Sociology/Anthropology and the First Human (was Re: [asa] First human)

From: Murray Hogg <>
Date: Tue Oct 06 2009 - 17:43:07 EDT

Hi Greg,

This is my fifth (naughty!) and therefore last post for the day - I shouldn't really post it, but I thought the subject interesting enough.

To offer a purely personal assessment - and with the mention that I respect the HSS position from which you approach such issues (and I trust you know my mind well enough not to regard this as empty rhetoric), so please don't mistake candour for hostility - in my opinion you (and Cameron) ARE making a Darwinist assumption in your questions of a first human - and I don't mean a NEO-Darwinist assumption - I mean a dated, 150-year-old assumption that populations MUST be descended from an single, point mutation (which is the thrust of Dennis Venema's remark to Cameron re: "modeling variation in discontinuous categories with some sort of single-gene, Mendelian model."). If you like, soften this to "you are INFLUENCED by the Darwinian assumption of a single common ancestor". Or, soften it even further to, "It appears to Murray that you are influenced by & etc" - it is, after all, an observation on my part - albeit one I think valid.

But getting back to MY position - my point is simply this: the claim that there must logically be a "first human" is to assume that a particular concept of "human" is had in mind and this just rearranges the deck chairs. We're not now quibbling over whether we can, in theory, draw a line at the point of distinction, we are debating what definition we will adopt in order to draw that line. What this doesn't RESOLVE is the question which I think really interests you - which is whether or not we can, in principle, put our finger on a first human couple of whom Adam and Eve are representative.

What surprises me here is that I should have thought that your position would be heavily coloured by the notion that humans are defined socially rather than biologically - from which I should have thought that you would be arguing the OPPOSITE side of the coin: that the science (particularly the archaeology) shows that the truly human (i.e. the linguistic, social, religious, etc) does NOT admit of a theory of common ancestry.

I think you can see the problem? Either one restricts evolutionary theory to the purely biological OR one extends it to the cultural. And both have consequences for the question I think you are asking re a "first" human couple.

I don't say this is in any way an irresolvable problem (indeed, you may not even think it a problem) - it's merely an observation that IF one were to describe humans culturally rather than biologically (and note that biologically homo sapiens was around LONG before we hit on most of our major cultural achievements) then one would get a different answer to the question of the "first human". In particular, there would seem to be no way to think of culture as the definite mark of the truly human WITHOUT acknowledging that the "first human individual" is an oxymoron.

Just to illustrate by way of example: if one was to take language as "the" mark of "the human" then as a matter of logical necessity there must have been more than one "first human" - otherwise you've got the thorny job of explaining how the "first human" came to have a language when there was nobody else to talk to - language (indeed ALL culture) is a function of societies, not individuals - so I wonder why one who takes sociology (and therefore culture?) seriously would argue there MUST be an original human pair when such a claim seems to dismiss the importance of the social/cultural by definition.

All of which brings me back to my initial remarks about defining humans as those possessing an adequate amount of "X" to qualify as human - let's argue that linguistic capability is one of those "necessary but not sufficient" characteristics that an individual must possess in order to be classified as fully human. I don't see how one might present a case for just how much X (where X = linguistic capability) is adequate to delineate the human from the non-human? There are, after all, children reared in isolation from humans who are, without any doubt, (1) human; and (2) lacking in linguistic capability.

Or, to flog this pony a little more: we know that socialisation is an important part of childhood development and thus (socially speaking) socialisation is critical in becoming truly human. I can't imagine you deny this point. But you do seem to me to be taking the curious position that human social/cultural achievements are an irrelevance, and that only biological measures are relevant to the question of what constitutes the human.

I'm not sure what to make of all of this and I'm not trying to trap you with sophistry. Rather, I'm just pointing to something that strikes me as incongruous. My gut feel is that once we think of human beings as social creatures it makes it very difficult to draw a human/sub-human distinction. The Social Darwinist's tried (and still try) to do so but their criteria are, I think we agree, of a very questionable sort. But unless we wish to reintroduce their Darwinist assumptions, it seems to me we are no longer in a position to argue that human culture, and therefore humans themselves, can - even in theory - be clearly delineated from the non-human.

