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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Question of Ensoulment

Several questions, actually, and I wonder if any of the fundies will be willing to take them on.

Most of what gets posted over at Ray's is just a rehashing of ignorant religious superstition and dogma which I rarely pay any attention to anymore, but this comment by Yeager under the post 'The Standard' caught my eye :

"Some questions for theists.

Assume life begins at conception.

Sperm enters the egg and then bam. Soul created.

Now assume that the very same zygote divides as is the case when twins are formed. Would the original soul be split in two, another soul brought in for the twin, or are there an infinite amount of souls assigned to one zygote in the possibility that it may divide.

Now assume that these two embryos fuse back together after dividing forming a chimera (scientific meaning, not mythical creature). This one being is formed from two embryos after fertilization. Would this person have one soul or two?"

I have no idea if any of the Rayniacs will attempt to answer Yeager or not, but I'd be willing to bet they won't and will instead see his comment as a rabbit trail. Just as I finished reading this comment, I went back to the book that I am reading called The Blank Slate, The Modern Denial of Human Nature by Steve Pinker and what should be on the very page I was reading but this lengthy, but directly related section:

The intuitive and morally useful concept of an immaterial spirit simply cannot be reconciled with the scientific concept of brain activity emerging gradually in ontogeny and phylogeny. No matter where we try to draw the line between life and nonlife, or between mind and nonmind, ambiguous cases pop up to challenge our moral intuitions.

The closest event we can find to a thunderclap marking the entry of a soul into the world is the moment of conception. At that instant a new human genome is determined, and we have an entry destined to develop into a new individual. The Catholic Church and certain other Christian denominations designate conception as the moment of ensoulment and the beginning of life (which, of course, makes abortion a form of murder). But just as the microscope reveals that a straight edge is really ragged, research on human reproduction shows that the "moment of conception" is not a moment at all. Sometimes several sperm penetrate the outer membrane of the egg, and it takes time for the egg to eject the extra chromosomes. What and where is the soul during this interval? Even when a single sperm enters, its genes remain separate from those of the egg for a day or more, and it takes yet another day or so for the newly merged genome to control the cell. So the "moment" of conception is in fact a span of twenty- four to forty- eight hours. Nor is the conceptus designed to become a baby. Between two- thirds and three- quarters of them never implant in the uterus and are spontaneously aborted, some because they are genetically defective, others for no discernible reason.

Still, one might say that at whatever point during this interlude the new genome is formed, the specification of a unique new person has come into existence. The soul, by this reasoning, may be identified with the genome. But during the next few days, as the embryo's cells begin to divide, they can split into several embryos, which develop into identical twins, triplets, and so on. Do identical twins share a soul? Did the Dionne quintuplets make do with one- fifth of a soul each? If not, where did the four extra souls come from? Indeed, every cell in the growing embryo is capable, with the right manipulations, of becoming a new embryo that can grow into a child. Does a multicell embryo consist of one soul per cell, and if so where do the other souls go when the cells lose that ability? And not only can one embryo become two people, but two embryos can become one person.Occasionally, two fertilized eggs, which ordinarily would go on to become fraternal twins, merge into a single embryo that develops into a person who is a genetic chimera: some of her cells have one genome, others have another genome. Does her body house two souls?
" (Emphasis mine.)

Like I said, I doubt they will, but if any fundies would like to take on these questions and the issue in general, especially without entangling it with the issue of abortion, (which is not the topic of this post and which I have no interest in discussing), then I would be interested in reading their replies.


  1. Oh, this is lovely.

    Meaning- I love it.

    I'm curious to know what Christians believe should be the proper punishment for an abortion if it is to be considered *murder*.

  2. To be honest, a thought that has been running through my mind lately is similar to this. I know this sounds a little off-the-wall, but stay with me.

    Let's give the benefit of the doubt to the Christians. Let's say for a moment God exists, and they can literally feel His presence.

    I was doing some stuff on AI and I was wondering if my AI program could go to heaven. Of course, Ray would say no. It's not natural, it's a machine.

    But, I too was engineered, and my future niece or nephew is being engineered right now (test tube babies). Since we were engineered and not conceived, is it possible that maybe the reason I don't see God is because I don't have a soul?

    The prospect of that has been creeping me out all day! >_<

  3. Kaitlyn,

    Interesting that you should bring that up. Pinker touches on test tube babies and IVF very briefly. I wish he would have gone further into that subject.

    It would also be interesting if any fundies would tackle the issue you raised.

  4. Do fertilized eggs for IVF have souls and since the extras are frozen, do the souls freeze. Kaitlyn, perhaps your soul didn't thaw properly.

    I got here the old fashioned way (stork) and I haven't seen or felt anything yet.

    I don't think you have anything to worry about.

  5. Hmmmm. And what happens to the souls of all those miscarried fetuses? (Miscarriages account for up to one-fifth of all pregnancies, depending on which statistics you read. That would include three never-made-it-past-the-first-trimester siblings of mine.)

    Do those souls get recycled?

    If Vera has a go at this, then everybody had better wear helmets 'cause it'll be Headdeskin' Time.

  6. Wee,

    If Vera has a go at this the universe may crumble in on itself.

  7. "I'm curious to know what Christians believe should be the proper punishment for an abortion if it is to be considered *murder*."

    Christians believe that every person who ever lived or will live deserves hell! We are all murderer's in our hearts.

  8. Dude, you're right.

    I'm 100% convinced! LOL What was I thinking?!

  9. *sigh* :::facepalm, headesk::::

  10. In a serious note though-

    If a woman were to get an abortion, what does the Christian believe should be the rightful penalty to be recieved from the hand of the American law?

    Not what Christians believe should be the penalty from God- But, if it is to be considered murder how many years do you propose a woman gets in Jail for having an abortion?

  11. *sigh* :::facepalm, headesk::::

    Both?! Whoah!

    Ps. I'm due for a long time, but 'welcome back'.

    Yes, ironic AND late. Like Ray's thoughts.

  12. Thanks RS! Good to see you back, too. You were missed.

    Yes, I'm afraid Ike's comment made do a facepalm/headesk combo. You should see what Vera's make me do.

  13. Well, thank you for the kind words. At least someone noticed my post :P.

    In a related note, if you look up the subject of human chimeras you may just find that Catholic priests in England are trying to fight a proposal of human animal chimeras for stem cell research. The say that since human DNA is involved with the whole process that the human "mothers" of the formed zygote should be raised as humans.

  14. Oops, bad sentence. Rephrasing powers activate!

    "They say that since human DNA is involved with the whole chimera process that the human "mothers" of the formed zygote should be raising them as humans."

  15. Thanks Yaeger, I'm gonna look that up!

  16. Man, I gotta become a contributor of thi blo, I have all these random tangent questions from posts like this, which don't relate.

    If all souls go to heaven, at what state do they get there? Old people returned to their 20s... but At-Concept-Souls who were aborted? Do they float around an amniotic river with the thousands of others that atheists have defiled? Would anyone really think such a river would be pretty enough for Heaven?

  17. Also, stupid keyboard missin etters. I wear it isn't me!

  18. haggy,

    I now xactly hat ou re rying to ay.


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