousness can range from a simple sensorimotor awareness to iterative meta-representational self-consciousness. After I have thought about these things and the exquisite complexity of the neurochemical symphony going on in the brain, it is difficult for me to see what explanatory work the concept of the soul does.

architekky said...

Evolution is gradual.

Not necessarily. Read up on puntuated equilibrium of evolutionary theory. Unless you think said theory is null and void, it could be relevant to the problem.

One Biblical explanation for your problem (disappointingly, the Bible is the only holy text I have read thus far) is that the first sentient human beings were laid down by God in circa. 4000 BC as described in the creation hymn in Genesis, and that previous 'pre-humans', such as Homo Heidelbergensis and Homo Neanderthalensis, were not "God's creatures" and thus were not sentient. Advocates of this theory tend to be Old-Earth creationists rather than Young-Earth creationists, who claim that the theory of evolution is completely wrong.

Myself, I think that sentience is the result of natural selection rather than the hand of Almighty God touching a pre-human and them magically gaining a soul, as sentience gives us a severe advantage over animals that aren't sentient, etc.

architekky said...

Uh...the "/* is meant to be "Evolution is gradual" in italics.

Psiomniac said...

architekky,

I am familiar with punctuated equilibrium. In fact I remember reading a funny analogy about the argument between it and gradualism in 'The Blind Watchmaker' by Richard Dawkins, which if you have not already read, I would recommend.
The extent (if any) to which Punctuated Equilibrium is true is irrelevant to my argument, however. This is because even if the evolutionary phase were rapid in comparison to the lifetime of the species in question, it would still take many generations. So it doesn't impinge on the central paradox of a discrete indivisible entity like a soul suddenly occurring within a continuum of (albeit faster) evolution. This is , of course, only a problem from the theological perspective of a theist who believes in evolution. Its not really a problem for you.
By the way, old earth creationists think that evolution is completely wrong too. The clue is in the title.

canuckfish said...

Simple. Evolution is a myth.

Psiomniac said...

canuckfish,
Yet evolution is one of those myths that occupy the rare position of having an overwhelming amount of evidence in support of it. So unlike a lot of made up stuff from dusty old books, it can occupy a position of best current explanatory model of some aspects of the phenomenal world.

canuckfish said...

Yet evolution is one of those myths that occupy the rare position of having an overwhelming amount of evidence in support of it. So unlike a lot of made up stuff from dusty old books, it can occupy a position of best current explanatory model of some aspects of the phenomenal world.

Only if you presuppose that God does not exist. By the way, evolution has zero evidence for one species becoming another. (All that the fossil record shows is that different species died). Zero evidence for matter from non-matter, zero evidence for living matter from non-living matter, zero evidence for intelligent matter from non-intelligent matter, and zero evidence for moral matter from non-moral matter.

I do not have enough faith to believe in that theory.

Psiomniac said...

canuckfish,
You listed a number of things that you say evolution has zero evidence for. Some of these are not related directly to the science of evolution, for example 'matter from non matter' which is more the province of cosmology and theoretical physics. On the other things we will not agree. The way these things usually go is that I would deploy scientific arguments to show that actually there is plenty of evidence where you say there is none and then you will say the evidence is inadequate, for example, by pointing out that the rare and sporadic fossilization process did not catch a species change 'in the act' so to speak. By the way, have you ever paused to consider how absurd that notion is? I suppose the myriad predecessor species as evidenced by the fossil record are just the ones that died. So I suppose that was the flood. Or are we using reason to figure this out? So that might be how it usually goes but for a change, why don't we just agree to both drink single malt whiskey until one of us falls over, the winner is the last one standing?

Psiomniac said...

Oh, and are you saying that you presuppose that God does exist? No wonder your reasoning is all bent out of shape.

canuckfish said...

The existence of God is the necessary precondition for reasoning. You may posit another, I will not hold my breath.

Psiomniac said...

The existence of God is the necessary precondition for reasoning.
Let's see if you can come up with a proof of that statement that is not fatally flawed. I won't be risking asphyxia either.

canuckfish said...

The proof that God exists is that without Him you couldn't prove anything.

Now answer my question please. How do YOU justify reasoning

Psiomniac said...

The proof that God exists is that without Him you couldn't prove anything.

