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I was born, I'm currently living, and will eventually die. After that I face my judgment, and we'll talk then.


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

THE DEBATE OVER HUMAN ORIGINS: Evolution and Polygenism

This is the next part of my examination of human origins. In this part, I give a quick summary of the theory of evolution involving humans (with a, I think, fascinating digression to discuss Neanderthals). Then I explain some aspects of polygenism. More to come!

Polygenism has its roots in the evolutionary theory of man’s origins. The traditional evolutionist account holds that the human species (Homo sapiens) evolved from the same simian ancestors that produced the “great apes.” Along the path to humanity, one finds a host of characters, all ancestors in the evolutionary family tree. The first, a sort of great-great-grandfather for humanity, is Australopithecus afarensis, the first bipedal primate. It lived about 3.3 million years ago (the oldest fossil of this species, nicknamed the Dikika Baby, dates to that time).[i] Part human, part ape, Australopithecus features a body structured for walking, like a modern human body, but with arms designed for climbing. It’s skull bears a closer resemblance to an ape than a man, and scientists now agree it is, at best, a human ancestor, but not a human.[ii] Australopithecus’ evolutionary descendents, according to the current scientific theory, are a series of progressively more human creatures, each one giving a small contribution to the development of the human race: Homo habalis chipped pebbles into tools; Homo ergaster developed more elaborate tools, as well as forming “a family structure in which fathers protected and provided for the mothers of their children.”[iii] Homo erectus developed weapons, putting stones on sticks. Following this line of descent, Homo erectus’ descendents eventually evolved into two branches: the Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalis) and modern humans (Homo sapiens).[iv]

Though often cited as such, due in large part to their human-like body and their apparent ritual of burying their dead, recent evidence proves that Neanderthals were not ancestors of modern humans. A debate still rages over the exact relation between humans and Neanderthals. Some scientists argue that the Neanderthal is a separate species from the modern human (hence the scientific name Homo neanderthalis), while others argue that the Neanderthal is a sub-species or race of humans (whose scientific name would be Homo sapiens neanderthalis). Scientists who support the two species theory point to the genetic differences between Neanderthals and modern humans, information unavailable prior to the sequencing of the Neanderthal genome.[v] The project found “3 million base pair differences between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens,” far fewer differences than that of a human and its closest genetic match, a chimpanzee.[vi] At the same time, there is also evidence of interbreeding between modern humans and Neanderthals. A recent study found that “Between 1% and 4% of the Eurasian human genome seems to come from Neanderthals,” providing equally compelling evidence that the Neanderthals and humans are of the same species.[vii]

Homo sapiens share many traits with earlier hominids, but there is one unique, crucial difference: Homo sapiens can talk. Anthony Zimmermann notes that the earlier hominids “could not have spoken a human language as fluently and as richly articulate as we are able to do. Our advanced type of speech organs would not have fit into their skeletal forms.”[viii] Verbal communication is a key to proving man’s rationality and immortal soul.

The evolutionary process described above assumes a theory of polygenism. Scientists normally list two supports for a polygenetic origin of the human race: “A) One human pair would be too narrow a base genetically for mankind and would imply a genetic weakness of an inbreeding type” and “B) The emergence of any new species normally takes place in numerous individuals about the same time.”[ix] Evolution does not provide a model for individual specimens arising alone, as a theory of monogenism requires. Adaptations happen in groups. These changes often happen in specified places where the conditions are most ripe for adaptation, and because of this, most scientists follow the theory of monophyletism, that is, that Homo sapiens evolved in one isolated region of the world, in one specific population, and from that population spread throughout the world. Support for Monophyletism comes from the discovery of “mitochondrial Eve,” the most recent common female human ancestor who lived in Africa about 143,000 years ago, as well as the “Y-chromosomal Adam,” the most recent common male human ancestor who lived in Africa about 60,000 years ago. Both individuals lived in East Africa, supporting monophyletism; at the same time, scientists could use the discovery as evidence for polygenism. As Dr Gareth Leyshon notes,

There may have been other women accompanying Mitochondrial Eve; their sons would breed with Eve’s daughters and produce offspring with Eve’s mitochondrial DNA. The other women would also produce daughters, but no humans alive today are descendents of these daughters down the purely female line. . . . And similarly, other men could have been around at the time of “Y Chromosome Adam”; any line of descent from them including a female would lose their Y chromosome. All we know for sure is that no direct male lines of sons survive from these fellow men.[x]

The genetic “Adam” and “Eve” are not the Biblical Adam and Eve. In fact, the genetic “Eve” might represent one individual of thousands sharing a similar genetic makeup, thereby lending credence to polygenism.[xi]

Polygenism’s disregard for God’s hand in creation has placed this theory at odds with many Christians. Those that oppose this theory usually cite the story of Creation in Genesis as a counterargument. There is a fear in some circles that a truth of science will somehow counter a truth of faith. The Catholic should hold no such fears, for, in the words of Bl. Pope John Paul II, “We know that the truth cannot contradict the truth.”[xii] Any truth of science compliments Theology, the Queen of Sciences. One should not fear comparing the theory of evolution to the Creation account, for in doing so the truth shines forth.

