Friday, May 21, 2010


There are two views Christians hold to about when life begins and ends that I've read recently that could give people pause as to which is biblically correct. One is a biological concept that suggests that life goes from conception to death. It would be difficult for this group to hold to "brain dead" [no brain activity] as the definition of when life ends since to apply the same to the beginning of life would mean that there is no life until brain activity is present. One would have to accept a "brain birth" AND "brain death" concept, as one person I read called it, to be consistent. That would, of course, effectively rule out a "conception to death" view of life.

The other view about when life begins and ends is defined by the beginning and ending of mental capacity. This view holds that to remove a fetus before a mental state begins is morally different than taking a life by interrupting mental life. [Murder] This view can legitimately hold to the "brain dead" end of life theory but finds it hard to decide when that true mental state begins. So it's just plain difficult for them to define the beginning of life. Two views, two concepts, both rational and thoughtful. But which is correct? Which is biblical?

Some people argue for the first view from the biblical materials. For example, Luke 1:41 says, "And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit." This shows, the "conception to death" group says, that in the womb a baby has life. The mental state group, however, uses the same verse and says that at some point the child does come alive with brain activity while in the womb, just no proof biblically it's at conception.

Jeremiah 1:5 says, "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and ...Before I formed thee in the bowels of thy mother, I knew thee: and before thou camest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee, and made thee a prophet..." The first view takes this as a conclusive statement that life begins at conception. The second group says.."not so fast my does not rule out a time in the womb that brain activity begins but there is no definitive time as to WHEN it does. Therefore life and death could be be connected to mental states even biblically."

Well you see the problem. So when talking about abortion we really are faced with some besetting problems. Then there is the modern language that tries to connect life to "viability" or "quality" of life. That might be OK as long as the quality is spoken of in biblical terms of "sacred." Biblically all human life is sacred and is to be handled accordingly.

So, what is my view on these things? I would say the thing my brother-in-law told me when we went elk hunting last November would be a wise thing to remember. Tommy said, as he left me in a concealed spot to wait quietly, "If in doubt don't shoot." In other words..if I didn't know what I was seeing for sure, it would be better to not shoot at all. It could be some thing other than an elk.

Since there is a legitimate question as to when life begins it would be wise to NOT abort without strong moral reasons, such as the life of the mother at stake, since you could be taking the life of a sacred human being. Some would say there ARE NO moral reasons for doing so ..ever.

But when it comes to the LEGAL [abortion laws] side of this issue there are other questions to be asked by Christians that give me some pause as well. I'll attempt to speak to this next time.

Paul B.


Bob Cleveland said...


Good to see your take .. so far .. on this. My take, bordering on the "don't shoot" thought, is this:

There seems to exist, in Christianity, all too often a mindset of "how much like the world can I live, and still be "in Christ" ... rather than the proper mindset (to me) of "how much like Christ can I live, and still be in the world".

You know .. can I eat or drink or do this or that, and still be a Christian?

I believe Paul said we should glorify God with our (bodily) members.

The fact that sanctity of life, abortions, and the like (involving believers) is even a topic of discussion among the church body itself does not speak well of the state of the body.

At least not to me.

Just a thought from the pew.

My dad's version: "When in doubt, leave it out".

Chris Ryan said...

Personally, I don't think that science will ever give us an answer to when life begins or ends because science such questions lie beyond the scope of science. That is the realm of God, and it is the study of His revelation, not biology, that will reveal the truth about life and death and the ethics of both.

The real problem with the arguments you are discussing is that life is determined by brain activity. But is "life" brain activity? Are the two the same, or is brain activity one facet of life? If the latter (which I am inclined towards), what else constitutes life, and must they all be present for life to exist or is it that the quality of life - not its existence - is compromised? I think the arguments you presented betray a modern/scientific bias towards reason/intellect as the only thing of value (beginning with Decartes' "I think, therefore I am"). I think that the Bible is much more holistic than that. I think there is a reason God created more to the person than a brain in a vat.

But I could, of course, be wrong.

Paul Burleson said...


I have some questions about what the Church should and should not speak to that might be slightly different than what your thoughts might be on that subject. I'll think them through and comment on them later.


But I don't think you are!!

Aussie John said...


I do not believe there is a scientist, and ethicist, or a theologian, who can answer the questions sufficiently well enough.

My own thought is similar to your b.i.l., "When there is the slightest doubt, don't!"

Paul Burleson said...


I thought you and Bob and Aussie John would enjoy this comment from Dr. Denis Alexander who is Chairman of the Molecular Immunology Programme at The Babraham Institute, Fellow of St. Edmund’s College, Cambridge, and Editor of the journal Science and Christian Belief. The last paragraph is ESPECIALLY good.

"The attempt to invest science with secular ideologies which are not intrinsic to the scientific enterprise has reason to be criticised. On occasions, however, the boot is on the other foot, as Christians try to extract far more theology from their scientific knowledge of the world than it can possibly provide, in the end bringing their faith into disrepute. The biblical perspective on such natural theology is that it has very limited scope in its ability to bring people from unbelief to faith.

The maximum information that unbelievers can obtain by looking at the physical world is of ‘God’s invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature’ (Romans 1.20). Attempts by Christians to pin their theology to the latest cosmological or quantum mechanical theories have a habit of back-firing; as the scientific model changes (as it inevitably will) so the rationalistic prop for theology is removed. Good theology does not need scientific props.

Aussie John said...


Good stuff! I am literally tired of those, of all theological persuasions, who profess Christ as Lord and Savior, and who constantly have "Eureka" experiences by which they adjust their beliefs.

You're right about the last paragraph.

Chris Ryan said...

Our NT Professor at my undergrad would always ask us a question: is our philosophy determining our theology or does the Bible determine our theology and philosophy help us to refine how to say what the Bible says? I think the same question works when science is substituted for philosophy. It always made the philosophy professor mad when he heard the NT prof ask the question. But for me, it was always a good reminder that God's foolishness is always eternally wiser than the wisest words of men.

Bob Cleveland said...

A bit of clarification:

Our position to ourselves .. from the pulpits ... in the lessons .. over the dinner table .. should be clear. Abortion is killing a baby.

Our message to the world should be just as clear.

The fact that many church members still think in terms of "pro-choice" being an OK position to hold, is a sad commentary, to me, on the spiritual condition of too many in the church. That's what I meant to say.

I showed you my poem about abortion, didn't I?

Christiane said...

There is some report that Americans are beginning to be 'less accepting' of abortion than in the past. That would indicate possibly a 'change of heart', which is what Christians might want to be aiming for as a goal.

I believe the reason for this, if it is true, would be that there is more known now about life 'in utero', with all of the new medical technology available. The graphic horror pictures of aborted infants placed on the web have changed hearts and minds: something about the 'reality' of the butchery, when seen, has more effect than words.
And the graphic descriptions of abortion techniques, in the latter stages of pregnancy, are an 'education' for many who might have thought abortion was like a simple dialation and curretage (D&C) procedure.

Changing the laws? It won't stop abortions.
Changing hearts and minds: the only answer, I believe, to seeing real change.
And best of all: Christians reaching out to young pregnant women in ways that offer real support during pregnancy and for a time after the child is born, followed up with opportunities for the young woman to get education and training to support herself and her child. This is done in a 'family' environment, where the woman and her baby are seen as 'one of ours', not as 'an obligation'. Big difference.

Any excuse Christians give, who don't actively help at the present time, doesn't hold up when they witness other Christians already in action and getting results: babies protected and given a chance to live.
Talking and voting, alone, won't cut it. Action is needed.