Monday, September 15, 2008

When Does Life Begin?

You're out of touch if you haven't heard any arguments in the historic and ongoing abortion debate. Here are some of the different opinions on when life begins:

  1. Conception - when the sperm fertilizes the egg
  2. Heartbeat - when the baby's heart begins to pump blood
  3. Nervous system activity - when the baby can feel pain
  4. Viability - capacity to exist unaided outside the womb
  5. Birth - the point the body of the baby fully emerges from the birth canal or is surgically removed from the uterus by C-section (this is the view that supports partial-birth abortion)
  6. Breathing - when the baby is sucking air, aided or unaided.
  7. When the child is wanted - this supports euthanasia where the baby can be killed as though the preganancy was aborted (apparently Obama's view since he supports allowing surviving babies of botched abortions to die)

The problem with all of these views is that the arguments are made purely on existential grounds. Most of my fellow pro-lifers quote the Bible, which is good, but they don't follow the foundational logic of the Bible when they move to the debate on when life begins.

Jeremiah 1:5

5 "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
And before you were born I consecrated you;
I have appointed you a prophet to the nations."

Psalm 139

13 For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother's womb.
14 I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
16 Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.

Consider also the definition of life. Many understand the Biblical definitions of death. There is the death of the body, but the soul is not annihilated. Spiritual death is not complete destruction; spiritual death is separation from God. The same distinction can be made with life. We know that animals have life. Genesis presents them as "living" although they do not have the same spiritual relationship with God that we were created to have. They are physically alive, but they have no spiritual life. Human beings have physical life, but more importantly, we have souls that will not cease to exist. Even more importantly, for the children of God He has given eternal life that although our bodies may die momentarily, we cannot die and will be raised up as Christ was raised up from the dead.

Even before we were born, there are passages that hold a view that we yet existed in our fathers' loins.

Existential arguments fall apart. We look for a moment in time when life begins to support an understanding of our reverence for the gift of life that God has given us and the corect observation that we were created in the image of God. But when does this life begin? If it begins at conception, it seems reasonable to place the value on the unique DNA. "Here," we say, "is the indication that this is no mere piece of dead flesh. It is unique from the mother.

However, what do we say of identical twins? If the uniqueness of the DNA is all-important, then identical twins are not two people, but one. Therefore, if this argument is true we could expect to discover which is the right one and kill the other. After all, the other is no better than a clone.

Take the importance of DNA to the other extreme. If DNA is all-important, should we not mourn the death of each cell that dies on our bodies? Each cell of my body contains a complete set of my DNA. It's amazing to think that each of us started off as a single one of these cells. So, if I slough off a few skin cells, an important part of me has died in the process because each one of those cells contain all of who I am in them. When I urinate, dead blood cells are taken away from my body. Each one of them carries my essence in their DNA, or so the argument goes, so I should mourn their loss. Do we not mourn the loss of an entire appendage when something is amputated? Why not a measly few cells?

Philosophers like Kierkegaard and Nietzsche taught us that existence preceeds essence. That means that the things of this temporal world determine the truth value of any concievable intangible thing. This stands contrary to what Plato considered in his idea of the logos. He held that there is a world where everything is perfect and this world is a mere shadow of that world and the logos was a particular manifestation of these shadows. This implies that the perfect, or ideological, world is foundational to the imperfect, or temporal, world. John agreed to some extent when he defined logos in the person of Jesus Christ.

So, if our life in these bodies is temporal and God gives is eternal life, then is the eternal not foundational to the temporal? To argue otherwise is to deny our Creator. That's why existentialism is fundamentally atheistic. So, what is life in this temporal world? Do we identify a nere begninning and ending for pragmatic purposes? If it is merely a pragmatic exercise, then we have the cart before the horse. Without life, there is no need for pragmatism. Pragmatism exists for the purpose of serving life and therefore cannot adequately define life.

Rather, intent is the method whereby life is manifest in this world. Intent is the stuff of spirituality. We know the Bible where we are told that the law can only condemn us. The difference between following the law and being righteous is intent. The difference between spiritual life and death is the intent of the Creator to His creation. The difference between life and death in the body is the response of creation to the intent of the Creator. His intentions are not fully known to us, but we can only respond to what He has given us to know. Our existence is not ours, but the manifestation of our spiritual essence, for some death and for some life, but for all a body to bear this truth in temporal life.

Therefore, it is not simply that there are people who no longer exist or who do not exist yet, but all people ever have an absolute condition of earthly life for the purpose of glorifying God, whether spiritually alive or dead. If one is a singe cell, one is alive. If one loses many cells through natural processes throughout one's life and yet bodily lives, one retains an existential center of existence for the purpose of bearing God's eternal purpose in life. It is not the body that is the center of life, but the Spirit of God who gives life. That's why abortion is wrong. Life does not begin. Life is given.

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