[i] Christopher T. Baglow, Faith, Science, and Reason: Theology on the Cutting Edge (Woodridge, IL: Midwest Theological Forum, 2009), 242–243.

[ii] Ibid., 251.

[iii] Ibid., 252.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Baglow, 252; Fiorenzo Facchini, “Man, Origin and Nature,” translated by Barbara Zanotti and Eva Bruno, available at http://www.disf.org/en/Voci/121.asp, accessed 7/7/11.

[vi] Jacqui Hayes, “DNA find deepens Neanderthal mystery,” Cosmos Online (16 November 2006), available at http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/news/853/dna-find-deepens-neanderthal-mystery, accessed 7/8/11. Humans and Chimpanzees differ by 30 to 50 million base pairs (Ibid.).

[vii] Paul Rincon, “Neanderthal genes ‘survive in us,’ BBC News (6 May 2010), available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8660940.stm, accessed 7/8/11.

[viii] Anthony Zimmerman, Evolution and the Sin of Eden: A New Christian Synthesis (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1998), 12.

[ix] Ervin Nemesszeghy and John Russell, Theology of Evolution, vol. 6, Theology Today, ed. Edward Yarnold (Notre Dame, IN: Fides Publishers, 1971), 52.

[x] Gareth Leyshon, “The Problem of Original Sin in an Evolutionary System,” (2011), available at www.drgareth.info/Polygenism.pdf, accessed 7/12/11.

[xi] Jozef Zycinski, God and Evolution: Fundamental Questions of Christian Evolutionism, trans. by Kenneth W. Kemp and Zuzanna Maslanka (Washington DC: CUA Press, 2006), 205.

[xii] John Paul II, “Message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences: On Evolution” (Rome: 22 October 1996), available at http://www.ewtn.com/library/PAPALDOC/JP961022.HTM, accessed 7/8/11.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Back to School

School starts up again next week. This week, however, marks the return of teachers. We worked in our classrooms, eager to see the new faces that will light up (hopefully not darken) the school with their joyous grins. Posters sprang against the walls, desks shifted into place, textbooks got counted and place in their proper place.

We are ready.

I'm teaching both Social Studies and Religion for the junior high (6th through 8th grade), as well as one section of 6th grade math. I'm excited.

I don't know about the students, but I am.

Hopefully there won't be terrible teacher stories, but you never know. Maybe I'll post HAPPY stories, for a change.

And the Seventh-Day Adventist student from whom I borrowed that book will be back, so maybe I can borrow her book again, and then finish the series.

I will also work on posting the rest of my paper discussing Human Origins.


Monday, August 22, 2011


This summer I completed the last class necessary for my MA in Theology from NDGS (I still need to take my comps and complete my Master's Thesis, which will be fodder for many blog posts, I'm sure). The class was, ironically, the first one in the curriculum: THEO 601 - God the Father. The course, to put it simply, covers the first part of the Apostles Creed (from "I Believe. . ." to "and Earth"); more specifically, the course covers, doctrine and dogma, Revelation, infallibility, the ad intra actions of God (basically how the Trinity works) and the ad extra actions of God (basically God and creation). The creation of the world and God's relationship with the created order formed a central part of the course. The creation of man holds an obvious place of honor in this discussion, and since I'm always interested in intersecting science and theology, I wanted to do something with creation and evolution. My professor suggested I examine the debate over human origins, namely between polygenism and monogenism. I liked the idea, and the more I research, the more obsessed I became with the topic. The result was my paper. I have decided to be merciful and have divided it into parts. That's right, you don't have to read all 15 pages in one sitting.

You can if you want. :D

We begin with an introduction. . .

Man has always pondered his origins. Once the study of philosophers and theologians, the question of human origins has in the last century become the study of scientists. Life on Earth, these scientists say, evolves, morphs, and adapts as needed. Humans are no different, and there remains an ongoing project among scientists of varying disciplines to trace the evolutionary pedigree of humanity. Standing against them are those who believe in a special creation of man as described in the Bible. At stake is nothing less than the sanctity of the human person. If man evolved from an animal, the reasoning goes, he is no different from other animals. On the other hand, if Genesis depicts man’s origins correctly, then man has a more elevated dignity, since God created him in his image and likeness. There have been many attempts over the last hundred years to explain human origins, resulting in the theory of polygenism, or the belief that man has a multitude of ancestors; its opposite is monogenism, or the belief that mankind stemmed from one original pair. Polygenists point to fossils to prove their theories. Monogenic supporters hold fast to the Bible and Catholic Tradition, the two streams of Revelation, and condemn polygenism. Can there be union? Is it possible for science and theology to agree on this matter? Upon examination, it is clear that polygenism, though often incorporating theology and science, is not only wrong but also gravely dangerous to Christian theology. At the same time, there is a way to reconcile monogenism and science, a theory that allows for special creation and evolution in the origins of man.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Warren H. Carroll

This post should have been posted two weeks ago. It wasn't. But better late than never, I suppose.

