every sperm is sacred

Is Heaven Populated Chiefly by the Souls of Embryos?

What are we to think about the fact that Nature (and for believers, Nature's God) profligately creates and destroys human embryos? John Opitz, a professor of pediatrics, human genetics, and obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Utah, testified before the President's Council on Bioethics that between 60 and 80 percent of all naturally conceived embryos are simply flushed out in women's normal menstrual flows unnoticed. This is not miscarriage we're talking about. The women and their husbands or partners never even know that conception has taken place; the embryos disappear from their wombs in their menstrual flows. In fact, according to Opitz, embryologists estimate that the rate of natural loss for embryos that have developed for seven days or more is 60 percent. The total rate of natural loss of human embryos increases to at least 80 percent if one counts from the moment of conception. About half of the embryos lost are abnormal, but half are not, and had they implanted they would probably have developed into healthy babies.

As far as I know, bioconservatives like Robert George do not advocate the rescue of naturally conceived unimplanted embryos. But why not? In right-to-life terms, normal unimplanted embryos are the moral equivalents of a 30-year-old mother of three children.

Stepping onto dangerous theological ground, it seems that if human embryos consisting of one hundred cells or less are the moral equivalents of a normal adult, then religious believers must accept that such embryos share all of the attributes of a human being, including the possession of an immortal soul. So even if we generously exclude all of the naturally conceived abnormal embryos -- presuming, for the sake of theological argument, that imperfections in their gene expression have somehow blocked the installation of a soul -- that would still mean that perhaps 40 percent of all the residents of Heaven were never born, never developed brains, and never had thoughts, emotions, experiences, hopes, dreams, or desires.

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28 Responses:

  1. hwc says:

    Actually, because of original sin, they are all in hell.

    • naw, people who don't get an opportunity to be saved don't necessarily go to hell. i think the way it works is they get categorized based on how they WOULD have chosen

  2. alex_victory says:

    Replace "Heaven" with "Purgatory". Never baptized.

  3. 33mhz says:

    No matter what the proper destination according to theology, it's pretty entertaining to think of either Satan, Plato (virtuous nonbeliever) or Jesus knee-deep in gooey uterine mush.

  4. valentwine says:
    % ping -c 4 www.reason.com
    PING reason.com ( 56 data bytes

    --- reason.com ping statistics ---
    4 packets transmitted, 0 packets received, 100% packet loss

    Clearly the pro-lifers have bombed the datacenter.

    • spacemummy says:

      They probably block pings at the server level. I mean, they are an obvious target for DDOS.

      • valentwine says:

        While many sites drop ICMP at the router or firewall/ip filter level, reason.com is not one of them. They are reasonable and do not defy internet standards in this instance. A quick trip to a terminal to try pinging reason.com now that it's back up would have verified for you that they do not block ICMP. At the time the comment was posted the server hosting reason.com was down and not responding to ICMP or HTTP requests.

        Thanks for the support sweetheart.

  5. infrogmation says:

    Clearly God is no white bearded patriarch. Given the overwhelming majority of those who He has created in His image, God is a great and powerful Zygote.

  6. susano_otter says:

    While the amusing question "what does God do with babies after they die" doesn't really go anywhere, in practical terms, there is an interesting alternative use for the logic expressed here: Getting PETA to shut the hell up.

    "Animals die in nature all the time. Therefore, there is nothing wrong with humans killing animals at their own convenience, on whatever pretext they choose to give."

    • And people, too, no? Otherwise you're still open to the "murder" angle of killing.

      • susano_otter says:


        Good point. Clearly, the logic is useful as far as it goes; I guess it just doesn't go very far.

        I guess you could try to get more mileage out of it by coming back full circle, and pointing out that since people die all the time of natural causes, it's okay to kill them for "artificial" reasons.

        Of course, that brings us right back to the question of whether or not unborn fetuses really are people. And that's where the real debate is at, really.

        It's interesting that this particular argument presupposes that unborn fetuses are people, from the moment of conception, and it is for that reason that it is okay to kill them (because they often die of natural causes anyway).

        Now that I think about it, you're actually right. This argument closes off the "murder" angle, too.

        • benzado says:

          The logical fallacy is a jump from "is" to "ought" --- just because something happens in Nature doesn't mean that it is the Right thing to do.

          • susano_otter says:


            Which is what makes this particular line of reasoning an utter waste of time, in the abortion debate.

            It's never been a question of what could be done, or of what Nature does, but of what is right for us to do.

  7. 0jla says:

    There are no pictures. PASS.