What does it mean to be Human?

The main tenet of the theory of evolution as first formulated by Charles Darwin in On the Origin of Species, 1859 (chapter VI and IX), is that the species we meet today were not constant forms since the dawn of animal life, but evolved by “natural selection” from common ancestral “intermediate varieties”. The fossil record provides overwhelming evidence about these “intermediate varieties”.

However, recent research about human origins suggest to complete Darwin’s principle with new insights which can be summarized in the following two statements:

  1. Today there is a clear distinction between humans and other extant forms of life, but this distinction is only possible because a huge number of intermediate varieties between them disappeared in the past.

  2. It is biologically impossible to establish when the species Homo sapiens begins with anything other than arbitrary criteria.

We have to give up a tree model of population history in favor of a metapopulation model (Scerri, Chikhi, and Thomas 2019). “Species” are a “useful” concept we create to characterize humanity and the other extant living forms as they appear today, that is: clearly separated from each other. But evolution does not always play along with such “species” (Durbin 2014). We cannot trace back the evolution of modern humans to a well-defined original population (Stringer 2020).

All this confirms the view that the beginning of humanity cannot be established by biological means alone.

On the other hand, Richard Dawkins himself acknowledges that humanity is called to live and evolve not as a “Darwinian society” but according to the foundation of morality and law:

    We should not live by Darwinian principles […] one of the reasons for learning about Darwinian evolution is as an object lesson in how not to set up our values and social lives.
    […] you are right when you say that aspects of what Hitler tried to do could be regarded as arising out of Darwinian natural selection. That’s exactly why I said that I despise Darwinian natural selection as a motto for how we should live. […]

    I very much hope that we don’t revert to the idea of survival of the fittest in planning our politics and our values and our way of life. I have often said that I am a passionate Darwinian when it comes to explaining why we exist. It’s undoubtedly the reason why we’re here and why all living things are here. But to live our lives in a Darwinian way, to make a society a Darwinian society, that would be a very unpleasant sort of society in which to live. […] [Dawkins’ quotation here].

That is to say that the principles by which we should live cannot come from evolution but must be derived from elsewhere.

These emergent views on evolution are discussed in several contributions to this thread. These views -other contributions argue- support the idea that evolution lays the groundwork for assigning rights: humanity has a special dignity that animals don’t have. It is also argued that this dignity may be of divine origin in agreement with the narrative of the book Genesis. In this sense Scripture help us to understand why evolution worked the way it worked. But it holds also the other way around: evolution challenges us with new questions and, in seeking for answers, we are led to a deeper understanding of the Holy Scripture according to the principle, “the Holy Scriptures somehow grows together with its readers”.

contributions:

Presentations at the IIS2020-Science track

Mark Thomas, Evolutionary Genetics, University College London

Tim Craggs, Department of Chemistry, University of Sheffield.

Carmine Ragone

Presentations at the IIS2019-Science track

Paul Collins, Jaleh Hearn Curator of Ancient Near East Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaelogy

Jean-David Ponci

What makes us humans different from animals? Culture? The ability to make tools? The language? Morality? Art? This presentation will show us that these criteria alone are not enough to explain what makes us different from animals.

Other Presentations:

Ignacio Monge and Maurits Vissers, Slideshare.

This is a brief introduction to the CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing technique and a quick review of two articles that have to do with potential applications in humans. There is a draft for an ethical reflexion.

Leonardo Polo, Journal of Polian Studies, 3 (2016), 9-23

In this article, Leonardo Polo considers certain conclusions regarding the origin of man. The process of hominization that leads to homo sapiens cannot simply be equated with the process of adaptation that characterizes the evolution of other animals because it entails using tools by which man adapts his surroundings to himself and thereby reduces the need for man to adapt to his environment. Polo also distinguishes the process of hominization (which involves the somatic dimension of man) from the process of humanization (which involves the psychological-cultural dimension of man and an understanding of the person as being above the species).

Antoine Suarez, Scientia et Fides, 4(1) / 2016, 253-294

Models have been proposed assuming that God created the first human persons at the time when Homo sapiens already had a large population size; this hypothesis agrees with emerging data of evolutionary genetics. The present article argues that in such a historical context the propagation of original sin can be explained through “transmission at generation”, in accord with Romans 11:32, and the “Decree concerning original sin of the Council of Trent”.

