(A continuation of the oh-so-controversial “Souls on Ice” post I made back in October.)
Ok, so his comments on a “virtual holocaust every time you scratch your nose” stoop to hyperbole and polemic, but Sam Harris does raise an interesting question here. If humans possess souls, when do they enter our bodies? If at conception, then what happens when a blastula splits and becomes identical twins? What about when two merge and form a chimera? (Without genetic testing, you can’t be sure that you’re not a chimera.) For the many (maybe around half) of embryos who die between fertilization and birth, do they go to heaven? If so, are they unique individuals?
Their genetic data (DNA) has not yet had a chance to interact with its environment to develop and create an independent organism. Depending on what happens during development–such as what placental chemicals are available for them to interact with, influencing their physical stature, potential birth defects, personality, sexuality, etc.–they could become any number of people. If they go to heaven upon spontaneous (“natural”) abortion, the most common kind, do they exist as the individual they were predestined to be, with consciousness they have not yet developed?
I’m sure there are theologians attempting to answer these questions. They could save some time (and possibly spend it serving the poor) if they simply accepted that the concept of a soul is no longer useful or accurate. Maybe I shouldn’t give this more than a passing thought either. And I wouldn’t, if it didn’t have serious consequences (thanks, white evangelicals) for those who need the benefits of stem cell research.
(h/t to iconoclast)