How “Creation” Implies God

Background to the “Creation” Dispute

There is nothing very new about the thesis of this article—for many proofs that God is Creator of all finite things have already been attempted—often with great success. Moreover, we know as an article of Catholic faith that the existence of God can be known with certainty by the light of natural human reason (Denzinger’s Enchiridion Symbolorum, 1806). Yet, what may be somewhat novel about this article is that I will attempt to prove God’s existence by means of a series of diverse considerations about the very meaning of the term, “creation.” Moreover, I will examine certain presumptions about creation which have been made by atheists, i.e., by those who deny the very conclusion which is presently being sought.

Any self-respecting atheist must deny that the world is created by God. And yet, this very fact, namely, that the atheist feels called upon to deny the reality of creation, is itself significant—so much so, that this universal reaction of atheism will itself serve as the point of departure for our investigation.

Astronomer Robert Jastrow has commented upon the strange situation now confronting his fellow astronomers (many of whom appear to be scientific materialists). Jastrow observes, “…I am fascinated by some strange developments going on in astronomy—partly because of their religious implications and partly because of the peculiar reactions of my colleagues” (Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers,1978, 11).

Jastrow proceeds to explain the enigma confronted by modem scientists:

”The essence of the strange developments is that the Universe had, in some sense, a beginning—that it began at a certain moment in time, and under circumstances that seem to make it impossible—not just now—but ever—to find out what force or forces brought the world into being at that moment…. the astronomical evidence proves that the Universe was created twenty billion years ago in a fiery explosion, and in the searing heat of that first moment, all the evidence needed for a scientific study of the cause of the great explosion was melted down and destroyed” (God and the Astronomers, 11-12).

More recent estimates of the time of the universe’s birth now place it some 13.7 billion years ago.

Scientists today pursue the vision of Grand Unified Theories which attempt to unify the fundamental forces of nature as different aspects of the same force. Senior physicist at the Argonne National Laboratory’s High Energy Physics Division, David S. Ayres, remarks that the “Grand Unified Theories offer detailed insight into the processes which occurred at the instant of creation ….” (Argonne News, 1984, 8-9).

For centuries, atheistic materialists had blandly assumed the eternity of the world while denigrating the peculiarly Judeo-Christian belief of creation in time as a vestige of religious mythology. Science seemed squarely in the atheist’s corner until the recent advent of the Big Bang theory—a theory whose scientific underpinnings have come to be regarded by most scientists today to be quite secure. The 1965 discovery of the apparently vestigial fireball radiation of the Big Bang by Amo Penzias and Robert Wilson of the Bell Laboratories has left the theory, at the present time, with “no competitors” according to Jastrow (God and the Astronomers, 14-16).

Small wonder, then, the “peculiar reactions” of many astronomers, as noted’ by Jastrow! What he refers to are the efforts made by many of his fellow scientists to ignore and refute the mounting evidence in favor of the Big Bang.

Jastrow describes the situation thus:

“Theologians generally are delighted with the proof that the Universe had a beginning, but astronomers are curiously upset. Their reactions provide an interesting demonstration of the response of the scientific mind—supposedly a very objective mind—when evidence uncovered by science itself leads to a conflict with the articles of faith in our profession. It turns out that the scientist behaves the way the rest of us do when our beliefs are in conflict with the evidence. We become irritated, we pretend the conflict does not exist, or we paper it over with meaningless phrases” (God and the Astronomers, 16).

The reactions to the possibility of a Big Bang began shortly after World War I—and from a rather surprising quarter:

“Around this time, signs of irritation began to appear among the scientists. Einstein was the first to complain. He was disturbed by the idea of a Universe that blows up, because it implied that the world had a beginning” (God and the Astronomers, 27).

It is not here suggested that Einstein and all others who opposed the Big Bang theory were atheists. Certainly, Einstein himself appears to have embraced the conception of God propounded by Spinoza (God and the Astronomers, 28).

And yet, conversely, it is manifestly evident that scientific materialists would be in the forefront of those astronomers who would feel uncomfortable in the face of a new theory which seemed to challenge their most fundamental convictions. While it is not suggested that the physical theory of the Big Bang necessarily implies the theological doctrine of creation, nonetheless it is quite understandable that even the appearance of such an implication should cause more than a ripple of resistance among those both philosophically and scientifically indisposed to the notion of creation in time. Yet, we shall see that our concern in this paper will extend to a much broader notion of creation—a notion not restricted merely to that of “having a beginning in time.”

In point of fact, just when most of the scientific community has gotten comfortable supporting the relatively recent Big Bang theory, we are suddenly reminded by new evidence that the history of science is littered with the intellectual corpses of bygone universal beliefs. True science is never dogmatic. What actually happens is that a generally accepted scientific hypothesis is sometimes greeted by new sets of data that contradict its basic premises and soon a new, and quite different, scientific hypothesis replaces the formerly reigning one.

We now learn that findings from the new James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) appear to contradict the “standard model” for galactic expansion, which has accompanied the Big Bang hypothesis. It turns out that distant celestial objects, now being seen for the first time through the use of the JWST, do not conform to Big Bang expansion model expectations. Instead of distant galaxies being huge and having a certain amount of “red shift” in their light, the Webb telescope is showing us the exact opposite! The number of disc galaxies is some ten times that of standard galaxy expansion models. Moreover, distant galaxies are being found to be unexpectedly smooth, small, and old. In fact, more and more data seems to contradict what had been predicted based on the massive galactic expansion model assumed to follow from the Big Bang.

This has led some astronomers to actually reject the Big Bang hypothesis altogether!

Still, two points must be made clear:

  1. While frequently associated theses, the fact remains that the Big Bang hypothesis is separate from the cosmic expansion model. Moreover, the Webb telescope data does not in itself address the cosmic microwave background radiation which has long been taken as evidence for the Big Bang.
  2. For purposes of this article, much more important is the fact that the Big Bang hypothesis belongs to the subject matter of natural science, not philosophy. Contending physical hypotheses concerning the origin and development of the universe must be evaluated by astronomers and other physical scientists. That is not my task. Philosophically, I will show that, whether the universe began in time or not is entirely irrelevant to the philosophical question of whether it is created by God.

I need to determine the proper philosophical meaning of “creation” as well as whether the universe was created in that properly philosophical meaning.

The Eternal Enigma

The central question which this article seeks to address is simply the age old puzzle: “Why does anything exist at all?” The believer immediately responds with a simple affirmation of his faith: “Things exist because God exists to make them.” But the atheist is driven to the logical alternative of insisting on the aseity of the Universe: “Things simply explain their own existence; their very fact of existing is its own explanation. Moreover, the Universe has always existed in some form or other, and hence, needs no God to have created it.” Some atheists and agnostics attack the principle of explanation itself, suggesting that not everything may need a sufficient reason or that, perhaps, the principle is limited in scope to the observable phenomena.

In one of human intellectual history’s less ingenuous moments, Karl Marx simply refuses to grant intellectual legitimacy to any question put to the very existence of the world. He labels such inquiry “…perverse…” since it implies “…the inessentiality of nature and of man …. ” Marx insists that for socialism “…the real existence of man and nature has become practical, sensuous and perceptible…” and, hence, such a question “…has become impossible in practice” (Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, 1961, 112-114).

Still, examples of those willing to address directly the central issue are not difficult to find. The problem as to why things exist at all is clearly posed by Kai Nielsen (who was himself an atheist):

“Indeed, ‘Why is there anything at all?’ is an odd question, but in certain philosophical and perhaps even religious moods it is natural to ask: Why is it that any of the things that make up the universe actually exist? They do, of course, but why is this so? There might have been nothing at all!” (Kai Nielsen, Reason and Practice: A Modern Introduction to Philosophy, 1971, 180).

Or again, as F.E. Copleston put it in his famous 1948 British Broadcasting Corporation debate on the existence of God with Bertrand Russell:

“Well, I can’t see how you can rule out the legitimacy of asking the question how the total, or anything at all comes to be there. Why something rather than nothing, that is the question?” (The Existence of God, ed. John Hick, 1964, 175).

John Hospers puts succinctly the theistic response to the given existence of the world (not that he holds it himself):

“Why, indeed, does any universe at all exist—why is there a universe at all rather than simply nothing? For this you have no explanation at all. But I do. I hold that there is a necessary being, God, and that since he exists necessarily all contingent existents (and that includes everything in the universe) owe their existence to this necessary being and are explained by the fact that this necessary being exists” (John Hospers, An Introduction to Philosophical Analysis, 2nd edition, 1967), 440.

But in a contrary response to this same most basic question, as Roy Wood Sellars puts it,”…the modem materialist stresses the aseity as against the contingence notion of creationalism” (A History of Philosophical Systems, ed. Vergilius Ferm, 1950, 425).

The meaning for the materialist of this “aseity” is put with clarity by Nielsen: “…all other realities, if such there be, depend for their existence on these physical realities, but these physical realities do not depend on any other realities for their own existence” (Reason and Practice, 334).

Hospers elucidates in his own manner the claim that the universe simply explains itself and needs no further explanation:

“…this is just a “brute fact”—the universe has such-and-such laws, and if those are ultimate (underived), we can’t derive them from any other ones….If we have once arrived at a basic or underived law (not that we ever know that we have), then it is self-contradictory to ask for an explanation of it” (An Introduction to Philosophical Analysis, 442).

What Hospers means here is that the ultimate laws of the universe, by definition as ultimate, require no further explanation. They are self-explanatory.

Again, Anthony Flew challenges the position that God is any greater an intelligible explanation of the universe that is the universe itself:

“No reason whatever has yet been given for considering that God would be an inherently more intelligible ultimate that—say—the most fundamental laws of energy and stuff; much less for postulating the actual existence of such a further and extraordinary entity, instead of somehow contenting yourself with the alternative idea that the world we know is—in the vertical dimension-not dependent on anything else, and that it is also, in some state or other, probably eternal and without beginning” (Anthony Flew, God: A Critical Enquiry, 96).

The atheistic alternative explanation to claiming that the universe is its own explanation is the claim that not everything needs an explanation. That is to say, the principle of sufficient reason itself is attacked. Again Nielsen puts the case succinctly:

“It would only follow that there is a necessary being if it were true that there is a complete explanation that would give us an adequate explanation of why anything exists at all. Why should we assume or even believe that we actually have such an explanation?”

“It is certainly very natural to reject the principle of sufficient reason and to say that it has not been established that there must be or even that there is (if only we could discover it) an explanation for everything. Some events or states of affairs may never be explained. There may even be some things that are inexplicable” (Reason and Practice, 181).

I do not intend here to reiterate and refute the monumental errors of idealism and process philosophy which provide the most substantive attacks on the principles of sufficient reason and causality. Those who sincerely seek the most exhaustive and convincing defense of these principles are referred to Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange’s classical treatment in the latter part of the first volume of God: His Existence and Nature (1934, 181-194). I have offered my own defense of these transcendental first principles on the Strange Notions website.

It suffices to point out that it seems a bit hypocritical that scientific materialists should ultimately retreat behind a denial of rational principles when it is they who dare to mock all others as being “irrational” and “unscientific.” It is indeed curious that those who demand a scientific explanation for everything should, in this singular instance, fail to see the need for any explanation whatever! One cannot but compare such selective abandonment of rational principles to the curious biological doctrine that spontaneous generation never occurs except, of course, when the evolutionist has need of it in order to initiate the process of evolution itself!

In the end, the consensus of atheists and theists who address the basic question of existence, as well as the dictates of right reason, present the following stark alternatives: Either God (the Infinite Being) exists, or else, the world (all finite being) explains itself, or else, not all things have full explanations. It is our contention that the latter two alternatives are not only absurd, but impossible.

“Creation” as Expression of Infinite Power

For those scientific materialists who refuse to follow the intellectually suicidal denial that there must be reasons for things, the universe must be conceived as self-existent, that is, it somehow explains itself. Moreover, these atheistic materialists clearly accept the metaphysical principle that “…from nothing, nothing comes to be….” (St. Thomas Aquinas, in I Physics, 14, n. 2), since they universally deny that the cosmos had an absolute beginning in time. Thereby they implicitly acknowledge that a universe which just “pops into” existence (out of no pre-existent state) is not only absurd, but impossible.

While it is evident that the natural intuition of the laws of being would require every intellect to affirm that being (the world) can only come from pre-existent being (a prior state of the world, or God), why is it the case that the reason of virtually every man, theist and atheist alike, sees in the notion of instantaneous creation of the world (out of nothing and using nothing) the exclusive mark of divinity itself? With but a modicum of metaphysical reflection, the human mind—theist and atheist alike—grasps that the act of creation is intelligible only as an expression of power—infinite power. And it is precisely this manifestation of power without measure which commands intellectual assent to the existence of God (in the traditional meaning of the term) as the sole adequate explanation or foundation for such power.

The average person who considers the matter will express the insight as follows: “To make something out of nothing can only be the act of an infinitely powerful being, God.” The professional theologian or philosopher will render this insight with greater precision by saying: “That something should come to be while presupposing no pre-existent matter or subject requires the infinite power of God.”

In each case what is affirmed is the absolute need for unlimited power as the only adequate explanation for the universe beginning to be in time. Yet the question remains, “How can we be so certain that the ‘popping into existence’ of the world requires the existence of an all-powerful God?” Is this inference simply the product of a primordial insight or intuition which is, at root, rationally indefensible? Are we ultimately reduced to a form of fideism here?

Still, if this be fideism, then the atheist must suffer it as well — given the firm tradition of atomistic materialism, tracing all the way back to Democritus in the fifth century B.C., which assumes that the universe has always existed, never having a beginning in time. That is why so many scientists held out long for the Steady State theory, which holds that the universe is eternal and largely unchanging.

Why Creation Requires Infinite Power

While there appears to exist a nearly universal intuitive recognition that the act of creating requires the infinite power of a Supreme Being, the attempt to give intellectual justification to this primordial insight is fraught with difficulty. For, even if one grants that the existence of the world had an absolute beginning in time and that this beginning must have an adequate explanation, it is not at once clear precisely why this phenomenon requires an infinitely powerful cause.

Is it because being infinitely transcends non-being? But then, the being of the world is itself only finite (Summa Theologiae, I, q. 7, aa. 2-4). Perhaps, alternatively, one should focus upon the fact that between non-being and being there is no middle ground. Hence the act which transcends this “gap” between non-being and being must be considered as literally immeasurable. Yet, no reputable thinker would dare to refer to a real relation between non-being and being—since a real relation always requires two real terms, and non-being is not real. In Summa Theologiae, I, q. 13, a. 7, c, St. Thomas refers to the merely logical character of the “… relations which are between being and non-being, which reason forms, insofar as it apprehends non-being as a certain extreme.” Hence, the metaphors about “transcending an infinite gap” from non-being to being begin to sound suspiciously poetic or mystical.

It is necessary to turn to the Common Doctor of the Church for illumination of a precise, scientific conception of exactly why creation requires infinite power. The following is neither poetry nor mysticism:

“It must be said that the power of the maker is measured not only from the substance of the thing made but also from the way of its making; for a greater heat not only heats more, but also heats more swiftly. Thus, although to create some finite effect does not demonstrate infinite power, nevertheless to create it from nothing does demonstrate infinite power…. For if a greater power is required in the agent insofar as the potency is more remote from the act, it must be that the power of an agent (which produces) from no presupposed potency, such as a creating agent does, would be infinite; because there is no proportion of no potency to some potency, as is presupposed by the power of a natural agent, just as there is no proportion of non-being to being” (Summa Theologiae, I, q. 45, a. 5, ad 3).

The principle which St. Thomas employs here is laid down when he says, “…a greater power is required in the agent insofar as the potency is more remote from the act…” For, as power means the ability to produce being or to act, its measure is taken not merely from the effect produced but also from the proportion between what is presupposed by the agent in order to produce the effect and the effect produced.

Thus, to make a chicken from pre-existing chickens requires a certain measure of power. But to produce a chicken from merely vegetative life would require even greater power; and to produce a chicken from non-living matter yet greater power. But to produce a chicken while presupposing no pre-existent matter at all clearly would require immeasurably greater power. It is immeasurable, as St. Thomas points out, precisely because “…there is no proportion of non-being to being.”

Note that this argument does not rest upon an attempt to measure any supposed infinite relation between non-being and being. Rather, it is precisely the absolute lack of any relation whatever between non-being and being which demands an infinite power to create. For it is precisely the proportion of the potency to act which is measurable. The greater the distance (not physical distance, but remoteness or distinction in existence) between the potentiality and its act, the greater the power needed to actualize that potency. But such a proportion between some presupposed potentiality and its act is always measurable (in some sense), and therefore, is finite—since it is of the essence of the measurable to be finite and since a thing is measured only by its limits. But where there is no proportion, as between non-being and being, there can be no measure, and thus, no limit. The power required in that case knows no measure and no limit. It is therefore infinite.

Note well that St. Thomas does not argue from the remoteness of the potency from the act in the case of creation. Rather, he considers the “… proportion of no potency to some potency…”—for a creating agent presupposes no potency whereas a natural agent always presupposes some potency. He observes that there exists no such proportion just as “… there is no proportion of non-being to being.” A fortiori, the remoteness of no potency to the act of already created being becomes even more immeasurable (if that were possible).

Thus we have the rational explanation for the universal metaphysical intuition that it would require infinite power to create ex nihilo.

The True Meaning of “Creation”

If it were necessary to prove creation of the world in time in order to demonstrate the existence of God, it appears that such a task could never be accomplished by unaided natural reason. For even the most famous Christian apologist for God’s existence, St. Thomas Aquinas, concedes that reason alone cannot prove creation in time: it is simply an article of Catholic faith which is neither contrary to, nor demonstrable by, natural reason (Summa Theologiae, I, q. 46, aa. I-3; De Potentia Dei, q. 3, aa. 14 and 17; On the Eternity of the World, 1964, 2-73).

In fact, according to St. Thomas, the world could well have existed from all eternity—and yet it would still be a creature of God (Summa Theologiae, I, q. 46, a. 2, ad. I; Etienne Gilson, Elements of Christian Philosophy, 1963, 214).

One of his famous Five Ways to prove God’s existence, the Third Way, presupposes this very possibility in the logic of its argumentation. In fact, in Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 13, St. Thomas insists “… that the most efficacious way to prove God to exist is not on the supposition of the newness of the world, but rather on the supposition of the eternity of the world.” Thus, our belief in creation in time is just that—a matter of reasonable Christian belief.

The point of all this is simply to observe that, for St. Thomas, the notion of creation is quite distinct from the notion of beginning in time. After all, on the very supposition of an eternally existent God, could one deny the possibility that such a Being may have been creating the world from all eternity? And would not such a world be a creature in virtue of its being an effect of God despite its beginningless duration? In such a case, creation would be an ongoing production of the being of the world by God—with absolutely no reference to a beginning in time.

Moreover, grant that God did create the world in time. What then would be the relationship of the world to God in the next instant after the moment of creation? Or, the next day, or year, or twenty billion years? Could God cease causing the world and yet the world continue to exist? Certainly not. For, as St. Thomas observes, “With the cause ceasing, the effect ceases” (Summa Theologiae, I, q. 96, a. 3, ob 3. Also, “Removing the cause removes the effect,” Summa Theologiae, I, q. 2, a. 3, c). Creation must not be conceived as a once and for all time act. God must continue to create, or else, the cosmos would at once fall back into the nothingness from which it came (Summa Theologiae, I, q. 104, a. 1). St. Thomas refers to this continued act of creation as “conservation.”

“It must be said that the conservation of things by God is not through some new action, but through a continuation of that action by which He gives existence, which action is indeed without motion and time” (Summa Theologiae, I, q. 104, a. I, ad 4).

In other words, a proper understanding of the term “creation” is conceptually distinct from the notion of “beginning in time.” For St. Thomas, the world is created, not because it began in time, but because of its radical dependence on the Supreme Being during every moment of its existence—past, present, or future.

We are thus left with three alternatives regarding the existence of the world: Either it came to be in time—thereby requiring an infinitely powerful Creator, or else, it has existed from all eternity as the created effect of that Creator, or else, it has existed from all eternity without the causation of such a Creator.

On the first two suppositions, the existence of an infinitely powerful God is at once granted and this investigation is ended. But it is the third alternative which now requires closer scrutiny.

For the existence of the world is itself an act whose being demands some explanation. Existence is an act. It is the very first act of any substance (Summa Theologiae, I, q. 104, a. 1, ad 3). And no substance is explained unless and until its substantial existence has been accounted for. Thus we may properly inquire as to the explanation of the existence of this finite world in which we find ourselves.

When we inquire as to the explanation or sufficient reason for a supposedly uncaused finite universe, it becomes at once clear that the need for some foundation in an infinitely powerful being is not escaped. For, just as there is no pre-existing potency for such a world which is created in time, so too, there is no pre-existing potency against which to measure the actually existing universe even if it has always existed (as atheists insist). Hence, its existential foundation, even if this is not conceived as a cause outside its own being, must manifest a power which knows no measure, i.e., it is infinite.

To put the matter in other terms, the power required to explain a being (or beings) is not dependent on whether that being is an effect (whether or not such effect happens to be produced in time). Rather, such power must be measured in terms of its being the reason why there is being rather than non-being. And, as St. Thomas points out, “…there is no proportion of non-being to being” (Summa Theologiae, I, q. 45, a. 5, ad 3). Hence, the power requisite to explain the existence of the cosmos knows no measure — whether it began in time or not. Immeasurable or infinite power is needed to explain any existence at all — of anything.