So as a proof you merely restate your premise. So it seems to me that YOU are the one making a statementthat you cannot back up. Why do I need to justify reasoning? Anybody who denies its validity is making a self refuting argument, so my use of reasoning is not under logical threat. You seem to persist in the illusion that you can solve an infinite regress by labelling an arbitrary stopping point 'god'. I don't think that really works you know.

canuckfish said...

No. The premises are first, that universal, abstract, invariant laws exist, second that we need these laws for proof of anything to be possible, and third that God is the only possible source for these laws. You may disagree with the premises, but they are logically sound. If you wish to posit another source for universal abstract, invariant laws, be my guest.

Now, assuming the validity of your own human reason in advance is circular logic (which indeed puts it under 'logical threat'). True, all worldviews are necessarily circular, but not all are valid. I asked you to justify the validity of your human reason in order to evaluate your worldview. Can you?

Psiomniac said...

Your whole argument seems to rest on the idea that we have to assume the validity of human reasoning. I think this is backwards. We reason and then see if it works.

canuckfish said...

How can you trust the results of your reasoning without assuming its' validity in advance?

Please tell me how you would go about proving that your human reasoning was invalid.

Psiomniac said...

How can you trust the results of your reasoning without assuming its' validity in advance?

Please tell me how you would go about proving that your human reasoning was invalid.

I think we are talking at crossed purposes. Reasoning works in its own terms, but you are right to say that the laws of logic cannot be proven using the laws of logic without circularity. However, denial of the laws of logic is self refuting. So when we use reason I think we are choosing to engage in a particular activity and in doing so we accept a given set of axioms that are part of the definition of the activity. Now if we decided to play chess we would accept the rules of chess. Similarly when we use reason we accept and use a set of rules.
There are different axiomatic systems and different theoretical logics that can be devised, like there are different board games. But the set we use to reason about the world has had spectacular success. Your point seems to be that we cannot account for why this particular set of rules map on to our interrogation of the phenomenal world so effectively. My contention is that the answer to this is probably beyond the bounds of possible human knowledge, and no amount of calling the answer 'god' will help.

canuckfish said...

Reasoning works in its own terms

Says who?

You are right, denying logic is self-refuting, but that does not account for logic.

How do you account for the universal, abstract, invariant laws of logic (and therefore reason itself)?

Psiomniac said...

Reasoning works in its own terms

Says who?

You are denying that reason works in its own terms? Are you going to use reason to do that?

How do you account for the universal, abstract, invariant laws of logic (and therefore reason itself)?

But wouldn't an 'account' necessarily use reason and adhere to the laws of logic? So if I gave an account it would be circular. The same is true of your 'account' insofar that it is an account.

John Bryden said...

Re the original subject of the first appearance of the human soul during the course of evolution. Here is a suggestion from out of left field.

1. The universe originated from a single point (singularity) - Big Bang theory.

2. Everything that is in the universe potentially existed in that single point.

3. The potentiality for intelligent beings has existed in the universe from the start (similar to how the potentiality for fruits exists in the seed of a tree).

4. The creatures which evolved into human beings had the potentiality to become human.

5. Supposing there is such an entity as a soul, those creatures had souls, but the outward show of the properties of the soul in the form of the developed intelligence of modern humans has taken millenia to become manifest. This is similar to the gradual appearance of intelligence in a child as it makes its way towards adulthood.

This is a rough sketch of an idea, and I probably won't have time to develop it further, or debate it. Its just offered as a contribution to the discussion, for what its worth.

Psiomniac said...

John,
I think your idea works as long as the concept of the soul is sufficiently flexible. So ephphatha's notion of anything with a mind having a soul would be compatible with this.

Fun With Formal Ideas said...

Interesting Pope, Pius XII. Exploded, I'm told.

Psiomniac said...

Unlucky...

Fun With Formal Ideas. said...

"It is this: at what point in the continuum of the evolution of humans did God decide we should all get souls and why then?"


At one point in the preparation of a cake do you decide to add the eggs?










Am I starting to sound Jewish? Would I be more attractive to women if I sounded Jewish? Answer the second question first.

Psiomniac said...

At one point in the preparation of a cake do you decide to add the eggs?

When the indications are that the relevant point in the recipe has been reached.

Am I starting to sound Jewish? Would I be more attractive to women if I sounded Jewish? Answer the second question first.

Unlikely.
I hadn't spotted it.

Fun With Formal Ideas. said...

"When the indications are that the relevant point in the recipe has been reached."

That'll do.


"Unlikely.
I hadn't spotted it."

Then I am not losing anything.


(03rd March, 2007.)