Saturday, 15 February 2014

Question 99 – The Physical Condition of Progeny

Why this Question Matters

The Garden of Eden before the fall was a place of grace and perfection for the first human beings. Would that perfection have led to the children of Adam and Eve (and their progeny after them) to have been born in a state of physical perfection? Returning to a theme of Ia.q92, would female children have been born is such a prelapsarian state, or is the sexual diversity that we see after the fall a consequence of the fall?

The Thread of the Argument

A1: One of the characteristics of human babies that distinguishes them from most of the rest of the animal kingdom is their lack of physical coordination upon birth; they are basically helpless and entirely dependent upon their parents. Is this condition a by-product of the fall of man? Would babies born in the Garden of Eden have been physically co-ordinated? After all, it seems that there was no imperfection in paradise and such an uncoordinated condition is surely a lack of perfection.

Aquinas starts his answer by distinguishing between knowledge that we have by supernatural revelation and knowledge gained through observation about the nature of things. In the absence of revelation about some subject, we should favour the latter in tackling a question like this. In this case, it is clear that it is part of the nature of human beings to be born the way that they are with brains that are yet to undergo the sort of development needed for full physical coordination. On the other hand, if we look to the sources of supernatural revelation on this question (such as Ecclesiastes 7:30), then all we see is the claim that “God made man upright”. But this, of course, should only be applied to Adam and Eve; created in their maturity, they did have such mental and physical rectitude.

A2: Returning to the theme of Ia.q92.a1, Aquinas asks whether any females would have been born in the state of innocence. The objections are of a similar nature to those appearing in that former question. For example, Aristotle’s teaching that a female is an “inadvertent male” caused by something going amiss in the developmental process combined with the perfection of the initial state would seem to rule out female births.

Aquinas dismisses the objections out of hand in the same way that he answers the objections of Ia.q92.a1: sexual diversity is part of the intention of nature and contributes to the perfection of the species. Both sexes would have been born in the initial state of innocence.

Following a line of thinking derived from the understanding of the reproductive process current at that time, the second objection claims that the active power in generation is male and that like will produce like unless it is impeded, either by the male principle being defective or by the female matter being unreceptive. The perfection of the initial state of innocence implies that neither of these conditions could occur and that therefore all births would have been of male children. Aquinas denies that sexual differentiation occurs that way, suggesting that an extrinsic accident is responsible for the differentiation. A coda to his answer is that, in the initial state of innocence, the human soul would have been able to be the source of that accident; the sex of the offspring could have been chosen by thinking about it!

Handy Concepts

  • In the Garden of Eden children would have been born as we are, lacking the physical coordination typical of babies born after the fall.
  • Sexual diversity was part of the creation of human beings and is natural to the species that both sexes be present.

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