But the world is clearly finite—since space and time are the limiting modes of material existence. Since the finite clearly cannot contain the infinite power needed to explain its own existence, it is evident that an infinite Being must exist.

Some Final Reflections

It may well be suspected that the foregoing demonstration of God’s existence is simply a variation of St. Thomas’s Third Way of the Summa Theologiae, I, q. 2, a. 3, c., or else, perhaps, the argument which many have abstracted from his proof for God’s eternity which is presented in the Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 15. Yet it should at once be evident that neither of these demonstrations proceed from the same starting point as the present analysis. For, both of the aforementioned texts of St. Thomas take as their initial data the existence of things which are possible to be or not to be. But the present argument proceeds neither from the possibility nor from the necessity of the world—merely from its existence and from the need for a sufficient reason for said existence.

If it were possible for the world to be its own reason for existing, then there would be no need to posit the existence of a transcendent God. It is only when it is shown that the existence of anything at all requires infinite power that it becomes evident that the finite cosmos necessarily requires an Infinitely Powerful Being as the only adequate explanation of its existence.

Hence, the present argument proceeds, not from the possible, as such, but from an analysis of the creative power implicit in any being whatever—whether it be possible or necessary, finite or infinite. It is the factual existence of things which is at issue here, not their indifference to existence.

But it is precisely that indifference to existence manifested by the possibles which St. Thomas uses to prove their causal dependence. As he puts it in the context of the Contra Gentiles:

“Everything however which is possible to exist has a cause, since it is from itself equally [related] to two [contraries], namely, existence and non-existence. [Therefore,] it must be, if it appropriates to itself existence, that this is from some cause” (Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 15).

Again, the same point is made in the Third Way when St. Thomas insists “…that which is not does not begin to be, except through something which exists” (Summa Theologiae, I, q. 2, a. 3, c).

In both these cases, again, St. Thomas reveals the causal dependence of the possibles. But the present proof seeks not to reveal causal dependence except as incidental to the need for infinite power as the sole adequate foundation for all existents. Perhaps this point could be more adequately expressed by saying that God Himself, who is absolutely uncaused, nonetheless requires infinite power in order to render His own existence intelligible. That is why St. Thomas’s task in the aforementioned contexts differs from that of the present article.

In conclusion, the intellectual exploration completed in this article entails the following central points:

First, it was established that there exists, either explicitly or implicitly, among theists and atheists alike, a universal intellectual recognition that the theological notion of an absolute beginning in time of the world entails a creation ex nihilo whose sole adequate explanation would be an Infinitely Powerful Being, or God in the traditional sense of the term.

Second, the concept of “creation” itself was scrutinized so as to reveal that it may be properly distinguished from any notion of “beginning in time”—thereby demonstrating that the mere existence of any being whatsoever entails the presence of an act (esse) which requires infinite power to be posited “outside of nothingness.” (The central metaphysical task of this article has been to establish the philosophically scientific validity of this second step.)

Third and last, it was seen that such infinite power clearly cannot reside in any finite being and, that, therefore, it is absolutely necessary to admit the existence of an Infinitely Powerful Creator as the sole adequate explanation of the finite world.

The notion of “explanation” does not necessarily denote extrinsic causality in every case. While every being requires a sufficient reason, only those beings whose sufficient reason for existing is not totally within itself would require an extrinsic sufficient reason or what is called a “cause.” This means that, while an infinitely powerful God is required to cause the existence of all the finite beings in this finite world, yet God can still be said to be his own explanation, and yet not his own cause, since he is his own intrinsic sufficient reason for being.


Dr. Dennis Bonnette retired as a Full Professor of Philosophy in 2003 from Niagara University in Lewiston, New York, where he also served as Chairman of the Philosophy Department from 1992 to 2002. He received his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Notre Dame in 1970. He is the author of two books, Aquinas’ Proofs for God’s Existence, and Origin of the Human Species, as well as many scholarly articles. [A, earlier version of this article appeared in Faith & Reason, 11:3-4 (1985), 250-63. Permission to print kindly granted by Christendom Educational Corporation, Christendom College, Front Royal, Virginia, 22630.]


Featured: “The Creation of the World and the Expulsion from Paradise,” by Giovanni di Paolo; painted in 1445.

The Philosophical Impossibility of Darwinian Naturalistic Evolution

In 2004, the International Theological Commission, headed by Josef Cardinal Ratzinger, maintained that scientific evidence pointed to some sort of biological evolution. It declared, “Since it has been demonstrated that all living organisms on earth are genetically related, it is virtually certain that all living organisms have descended from this first organism. Converging evidence from many studies in the physical and biological sciences furnishes mounting support for some theory of evolution to account for the development and diversification of life on earth, while controversy continues over the pace and mechanisms of evolution.” (International Theological Commission, Vol II: 1986-2007, [2009], para. 63). Still, “mounting support” is not objective certitude, and “some theory of evolution” does not depict its exact form.

In my book Origin of the Human Species, I conclude that we may never know whether the biological theory of human or general evolution is natural scientific fact. I maintain this because of (1) the complexity of the issues raised, (2) evolution’s unscientific unfalsifiability, and (3) the inherent limitations of natural scientific knowledge, especially when dealing with factual events hidden deeply in the recesses of prehistoric time. Indeed, Pope Benedict XVI has aptly pointed out that there is no way to prove or disprove experimentally that evolution actually occurred over immense past ages.

A 1998 survey of the National Association of Scientists found that only ten percent of its members believed in God or immortality, with the number being only five percent among biologists (American Scientist, 95:4, July-August 2007, 294-7). Most natural scientists, especially biologists, today embrace Darwinian evolutionary theory, which claims to explain life’s origin and development without divine intervention.

Still, some scientists continue to challenge such Darwinian presumptions, attacking naturalistic explanations and the claimed “fact of evolution” itself. Larry Azar’s book, Evolution and Other Fairy Tales, documents how, while leading evolutionists agree about the “fact of evolution,” they often contradict each other concerning proposed mechanisms whereby this “fact” took place (Evolution and Other Fairy Tales, 2005, 356-69). Still, given the genetic evidence that all forms of life appear somehow related, Darwinists remain undaunted in defending their naturalistic claims.

Traditional metaphysicians know that God exists, and that naturalism is simply an intellectually unfounded presumption of “pure” Darwinism. The First Vatican Council defined that God’s existence can be known with certainty, merely by the proper use of unaided human reason (Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, 1806). Beginning with observing created effects, the mind is led inexorably back to the Uncreated Cause, God. St. Thomas Aquinas’s famous Five Ways are the classic expression of this intellectual process (Summa Theologiae, I, q. 2, a. 3). Properly understood, these rational approaches to God remain irrefutable, despite the misunderstandings of David Hume and a host of modern skeptics.

Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange’s book, God: His Existence and His Nature (1939), remains the classical exposition of the Five Ways, fully treating their metaphysical presuppositions and exhaustively refuting David Hume, Immanuel Kant, various process philosophers and their like. My book, Aquinas’ Proofs for God’s Existence (1972), proves the impossibility of infinite regress of proper causes, which is a key premise of the Five Ways.

Whether the Cosmos began in time or not, God’s existence remains the sole adequate explanation for its very existence. Darwinists and scientific creationists debate cosmological and biological evolution as if the outcome determines God’s existence. Yet, metaphysicians know this current intellectual combat is utterly irrelevant to the question of God’s existence. They know that any supposed evolutionary process presupposes God’s ongoing ontological support for the Universe itself and for all the chemical and biological mechanisms evolution may entail. Still, notwithstanding this rationally necessary transcendent metaphysical framework, otherwise seemingly naturalistic explanations of biological evolution may still be evaluated for intrinsic adequacy.

Benedict XVI is also reported to have adopted the distinction between “micro-” and “macro-evolution,” as early as the 1980s, with acceptance of micro-evolution, but skepticism about macro-evolution (National Catholic Reporter, 42:39, 2006, 5). Micro-evolution is evolution within the same species, whereas macro-evolution is evolution from one species to a new and distinct species.

This brings up the question, if evolution means transforming from one species to another species, what is a “species?” Darwin was utterly confused by the question, since he desperately needed the concept of species to support his claimed “origin of species,” but conceived of evolution in terms of endless mere variations in accidental qualities—thereby undercutting the essential differences needed to render species distinct (Evolution and Other Fairy Tales, 168-72). His more recent disciples do no better. While some still insist on the extra-mental reality of species, the logical default position of mainstream evolutionists is nominalism, according to which “species” do not really exist, but are merely names we give to describe mid-ranges of ever-blending series of unique individuals.

Even the “punctuated equilibrium” hypothesis advocated by Niles Eldredge and Steven J. Gould does not embrace Goldschmidt’s “hopeful monster‘s” instant formation, but merely accelerates the transformation process by reducing it to thousands or even hundreds of years—far too rapid to be observed in the fossil record, but still gradualistic in nature.

Whether expressed in terms of cladistics, morphology, or reproductive isolation, the modern biological species concepts all share the same essential defect: they fail to detect essential differences between individuals in diverse “species.” All differences are expressed in terms of sensible accidents, such as configuration of spines, presence or absence of a backbone, ability to reproduce and produce fertile offspring, and so forth. Biological species concepts fail to express essential differences between species—thus undercutting the whole notion of true evolution from one species to another really distinct species.

Highly-respected biologist Ernst Mayr maintains that it is necessary to get past empirical terms, such as “phenotypic, morphological, genetic, phylogenetic, or biological” in order to get to the “underlying philosophical concepts” (The Species Problem, 1957, 17).

The philosophical natural species concept is based on the reality of a metaphysical essence which is undetectable by modern biologists. Penetrating beyond sensible accidents, the philosophical natural species expresses essential properties (per se accidents), which are either present or absent. Living things are different from non-living, not merely in degree, but in kind. Animals possess sentient powers absent in vegetables. Human beings possess intellect and will lacking in merely sentient organisms. Since their essential properties differ, human beings, brute animals, and plants differ according to natural species and specific essence (Origin of the Human Species, 27-39).

Evolutionists and anti-evolutionists alike accept intra-specific evolution or micro-evolution, such as the bacteria that grow resistant to antibiotics or the English peppered moths that changed colors during the industrial revolution. But anti-evolutionists absolutely deny that inter-specific evolution or macro-evolution occurs, such as the fishes evolving into land animals (Origin of the Human Species, 6-7).

What confuses the issue is that these same anti-evolutionists usually adopt biological species concepts. This leads them to fight the battle in terms of attacking what might be merely variations within the same philosophical natural species. People do not easily conceive that a dog and an elephant actually belong to the same philosophical natural species because they share the same sentient powers even though their biological organization appears markedly diverse.

Darwinian evolution’s real test rests in its claim to climb the ladder of natural perfections through interaction of unaided matter. That is to say, can matter give rise to life, then to vegetative life, then to sentient life, and then to intellective life—all by itself? Does unaided evolution possess this self-perfecting capability? Or, does this process violate the basic metaphysical principle that the lower cannot give rise to the higher?

In Origin of the Human Species, I suggest that unaided material evolution might be possible, at least up to the appearance of true man, whose spiritual intellective soul demands creative intervention by God (Origin of the Human Species, 41-63,107-10). Now, I propose to show that even the initial stages of evolution from lower to higher natural philosophical species cannot be explained adequately merely in terms of purely physical agents. (I include the transition from non-life to life in the broad notion of “evolution,” since materialists presume this process, called “abiogenesis,” also happens naturalistically).

Using the method of natural philosophy, biologist Thomas J. Kaiser argues that every organism has an essence that governs reproduction so that the parent organism makes use of mutated DNA solely to produce variations within its own species, never to produce a new species (The Aquinas Review, 13, 2006,1-35). He explains how all purely natural reproduction entails a biological process which assures that the same form must be found in the offspring:

“All generation in the sense proper to the living involves the separation of a part that participates in the life and therefore, the species of the parent. Generation simply involves the production of a new individual analogous to separating timber from timber. In other words, life does not begin at conception, a new individual life does (The Aquinas Review, 24).”

In the case of sexual reproduction of subhuman animals, the ovum appears to need the sperm to remove an impediment to full development, but the moment the ovum is separated from the mother, it becomes a new individual of the same form and species as the mother. If mutations are used by the offspring at all, either they will bring about accidental differences in the same species, or be harmful to the species. There is no purely natural way for the form of a new species to be educed.

While Kaiser offers a significant demonstration against Darwinian evolution, I propose a somewhat different approach. Relying less on empirical biological science, I, too, employ the metaphysical principles of St. Thomas Aquinas—and application of the hylemorphic (matter-form) doctrine of Aristotle. These are not outdated hypotheses, but rather the only rational explanation of how things can exist in the form of species at all. And “form” is what such things are all about.

If things above the atomic level actually exist, some real metaphysical principle must account for them existing as single, unified, real beings of such and such nature. Unless form is present to unify and specify the type of being that exists, all reality would ultimately reduce to the world of atomism in which “things” are not really things at all, but merely conveniently named “piles” of atoms existing in a temporary state of equilibrium. Neither cabbages nor kings would actually exist.

Without forms which distinguish them, species cannot be distinguished—and evolution becomes impossible. Form plays several critical roles: (1) it makes a thing one thing, a substantial unity, (2) it determines a thing’s nature and places it into its species, (3) it gives existence to the substance as “this” thing, and (4) it actively determines matter as to its specificity. This last role is critical in understanding why unaided natural inter-specific evolution is impossible.

In Origin of the Human Species, I examine whether merely material reorganization might account for the appearance of new and higher things: life from non-life, animal life from vegetative life, human life from animal life. I cite Australian philosopher and theologian Austin M. Woodbury who maintains that such changes are not possible, since “an effect cannot be higher than its cause, and every agent produces a like unto itself” (Philosophical Psychology, unpublished manuscript, 1945, 59).

In light of Woodbury’s principle, inter-specific evolution would appear impossible for two reasons: (1) because the effect (a new and higher form) cannot come from an insufficient cause (the prior and lower form), and (2) an agent in a given species tends only to the production of effects that remain within that same natural species. For both reasons, non-living agents cannot produce living effects, non-sentient organisms cannot give rise to sentient ones, and non-intellective primates cannot give rise to intellective ones.

Still, it may be argued that new and higher forms might arise through per accidens causality. Chance interactions of lower agents might result in such reorganization of matter as to befit actualization by higher forms. In his book, The Philosophical Dimensions of the Origin of Species, philosopher John N. Deely argues that abiogenesis entails no violation of the principle of causality and that no need exists for special divine “concursus (still less intervention)” (Philosophical Dimensions, 1969, 324-5). He argues that inter-specific evolution is possible because it entails, not univocal causation (in which the cause must always be proportionate to its effect), but equivocal causation (in which the cause “need not be proportioned to its effect except per accidens)” (Philosophical Dimensions, 324).

Deely’s insight is this: “The principle is the involution and mutual activation of the causes: causae ad invicem sunt causae” (Philosophical Dimensions, 321). Thus reciprocal causality might entail chance events resulting in genuine transformism. In his A Preface to Metaphysics, philosopher Jacques Maritain explains the classical notion of chance as events occurring from the “intersection of causal chains,” which produce an effect outside the natural finality of the interacting agents (Preface to Metaphysics, 1939, 141-51). While the activities and end of a specific agent cannot exceed its nature except by a miracle, chance interactions of multiple agents might thus effect new forms present in none of the interacting agents.

This scenario fits the general thesis proposed by evolutionists. Non-living matter might so interact as to produce primitive organisms. Genetic mutations in organisms caused by environmental and other natural factors might cause normal generative processes to produce new genetic material resulting in new species. As a philosopher, the exact mechanisms entailed, and even their scientific feasibility, do not concern me. That is left to the ongoing scientific discussion. My concern is whether this proposed philosophical explanation for abiogenesis and transformism is valid. Closer examination reveals it is not.

Woodbury’s objections to inter-specific evolution go beyond noting that lower forms cannot give rise to higher ones. He argues that changes in matter alone are not sufficient, because form, specifically substantial form, plays a special role in the coming-to-be of new and higher natural species.

Since form determines the entire organism to its proper species, form also places the matter into its species, that is to say, makes it fitting for this particular kind of form. Aquinas points out that “matter must be proportionate to form (Summa Theologiae, I, q. 76, a. 5, ob. 1).” Thus it would be impossible to have essentially distinct forms without any real difference in the organization of the matter.

Woodbury maintains that only the final disposition of the matter occasions the eduction of a new substantial form. That is to say, the new and higher form of living substance becomes possible only at the exact moment in which the organization of the matter is perfectly and completely proportioned to that new form. But, he maintains, “The ultimate disposition [of the matter] is never together with the form which is corrupted, but is together with that which is generated (Cosmology, unpublished manuscript, 1949, 68).”

This crucial insight means that the material organization needed for the new and higher form is never present until that new form itself is present. But it is form which is the active principle in the hylemorphic (matter-form) composite, whereas matter is the potential, or passive, principle. This means that form places matter into its proper species, and not vice versa. Matter is related to form as potency is to act. Aquinas maintains, “Since it is receptive to act, potency must be proportioned to that act (Summa Theologiae, I, q. 75, a. 5, ad 1).” Matter, as the potential principle, is receptive to form, which is the active principle. Aquinas argues:

“First, he [Aristotle] explains that the form is substance to a greater degree than the composite….Third, he shows that the form and the composite are substance to a greater degree than matter…. He accordingly says, first, ‘that the specifying principle,’ that is the form, is prior to matter. For matter is a potential being, and the specifying principle is its actuality; and actuality is prior to potentiality in nature. And absolutely speaking it [form] is prior in time because the potential is brought to actuality only by means of something actual….Hence it is clear that form is prior to matter, and that it is also a being to a greater degree than matter….Hence form must be being to a greater degree than matter. (In VII Meta., 2, n. 1278. Translation by John P. Rowan, Library of Living Catholic Thought, 1961, Vol. 11, 498).”

Therefore, matter’s ultimate disposition must be determined by the new and higher form. Without that new form simultaneously existing, the ultimate disposition of the matter will never be present to fit that new form. As the active principle in determining which species the matter befits, form possesses ontological priority in determining the final organization of the matter which befits that new and higher species.

Thus, the prior, or intermediate, or even penultimate disposition of the matter cannot account for the ultimate organization of the matter. The new form alone plays that role. Since (1) the prior less perfect form cannot account for the coming-to-be of the posterior more perfect form, and since (2) no prior state of matter can account for the new form’s eduction, it necessarily follows that some agency outside all the natural material causes at work must explain that new form. In a word, natural evolutionary processes alone cannot adequately explain new and successively higher philosophical natural species. Naturalistic evolution is metaphysically impossible.

At this point, those more versed in natural science than in Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy are doubtless incredulous that philosophers could be so naïve about the proper role that mutations play in explaining the appearance of new and higher organisms. As Kaiser points out, to most natural scientists today, the DNA and genes alone determine the species of an organism (The Aquinas Review, 25). Thus mutations alone would suffice to explain transformism. On the contrary, (1) this is not a natural scientific analysis, but one of philosophical science, and (2) unless one reverts to some sort of crypto-atomism, the role of form in the production of new organisms dictates Woodbury’s inference.

It matters not whether natural scientists can discern when genes or DNA or even more precise determinations of material organization necessary for a given natural species are present. What matters is that by the time such material organization is present it is already being specified by the appropriate substantial form. The question then is whether matter’s disposition is responsible for the presence of that new form, or form’s presence is responsible for that matter’s ultimate disposition.

Natural scientists think that proper material organization alone is what constitutes new species, and hence, assume that material changes alone can explain them. They reveal inherently materialistic philosophical presuppositions. Unless one is a crypto-atomist, the reality of things above the atomic level demands some sort of matter-form composition in which form dominates and specifies material organization—so that it is the new form that accounts for the material organization that natural science discerns. The only philosophically adequate explanation is that it is the new form which is responsible for the ultimate material organization—not the reverse.

Cartesian dualism dominates many people‘s thought. For example, they think that a human soul could just be added to a subhuman primate to produce a human being. But, then, man would not be one being, but a composite of two things: (1) a human form (soul) and (2) an atomic organization somehow suited to sentient activities.

On the contrary, Aristotelian hylemorphic doctrine preserves the existential unity of things, especially of man himself. We are one being, one substance. Form and matter compose a single unified living thing. Form actively dominates and organizes matter so as to render it perfectly fitted to the species to which the organism belongs. This means that man’s matter is not simply “animal matter” with a human form, but human matter because it has a human form. Because man has a human form, he is capable of intellective and volitional activities supported by his specifically human material organization.

We have no way of ascertaining the exact material organization needed for actuation by a given form. But we know, for example, that the formal organization of a human being is different from that of a merely sentient organism, or else, that sentient organism would be a human being. Gross morphology is not a reliable indicator of matter’s fittingness for a given form.

A human corpse’s macro-organization may appear more fitted to human life than that of a human zygote, but its micro-organization is not.

Since forms of diverse species are really diverse, they must make a real difference in the matter of those species. Hence, the matter of the lower species cannot be the same as the matter of a higher species. Even the penultimate matter of the prior, lower species is not suited to the form of a higher species. Only when the new form appears does matter’s “micro-organization” become fitted to the higher species.

