Life begins at conception. We all know this. It is the overarching theme of our existence and inherent and inseparable from human culture, from our ways of understanding the universe (theology, natural science), and from all of our practices.
Conception is mysterious
Conception is mysterious, that is, it is below the surface at the cellular level, hidden from the naked eye. The beginning of a new life becomes even more mysterious and complex at the molecular level (cells are made up of thousands of molecules, primarily proteins). The complex molecular machinery required for successful cellular replication, fertilization, and implantation, while marvelous, are not the main reason conception is mysterious, however.
Conception is primarily mysterious because it is ultimately inexplicable, even for us in the early 21st century. The scientific process, when used by the most unbiased, meticulous, and thoughtful practitioners, will never yield the full explanation of how sexual reproduction, the union of egg and sperm, yield new life. If life begotten from life is ultimately explicable, how much more bewildering is the creation of life from non-life. From a scientific perspective it is nonsensical at best, except for the fact that it had to happen.
The beautiful mystery of the creation of life is recorded in Genesis 1. The Genesis record necessarily precedes scientific understanding of the creation of life but it does not negate nor even belittle it. In fact, there is great congruence between scripture and science. This should not be surprising, as science largely sprung from Judeo-Christian culture with a biblical worldview. Today this history is hyper-relevant as post-modernism has science on the ropes. We need be quick to remember that we still heavily rely on and benefit from the process of empirical science, a process dependent upon absolutism (not relativism).
An example of this congruence is the fact that life begins at conception, a fact that has become horribly clear to many, many deniers since the undercover Planned Parenthood videos were first released. The snippet below is an example of this congruence
“The development of a human being begins with fertilization, a process by which two highly specialized cells, the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female, unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote.”
[Langman, Jan. Medical Embryology. 3rd edition. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1975, p. 3]
Taking of Life
Taking life is easy because of our sinful nature (I am not suggesting that all taking of life is sinful, but death is ultimately a consequence of the introduction of sin at the Fall): murder, poisoning our air and water to produce “goods”, poaching, etc). Creating life, however, is not in our bag of tricks. We can’t do it. We’re born without our permission, without our expertise, and without our parents’ full understanding of how this is even possible.
We try to bring life back and attempt to recreate living systems in a wide variety of fields. When a new road construction project requires filling, wetland mitigation requires that a new wetland be created to nullify the first’s destruction. Problem – we can never create a perfect wetland no matter how hard we try. Scour the wetland ecology literature and find a manmade wetland that worked as well (nutrient cycling, maintenance of species composition) over time.
We search for cures to disease and for cures to injury and for more research to move these capabilities forward and extend the life of the most elderly among us even while we slaughter millions.
We are made in the image of God and so we are creators with a little “c.” This designation carries with it the limitations of fallen creatures. One of the major limitations is this: it is far easier for us to destroy than to create.
Think about it. We used to think that flies and mice arose from old food and dirty rags. We know better now, but not too much better. Explain how a lotus seed can sit dormant in an Egyptian tomb for 1,000 years or how far ranging mammals can delay implantation of sperm for months after mating until conditions are right to carry a new life to fruition. Science may get at many of the more superficial mechanical layers that begin to answer the question but we will never exhaust these layers. Infinite complexity many will say. Our reaction should be a deep sense of humility and a desire to worship our Creator, big “c.”
The inexplicability of life and the accompanying sense of awe and wonder should be most apparent in the conception, carrying, and eventual birth of our precious offspring. The casual nature which our culture discusses aborting of these little souls and the horrific market and trade resulting should pain each and every living soul.