Re: Chronology of Human Technology

Garry DeWeese (deweese@ucsu.Colorado.EDU)
Thu, 5 Jun 1997 16:26:45 -0600 (MDT)

A couple of weeks ago Glenn Morton posted a wonderful chronology of
technological developments. Did I miss any comments about this? Glenn, I
am impressed, and you are to be thanked for the effort behind that list.
I'd like to see it published, along with perhaps a one-or-two sentence
description and references to primary sources for each entry (which I know
you work from).

That said, I have some questions about what you are trying to do with the
list. My reply likely will be a bit long, so those with no interest in
(i) Glenn's flood theory, or (ii) an illustration (I hope) of how
philosophical analysis can enter the dialogue in the scientific community,
may be excused to go on to the next message.

In naive form, it seems your argument is this:

A. It talks like a duck.
B. It walks like a duck.
C. Therefore, it is a duck.

lies behind your list, but is not presented there, goes like this (I hope
you agree I am not misconstruing you; if so I trust you'll correct me):

We begin with a certain set of capacities, C*, which includes such
things as making art or music, demonstrating respect for the dead,
creatively using tools, etc. Then,

1. If a species has C*, then that species is human.
2. Species K, L, M, ... have C*.
3. Therefore, species K, L, M, ... are human.
4. To be human is to be able to have a relationship with God.
5. Therefore, species K, L, M, ... are able to have a
relationship with God.

While this looks valid, there are problems, I think. The first revolves
around premise (1). For we need to know if C* is a disjunctive or a
conjunctive set. That is, to be human, must a hominid possess all or some
or only one of the capacities in C*? (Indeed, although your examples on
the list might so indicate, must the species in question even be hominid?)
And whatever your answer, I think you need an argument to the effect that
possessing a certain set of capacities is a necessary and sufficient
condition for being human.

The naive form of the argument might be helpful here. For in (A), (B) and
(C), "duck" can be thought of as a natural kind term. Thus the naive
inference goes through. But I know of no argument that establishes
that "human" is a natural kind term. If species are natural kinds, then
H.s. is a natural kind, but then you would have to show that some form of
pheneticism (as opposed to cladism) is the correct view to view species
identity. But from your list it is clear that the species H.s. won't do;
perhaps you want the genus Homo, or, given the distant end of your list,
perhaps you want the family Hominidae. But the issue is clear: you must
show (i) that the ordinary language term "human" is coextentional with
either the genus or the family; and (ii) that C*, properly construed, is
constitutive of that genus or family. I suspect this is hopeless, but my
imagination is probably weaker here than yours.

The second problem involves (4). Unless you include the ability to have a
relationship with God among the capacities of C*, then it is not clear
that (4) is necessarily true (Dick Fischer's non-Adamic H.s.'s are a
possible counter-example.) But if you do include this ability in C*, then
your argument is circular.

I would suggest that "human" is a fuzzy, ordinary language term which
generally corresponds to Homo sapiens. But this is not always the case:
consider the pro-choice proponents who often deny that the fetus is "human
life"--and this in spite of the obvious genotypical identification with
H.s. So perhaps what is at issue is not "being human" but "being a
person" or "personhood."

If we take our cue here from Aristotle and Aquinas, we would regard
personhood as a substance (an individual, not "stuff") and as a genus;
thus being human is a way of being a person, just as being an angel or
being God is a way of being a person. So possibly would being Martian,
should such creatures be discovered. Personhood is the genus of which
human, angel or God are species (in a different sense than the biological
taxonomic sense). Here the substance of personhood may be defined in
terms of properties, relations and capacities (including many of those in

I recognize that your list--and the implicit argument--is necessary if you
identify the biblical flood with the inundation of the Mediterranean
Basis ca. 5.5 mya. But for the argument to appear strong to me, at least,
the above two areas of concern need to be addressed. And even then, you
would need to argue that there were no pre-Adamic "persons" (other than
God and angels, presumably).

I hope this has been clear enough. Your project fascinates me, Glenn,
even though I'm still quite wary of placing the Flood so far in the past.
(I know--you will retort by asking me what my candidate event is for the
Flood, and I will stammer a bit and blush in light of your superior
knowledge of geologic history. But I can respond rather by claiming that
unless your argument is sound it need not be considered as a viable
alternative either.)

With respect--in Christ,

Garry DeWeese