The highs and lows of the John Farrell experience.

After making me want to go fetal and huddle under my desk with this bit on evolution and the Fall, John Farrell offers this bit of consolation from The Maverick Philosopher.


  1. “Man is made up of 96 percent water.”


    Or only true if man is measured by his gonads and genomes.


    p.s. Galileo wasn’t admonished by the Church for simply pronouncing the earth/sun relationship as heliocentric – the Church’s own astronomers had been looking at Copernicus’ work for almost 100 years before GG came along. Rather, it was because this astronomer demanded (buh?) that the Church adjust its theology to his science project. That it was a sort of intellecutal version of the investiture controversy would be a polite way of putting it; that the guy was an arrogant prick is a less polite but equally true statement.

  2. I’ll keep them to myself.

    Well, since you mention it, a museum in Wellington just came into my mind.

  3. But it was an image, and so according to some people that wouldn’t be a thought, and I didn’t think until I started writing.

    I’d have liked to have gone to a philosophy of language class tonight, but was too scared to find out if it was happening.

    • Cubeland Mystic says

      I would avoid philosophy of language if I were you. Only despair awaits you in those type of classes. Avoid ethics and ontology too. Same reason. As a matter of fact, best to avoid philosophy all together.

  4. Well, I’d have liked to have tried it out, but wasn’t sure the class was on, and in the end stayed at work quite late anyway.

    No, I enjoy philosophy, and I think metaphysics is the most important one to do.

    • Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

      I agree with you about the importance of metaphysics, Churchill. Anyway, it’s implicit in everything.

  5. That’s quite a leap, the first humans descended from no fewer than 10,000 individuals so this leads us, of course, to no original sin? What’s next, there really wasn’t an apple either..

  6. This is sort of mentioned in the comments on the first article, but could it be argued within a Catholic understanding of Genesis that Adam is the first “human” in the sense of the first to be created in the image of God and with the ability to sin? Do we have to believe that Adam is also the first and only genomic ancestor of all of humanity?

    • What I was saying: gonads and genomes do not a human make.

      The soul has it’s own sort of DNA…


      • Matthew Lickona says

        Which is what Farrell was getting at with that second link, but which does not quite address everything in the first link.

  7. Do we have to believe that Adam is also the first and only genomic ancestor of all of humanity

    If Adam had descended from earlier humanoid beings (which I believe), he would carry such DNA and pass it along to all of his offspring. In my mind, what made Adam like God in image & likeness was his immortal soul, which was breathed into to him by God. So to me, the whole mongenomic vs polygenomic argument to disprove original sin & that we are descendants from him doesn’t seem hold up. In other words, once humanoids evolved to the point where God felt we were ready for an immortal soul, is it not possible that he chose one man & one woman to breathe life into. If that is the case, then of course our first parents would carry DNA from their descendants. Or, it could be and probably is, that I am little slow on the uptake…

    • No, that’s basically what I believe about the subject as well. So we can sit over here at the “unintentional heretics” table if that’s what that means for us. I hear the soup is quite good.

    • “is it not possible that he chose one man & one woman to breathe life into.”

      Not only possible, but according to the Church, necessary.

      In fact, the teaching on the unity of the human race (that is, the race founded by one man and one woman) must be held pretty strictly when it comes to its necessity for the doctrine of both original sin and redemption. It was through one man and one woman that the world fell – else inter alia the idea of “with one man came sin into the world and with one man the world was saved” (not to mention the Mary/Eve correspondence) loses its flavor like salt come a cropper.

      Here’s Ott (answering the more general question raised by Matthew’s post):

      “The materialistic theory of evolution according to which man as to his whole bieng, both body and soul, developed mechanically from the animal kingdom, is to be rejected. The soul of the first man was created immediately by God out of nothing. As regards the body, its immediate formation from inorganic stuff by God cannot be maintained with certainty. Fundamentally, the possiblity exists that God breathed the spiritual soul into an organic stuff, that is, into an original animal body. In fact, noteworthy, even if not absoutley decisive palaeontological [sic] and biological grounds seem to point to a genetic connection between the human body and the highest forms of the animal kingdom [pace, Farrell et al].”

      And then more precisely, Ott again:

      “Against the Pre-Adamite Theory (first expounded by the Calvinist Isaac de la Peyrere, 1655), and the view of certain modern scientists, according to which the various races are derived from several separated stems (polygenism), the Church teaches that the first human beings, Adam and Eve, are the progenitors of the whole human race (monogenism). The teaching of the unity ofthe human race is not, indeed, a dogma, but it is a necessary pre-supposition of the dogma of Original Sin and Redemption.”


