Re: [asa] First human/Adam, Contra D. Lamoureux's ideology

From: Murray Hogg <>
Date: Mon Oct 12 2009 - 17:23:38 EDT

Hi Greg,

I _think_ I now see where you're coming from.

To express my understanding of your position;

You're arguing that, regardless of the criteria one chooses, there is (from the perspective of HSS) simply no debate that the human IS distinct from the non-human. That, for example, one would never confuse a monkey's use of vocalizations with the human use of language, or the bird's use of tools (thorns to pick grubs from tree trunks) from the human use of technology, etc.

So, logically, there MUST be a point of distinction between the human and the non-human else the entire HSS is challenged by what we might call "evolutionary reductionism".

In one sense it amounts to a defence of the legitimacy of HSS against the claim that evolution shows humanity to be "merely" another biological form, thus all that distinguishes the "human" collapses to the merely biological, thus HSS collapses to the merely biological.

Your concern is that if the reductionist is justified in this sort of thing then he/she is justified in refusing to take HSS seriously as a discipline in its own right - with its own concerns and methods of inquiry.

About right?


Gregory Arago wrote:
> Hi Murray,
> Thanks for this post - it gets us closer, I believe, to the issue at hand.
> This thread started with a statement 'there was *no* Adam,' i.e. 'first
> human.' I argued against this, as did several others. Logically there
> *must have been* a 'first human,' which we suitably call 'Adam.'
> This has nothing to do particularly with social-cultural thought. It is
> a statement that exists on its own. And nothing has been said by anyone
> here (other than the possible implication of your 'multiple
> origins' speculation, which noone went further on) to contradict this.
> So, imo, it stands (to the chagrin of Lamoureux, but in opposition of
> the 'doubter's' main point - i.e. that 'there *was* no Adam').
> Yes, there was a 'real first human/Adam' - the argument is won.
> Orthodoxy is saved. Peace ensues! : )
> Biology says 'No' to this claim. It is biology (and its legion-mignions)
> that is the problem here because it makes a reductionistic
> presupposition and expects other disciplines to toe its party line. It
> condescendingly 'speaks upwards'! I use Peacocke's 'map of knowledge' to
> demonstrate this and I encourage you and others to address it, here or
> in another thread.
> What I am suggesting is that there is no need to reduce 'first
> human/Adam' to being *only* or *first of all* a biological question,
> i.e. that it is fully 'reasonable' to accept a 'first human/Adam' as an
> historical reality. D. Lamoureux disagrees, using a biological example,
> so his position proves my point that his views are irrelevant on this
> topic. Of course, he does represent a theological position as well,
> though since I haven't read his book, I don't know the specifics of his
> 'argument'/position. In my view, he is promoting heterodoxy and it has
> now been demonstrated how his 'there *was* no Adam' position can be used
> as an anti-Christian (but also anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim) rationale.
> Humanities are centred on humanity (though one can be a religious
> humanist too). There is no need to 'define' human from non-human in the
> way that you ask of me, given that the existence of humans is a
> 'presupposition' that simply cannot be removed from the academic realm,
> i.e. from human-social sciences (HSS). They are called this because that
> is what they are; humans are unique from the rest of creation. Everyone
> reading this message is 'human.'
> Offering you a single criteria or several criteria, such as language,
> tools, reason, morals, self-awareness, culture, religion, etc. won't do
> anything to change the 'reality' of a grand distinction between 'human'
> and 'non-human.' Yet this appears to be what you are asking for.
> I have indicated that HSS applies an alternative 'method' which involves
> 'reflexivity,' i.e. in HSS there is a 'reflexive method' that differs
> from the 'positive method' of natural-physical science (NPS). Yet it
> seems that you are expecting HSS to adopt the 'positive method' of NPS
> in order to be 'authentic'. I reject this pseudo-'necessity' and defend
> the sovereignty of HSS over against the reductionism of NPS. More people
> at ASA should adopt this position because it would help the organisation
> to make a difference in the lives of people, in their 'communities', in
> their 'nations,' instead of remaining in a flat 'science vs/and
> religion' discourse. What is *more important* is to add to the
> conversation the distinctions between HSS and NPS, which involve levels
> of meaning that can help put into context, for example, the controversy
> over 'intelligent design' as a theory or hypothesis. 'Design' is a
> valuable concept at some levels, but it is not applicable at other
> levels. It is not, however, often on the North American radar to do this
> and the opportunity for improved understanding is thus lost.
> In HSS, there is no problem at all with positing a 'first human/Adam'
> (though of course non-Adamic HSSs don't do this). It is assumed that
> there was, as Jon Tandy suggests, a significant 'break' or
> 'discontinuity' between 'human' and 'non-human.' This is simply
> unavoidable and uncontroversial because without it there *is* no
> uniqueness to HSS. To argue against this by demanding that HSS offer
> 'proofs' in the tradition of NPS is to reveal that one doesn't recognise
> the deeper issues. It simply *is* otoh possible to reduce *everything*
> to chemistry and physics and to take a *scientistic* approach (ala
> Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Blackmore, Pinker, et al.). Of course you know
> this and disagree with it along with me, Murray, and so we do hold an
> important shared ground for consensus.
> You write: "thinkers in the humanities are, in fact, the least justified
> in stating that there are absolute distinctions to be made between
> "human" and "non-human"."
> Well, yes, in an absolute or 'positive' sense, you are right. But in a
> relative sense, which in this case is the more important one, HSS
> thinkers are fully justified in distinguishing human from non-human *on
