Sperm, Eggs and Human Souls
The following is my second response to an email dialogue that began here. The pertinent portions of the email to which I'm responding are indented below:
Sorry for the delay in getting back to you, it's a little tricky carving out sufficient time for email. I'll do my best to address the main points of your message though I fear my responses may already be familiar to you. As you say, there sometimes comes a point when all the arguments are on the table, and neither man is moved. Ideological presuppositions make it possible for two people to interpret the same data in completely opposite ways. With that said, here goes.
For my purposes, I think it'd be better to compare fetuses to embryos and the sperm and egg before fertilization. You have a lot of scientists quoted as saying that human life begins at perception... I understand the line of thought, you can trace the moment of birth all the way back to conception (well, it wasn't the fetus wasn't that much different from what it was a minute ago, why should we treat it differently? All the way back to conception you could do that). Why stop there, though? What about when two or more sperm are all trying to fertilize the egg and one beats the rest? Isn't that sperm a murderer, because it didn't allow the other sperm to to fertilize it? What's the difference when a sperm is chewing through the lining of the egg (what I've been led to believe happens) and right after it? What happens during conception that makes it where life begins and not before? ... There isn't much a difference to me between a sperm and an egg and a zygote. The zygote doesn't happen without the two, why should only one sperm be protected under law?
There is a qualitative difference between a sperm and an egg prior to fertilization and the zygote which is produced by their union. Sperm shares the DNA of the father, an egg shares the DNA of the mother. In this sense, it is just like any other cell in the body. It is not genetically distinct. It has a short life span, it is simply a part of the father or mother. Not so with the resulting zygote. It has its own unique genetic code. If left to itself, it will not die off. It will continue to develop into an embryo, a fetus, a newborn, an infant, a toddler, an adolescent, a teenager, and finally into an adult. Sperm and eggs are "alive" in the same sense that any other cell is alive, but a new human being comes into existence at the moment of fertilization. This is the scientific reality. This is the only clean starting point.You go on to say that, "I'm not gonna be the one to force an unwanting mother to bring an unwanted child into the world. Birth is where the line is drawn between being part of the woman and being an independent human being." I have two comments. First, birth is only sometimes drawn as being the dividing line between being part of the woman and an independent human being. If the mother wants her baby and she is assaulted, most states give her baby the full protection of the law and will separately charge the assailant for any damage done to the child. These laws are inconsistent with your assertion that a child is not an independent person until birth. These laws also indicate that the rights of personhood in our nation today have nothing to do with who the baby is, but rather depend entirely upon the will of the mother. If the mother wants the child, it's a person with legal protection. If the mother doesn't want the child, it can be killed with impunity. This is legal schizophrenia. Secondly, until 32 years ago, birth was not the legal dividing line. What has changed? Did science suddenly give us new insights into the "non-humanity" of embryos and fetuses? No. Quite the opposite.
The point I'm trying to make is that the woman is completely responsible for the baby until birth. That baby is inseparable from the woman until it is born. After the baby's born, anybody could take care of it, doesn't have to be the mother...The woman has to make a considerable sacrifice for that child, and forcing to her to make that sacrifice, whether she raised the child or not is unreasonable to me. Because a fetus can grow outside of a woman's womb at some point before birth doesn't mean that that specifc would-be mother could/would/should will it to be so.
You begin this argument by saying that since the biological mother is the only one who can sustain the life of a developing embryo or fetus prior to viability, she should have sole discretion in determining whether the child lives or dies. You go on, however, a few sentences later, to say that even if the child is viable and could be taken care of by someone else, the biological mother should retain her discretion in determining whether the child lives or dies. This seems inconsistent. The bigger issue is this. Are you willing to "force a woman" to make considerable sacrifices for her children after they are born? If it is reasonable to expect (force, even) mothers to care for their children after birth, why is it not reasonable before birth?
Point being, I couldn't ever treat the two the same. I couldn't punish the mother because she wasn't able to defend herself from the rapist that impregnated her. Her rights most should definitely trump the babies if she chose to abort. Forcing that child to be born is a permanent injustice to the mother if she didn't want it to happen. If she chose to give birth, power to her. I'm not gonna be the one to force her either way.
Question. What if this woman who was impregnated through rape, gave birth to the child? What if, down the road, this child became too painful a reminder of the assault upon her? What if she then decided (as some mothers have) to kill her own child? Would she be justified? Obviously not. Why? Because the rights of her innocent child outweigh her right to eliminate the child, no matter how painful the memory. Why should this be any different before birth?
