Category Archives: Anthropology

Grandpa Adam and Grandma Eve

In his 1950 Encyclical, Humani Generis, Pope Pius XII cautioned about a number of ideological trends that undermined the Faith of the Church.  Among these was a certain idea connected with the Theory of Evolution called polygenism.  For the evolutionary idea to be accepted it would require not just two first human parents, but the transition from animal to man would require a multitude of men and women.  In other words, it is a rejection of the belief that Adam and Eve were two real people from which the entire human race descended.  The Pope strongly condemned acceptance of this idea saying, “When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. 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” (Humani Generis, 37).

On the surface, it appears to make little difference as to whether there was an actual Adam and Eve or whether mankind traces its roots to a multitude of first humans.  Diving beneath the surface, we see that acceptance of polygenism threatens to undermine the foundations of the Christian faith.  If polygenism is true, then the Christian faith is necessarily false.

Evolutionary theory applied to man does not only mean that man was made by blind forces but is ultimately an attempt for men to remake themselves.  The creature becomes his own creator.  No Adam and Eve means no Original Sin.  No Original Sin, no need for Christ.  If we were never “in Adam” then there would be no need to be “in Christ.”  With a multitude of races at our beginning, there would be fallen and unfallen men living together and only those who are direct descendants of Adam need redemption.  Evolution eventually weeds this out through natural selection, removing any distinction and Christ becomes entirely unnecessary.  Even if this is a case of unintended consequences on the part of Darwin and his ideological descendants, we can be sure there is at least one highly intelligent person who revels in this idea.

In the mind of many Christians, this sets up a Catch-22.  If we accept a literal Adam and Eve, then where did their grandchildren come from?  To accept a belief in only first two parents means to accept that their children were incestuous in populating the earth.  With no outsiders to marry, Cain, Abel, Seth and their unnamed sisters would have married each other.  Rejecting a literal Adam and Eve seems to be better than accepting this morally repugnant option.  Or is it?

Why Incest is Wrong

When asked why incest is wrong, most of us would say because the genes of those closely related by blood are so similar that it can result in offspring with serious genetic defects.  Looked at properly however, this is a consequence of the wrong and not necessarily the reason why it is wrong.  Whether we posit that because Eve was taken from the rib of Adam they were nearly genetically identical (making their act of intercourse genetically the same as fraternal twins) or that Eve was fashioned with a different genetic code than Adam, the important point to remember is that their genetic code would have had no mutations in it.  After the Fall, their offspring may have had mutations in their DNA, but, if we accept the modern scientific explanation of these mutations as appearing at random, we should not expect identical mutations to occur in Adam and Eve’s offspring.  Without the necessary doubling of mutations in the parents, we would not see the same effects that we see with inbreeding today.  Once the gene pool has a sufficient number of these mutations present in it and the likelihood of some deleterious effect occurring on the rise, God issues a positive command that a man may not marry someone of close relation like his sister, aunt, or niece (Lev 18-20).

In short, the consequence of serious birth defects is a sign that incest is wrong, but is not what makes it wrong.  In City of God (Book XV, Ch. 16) Augustine visits this question as to why Cain, for example, committed no wrong when he married his sister.  We can borrow from his explanation to help us see past this intellectual obstacle.

The Augustinian Solution

First, he looks at the purpose of marriage and procreation and says something that most of us would not think of as a purpose today.  Augustine see this as one of the goods of marriage—marriage multiplies relationships.  In the past, especially in ruling families, marriage was viewed as a means to bring the families together, making them one.  It brings strangers together and makes them a family.  A woman’s brother becomes the man’s brother-in-law, her father, his father-in-law.  Without the marriage of the man and woman, these men would not have entered into a familial relationship.

When closely related persons married, this good is lost.  When siblings marry, their mother is both mother and mother-in-law.  This was obviously unavoidable in the case of Cain and his sister, but, according to Augustine, is a reason to avoid close marriage.