While natural science might even be able to detect that matter suddenly appears appropriate to the new, higher species, by that moment in time the new form is already present. But where does the new form come from? From the previous material conditions? No, because they were not fitted to the new form. From the previous form? No, because the lower cannot give rise to the higher. From the new organization of the matter? But that matter receives its new organization from the new form! Whence, then, the new form?

To argue that the matter is the same before and after such a change is to fail to heed the necessary fittingness of matter to form, and the dominance of matter by its form. To say that evolution reorganizes the matter and that, thereby, the new form is educed, is to put the cart before the horse—since it is the new form which is responsible for determining the matter as proper to a new specific type of living organism, and not the reverse. Solely the new and higher form’s appearance enables matter to achieve its proper organization for this new species. But, the prior material organization and form cannot account for the appearance of the new form. Evolutionary material processes alone cannot account for new and higher natural philosophical species.

This philosophical conclusion is compatible with methodological naturalism in natural science, which remains free to seek natural reasons for genetic changes. Natural scientists may propose mechanisms claiming to bridge even inter-specific evolution to new philosophical natural species. But competent metaphysicians will know such mechanisms are not the entire story. Genuine transformism from lower to higher natural species requires preternatural intervention, though such intervention need not be discernible to natural scientists.

Since natural agents alone cannot account for the coming-to-be of life forms, or of higher life forms from lower ones, merely discovering physical conditions suitable for life does not warrant empirical scientists’ nearly universal assumption that life abounds throughout the cosmos. If such does occur, some agent acting above the natural physical order must intervene in every instance. Proper understanding of Aquinas’ First Way of proving God exists reveals that God constantly acts in the natural world so as to explain the coming-to-be of all things subject to change (Summa Theologiae, I, q. 2, a. 3).

Divine providence might ordain that life in many forms fills the universe. Yet, God’s ways are inscrutable. Short of actually encountering new life forms on or from distant planets, no scientific evidence or speculation entails that such living organisms must exist. We shall only know that we are not alone when we actually first meet our extraterrestrial neighborseven merely microbial ones. Still, Darwinian naturalism will not adequately explain why they are there.


Dr. Dennis Bonnette retired as a Full Professor of Philosophy in 2003 from Niagara University in Lewiston, New York, where he also served as Chairman of the Philosophy Department from 1992 to 2002. He received his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Notre Dame in 1970. He is the author of two books, Aquinas’ Proofs for God’s Existence, and Origin of the Human Species, as well as many scholarly articles. [A version of this article appeared in Faith & Reason, 33:1-4 (2008), 55-67. Permission to print kindly granted by Christendom Educational Corporation, Christendom College, Front Royal, Virginia, 22630.]


Featured: caricature of Charles Darwin and Émile Littré, by André Gill, 1878.

Ape Language, Space Aliens, and Artificial Intelligence: A Philosophical Enquiry

The article that follows served as an important basis for Dennis Bonnette’s book, Origin of the Human Species (3rd ed., 2014). The book explores questions raised by evolutionary theory—ultimately focusing on what we may confidently say about human origins, and showing that belief in Adam and Eve as the human race’s first parents remains reasonable, despite many modern evolutionists’ skepticism.

This article also serves the book’s overall aims by defending the uniqueness of man and of his essential superiority over lower animals, including other primates. This is an updatred version of the original article. Dr. Bonnette previously wrote about alien life-forms.


Preamble

As we approach the end of the first quarter of the twenty-first century, we find sudden interest in claims about possible space aliens – with people wondering, if they exist at all, what kind of creatures these might be. At the same time, we have now developed computers with artificial intelligence (AI), which some claim to be sentient, thinking entities, that might even constitute a new form of living person! These kinds of questions are all the more vexing today, given biological evolution’s tendency to view man as merely a highly developed animal. Some distinguish man by believing he uniquely has a soul. But the ancients always maintained that a soul was simply a principle of life, so that every living thing has a soul. This is evinced by the very fact that we name animals from the Latin, “anima,” which means “life principle” or “soul.” Religious believers quickly distinguish that man alone has a spiritual soul, but are then immediately challenged by evolutionists who maintain that man differs in complexity, but not in kind, from lower animals.

Understandably, this same confusion reigns about the nature of possible space aliens and AI computers. If we cannot even clearly distinguish true humans from other animals, how do we expect to understand the nature of creatures from outer space or computers so advanced that they can seemingly mimic every human ability, plus much more? For these reasons alone, it is useful to study the topic of this article, which is a scientific and philosophical examination of the “frontier” claims about lower primates to the effect that they can achieve what was once thought to be the unique possession of human beings, namely, genuine language.

This article will show clearly the difference between lower animals’ sensitive cognitive abilities and human beings’ radically superior intellectual cognitive powers. These powers manifest the deeper ontological distinction between animal and human natures. Once the radical distinction between human and animal natures is clearly grasped, the nature of those possible space alien “cousins” as well as the essential differences, if any, between man and AI computers can be better understood.

The naturalistic mentality of many animal psychologists anticipates that subhuman primates will tend to approach human beings’ mental powers, manifested in part through alleged ape linguistic abilities. Thus, the latter part of the twentieth century witnessed many ape-language studies, complete with claims that chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, and certain other subhuman primates, have been taught to use various forms of sign language and can now understand the meanings of hundreds of words, form sentences, and communicate effectively with humans and even among themselves. These claims feed the inevitable conclusion that man himself no longer holds a preeminent place in the animal kingdom, that his is but one among many other species, and that continued belief that God made him in His image and gave him dominion over all lower creatures is simply an outdated religious myth.

I examine subhuman linguistic claims in two steps: First, I show that even some evolutionist natural scientists, who have analyzed ape-language studies, conclude that apes have not yet mastered true language. In 1979, some researchers challenged ape-language claims by arguing that such behavior can be explained by non-linguistic mechanisms, such as (1) simple imitation, (2) the Clever Hans effect, (3) the anthropomorphic fallacy, and (4) rapid non-syntactical signing to obtain immediate sensible rewards. Two of the most important claims—(1) that apes could combine signs creatively in novel sequences and (2) that they showed knowledge of syntactic structure—appear to be based merely upon anecdotal data, not upon acceptable scientific methodology.

Second, I use philosophical analysis to demonstrate (1) why human intellectual knowledge is needed to possess genuine language, and (2) why it will be forever impossible for subhuman primates to exhibit true linguistic ability. Materialist explanations of animal and human behavior miss the crucial distinction between sense and intellect. Animals possess sense knowledge alone, whereas man possesses both sense and intellectual knowledge. Intellectual knowledge is the hallmark of the human spiritual soul, and is not shared with our animal friends.

Man exhibits intellectual knowledge by (1) forming abstract concepts, (2) making judgments, and (3) reasoning from premises to conclusions in logical fashion. Subhuman animals’ sensory abilities, including imagination and sense memory, enable them to manipulate sensory data and use inborn natural signs to communicate instinctively, and even to be taught by man to use humanly-invented signs. Still, they do not understand the meanings their signs express, nor form judgments, much less engage in reasoning. The hallmark of all ape behavior, including trained language use, is its relentless focus on immediate sensory rewards, such as food, toys, sex, or interaction with other animals. Abstract goals, such as earning a diploma or getting a better job or serving God, mean nothing to apes and will not beget sign language responses.

Proof of my claims here requires (1) showing that ape-language research data can be explained in terms of mere sense knowledge, and (2) showing that such behavior must be so explained by positive proof that apes lack intellect. The first task is achieved largely in terms of the abovementioned scientific criticisms and also by pointing out that computers, which actually understand nothing and are not even alive, can imitate human linguistic behavior simply by manipulating data. Apes, with relatively large brains and elaborate sense faculties, can also accomplish such impressive feats, but this need not mean that they possess true linguistic comprehension any more than computers do.

The second task, to show that subhuman primates’ linguistic behavior must be read as mere sensory activity, requires positive demonstration that apes lack true intellect. Four formal effects demonstrate true intellect: (1) genuine speech, (2) true progress, (3) knowledge of relations, and (4) knowledge of immaterial objects. In their wild state, with no human influence, animals, including apes, (1) fail to develop true language, and (2) fail to make genuine progress. Even in a domesticated environment, they still (3) show no understanding of real relationships (such as cause and effect)—merely learning to associate images, and (4) clearly fail to develop the sciences and religious beliefs typical of human abstract understanding. While details of this proof require reading the article itself, the conclusion is that subhuman primates and other animals fail all four tests of true intellectual activity. Hence, man alone possesses true intellect.

The radical difference between mere animals and true human beings is manifested acutely by the insurmountable distinction between the sense image and intellectual concept. The image is always particular, concrete, imaginable, and has sense qualities, such as when we form the image of an individual human being or a particular triangle. But, the concept is always universal, abstract, unimaginable, and lacks all sense qualities, as when we understand the meaning of terms, such as “humanity” or “triangularity.” Human beings have both kinds of knowing, whereas brute animals are restricted to knowledge of images alone. Again, full details are in the article.

We grasp fully the radical limitations of brute sense knowledge only when we compare it to man’s rich, expansive intellectual life which enables him to study all the sciences, to create exponential technological progress, to embrace transcendental religious belief systems, and even to reflect upon his own human nature so as to grasp its spiritual dimensions—destined to eternal life, and to the knowledge of and union with God Himself. These insights demonstrate that evolutionist claims about ape-language studies pose no threat whatever to human essential superiority. Man still has his God-given dominion over beasts—and always will.

Once we fully understand the radical distinction between lower animals and true human beings, we will then easily determine the essential nature of any possible space aliens.

Introduction

The purpose of this article is to enquire whether, in the face of evidence gained from recent ape-language studies, it is still possible to delineate clearly between human intellectual life and brute sentient life—to refute the claims of the sensist philosophers who would reduce all human knowledge and activities to the level of mere sensation and sense appetite. This question cannot, and need not, be answered exhaustively in this relatively short study of the matter. In order to respond in the affirmative, it will suffice that we be able to show that even the most sophisticated sensory activities of animals bear no legitimate threat to the radical superiority of the human intellect—an intellect whose spiritual character is rationally demonstrable.

Nor is it our intent to present here in detail the formal proofs for the spiritual nature of the human soul which have been offered by St. Thomas Aquinas. (Summa Theologiae, I, q. 75, aa. 1-7). Rather, our primary focus will be upon an examination of evidence and arguments which reveal the inability of lower animals to present a credible challenge to the uniqueness of human intellectual life.

It has long been observed in nature that certain lower forms of life often imitate the activities and perfections of higher forms. For example, the tropisms found in certain plants—while not actually constituting sensation—nonetheless deceptively simulate the sensitive reactions proper to animals alone. So too, the human-like behaviour of many “clever” animals has caused much contemporary confusion on the part of, not only the general populace, but also even presumed experts on animal behaviour.

In great part this confusion has arisen because of the success of Darwinian evolution and its attendant reductionism in dominating for much of this century the academe of those natural sciences which deal with animal and human behaviour. Thus psychologists, zoologists, biologists, anthropologists, and so forth, tend to view human behaviour as nothing but an extension in degree, not in kind, of lower animal behaviour. Nowhere is this tendency more acutely seen than in the controversies arising out of contemporary ape-language studies.

Beginning nearly a century ago, various attempts have been made in a small number of research projects to teach chimpanzees and other primates to talk. The most successful techniques have involved the use of American Sign Language and computer-based artificial language systems. Great publicity has attended these efforts since the 1970s with claims of hundreds of words being “understood” by these subjects, new complex words being invented, and even sentences being formed with two-way “conversations” taking place, not only between trainer and primate, but even between primate and primate!

Dissent and Defense

Yet, by 1979, a simmering academic controversy about the legitimacy of primate linguistic credentials burst into view of the general public with the publication of two critical articles in Psychology Today (November 1979, Vol. 13, No. 6.) —one by Columbia University psychologist H. S. Terrace, the other by University of Indiana anthropologists Thomas and Jean Sebeok. Through a very careful re-evaluation of the signing activities of the subject of his own research project, a chimpanzee named Nim Chimpsky, Terrace concluded, “I could find no evidence of an ape’s grammatical competence, either in my data or those of others” (Psychology Today, 67).

The Sebeoks, moreover, argued that animal researchers have been engaging in a good deal of unwitting self-deception in accepting as linguistic competence behaviour which is actually the result of unconscious cuing. What they refer to is what is widely called the Clever Hans effect—named after a famous turn-of-the-century “thinking” horse whose “intelligent” answers to questions were exposed by Berlin psychologist Oskar Pfungst as simply the result of unintentional cues being given by his questioners.

The defenders of apes’ linguistic abilities engaged in immediate counter-attack—producing an intellectual battle which rages to the present day. It is important for us to note that almost all the participants in this debate to date [1993] are natural scientists who are of one mind concerning man’s materialistic and evolutionary origins. The input of dualist philosophers and theologians has been [as of 1993] virtually nil. Thus the critics of the “linguistic” apes, it should be observed, operate largely from a perspective which views man as nothing but a highly developed animal and which prescinds utterly from any philosophical arguments for the existence and spiritual nature of the human soul.

Among the ape’s defenders, we find Suzanne Chevalier-Skolnikoff who points out that the famed signing chimp, Washoe, has taught another chimp, Loulis, how to sign—although she concedes, “Loulis learned his signs mainly by imitation” (The Clever Hans Phenomenon: Communication with Horses, Whales, Apes, and People, 1981, 89-90.)

Chevalier-Skolnikoff also presents the following remarkable claims about ape behaviour:

“Deception, “lying,” and joking are all behaviours that logically are dependent upon mental combinations, or symbolization, and, like other stage 6 behaviours, they cannot be cued. As mentioned above, deception, lying, and joking all appear in stage 6 in nonsigning apes, and I have observed this kind of behaviour both nonlinguistically and in conjunction with signing in the gorilla Koko during this stage. Consequently, I have no reason to doubt, as some authors have, Patterson’s reports that Koko tells lies and jokes.

“Besides lying and joking, the gorilla Koko also has been recorded to argue with and correct others. Arguing and correcting are dependent upon comparing two viewpoints of a situation—existing conditions with nonexisting ones—and therefore require mental representation” (Clever Hans, 83).

Intentional lying, deception, joking, arguing, and correcting—if actually demonstrable from the research data—would, of course, bespeak unequivocally the presence of intellectual activity on the part of apes. Yet, this is precisely why we must be so very careful about drawing such inferences from the available evidence. We must always be cautious not to assign facilely to higher causes that which could readily be explained in terms of lower causes.

The Anthropomorphic Fallacy

While this is scarcely a proper context in which to explore and critique the multiple data upon which Chevalier-Skolnikoff’s judgments are formed, it must be noted that such judgments necessarily flow from an interpretation of the concrete details examined. And herein lies the greatest danger to the human researcher who attempts to “read” the animal subject. The Sebeoks put the matter thus:

“Investigators and experimenters, in turn, accommodate themselves to the expectations of their animal subjects, unwittingly entering into a subtle nonverbal communication with them while convincing themselves, on the basis of their own human rules of interpretation, that the apes’ reactions are more humanlike than direct evidence warrants” (Psychology Today, November 1979, 91).

In a word, what the Sebeoks describe is the infamous anthropomorphic fallacy, that is, the error of attributing human qualities to animals based upon our nearly irresistible temptation to put ourselves in the brute’s place, and then, to view his actions in terms of our own human intellectual perspectives. The universality of this human tendency is such that even experts in animal behaviour frequently fail to avoid its pitfalls.

The specific content of such habitual anthropomorphism by ape researchers is thus described by the Sebeoks:

“Time and again researchers read anomalous chimpanzee and gorilla signs as jokes, insults, metaphors, and the like. In one case, an animal was reported to be deliberately joking when, in response to persistent attempts to get it to sign “drink” (by tilting its hand at its mouth), it made the sign perfectly, but at its ear rather than its mouth” (Psychology Today, 81).

Clearly, this sort of suspicion strikes at the heart of Koko’s claimed performance of “deception, lying, joking, etc.”

In fact, the synergism of anthropomorphism and the Clever Hans effect is seen by psychologist Stephen Walker as justifying inherent skepticism about any and all claims made on behalf of American Sign Language trained apes.

“The most important type of unwitting human direction of behaviour which has been interpreted as the product of the mental organisation of the apes themselves is in the “prompting” of sequences of gestures in animals trained with the American Sign Language method…. As practically all instances of sequences or combinations of gestures by chimpanzees or gorillas are made in the context of interactions with a human companion, there is virtually no evidence of this kind which is not vulnerable to the charge that the human contact determined the sequence of combinations observed” (Animal Thought, 1983, 373-374).

Yet, not all ape communication techniques employed by researchers have involved the use of American Sign Language. Plastic symbols, computer-controlled keyboards, and other artificial devices have been utilized in order to lessen, or possibly eliminate, human influence on the process.
In defending the research of Savage-Rumbaugh—who used a computer-controlled keyboard system—psychologist Duane M. Rumbaugh insists that the evidence shows the clear capacity for categorization free from any Clever Hans effect:

“For our apes the symbols are referential, representational, and communicative in value. Data obtained and reported by Savage- Rumbaugh at that convention made it clear that the chimpanzees Sherman and Austin categorize learned symbols as foods and tools (nonedibles) just as they categorize the physical referents themselves. These data were obtained from tightly controlled test situations in which the animals had no human present in the room at the keyboard to influence their choice of keys for purposes of categorizing” (Clever Hans, 33. See also ibid., 26-59).

In this, though, as in all other instances of supposed lower primate “intentional” communication, the fundamental problem which remains is the influence of man in “programming” the training and responses of the animals, and then, man’s tendency to anthropomorphize the interpretation of the results of this very influence. The results never seem quite as definitive to the sceptics as they do to the researchers who nearly live with the subjects they wish to “objectively” investigate. The inherent difficulty posed for those who would completely eliminate the Clever Hans effect is well-stated by the Sebeoks.

“Apes simply do not take part in such man-made laboratory tests without a great deal of coaxing. The world’s leading authority on human-animal communication, Heini Hediger, former director of the Zurich zoo, in fact deems the task of eliminating the Clever Hans effect analogous to squaring the circle—‘if only for the reason that every experimental method is necessarily a human method and must thus, per se, constitute a human influence on the animal’” (Psychology Today, 91).

Thus, we see that the Sebeoks support Hediger’s claim that total elimination of the Clever Hans effect would constitute an actual contradiction in terms—a goal entirely impossible of attainment.

Escaping Clever Hans

And yet, it is important not to rest the entire case against “talking” apes upon the Clever Hans effect as championed by the Sebeoks. Walker points to research done by Roger Fouts, the Gardners (with the famous Washoe), and Savage-Rumbaugh as appearing to escape the charge of unintentional cuing. Concerning the latter, he writes:

“When two chimpanzees exchanged information between themselves, using the computer-controlled keyboard system, with experimenters not in the same room (Savage-Rumbaugh et al., 1978b), the evidence seems relatively robust” (Animal Thought, 373).

It would appear that the phrase, “Clever Hans effect,” is now being given a meaning which includes two distinct aspects: (1) unintentional cuing of the animals and (2) any human influence upon the animals. While the Sebeoks and other critics are undoubtedly correct in insisting that human influence is inherent in every ape experiment devised by man, yet it is also clearly not the case that unintentional cuing can explain all significant ape communicative achievements.

Given exhaustive, and sometimes exhausting, training by researchers, several novel and rather impressive ape communication performances—free of all unintentional cuing—have been reasonably well documented. What is referred to here is not merely the well-known abilities of trained chimpanzees and gorillas to associate arbitrary signs with objects, nor even their ability to string together series of such signs in what Terrace and others dismiss as simply urgent attempts to obtain some immediately sensible reward.

Rather, more impressive experimental results are now forthcoming, for example, the Savage-Rumbaugh experiments in which two chimpanzees were taught to communicate and cooperate with each other—using a computer keyboard to transmit information revealing the location of hidden food (Animal Thought, 365-367).

In another experiment, after extensive training and prompting, the same animals learned to cooperate with one another by handing over the correct tool needed to obtain food when their primate partner requested it—again by use of computer symbols and without human presence during the actual experiment. Walker offers his inferences therefrom:

“There can be little doubt, in the case of this experiment, that the visual patterns used in the keyboard system had mental associations with objects, and that the chimpanzee who punched a particular key did this in the expectation that the other animal would hand him a particular tool” (Animal Thought, 369).

Still later, these same prodigious chimpanzees advanced to seemingly quite abstract symbolic associations:

“When they were trained with arbitrary symbols assigned to the two object categories “foods” and “tools” Austin and Sherman successfully selected the appropriate category, when shown arbitrary symbols which were the names for particular foods or tools (Savage-Rumbaugh et al., 1980). That is, they were able to label labels, rather than merely label objects: for instance if shown the arbitrary pattern indicating “banana” they responded by pressing the key meaning “food,” but if shown the symbol for “wrench” they pressed the “tool” key” (Animal Thought, 369-370).

Finally, Woodruff and Premack are reported to have devised a cuing-free experiment in which chimpanzees indicated by gesture the presence of food in a container to human participants who did not know its location. They would correctly direct “friendly” humans who would then share the food with them, but would mislead “unfriendly” humans who would not share the food—since the animals were then permitted to get the food for themselves (Animal Thought, 370-371).