I hate using a "one size fits all" solution. I'd rather live in a world with too much freedom than not enough. Just because abortion doesn't work for lots of people doesn't mean it doesn't work for some. Both sides should be able to exercise their beliefs. I've explained why abortion should be differentiated from rape, theft and murder.
There is no way that both sides can exercise their beliefs. In this sense, abortion is very much like slavery. To argue, today, "Against Abortion? Then Don't Have One" completely misses the point, just as the argument, "Against Slavery? Then Don't Own a Slave" missed the point all those years ago. So long as abortion is a legal "choice", those who oppose it must live with a system that daily kills thousands of innocent human beings. This is unacceptable. There is no compromise that can satisfy both sides.
The aborted fetus isn't able to express the injustice that it occurs (or at the very least we are not able to understand it), so it is much easier to ignore their rights as opposed to the mother's. That is what makes it different from slavery and women's suffrage. It sucked for slave owners that they lost "property" and it sucked for males that had less influence over society, but that was tough crap for them, they were upholding injustice against humans fully capable of communicating their discontent. (I can't imagine the pain the baby feels during an abortion, thankfully. If there was a way to kill [yes kill] them knowing that the procedure was painless I'd much prefer that to dismemberment)
Your argument here sounds like a concession. You are basically saying that is "OK" to abuse and treat unborn children unjustly because they have no capacity to dissent, and then you shudder to the think of the pain they must endure as they're dismembered. Are you really saying that the inability to communicate discontent makes "injustice" acceptable?
Why is it pointless to try to make sure everybody is fully-provided for, then? If it is worth the trouble to ban abortion, is it not worth it to try to make the world a better place for everyone? If so, why?
It is not pointless to try and make sure everybody is fully-provided for. I'm simply arguing that material provision can never solve humanity's more fundamental problem. In the same way, outlawing abortion will never solve the more fundamental problem either. Nevertheless, abortion is a real and massive injustice, and while it shouldn't be the whole focus, it needs to be on the map.
"I'd have more faith in the pro-life movement as a whole if it didn't come across as so incompassionate in my eyes. It seems hypocritical to me to force someone to have a child, yet not help the child with its raising (there are exceptions but they are exceptions, not the rule as far as I've observed). It is defeatingly hypocritical in that the world doesn't get better by forcing unwanted children into it without helping them afterwards."I don't see how the pro-life movement will help itself without offering to help with those children. I don't consider it very "good" or compassionate to force an unwanted baby into the world and then not help the unwanting mother. I guess your side of the debate (again, as a whole, there are exceptions) are hoping that the maternal instincts will kick in after the baby is born and the woman will be glad she had the kid. Too often, though, that isn't the case, and it still does nothing to improve the child's or the mother's position (financially, mentally or emotionally) without assistance.To me, your side isn't pro-child nearly as much as it is pro-consequence to the mother, as a whole. Please explain if I am wrong and why.
Two comments. You may protest, but I will return to the slave analogy. Would it be hypocritical for someone to oppose slavery without being willing or able to help compensate the plantation owner for taking away his "right" to own a slave? Would it be hypocritical for someone to oppose spousal abuse without opening a shelter for battered women? Would it be hypocritical to oppose child abuse without being a foster parent yourself? My point is this. There are a whole host of other social scenarios in which those who criticize what they feel to be an injustice are not expected to bear the cost of eliminating that injustice. Why is it different with abortion? Having said that, the reality is, there are crisis pregnancy clinics all over the country, run by pro-lifers, often at great cost to themselves, which exist to provide for women who want to keep their baby. I'm quite confident that any woman in America, if she wanted and needed it, could find a CPC which would provide her all the prenatal care she needed and help her place the child for adoption once it was born, without costing her a penny. Such resources are out there in abundance. Try doing a search on Google for "Crisis Pregnancy". It's an eye-opener. I don't think it's fair to argue that pro-lifers don't care about women.
I was raised 18 years as a catholic and have found bible and every following of it to be a load of crap, but I'm not arrogant enough to be certain that I'm right. I'd love to hear the solution you want to present. I won't lie to you, I've got lots of years of bitterness towards the church inside me and thus working against an attempt to change my mind, but if you're as good at conveying your christian beliefs as you are your stance on abortion, who knows ;)
On this point, I thank you for the opportunity and for your kind endorsement, though it is a little daunting. For me, my faith in Christ is rooted in two things, what I know of myself and what I know of the Bible. I don't have access to anyone else, but I do have access to my own mind and such access reveals a few things very clearly. First, there is a tension in my soul, an internal gnawing which humanism has never been able to explain to me. Secular biology, philosophy, and psychology have never sufficiently accounted for the origin of the conscience. How is it that there is some kind of internal law inside me, one which I can't even keep?! Forget the ten commandments, my own heart condemns me! The Bible says this:
"For when Gentiles (non-Jews), who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them." -- Romans 2:14,15
This passage teaches that even those who have never read God's law, have a universal, internal law which either accuses them or excuses them. This fits with my own experience. I have felt this conflict, there is connection. How did the law get there? Again, the Bible answers.
