Recently, in a forum I frequent, a regular theistic-troll decided to celebrate over the murder of Dr. Tiller; this led to a lot of argument between the resident atheists and the troll about abortion, the right to choice and the anti-abortionists double-think and hypocrisy when it comes to bombing clinics and shooting or otherwise harming doctors.
The troll managed to piss off most of the forum, with his insane ramblings and incoherent assertions. After a while, the resident Catholic got involved and riled everyone up even further with her propaganda, quote-mining and misrepresentation of the facts.
But she said something that has often confused the hell out of me; something that I’ve heard a lot of anti-abortionists claim.
‘The soul is infused into the new human upon conception.’
Aside from the fact that this isn’t actually what the Bible says (the soul is infused at the first breath after birth) it’s also rather weird and leads to a lot of confusion and questions.
Firstly; multiple births – twins, triplets, quadruplets and quintuplets.
As we should all know by now, maternal /identical (monozygotic) twins and triplets result from the single fertilised egg splitting, within 8 days after fertilisation, in half to form twins and in thirds to form triplets. Monozygotic Quadruplets and Quintuplets are rare, but they do happen – about 1 in every 15 million pregnancies. Monozygotic sextuplets are so far undocumented.
If these theists are right, and the ‘soul’ is infused at the moment of conception/fertilisation, then I have a few questions.
Do these monozygotic siblings share one soul between them? Does the single soul, infused at conception, split, as the zygote splits, leaving a partial soul per embryo? Or does god step in, upon the zygote split, and give an extra soul to each of the embryos? Or does god put the required amount of souls into that first fertilised egg, so there are enough souls to go around, once splitting occurs?
Theists apparently know enough to say that a soul is infused at conception, but not enough to know how it happens, where it happens, or whether twins, triplets, quads and quints share a single soul or have one each.
Secondly; Siamese or conjoined twins.
We’re still with the monozygotic twins here, so it has a lot of the same questions.
Siamese twins occur later in the pregnancy than identical twins – often, the split that ends in twins occurs later than the first week and is partial, rather than complete. There are many different types of conjoined twins and two theories about how they happen.
The first is that the zygote splits only partially, but the resulting embryos continue to grow, until there are two foetuses, conjoined in some manner. The second is that the zygote splits completely, but stem cells of one or both twins, recognising the twin’s cells as their own, reattach and merge, thus growing conjoined in some manner.
Again, leading on from the first point, I have some questions.
Do Siamese twins share one soul? When they are later separated by surgery, does the soul split as well? Or do they have two souls in what is, essentially, one body? With the latter theory, where the Siamese twin is formed of already separate twins, re-merging – did they have one soul that split and then it reattaches? Or did they have two souls that are now in the one body? Again, when they are separated later in life, do they end up with half a soul each, or one each?
If the soul really is infused at the moment of conception, then these are valid questions that I have yet to have answered by any theist.
Thirdly; Chimera individuals.
Chimera individuals are rare, but they do happen – David Bowie is an example. Chimerism is interesting in that these individuals can come about from two separate zygotes – known as Tetragametic chimerism, OR the same zygote that has split, and then reformed into one embryo – known as Mosaicism.
Now, with Tetragametic chimerism, two separate eggs are fertilised at the same time and begin to develop individually. However, at around the Blastocyst stage, the two individual clumps of cells fuse into one. Basically, two non-identical twins fuse together. Because of this, the individual can be male, female or hermaphroditic - baring the genitals of both twins. Unless the resultant child is hermaphroditic, there is little clue to the chimerism – often the only signs are slightly different eye colours or different hair growth patterns on each side of the body. The only foolproof way to tell is through DNA, as the chimera will have two sets of DNA – parts of the body with one, and parts with the other.
Mosaicism is much the same as Tetragametic chimerism; but as I understand it, certain cell groups in the body will have a distinctly different genotype to the rest, rather than the individual being a true chimera.
My questions for the theists are thus:
Does the Chimera individual have two souls? Does the Mosaicism individual have one soul, which was torn in half and then put back together? Or does the individual have two souls? Does god step in and take away the extra soul, when the twins fuse?
This soul business is rather complicated.
Fourthly – and perhaps finally; Parasitic twins, vanishing twins and miscarriages.
Parasitic twins are considered to be between vanishing twins and conjoined twins – in their case, the zygote follows the route of a conjoined twin zygote, but one twin is underdeveloped. At some point in the gestation period, the parasitic twin stops developing at all and is vestigial. The dominant twin ends up with an underdeveloped, vestigial body attached to its own – the parasitic twin is often either only partially formed, or wholly dependent on the dominant twin for life.
Some examples noted by the press, are those where the parasitic twin is Fetus in Fetu – actually growing inside the body of its sibling. This happens at a rate of 1 in every 500,000 live births.
Vanishing twins occur far more often than most assume – something like 1 in 8 pregnancies are thought to be multiple, but one twin dies in utero and is either reabsorbed or expelled. In rare cases, the dead twin is ‘flattened’ by the growing live twin, this is known as fetus papyraceus and can cause complications during birth. If the twin dies in the second or third trimester, there can be complications due to the demise of the fetus or haemorrhaging. It is hypothesised that left-handed individuals may be the surviving twin of mirror-image twinning, where one twin has ‘vanished’ early in the gestation period.
Miscarriages, or spontaneous abortions, are hard to pin down to an exact number, as many take place long before the woman knows she is pregnant, or at home, but it is estimated that around 25% of all pregnancies end in early miscarriage, or by the sixth week, and 8% occur after the sixth week. The older the mother, the higher the percentage.
So, I have even more questions.
A parasitic twin and fetus in fetu has no nervous system or brain, living solely off the body of its host – do they share a soul? Or does the dominant twin have the soul, and the parasite not have one at all? Do they both have souls, in one body? What is the point of something with no brain having a soul? Does god step in and give a new soul to the twin lacking one after the zygote splits? Does god step in and take away the extra soul when the dominant twin envelopes the parasitic?
Does god know ahead of time which of the twins is going to ‘vanish’? If so, does god step in and give the extra soul to the new zygote after the split, even though one of them is going to ‘vanish’ anyway? Or does god put two souls into the fertilised egg and then takes one away after the split into twins? Or does the ‘vanishing’ twin still have a soul when it ‘vanishes’? When the twin is absorbed by the mother – does she now have two souls? Or did god remove the soul before absorption?
What is the point of a bunch of cells or an embryo having a soul, if it is going to be miscarried before the six-week mark? Does god know ahead of time, that the embryo will be miscarried? If so, does god not infuse the egg with a soul? Or does god infuse the egg and then simply sit back and watch as it is miscarried?
There’s probably far more questions that could be asked (even ignoring the whole ‘HOW does god infuse the fertilised egg with a soul?’ And ‘what IS a soul?’ type questions) but I hope this gives an idea of where I’m coming from. Theists can claim that the soul is infused into the fertilised egg as often and loudly as they want, but until they actually think about what they are claiming, no-one is going to pay any attention to them. I certainly won’t.
All I got back from the Catholic in the forum after posing some of these questions to her was a flippant ‘of course twins have souls! I don’t get why you even have to ask!’ Which, of course, didn’t address my actual questions in the slightest. Not that I’m the least bit surprised.
If any theist actually wants to take on these questions, please, feel free to answer them. Keep in mind, though, that they result from being told, by a theist, that the soul enters the fertilised egg upon the moment of conception.
Her words, not mine.
If you have a different idea of when the soul becomes part of the fetus, again, feel free to explain it to me. Actual evidence would be very much appreciated.