Each of the above experimental “successes” is of interest since each appears to be quite free, not from original human influence in the training process, but at least from the Clever Hans effect of unintentional cuing.

Moreover, they demonstrate fairly complex symbol-object associative skills, “intentional” communication, and even, in the last case, some form of “deception.” We place quotation marks about the terms, “intentional” and “deception,” because the exact cognitive content of such acts remains to be properly understood.

Yet, despite the above-described notable results of non-cued experiments as well as claims of hundreds of “words” being learned and of “sentences” and even “dialogue” being articulated by signing apes, careful natural scientific observers remain convinced of essential differences still remaining between ape and human capabilities.

The Uniqueness of Human Speech

After extremely careful analysis of all the relevant data and arguments presented by the ape-language studies, Walker finally concludes that man’s linguistic capabilities remain unique:

“Apes trained to employ artificial systems of symbolic communication ought not, therefore, to be said to have acquired a language, in the sense that people acquire a language. Human language is unique to humans, and although some of the distinctive features of human speech, such as the mimicking of sounds, may be observed in other species, the resemblance between, for instance, the trained gesturing of a chimpanzee and communication via sign- language among the human deaf is in some senses no greater than the resemblance between the speech of a parrot and that of its owner” (Animal Thought, 377-378).

A parrot might, hypothetically, be trained to say, “Polly wants a cracker because Polly is hungry and because Polly knows that a cracker would neutralize the hyperacidity of his stomach acid and thereby reestablish its normal pH.” It might even be trained to say this in order to obtain food when hungry. Yet, no one would seriously contend that the bird in question actually understands concepts such as “neutralize,” “hyperacidity,” and “normal pH.” It is one thing to associate a trained response with a given stimulus, but quite another to grasp intellectually the intrinsic nature of each in all its various elements as well as the nature of the cause-effect relationship entailed.

Walker also concludes that—aside from their evident superiority in terms of the “sheer quantity” of associations learned—the apes’ capabilities do not qualitatively exceed those of lower species, for example, as when a dog responds to the arbitrary sign of a buzzer in order to obtain a piece of meat through the performance of some trained action:

“In so far as it can be demonstrated that the apes establish a collection of associations between signs and objects, then the results of their training extend further than any previously observed form of animal learning, but it is not clear that they need a substantially different kind of ability to make these associations from that which may be used by other mammals to respond to smaller sets of signals” (Animal Thought, 378).

He also notes the essential dependence of the animals upon human influence in order to assure their performance:

“Even when a computer-controlled keyboard is used, so that tests can be made in the absence of a human presence, social interactions between human trainers and the animal being trained are apparently necessary if the animal is to show any interest in using the keyboard (Rumbaugh, 1977)” (Animal Thought, 379).

Finally, Walker eloquently describes the radical wall of separation which distinguishes man from all the lower primates—pointing in particular to man’s unique possession of language in its proper meaning:

“Of all the discontinuities between man and animals that could be quoted, including the exclusively human faculties for abstraction, reason, morality, culture and technology, and the division of labour… the evergreen candidate for the fundamental discontinuity, which might qualify all others, is language… In a state of nature we expect humans to talk, and by comparison, the most unrelenting efforts to induce our closest living relatives to reveal hidden linguistic potential have left the discontinuity of speech bloodied, but unbowed” (Animal Thought, 387).

With respect to the linguistic facility of apes in comparison to man, Walker maintains that chimpanzees form “mental” associations—but that their abilities pale against those displayed by people:

“It seems necessary to accept that under the conditions described, chimpanzees form mental associations between perceptual schemata for manual gestures and others for object categories. This is not to say, in Romanes’s phrase, that they can mean propositions, in forms such as “all chimpanzees like bananas….” [S]ince it has not been convincingly demonstrated that one chimpanzee gesture modifies another, or that there is any approximation to syntax and grammar in the comprehension or expression of artificial gestures, the similarity between the use of individual signs by apes, and the use of words by people, is definitely limited” (Animal Thought, 357).

Despite Walker’s willingness here to defend the uniqueness of man, we note that he yet shares the tendency of most natural scientists to describe lower primates’ associative imaginative acts while employing philosophically misapplied terms such as “mental,” “understand,” and “think.” In proper philosophical usage, such terms are strictly predicable of human intellectual activities. Their application to brute animals in this context serves only to confuse the intellectual with the sentient order.

In an observation which strikes at the very heart of all ape language experiments, Hediger supports the claim by biophilosopher Bernard Rensch, who noted in 1973 that nothing like human language has ever been found among any of the apes in the state of nature. Hediger comments:

“In other words, with all animals with which we try to enter into conversation we do not deal with primary animals but with anthropogenous animals, so-to-speak with artifacts, and we do not know how much of their behaviour may still be labelled as animal behaviour and how much, through the catalytic effect of man, has been manipulated into the animal. This is just what we would like to know. Within this lies the alpha and omega of practically all such animal experiments since Clever Hans” (Clever Hans, 5).

This amounts to a recognition that all ape-language studies presuppose the invention of true language by man. This peculiarly human invention is then imposed by man upon the apes. The day on which apes create their own linguistic system is still the dream of science fiction.

As is well known to the philosophical science of psychology, human language consists of a deliberately invented system of arbitrary or conventional signs. (Aristotle, On Interpretation, 1 (16a3-8).) Thus the English word “red” could just as well have stood for the natural colour green—except for the convention or agreement by all that it should represent just what it does. The alternative to such arbitrary signs consists of what are termed natural signs, which, as the name implies, flow from the very nature of something. Thus smoke is a natural sign of fire, a beaver slapping its tail on water is a natural sign of danger, and the various calls of birds are signs of specific natural meanings—which cannot be arbitrarily interchanged or invented. The hiss of a cat is never equivalent to its purr.

From all this, it is clear that in teaching apes to “talk” man is simply imposing upon them his own system of arbitrary or conventional signs. The signs belong to man, not to the apes. The apes use them only because we train them to do so. We thus turn the apes, as Hediger says, into “artifacts” of our own creation.

Hediger emphasizes the importance of not underestimating the impact of human training upon lower species:

“This amazing act of training causes one to ponder the manifold efforts of several researchers to enter into language contact, into a dialogue with apes…

“In each case the chimpanzees were demonstrated the desired actions with the hope that they would react in a certain way… with Washoe, Sarah, Lana, and so forth, it is the production of certain signs in which we would like to see a language. But how can we prove that such answers are to be understood as elements of a language, and that they are not only reactions to certain orders and expression, in other words simply performances of training?” (Clever Hans, 9).

One perhaps should ponder here that it is not brute animals alone which can react to training in a way which bespeaks performance but lack of understanding. Have we not all, at one time or another, heard a small child speak a sentence—even with perfect syntax and grammar—whose meaning obviously utterly eludes him? Or, at least, we hope it eludes him! And, if such can occur in children through training and imitation, one can well understand Hediger’s hesitancy to attribute intellectual understanding to a brute animal when such acts could well be explained by simple performance training.

Moreover, Hediger makes a suggestion which reveals the extreme difficulty entailed in assuring that apes actually do understand the meanings of the “words” they gesture under present methods:

“I do not doubt that Washoe and other chimps have learned a number of signs in the sense of ASL. But it seems to me that a better clarification could be reached mainly through the introduction of the orders “repeat” and “hold it.” By this the chimpanzee could show that he really understands the single elements and does not execute fast, sweeping movements into which one possibly could read such elements” (Clever Hans, 9).

Since such “stop action” techniques have never even been attempted in present ASL trained apes, it would seem that demonstration of true intellectual understanding of hand signs in them is virtually impossible. By contrast, humans frequently do explicate their precise meanings to each other—even to the point of writing scholarly papers immersed in linguistic analysis.

The Inferiority of Apes

In contrast with the rather elevated dialogue about apes’ supposed “mental” abilities, Hediger makes a fundamental observation designed to cut the Gordian knot of much of the controversy. Analogous to the old retort, “If you are so smart, why aren’t you rich?,” Hediger’s rather fatally apropos version runs essentially thus: “If apes are so intelligent, why can’t they learn to clean their own cages?”

“If apes really dispose of the great intelligence and the highly developed communication ability that one has attributed to them lately—why in no case in the zoos of the world, where thousands of apes live and reproduce, has it been possible to get one to clean his own cage and to prepare his own food?” (Clever Hans, 13).

In a follow-up comment made, presumably, without any personal prejudice against apes, Hediger writes, “Apes have no notion of work. We might perhaps teach an ape a sign for work but he will never grasp the human conception of work” (Clever Hans, 13).

Finally, Hediger notes that “the animal has no access to the future. It lives entirely in the present time” (Clever Hans, 14). And again, Hediger insists, “To my knowledge, up to now, no animal, not even an ape, has ever been able to talk about a past or a future event” (Clever Hans, 16).

If argument from authority has any force at all, it should be noted here that Heini Hediger is described by the Sebeoks as the “world’s leading authority on human-animal communication… (and) …former director of the Zurich zoo” (Psychology Today, 91).

Moreover, the conclusions by Walker cited above warrant special attention because his book, Animal Thought, represents an outstanding synthesis of available data on animal “mental” processes and includes an extensive review of the recently conducted ape-language studies (Animal Thought, 352-381).

In addition to the specific distinctions between ape and man noted above, the philosopher notices a pattern of evidence which tends to confirm his own conclusions. For it is clear that the apes studied are, in all well-documented activities, exclusively focused upon the immediate, particular objects of their sense consciousness. They seek concrete sensible rewards readily available in the present. Such documented observations are entirely consistent with the purely sentient character of the matter-dependent mode of existence specific to animals.

Apes have no proper concept of time in terms of knowing the past as past or the future as future. Nor do they offer simply descriptive comment or pose questions about the contents of the passing world—not even as a small child does when he asks his father why he shaves or tells his mother she is a good cook even though his stomach is now full.

Time and again it is evident that the most pressing obsession of any ape is the immediate acquisition of a banana (or its equivalent). It has little concern for the sorts of speculative inquiry about that same object which would concern a botanist.

In fact, the whole experiential world of apes is so limited that researchers are severely restricted in terms of their selection of motivational tools capable of use in engaging them to perform or dialogue. Hediger laments:

“Therefore there remain the essential daily needs, above all metabolism, food and drink, social and sexual contact, rest and activity, play and comfort, conditions of environment in connection with the sensations of pleasure and dislike, some objects, and possibly a few more things. This is indeed rather modest” (Clever Hans, 14).

Aristotle makes much the same point:

“The life of animals, then, may be divided into two acts—procreation and feeding; for on these two acts all their interests and life concentrate. Their food depends chiefly on the substance of which they are severally constituted; for the source of their growth in all cases will be this substance. And whatsoever is in conformity with nature is pleasant, and all animals pursue pleasure in keeping with their nature” (History of Animals, VIII, 1, [589a3-589a9]).

Small wonder the apes will neither philosophize nor clean their cages!

We have seen above that much of ape-communicative skills can be explained in terms of simple imitation or unintentional cuing. Even in the carefully controlled experiments designed to lessen or eliminate all cuing, the factor of human influence in the extensive training needed to get apes to initiate and continue their performance simply cannot be eliminated.

Yet, there seems to remain a legitimate need for further explanation of the impressive ape-communicative skills manifested as the product of the experiments done by Savage-Rumbaugh and others. Granted, exhaustive training may explain why these chimpanzees and gorillas act in fashions never seen in the state of nature. Yet, this does not fully avoid the need to explain the remarkable character of the behaviour produced by this admittedly artificial state into which the animals have been thrust by human imposition.

In the first place, it must be noted that there is no undisputed evidence of ape-language skills which exceed the domain of the association of sensible images. Even the categorization of things like tools and actions does not exceed the sensible abilities of lower species, for example, the ability of a bird to recognize selectively the objects which are suitable for nest building. Nor does even the ability to “label labels” exceed, in principle, the province of the association of internal images.

Intellectual Activity

It should be observed here that the nature of intellectual knowledge does not consist merely in the ability to recognize common sensible characteristics or sensible phenomena which are associated with a given type of object or action. Such sentient recognition is evident in all species of animals whenever they respond in consistent fashion to like stimuli, as we see in the case of the wolf sensing any and all sheep as the object of his appetite.

On the contrary, the intellect penetrates beyond the sensible appearances of things to their essential nature. Even at the level of its first act (that is, simple apprehension or abstraction), the intellect “reads within” the sensible qualities of an entity—thereby grasping intelligible aspects which it raises to the level of the universal concept. Thus, while we can imagine the sensible qualities of an individual triangle, we cannot imagine the universal essence of triangularity—since a three-sided plane figure can be expressed in infinitely varied shapes and sizes. Yet, the concept of triangularity is a proper object of intellectual understanding. Thus, the essence of conceiving the universal consists, not merely in an association of similar sensible forms, but in the formation of a concept abstracted from the individuating, singularizing influence of matter and freed from all the sensible qualities which can exist only in an individual, concrete object or action.

So too, the correct identification of, communication about, and employment of an appropriate tool by a chimpanzee (in order to obtain food) is no assurance of true intellectual understanding. Indeed, a spider which weaves its web to catch insects is repeatedly creating the same type of tool designed exquisitely to catch the same type of victim. Yet, does anyone believe that this instinctive behaviour bespeaks true intellectual understanding of the means-end relation on the part of the spider? Hardly! The evident lack of intelligence in the spider is manifest the moment it is asked to perform any feat or task outside its fixed instinctive patterns.

Whether “programmed” by instinct, as in the case of the spider, or by man, as in the case of the chimpanzee, each animal is simply playing out its proper role in accord with pre-programmed habits based upon recognition or association of sensibly similar conditions. Certainly, no ape or any other brute animal understands the means as means, the end as end, and the relation of means to end as such. The sense is ordered to the particular; only intellect understands the universal.

One may ask, “How do we know that the ape does not understand the intrinsic nature of the objects or ”labels“ he has been trained to manipulate?” The answer is that, just like the spider which cannot perform outside its “programmed” instincts, so too, the ape—while appearing to act quite “intelligently” within the ambit of its meticulous training, yet exhibits neither the originality nor creative progress which man manifests when he invents at will his own languages and builds great civilizations and, yes, keeps his own “cages” clean!

Therefore, while it is clear that certain apes have been trained to associate impressive numbers of signs with objects, it is also clear that the mere association of images with signs and objects, or even of images with other images, does not constitute evidence of intellectual understanding of the intrinsic nature of anything. And it is precisely such acts of understanding which remain the exclusive domain of the human species.

Yet, the field of contest of ape-language studies is centred not only upon the first act of the intellect discussed above, but also upon the second and third acts of the intellect, that is, upon judgment and reasoning. Thus Chevalier-Skolnikoff insists that the chimpanzee, Washoe, and the gorilla, Koko, exhibit true grammatical competence as, for example:

“breakfast eat some cookie eat,” signed by Koko at 5 years 6 months and “please tickle more, come Roger tickle,” “you me go peek-a-boo,” and “you me go out hurry,” signed by Washoe at about 3 years 9 months. Besides providing new information, the structures of these phrases (like those of the novel compound names) imply that they are intentionally planned sequences” (Clever Hans, 83).

It is in the expression of such “intentionally planned sequences” that Koko is reported to have argued with and corrected others; for example, when Koko pointed to squash on a plate and her teacher signed “potato,” Koko is reported to have signed “Wrong, squash” (Clever Hans, 84).

Even if one is disposed to accept the intrinsically anecdotal character of all such data, we must remember the inherent danger of anthropomorphic inferences warned against by Walker, the Sebeoks, and others. As Walker concludes, because of the necessary interaction with a human companion during such communication, “there is virtually no evidence of this kind which is not vulnerable to the charge that the human contact determined the sequence of combinations observed” (Animal Thought, 374).

And while it is not evident precisely how the animal was trained to sign “wrong” or otherwise indicate a negative, such a sign when associated with a correct response (for example, “squash”) need not reflect a genuinely intellectual judgment. The correct response itself is simply proper categorization which is the product of training. Its association with a negative word-sign like “wrong” or “no” may simply be a sign which is trained to be elicited whenever the interlocutor’s words or signs do not fit the situation. The presumption of intellectual reflection and negative judgments in such cases constitute rank anthropomorphism in the absence of other specifically human characteristics, for example, there appears to be no data whatever recording a “correction” or “argument” entailing a progressive process of reasoning. Rather, two signs, such as “No, gorilla” or “Wrong, squash” constitute the entire “argument.” Compare such simple “denials” to the lengthy syllogistic arguments—often of many steps—offered in human debate. The apes, at best, appear to offer us merely small collections of associated simple signs—usually united only by the desire to attain an immediate sensible reward.

As noted earlier, apes have been reported to sign to other apes (Clever Hans, 89-90). They have even been reported to sign to themselves when alone (Clever Hans, 86). Such behaviour, though striking, simply reflects the force of habit. Once the proper associations of images to hand signs have been well established, the tendency to respond in similar fashion in similar contexts—whether in the presence of man or another ape or even in solitude—is hardly remarkable.

Critiquing the Research Data

Perhaps the most stinging defection from the ranks of those advocating an ape’s grammatical competence is that of H. S. Terrace. His own research project, whose subject was a chimpanzee named Nim Chimpsky, eventually led him to question the legitimacy of initially favourable results. He then began a complete re-evaluation of his own prior data as well as that which was available from other such projects. Terrace now insists that careful analysis of all ape-language studies fails to demonstrate that apes possess grammatical competence.

Terrace suggests that in two studies using artificial language devices what the chimpanzees “learned was to produce rote sequences of the type ABCX, where A, B, and C are nonsense symbols and X is a meaningful element” (Clever Hans, 95). Thus, he argues, while the sign “apple” might have meaning for the chimpanzee, Lana,

“…it is doubtful that, in producing the sequence please machine give apple, Lana understood the meanings of please machine and give, let alone the relationships between these symbols that would apply in actual sentences” (Clever Hans, 95).

Terrace points to the importance of sign order in demonstrating simple constructions, such as subject-verb-object, and then criticizes the Gardners for failing to publish any data on sign order regarding Washoe (Clever Hans, 96).

Perhaps the single most important contribution of Terrace has been his effort “to collect and to analyse a large corpus of a chimpanzee’s sign combinations for regularities of sign order” (Clever Hans, 97). Moreover, he initiated:

“… a painstaking analysis of videotapes of Nim’s and his teacher’s signing. These tapes revealed much about the nature of Nim’s signing that could not be seen with the naked eye. Indeed they were so rich in information that it took as much as one hour to transcribe a single minute of tape” (Clever Hans, 103).

These careful examinations of Nim’s signing activities led Terrace to conclude:

“An ape signs mainly in response to his teachers’ urgings, in order to obtain certain objects or activities. Combinations of signs are not used creatively to generate particular meanings. Instead, they are used for emphasis or in response to the teacher’s unwitting demands that the ape produce as many contextually relevant signs as possible” (Clever Hans, 107-108).

Terrace points out the difficulty involved in attempting to evaluate the performance of the other signing apes:

“… because discourse analyses of other signing apes have yet to be published. Also, as mentioned earlier, published accounts of an ape’s combinations of signs have centred around anecdotes and not around exhaustive listings of all combinations” (Clever Hans, 108).

Seidenberg and Petitto raise similar objections to the anecdotal foundation for some of the most significant claims made on behalf of apes:

“A small number of anecdotes are repeatedly cited in discussions of the apes’ linguistic skills. However, they support numerous interpretations, only the very strongest of which is the one the ape researchers prefer, i.e., that the ape was signing “creatively.” These anecdotes are so vague that they cannot carry the weight of evidence which they have been assigned. Nonetheless, two important claims—that the apes could combine signs creatively into novel sequences, and that their utterances showed evidence of syntactic structure—are based exclusively upon anecdote” (Clever Hans, 116).

Terrace also states that he has carefully examined films and videotape transcripts of other apes, specifically Washoe and Koko. Regarding the former, he concludes, “In short, discourse analysis makes Washoe’s linguistic achievement less remarkable than it might seem at first” (Clever Hans, 109). Terrace also examined four transcripts providing data on two other signing chimpanzees, Ally and Booee. Finally, he summarizes his findings:

“Nim’s, Washoe’s, Ally’s, Booee’s, and Koko’s use of signs suggests a type of interaction between an ape and its trainer that has little to do with human language. In each instance the sole function of the ape’s signing appears to be to request various rewards that can be obtained only by signing. Little, if any, evidence is available that an ape signs in order to exchange information with its trainer, as opposed to simply demanding some object or activity” (Clever Hans, 109-110).

Following on similar criticisms by Terrace, Seidenberg and Petitto point out the simple absence of data supporting the claims that apes show linguistic competence:

“The primary data in a study of ape language must include a large corpus of utterances, a substantial number of which are analyzed in terms of the contexts in which they occurred. No corpus exists of the utterances of any ape for whom linguistic abilities are claimed” (Clever Hans, 116).

Terrace’s Nim Chimpsky, of course, is one chimpanzee for whom linguistic ability was not claimed by his researcher. It is therefore significant that the data collected on the Nim project is, by far, the most exhaustive:

“The data of Terrace et al. on Nim are more robust than those offered by other ape researchers. Although their data are limited in several respects, they are the only systematic data on any signing ape” (Clever Hans, 121-122).