"So God created man in his own image. In the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." -- Genesis 1:27
What about evolution? Didn't we just evolve from other creatures without cause, without reason, without creator? Again, my own observations come into play. Experience teaches me, and all of us, that when we see a complicated design, we can rest assured, it is the result of a designer. The second law of thermodynamics teaches that things in the natural realm move from order to disorder. Without investing focused energy into a system, chaos ensues. It is no more reasonable to assume that the human eye randomly evolved than it is to assume that the monitor I'm looking at just came together by throwing a bunch of circuits and components together in a bag and shaking them around. I could shake that bag for a trillion years and never pull out a new Cinema Display. It makes no sense. Evolution, however, has the advantage of eliminating for men all moral responsibility, and this is an advantage for which most men will believe the impossible to attain. Think about it? Do you really think this planet, this solar system, emerged from a random explosion of nothing? Amazingly, the Bible never argues for the existence of God. Rather, it assumes it and states:
"For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened." -- Romans 1:19-21
The world around us is testimony to God's existence. I see this world and it does speak of a creator. Again, the Bible fits what I see in and around me. This still leaves us well short of the gospel, but these grapplings are its necessary predecessor. The thirst must precede the living water:
"On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, "If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'" -- John 7:37, 48
I read this yesterday morning in a great, 150-year-old book by a 19th century Anglican minister:
"A sense of sin, guilt and poverty of soul is the first stone laid by the Holy Ghost, when He builds a spiritual temple... Thirsting soul, I say again, you are the person that ought to thank God. The kingdom of God is near you. It is not when we begin to feel good, but when we feel bad, that we take the first step towards heaven... Universities may confer degrees, and schools may impart knowledge of all mysteries, but they cannot make men feel sin. To realize our spiritual need, and feel true spiritual thirst, is the ABC in saving Christianity...Let him that knows anything of spiritual 'thirst' not be ashamed. Rather let him lift up his head and begin to hope. Let him pray that God would carry on the work He has begun, and make him feel more." -- Holiness, J.C. Ryle
If you spent 18 years in the Catholic church, you must know what the penalty for sin is (for the wages of sin is death, Romans 6:23), but perhaps you are not as clear when it comes to the good news. Listen to this:
"Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst." -- John 6:35
"Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." -- John 8:12
"I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture." -- John 10:9
"Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." -- John 14:6
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." -- Matt. 10:28
"All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out." -- John 6:37
"[Jesus] himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed." -- I Peter 2:24
"And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness." -- Romans 4:5
Salvation is a free gift to all who will renounce their allegiance to sin and be united by faith to Jesus Christ. How is this possible? How can one man, even a perfect God/man, be the substitute for a world of sinners? Romans 5 tells us.
"Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned...But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. If, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." -- Romans 5:12ff
Sin entered the world through one man. The reason the many can be redeemed by the sacrifice of one is because the many were condemned by the sin of one. God created man, has authority over man, man rebelled, deserves death, God took on human flesh, became a man, lived a perfect life, died a death he didn't owe to pay the penalty for our sins, was buried three days and rose again victorious over death. That's the gospel, the good news. We are united to Adam by default, but we are only united to Christ by faith. Those who are not, the Bible teaches, will suffer for all eternity as a just payment for a lifetime of indifferent rebellion against their perfect Creator God. I'll close with this. How many times have you read the entire Bible? How many times have you read the entire New Testament? Once, twice, ten, twenty times? Writing it off as a "load of crap" is a serious thing. Don't do it lightly. Don't do it on hearsay. Don't discredit it based on your experience with the Catholic church or your experience with a raging evangelical. Make sure you read it yourself and weigh the evidence. We all have our faith in something, most of us just don't know what that something is.
Thanks for your time. I hope it was helpful.
Michael Spielman is the founder and director of Abort73.com. His book, Love the Least (A Lot), is available as a free download. You can also find him on Facebook and Google+. Abort73 is part of Loxafamosity Ministries, a 501c3, Christian education corporation. If you have been helped by the information available at Abort73.com, please consider making a donation.