Thursday, January 6, 2011

On Monogenism

Vox Nova has a post on monogenism vs polygenism, with the suggestion that biological knowledge somehow may necessitate a change in teachings about human nature and original/ancestral sin.

Well, I'm posting here an expansion on the explanation I gave in the comments thread about why there is definitely no crack in the Church's teachings on monogenism, as I think it's good for Catholics to be armed for this objection in case they ever come across it. If you aren't terribly interested in the theological and scientific minutiae of this topic, my next post (inspired by the same post and train of thought; in fact it used to be part of this post until I split it off) may be of more interest to you.

Some of you (sympathizing with those very liberals who like "reinterpretation" and "evolution" of dogma according to current whims) may roll your eyes at what I have written in the first part or find it to be an example of some sort of legalistic "too detailed" theology jumping through hoops to try to square a circle. Others may find it simply too speculative. But to that I can only answer that I'm not claiming this explanation is of the deposit of faith or "how it actually happened" or anything like that. It's just a demonstration of one way by which the orthodox dogma can be perfectly compatible with biological science. And as long as there is at least one workable counterexample or reconciling explanation like this, the "objections" prove nothing.

Anyway: the objection is quite easily solved. Quite.

Monogenism does not necessarily imply a two-person bottleneck. It just means that all humans properly so called have had at least one common couple from which they all descend (and, in this case, from which they take human nature).

That doesn’t mean they don’t also descend from other couples in other lines. It means that of all their ancestors, there is one couple from which they take their humanity and (thus) original sin (just like certain mutations arise in one individual and then spread to the rest of the gene pool; not that I'm saying there is a genetic basis for ensoulment!)

Just as I have four sets of great-grandparents, but take my last name only from the pair in the direct paternal line. All “Mylastnames” descend from that pair (who made up their unique name at Ellis Island, let’s say)…but that doesn’t mean we only descend from them as though a bottleneck. Other lines bred in, they just aren’t the lines from whom we inherit our last name. This is a very easy distinction to understand.

In this case, we perhaps might imagine that humanity (ie, having a spiritual soul) is an absolutely dominant trait such that, as long as one parent had it, the children would all have it (certainly Christ was human with only one human parent). Such a trait would very quickly disseminate to the entire population.

I think our First Parents’ fallen children undoubtedly bred with other (unensouled) hominids. Some might find this a distasteful idea, but I find it only as distasteful (frankly, slightly less) than the "bottleneck" idea that their children had to breed with their own brothers and sisters. And that's even conceding that incest is technically defined, under the purely natural law, only as sex with ancestors and descendants in the direct line (and that siblings are thus not necessarily covered, as Catholic Encyclopedia says, except by a later direct Divine prohibition).

Some would even see this suggested in the Genesis story about the “sons of heaven” breeding with the “sons of the earth” and creating giants. Rather than being a story about devils breeding with humans, it could be taken in this modern view as about ensouled humans breeding with non-ensouled hominids. The “Noah’s Flood” story would serve to guarantee that no unensouled line of hominids survived beyond a certain early point; there may have been a few generations where humans and humanlike animals walked side-by-side (and bred) but very early in history only ensouled humans remained.

Science disproves the existence of there ever being a two-person bottleneck. Genetic diversity suggests that the smallest population bottleneck we ever passed through was a few hundred to a few thousand individuals, never just two. But human beings are known to have many common ancestors (in fact, at this point in history, the Most Recent Common Ancestor may be as recent as 1000 AD!!) and all monogenism in the Catholic sense requires is that one pair of those many common ancestors are the origin of humans being endowed with a spiritual soul (and, by extension, original sin).

I think the Vox Nova article made insinuations quite rashly: “I expect, though, that if science does entirely rule out the idea that we all descended from Adam, the Church will change its teachings on human origins and original sin. Perhaps slowly and with much kicking and screaming, but a change based on the revelations of science nonetheless.”

The very “question” just assumes the Church would have to “change” somehow if polygenism were proved true. And the statement, “From what I hear, though, scientific study in the field of genetics has taught us about human origins, and that its discoveries reveal it to be highly unlikely if not physically impossible that the human race descended from one individual,” shows a mistaken belief that scientific knowledge suggests polygenism, when really all it suggests is that there was never a population bottleneck as small as one couple (which is not polygenism; just check wikipedia!)

The fact is, the Church wouldn’t change if polygenism in the strict sense were true: it would entirely collapse. As would any notion of one family of man.

If strict polygenism (which does not merely mean a non-bottleneck) holds, then each race is actually a different species, with no common ancestors (that could ever be called human, at least), and at that point…there is no “humanity” except as a verbal construct. Goodbye any sort of humanism, let alone Christianity!

As it is, science doesn’t suggest this at all. Even if different races have their own common founding populations at a later point in history, then it is easy enough to simply say, “Then the overall Adam and Eve must have been even earlier than that.” Because obviously, at some point, all hominids had a common ancestor.

Or even if science came to believe in a “cross-pollination” theory, whereby the races originated separately (and their only common ancestors was some monkey so early in evolutionary history no one would be willing to call it human) and that they all converged into one species only through cross-breeding at a later date…then we’d simply have to posit that one of those races was the originally “human” origin, and that the others became ensouled through cross-pollination with it later. This model still leads to a more recent common ancestor for the various races after the crossing was “completed” and would thus not be strict polygenism either (though it might lead to a sort of racism, depending on who you believe became human first…)

As it stands, though, it’s pretty clear at this point in scientific development that polygenism in a sense that would threaten Church teaching is not at all scientifically feasible. Human beings never had a one-couple bottleneck, but all humans strictly so called in history have common ancestors (many, in fact) and its easy enough to imagine one pair of those many was the couple from which spiritual souls (and thus original sin) were inherited.

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