      • Matthew Lickona says

        I’m clear that it’s a necessary pre-supposition, JOB. That’s the trouble. Ott’s account is rather tricky to square with Aristotle’s notion of soul as the first act of an organized body. The “original animal body” already has a spiritual soul if it’s a living thing, no? I mean, if we start with Aristotle’s general notion that a soul is what we call that thing which separates living material things from unliving material things. Things hinge pretty hard on that notion of “the soul of the first man was created immediately by God out of nothing,” as if the soul was a thing you inserted into an organized body, as opposed to the thing which did the organizing in the first place. Farrell’s piece addressed precisely what you say in your first graf here – that’s the whole trouble. While we’re at it, where did Cain’s wife come from?

        • Matthew,

          Rather, since Ott has the imprimatur and Aristotle doesn’t, you mean Aristotle’s account is rather tricky to square with Church teaching…

          A kind old wise man once explained to me, the Church uses philosphy, but doesn’t take it as the final word on spiritual matters…

          That said, I don’t think the Church’s understanding of “soul” is quite the same as Aristotle’s.

          Bu I’ll do my best to answer your Aristotlean objection with Church teaching (if you don’t think Ott represents Church teaching, then please provide a better source and I’ll use it).

          After offering several cases of the origin of individual human souls (and does Aristotle make a case for individual souls at all, by the way – did the Greeks even concieve of the soul that way? I honestly don’t know.) First, there’s pre-existentialism (souls hang out in Plato’s waiting room of forms for their number to be (re)called); then there’s emanationism (a new-agey idea – our souls are all made up of “God particles” etc.); third, there’s generationalism – which holds that not only is every sperm sacred, but it also has a little bit of soul in it too that it sends along to the egg and voila! Ensoulment!)

          But Ott holds to creationism as being the best (although even so, not a complete) answer to the question at hand:

          “Creationism, taught by the vast majority of the Fathers by the Schoolmen, and by modern theology, holds that each indvidual soul is created by God out of nothing at the moment of its unification with the body. This doctrine is not defined; it is, however, indirectly expressed in the decision of faith of the 5th General Lateran Council…. Pope Alexander VII, in a doctrinal assertion on the Immaculate Conception of Mary, which formed the basis of the dogmatic definition of Pius IX speaks of the “creation and infusion” of her soul into the body…”

          So, while not quite the “insertion” method that you speak of, apparently, the Church is happy to say that soul-infusion is a possiblity. But here’s the kicker:

          “A stringent scriptural proof of the doctrine of creationism is not possible. However, it is intimated in Ecc. 12:7. ‘The Spirit returns to God Who gave it.”

          I’m not as handy with my Summa as I used to be, but I seem to remember Thomas saying something about the fact that those who are not present at the creation of a thing are unable to provide a strict account – either theological or scientific (in the sense we mean it today) – of that thing’s origins.

          At any rate, perhaps this is why Percy says the science/religion debate remains and ever will remain an uneasy truce, occasionally breaking out into warfare when one (e.g. Galileo), the other (i.e. fundamentalist scriptural theology) or both sides forget that neither can usurp the other’s territory with any sort of certainty…

          As for Cain, well – is it outside the realm of possiblity that Cain married his sister?

          Playing with what we have, we could say that Adam and Eve, concievably(!), could have had a fecundity to match their longevity, no?

          Living for hundreds of more years than we did (symbolically or otherwise) – we can assume, can’t we, that their DNA was much more muscular than ours as well and so avoided the Appalachian Effect, all dueling banjos in attendance? – I like the Augustinian notion that sin not only destroyed the individual, but also brought about man’s deterioration by foreshortening the lifespan of each successive generation in salvation history – take that however you want, literallly, figuratively, etc.


          • Another possiblity, of course, is that Cain was a child of Adam and Eve in the same way that I am a child of Brian Boru – with many unnamed generations between, allowing for the accrual of many more branches on the family tree than what scripture itself seems to indicate on a literal level.

            Just a thought…


        • Matthew,

          “as if the soul was a thing you inserted into an organized body, as opposed to the thing which did the organizing in the first place.”

          By the way, my sieve-like mind has absolutely no sense of the subtley here – but I think you exactly put your finger on the crux of the controversy here.

          I suspect the answer is, at least in Aristotlean/Thomistic terms, not one or the other but “both.” The reliance on causes which modern science through out might be able to pick through this in a reasonable way, but that’s about as far as my less than nimble mind will go without more thought going into it.


          • JOB,

            “Rather, since Ott has the imprimatur and Aristotle doesn’t, you mean Aristotle’s account is rather tricky to square with Church teaching…”

            Well, yes – if the Church has the truth. This question, however, is aimed at whether the Church is really what it says it is, so I don’t think it’s enough of an answer to say, “Well, the Church teaches that it is what it says it is, QED.”

            I’m certainly not objecting to your citation of Ott as a representative of Church teaching. I do wonder if Ott would then be happy with the idea of the rational human soul being infused at conception, such that an inhuman mother gave birth to Adam….