One of my great heroes was a simple man, externally nothing spectacular. Yet he changed my life, and I am who I am today because of his influence. I am speaking of Dr. Warren H. Carroll, founder of Christendom College, which I attended for my undergraduate and graduate work. Carroll is best known for his historical books. Any Google search of his name will return infinite booksellers who offer to another customer some of the best works of historical scholarship in 20th century Catholicism.

He died on July 17. He was 79, survived by his wife Anne, also known for her works of history.

His legacy remains the alumni of Christendom and his works of history. Search his name, if you aren't familiar with him. Read his works, or read some articles you find by him, or articles about him.

He was a history maker in the truest sense of the word.

Barring some major setback, like a rejection by the academic board, I intend to write my dissertation on this great man and how he affected history.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me post this first.

Alumni of Christendom were asked to write some memories of Dr. Carroll, which would be included in a book for Mrs. Carroll. I took a crack at it, hoping it wouldn't come out too prideful, or too much about me. That was part of the problem with remembering Dr. Carroll. He would always deflect someone else as the center of attention.

But I'm getting sidetracked. Here's what I sent in as my memories.

I never had Dr. Carroll as a professor, but I still had him as a teacher. My Junior year saw Dr. Carroll's return to campus to give monthly lectures. I sat in the overcrowded Chapel Crypt with what seemed like most of campus, absorbing like sponges Dr. Carroll's account of Malta and its staunch defense against attackers, be they Turks or Nazis. He mentioned how he had hoped to write a history of Malta, even in his youth, but he never had a chance. He mentioned that he still wanted to write it, but that he was getting old and was unsure if he would be able to write the volume. He then charged the history majors in the room to do what he not might have time left to do. It was a jarring thought, a world without Dr. Carroll. I had just begun to know him, barely, in reading his works for school. I would know him a little better over the next year, but nowhere near the intimacy that others could claim. At the same time, Dr. Carroll made you feel like you were important, that he knew you well. This was all in the first moment of meeting him.

One of the features of Dr. Carroll lectures was his attendance at dinner immediately following the talk. He would sit at a table near the entrance and students would come and talk with him. Some would sit with him, conversing on anything. He would linger and talk and sign books when he was finished eating. His reaction to signing books wasn't a irritated "who do I make this out to" attitude. He would ask the person if they had read the book, did they like it, etc. He livened up when he signed his favorite book (The Guillotine and the Cross) and even made a sort of joke when I asked him to sign a copy of Seventy Years of the Communist Revolution (the Commie Rev book that was outdated). "You do know this is out of date," he said, smiling a little.

The greatest memory I have of Dr. Carroll was through the Teacher Apprentice Practicum. I did my Apprenticeship at Seton in Manassas, and had the honor of student teaching under Mrs. Carroll in her World History class. For the first few days, I would sit in the back of the room and observe Mrs. Carroll's teaching. It was in the morning, second or third period of the day. About five minutes into the class, in through the door came Dr. Carroll, carefully walking over to the arm chair set up in the front of the room, where he would sit during his wife's class. As Mrs. Carroll would lecture, he would call out "in the back left." I had no idea what he was saying; I soon found out he was telling Mrs. Carroll which students had questions. They were teaching as a team.

One day it was my turn to teach. Mrs. Carroll had given me the task of discussing Napoleon's Russian campaign. Dr. Carroll was still in his armchair when I came to the front of the classroom. There I stood, teaching high school students about a great military disaster with Dr. Carroll, who obviously knew more about the event then I will probably ever know. At the end of the class, he was happy, and commented that it was a good class. I nearly fell over.

Mrs. Carroll gave me three optional areas of history to teach. One was the history of Ireland from 1798 onward, and I jumped on it. Dr. Carroll seemed to enjoy the classes. A prime example was the class discussion of the 1798 Uprising, which involved, in true Christendom style, singing Irish war songs. At the end of that class, Dr. Carroll commented that we sang his favorite song, either "Rising of the Moon" or "Roddy McCorely," and commented, "Did you know I used to teach Irish history at Christendom?" I knew, and he smiled with a laugh, and said he enjoyed it.

The man was truly great. He was like a bulldog in his defense of truth and the Church.

I pray that Bl. John Paul II might present Dr. Carroll before Christ praising his work for the Church; that the heroes of History, whom he spent most of his life extolling, may swarm to him and greet him as one of their own; and that Christ will welcome him into Paradise with His words of praise reserved for a deserving servant.

Eternal Rest grant onto him, O Lord, and let perpetual Light shine upon him. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.