Life after Epiphany

Critiquing a purely naturalistic theory of anthropogenesis

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Consider a view that discards theology and puts philosophy at the service of natural science, which is crowned king of the disciplines in the pursuit of knowledge. Prevalent since the Enlightenment, this ironically unenlightened view of epistemology directly resulted in a world unprepared for the discoveries of nineteenth-century natural science. In this rearrangement of the epistemological hierarchy many truths were rejected by and consequently lost to mainstream academia; among these, a sound conception of the human person. A purely naturalistic theory of anthropogenesis, i.e. of the origin of mankind, has been proposed in the milieu of this loss.

Is such a view even tenable?

It is my claim that a purely naturalistic theory of anthropogenesis is, in fact, inconsistent with a philosophically sound conception of the human person.

How can one determine what IS a philosophically sound conception of the human person?

I propose a threefold standard in which the first two criteria are directly anthropological, and the third criterion epistemological.

  1. A sound conception of the human person is necessarily bounded by his unique ontological status
  2. The reality of the spiritual dimension of the human person must be conceded, for it is demonstrable that  a person consists of more than the physical matter of his body.
  3. The truth of the human person should be universally consistent. Not to be confused with the statistical measure known as “universal consistency,” what I am proposing here is that claims about the truth from the standpoint of any given discipline should be consistent with verified claims from other any other discipline (each verified via the methodology proper to that discipline) in such a way that tested in various different ways according to the different ways of knowing, the same truth consistently holds and is therefore found to be universal. Many disciplines can supply a different component of truth, none of which will contradict each other if they are authentic truths. (Pope John Paul II, Message to the participants in the Plenary of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.)

Now the scope of the term “naturalistic” in this critique refers to philosophical naturalism. In contrast with methodological naturalism, in which scientists seek to explain natural phenomena by exploring causal chains of natural processes, philosophical naturalism is a position that imposes those principles that belong within the realms of natural science onto the philosophical domain; such a position necessarily denies the existence of causes other than those which are verifiable using the processes of natural science. A purely naturalistic approach to anthropogenesis clearly oversteps the boundary of the domain of science. A complete account of the origin of man, to which science can contribute only a part of the truth, falls rather within the purview of both philosophy and theology (Pope John Paul II, Message to the participants in the Plenary of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.)

Naturalistic anthropogenesis relies upon a materialistic conception of man, which considers factors such as molecular structure and genetics, yet denies a man’s spiritual dimension on the basis of the reductionist error that suggests man as a whole is no more than the sum of his parts. Such a position is demonstrably false, because a human person in the moment after his death still retains all the physical and chemical components that he had the moment before his death. Something apart from the physical completeness of his body is required to supply life. Consistent with the hylemorphic view of matter and form, the human is a composite being comprising body (matter) and soul (form) wherein the soul is the animating principle. Philosophical naturalism only acknowledges the existence of the matter of the human person and ignores the substantial form, the very principle of intelligibility!

Proponents of philosophical naturalism maintain that humans are just another type of animal and suggest that humans evolved from an animal ancestor. There are several facets of human capability that demonstrate a marked ontological difference between the human and the animal. Linguistic capability, risibility and secondary intention (the ability to have a thought about another thought) are possessed by the human person, but are beyond the capability of the animal. Each capability just listed illustrates the rational powers at the disposal of the human person. Just as animals operate on a different level to plant matter, so humans have a different ontological status to animals. It is not possible to hold to a purely naturalistic theory of anthropogenesis if this ontological difference is recognized.

A purely naturalistic anthropogenesis is not a universally consistent position in that its claims,which are conclusions derived from scientific facts, contradict the philosophical truths about the human person. These philosophical truths are entailed in the other two criteria; naturalistic anthropogenesis fails to respect the ontological difference between humans and other animals, and it fails to give an account of the spiritual dimension of the human person. Measured, therefore, against the threefold standard of what constitutes “a philosophically sound conception of the human person,” a purely naturalistic approach to anthropogenesis fails to qualify as a viable theory.

This is a modified version of a short piece of work that I once submitted for a philosophy unit I undertook as a postulant. I decided to post my work here due to an increasing number of encounters online with people who seem emotionally attached to a number of questionable arguments that overreach themselves epistemologically, philosophically, rationally or all of the above! It is precisely this collection of arguments that seem to inform pop-science and much of the discussion in society about education policy and even environmental policy. For my part, I felt it important to “publish” my attempt to articulate the truth of the matter. Copyright 2013.


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