RE: [asa] First human

From: Jon Tandy <>
Date: Tue Oct 06 2009 - 16:31:49 EDT



Just a few comments to yours:


You wrote:

Jon asks: “What is "human" Gregory, in sociological terms, since that is what you are more interested in than biological terms?”


I would simply define ‘human’ as that which began with ADAM and continues today in the name of ‘persons’. A dog is not a person, a dolphin is not a person, an eagle is not a person, a plant is not a person; this part of the classification activity is, of course, obvious. But when the zoologist or biologist would say (actually, the term ‘pontificate’ seems to be suitable here) that the difference between humans and (other) animals is one of *degree, not kind* to an anthropologist or to a psychologist, then there is a serious problem. This is because human-social science (HSS) is based on the uniqueness and specialness of human beings as persons ‘descended’ from Adam (i.e. that vast majority of HSS originated in Adamic/Abrahamic traditions) and for religious persons this means also that human beings are ‘spiritual’ (i.e. ‘by nature’ in NPS language).



This is a rather curious argument for a few reasons. I am actually surprised that you have taken such an explicit definition of HSS as depending on "Adam" (which is typically a religious-based conception) and tying the foundations of social sciences to it. I can't say whether it's true or not (historically or currently), it just seems curious. With that in mind, I would have to assume that many social scientists are not Christian/Muslim/Jewish. How could it be that their view of humanity aligns with this fundamental characteristic, if they don't have the theological construct of an "Adam"?


Your statement could be taken as circular. Humanness began with Adam (by definition), and therefore there must be an Adam (you speak of him as being a literal individual, without trying to clarify when and where) simply because there was a first human. Actually, I thought my statements were rather more modest than this, which I thought were reiterating your question from earlier: simply put, if there *are humans now* and there *weren't humans before*, that means that at some point there must have been a first human. This doesn't necessarily imply that we can identify the kind of detailed questions (when, where, who, or what specific characteristics), or even necessarily point to a single individual. Let me be clear that I would love to be able to point to a single individual and say "This was Adam, in time and place."


The next reason your statement is curious is that it highlights, apparently, a difference in the viewpoint between anthropology/sociology/psychology, etc., and evolutionary biology – in particular, the fact that the social sciences aren't as interested in trying to define the point at which we became human from a historical point of view, but rather dealing with things as they are. There *are* humans, we *recognize* that there are humans (and we are they), so the definition of what is humanity is rather pragmatic – human is what we are. Dogs and dolphins are not what we are, and we can recognize that they are different from us, and therefore not human.


However, even though I seem to hear you saying this is rather obvious and pervasive in HSS, you also have said that that view is under attack in the academy – I'm sure you mean that this view is under challenge from the very point of view that you reject in hardcore evolutionary biologists, that is there is not an easy distinction to be made between human and non-human. Is that right? Is there a relatively widespread view in the social sciences that there is a fundamental problem with blurring the definition of what is human, or is that a particular viewpoint that you hold more strongly that most because of theological commitments?


I also take your last words as interesting and potentially fruitful of further elaboration and discussion:



I contend, along with my ‘brothers and sisters’ in HSS that we can (without any power from NPS to say otherwise) delineate the ‘human’ via “reflexive science,” rather than by “positive science,” the former which distinguishes HSS and the latter which distinguishes NPS. This meets the biological insistence upon *degree only* with a significant objection, and one that I think more people should know is a healthy and responsible position to take. And it will help theology to do its job, rather than to bow to an accommodationist theory that elevates science above theology or which doesn’t adequately close the hermeneutic circle.



I believe if one tries to analyze a human from the level of physics and chemistry, they will find no distinction between non-human (or even non-living) chemistry. Atoms are still atoms, and elements are still elements no matter where they are found. When we move into biology, at a cellular level we are distinguishable via certain genetic and biomechanical mechanisms, but this may be more a matter of "degree" (or possibly "kind"). At a macro-biological level, I believe we are more distinguishable from other animals in form, function, and features; however, the line (degree or kind) is still blurred when it comes to some of the ape-like creatures who have similar form, biological function, and features as we.


I think what you are saying is that if we take it up to a higher level, in areas where social sciences have something to say, the distinction between human and non-human is extremely distinguishable, if not absolutely so. In the "not so absolutely" category, I note that it's been discussed on this list in the past that apes, for instance, seem to show altruism, compassion, self-recognition, language recognition and learning, teaching, etc. How would you (and your peers in the social sciences) deal with these apparent similarities between human and non-human, and how do they make a clear distinction with what is *human* in social sciences versus studies of other animals? I agree that this distinction, if it can be clearly made, should help support the theological assertion of human uniqueness. It might also be helpful in dealing with anti-scientific rhetoric on one hand, and philosophical evolutionism on the other.


Jon Tandy


From: [] On Behalf Of Gregory Arago
Sent: Tuesday, October 06, 2009 9:59 AM
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Subject: Re: [asa] First human


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Received on Tue Oct 6 16:33:20 2009

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