Obviously, this would not be a precept of the natural law, but Augustine and St. Thomas both say that marriage between a parent and a child was always contrary to the natural law because of the relationship of parent and child could never be placed on the equal footing required for marriage.  A child always owes their parents piety while spouses have no such obligation.  This is why Noah curse Ham when he “saw his nakedness” (Gn 9:20-25), which is a Hebraic euphemism for sleeping with his mother.

While not a precept of the natural law, marriage between siblings and close blood relatives is still wrong because of our fallen human nature.  For men and women to live closely together (like siblings do today or close blood relations such as cousins did in the past) with the potential for the relationship to become sexualized is a great temptation to lust and use.  This is why it would be just as wrong for Greg and Marsha Brady to get married as it would be for two blood siblings.  To make such a union illicit can serve to remove this temptation and makes it taboo.  The fact that we initially recoil at the thought of Cain and his sister means that this taboo has had its intended consequence.

Removing incest as an obstacle to belief in two first parents goes a long way in helping us to see why polygenism must be false and why we should reject any form of it.  Grandpa Adam and Grandma Eve, first parents and first grandparents.

Human Origins and the Transgender Person

“Where did I come from?”  What parent doesn’t cringe hearing those words come out of the mouth of their young child?  The parent’s mind goes to the birds and the bees while the mouth quickly intervenes saying “God put you in Mommy’s tummy.”  Although it is uttered by a mere babe, we cannot help but be struck by the profundity of the question.  Where do we come from and how are we made?  It is a question that touches deeply on both philosophy and theology and the answer can only leave us echoing the marvel of the Psalmist—“I praise you, because I am wonderfully made” (Ps 139:14).

The Platypus and Us

From our perspective, the platypus seems to be the strangest of all God’s creatures.  If we were able to step outside of ourselves, we would quickly realize that in truth humans are the oddest of His creatures.  Formed from the “dust of the ground” and “the breath of God,” we are the only creatures in which matter and spirit are wedded together.  We are neither wholly material or wholly spirit, but a morph of the two.  We must understand this point if we are to understand our origins.  We are not souls trapped in a body nor are we really smart apes.  We are both a body and a spirit.  Although this seems like common sense, it seems to have been greatly forgotten in a culture that tends to look at man in a dualist fashion.  Although the soul enjoys a certain prominence, the person is not just their soul.

What follows from this is that man is really capable of three different kinds of actions.  As a bodily being, he can operate on an animal level by which he experiences hunger and growth and the like.  As a spiritual being he can perform acts of pure spirits like abstract thought.  Man can know that 2+2=4.  What is entirely unique to man as a composite creature is that he can also perform a third type of act—one that only man can do such as appreciating beauty, proving a mathematical theorem and experiencing conjugal love.

The Origin of the Soul

Thanks to modern biology and embryology, we know where the body comes from.  But where does the soul come from?  It is created directly by God at the moment of conception.  There is no material power that can create a spiritual soul.  Being immaterial and having no parts, it cannot come from the parents the way the body does.  This leaves only one alternative, a sort of process of elimination, that leads to the conclusion that it must come directly from God.

It is not, as is often thought, as though the soul exists prior to the body.  How do we know this?  In short, it is the law of heredity that reveals this.  Children can inherit bodily traits from their parents.  A son can be the spittin’ image of his father.  But it is not just bodily traits, but also some of those traits that fall into our third class of actions that children tend to inherit.  Artists and musicians tend to rear children with the aptitude for the same.  Those gifted in mathematics tend to raise children with mathematical minds such that no mere environmental explanation exists. So widespread and common is this that it is easy to overlook the implication of it.

In short, we have to offer an account of our origin that factors in the hereditariness of these spiritual/material acts.  The only plausible explanation for this phenomena is that the soul is made for the body.  When the body is created, thought St. Thomas, God fuses a soul to it to match the body.  In that way our souls are entirely unique and thus when separated from the body (after death and prior to the General Resurrection) they still remain our soul.  He doesn’t just fuse a soul into my body, but He infuses my soul into my body.  They are a perfect match.

