Sunday, February 04, 2007

Questions: Nature and Nurture

Liesel says: I have two children, gifts from God, both are so different that I can't see how nature would make two children of the same mum and dad so unique. Only God can give a child a soul. You are an atheist, where did your children get their soul? What makes them special?

Liesel,
Have you ever studied the subject of genetics? If you had studied the subject, you would discover that there are at least one-hundred-billion (100,000,000,000) different possible combinations on the human genome. Now, of course, with two genetic donors (the parents) the odds of the same genetic fingerprint shrinks, but not as much as you might think. Siblings, conceived by the same parents, have a 1 in 1,048,576 chance of sharing the exact same genetic make-up as a sibling. Even in identical twins, you will find slightly different variances of their genetic fingerprint. So...forgive me for sounding arrogant, but... frankly, if your identical septuplets were exactly the same, THAT would be more evidence for a divine creator than the fact that there are 6.6 billion people with different genetic fingerprints. The differences that make up traits like; hair color, eye color, skin tone, body structure, etc.,. and; personality, disease(s), intelligence, etc.,. are culled from only about .2% of our DNA. Surely, if God existed, he could set about making scads of clones. After all, 99.8% of every human is the same...but, oh what a difference that .2% makes.

Where did my children get their soul? What are you defining as "soul"?
My children are four, unique creatures. There differences are too numerous to mention and they're constantly EVOLVING into the latest and greatest versions of their self. Nature lays the framework. Nurture finishes the person. No two children have the exact same experience, on the exact same day, in the same exact moment. Their previous experience comes along for the ride, imprinted on their brain and their body. With every new stimulus, they will react out of instinct and out of the experience stored in their brain. That possibilities are endless. To make this simple: If you have twins, a strict "designer/God" approach should create two children who will react and respond to similar stimuli in the exact same fashion. This is simply not true. One child laughs at the clown: the other child screams in horror. And, you can't predict, from one episode to the next, how the same child will respond. The possiblities are, indeed, infinite.

My children are so remarkably different that I often wonder how another man's sperm found my ova. :) But, alas, they are the product of our (my husband and my) collective genetic pool. They are the product of our own evolution.

I don't need to believe in some fantasy "soul" or "spirit" that makes them who they are. I love them completely for exactly what they are, standing before me. I love them for their ticks and quirks and all of the imperfections that they've acquired.

10 comments:

misterniceguy1960 said...

In a family of nine kids (four biological, five adopted), the one who was most like Mrs. Nice Guy in interests and temperament was not only adopted, but of a different race.

Luck of the draw.

Scott said...

One little nitpick, but an important one, is that your children are not evolving, but developing! I make this distinction because it is important to distiguish these two when talking to people who are less informed about biology because if they start confusing evolution and development it makes it more difficult to understand why or how humans and apes have evolved from a common ancestor.

Also it's good to highlight development, especially in this topic here, because not only is there DNA differences, but even for identical twins, development (the actual growth of the child) can create differences between these two. Therefore two different children born at different times will obviously have different development environments - even if subtle.

Anyway, great post and great blog - keep up the good fight!

Atheist in a mini van. said...

Thanks for the corrections, Scott. :) Those are great points. I need to watch my descriptions and keep them accurate.

Radix2 said...

There you go with the clowns again... :-)

But really, I think you covered most points well. I would have elaborated on the question of monozygotic twins (or more).

For instance. If god emplaces the soul at the moment of conception, and then the zygote splits into two or more viable ones (and continue embryonic development) then where did the additional souls come from? Did god have to pop back in with a spare or two? Or are the resulting souls somehow diluted?

I was also married to one of identical twins (in the 99.9% identical group) and two different persons you could not meet. Sure, they looked the same. They also shared common experiences and were very close. But they may as well have been born 2 years apart in every other respect. Totally different personalities.

Russ said...

Great work, Possummomma,

When you say,

"One child laughs at the clown: the other child screams in horror. And, you can't predict, from one episode to the next, how the same child will respond. The possiblities are, indeed, infinite,"

you capture the entire essence of where religions have gone wrong in what they call "spirituality."