            I would say that yes, Aristotle conceived of individual souls, insofar as there are individuals, and the soul is the first act of an organized body.

            My own head is getting muddy (returning to the dust from whence it came…) I will say that the whole two-link thing was an attempt to get at precisely the uneasy truce you mentioned.

            • “so I don’t think it’s enough of an answer to say, “Well, the Church teaches that it is what it says it is, QED.”

              My apologies. I thought the question was, at least as far as Farrell was concerned, whether scientists could dictate what the Church believed based on scientific speculation. He suggests the Church needs to take a look at it as if it hasn’t; I suggest it looks at such things closer than he thinks.

              I don’t know about Ott, but the Church rejects the idea of a non-human mother concieving of Adam (at least qua Adam). Rather, to use Ott’s terms, just as the soul goes from being foetus informis to foetus formis (a whole nother can of worms, of course), so outside the womb, the individual two-legged mammal who becomes Adam changes from a non-human to a human – that is, if there was some sort of earlthy progenitor of Adam’s body/mortal soul, and he did not come straight from the dust, that is.

              But I see where the difficulty lies.

              I remember a discussion on the difference between accuracy and precision which very much gets to the heart of this discussion.

              It’s precise to say man has a body and a soul. It’s accurate to say that the body is made up of 96 percent water. It’s also accurate to say that the first soul was infused by God.

              How that was precisely done cannot be measured by science – since science’s instruments will never be more precise than the soul itself. Or something to that effect. I’m not being very precise…but perhaps accurate.


      • Yeah, when I posed that question, I’m not sure I’d thought it all the way through. I think what I imagined was – okay, let’s say there are 10,000 humanoid creatures, each of which has an animal soul – isn’t that what Aquinas calls it? And then God chooses one to breathe an immortal human soul into, whatever that looks like. So there’s one Adam and one Eve (er…I guess God chooses two), and they are the first humans in a theological sense.

        Gosh, I think I need to think this through a little better. Because I was going to say that Adam and Eve’s descendants could have intermarried with humanoid creatures and “humanized” them, but this is sounding a little too kooky. I need to read more and talk less.

        • Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

          Ms Expat,

          You and JOB have already covered most of the interesting points I’d gleaned from the links in my comment below. I’d just add that what you ‘were going to say’ — namely, that

          Adam and Eve’s descendants could have intermarried with humanoid creatures and “humanized” them

          is what I’m tending toward. It seems to square neatly with my (layman’s) understanding of both Church doctrine (which requires monogenism, rooted in Adam, for humans-as-rational-yet-fallen animals) and the current natural science (which indicates polygenism for humans-as-animals).

          (Also, I don’t think the seeming ‘kookiness’ of your earlier notion disqualifies it, since all options seem rather kooky to me. Can anyone offer a non-kooky scenario for reproduction among the first generations of sapient humans?)

          I know that there must in specific cases, and as a matter of broad principle, be an uneasy truce between ‘science’ and ‘religion’ — or, broadly, between human inquiry and purported revelations/miracles. But the doctrinally necessary monogenism of humans (as rationally-ensouled descendents of Adam), and the scientifically likely polygenism of humans (as hominids) just doesn’t seem to me to be one of those areas of conflict. Farrell, Lickona, and even JOB see some tension here. I don’t.

          But as always, I stand ready to be korrekted.

          • I haven’t read through the various links you provided in your comment below yet, and maybe I’m not thinking clearly, but it seems like even if this “Adam’s descendants were the first humans in a theological sense and intermarried with humanoids” idea is right, wouldn’t that mean we’d all have a common ancestor? Which is what polygenism contradicts?

            • Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

              It’s possible that we are ALL descended from Adam, without being ONLY descended from him:

              It’s possible for all Homo sapiens sapiens now living to share common ancestry from Adam, the first rational animal, while also being descended from other, presumably non-rational members of that population of 10,000 hominids posited in Farrell’s article. I.e., it’s possible that we’re all descended from Adam, while also having ancestors from outside Adam’s line who mated with Adam’s descendents.

              JOB alluded to the principle I have in mind, when he mentioned being a descendent of Brian Boru, yet with many more accruals to the family tree between Brian Boru’s time and JOB’s.

              Suppose your kids take your husband’s surname. That name indicates that they share a common ancestor with others who have that surname (including each other, and your husband). But that common ancestor whose name they ALL bear is obviously not their ONLY ancestor. You’re their ancestor, too! And so all your ancestors are also theirs — both of your parents, all four of your grandparents, all eight of your great-grandparents, etc. Likewise, your kids’ surname accounts for only one bloodline among many that your husband is genetic heir to, and that he’s passed on to your kids: the name doesn’t account for any of his mother’s ancestors, or for his father’s mother’s, or his father’s father’s mother’s, etc.

