Abortion — right or wrong? Stem cell research on embryos — does it kill human life? The theory of evolution contradicts the Gospel — yes or no?
These three social issues take up a huge amount of time among religious people trying to act in moral ways. But it seems to me that there is a relatively easy solution to these problems for many religious people, and that is to read the book of Genesis more closely.
Here is what Genesis 2:7 says: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.”
How was Eve formed? This is in Genesis 2:21–22: “And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept; and he took one of his ribs…And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.”
In each case, there is a two-step process. Man is formed of the elements of the earth (dust or Adam’s rib). This is step one. Then God breathes in his spirit, which is presumably what he did with Eve when he took her away. This is step two.
Human life is not a life until these two steps take place. Our story on this Earth is about saving the human family through ordinances. The people we are meant to save — the people who are part of our human story — are the people who have been born since Adam who have gone through this two-step process, being created from first earthly and then spiritual material.
So, does human life begin at conception? It is possible, but I would argue that the answer is no. If human life begins at every conception, then why don’t we give natural miscarriages a name and do temple ordinances for them? My wife and I went through several miscarriages, and in none of those cases did I feel that these young fetuses were yet people with spirits. And indeed, modern-day prophets have NOT told us they need to have ordinances done for them. We are not even told to keep track of them in any way. The only conclusion I can come to is that they are not yet human beings in the same way you and I are. Is it possible that God gives them spirits upon conception and then takes the spirits away when they die? Yes, this is possible (there is no way of knowing for sure), but then why aren’t we asked to keep track of these spirits? If a child is born and dies, we are asked to do temple ordinances for that child (if he or she was not born in the covenant). But this is not the case for a miscarriage.
I can only come to the conclusion that not every embryo contains a spirit. If this is the case, then it helps us make more informed decisions regarding some pretty thorny social issues.
–Day after birth control? Should be legal — embryo has not yet received a spirit.
–Abortion in the third trimester — should be illegal except in the case of the mother’s life being in danger. It seems to me pretty clear that a fetus that is viable and can move in the womb and is beginning to look like a human being has received a spirit. It is of course theoretically possible that this spirit is implanted in the womb at the moment of birth, but that doesn’t seem likely to me. Science is showing us that fetuses act like babies as early as the fourth or fifth month.
So, if we can settle on policy that is somewhere in between, could we resolve the abortion issue so that the majority of people — not the ones on the fringes on both sides — would be satisfied?
Personally, I would favor legal abortion during the first trimester in all cases. I would favor legal abortion during all three trimesters in the case of the mother’s life being in danger. I would favor legal abortion during the first two trimesters in cases of rape or incest. I would also favor laws that require women getting abortions to see ultrasounds of their babies. Is that a pro-choice or a pro-life position? Both? Neither? I’m not sure.
If you want to argue that abortion should only be legal for everybody during the first two months or the first four months, I might agree with either position. The point is that there is a compromise position that would satisfy the majority of people, I believe.
Stem cell research. When my wife and I were looking to have our latest baby we were considering fertility treatments. One of those (which we did not need, thankfully) included the creation of several dozen embryos. They would then be implanted until one took and the baby grew in the womb. What happens to the other embryos? Well, we did not ask, but apparently some of them are frozen or discarded. Are they human lives? I really don’t think they are. Does anybody think they all have spirits? Again, if they did have spirits, wouldn’t we have to do temple ordinances for them? We do not. So, I can only assume they are not human beings and part of our earthly story.
So, it is ethical for scientists to use these left over embryos for research to save human lives? The answer has to be yes. Is it ethical for scientists to specifically create embryos for such research? Frankly, I don’t know. Creating a potential human life specifically for research (rather than creating it to create a baby) seems a slippery slope we may not want to go down. My understanding is that there are enough left over embryos from fertility treatment to use in research today, and I also understand that adult stem cells can be used for much of the required research. So, it seems to me there is an easy solution: don’t create embryos for stem cell research but allow the use of leftover stem cells and adult stem cells. Does that sound reasonable?
Evolution. Never has so much time been spent arguing about something that has nothing to do with religion. (Full disclosure: I used to be one of those skeptical anti-evolutionists who spent his time arguing about this issue, but I have “seen the light” by carefully reading Genesis and thinking about the endowment ordinance). Evolution clearly exists in nature and is central to all discussions of biology. But evolution is only a discussion of how our human bodies (the dust or the rib) got here. It has NOTHING to do with the discussion of how our spirits got here.
So, did God form us from the dust or did he take a billion years to form us through evolution? Frankly, I don’t know and I don’t think we can possibly know given the evidence we have now. But the discussion of how our bodies were formed has nothing to do with religion, which is a discussion of the salvation of the human being imbued with a spirit after Adam and Eve. All of the stuff that happened before Adam and Eve is speculation and has nothing to do with our salvation.
So, my new position is: leave biologists alone regarding evolution. It has nothing to do with our religion. The Bible tells me so.