At the Dawn of Humanity: The First Humans

By Gerard Verschuuren.

Publisher: Angelico Press. Review. Author: Anne Barbeau Gardiner.
The New Oxford Review.

In At the Dawn of Humanity, Gerard Verschuuren, a geneticist and philosopher of science, takes up the challenge of the neo-Darwinists who have made a “doctrine” of gradualism, Charles Darwin’s belief that between animals and humans there is only a difference “of degree and not of kind.” They see animals as humans-in-the-making and claim there can be no “evolutionary leaps” in the development of man.

Neo-Darwinists believe language evolved from animal communication, and so they search desperately for animals that can learn to speak. Yet language is unique to humans. Even though animals can be trained to string sounds together, they can’t grasp grammatical structure, which human children at the age of three can do. That is because language is “primarily an instrument of rationality,” which we use for conceptual understanding and reasoning. We use it only secondarily for communication. It is how we transform the particular things we perceive into universals, such as seeing a circular object and abstracting from it the concept of circularity. Gradualists try in vain to find concept-like elements in the animal world, but animals use sounds only as signals, warnings, and commands.

Gradualists, mindful of Darwin’s goal in The Descent of Man — “to show that there is no fundamental difference between man and the higher mammals in their mental faculties” — maintain that there must be something like reasoning in the animal world. Verschuuren replies that there is indeed social intelligence in wolves, and spatial intelligence in bats, but these don’t involve cognition. Animal intelligence is not the same as the human intellect, which changes perceptions into concepts. Animals have drives and motives but not symbols and reasoning.

Teilhard de Chardin False Prophet

Gradualists also claim that there must be some morality in animals from which human morality evolved, for in The Descent of Man, Darwin says that “any animal whatever, endowed with well-marked social instincts, would inevitably acquire a moral sense or conscience, as soon as its intellectual power had become as well developed, or nearly as well developed, as in man.” Verschuuren replies that animals have social behavior but no moral code. In their world of natural selection, there is no right and wrong, only different degrees of success. Natural selection is about success at the expense of others, while morality is about duties toward others. There isn’t much survival value in moral laws, as they involve self-sacrifice for others. Besides, human reason and morality can overrule what our genes dictate.

Morality comes from the immaterial mind, not from the material brain or the genetic code. When neo-Darwinists reduce morality to something physical, this is called materialism (which is itself a concept). There is a deep “morality divide” between so-called pre-human animals and humanity. Indeed, just as beneath our different human languages we find common concepts, so beneath our different social laws we find a common morality. St. Thomas Aquinas calls this the natural law. The laws of nature and moral laws are absolute, objective, and universal.

Gradualists seek the part of the brain that gives us self-awareness, trying to locate the mind within the brain, as Darwin did when he wrote in an early notebook of “thought” as a “secretion of the brain.” The “mirror test” is high on their agenda, for they believe any animal that recognizes itself in a mirror has self-awareness and deserves, therefore, to have civil rights. However, awareness of one’s body is not necessarily self-awareness, for there also has to be a conceptual abstraction of self and a sense of one’s past and future. Far from residing in the brain, the mind is the subject that studies the brain as its object. It also uses the brain as its instrument to know truth and falsehood. Our thoughts are more than brainwaves, and when materialists reduce mental ideas to patterns of electrical impulses in the brain, they disregard meaning and sense.

The mind, Verschuuren says, is the “soul’s eye.” He laments that René Descartes drove a wedge between body and soul that has “profoundly permeated our culture.” For Descartes, the soul is the pilot of a ship, but for Aquinas, the soul and body are one complete substance, the human person. The soul is immaterial and cannot evolve.

Geneticists argue that the presence of religion in all cultures and ages shows that the idea of God must be preloaded in the human genome. In 2005 Dean Hamer claimed he had found the “god gene,” just as he had earlier claimed (falsely) to have found the “gay gene.” But before Hamer can reduce spirituality to biology, he first must show that man is “only flesh,” not “flesh and spirit.” God’s existence is a factual issue of a yes-or-no nature. Without religion, our rationality and morality would have no grounding. Only the existence of God explains the existence of an intelligible universe and universal laws of nature and morality.

DNA research has found a genetic “Adam” and “Eve” dating from about 150,000 years ago, but the search for the “real Adam and Eve,” Verschuuren says, is beyond the scope of science. We need to distinguish the two, for, as Pope Benedict XVI said in 2008, “Anthropogenesis is the rise of the spirit, which cannot be excavated with a shovel.” All the preparatory work for the dawn of humanity was done biologically, but at creation there was also a special divine act to be performed, whereby God would raise two individuals to the unique spiritual level of the human race. Verschuuren notes that the Catholic Church defends monogenism for reasons based on the doctrine of Original Sin, for if fleshly solidarity does not come with descent from a common ancestor, then Christ’s fleshly solidarity with human beings is “rendered problematic.”

The earliest, virtually undisputed human burial site in the Skhul Cave at Qafzeh, Israel, dates from around 80,000 years ago. Once human beings appear in history, we have wonderful evidence of rituals and artistic expression. Pope St. John Paul II called this an “ontological leap.” These new humans are masters of self-awareness and self-expression, endowed with an immortal soul and mental powers of language, rationality, morality, and religion.

Verschuuren ends his excellent work with a “Final Word” about how “scientism” today is the dogmatic belief that there is no dimension of reality beyond scientists’ materialistic reach. It has become our new semi-religion.

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