September 20, 2013

Chimerism causes problems for souls, life forces and other metaphysics

I had originally titled this post, pre-publication, as "How many individuals are inside each of us?" But, as I later expanded it more, I decided I wanted the change, especially when I, like one of the few good things Christopher Hitchens did as a Gnu Atheist, took Eastern as well as Western religion into my gunsights.

That first sentence? That's a rhetorical question, as regular readers of this blog might guess. But, it's one based on hard science, and this time, it's not based on neuroscience or philosophy ideas of Dan Dennett.

Carl Zimmer's latest science piece in the New York Times is simply fascinating. It appears that many more humans than previously recognized are chimeras.

That is, whether you were part of a twin birth or not, you were part of a twin conception, and you either absorbed some cells from your twin or, in many cases, you absorbed the entire twin.

Or, some of us may be a mosaic, just like the mosaic cats you see with two halves of their faces with definitely different colors. In humans, it seems the mosaic patterns don't show up in outward appearance; rather, more insidiously, they may be behind the formation of some cancers.

A mosaic is not a blend of two different persons' DNA, as one twin absorbing another. Per this new piece by Zimmer, rather, a mozaic is when one zygote undergoes mutations early in cell division, before any differentiation, and both (or three or more!) cell versions are preserved. Result? Part of the cells of a heart may be defective, but not all.

As regular readers of this blog know, I'm also an atheist. And, not just an atheist in the way the Dalai Lama is, or some New Agers claim to be. Rather, I'm also an anti-metaphysician.

And, while I'm not a Gnu Atheist, generally poking fun at Christians liberal and fundamentalist alike just because they're Christians, nonetheless, to anybody who believes in an immaterial, metaphysical soul, the fact of chimerism (and other issues of human conception behind it) present stark challenges to your belief. As they do to religious-based prolife stances. (What a Nat Hentoff does with information like this, I have no idea, but he may "elide" it too.)

My answer to the rhetorical question is that there's quite posssibly more than "one" inside of me, if we're talking about DNA. It's also that, Dennett's multiple-drafts theory of consciousness, and ideas of subselves, aside, that there's only one inside of me if we're talking about core personalities. That's because I have only one brain, and only one body to embody the consciousness that's inside me, and zero souls, no matter whether my DNA is from one fertilized zygote or two, representing that consciousness. 

This is why that, though my move from conservative-to-fundamentalist Lutheranism to eventually land in atheism, or secular humanism, began over psychological and philosophical issues related to the problem of evil, as well as doing intellectual judo on my religious upbringing from my own religious graduate school training, eventually, science issues also came into mind.

Now, liberal versions of Christianity can find themselves perfectly compatible with, say, evolution. But, any religion that believes in an individualized, metaphysical soul? I simply don't see how you reconcile these scientific findings with your beliefs. And, under "individualized, metaphysical soul" I include the likes of the Dalai Lama and millions of other Buddhists who believe that some individualized life force is reincarnated. If it's an item tied to an individual person and it's metaphysical, it fits the bill here.

Many people claim that the Dalai Lama has said that he'll accept whatever science says.

However, I have read (sorry, I never did bookmark it) that he has elsewhere said that if it is science vs. one of two core Buddhist principles — karma and reincarnation — then science goes and Buddhism stays. 

And I don't doubt that its true.

In other words, chimerism simply wrecks the idea of a soul being created at conception, unless one is prepared to stand by an even darker god than John Calvin was.  If you're of the ilk of Hobby Lobby,  or Catholics, then, in the case of chimeras, you have to quadruple down on the biblical myth of Jacob and Esau in the womb, and believe that one of two fraternal twins, in many births, is a cannibalistic soul-devourer. Or else, it's a physical cannibal with two souls "attached" to what on the outside seems to be one body, with one brain.

Chimerism also has other connections to the abortion debate, especially within the Western monotheistic/monotritheistic tradition.

It's another variant on the old problem of evil. How can a deity purportedly both all-powerful and all-good let human reproduction be such a minefield of problems? Beyond all the chimeras (which, to be most blunt, from the fundamentalist point of view, must be considered versions of tiny infant cannibalism) to the fact that as many as one in four, maybe even one in three, human conceptions is spontaneously aborted, it is not even close to being anything but an evolutionary minimum of success, it would seem. And, aside from the fundamentalist problems I just lined out already, it's also a vast waste of putative divine economy.

If any fundamentalist tries to do the old hand-waving about how god's ways aren't are ways and vice versa, and god is inscrutable, etc., therefore there's surely an ultimate good behind this, I answer twice.

The first is that a god who is all-powerful and all-good not only can but morally should make his plans scrutable to any sentient beings he creates. Therefore, this is just the problem of evil squred.

Second is that said god is illogical, and unless one wants to be Martin Luther and talk about "that whore, reason," not all-good and therefore self-refuting.

To any fundamentalist who says "original sin," I reply three ways.

First and second, the two answers above.

Third, that you believe in a monster who isn't even close to all-good. (And, yes, like Ken Ham, some Xns actually will attribute the cause of anything wrong in our world to original sin.)

And, speaking of "souls," maybe chimerism explains why identical twins aren't so identical, even in their brains. (Of course, this would require parental cells/DNA, or else a third, fraternal twin.)

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