7.11.2006

Live births from "artificial" sperm

This story reminds me of an interesting query I have posed before. Christians are proud to have the slogan and belief that "life begins at conception." But what does that specifically mean? How do we know exactly when in the process of human reproduction that a soul is implicated in the flesh any more than we do when it is that a soul leaves the body in the process of death? A soul is supernatural and beyond the explanation of science.

As with the concept of inserting of genetic material into a human egg in cloning, the potential joining of laboratory created sperm and human eggs from the above linked story reminds me of this question in my mind. Even in normal human sexual reproduction, at what exact point in the PROCESS of fertilization is the soul implicated? Is the soul implicated at the point of:

Penetration by the sperm of the egg's zona pellucida?
Entry of the single winning sperm into the perivitelline space of the egg?
Fusion of the sperm with the egg's plasma membrane?
The egg's cortical reaction causing the zona pellucida to become "hardened " and refractory (preventing other sperm from entering)?
Entry of the sperm contents into the cytoplasm of the egg?
Formation of egg and sperm pronuclei through the reactivation of the cell cycles?
(Pronuclear formation takes place a few hours after penetration of the sperm into the egg)
Following anaphase II, when the egg chromosomes remaining in the cytoplasm disperse and the female pronucleus forms?
When the sperm nucleus is decondensed and transformed into a male pronucleus?
The two pronuclei move towards the egg center?
Pronuclear envelope breakdown?
The spatial organization of microtubule arrays by the centrosome, connecting the egg and sperm chromosomes?
Final intermixing of the maternally and paternally derived chromosomes to establish the genome of the embryo?
Preparation for the first cell division?

Most people know little of the science of reproduction and think that "fertilization" is a simple process which occurs in the blink of an eye. Not so. The intricate saga of fertilization can and does fail at any of the above amazing processes. Even my simple summary of some of the milestones only scratches the surface of all the intricate biochemical events involved, many of which science is yet (if ever) to discover. Which of these is the "critical event?" Scripture certainly does not tell us. Why?

The answer to this question in my opinion is simple. It happens when God wants it to. The more important implication of this question and its answer is that we shouldn't be messing around with what is solely God's territory in the first place!

"Life begins at conception?" What does that mean? How is that related to God's plan other than in a negative sense in which we rightly say that abortion is murder? Why do we let the abortion debate define God's plan of life?

Human life began with God's breath of life into Adam. It continued in his taking of Eve out of Adam. It continued with the joining of the two in marital relations, ordained by God, and by which God created offspring of Adam and Eve. Life continues today with the joining together of man and woman, if and when God desires that joining to result in the gift of offspring.

Does every joining together of egg and sperm (fertilization?) create life? Not every joining together of man and woman does. It is God's business when and if such unions between man and wife, and sperm and egg, result in life.

We are given the gift of marital love and the one-flesh union. God adds the gift of children if and when he so pleases, just as he gives spiritual life through the gift of faith if and when he so pleases. If we follow God's design, these questions about how life is conceived do not need to even be asked, let alone answered. In fact, it is better we not ask or answer them, just as it is better not to ask why some are saved and not others.

So what's my point? Abortion is wrong for the same reason contraception is wrong, and for the same reason that human cloning and "artificial sperm" are wrong. They are all contrary to God's plan for the union of man and woman. They are all against God's will. Why do we always seek to rank sins, thinking abortion worse than contraception? Why are abortifacient birth control methods considered so much worse than non-abortifacient methods?

"For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." [James 2:10]

"For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled." [Matthew 5:18]

The law convicts me just as severely as the abortionist. I am contraceptive at heart even though I employ no overt methods of family planning. I am a rebel against God as much as those who do employ such methods... even as much as those who abort their children, although I desire to think myself better.

"All Have Sinned and Fall Short of the Glory of God." [Romans 3:23]

Yet Christ forgives us all, having given Himself for the life of the world.

"And the law came in besides, that the trespass might abound; but where sin abounded, grace did abound more exceedingly: that, as sin reigned in death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. We who died to sin, how shall we any longer live therein?" [Romans 5:20-6:2]

I sin horribly every day, being guilty of violating the whole law ... yet struggling with sin (living a life of repentance) by God's grace is a far cry from living in sin (unrepentant).

"O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God--through Jesus Christ our Lord!" [Romans 7:24-25]

7 comments:

Eric Phillips said...

The question of when life begins after the sperm and egg meet is irrelevant to the morality of non-abortifacient contraceptive methods, because they all work by preventing that meeting in the first place. I don't have to tell you when exactly the sperm and egg come to constitute a new human life, as long as we can agree that neither sperm nor egg qualifies as a human life on its own.

There are two reasons we rank abortion as worse than contraception:

1) Abortion is murder, and murder _is_ a worse sin than most of our other sinning options. That's why God made it a capital offense.

2) We do not think contraception is a sin in the first place. Your rhetoric assumes what it needs to prove.

Caspar said...

Are sperm human life? Not the way we define "life" as modern scientists and philosophers. But they are alive, and a few of them, at least, do represent potential human beings. The ones who become human beings are even spoken of in Scripture as humans prior to being joined with eggs (Hebrews 7:9-10 and Job 10:10).

Why are we concerned with the opinions of modern science and philosophy, rather than how God's Word speaks about life? It is the same old temptation to believe a Word other than God's Word.

As to your two reasons to rank murder as worse than contraception:

1. "Murder is worse than contraception because it is a capital offense." Please define "worse sin." Worthy of greater earthly punishment? More damnable? Even if I were to agree with your definition of "worse," whatever that is, God sees certain sexual sins as capital offenses too. First among them was contraception, punished by death in Genesis 38:10. Check out Leviticus 20:13-18 also.

