While this subject borders on the macabre, I believe that taking an unflinching look at natural extremes can provide us with important insights into how God, or nature, works.
Such unique traits are fascinating because, on the one hand, we see the miracle of creation, but on the other hand, we see that something has gone horribly, horribly wrong. Something unexpected has happened, and nature seems unprepared to handle it. And this leads us to ask some interesting questions about the existence of the individual soul, and questions about who, or what, is behind the formation of these bodies.
Dicephalic Parapagus Twins
Let’s start with the inspirational twins Abby and Brittany Helsen. While in the womb, God or nature knitted them together in an amazing patchwork of organs and bones. The way these twins are joined, it smacks of design, almost as if someone carefully crafted their two bodies so that they could continue to operate in this way.
But on the other hand, 75% of conjoined twins fail to survive. So if there is such a craftsman, he’s certainly not very good at designing viable conjoined twins.
From a spiritual standpoint, we look at Abby and Brittany and see two separate spirits, as they clearly both have unique thoughts and personalities. So, as strange as it is to say this, if the spirit exists, it seems to reside inside one’s head. But if this is true… can two spirits share one brain?
Craniofacial Duplication (Diprosopus)
According to a 2002 article in the medical journal Radiology, “The rarest type of conjoined twins… is diprosopus, where a child is born with two faces on one head.”
Diprosopus (which kinda sounds like a dinosaur) may not actually be a conjoined twin at all, but a duplication of the face caused by an excess of the (I kid you not) Sonic Hedgehog protein.
In the case of Figure 1, it was found that some of the brain’s frontal lobes were also duplicated. But having these extra brain bits didn’t seem to translate to having an extra soul or dual personalities.
Indian-born baby Lali (Figure 2) has an even more pronounced second face. She too likely has the same (if not more) duplication of brain matter. But how much brain matter can be duplicated before we’re asking “Is this one person with two faces, or two people sharing one brain?” or “Did God insert one soul or two?”
My guess is that any extra brain matter would become integrated into one singular sense of self. This is hinted at by the fact that baby Lali blinks all four of her eyes simultaneously.
More disturbing is when there is a lack of the Sonic Hedgehog protein, which can cause facial features to lack separation, sometimes resulting in a cyclops (Figure 3).
If there is a designer, why his he allowing such things to happen? Is it necessary to have a certain number of two-headed, two-faced, cyclops babies? Are evil forces at play? Or does nature just sometimes make mistakes?
Synecephalus (Figure 4) is a very rare type of conjoined twin where the twins share a head and face, but have four ears and two bodies. In other words, there’s little question that these are twins and not one person with duplicate features.
Again, how would God handle the soul in this case? Would he insert one soul knowing that the two minds would become one? Or does he insert two souls, which might result in a two senses of self? Or does he not even bother, knowing that this project is doomed to fail? (And if it is doomed, why didn’t he end it sooner? Or not create it at all?)
What I find particularly interesting about Figure 4 is how both rib cages come together. These cells continued to assemble themselves, assuming they were in the correct location. While nature may not have noticed that something had gone wrong, an intelligent designer should have, and should’ve terminated the project much earlier.
Between these extremes are varying levels of craniopagus, where two twins are conjoined at the head. This type of conjoined twin is especially noteworthy because it can result in a partially shared brain.
Take the case of Canadian twins Tatiana and Krista Hogan (Figure 5). These adorable twins, born in 2006, have been the subject of several news stories and documentaries. As they learn to speak, they’re teaching us more about what it means to share part of a brain.
It’s said that Tatiana and Krista share a thalamus, which connects their brain stems, and it appears this allows them to share some brain signals. They have shown many signs of being able to pick up on the other’s sensory input, and they often do things in unison. But each also has her own independent personality.
If these two girls share overlapping brains, do they also share a percentage of a soul? If they each shared half a brain, would they have 1 soul, 1.5 souls or two?
Unlike conjoined twins, a parasitic twin ceases development during gestation and becomes a partially developed vestigial formation upon the body of the other twin.
Parasitic twins come in random shapes and sizes, and some even become completely entombed inside their twin. The cells of these parasitic twins find a way to survive, even where they were never intended.
One type of parasitic twin is craniopagus parasiticus, where a parasitic head of a twin is attached to the head of another twin.
In craniopagus parasiticus, God or nature doesn’t even bother to give a body to the poor parasitic head, so it has no chance of surviving on its own. Even if the head is conscious, doctors must remove it in order to give the more developed twin any chance at a normal life.
From a spiritual perspective, one wonders if God gives parasitic heads a soul, and why he would allow such a cruel thing to happen to these children and their parents. Why would God force us to kill an infant, so that its twin may survive?