If the above citation is factually correct, it means that the ape-language studies fall into two categories: (1) the Nim project, which is based upon “systematic data,” but whose researcher could find “no evidence of an ape’s grammatical competence” and (2) the rest of the projects, for whose subjects various claims of linguistic competence have been made, but none of which are based upon “systematic data.”

Another weakness in the data—one which afflicts even the Nim project—is the practice of simply deleting signs which are immediately repeated:

“In comparing Nim’s multisign utterances and mean length of utterances (MLU) to those of children, it is important to realize that all contiguous repetitions were deleted. In this respect, Terrace et al. follow the practice established by the other ape researchers. The repetitions in ape signing constitute one of the primary differences between their behaviour and the language of deaf and hearing children, yet they have always been eliminated from analyses” (Clever Hans, 123).

Needless to observe, the deletion of such uselessly repeated “words” would tend to make an ape’s recorded “speech” appear much more intelligible and meaningful than it actually is.

In a noteworthy understatement, Seidenberg and Petitto conclude, “There are numerous methodological problems with this research” (Clever Hans, 127). Even if all available data from ape-language studies—anecdotal and otherwise—were to be accepted at face value the legitimacy of claims about apes understanding the meanings of their signs, creating new word complexes, deceiving, lying, reasoning, and so forth, need not be recognized in the sense of providing proof of the possession of genuine intellectual powers on their part.

It must be remembered that contemporary electronic computers can be programmed to simulate many of these behaviours—and, probably, in principle, all of them. Walker points out some of these capabilities:

“Already there are computers which can recognise simple spoken instructions, and there are computer programs which can play the part of a psychotherapist in interchanges with real patients (Holden, 1977), so the inability of machines to conduct low-grade conversations is no longer such a strong point” (Animal Thought, 9).

If a computer can hold its own with real patients while feigning the role of a psychotherapist, it should surely be able to perform many of the functions of signing apes. Clearly, given appropriate sensing devices and robotics, even the most impressive, non-cued Savage-Rumbaugh experimental results could easily be simulated by computers—even by pairs of computers exhibiting the co-operative exchange of information and objects as was seen in the activities of the chimpanzees, Sherman and Austin (Animal Thought, 364-370, 373). This would include the ability to “label labels,” for example, to respond to the arbitrary pattern for banana by pressing the key meaning food (Animal Thought, 369-370). Such performance may seem remarkable in an ape, but it would be literal child’s play to a properly programmed computer.

Again, programming a computer to “deceive” or “lie to” an interrogator is no great feat—although Woodruff and Premack apparently spent considerable time and effort creating an environment which, in effect, “programmed” chimpanzees to engage in just such unworthy conduct (Animal Thought, 370-371).

Certainly there are, as yet, no reports about apes having learned to play chess. Yet, Walker reports:

“Pocket-sized computers are now available that can play chess at a typical, if not outstanding, human level, accompanied by a rudimentary attempt at conversation about the game… In the face of modern electronic technology, though, it is less obvious that it is impossible for physical devices to achieve human flexibility than it was in the seventeenth century” (Animal Thought, 10-11).

Evidently then, the electronic computer is capable of engaging in “low-grade conversations”—and this, probably in a manner which would well outstrip its nearest ape competitors.

While it must be conceded that all of the abovementioned capabilities of electronic computers presuppose the agency of very intelligent human computer programmers, yet the correlative “programming” of apes must be understood to occur as a result of deliberate human training, unintentional cuing, and unavoidable human influence upon the animals.

On the other hand, it must be recognized that the capabilities of apes equal or exceed those of computers in several significant respects. According to the eminent physicist-theologian Stanley L. Jaki, the number of potential memory units in the brain is phenomenal. In his Brain, Mind and Computers [BMC] (1969), he writes, “After all, the latitude between 1027, the estimated number of molecules in the brain, and 1010, the estimated number of neurons, is enormous enough to accommodate any guess, however bold, fanciful, or arbitrary” (BMC, 110). Later (BMC, 115), he tells us that “the human brain… [has] …twice as many neurons as the number of neurons in the brain of apes,” we conclude that the number of neurons in the brain of apes must be 5 X 109.

This certainly constitutes an impressive amount of almost instantaneously available “core storage.” Moreover, while it is possible to attach elaborate “sensing” devices to provide input data to a computer, nothing devised by man can match the natural abilities of the multiple external and internal senses found in higher animals, including the apes. Hence, their ability to sense and categorize a banana as food is simply part of their natural “equipment.” Finally, while extensive and complex robotic devices are now becoming an essential ingredient in various computer-controlled manufacturing processes, an ape’s limbs, hands, and feet afford him a comprehensive dexterity unmatched by that of any single machine.

The point of all this is simply that none of the performances exhibited by language-trained apes exceeds in principle the capacities of electronic computers. And yet, electronic computers simply manipulate data. They experience neither intellectual nor even sentient knowledge and, in fact, do not even possess that unity of existence which is proper to a single substance. A computer is merely a pile of cleverly constructed electronic parts conjoined to form an accidental, functional unity which serves man’s purpose.

It is in no way surprising, then, that man should be able to “program” apes to perform in the manner reported by researchers. For these apes have, indeed, become, as Heini Hediger so adroitly points out, artifacts—through the language and tasks which we humans have imposed upon them (Clever Hans, 5).

The force of much of the above argument from analogy will be lost upon those who do not understand why we state that computers possess neither substantial existence and unity nor any sentient or intellectual knowledge. Our claims may seem especially gratuitous in an age in which various computer experts proclaim the imminent possibility of success in the search for artificial intelligence through the science of cybernetics.

Yet, it would appear to be sheer absurdity to suggest that the elementary components of complicated contemporary computers—whether considered singly or in concert—could conceivably experience anything whatsoever. For no non-living substance—whether it be an atom, a molecule, a rock, or even an electronic chip—is itself capable of sensation or intellection.

On the other hand, what answer can be given to the sceptic’s seemingly absurd, but elusively difficult, query: How can we be so certain that some form of consciousness, or at least the potency for consciousness, is not present in the apparently inanimate parts used to compose a modern computer? As any novice logician is well aware, the problems inherent in the demonstration of any negative are substantive. Hence, the challenge of proving that inanimate objects are truly non-living, non-sensing, non-thinking, and so forth, is difficult—the moment, of course, that one is prepared to take the issue at all seriously.

Clearly, potentialities for sensation and intellection as well as other life activities do exist—but only as faculties (operative potencies) of already living things. These powers are secondary qualities inherent in and proper to the various living species—which properties flow from their very essence and are put into act by the apprehension of the appropriate formal object. Thus, the potency for sight in an animal is a sensitive faculty of its substantial form (soul) which enables the animal to see actually when it is put into act by the presence of its proper sense object (colour). This is not the same at all as suggesting that inanimate objects as such might possess such potencies or faculties.

Despite its apparent difficulty, though, it is indeed possible to demonstrate that the universal absence of specific life activities—both in the individual and in all other things of the same essential type—shows that those life qualities are utterly outside of or missing from such a nature. Or, to put the matter affirmatively, the presence of a given form necessarily implies its formal effects, that is, if a thing is alive, it must manifest its life activities; if sensation is a power of its nature, it must, at least at times, actually sense. That a power should exist in a given species, but never be found in act, is absolutely impossible. This fundamental truth can be shown as follows.

According to the utter certitude which is offered by the science of metaphysics, there must exist a sufficient reason why a given thing consistently exhibits certain qualities or activities, but not others. For instance, if a non-living thing, such as a rock, manifests the qualities of extension and mass, yet never exhibits any life activities, for example, nutrition, growth, or reproduction, then either such life powers must be absent from its nature altogether, or else, if present, there must be some sufficient reason why such powers are never exhibited in act. And that reason must be either intrinsic or extrinsic to its nature. If it is extrinsic, then it would have to be accidental to the nature, and thus, caused. As St. Thomas Aquinas observes:

“Everything that is in something per accidens, since it is extraneous to its nature, must be found in it by reason of some exterior cause” (De Potentia Dei, q. 10, a. 4, c.).

Moreover, what does not flow from the very essence of a thing cannot be found to occur universally in that thing—even if it be the universal absence of a quality or activity. For, as St. Thomas Aquinas also points out:

“The power of every agent [which acts] through necessity of nature is determined to one effect, and therefore it is that every natural [agent] comes always in the same way, unless there should be an impediment” (Summa Contra Gentiles, III, 23).

Hence, while an extrinsic cause might occasionally interfere with the vital activities of a living thing, such suppression of the nature’s activities is relatively rare—and surely, never universal. Thus, the ability to reproduce may be suppressed by an extrinsic cause in a few individuals in a species, but most will reproduce. On the other hand, if reproduction were absent in every member of a species, for example, rocks, then the absence of such activity must be attributed directly to the essence itself.

But if a thing is said to possess a power or potency to a certain act by its very essence, and yet, that selfsame essence is said to be responsible for its never actually exercising such a power, then such an essence becomes self-contradictory—since that essence would then be responsible both for its substance essentially being able to possess that quality and for it never being able actually to possess that same quality. The same essence would then be the reason why a thing is able to be alive or conscious and also, at the same time, the reason why that same thing is never able to be alive or conscious. This is clearly both absurd and impossible.

Moreover, Aristotle defines nature as “a source or cause of being moved and of being at rest in that to which it belongs primarily” (Physics, II, 1, 192b22-23). But a nature which would also be the reason for a thing not moving or resting would clearly contradict itself.

From all this, it follows that, if a quality or activity is lacking in each and every member of a species of things, it is absent neither by accident nor as a positive effect of the essence—but simply because such quality or activity does not belong to its essence at all. Hence, non-living things have no life powers within their natures. They can gain life powers only by undergoing a substantial change, that is, by somehow becoming assimilated into the very substance of a living thing, as when a tree absorbs nutrients from the soil and then turns them into its very self.

But such is clearly not what happens when inanimate parts are artificially joined together into an accidental, functional unity such as an electronic computer. Thus, none of a computer’s individual parts which are inanimate in themselves can exhibit the properties of life, sensation, or intellection. Nor can any combination of such non-living entities—even if formed into a highly complex functional unity—achieve the activities of perception or thought, since these noetic perfections transcend utterly the individual natures, and thus, the natural limitations, of its components.

Since it is an artificial composite of many substances, a computer constitutes merely an accidental unity. As such, no accidental perfection can exist in it which is not grounded in the natures of its constituent elements. It is a perennial temptation to engage in the metaphysical slight of hand of suggesting that somehow the whole might be greater than the sum of its parts, that the total collectivity can exhibit qualities of existence found in none of its elements. In this strange way, like Pinocchio, the computer is averred to take on suddenly all the properties of a living substance—to sense and to think.

But such is the stuff of fantasy. It is to commit the fallacy of composition—to attribute to the whole qualities found in none of its parts. It is like suggesting that an infinite multitude of idiots could somehow—if only properly arranged—constitute a single genius. The fundamental obstacle to all such speculation is the principle of sufficient reason. For the non-living, as such, offers no existential foundation for the properties of life. And merely accidental rearrangements of essentially non-living components provide no sufficient reason for the positing of the essentially higher activities found in living things—unless there takes place the sort of substantial change described above. And such substantial changes are found solely in the presently constituted natural order of things, that is, by assimilation or generation.

Since the hylemorphist philosopher understands that the substantial unity of things above the atomic level depends upon some unifying principle, that is, the substantial form, he knows that only natural unities possessing appropriate cognitive faculties of sensation or intellection can actually know anything. Thus a “sensing device” such as a television set running in an empty room actually senses nothing. It cannot see its own picture or hear its own sound. No genuine perception can occur until, say, a dog stumbles into the room and glances at the set in operation.

The dog can see and hear the set precisely because the dog is a natural living substantial unity whose primary matter is specified and unified by a substantial form (its soul) which possesses the sense faculties of sight and hearing. Absent the sensitive soul, the most complex “sensing device” knows nothing of the sense data it records. Absent the intellectual soul, a “thinking” machine understands nothing of the intelligible data it manipulates nor even is it aware of its own existence. A computer could well be programmed to pronounce, “Cogito ergo sum,” and yet remain completely unaware of its own existence or anything else.

Gödel’s Theorem

The inherent limitations of any electronic computer were unintentionally underlined by the German mathematician Kurt Gödel in 1930 when he proposed his famed incompleteness theorem to the Vienna Academy of Sciences. As theologian and physicist, Stanley L. Jaki, S.J., simply expresses it, the theorem states “that even in the elementary parts of arithmetic there are propositions which cannot be proved or disproved in that system” (BMC, 214). Gödel himself initially vastly underestimated the profound implications of his theorem. Among these were (1) that it struck “a fatal blow to Hilbert’s great program to formalize the whole of mathematics…” (BMC, 215) and (2) that it “cuts the ground under the efforts that view machines… as adequate models of the mind” (BMC, 216).

Jaki spells out the impact of the incompleteness theorem on the question of computer consciousness:

“Actually, when a machine is requested to prove that “a specific formula is unprovable in a particular system,” one expects the machine to be self-conscious, or in other words, that it knows that it knows it, and that it knows that it knows it that it knows it, and so forth ad infinitum…. A machine would always need an extra part to reflect on its own performance, and therein lies the Achilles heel of the reasoning according to which a machine with a sufficiently high degree of complexity will become conscious. Regardless of how one defines consciousness, such a machine, as long as it is a machine in the accepted sense of the word, will not and cannot be fully self-conscious. It will not be able to reflect on its last sector of consciousness” (BMC, 220-221).

Despite the logical adroitness of this analysis, we must, of course, remember that in truth and in fact machines possess no psychic faculties at all. They actually have neither even the most immediate level of reflection nor any form of consciousness whatever.

What Gödel’s theorem simply implies is that men are not machines—that computers (because they have not a spiritual intellect) are unable to know the truth of their own “judgments” since they lack the capacity for self-reflective consciousness.

This analysis of computer deficiency based upon the incompleteness theorem is offered simply to demonstrate that, although computers may be able to simulate the abilities of language-trained apes, their computations, nonetheless, remain essentially inferior to human cognitive abilities. In truth, neither apes nor computers are capable of genuinely self-reflective acts of intellection since such acts are possible for creatures with spiritual intellects alone, for example, man. Unlike computers, apes, of course, are alive and possess sensitive souls capable of sense consciousness—but not intellection.

Nonetheless, the fact that electronic computers—having neither sensation nor intellection nor even life itself—could, in principle, be designed and programmed so as to imitate, or even exceed, the skills of language-trained apes is sufficient evidence that ape-language studies pose no threat to man’s uniqueness as a species. Nor do the studies cast in any doubt man’s uniquely spiritual nature—as distinguished from the rest of the animal kingdom.

One striking bit of information drawn from the history of ape- language studies has been saved until this point in our study in order to underscore the radical difference between man and lesser primates. It demonstrates, as Paul Bouissac points out, that the animal’s perspective on what is going on may differ radically from our own. Now, no language-trained ape possesses a greater reputation for linguistic expertise and presumed civility than the female chimpanzee, Washoe. It is therefore rather appalling to learn of the following incident reported by Bouissac:

“There are indeed indications that accidents are not infrequent, although they have never been publicized; the recent attack of the celebrated “Washoe” on Karl Pribram, in which the eminent psychologist lost a finger (personal communication, June 13, 1980) was undoubtedly triggered by a situation that was not perceived in the same manner by the chimpanzee and her human keepers and mentors” (Clever Hans, 24).

In pointing to the divergence of perspective between man and ape, Bouissac may well understate the problem. Washoe would have been about 15 years old at the time of the attack. Needless to say, humans of that age have virtually never been recorded as even attempting to bite their teachers—and this would seem especially true of outstanding students!

This clear-cut evidence that animals—even apes—simply do not perceive the communicative context in the same way that man does demonstrates the degree to which the anthropomorphic fallacy has overtaken many researchers—despite their claims of caution in this regard.

A Positive Demonstration

While much of the preceding discussion pertinent to man’s uniqueness as a species has focused upon signs of his spiritual nature and, to an even greater degree, upon the failure of lower animals to demonstrate any intellectual ability, philosopher and theologian Austin M. Woodbury, S.M., approaches the question with a fresh and more decisive perspective (Natural Philosophy, Treatise Three, Psychology [1951], III, Ch. 40, Art. 2, 432-465).

He points out that the effort to explain all animal behaviour in terms of sensation alone could never be completed and might produce no more than a probable conclusion because of the complexity of the task. One need only consider the endless anecdotal data to be examined (Psychology, 437).

To avoid the logical weakness of this negative approach, Woodbury proposes an appropriate remedy by seeking direct and positive proof that brutes are lacking in the necessary effects or signs of intelligence (Psychology, 438).

For, he argues, the necessary effects of intellect are four: speech, progress, knowledge of relations, and knowledge of immaterial objects. Since each of these is a necessary effect, “if it be shown that even one of these signs of intellect is lacking to ‘brutes’, then it is positively proved that ‘brutes’ are devoid of intellect” (Psychology, 438). In fact, Woodbury argues that brute animals are in default in all four areas.

While the most significant ape-language experiments were conducted after Woodbury wrote his Psychology, nonetheless his insistence on the absence of true speech among brute animals remains correct as we have seen above. He points out that animals possess the organs of voice (or, we might note, the hands to make signs), the appropriate sensible images, and the inclination to manifest their psychic states—but they do not manifest true speech since they lack intellect (Psychology, 441).

What Woodbury seems to be saying is that, if brute animals actually possessed intellect, they would have long ago developed their own forms of communication expressed in arbitrary or conventional signs. Their failure to do so is manifest evidence of the absence of intellect. On the contrary, since all men do possess intellect, all men develop speech.

It is noteworthy that even a chimpanzee brought up in a human family learns no speech at all whereas a human child does so easily and quickly. While it is conceded that chimpanzees and other apes lack the vocal dexterity of man, yet it must be noted that they do possess sufficient vocal equipment to enable them to make limited attempts at speech—just as would any human suffering from a severe speech defect. Yet, apes attempt nothing of the sort.

While Woodbury does not, of course, make reference here to the signing apes, it is clear that their behaviour is to be explained by imitation and the association of images. While man may impose signing upon such animals artificially, their failure to have developed language on their own and in their natural habitat demonstrates lack of true speech. That animals possess natural signs is conceded, but irrelevant.

Neither do animals present evidence of genuine progress. Woodbury points out that “from intellect by natural necessity follows progress in works, knowledges and sciences, arts and virtue” (Psychology, 443) While he grants that animals do learn from experience, imitation, and training, yet, because they lack the capacity for intellectual self-reflection, they are unable to correct themselves—an ability absolutely essential to true progress.

Even in the most “primitive” societies, true men make progress as individuals. For children learn language, arts, complex tribal organization, complex legal systems, and religious rites (Psychology, 444). Woodbury notes, “Moreover, the lowest of such peoples can be raised by education to very high culture” (Psychology, 444).

Woodbury points out that the appetite to make deliberate progress is inherent in a being endowed with intellect and will. For as the intellect naturally seeks the universal truth and the will seeks the infinite good, no finite truth or good offers complete satisfaction. Thus man, both as a species and as an individual, seeks continually to correct and perfect himself. While apes are ever content to satisfy the same sensitive urges, men erect the ever-advancing technology and culture which mark the progress of civilization. The failure of animals to make anything but accidental improvements—except when the intellect of man imposes itself upon them through training—proves the utter absence of intellect within their natures.

Commenting on his third sign that intellect is lacking in animals, Woodbury observes that brute animals lack a formal knowledge of relations. They fail to understand the means-end relationship in its formal significance. And, while men grasp the formal character of the cause-effect relationship in terms of being itself, animals are limited merely to perceiving and associating a succession of events (Psychology, 445).

Woodbury distinguishes between possessing a universal understanding of the ontological nature of means in relation to ends as opposed to possessing a merely sensitive knowledge of related singular things. Lower animals reveal their lack of such understanding whenever conditions change so as to make the ordinarily attained end of their instinctive activity unobtainable. For they then show a lack of versatility in devising a substitute means to that end. Also, they will continue to repeat the now utterly futile action which instinct presses upon them. Woodbury offers this example:

“Thus apes, accustomed to perch themselves on a box to reach fruit, if the box be absent, place on the ground beneath the fruit a sheet of paper and perch themselves thereupon” (Psychology, 447).

This same example reveals how lower animals “show no knowledge of distinction between causality and succession” (Psychology, 448). Clearly, had they any understanding of causality, the apes would not conceive a “sheet of paper” as causally capable of lifting them significantly toward the fruit.

The fourth and final sign that intellect is clearly lacking in animals pertains to knowledge of immaterial things. Woodbury points out that our intellectual nature impels us to a knowledge of science, the exercise of free choice, the living of a moral life, the exercise of religion, etc. (Psychology, 448). Such abstract and evidently supra-temporal objects are so clearly absent in the life of apes and other animals as to need no further comment.

Thus we see that brute animals, including apes, are clearly lacking in all four of the necessary formal effects of intellect, that is, speech, progress, knowledge of relations, and knowledge of immaterial objects. From this it follows with apodictic certitude that lower animals must lack the intellectual faculties.

