I recently attended an academic conference where one of the presenters made a point about Catholic doctrine I found particularly humorous. The speaker mentioned that Catholicism teaches that the “soul” enters the “body” at conception (I knew that, of course, but he went on…). Technically, at that point, it’s just a single cell (zygote – once the sperm has been co-opted by the egg cell). Sure, okay, let’s say that is true. What, then, are the implications?
- I have brothers-in-law who are identical twins. Who knew they shared a soul? The original zygote, which was imbued with a soul on conception, ultimately split during a later stage, meaning they share a soul. (the speaker mentioned this one)
- Chimeras, people who have two sets of DNA as a result of one embryo basically consuming another one, technically have two souls. Cool!
- Siamese twins have conjoined souls.
- And, apparently spontaneously aborted embryos/fetuses just get shitty souls. Sucks to be you.
I know this blog is mostly geared toward a Mormon audience. And I know there is no hard and fast rule for when the soul enters the “body” for Mormons. But doesn’t the above illustration kind of make it clear that the very notion of a soul is absurd? I mean, come on – sharing a soul, dual souls?
I’m guessing the response of a Mormon apologist would simply be to say that the “insertion” of the soul takes place later in fetal development. And I’m guessing they would leave the specific timing of this occurrence up in the air (nice and ambiguous, just how apologists like it). If that’s the case, then what’s the harm in an early abortion? You aren’t, technically, killing one of god’s creations, just a mass of soul-less cells. Of course, abortion doesn’t every really “kill” one of god’s creations, just the physical aspect of it – abortion doesn’t kill the soul. So why should religious people care anyway?
The way I see it, this is just one more argument for why we should stop thinking about the world in a dualistic sense (material and spiritual). Souls make no sense in the light of modern biology.
A lot of your questions also bring up vexing problems in philosophies of the mind. Just because there are problems with a given idea, it doesn’t follow that the idea is worthless. I doubt many people would argue that minds don’t exist or that the idea is ‘absurd’.
I agree – problems with an idea don’t make it worthless. But do tell me the worth of the concept of a “soul” (not the worth of a soul ;)? I fail to see any worth in the idea at all.
You’ve probably heard of the old problem of the ship of Theseus. The idea of a soul is useful in critiques of materialism.
The ship of Theseus paradox is kind of fun, but it can just as easily refer to the “essence” of an item as it can a soul. I build my own desktop computers and periodically find that I’ve replaced enough parts that it is basically a new computer. It still has the “essence” of being the original computer I built, but my computer doesn’t have a soul (even though I named my original computer God and my new one – with many of the same parts – is called God 2.0).
Even though this is a fun thought game, it’s not a good illustration of the utility of the concept of a soul.