Monday, August 21, 2023

Did Neanderthals have Souls?

An evolutionary biology professor mocks this theological issue:
So did Christ die for Neanderthals? ...

So were Neanderthals theologically human or not? I think the only way we can approach this question is to ask whether or not Neanderthals had immortal souls, as we do. But, apart from Christian teaching, how do we know that we even have such souls? We cannot just have a look at our immaterial souls, and Aquinas thought that we only know the character of our souls through what we do.

. . . What we need to look for in the case of Neanderthals is evidence of some behaviour that bears the mark of an intellectual soul such as we have.

We do commonly make distinctions about who is human, and who is not. Legally, gorillas, chimps, and ChatGPT are not. Morally, not either.

Non-Africans humans today are descended from matings between Neanderthals and out-of-Africa hominin of about 50,000 years ago. Some say that the Africans looked more human, because they lacked brow ridges. In terms of tools, rituals, art, socialization, and brain size, they were comparable. Some evidence seems to show that the Neanderthals were more advanced, but it is unclear.

Modern anthropologists call the Africans human, and the Neanderthals extinct cousins of humans. This seems more absurd to me than the theological Acquinas musings. Either they were all human, or none were.

There is another argument that humans were not fully conscious until several thousand years ago. Theologically, it could have been Eve eating from the tree of knowledge. This view is dangerous, as it might make many of today's 8 billion people not fully human.

1 comment:

CFT said...

I'm not even sure why this is a thing.
Even Saint Francis of Assisi didn't have a problem with non humans having souls, and I have this on good authority from a very wise Trappist Monk who knew more about the history of the Church than most priests today.

Speculating about Neanderthal's souls serves no purpose whatsoever outside of a late night conversation, as we can't even agree on any measurable criteria if people today even have them, and if we do have them, what they even are or how they work. Are we talking about a divine force of animation as the Greeks sometimes thought of it which is just then recycled at death into the next life that requires it, a removable spirit body that travels to an afterlife realm, or something compartmentalized into divisible parts as the Egyptians did? Or are we talking about the mind existing without the body duality trope Christians are so obsessed with ever since the age of enlightenment?

The only concerns about 'souls' that I have, is how people are treated when assumptions are made about whether or not someone has one. The whole issue of souls has been used to do just about the worst of any and every evil possible, from declaring people 'not people' and using that as grounds to commit genocide, enslave them, or stealing their property, to such absurd statements as 'his soul was born into the wrong body, so he's a woman' and then chopping the poor guy's balls off and calling him a her...almost some like some kind of divine postal delivery error.

In any case, what you simply can not do, is be goaded by fools into fretting about anyone born long before Jesus of Nazareth walked the earth. I don't hold my ancestors on trial for not knowing about something that was discovered long after they died, or condemn them if they worshipped older faces of divnity, ...and neither should you.

Catholicism does tend to hang up quite a bit on the whole mechanical bureaucracy of 'was this soul saved if they didn't know Christ?' thing, which is quite presumptuous, and quite frankly, way above even the Pope's pay grade. According the Jesus, salvation simply is not earned like a door prize, it is granted by grace. If you do believe, and have trust in your God, then the matter of souls is in quite capable hands.

Only those that know themselves can be said to be conscious. All others are merely asleep, and of those, many wish to never awaken.

“You have to understand, most people are not ready to be unplugged.” – Morpheus