Antoine Suarez, Science and Christian Belief. 27(1)

 Recent genetic studies have strengthened the hypothesis that humans did not originate from a single couple of the species Homo sapiens. Different models have been proposed to harmonise this with Christian belief on original sin and atonement. In this article I discuss these models and propose a new explanation derived from Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologica I, 98-100 and Romans 5:19;11:32. I argue that generations may have passed before the appearance of sin, and hence belief in ‘original sin’ does not require that it was committed by a pair of persons who are biologically the common ancestors of all human persons. In the light of this analysis I consider moral responsibility as the distinctive sign of human personhood, and assume that the creation of the first human persons happened during the Neolithic period. The article concludes that views of the biological origin of humanity from a primeval Homo sapiens population (polygenism) or a single couple (monogenism) are both compatible with Christian belief, and therefore deciding between these two hypotheses should be better left to science.

Mark Fox.

Presentation at IIS2015

Antoine Suarez, YouTube.

It is argued that Quantum Physics and Relativity invalidate Kant’s objection against the proofs of the existence of God. Quantum experiments demonstrate that there are visible corporal effects that originate from invisible spiritual causes.

  • 2014: Panel discussion on the origins of humanity during IIS2014

Statements by:

 Denis Alexander, The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, Cambridge.

Richard Durbin, The Welcome Trust Sanger Institute, Cambridge: part 1, part 2, part 3.

 Mark Fox, University of Sheffield.

 Antoine Suarez, Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies, Zurich.

Paul-Joseph Michel

Jean-David Ponci

A presentation based on Stephen Jay Gould’s reasoning.

Exploring Free Will and Consciousness in the Light of Quantum Physics and Neuroscience.
Antoine Suarez and Peter Adams, Editors. Springer, New York.

 One of the first books to discuss, at the same time, the implications of quantum physics, Libet’s experiments and the neurophysiological finding of mirror neurons.

Anyone who claims the right ‘to choose how to live their life’ excludes any purely deterministic description of their brain in terms of genes, chemicals or environmental influences. For example, when an author of a text expresses his thoughts, he assumes that, in typing the text, he governs the firing of the neurons in his brain and the movement of his fingers through the exercise of his own free will: what he writes is not completely pre-determined at the beginning of the universe. Yet in the field of neuroscience today, determinism dominates. There is a conflict between the daily life conviction that a human being has free will, and deterministic neuroscience. When faced with this conflict two alternative positions are possible: Either human freedom is an illusion, or deterministic neuroscience is not the last word on the brain and will eventually be superseded by a neuroscience that admits processes not completely determined by the past.

This book investigates whether it is possible to have a science in which there is room for human freedom. The book generally concludes that the world and the brain are governed to some extent by non-material agencies, and limited consciousness does not abolish free will and responsibility. The authors present perspectives coming from different disciplines (Neuroscience, Quantumphysics and Philosophy) and range from those focusing on the scientific background, to those highlighting rather more a philosophical analysis. However, all chapters share a common characteristic: they take current scientific observations and data as a basis from which to draw philosophical implications. It is these features that make this volume unique, an exceptional interdisciplinary approach combining scientific strength and philosophical profundity. We are convinced that it will strongly stimulate the debate and contribute to new insights in the mind-brain relationship.

Exploring the Status of Embryos, Stem Cells and Human-Animal Hybrids.
Antoine Suarez and Joachim Huarte, Editors. Springer, Heidelberg, London, New York.

 The central question of this book is whether or not particular cell entities of human origin ought to be considered human beings. The answer is crucial for making moral decisions for or against research and experimentation. Experts in the field discuss the production of embryonic-like pluripotent stem cells by altered nuclear transfer, parthenogenesis and reprogramming of adult somatic cells. They thoroughly analyse the biological and moral status of different cell entities, such as human stem cells, embryos and human-animal hybrid embryos, and make a decisive step towards establishing final criteria for what constitutes a human being. The topic is challenging in nature and of broad interest to all those concerned with current bioethical thought on embryonic human life and its implications for society.

Alfred Driessen, Slideshare.

 The question: what is life, is analyzed in philosophical terms matter and form. It is shown that a purely reductionist view can not explain the unity of living beings. The whole is more that the sum of its parts. As shown by Anderson, modern physics seems to confirm this view.