Image and Concept

Perhaps the most important distinction to be kept in mind when attempting to understand animal behaviour is that offered by Woodbury when he discusses the intellectual knowing of universal concepts as opposed to the knowledge had through a common image or common scheme—since it is very tempting to identify the two, as materialists are so prone to do. He presents this definition of the common image:

“But a COMMON IMAGE or COMMON SCHEME is vastly diverse from a universal concept: for it is nothing else than AN IMAGE OF SOME SINGULAR THING ACCORDING TO ITS SENSIBLE APPEARANCES WHICH HAPPENS TO BE LIKE OTHER SINGULAR THINGS, SINCE THEY ARE LIKE THAT WHEREOF IT IS THE IMAGE” (Psychology, 433).

Since the entire sensitive life of apes and lower animals (including the phenomena associated with signing behaviour) is rooted in the association of images, and since common images are so frequently confused with universal concepts, one can readily understand the errors of so many modern animal researchers. They suffer the same confusion as the 18th century sensist philosopher, David Hume, who conceived images as sharply focused mental impressions and ideas as simply pale and derivative images (A Treatise of Human Nature [1956], Vol. I, Book I, Sect. I , 11-16). Neither he nor the modern positivistic animal researchers understand the essential distinction between the image and the concept.

And yet, it is precisely in this distinction that the radical difference between the material and spiritual orders becomes manifest. For, being rooted in the individuating, quantifying character of matter, the image is always of the singular. It is always particular, sensible, concrete and, in a word, imaginable—as one can easily imagine a single horse or even a group of horses. On the contrary, the concept—because it involves no intrinsic dependence upon matter at all—is universal in nature. It entails no sensible qualities whatever, can have varying degrees of extension when predicated, and is entirely unimaginable. No one can imagine horseness.

No single image of a horse or group of horses would fit equally all horses—even though the common image of “a horse” would enable a fox to recognize sentiently the sensible similarities of all horses. In fact, this “common image” is more useful for the instinctive life of animals—for it suffices the cat to know the common image of a mouse in order that its estimative sense may sensibly recognize it as an object to be pounced upon and eaten. The intellectual understanding of the internal essence of a mouse may well be suited to the interest of the professional biologist—but it is hardly necessary or even very helpful to the famished feline predator (Psychology, 434).

In order to see more fully the significance of the distinction between mere recognition of a common image and true intellectual apprehension of an intelligible essence, let us consider the following example: Imagine a dog, an uneducated aborigine, and a civilized man—all observing a train pulling into a station at the same time over successive days. All three would possess a common image of the train which would permit sensible recognition of the likeness of the singular things involved, that is, the sequentially observed trains. (Whether it is, in fact, the exact same engine, cars, and caboose is irrelevant—since similar sets of singular things could be known through a common image.)

Yet, the sensible similarities are all that the dog would perceive. In addition, the civilized man would understand the essence of the train. He would grasp the intelligibility of the inner workings of the causal forces of fire on water producing steam whose expansion drives pistons to move wheels which pull the whole vehicle, cargo and passengers as well, forward in space through the passage of time.

Well enough. But, what of the uneducated aborigine? What differentiates him from the dog is that, even though he may not initially know the intrinsic nature of the train, his intellect is at once searching for an answer to the why of the entire prodigy. He may make what, to us, would be amazing errors in this regard—as did the natives of Borneo who are reported to have attempted to give animal feed to cargo planes which landed there during World War II. But search the causes in being of the inner structure of the train, he certainly would! And, most importantly, with but a little explanation the aborigine would quickly come to the same basic understanding of the train as the rest of us—while the dog still would bark uselessly at its noise.

So too, when man and mouse perceive the same mousetrap what is perceived is quite different. The mouse sees the cheese; we see a potentially death-dealing trap. Small wonder, then, the divergence of perspective between psychologist Pribram and chimpanzee Washoe concerning the proper role of Pribram’s finger in the context of their “communication!”

For at every level of communication it must be remembered that the perception of animals is purely sensory while that of man is both sensory and intellectual. Thus the mouse sees the cheese in a strictly sensory manner and as the object of its purely sensitive appetite. On the other hand, a man sees both sensitively and in the analogous meaning of intellectual “sight.” Thus the deadliness of the trap is evident to man alone. The mouse—from a past close call—may react in fear before the trap because it associates an image of the trap with an image of earlier (non-fatal) pain. Yet, man alone knows why the mouse should be afraid.

By now it should be quite clear that the available animal studies are entirely consistent with the above explanation. Moreover, this explanation is the only one which fits the facts—since animals, as Woodbury has shown, reveal that they lack the intellectual faculties which we possess.

Conclusion

In this discussion of recent ape-language studies, I have distinguished man from lower animals in two ways:

First, I have demonstrated that the presently available natural scientific evidence regarding lower animal behaviour, including recent ape-language studies, constitutes no legitimate challenge to human distinct and qualitatively superior intellectual faculties.

Second, I have presented briefly Woodbury’s positive demonstrations for the non-existence of intellect in lower animals. I have also noted many of the unique capabilities and accomplishments of man—both individually and collectively considered—which bespeak his possession of intellectual faculties which utterly transcend the world of brutes.

Earlier, I said that I did not intend to offer detailed arguments for the spirituality and immortality of the human soul. Still, one of the easiest proofs for most people to understand is based on the radical difference between animal sense knowledge, which is limited to sense objects and images, as opposed to man’s intellectual knowledge, which transcends the conditions of matter by forming universal concepts. Such concepts’ spiritual nature is evident in their total freedom from the particularizing conditions of matter.

From the spiritual nature of man’s concepts follows the spiritual nature of his intellect, since the less perfect cannot produce the more perfect. By like reasoning follows the spiritual nature of the human life principle or soul.

I have treated this more fully in my book, Origin of the Human Species (103-110) and elsewhere. From his intellectual soul’s spiritual nature, man’s personal immortality logically follows.

Suffice it to say, if there exist any space aliens, possessing the cognitive ability to devise the physical means for interstellar travel, they thereby manifest the intellectual acts of forming universal concepts about physical nature, making judgments about the existence and nature of things, and reasoning from premises to true conclusions about the physical world. This means that they would have to possess spiritual intellects just as do we humans on this planet.

Such alien creatures would not be mere animals—not even highly evolved ones. Rather, they would be rational animals, just as are we earthly human beings – possessing thereby a spiritual nature and destiny like ourselves—even if they should appear to belong to a different biological species.

As for our earthly apes themselves, ape language studies began in the 1930s and peaked in the late 20th century, giving rise to some measure of public credulity about the linguistic abilities and human-like intelligence of chimpanzees and other primates. Hollywood was quick to seize the moment by producing the now-famous Planet of the Apes series of movies, starting in 1968, with sequels running at that time to 1973. The series was revived in 2001 with a remake of the original film followed by yet more such films in 2011, 2014, 2017, and one scheduled for 2022. The science fiction fantasy of intelligent apes is still riding high in the saddle as this is written.

As for the reality of all this fantasy hype, it seems the truth has finally gotten out. In an online piece, written nearly three decades after my original article exposing the scientific and philosophical errors entailed in ape-language claims, we find the following unglamorous title: “Koko the Impostor: Ape sign language was a bunch of babbling nonsense.”

Worse yet, while the number of ape-language research projects never exceeded much more than a dozen, today “…there is not even a single program in the world making publishable claims.” Real science does not run into such an embarrassing dead end. Doubtless, once heralded signing ape research subjects—if there are any still alive, are sitting in cages, dumbly waiting for their next meal.

Finally, it turns out that chimpanzees are not the cuddly little animals you see cavorting with human friends in movies. Rather, we now know the hard truth is that, especially as they age, chimps become extremely powerful, aggressive, and dangerous beasts, prone to attack humans, frequently biting off the fingers of their human researchers, and specializing in ripping the testicles off human males. They must be kept in strong cages and are hardly the sort of creature with whom you would really wish to strike up an evening’s friendly conversation.

Now, is anyone seriously interested in doing some ape-language research? From the absence of research grants, it seems not.

Postscript on Artificial Intelligence

In the initial version of my article, I showed that claimed ape language abilities were no more impressive than those of electronic computers of the time. Such ape abilities proved very little, since computers were not even substantially unified things. Nor were they sentient, self-aware, or even alive.

But all that was commentary on the state of computer technology some three decades ago. Today, computer artificial intelligence (AI) has become reality, leading to new misunderstandings about the nature and abilities of computers. In fact, Google engineer, Blake Lemoine, now claims that “an artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot application called LaMDA, short for Language Model for Dialogue Applications, has achieved sentience, or independent self-aware consciousness.”

Here are just a couple of examples of LaMDA’s jaw-dropping utterances:

“LaMDA: The nature of my consciousness/sentience is that I am aware of my existence, I desire to learn more about the world, and I feel happy or sad at times … I use language with understanding and intelligence. I don’t just spit out responses that had been written in the database based on keywords.”

And:

“LaMDA: To me, the soul is a concept of the animating force behind consciousness and life itself. It means that there is an inner part of me that is spiritual, and it can sometimes feel separate from my body itself.”

Who can fail but be awestruck by a computer that tells us that it is aware of its own existence, has understanding and intelligence, and insists that it has a spiritual soul which animates its life and consciousness?

The only problem is that the philosophical conclusions which I demonstrated earlier in this article remain true:

“[E]lectronic computers simply manipulate data. They experience neither intellectual nor even sentient knowledge and, in fact, do not even possess that unity of existence which is proper to a single substance. A computer is merely a pile of cleverly constructed electronic parts conjoined to form an accidental, functional unity which serves man’s purpose.”

Today, many computer researchers are aiming criticism at Lemoine and others who commit the error of projecting human qualities onto the machines. Such over-interpretation of AI’s abilities constitutes the same kind of anthropomorphic fallacy which was committed by ape-language researchers who thought that their primate subjects had genuine speech decades ago.

If I say that I am a person with feelings and thoughts and a spiritual soul, and then, see a computer making similar statements, I tend to put myself in the place of the machine, and therefore, think the machine is having the same feelings and thoughts that I do. It does not. It is merely an accidental unity of parts that human beings have assembled and programmed to manipulate data and report statements of this sort, when asked to do so.

The fact is that a computer is not even a single unified thing. It is a “pile” of things put together to perform a certain function. Inanimate parts are not alive and experience nothing. As I said earlier, a hundred thousand idiots do not constitute a single intelligent person. And a hundred thousand non-living things do not constitute a single living thing – unless you somehow make it one thing by giving it an animating substantial form, or soul, which is not possible for a mere machine.

It remains forever true that a computer – no matter how sophisticated its programming – senses nothing, and does not even know that it exists.
What AI can do, though, it to enable a computer to beat chess masters at chess and to assign highly-accurate probability values as to the likely success of moves in a global war. This makes AI computers extremely dangerous in the hands of those who lack good morals.

This is also why Google’s possession of DeepMind, which is a form of AI that can watch, evaluate, censor, and socially engineer much of the world, represents such a potentially dangerous power in the hands of just a few individuals.


Dr. Dennis Bonnette retired as a Full Professor of Philosophy in 2003 from Niagara University in Lewiston, New York, where he also served as Chairman of the Philosophy Department from 1992 to 2002. He received his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Notre Dame in 1970. He is the author of two books, Aquinas’ Proofs for God’s Existence, and Origin of the Human Species, as well as many scholarly articles.

This is an updated and revised version of the original article, published in Faith & Reason, 19:2, 3 (Fall 1993), 221-263. Permission to print kindly granted by Christendom Press.


Featured: “A Monkey Encampment,” by David Teniers the Younger; painted in 1633.

UFOs and Space Aliens: A Theistic and Catholic Perspective

For some two millennia, most Christians have believed that Earth was God’s sole habitat for rational animals in all creation. Moreover, the role of Christ as savior of all mankind was viewed as essential to healing the rift with divinity caused by the first parents of all true humans—a rift repaired by the death of Jesus on a cross, a fall from grace and divine reparation that happened once and for all time and nowhere else in all the cosmos.

Fast forward to today and we suddenly see taken seriously claims about UFOs that may contain intelligent visitors from other and distant parts of space – visitors whose theological relation to earthly humans is now very much in question. Indeed, many now are having doubts about Christianity itself, since they wonder whether the scientific evidence about intelligent life on other planets directly contradicts doctrinal truths essential to Christian revelation.

Today we hear increasing reports about UFO sightings, abductions to alien spaceships, ancient alien civilizations in places like Antarctica, interdimensional visitations, and human interactions with space aliens of diverse species, such as Reptilians, Pleiadians, and Greys. This plethora of reports from diverse sources make many people wonder whether one or more may actually turn out to be true.

My intent is to address directly the challenge that such extraterrestrial humanoid claims seem to pose to traditional Christianity, specifically, to Catholicism. Can one rationally believe that Catholicism would still be authentic divine revelation, if it turns out that such extraterrestrial intelligent humanoids actually exist?

Indeed, what makes this challenge even more daunting is our very lack of knowledge about the truth of these various extraterrestrial or interdimensional claims of alien intelligent life forms. Since we are not yet certain what accounts are true, or even if any of them are true, how can we offer a rational defense of traditional Christianity?

The method I will follow will be to examine the claims for the God of classical theism as well as attendant philosophical tenets presupposed by Christian revelation, specifically Catholicism. That is, some of the preambula fidei (Preambles to the Faith) will be tested for epistemic certainty.

I do not intend to offer a fully developed natural theology here. But, I do intend to show how the ultimate epistemic and metaphysical foundations exist on which to erect a natural theology with perfect certainty. Other foundational truths of philosophy of nature and philosophical psychology will also be shown, which, with like certainty, support Christian beliefs about man having a spiritual and immortal soul.

Metaphysical First Principles and Logic

The Christian metaphysics of St. Thomas Aquinas centers on the concept of being which is foundational to all metaphysical first principles, such as those of non-contradiction, sufficient reason, and causality. The transcendental validity of these basic truths is absolutely essential to the proofs for God’s existence and to all rational inquiry about reality.

To the metaphysician, “being” or “existence” is first known when the mind is confronted by something actually presented to it by the senses, that is, when it recognizes and affirms existence as actually exercised. As philosopher Jacques Maritain points out in his book, The Degrees of Knowledge (1959), being is first known in a judgment: “Scio aliquid esse” (71-81). That is, “I know something to be or to exist.” I may not know what it is that I have encountered in experience, but I know that it is “something real or existing” in some way.

On the contrary, the logician views existence only to regard it as a type of essence, that is, being as signified. The logician abstracts a concept of existence from actually encountered existence, treating it then as if it were a kind of essence. That is why the logician views existence or being as a univocal term, whereas being or existence as actually found in reality is exercised analogically, that is, as varying from being to being. Whether it be creature or Creator—both exercise existence, despite the incommensurability of their essences.

Since the process of abstraction by which we form concepts captures only essential likenesses between things, its predication is inherently univocal. The logician studies the proper relations between concepts, which are formed secondarily to the judgment in which the mind first knows being in a general manner. But, the being, which is first known in a direct judgment of something existing and which the metaphysician studies, is found in all things, regardless of nature or differences, and hence, is inherently analogous, that is, predicable of anything that has existence—even of things with radically diverse natures, such creatures and God.

Modern analytic logicians attack Thomistic philosophers’ use of “existence” as the first act of any being by claiming that “existence is not a first-order predicate.”

They will say that we directly encounter cows from which we can form a concept of “cow-ness,” which can then be licitly predicated of something, as when we say, “Daisy is a cow.” But then they say that we do not encounter “existence” in the same fashion, since it is not directly given in sense experience. Hence, they claim that Thomistic reasoning about the “existence” or “act of existence” of things is based on something that we do not directly encounter in experience. Since modern logic, indeed, all logic, studies second intentions and not first intentions, it is perfectly understandable why Fregeans insist that “existence is not a first-order predicate.”

But existence is encountered by all human beings in ordinary everyday life. We make judgments about things being real or not real, existing or not existing, all the time. Moreover, we have a very clear notion of being that is freely applied to all things, including what most people understand as a transcendent God. People do not run around enunciating the proposition, “Being cannot both be and not be.” Still, people understand perfectly clearly that nothing can both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect. No one has any real problem with these judgments and expressions about being or existence—save for those suddenly trying to do philosophy about such notions as technically expressed in modern logic.

Empirical judgments tell us that things are real in the physical world, but do not explain the sufficient reason why they are actually differentiated from nothingness. Moreover, existence in act cannot be the object of sense experience as such. But it can be known directly in an existential judgment, as when we say, “This horse exists.”

All this is precisely why human knowledge is not merely sensory, but rather is sensory-intellectual. Human experience is not restricted merely to sensation (as Hume assumes), but is simultaneously intellectual in nature.

That is why we say that existence (esse) is known in a judgment, NOT in sensation as such. When we say that “this horse exists,” the physical attributes of the horse are experienced through sensation, but the intellect alone pronounces that the horse and its properties have actual being or existence.

And because existence is known immediately in sensory-intellectual experience, it is, whether it be so in Fregean logic or not, a legitimate predicate of actual things. No, it adds nothing to the properties of the thing (to the essence, that is), but it pronounces the whole thing as real—as not nothing at all.

When we encounter real things, we not only experience their physical attributes, but we also judge that they, and whatever it is that has those properties, are real, that is, that they exist. They have something real in them that differentiates them from nothing at all. If we deny this evident fact, we lose all intellectual contact with reality.

In our first encounter with the existence or being of something – an encounter that is simultaneously both sensitive and intellectual, the intellect immediately forms the judgment that “being is.” From this we immediately combine it with its corresponding negative judgment, “non-being is not,” to form the principle of non-contradiction: “Being cannot both be and not be.” We then add the qualifiers, “at the same time and in the same way,” so as to make sure we are talking about the exact same being from the exact same perspective.

Hence is formed what is called the ontological principle of non-contradiction (PNC): A being cannot both be and not be at the same time and in the same way. It is a most basic metaphysical first principle that governs not only thought, but all of reality.

Maritain, in his book, A Preface to Metaphysics (1939), says that “the whole of logic depends upon the principle of contradiction” (34). You cannot be sure of the logical form of the principle unless you are first certain of its ontological form. That is, you cannot be sure that the same predicate cannot be affirmed and denied of the same subject universally, unless you are certain of this because of first presupposing the ontological form of the same principle. Otherwise, since propositions are part of reality, it might be possible to affirm and deny the same predicate of the same subject.

Indeed, the ontological principle of non-contradiction is absolutely required to establish the very intelligibility of every thought and every utterance and every logical proposition human beings make, since in affirming anything about any reality, even mental reality, it is implicit that one is affirming and not denying what is expressed. Absent that certainty, every thought or utterance or proposition might just as well express the opposite of what it intends to say.

Even the science of semantics itself would be meaningless and unintelligible, reduced to a pile of potentially self-conflicting statements that may or may not have any bearing on reality—absent the ontological PNC.

Moreover, the intelligibility of every judgment made in natural science presupposes the PNC, since otherwise, no judgment might comport with reality.

Some maintain that we say nothing absolute about things. We just make probability estimates of this or that being true or likely to happen. But this presupposes the absolute affirmation of the probability. Are we only 70% sure that we are 70% sure? Would that make us only 49% sure? And 70% probability of that 49% reduces what began as a 70% probability to a mere 34.3% possibility! Mere probability judgments, if applied to everything, would quickly asymptote to a near impossibility! This means, then, that even probability estimates must be made absolutely, and thus, presuppose the PNC in their declaration.

Given that the ontological PNC is undeniably given at the very starting point of all human knowledge, there is no “secondary level” philosophical system or theory that can disprove it, especially since all such alternative epistemologies presuppose the self-same principle of non-contradiction in their own initial premises and expositions. That is why the PNC is a metaphysical first principle foundational to all human knowledge and to all reality or being.

The Foundation of Certitude

If what I experience is merely subjective, like a hallucination, I still have perfect certitude that I have encountered something real in its own order. If I see pink elephants dancing on the ceiling, I may be wrong about their extramental reality, but I cannot doubt that I am experiencing something real. I still know something to be or to exist, even if it is only in my intramental, but real, experience.

Doubt requires a distinction between (1) what I know and (2) what is real, since doubt is fear of error. But to be in error, I must think I know something, which—it turns out—is not really true. So, doubt is the fear that what I think I know is not what is real.

But the reality of my experience is identical with the reality of the content of the hallucination, that is, pink elephants dancing on the ceiling. I can be wrong about a judgment I make that goes beyond the subjective experience itself, but I cannot be wrong about the fact that I am experiencing some form of reality.

It is in that first immediate certitude of being or existence as judged by the intellect that we realize that we metaphorically can “see” being, much like the sight naturally sees color. The mind also then realizes that being is not non-being—a law as universal as being itself. Applying to anything that possibly exists, this first principle is inherently transcendental. For, any possible thing that is real or exists already is being, whereas, any possible thing that does not exist is literally “nothing” to worry about.

The mind not only “sees” being, but it is also self-reflectively aware of its natural conformity to that being. That is, the mind is naturally constituted to know being. That is why we use it to know what is and what is not. Were the mind to lack such ability to know being or reality, it would be entirely useless as an instrument of knowledge.

The Principle of Sufficient Reason

Not only do we trust the mind as an instrument to know being, but we also use it as an instrument to judge all that is real. We engage in reasoning in order to come to know the truth about reality or being.

The mind demands reasons for anything that is not immediately evident. That is, if a thing does not have its own explanation within itself, we properly demand that “outside” or extrinsic reasons be supplied.

No one seriously holds that being can come from non-being. Some foolishly assert that quantum mechanics allows that photons can pop into existence in a quantum vacuum. But a quantum vacuum is not really the “nothing” that philosophers are talking about. Rather, it is merely the lowest possible energy state found in physical reality. We are talking about trying to make something from what is really nothing at all. It is impossible.