Now all human souls have the same essential qualities such as being capable of abstract thought, knowledge of first principles, and the capacity to love.  But each soul may differ in some of its accidental qualities such as taking spiritual delight in certain intellectual pursuits which coincidentally may coincide with those same bodily, hereditary tendencies that make the practice of art, music and mathematics easier.

This also confirms on one of the key concepts of St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, namely that the body reveals the soul.  If the soul is made to fit that particular body then this seems intuitive.  But this also means that one of the accidental qualities of the soul is sex.  In other words, gender or sex (or whatever we are now calling it) is not just a physical difference but a spiritual one too (see CCC 2332-2333).

The Transgender Soul

And now we begin to see why these philosophical musings are relevant.  There are many who claim that transgenders were born with the wrong bodies.  They claim that God “makes no mistakes” and that the biology was wrong.  But if the body is primary and God matches the soul to it, then this cannot be so.  If the body is biologically male then the soul is also spiritual masculine.  The soul is matched to the body and God “makes no mistakes.”

Further, to make biological changes to the body in the cases of someone who is conflicted will only serve to make matters worse.  They may not “feel comfortable” in their skin, but those changes will not touch their souls and will lead to an even deeper conflict.  How does a masculine soul express itself through a female body?  They will never be able to fully express themselves and thus will be forever wounded in their ability to give and receive love.  Instead we must be willing to help them discern the true source of their inner conflict without taking what amounts to a short-cut solution.

Becoming Men with Chests

In what is perhaps his most prophetic work, The Abolition of Man, CS Lewis predicts the inevitable demise of mankind once moral relativism takes hold of society.  He opens the short book with a chapter entitled Men Without Chests where he shows how once we lose sight of objective values, our emotional lives become meaningless as well. He cautions against the tendency to dismiss our emotions completely because it too can lead to the abolition of man as we know him.  He says that “[B]y starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey to the propagandist when he comes.  For famished nature will be avenged and a hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head.”  In the interest of softening our hearts, I would like to discuss the value of emotions in our moral and spiritual lives.

It is important at the outset to state clearly what a proper attitude towards our emotions ought to be.  Prior to the Fall, mankind was perfectly integrated.  What this means is that his highest faculty, reason, governed the soul of man.  Man always acted according to reason.  The intellect identified the good, the will chose the good, and the emotions (or more broadly passions) followed the intellect and will enabling man to do the good with intensity.  In other words, the emotions only arose when they were willed according to reason.  The emotional life of Our Lord provides a good example for our understanding.  When He cleansed the Temple, Jesus was both justified in feeling anger and He willed it.  His anger followed from His reason and His will and enabled Him to tenaciously defend the purity of His Father’s House.  Because His emotions always followed from His intellect and will He felt them more intensely, not less, than we do.  Because He was unfallen and incapable of sin, every emotion was the right one to be feeling at a given time.

The Fall left man’s intellect darkened (the good no longer appeared clearly as good), the will was weakened (“I do not do the good that I know to be good” Romans 7:19) and the passions were able to run amok, no longer following reason and will absolutely.  But this does not mean that our emotions suddenly became completely unreliable and somehow bad.  Instead they still are able to serve their original purpose, even if we must work to bring them back under control.

In order to help us better understand the effects of the Fall on our passions, St. Thomas makes the distinction between two types.  There are the antecedent passions, which precede the action of the will and the consequent passions, which are caused by the action of the will.  Someone might step on my toe and my initial emotional response to the pain is anger.  Once I gain the use of my reason, I now can make a judgment as to whether I am justified in my anger (it was done on purpose) or not (done by accident).  If it is the latter then I must directly will to not be angry.

This is why it is a little misleading to say that “emotions are not sinful, it is what we do with them.”  Certainly when it comes to antecedent passions this is true.  But when it comes to our consequent passions it is more nuanced than that.  This is because even though I may not act externally on my anger of having my toe stepped on, I might still remain angry.  By willing to be angry even after reason has judged it to be an accident, I am stoking the fires of my thoughts of revenge which only in turn feed the anger more.