2. Who are the "we" who do not think contraception is a sin? You and others who agree with the post 1930 interpretations of Scripture in contradiction to thousands of years of consistent interpretation by orthodox theologians. My "rhetoric" assumes what you need to prove is in error. When the democracy of the dead has spoken, you are the one ruled in error. The burden of proof is upon those who would overturn a doctrine based on Scripture that is thousands of years old and has only recently been contradicted, not for any sound exegetical reasons but simply to accommodate feminist doctrine and the sexual revolution.

"Did God really say..." 1. That we are to be fruitful and multiply? 2. That what Onan did (spill his seed on the ground) was an abomination in God's sight and so he killed him? 3. That Levi was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him?

Yes, he did!

Caspar said...

This news story also reminds me of this joke that circulates around the Internet which you've probably heard...

A scientist says to God: "We don't need you anymore. Science has finally figured out a way to create life out of nothing. In other words, we can now do what you did 'in the beginning'!"

"Oh, is that so? Tell me how.." Replies God.

"Well, "says the scientist, "we can take dirt and form it into the Likeness of You and breathe life into it, thus creating man."

"Well, that's interesting, show Me."

So the scientist bends down to the earth and starts to mold the soil.

"Just a minute..." interrupts God,

"Get your own dirt."

Eric Phillips said...

Caspar,

We've been over the Onan ground before, of course. You continue resolutely to overlook the fact that what Onan did was not simple contraception, but contraception 1) in disobedience to his father's command, which later became a provision of the Mosaic Law, 2) in studied despite of his wife and his late brother, and 3) with the declared intention NEVER to give Tamar a child. What's more, since Onan's only right to Tamar in the first place was predicated on his producing a son to carry on his brother's name, he was guilty of marrying under false pretenses and using a defenseless woman (and a family member, at that) who was thrown on his mercy in the same way he would have used a prostitute.

To look at the Onan story and conclude, "Ah! Sperm-spilling is a capital offense!" is like looking at the story of the Fall and concluding, "Ah! Fruit-eating is a capital offense!"

As for your Levi reference, let me once more suggest that you allow that verse to interpret itself instead of foisting your agenda upon it:

Heb. 7:9 -- "And as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, payed tithes in Abraham."

If you want to know in what sense Levi paid tithes in Abraham, before he was born, you need simply ask in what sense he was still receiving tithes in St. Paul's day, long after he had died. This is a question verse 5 has already answered:

"And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law...."

So if you're going to insist that Levi was in some way already alive in Abraham, and literally was paying tithes through him to Melchisedec, you ought to be consistent and maintain also that Levi is literally alive in each one of his descendants. But if you are going to be sensible, and understand that Levi receives tithes via his descendants only in a figurative fashion, you must also realize that he was paying the tithes to Melchisedec in this same figurative fashion. He was "in" his father in the same sense he was "in" his sons: by seminal, lineal connection, not by indwelling them as a spermatic homunculus.

Than there's also this little problem for you: Abraham wasn't really Levi's father at all, except in the protracted sense of "ancestor." He was Levi's great grandfather. If there ever was a sperm that counted as a human being named "Levi," it was in Jacob's loins, not Abraham's, and it never paid tithes to Melchisedec.

As for the question of murder being worse than other sins, I know some of the capital offenses in Moses's Law were of a ceremonial-purity nature, rather than a moral nature (rather like the original sin of fruit-eating was), but God prescribed the death penalty for murder much earlier that that, at least as early as Noah's day, before there _was_ a ceremonial law that covered anything more than the basic animal sacrifice.

Besides, the proposition that murder is worse than most other moral offenses is hardly controversial. It's self-evident.

Caspar said...

You haven't answered my question of what you mean by "worse sin."

Do you mean more damnable, or worthy of greater punishment, or both?

As for your continued opposition to the consistent historical exegesis of the church on the sin of Onan, you are neglecting the specific description of Onan's sin:

"What he did... in God's sight" is what he was specifically killed for, not anything else.

I don't want to get too graphic, but suffice it to say that it doesn't take much of an imagination to paint a picture of what it is Onan did in God's sight. God's knowledge of Onan's particular selfish and disobedient motives is not spoken of as being what Onan was killed for. The text does not say what Onan was thinking was displeasing in God's sight, it says what Onan did was. He was killed for what his ACTION in God's sight. Onan's action was blatantly against God's order, regardless of why he did it. Sexual sins are an abomination in God's sight. The selfish motives are always the same, whether you do it once, or if you plan to always do it. Homosexuals may be doing what they are doing with honest love for their partners, but the action is still an abomination because it is against God's order.

Caspar

Eric Phillips said...

Yes, of course Onan was killed for what he did. And I just explained in some detail what he did. It's flat-out ridiculous for you to suggest that his action can be boiled down to the mere physical fact of interruptus, and even more ridiculous for you to pretend that such is Scripture's clear meaning. Motive and legal context are inextricably part of every sinful act. Adam and Eve weren't condemned for the isolated physical action of eating a piece of fruit, but for _willingly_ eating a piece of fruit that God had commanded them _not_ to eat.

What I mean by more serious sin is: a more egregious breach of justice, carrying with it a more severe penalty, both now and in the world to come.

Caspar said...

Of course it is willful acts of disobedience we are speaking of. But the fact that it is a willful act speaks nothing of any particular motive. Nightime emissions are not willful, and therefore are not treated in the same way by God's law as is willful emission contrary to God's design.