Again - I acknowledge that I may well be wrong in seeing the ghosts of Darwinism haunting your thinking - I certainly acknowledge that it's a reasonably strong thing to say given your avowed antipathy toward Darwinism and your strong objection to the improper influence of evolutionary theory in social scientific thinking. But I can only call it how I see it. I hope, if nothing else, it gives food for thought.

I should add a couple of theological observations;

First, many TE's argue something to the effect that homo sapiens provides a "physical matrix" into which God infuses some non-material entity such that they subsequently bear the Imago Dei. I don't think one has to hold that such infusion happened at the very time and place when homo sapiens first appears. Thus, it wouldn't be much of a stretch to argue that such infusion occurred in a population rather than in an individual. Indeed, it could be argued that infusing a soul into an individual is a pointless exercise given that said human would have no other person to be human with (oh, ANOTHER theological theme from Genesis - this time 2:18). This is no idle speculation but nor is it a claim that this is what actually happened. As in so much else on the subject, we don't have all that much to go on - if we did, we wouldn't need to speculate!

Second, I'll provisionally allow that the idea of 'special' or 'Imago Dei' does appear quite different from a multiple origins scenario - but it is perhaps only Ockham's Razor which causes us to overlook the fact that, theologically speaking, there is precious little difference between "God breathed his spirit into THE man and he became a living being" or "God breathed his Spirit into MANY and THEY became living spirits." A multiple origins scenario, in other words, doesn't seem to me logically incompatible with the idea of human uniqueness as a consequence of a direct divine act (remember Israel was a chosen NATION - we don't need to posit a first Israelite from whom all Israelites descend in order to make God's election sure).

Third, if you take Genesis 1:27 seriously, then what Genesis posits actually IS a multiple origins scenario - so one would want to be careful not to suppose that God is incapable of breathing his spirit into more than one fully formed homo at a time.

Look forward to your reply. Personally, I'm out of here for the day!


Gregory Arago wrote:
> Hi Murray,
> Your most recent posts have become more hypothetical and poetic, so I
> need first to ask a simple question, before moving to other issues:
> Are you actually *suggesting* polygenesis or just proposing it as an
> open possibility that desreves more exploration (by theologians)? The
> idea of 'special' or 'imago Dei' obviously looks, sounds and feels quite
> different from a 'multiple origins' scenario, I'm sure you'll admit.
> - Greg
> p.s. No, you're mistaken if you believe i am making a physical science
> [i.e. Darwinist] assumption. I am not. This simply is not the case at
> all. 'Logic' is not a physical science. Perhaps you are missing some
> philosophy in what you're suggesting?
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> *From:* Murray Hogg <>
> *To:* ASA <>
> *Sent:* Tuesday, October 6, 2009 11:04:03 PM
> *Subject:* Re: [asa] First human
> It's in *the very nature of* dating of archaeological evidence that
> there are very broad uncertainties on the measurements - so "at about
> the same time" means precisely that.
> The important point is that there is NO line of descent between the
> various cultural developments in question - so it doesn't really matter
> whether they happened at precisely the same moment or over the space of
> hundreds of years. What matter is this: if one chooses to define "human"
> by appeal to cultural phenomena of the sort in question (a more or less
> "socio-cultural" rather than "biological" or "theological" definition),
> then this would be inconsistent with the idea that there is a first
> human pair from which all humans are descended.
> Which, needless to say, gives lie to the claim that humans NECESSARILY
> descend from an original pair (actually, I'm surprised that Greg, given
> his HSS perspective, doesn't recognize the physical science [i.e.
> Darwinist] assumption he HIMSELF is making in his argument for a "first
> human" - but there you go).
> All that needs to be added is that (1) one could still argue for common
> ancestry if one chooses another definition; and (2) it could be argued
> that this sudden development in human cultures came about due to some
> divine activity occurring at more than one place among more than one
> group of people - so I think it quite possible that one could argue
> theologically that "at about the same time" to mean "simultaneously."
> Blessings,
> Murray
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Looking for the perfect gift?* Give the gift of Flickr!*
> <>

To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Tue Oct 6 17:43:51 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Tue Oct 06 2009 - 17:43:51 EDT