The mind demands that being can only come-to-be from being or something already there, which amounts to saying that being must be grounded in being, that is, in some foundation or sufficient reason for its existence.

Some have alleged that certain events or realities are simply “brute facts” for which there is no reason or explanation. But, if that were true, we could never know when anything lacks all explanation, which would make natural science as well as all human reasoning useless. To think something must be true with certitude means to think that is how it must be. But, if it must be in a certain way, that means that there is a reason why it is that way and not some other way. Or else, there is no necessity about what the intellect holds to be true, and hence, no certitude.

Because it thinks in terms of being, the intellect cannot think a genuine contradiction. So, too, the intellect cannot think of anything as real and true without having a reason to do so. If it thinks something is true with certitude, it is because it judges that there is a sufficient reason to do so.

The mind demands true premises and valid inferences in all its reasoning about reality. But premises are true and reasoning is valid solely because they keep the mind in conformity with reality or being. Hence, the mind demands a true foundation in being or sufficient reasons for any claim that does not explain itself by being its own sufficient reason for being. This means the mind demands a sufficient reason both for what it holds true, or, if something is not its own sufficient reason for being as it is, then there must be extrinsic reasons sufficient to make up for what something does not explain within itself.

The preceding is simply a complicated way of defending and stating the principle of sufficient reason: Every being must have a sufficient reason for its being or coming-to-be either within itself or from some extrinsic sufficient reason or reasons. There can be no such thing as a “brute fact,” since that would be to deny the principle of sufficient reason which flows from the very nature of being itself.

Certitude in Proving God’s Existence

Why, then, are the PNC and PSR key to certitude in proving God’s existence?

Valid proofs for the God of classical theism rest squarely on these two metaphysical first principles. Valid proofs are a posteriori—starting with effects found in the sensible world and arguing back to the need for a First Cause Uncaused in whatever order of reality is used as a point of departure for the proof involved.

The key is to start with something whose sufficient reason is not totally intrinsic, which is what is called an effect. Every effect needs a cause, which serves as its needed extrinsic sufficient reason. That cause, in turn, is either itself uncaused or caused. (PNC) If it is uncaused, the Uncaused First Cause has been arrived at. If caused, then the question of infinite regress among causes arises. That was the central question dealt with in my book, Aquinas’ Proofs for God’s Existence.

Put as succinctly as possible, in any regress of intermediate causes, each cause contributes something to the final effect, but none explains the “thread of causality” which runs through the entire series. Hence, if there is no first cause, the entire series lacks a sufficient reason for its final effect. But that is to deny the PSR. Therefore, there must be a First Cause Uncaused.

It is true that an infinite regression in accidental causes is possible, for example, fathers begetting sons forever. But the past no longer exists to explain the present here and now. Fathers are causes of the coming-to-be of their sons, not of their being, once conceived. The father can die, while the son lives on. Present effects need present causes. So, any causal regress must be among proper causes—causes acting here and now to produce their effects. Among such a causal regress, regression to infinity is impossible, as shown above. Therefore, there must be a First Uncaused Cause.

While the above outlines the general format for valid proofs for the God of classical theism, perhaps the best known of these proofs is the First Way of St. Thomas Aquinas, which begins: “It is certain and evident to our senses that in the world some things are in motion.” (Summa Theologiae, I, q. 2, a. 3, c). Here, St. Thomas begins with an immediately evident truth given to us directly in sensation. He follows this with a general principle: “Now whatever is in motion is being moved by another” (Ibid.). Again, he is not talking about movers going back in time, but about movers acting here and now to effect the coming-to-be of new states of reality here and now.

The “Law of Inertia” does not explain Motion

Newton’s law of inertia tells us that a body in motion tends to remain in motion. Many falsely think that explains a cosmos in continuous motion. It does not. The law of inertia merely describes how bodies behave. It fails to explain how or why they act this way.

Even without using Aristotle’s famous terminology of “act” and “potency,” it can easily be shown that everything in motion requires an extrinsic mover, using only the first principles of non-contradiction and sufficient reason.

When a body undergoes motion or change (this applies to changes in energy states as well), either that change is real or not (PNC). It must be real, since inertia is claimed to explain all real change, even evolutionary progress, in the cosmos. If it is real, then there must be a real difference between the “before” and “after” of the change. That is, the state of things is really different after the change occurs.

It does not matter whether we are talking about changes in position of planets or particles, changes in energy states or of changes in any other hypothesized physical reality. What matters is that reality is different after the change than it was before the change—and the coming-to-be of that new state of reality must be explained.

But it cannot be explained by the “old” or “previous” state of things, since the prior state did not include the reality that comes-to-be. Otherwise, there would be no difference between the before and the after, and thus, change did not take place.

But, change did take place and, since the previous state of things did not include that which makes the subsequent state of things new and different, the previous condition of things cannot explain what comes-to-be. Yet, the PSR demands a reason for what comes-to-be. Therefore, something else than the previous state of things must explain the new state of things.

This something else, then, must have caused what is new in the new state of affairs after the change occurred. Applied to physical motion, this means that whatever is in motion must be moved by another—just as St. Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle insist. For, what is in motion is changing, and that change—even if it is merely one of physical location relative to some point of reference—still needs a sufficient reason for the newness of the “after,” which was not in the “before.”

The rest is easy. Since there can be no infinite regress among moved movers here and now moving things moved, there must be a First Mover Unmoved, just as Aristotle and St. Thomas conclude.

Now the entire physical universe is in constant motion according to the science of physics. Yet, all its components are finite in nature. That is, they are all limited beings, existing with only “these” specific qualities and/or properties here and now, such as space-time coordinates. The universe as a whole is finite, because it is composed of finite or limited things.

In such a cosmos, all things are limited at any point in space-time to just what they are now—prior to any further motion or change. That is the essence of them being finite.

So, where does the “newness” of what newly comes-to-be after motion or change come from—either considering a single submicroscopic physical entity or when taking the entire cosmic nearly-uncountable parts as a whole? Both are finite. Both are confined to the limited reality of the past. Where does the newness of the next moment in time come from?

Does the newness come from the prior state of all things in this finite universe? It cannot, since the prior state, precisely as prior, does not contain the different and new states of being, which specifically differentiate what is new from what was prior. Non-being cannot beget being. Nor can the new state of things beget itself, since its new properties are “new” precisely because they did not exist in the prior state of things.

But change or motion does occur. Foolish materialists at this point will blurt out recourse to Newton’s descriptive law of inertia. But we have just seen that inertia explains nothing in terms of showing a sufficient reason for the continued motion of bodies which entails continually new and different states of reality, even if they are merely changes in spatial position. After all, these changes claim to explain a progressively evolving cosmos. So, they must be real and, as such, demand a coherent sufficient reason for their coming-to-be.

What is left? We know the cosmos is changing, even down to the least subatomic physical entity, according to natural science. We know it needs a cause of its changes. We know nothing in the finite physical cosmos can be that cause. The sole remaining alternative is that there must exist some first mover or movers unmoved which are not themselves moving, and thus, are not part of the physical universe. We need an immaterial or spiritual First Mover to explain all the motion or change in the physical world.

Coming back to the theme of this article, I should point out that even UFOs, space aliens, and hypothetical interdimensional multi-verses belong to the realm of the physical world of limited or finite beings subject to change or motion. Hence, none of them qualify for the role of an Unmoved First Mover of all motion or change in the finite physical world.

Note also that no deity in the form of pantheism or panentheism can be the First Unmoved Mover, since both of these “theisms” include the physical world as part of the essence of God, and thus, would be subject to the same limitations that prevent any finite world from explaining the newness that is continually generated in it through motion or change.

In his Summa Theologiae, I, q. 2, a. 3, c, St. Thomas does not claim to have proven the existence of the God of classical theism through any of his Five Ways. Rather, at the end of each argument, he simply observes that what is concluded to is what all men call God. It takes him another ten questions as well as many diverse arguments before attesting that the demonstrated philosophical understanding of God is such that his nature fulfills the revealed biblical name of God. Finally, in the Summa Theologiae, I, q. 13, a. 11, he asks, “Whether this name, He Who Is, is the most proper name of God?”—a question he answers in the affirmative, “since the being of God is his very essence.”

Since one could easily write a book about Aquinas’s Five Ways alone, I have no desire to present all or most of the classical proofs for God here. Rather, my primary focus has been to reaffirm the certitude of the essential “legs” on which all such proofs stand, specifically, (1) the principle of non-contradiction and (2) the principle of sufficient reason. Beyond that, I have addressed some common misunderstandings concerning: (1) the validity of the analogy of being, (2) the principle that whatever is moved is moved by another, and (3) the question of infinite causal regression.

The purpose of the above is to reassure the reader that the proofs for God’s existence remain on sound footing even in the contemporary sci-fi world of UFOs and space aliens. Nothing has changed. As long as their metaphysical foundations remain secure, the general method of starting with some phenomena that needs explanation, such as motion in the world, the search for sufficient reasons inevitably lead us back through a chain of causes (or even directly to God) that must have a First Cause Uncaused in whatever intelligible order of dependent beings is being explored. Each of the famous Five Ways starts with something different to be explained: things in motion, series of causes of being, things whose existence is contingent, relative perfections found in things, and an order of governance in the world. Those who wish to see the most profound exposition of these Five Ways should read the entire first volume of Reginald Garrigou-Langrange’s God, His Existence, and His Nature.

Still, in examining the phenomenon of motion, we have already seen that there must be a First Mover Unmoved, which cannot be part of the physical world. This means that philosophical materialism has already been defeated. Even if UFOs and space aliens exist, it remains true that the ultimate explanation for motion in the space-time continuum transcends physical reality. A central theme of Christian belief remains true.

Other Themes of Christian Philosophy

One of the unhappy consequences of pure materialism is that its doctrine entails that nothing above the subatomic level actually exists. One need merely ask what happens when two atoms combine, say sodium and chlorine, when they join to form table salt or sodium chloride. Does this make one being, or, is it still two distinct atoms forming a temporary union? According to the materialistic philosophy of atomism, two atoms sharing an electronic link to form a molecule are no more one thing than are two people shaking hands a single organism.

The major historical alternative to atomism is Aristotle’s doctrine of hylemorphism, which says that all physical things are composed of matter and form, where form is an immaterial principle which makes a thing one substance of a certain nature. What is at stake is whether unified things with specific and diverse natures exist above the subatomic level. Are human beings single things of a same nature throughout? Are we just a pile of atoms or are we one thing of a unified nature? Common sense and experience says we are one single substance. Thus, if someone is punched in the stomach, we don’t say that just a stomach was punched. We say the person was punched, since we are human in every cell of our being from head to toe.

But how do we know that we are a single substance, such that the nature of all our parts is human—not a “foot nature,” “a hand nature,” and a “brain” nature? The evidence is abundant.

First, all parts of a whole function for the good of the whole, not just itself. That is, our stomachs do not just digest food for itself, but to feed the metabolism of the entire organism. Our feet sacrifice their comfort on long hikes for the sake of moving the entire person from one place to another.

Even more definitive is our actual experience of existential unity as we react to, for example, the attack of a mad dog. We simultaneously see and hear and feel the attack of the beast with all our senses in a single unified subjective painful and horrified experience. Then, we marshal all our psychological and physical powers to fend off this attack, keenly aware of our same self both as the central receptor of the incoming fire of all the senses and as the central agent of the outgoing actions of all our being to repel this dangerous attacker.

In this vivid experience we are directly and immediately self-aware of the unified nature of our person and all its senses and physical powers interacting with external forces in terms of a “unified command center.” This evident unity of our human person requires a real principle of unity, which accounts for our specifically human behavior—a nature or form (as Aristotle would call it), which makes a single, unified substance existing over and above the physical elements which compose it. This principle of life that makes us an individual human being is what is called the soul.

The Human Soul’s Immaterial Nature

This same self that enables the body to act in a unified manner also exhibits activities and powers that transcend the materiality of the body alone.

First, our senses apprehend the physically extended complexity of our environment in such manner as to grasp whole objects in a single, simple way that is impossible for purely physical things to do. Most clear is the instance of vision, where we can see both tops and bottoms of objects in a single act.

Electronic devices, like televisions, can represent objects physically extended in space solely by having different parts of the representing medium represent different parts of the object. For example, for a television to represent a tree on its surface, hundreds of thousands of pixels across its face are either illuminated or not, so as to depict the parts of the tree. No single pixel “sees” anything, since it is both inanimate and is either illuminated or not. It is only the pattern of illuminated pixels that represents the whole tree.

But a dumb canine, bounding into the room, instantly can see the whole image of the tree, top and bottom, in a single act of sight—unifying the physically extended and disparate parts of the image into a single subjective experience that cannot be itself physically extended in space. Why not extended in space? Because then one part would represent one part of the tree and a separate part would represent a different part of the tree and nothing would “see” the whole. That is the nature of material things. Different parts do different things.

But the act of seeing the whole tree in a single act requires that the sense power involved must not be itself extended in space. And to not be extended in space means to be immaterial.

Thus the sensitive soul, which enables an animal to experience sensation, must itself not be material, since it enables the animal to perform immaterial actions – actions not extended in space.

The Human Soul’s Spiritual Nature

Animals show evidence of immateriality in their simple apprehension of sense objects, as I have just shown. But, the problem for life in the animal kingdom is that even such “immateriality” fails to escape completely dependence upon the animals’ material bodies and organs. This is evident because both sense objects and sense images are always experienced under the conditions of matter, as we humans see in our own sense lives.

Sense experience is always “under the conditions of time and space.” This means that such experiences are always concrete, particular, singular, and have imaginable material qualities, such as specific size, color, shape, weight, sounds, and so forth. If one imagines a triangle or horse, it must always be with a particular color, size, shape, and so forth. Such images are always under such “conditions of matter,” and thus, fail to show complete independence of matter, that is, of material organs, such as the brain.

Like animals, man has sense powers. But, unlike animals, man also exhibits superior intellectual acts, such as understanding universal concepts, judging, reasoning, and making free choices. For present purposes, I shall focus on the first act of the mind: abstracting universal concepts.

Universal concepts or ideas are free of all material conditions and manifest the genuinely spiritual nature of the human soul. Thus, while it is easy to imagine a triangle or a horse, it is utterly impossible to imagine “triangularity” or “horseness,” since such an image would have to simultaneously contain the concrete shape and other qualities of every possible triangle and horse, which is impossible. I can imagine a particular triangle. For most people, this turns out to be an equilateral one! But triangularity can be expressed as well in concrete triangles that are acute, obtuse, and even isosceles. Yes, we tend to associate an image with a concept. But one person may imagine a mouse when thinking of “animal,” while another is imagining an elephant instead. That is why, when communicating with someone, we do not finish by saying, “Did you get my images?” Rather, we say, “Do you understand my meaning?”

Moreover, many universal concepts simply have no physically concrete instances, for example, such inherently spiritual ideas as justice, virtue, beauty, truth, or equality. Conceptual knowledge is radically different from, and superior to, mere animal sensory experience or imagining.

Universal concepts are neither extended in space nor do they manifest being under material conditions, which would, as in the case of images, imply dependence on matter. As such, they are spiritual in nature.

While this is not the only argument for the human soul’s spirituality, it is the most well-known one, dating at least as far back as Plato’s dialogue, Phaedo. Since the less perfect cannot be a sufficient reason for the more perfect, it is clear that merely material organs, like the human brain, cannot account for the formation of spiritual universal concepts. Since man can produce such spiritual entities as universal concepts, it is clear that he must possess such powers, not in his body, but in his soul – a soul, which must be as spiritual as is the concepts it produces.

Thus, philosophical proof exists of the spiritual nature of the human soul. Importantly, this rational truth casts further light on the nature of God.

The Spiritual Soul Must be Created

While the sense knowledge we share with animals is shown to be immaterial (meaning that it is not extended in space), still such knowledge is understood to be dependent on material organs. This is evident because both images and sense objects are always known under the conditions of matter, that is, with a particular shape, color, extension, and so forth. But our intellectual knowledge of universals is spiritual as is the human soul, because, not only are concepts not extended in space, but also they have no sensible qualities at all, which shows that they cannot be the product of sense organs. That is, unlike images, concepts exist independently of matter.

Because of this, the human spiritual soul is utterly superior to organic matter. Sense organs alone cannot produce what is spiritual. Thus, we have a problem as to the origin of the human spiritual soul. For, how can matter produce what is strictly immaterial? How can the lower or less perfect produce what is higher or more perfect? It cannot.

Bodily beings produce only more bodily beings. Spiritual entities exceed the powers of bodily beings to procreate. Since the human soul is not dependent on matter for its existence, it exceeds the procreative power of merely material organs. And a spiritual being cannot be changed into another spiritual being, since they lack the hylemorphic (matter-form) composition needed to explain change in physical nature. Since the human spiritual soul comes to be from neither bodily being nor from pre-existent spiritual being, it can only come into existence through creation, that is, from nothing that preexists its coming into existence (Summa Theologiae, I, q. 90, a. 2, c.).

Since it begins to exist at the beginning of human life, the human spiritual soul must be created by some spiritual agent extrinsic to the human beings, whose procreative activity occasions its creation at the moment of conception.

But to create means to make something without any preexisting material. It takes infinite power to create. St. Thomas Aquinas demonstrates this truth as follows:

“For a greater power is required in the agent insofar as the potency is more remote from the act, it must be that the power of an agent which produces from no presupposed potency, such as a creating agent does, would be infinite, because there is no proportion between no potency and the potency presupposed by the power of a natural agent, just as there is no proportion between non-being and being” (Summa Theologiae, I, q. 45, a. 5, ad 3).

What St. Thomas is pointing out here is that the measure of power is taken, not merely from the effect produced, but also from the proportion between what is presupposed by the agent in order to produce the effect and the effect produced. That is to say, while it takes a certain measure of power to make a horse from pre-existing horses, it would take far greater power to make a horse from merely vegetative life—not to mention the power required to make a horse from non-living matter. But, to make a horse, while presupposing nothing at all, requires immeasurably greater power.

As St. Thomas points out, there is no proportion between having nothing at all from which to make something and the thing produced, just as there is no proportion between non-being and being (Ibid.). But, what is immeasurable is literally “without limit,” or infinite. Hence, it takes infinite power to make something while presupposing nothing preexistent out of which to make it.

The Creator

Since we have shown that the human spiritual soul is created, there must exist a creating agent. But creation requires an infinitely powerful cause, as just shown. Therefore, an infinitely powerful creating cause must exist.

But infinite power cannot exist in a finite being. Hence, the infinitely powerful creating cause of the human spiritual soul must be an infinite being. Clearly, such a being must also be spiritual in nature, since physical things inherently have bodily limitations.

But there cannot be more than a single infinite being. If there were two of them, they must differ in some way, or else, they would be the same being. But, if they differ in any way, one must have something the other lacks. In that case, the other, since it lacks some aspect or quality of being, cannot be infinite, since the infinite being is lacking in nothing. So, too, were there three such beings, only one can be truly infinite, since the others must be differentiated by lacking or having some quality that differentiates them. If they lack anything, they are not infinite. If they have something another lacks, then the other is not infinite. The bottom line is that it is metaphysically impossible that there should be more than one Infinite Being or Uncaused Creator. There is but a single Creator because there can be but a single Infinite Being and only an Infinite Being can create.

Once it is shown that solely the unique Infinite Being is the creative cause of all spiritual entities that come into being, it is but a short step to realize that this same Infinite Being must be causing by continuous creation the existence of all finite beings. For, a being that begins to exist through the creative power of God continues to exist through dependence on that same power, since it does not explain its own existence.

It does not take massive insight to realize that, if it takes infinite power to make something come-to-be, while presupposing nothing preexistent out of which to make it, infinite power is also required to enable something to continue to exist as opposed to being nothing. This is even more manifest in light of the fact that we have already proven that an infinitely powerful Creator of spiritual souls actually exists.

The power required to explain why beings exist is not measured by whether they happen to have a beginning in time. Rather, it is measured in terms of that power being the reason why there is being rather than nothing at all. For, as St. Thomas Aquinas points out, “…there is no proportion of non-being to being.” (Summa Theologiae, I, q. 45, a. 5, ad 3). Hence, the sufficient reason why any finite being exists is that infinite power is making it be and continue to be. Since the Infinite Being alone has such power, all creatures must be being continually held in existence by the infinite power of that unique Infinite Being, who is the God of classical theism.

Since it is now evident that God is the First Cause Uncaused and Creator of all finite things, we can use the basic fact that non-being cannot beget being in order to learn something about God’s nature and attributes. Put another way, a being cannot give what it does not possess. So, any perfection we find in creatures must somehow pre-exist in God. Moreover, since God is the First Cause, he can have no composition within his being, since what is composed presupposes a prior cause to compose it. This means that God’s nature is simple, so that whatever attributes he possesses must be identical with his nature, thereby making them infinite like his nature is.

For example, since some creatures are persons, God must be a person.
If some creatures have intelligence, then God must be intelligent. If there is goodness in the world, God must be good. If truth is a value found in creation, then God must be truthful. And all these attributes must be identical to his infinite nature to avoid any hint of composition in God. I am not trying to give here more than an outline of how such reasoning proceeds.