              Now let’s go to the portion of Humani Generis that Farrell cites:

              For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.

              The key sentence for our purposes is, I think, the first one; and the key term, ‘true men’.

              Suppose ‘true men’ means ‘rational hominids’. Even if Adam himself were surrounded by a population of about 10,000 nonrational hominids — if he were the only ‘true man’ among thousands of genetically compatible but nonrational creatures — it’s still entirely possible that the members of his bloodline (presumably also Eve’s bloodline, though Pope Pius mentions only Adam here), blessed with reason and cursed by the Fall — mated with these almost-but-not-quite ‘true men’, drawing those nonrational hominids’ bloodlines into Adam’s family. The offspring of such unions would be ‘true men’ of Adam’s bloodline, blessed with reason but under the penalty of original sin.

              That’s my thinking, anyhow. If it needs korrektion, I am amenable as ever.

  8. Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

    Q: Where are the Darwins when you need them?

    A: 12 months ahead of you (and 7 months ahead of Mr Farrell).

    In specific response to the Farrell piece: Edward Feser offers his thoughts here (with a roundup of links — including two from the Maverick Philosopher! — at the top of the post) and here. But if you’re too pressed for time to read all of those (as I am, and assume you are, too), I recommend looking over this piece by James Chastek, and the cogent comments about surnames, ancestry, and Adam by ‘TheOFloinn’, aka Mike Flynn, below it.

    Huddle under your desk and/or clutch at consolations if you wish; but, with respect to Mr Farrell, I’m very well satisfied that clear thinking (as Mr Chastek goes through) obviates the need for rethinking.

    (We’re still left with the unsavory possibilities of incest and… and bestiality, or something like it, among our first ancestors, but that’s been a stomach-churning brain-hurter since long before Pope Pius XII was a twinkle in Daddy Pacelli’s eye.)

    • Matthew Lickona says

      Well, thanks for that, Angelico.

      • Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

        Ain’t no thing. I remembered Farrell’s piece generating some chatter back when it first appeared, so I figured, ‘Why not post some links to that chatter?’ Instant bibliography.

  9. Thanks job

  10. So, I’ve been thinking about this a bit more in terms of a materialist notion of the soul – partly inspired by the fact that I think most atheists would roll their eyes and say we were just retconning Genesis if we started saying “well, maybe God took a humanoid and gave him a human soul.” The eye-rolling of atheists isn’t an insurmountable stumbling block, of course.

    Then I was thinking that probably – assuming a belief that Jesus really was True God and True Man – if we’d hooked him up to an EEG and run a variety of tests – there most likely wouldn’t have been any physical indications in his brain chemistry that showed his divinity. Just like if you take the Eucharist and run the bread equivalent of an EEG, the physical properties of bread remain intact. There’s really no way to establish scientifically the presence of a human soul, even with the most finely tuned lapsometer.

    • If by human soul, you mean “made in the image and likeness of God,” which at least some people have equated with man’s capacity for reason – seeking after the causes of things, seeking understanding – then I’m not so sure. Percy thought you could measure the difference pretty clearly: by naming.

      • Hmm. I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying. I guess I was thinking – okay, if we suddenly discovered the fossilized remains of these 10,000 ancestors, and all of their brains looked the same, would that be conclusive evidence against the notion of Adam as the first to have a human soul? Maybe I should have phrased it as “there’s really no way to scientifically characterize the nature of a human soul,” or something.

        Pretty sure I’m 100% right about Jesus and the EEG, though, even though I had to look up “brain monitoring machine” because I wanted to say EKG.

        • My last pontification on this issue:

          I still go back to the Thomistic principle that those not present at the creation cannot definitively prove it. They can make some accurate guesses; but they can’t say with precision the origin of man (or any species for that matter). The burden of proof, I guess I’d like to say, remains with the guesser.

          Also, let’s recall that the theories of today’s scientists are not all that “new” either – thus the resurgence of interest in Lucretius and even Democritus.

          The scientists, it seem, want it both ways: they want to be independent of metaphysics (at least as defined by Christian revelation) and yet they also want to claim that the real estate of metaphysics is in skepticism’s escrow until the hard sciences have built a sufficient number of slums on it to render it’s value worthless. The arrogance comes in, not when they make the claim, but when they insist that the claim is the only show in town.

          As for that claim, it seems, it is self-defeating and somewhat disingenuous: that science can induce a non-material reality from material evidence – or simply posit a strictly material reality with no indication that today’s science is any closer to the non-material headwaters of creation than Lucretius (“swervy, man, swervy!”) or Democritus were, unless of course you’re perfectly happy, like Dawkins, to punt the thing into science fiction…

          I’ll go back to what I said elsewhere: atheism is not rooted in the intellect but in the will.


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