From a naturalist perspective, I can see how a developing parasitical twin might think its needs are already being met, and fail to produce a second body.
The other 75%
But most of the above photos are of survivors. Few of us ever see pictures of the majority of conjoined twin that don’t survive.
Take, for example, the conjoined twins in Figure 6. In this case, the one twin died because its brother was growing directly out of his face, in the form of a garbled mess.
How could a good God knit together something like this in a mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13)? Can God even put a soul into a mangled mess without a head? Why allow it if God can’t possibly use it? Or are we just looking at a tragic mistake of unguided nature?
Who, or what, forms our bodies?
There’s no question that life is complex. I find it miraculous that a few cells can multiply and grow into such complex organisms, replete with close-knit bones, organs, muscles, nerves, etc. How does each cell know where to go and what to become? There seems to be some central command orchestrating the entire project. But where is this oversight when it comes to conjoined twins?
These bizarre mergers do not appear to be intentionally malicious. If Satan is behind them, why not just kill them instead of conjoining them? Why combine them in random ways? With random amounts of success and failure?
Nor do these mergers speak to the work of a benevolent God, who is creating something new and magnificent. If God forms them in the womb, why does He fail so badly (Jeremiah 1:5)?
Rather, these mergers appear undirected and unintentional, with each cell going about its own business, trying to integrate itself within the whole. When a cell runs up against something unexpected, like a twin, it latches on and says “Eh, close enough.”
What might we expect if God forms our bodies?
If we are being intelligently designed, we might expect the designer to look upon twins about to conjoin and say “No, no, no, that’s all wrong!” Or at least provide adequate programming so that “Cell A” knows never to merge with “Cell B.”
If God exists, it appears as if he not interfering with the natural world he created. But if God is still in charge of creating new souls and inserting them into babies, he must remain somewhat involved. How can he command the soul-creation process, yet not dictate that twins should always remain separate?
It’s difficult to imagine that God is currently up in Heaven bemoaning this situation to Jesus…
“What’s wrong, God?” asks Jesus. “Oh, nothing, I just had to insert some new souls into a freakish parasitic twin.” “Did you make it appear completely random?” “Yes, of course, we can’t have everyone down there thinking these mistakes are intentional. Still… it makes me so very sad because I love them so much.” “Well… you are an all-powerful God, can’t you just stop?” SMACK! God slaps Jesus to the ground. “See what you made me do!? Stop questioning my judgement! Why must everything I love force me to punish it so badly? My hands are tied, Jesus. My ‘perfect’ creation has listened to the talking snake, leaving me no choice but to conjoin the occasional twin.” “Yes, I suppose,” says Jesus, “But must you also conjoin animals as well?” SMACK! “Yes!” says God, “It’s all part of my plan to save mankind! It’s all necessary.”
What might we expect if nature forms our bodies?
If only nature is in control, then…
- The cells are calling all the shots, for better or for worse.
- We might expect a high failure rate.
- We might expect oddities like conjoined twins, because nature was never programmed to forbid them.
- When cells do make mistakes, we might expect them to continue forging ahead, because they don’t understand that what they’re making is doomed to fail.
The naturalist in me sees conjoined twins as nature’s unfortunate experiments. She may fail 75% of the time, but 25% of the time she gets lucky, and actually makes something fit enough to survive.
This is similar to the evolutionary process, though these mistakes are on a genetic level. When mistakes turn out to be advantageous, the organism survives and replicates. If the mutation is a disadvantage, the organism is wiped from existence. It’s just a matter of probability — create enough random mutations, and eventually you stumble upon something that works.
What nature really has going in her favor is that she only keeps her winners. As the winners continue to interbreed, they all share in all their new-found strengths.
If we say the soul is evidenced by one’s sense of self, then how can two twins share a sense of self? Are they sharing a soul, or are they simply sharing part of an organ that is responsible for forming the sense of self?
As for how we are formed, I would assume that any benevolent OR malevolent creator would show signs of intent, not randomness and failure. If God intends to insert a soul into a creature he loves, he should take measures to ensure it doesn’t succumb to stupid mistakes, and he certainly shouldn’t continue building something that’s destined to fail.
But nature has no intentions, she reacts only to physical and chemical reactions, which sometimes results in randomness and failure. She doesn’t create our bodies because she cares for us, and she doesn’t take measures to make sure we won’t succumb to stupid mistakes. She plods along in ignorance, oblivious to her failures. What works, works, and what doesn’t, doesn’t.
While God may have made us perfect, what we observe today is nature making random mistakes and experimenting. We do not observe God creating new lifeforms from scratch, or showing other clear signs of intent. Conjoined twins appear to be the result of such natural and random mistakes, and not an intentional design choice.