This "spirituality," derives from the human experiences of love, kindness, awe, wonder, mystery, compassion, altruism, and fascination, among others which are common throughout the global human community. Born of ignorance, religions have always employed superstition to explain unknowns: here, why human psychological experiences are universal.

Why do peoples as distinct in habits and habitats as Alaskan Inuits and Australian Aborigines have in common all of those traits we call human? Why does both of those groups have those traits in common with the rest of mankind? If we open our eyes to religion's long tradition of vilification, denigration, torture, and execution of anyone not like themselves - tactics have changed, but it continues yet today - we see that religions do not see - indeed, never have seen - humanity as a worldwide family. That some consider themselves god's "chosen people," to the exclusion of others, underscores this point.

Setting that nugget aside, religions would have us explain our human sameness with unjustified "belief." This should be read as, "Without questioning, accept the deficient products of old superstitions and ancient ignorance." Most western religions want us to "believe" that humans share common traits because those traits have been intentionally infused by one or more gods into the whole of mankind. However, even a casual glimpse at today's manifold religions shows that none of those old superstitions or ancient ignorances are shared by all of mankind.

With that in mind, religious explanations of man himself, his place in the universe and how best to live together in an increasingly interconnected and, thus, interdependent world, fail miserably the test of practicality. Supernatural ideas from religions have never lead to a medication, engineered a more robust grain, discovered an asteroid, or demonstrated how to fulfill the needs of all mankind so that peace could be a reasonable hope.

Now, however, a body of universally applicable knowledge which requires no appeal to irrational "belief" or superstition whatsoever is broadly available to mankind. It's called science. It clearly describes the functioning of human physiology so that it can address the needs of man as a whole. Antibiotics work without "belief." Science tells where we sit in the cosmos. Science allows us to better feed ourselves. Knowing what all men need physically, science tells how to care for the patch of universe we inhabit. And, although science can't itself change an environment of self-interest which seems to eschew peace, science brings to the table an inescapable truth which highlights the artificiality of political borders, and, which no deity has ever beneficially revealed through religion: from the US to Iraq, from England to Tibet, from the Arctic to Patagonia, there is only one family of man.

DavidGX said...

Nicely said.

Shaun said...

Souls?! We don't need no steeeenkin' souls!

lynn's daughter said...

Soul? is she talking about individual habits and conscriousness or is she talking about an immortal soul? If she's talking about the former, I'd have to say, "from my parents, and their parents..." if she's talking about the latter, I'd have to say, that's a religious construct. In any case, it's kind of a stupid question. I've heard a lot of intelligent ones...this isn't one of them. it doesn't really speak to the debate at all. Just mho.

intepid said...

Just wanted to say I think your numbers may be a little conservative there... humans have 23 chromosome pairs, each of which comes from both the mother and the father.

For every pair C1/C2 we have, there are 4 possible combinations, eg M1/F1, M1/F2, M2/F1 and M2/F2. So the maximum number of genetically distinct offspring a particular couple can give birth to is 4 (possibilities per pair) to the power of 23 (number of pairs in humans), or just over 70,000,000,000,000 (70 trillion)

Disclaimer: I am not a biologist, but I am good with numbers, and if there is any reason why my calculations are flawed I am happy to be corrected on this :)

Atheist in a mini van. said...

For every pair C1/C2 we have, there are 4 possible combinations, eg M1/F1, M1/F2, M2/F1 and M2/F2. So the maximum number of genetically distinct offspring a particular couple can give birth to is 4 (possibilities per pair) to the power of 23 (number of pairs in humans), or just over 70,000,000,000,000 (70 trillion)

Disclaimer: I am not a biologist, but I am good with numbers, and if there is any reason why my calculations are flawed I am happy to be corrected on this :)


Yeah. Numerically, you're absolutely correct. However, biologically, there are certain combinations that are imcompatible with life. So, I did some quick 'figuring' on the biology and what chromosomes were responsible for what... I subrated a rough percentage to estimate the combinations. I could be way off. Who know... either way, it's still an impressive number of potential combinations. :) I suck at numbers. LOL! Theory I'm great at...numbers...not so much.