Yosemite Sam Hell

This is an important thing for us to understand and is at the heart of a healthy emotional life.  Our emotions are passive (that is why we refer to them as passions) in that they need to be acted upon.  Once they cease being acted upon, the emotions themselves cease.  Once we recognize that an emotion is irrational, we should will it away by directing our thoughts in another direction.  The great spiritual masters offer us two means to do this.  The first is pursue the opposite object.  When I am angry about my foot being stepped on, I could hug the person rather than hitting them for example.  Secondly they suggest mortification.  Once pain and difficulty are presented to the passions they become quiet.

While this is very difficult initially, we train our bodies to respond differently the next time they are stimulated similarly.  When I fight the anger that arises when my foot is stepped on, I train the antecedent passions to respond less vehemently next time it happens.  Likewise with mortification.  It causes the cogitative powers (the parts of our bodies where we make associations) to associate the object with pain rather than with the pleasure the antecedent passions initially responded to.

Herein lies the issue in my opinion—most people think the emotions are something to be completely rejected.  I hear so many well-meaning Catholics speak of emotions as something to be wholly mortified (literally means killed).  While we should be suspicious of them, this approach is very dangerous.  Truly there is nothing scarier than someone who does something out of charity and shows no emotion in doing it.  Certainly we should do the good even when we cannot get our emotions to follow, but we should always strive to love God and neighbor with our whole hearts (in the Scriptural sense of the word “heart” as the seat of the will and emotions).

St. Thomas provides a great image to help us understand the role our emotions play in our moral and spiritual lives.  He likens the emotions to a wild horse.  A rider can patiently and gently meek the horse or he can beat it.  But the rider is only free to go where he wants to go when the horse is a willing servant and neither allowed to continue roam free or become a slave.  So too with our emotions.  We live a fuller life when we do everything with both our heads and our hearts in the right place.  We learn to govern our emotions through our growth in moral virtue.  In fact, Augustine says that virtue is the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is given the kind and degree of love that is appropriate to it (City of God Bk 15, Ch 22).

There is a psychological principle pertaining to governing the emotions that says one must “name it, claim it and then tame it.”  We have covered the last two steps, namely recognizing that emotions are a necessary, although damaged, part of our lives and taming them through virtue.  But no discussion would be complete without identifying the emotions themselves.

Emotion represents a response to the value we perceive in a given object.  They are essentially motors for movement as the name emotion (or Latin ex-motus) suggests.  We perceive something as a good or an evil to be avoided and our emotions act as bodily forces moving us toward or away from the object.  Not only that, but our emotions also are given in recognition of the fact that the good is arduous and evil is difficult to avoid.  With this in mind, St Thomas divides them into two main groups—the concupiscible and the irascible.

Love (St. Thomas uses amor to distinguish from love in the will) is the primary emotion.  It is the good that is the cause of all our action and love is the primary motivator.  Love really does “make the world go round” as the song goes.  All the other emotions flow from this.  Because love seeks to possess the object, desire flows from it to move towards the object.  Once the object is possessed pleasure or joy ensues.  The end of all emotion is pleasure (in accord with reason).  In recognition that is also that which in some way contradicts the good, each of these three emotions has an opposite: love—hate, desire—repulsion, and joy—sorrow.  These six comprise the concupiscible passions.

The irascible passions are those that are reactions to good or evil regarded as involving some difficulty.  In this way they are subordinated to the concupiscible passions and always follow from them.  The five irascible passions are hope, despair, audacity fear and anger.  We hope to attain that which we love.  Oppositely, we despair of attaining that which we love.  Audacity causes us to be made bold in pursuing that which we love, while fear is a result of doubts of attaining that which we love.  Finally, anger, which has no opposite, arises because we perceive a threat to what we love.

Many spiritual writers have commented on the difficulty of moving our beliefs from our head to our hearts.  This journey is made that much more difficult without understanding our emotions and their role in our lives.  Only Men with Chests, can have a heart.