The sun is shining brightly on the cave this morning, slowly burning away the early mist and dew; there is promise of a glorious day ahead. What better circumstances could one wish for to start a new heresy?
David Oderberg, in chapter 5 of his excellent “Real Essentialism”, considers some of the standard criticisms against the metaphysical definition of human beings as rational animals. (Where “animal” is considered the genus and “rationality” provides the specific difference that defines the species). What then would we make of the discovery of a rational parrot? What would we make of the discovery of rational alien creatures (which Oderberg refers to as “ranimals”)? Would we have to revise our understanding of what it is that makes us human?
After going through the problems associated with what one might consider the obvious solutions, Oderberg arrives at the striking answer that we should consider such ranimals to be human beings. He points out that our initial resistance to such an idea derives from being used to thinking of biological classification in terms of historical evolution. What is really required is to think in metaphysical terms rather than biological terms. I can’t really do justice to his argument here, but thinking about striking up a conversation with a parrot might lead one to consider that what Oderberg argues is quite reasonable. After all, a lengthy conversation with a parrot about whether Wayne Rooney is really going to be fit for the world cup may convince one (Turing test style) that one is addressing a human being (especially if the physical characteristics of said parrot were disguised).
Would such ranimal human beings be subject to the consequences of the fall? Of course, all creation is subject to the fall, but I’m referring here to the consequences associated with man. At its fifth session, the Council of Trent taught that the sin of Adam was transmitted to the whole human race (among whom, presumably, we must now count ranimals). Moreover, the Council taught that this one sin was transmitted by propagation (propagatione, non imitatione transfusam omnibus). How then might we understand the “propagation” of original sin from Adam to non homo sapiens human beings? Perhaps the creation account in Genesis can be taken as ruling out the possibility of ranimals. Likewise, the constant teaching of the church against polygenism makes the idea of a ranimal problematic (see Humani generis, 37)
But are there ways of understanding the deposit of faith that do not do violence to the understanding that the Church has of that deposit, but which allow for and explain the salvation history of ranimals?
(n.b. If this speculation is heretical, the likelihood of it being a new heresy is small; there is nothing new under the sun.)