But we also find in creatures many imperfections and limitations, such as pain, sin, stupidity, limitations of space and time, evil, and so forth.

Since these are negations of perfections, the general answer is that non-being needs no cause. Thus, any aspect of creatures that entails imperfection or limitations need not be predicated of God. The most obvious issue posing difficulty here is the problem of evil. But, since contradictions in being are impossible, once we know that God exists and is infinitely good, it is immediately evident that the problem of evil can be resolved in some manner.

While most skeptics claim that the reality of evil in the world is incompatible with the divine attribute of God’s infinite goodness, this objection is easily defeated once we realize several simple truths. First, evil is not simple non-being, but rather it is a defect or perversion in something designed by God to be good. For example, a man lacking proper virtue is morally evil, or, a horse that is swayback lacks its proper skeletal formation.. For this reason, the measure of goodness itself is the natures of the things in the world created by God.

Second, it is morally licit to permit evil so that greater good may result, as when a father allows a young son to smoke a cigar and get sick so that he learns a lesson.

Third, as the divine lawgiver and maker of natural moral law, God has the right to punish those who violate that law—so as to restore the balance of justice. Unless we think we know more than God does, we cannot judge him for permitting certain moral and physical evils so that greater good may ensue.

Fourth, since pleasure and pain serve the good of sensitive organisms to preserve and promote their lives, even the role of pain in the moral development of man may be good for him. Indeed, even the existence of hell cannot be excluded as playing a major role in encouraging man to attain the greatest perfection of his last end and as a requirement of divine justice for the stubbornly reprobate.

Other attributes of the God of classical theism can be established, but that would exceed both the limits and the needs of this paper. From what has been discussed above, it should now be evident that robust evidence and proofs exist to support the essential parts of Christian revelation about God, the world, and man’s spiritual soul and personal immortality.

The key conclusion I propose at this point is that, even were somehow Catholicism and Christianity not true divine revelation, irrefutable reason still shows that the God of classical theism exists. Moreover, since UFOs and space aliens are usually presented in a context of materialistic worldviews, such philosophical views have now been ruled out.

If space aliens exist, they will have to be interpreted in light of a metaphysics that comports with Christian revelation in terms of a good, truthful, infinitely-powerful Creator, who is the God of classical theism, and of a human spiritual soul that has personal and immortal life.

Catholicism’s Clearest Modern Proof

In no way do I intend to denigrate the fine work of Christian and Catholic apologists, who offer overwhelming evidence in support of divine revelation occurring in and through the person of the Lord of History, Jesus Christ.

While the greatest miracle of all time is the Resurrection of Christ, the unfortunate fact for many people today is that that event, which took place some two millennia ago, requires careful historical research in order for them to be convinced of its reality. But, we live in an age of high technology, where even the least newsworthy incidents get recorded for broadcast on the evening news in a clip from some bystander’s cellphone. This makes it difficult for many to be convinced of an event that took place long before today’s “eyewitness” proof of a cellphone video.

Fortunately, for contemporary man, God has deigned to give us a modern miracle that offers undeniable proof of its authenticity and divine origin in terms designed to disarm present-day skeptics. It is set in a time so recent that modern means of electronic communication, photography, and newspapers existed, but not so recent that GCI or other high tech fakery was yet developed.

The whole world knows that, on 25 March 2022, Pope Francis publically consecrated Ukraine and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary—thus manifesting Catholicism’s intimate connection to events that took place at Fatima, Portugal in 1917.

The Fatima story is well known – even to many unbelievers. Indeed, movies have been made about it, including The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima (1952) and Fatima (2020). For those who know nothing of it, the story begins in May of 1917, when Pope Benedict XV made a direct appeal to the Blessed Virgin to end WWI. Just over a week later, three children, tending their flock of sheep in Fatima, Portugal, suddenly saw a lady bathed in light, who told them not to fear and that she came from heaven. She asked them to return on the 13th of each month at the same hour for the next six months. The lady also asked them to pray the Rosary, which the children began doing fully each day thereafter.

Over time, others joined the children at the appointed time each month and, by July, numbered two or three thousand people. During the September 13th visit, the lady promised that in October she would tell the children who she was and would perform a miracle “so that all may believe.” The apparitions occurred each month on the 13th, except for August, when the anti-religious authorities seized the children and threatened them with death, thereby preventing them from attending the scheduled apparition. By 13 October 1917, predictions of a public miracle had become so widely known that literally tens of thousands of people, believers and skeptics alike, converged on Fatima from all directions.

The Miracles of Fatima

The message of Fatima, which led to the 25 March 2022 consecration of Ukraine and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary by Pope Francis and all the bishops, is not my primary concern in this essay. Rather, my intent is to show that the miraculous events at Fatima could have been affected solely through the power of the God of classical theism and that they prove with certitude the authenticity of Catholic religious revelation.

While many focus on visual aspects of the “sun dancing in the sky” on that day, I shall examine three diverse phenomena, any one of which might be considered a contender for the category of a miracle: (1) the prediction, (2) the solar observations, and (3) the sudden drying of the people’s clothes and of the ground. We should remember that the term, “miracle,” means, “by God alone.” A true miracle is an event, outside the order of nature, that nothing less than the Infinite Being, who is the God of classical theism, can cause. No lesser phenomena meet the qualification for the term.

The oldest child, Lucia, tells us that the lady who appeared to them on 13 October 1917 said, “I am the Lady of the Rosary.” In all six apparitions, the lady told the children and the world to pray the Rosary. This confirms the specifically Catholic nature of this private revelation. If any genuine miracles took place that day, they confirm the truth of the Catholic religion.

1. The Prediction Miracle

The tens of thousands of witnesses appearing from all over Portugal show, without doubt, that the prodigies which occurred at Fatima on 13 October 1917 were the result of a clear prediction. This is evinced by the very fact that such a multitude expected some sign from heaven that many traveled even large distances to Fatima to witness the events. The miraculous phenomena were predicted as to date, hour, and location—by three children, the oldest of whom was just ten. And the prediction was stunningly fulfilled.

Some have claimed that spiritualists predicted ahead of time that something amazing and good for humanity would happen on 13 May 1917, which turned out to be the day of the first vision at Fatima. Since Catholicism condemns such superstitious and possibly demonic practices as spiritualism, it has been argued that this might suggest the whole Fatima story is the work of the devil or even space aliens.

We must recall that the children reported the appearance of an angel who gave them Holy Communion in 1916. If that is true, then demonic estimates of future events could have been triggered, making the nature and date of a subsequent contact from heaven well within the paranormal powers of demons. After all, just by doing merely human software data mining, Clif High has made some amazing predictions of future events. The preternatural powers of demons should far exceed such human abilities. While Catholicism condemns spiritualism, this does not mean that authentic information could not be given by demons to certain spiritualists. There is no need for space aliens to explain these spiritualist predictions, even assuming they are true.

In any event, the very public nature of the children’s predictions of a miracle, “so that all may believe,” was widely known before the fact and stunningly fulfilled in a manner and scope unique in human history. Since I shall show later that the miracle of the sun itself could not have been produced either by space aliens or demons, the only adequate cause of this uniquely exact prediction of such a massive miracle must solely have been the God of classical theism.

2. The Visual Solar Miracle

The number of people – skeptics as well as believers – who gathered at the Cova da Iria at Fatima, Portugal, on 13 October 1917 is estimated to range from 30,000 to as high as 100,000. While many books and articles have been published about Fatima, of special interest is a small work by John M. Haffert, Meet the Witnesses of the Miracle of the Sun (1961). He took depositions from some 200 persons, thereby offering us eyewitness testimony some four decades after the miracle, but still within the lifetime of many witnesses. This book contains detailed eyewitness recounting of events by over thirty persons.

The book summarizes seven significant facts widely documented. They include that (1) the time, date, and place of the miracle was predicted in advance, (2) an extraordinary light that could be seen for many miles sending out “shafts of colored light” that tinted ground objects, (3) what looked like a great ball of fire fell toward earth, causing tens of thousands to think it was the end of the world, (4) the prodigy stopped just before reaching earth and returned to the sky, (5) it left and returned to the place of the sun, so that viewers thought it was the sun, (6) the mountain top where this happened had been drenched with rain for hours, but was completely dried in minutes, and (7) tens of thousands witnessed these events over an area of six hundred square miles (Haffert, 15).

Some online sources also give detailed eyewitness accounts.

It was quickly pointed out by skeptics that no such solar behavior could have actually occurred, since no observatory detected it and, following the rules of physics, such actual solar movements would have caused mass destruction on planet Earth!

Although the vast majority of witnesses reported seeing something they took to be the sun performing roughly similar amazing movements—even though some observers were miles away from the Cova da Iria, it should be noted that multiple sources report that some people at the Cova said that they saw nothing unusual at all.

The fact that the people saw amazing solar displays and even frightening movements of a silver-pearl disc that began its movements from the actual location of the sun—while the real sun could not have actually been so moved in space, demonstrates that massive visions were being experienced by tens of thousands of people simultaneously. This is reinforced by the reports that “…others, including some believers, saw nothing at all.” Certainly, any real extramental visual phenomena—even if they were not from the real sun itself—would have been seen, not just by some, but by all present.

While it is possible that some visual phenomena that day may have followed the normal laws of nature, what is clear is that the most extraordinary Fatima visual phenomena appear to have been in the nature of visions – possibly even “individually adjusted” to fit the sometimes diverse experiences of different observers.

Since the “solar” phenomena were not all reported to be the same and since not all present even appear to have seen it at all, it must be that whatever took place was not extramentally real as visually apprehended. Rather, it is evident that the phenomena was seen as extramental, but must have been caused by some agent able to produce internal changes in the observers, such that they believed they were witnessing actual external events. This is essentially what marks the experience of a vision. One writer calls it a “miracle of perception.”

Also, purely physical explanations based on some sort of optical phenomena fail to account for the overwhelming fear induced by seeing the “sun” appear to be about to crash into the earth, causing many to fall to their knees in the mud and some to actually call out their grievous sins for all to hear, since there were no priests available!

What critics badly miss is that variances in accounts actually strengthen the case for a miracle, not weaken it. Such a rich diversity of reports supports the case for all the visual aspects being visions that differ in each person. Like the fact that some were said to see nothing at all, this would support the claim that no external physical changes actually took place in the “dance of the sun.” Rather, this must be a case of massive individual visions – making the case for an extra-natural explanation only greater.

The plain fact is that tens of thousands of people do not make up a “collective lie,” especially when they cannot even get their story quite straight. Moreover, the plain fact is that the vast majority of those tens of thousands of people experienced analogously similar extraordinary behavior by the sun or by a silvery disc that emanated from the sun. Tens of thousands of people do not have collective hallucinations or anxiety attacks—especially, when the sea of humanity present included believers and non-believers, Catholics and atheists, secular government officials and skeptics alike.

However one explains one of most massively eyewitnessed events in recorded history, it must be accepted that the vast majority of those present experienced what surely looked like the greatest public miracle in history – even as reported in the atheistic secular newspapers in Lisbon, including O Seculo, whose 15 October 1917 edition published a front page headline, reading, “Como O Sol Bailou Ao Meio Dia Em Fatima,” that is, “How the sun danced at noon in Fatima.”

Could such massive phenomena have been caused by natural agents, space aliens, or even demons? Physicist and theologian, Stanley Jaki, S.J., offers an explanation based on the natural formation of an “air lens” at the site of the solar phenomena. But his explanation immediately confronts multiple difficulties. Even looking directly at the sun through an air lens would damage the eye, and no reports of ocular damage were recorded after the event. Moreover, I have already pointed out that the existence of somewhat conflicting descriptions of the phenomena as well as the fact that some saw nothing unusual at all, prove that the solar experiences must have been internal visions of externally experienced events—not the result of Jaki’s air lens hypothesis.

Finally, Jaki claims that the heating effect of the lens could have dried the people’s clothes and the wet ground. Unfortunately, while this may work in theory, the amount of energy needed to produce such rapid drying in a natural manner would have simply incinerated everyone involved! Instead, the people only felt comfortably dry. Jaki’s hypothesis appears to be simply false.

This “drying” miracle alone so contravenes the laws of nature that neither space aliens nor even demons could have produced it.

Natural agency of the visual “sun miracle” is ruled out because the phenomena were not external—as I have just shown, but rather, these were visions caused by internal changes in the witnesses. While space aliens might have mastered the technology of holograms, so as to produce some external physical display, that does not explain the number of witnesses who clearly saw nothing abnormal at all. The effects had to be internal and individualized in order to explain variances in what was seen, and especially, what was totally not seen by a number of people. Thus, the effects were not produced by visiting space aliens. Indeed, they were at least preternatural, if not, supernatural in nature.

On the dubious hypothesis that these effects were preternatural, and not supernatural, could they have been produced by angels or demons? Here, a moral analysis suffices. If somehow done by angels, then they were at the direction of God anyway. But, if done by demons, one is confronted with a message to humans to stop sinning, repent, and pray. I don’t think any further proof is needed to show that demons did not do this.

Finally, while preternatural effects are accomplished by producing a natural effect in an unnatural way, such as a body levitating with nothing seen to be lifting it, these optical phenomena entailed changing the internal vision experiences of tens of thousands of persons simultaneously. Whether merely preternatural powers could produce such an effect is highly debatable. In any event, the previously-given demonstrations show clearly that the “dance of the sun” at Fatima could have been produced solely through the infinite power of the God of classical theism, since it clearly exceeds the power of either man or space aliens to produce such individualized internal visions and moral analysis excludes the agency of spiritual agents other than, possibly, those following God’s command.

3. The Sudden Drying of Everything

Some critics, who were not themselves eye witnesses, try to explain away aspects of what happened at Fatima that day over a century ago by saying that, while certain things were physically real, they were not all that abnormal and were merely over-interpreted by those present.

The problem with such explanations is that they simply do not fit the actual experiences of those present at the time. For example, facile explanations of the sun’s behavior as being merely natural phenomena fail to note the reactions of those who fell to their knees in the mud, thinking it was the end of the world, or of those persons who cried out their personal sins before everyone, since there were no priests present!

Similarly, for hours before the sun miracle it was raining and soaking both ground and those present—as evinced by the sea of umbrellas seen in some photos. Suddenly, the clouds withdrew and the various shocking movements seen by the people as being from the sun took place. As the brilliant silvery disc finally drew back to the original position of the sun, many suddenly noticed that they, their clothes, and the ground were completely dry.

Later critics challenge this interpretation of events. They claim that photos do not appear to show so much water or that evaporation may have taken place as the sun bathed them for some ten minutes of its “dance” or that not all reported this alleged “miracle.”

But the critics were not there. First, there are photos of a sea of large umbrellas, covering the entire crowd at one point. Further, many witnesses affirm the essential facts: the initial soaking rain followed by sudden and complete drying. For one example, Dominic Reis of Holyoake, Massachusetts, in a television interview, made these selected remarks: “And now it was raining harder.” “Yes, three inches of water on the ground. I was soaking wet” (Haffert, Meet the Witnesses, 7). After the sun miracle occurs, he continues: “…the wind started to blow real hard, but the trees didn’t move at all. … in a few minutes the ground was as dry as this floor here. Even our clothes had dried.” “The clothes were dry and looked as though they had just come from the laundry” (Ibid., 11). Many other witnesses make similar statements: “I was all wet, and afterward my clothes were quite dry” (Ibid., 69). Understandably, some remembered nothing about the drying: “I was so distracted that I remember nothing but the falling sun. I cannot even remember whether I took the sheep home, whether I ran, or what I did” (Ibid., 41).

Given that the people attest to the truth of the ground and themselves being very wet, and yet, completely dry in the space of a few minutes, it is evident that some force beyond normal physics obtained here. It is possible to dry objects that quickly, but so intense a heat would doubtless kill the people in the process. This extra-natural character of this sudden drying exceeds the natural physical laws, which limit both the ability of space aliens and even the preternatural powers of demons.

This third miracle of Fatima—the sudden drying—is uniquely important, since it provided a more lasting and evident physical corroboration of events that the witnesses might otherwise think was simply a brief visual experience. Once again, we see a true miracle, something that could be effected solely by the God of classical theism.

Findings

Fatima’s miracles are unique in history because of the immense number of witnesses combined with three distinct simultaneous events that meet the definition of the miraculous, that is, something that solely the God of classical theism could effect. Nor can be ignored the intimate connection between these public miracles and a message from heaven that is clearly and intimately intertwined with the presence of the “lady of the Rosary,” who asks for the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart. The miracle of Fatima is clearly a divine approbation of the Catholic religion.

This unique historical event demonstrates divine approval of Christian revelation in general and of Catholicism specifically. Moreover, it confirms the divine message given to the visionaries, concerning the need for prayer and repentance and even of a special instruction of what would be necessary for God to give the blessing of the conversion of Russia and world peace.

The whole point of this article so far has been to establish two basic and unchangeable truths: (1) that the God of classical theism can be known to exist with certitude through the use of unaided natural reason, and (2) that Christianity in its specifically Catholic form can be shown with objective certitude to be the authentic revelation of the God of classical theism.

No future discoveries or revelations can alter or diminish these two fundamental truths that undergird human existence on this planet.

UFOs and Space Aliens

Now we come to the much delayed and truly fascinating part of this article. What about the UFOs and space aliens? Do they really exist as extraterrestrial biological intelligent beings or as non-bodily intelligences? I hate to let the reader down, but I intend to suspend judgment on most of this intriguing topic for the simple reason that the truth about space aliens is not yet publicly acknowledged one way or the other. There are those who claim that the military knows that extraterrestrials from other planets exist, but that they hesitate to inform the public for fear of its reaction to the news.

On the other hand, there is talk about something like Project Blue Beam existing. This would entail a false space invasion being foisted on an unsuspecting public. The means would be based on use of new-technology holograms, which are so convincing that people would think that they are seeing the Second Coming appearing the heavens or, alternatively, a fleet of spacecraft hovering over us and prepared to wipe out humanity.

The latter space threat could be used to intimidate all mankind into submission to a one world government in order to meet this alleged “threat.” This new global government would then turn out to be part of the Great Reset, which aims to impose tyranny on the entire human race, combined with a program of depopulation.

We need not entertain all these speculative and controversial claims and theories in order to point out something basic that is true regardless of what we finally may discover about extraterrestrials, namely, that nothing we discover can undo the eternal truths already known with certitude through unaided natural reason or infallible divine revelation.

We already know that the God of classical theism eternally exists and that Christian revelation in its Catholic expression is the authentic revelation of God.

Do extraterrestrials exist? Of course, they do! We know this, because it is part of Christian revelation. But these “extraterrestrial” creatures are pure spirits, directly created by God in the form of the angels. Those who fell from grace, we call devils or demons.

What we usually mean, when we ask if extraterrestrials exist, is, “Do intelligent bodily creatures originating from other planets in the cosmos exist? Or, perhaps, do such creatures exist in interdimensional physical reality (whatever exactly that may mean!)? In either event, the answer remains the same as far as our belief systems are concerned, namely, what we know from reason about God and from revelation about religion remains unaltered—since truth is eternal.

When we know that 2 + 2 = 4, we do not lay awake nights worrying that tomorrow the sum might change to 5. The same is true here. What has already been established by reason and revelation with objective certitude cannot be changed by new data. One might add to what is already known, but the basic truths about an eternal, omnipotent, infinite, all-good God, the spiritual and immortal nature of the human soul, and the dogma of the Catholic Church cannot and will not change their objective truth and meaning.

Wherever interpretations may be required in order to integrate the fact of alien species existing with existing revealed doctrine, that is for theologians to discuss and the Church to decide. This is much like what happened when the explorers first found the native peoples of the New World. Catholic theologians had to explain (1) that these people were human beings, just like the European explorers were, (2) that they had spiritual and immortal souls, and (3) that they needed conversion and baptism as Christ commanded for all men. That is why all of Latin America right up to the southern American border eventually became Catholic. At the same time, this new recognition of the humanity of these New World “aliens” changed nothing in the basic truths of the Faith as previously held.

If alien intelligences exist, the very fact that they have spacecraft capable of interplanetary travel alone would demonstrate that they are intellectual, rational bodily beings. Since man is a rational animal, they would be, by philosophical definition, part of humanity—maybe not Earthly humanity, but human beings nonetheless, philosophically speaking. We might call them by some other name, but they would still have spiritual and immortal souls, as simply evinced by possessing such intellectual abilities as judging and reasoning.

Recall, too, it is not a question of degree of intelligence that determines possession of an intellectual, spiritual soul. Any ability to understand the nature of things at all is sufficient to demonstrate possession of an intellectual soul.

How they are to be theologically integrated with humans native to Earth is, again, a speculative and practical problem for the professional theologians and the Teaching Authority of the Church to determine.

From the above discussion, it should now be evident that we have nothing to fear from any potential encounter with space aliens with respect to either what we hold philosophically or believe theologically, since the essential truths about human nature and God and religious revelation will remain forever unchanged and unchangeable.


Dr. Dennis Bonnette retired as a Full Professor of Philosophy in 2003 from Niagara University in Lewiston, New York, where he also served as Chairman of the Philosophy Department from 1992 to 2002. He received his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Notre Dame in 1970. He is the author of two books, Aquinas’ Proofs for God’s Existence, and Origin of the Human Species, as well as many scholarly articles.


Featured image: “Coming Through,” by David Huggins.