> their/our own terms*. This is a question of anti-reductionism more than
> anything else.
> On the one hand, it seems to me that you're opening up the important
> topic: why don't natural-physical scientists take human-social science
> seriously. On the other hand, you seem to be suggesting that a
> more-positivistic approach in HSS is *necessary* in order for NPSs to
> take it seriously. So, HSS is in a no-win situation. But I don't think
> you wish to say this, so I am a bit confused by the call for 'criteria'
> which can be 'empirically' verified, if that was what you were asking for.
> I could speak about Comte's three stage approach, which says that
> theological and metaphysical approaches have given way to a positive,
> scientific approach. But this perspective has been eclipsed to show that
> it applies only *within* NPS and does not apply to a 'universal process'
> of ideological change. V. Solovyov argues this most effectively in his
> "The Crisis of Western Philosophy: Against the Positivists." The problem
> is that here, on this ASA list, are predominantly (with the exception of
> Moorad) 'western' thinkers, and also NPSs, who have little access to
> such 'advanced' views. So I am in a difficult position of suggesting
> ideas and views that are hard to digest because of their apparent
> 'strangeness'.
> It is not difficult, however, to make the main point that I have been
> making all along, which is simply that it *is* a reasonable and
> responsible position to posit a 'first human/Adam' as a 'real,' 'flesh
> and blood' person. Lamoureux is in the minority here, as a
> representative of modern (or perhaps post-modern) liberal theology in
> suggesting otherwise, i.e. in being anti-Adam. His combination of
> biology and theology does *nothing* to negate the valid use of 'first
> human/Adam' in HSS or by most people who are non-scientists. This is the
> key; not the 'criteria' for distinction, which is less important, though
> certainly debatable, as you rightfully suggest.
> You write: "Absent some sort of particularly theological definition of
> "human", and absent an appeal to divine action to bring the first of
> that kind into existence, and I don't see how one can (even *in
> principle*) argue for a "first human" on socio-cultural grounds."
> Yes, this is exactly the important point!!! This enters into the
> 'reflexivity' that I alluded to. And we need to see more of it from NPS
> instead of a demand that HSS become more 'positivistic'! Reductionism is
> the threat; holism (beyond just 'science and religion') is the cure.
> Theologies and sciences should listen to philosphies to heed the news on
> this topic. Is there anything wrong with including a 'theological
> definition' or 'appeal to divine action' into questions that people ask
> about the meaning of 'first human/Adam'?
> Warm regards,
> Gregory
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> *From:* Murray Hogg <>
> *To:* ASA <>
> *Sent:* Mon, October 12, 2009 11:11:28 PM
> *Subject:* Re: [asa] First human/Adam, Contra D. Lamoureux's ideology
> Hi Greg,
> Thanks for this - but it leaves me none the wiser! The issue isn't that
> I don't understand the social-humanitarian perspective, but precisely
> that I do - and I think that on this particular point it raises more
> questions than it answers. In particular, I simply can't see how, on
> social-cultural criteria, one can draw a line between "human" and
> "non-human" - *even in principle*.
> It's trivially easy to do no biological grounds - one simply has to
> declare, albeit quite arbitrary, that homo sapiens is that species which
> has DNA markers X1, X2, X3....Xn. Probably not how a geneticist would
> phrase it, but I think we all get the point that genetic markers provide
> a criteria by which it is possible to absolutely delineate species, if
> only in principle.
> But I simply don't see how this can occur on social-cultural criteria. I
> won't argue your claim that thinkers in the humanities *in general*
> think there was a first human - I only make the observation that I know
> something of how such thinkers define "human" and (1) there is precious
> little consensus; and (2) such criteria as are advanced are not given to
> creation of absolute distinctions between "human" and "non-human".
> Consequently, thinkers in the humanities are, in fact, the least
> justified in stating that there are absolute distinctions to be made
> between "human" and "non-human". If they are, as you say, claiming that
> there was a "first human" then they aren't providing, as far as I know,
> any criteria by which one can make even an in principle distinction.
> I don't doubt that to identify him/her would be impossible *in practice*
> - but that's quite beside the point. Absent some sort of particularly
> theological definition of "human", and absent an appeal to divine action
> to bring the first of that kind into existence, and I don't see how one
> can (even *in principle*) argue for a "first human" on socio-cultural
> grounds.
> To express my perplexity more concisely: I would have thought that a
> socio-cultural perspective would have argued that to be truly human
> means to be truly human *in community* - and yet you are assuring me
> that socio-cultural thinkers consider it possible to speak of a "first
> human" *as individual* who stands without society, without culture,
> without humanity.
> All this would be, frankly, moot if not for the fact that you choose to
> argue that the human/non-human distinction must be *logically necessary*
> - ironically, that this is true for biologists (who can appeal to DNA as
> objective but arbitrary measure) but false for social-humanitarian
> thinkers (who can not - even *in principle* - offer an instance of any
> criterion by which a human/non-human distinction might be made).
> In all of this, I'm not claiming social-humanitarian thinkers are wrong
> - I'm simply asking on what criterion/criteria they base their claim
> that the human is to be delineated from the non-human. Where do "they" -
> even in principle - draw that line, the existence of which they are
> apparently so assured?
> Blessings,
> Murray.
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
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Received on Mon Oct 12 17:23:57 2009

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