A while ago, I asked several coworkers, separately, whether they thought animals had souls. The two Mormons among them claimed that all living things all the way to prokaryotes and viruses had eternal spirits along with their physical bodies. The two Catholics argued that humans alone possessed minds and souls. All of them seemed somewhat confident in their responses so I thought I could generalize these respective beliefs to all Mormons and Catholics. Does any other faith stand elsewhere on the continuum between the all-inclusive Mormons and the soul-grudging Catholics? Do any creeds proclaim, for example, that only mammals have souls, but not reptiles and plants? — I think I could provide a few neurophysiological arguments to justify that position. Dog owners, for example, whatever their faith, will vouch for the existence of their best friend’s soul. Thus we make a testable prediction: any Catholic will disavow her faith after getting a puppy. I realize Catholics have grown quite diverse in their beliefs post-Vatican II. I must have simply run into the non-dog-owning kind — sampling error again.

Finally, who has the correct answer?

To answer these questions, I consult the preeminent objective source on all things spiritual and scientific, the Conservapedia. In its current article on the brain, Conservapedia cites the work of one René Descartes and his conclusion that the etherial soul controls the physical brain through the pineal gland. Conservapedia’s authors express doubts about the more modern and less satisfying descriptions of the function of the brain and the pineal gland in particular as they do not specifically provide room for free will and the eternal soul. The answer becomes clear: creatures that have a pineal gland also have souls while those that don’t, don’t.

Then let’s simply enumerate all animals that have a pineal gland and those that don’t. It turns out, all chordates have a form of the pineal gland or epiphysis and it contains cells homologous to retinal cells specific to chordates. Human embryos, clearly, don’t have a pineal gland and do not have souls, until at least the time when the epiphysis begins to develop in the fetus around the seventh week of gestation.

Ah, it feels great to finally have the answers — lampreys, fish, mice, and sheep have souls whereas bananas, insects, octopuses, and human embryos don’t. Next topic!