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Christian fundamentalists argue against abortion on the grounds that fetuses have souls. The argument starts with two premises: that people have souls while animals do not, and that the right to life goes with possession of a soul.

It proceeds by asserting that the developing fetus must acquire its soul at some instant; and because no point after conception is special enough to be that instant, it must happen at conception. (It takes hours for an egg and a sperm to unite, but they could choose some brief part of the process as the crucial "instant".) Therefore, the argument concludes, the fetus has a soul and the same rights as a grown human.

The fetus at any given time either has a soul or it doesn't. There is no intermediate state, no way to change gradually from soul-absent to soul-present, so the change must be instantaneous.

It is normal in quantum mechanics for an object to change gradually from state A to state B, even though there are no intermediate states between A and B.

Take for example, an electron's spin can either point up or down (along whichever axis you choose for the measurement); there is no possible intermediate value it can have. Yet in the proper conditions can reliably and gradually convert spin-down electrons into the spin-up state, over a predictable length of time. What changes is the probability you will find State A vs State B moves gradually from 0% to 100%.

So my question is, When does the Fetus Acquire the soul and is it an instantaneous event or a continuous event. Can someone explain this?

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But I argue against abortion on the grounds that the good guys protect the innocent, and those too weak to defend themselves. Unborn children fit those criteria - there is nobody weaker and less able to defend themselves. When they gain a soul has never once mattered to this fundamentalist when determining if abortion is wrong. –  David Stratton Sep 6 '12 at 5:06
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@DavidStratton Amen brother. –  Monika Michael Sep 6 '12 at 6:07
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I appreciate the sentiment asked in this question, but why on earth did you tag it with bible? Does this mean you don't want Aquinas? –  Peter Turner Sep 6 '12 at 16:49
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If the Bible were the infallible authority on this, would you even be asking the question? –  kurosch Sep 6 '12 at 19:46
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let's try to keep it civil guys. Nothing is over the line yet, but you're toeing it. –  wax eagle Sep 6 '12 at 21:14

4 Answers 4

up vote 10 down vote accepted

At the risk of making enemies from both sides of the war over abortion, I will merely provide my opinion.

There is no way of knowing when God breathes a soul into a fetus. At conception? Somewhere in the Middle? Biblically we know it happens in the womb at some point because babies in the womb respond to God.

For example:

When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. (NIV Luke 1:41)

It takes no forced exegesis to naturally assume John the Baptists, 'before he was born' was responding to God, in some way. this implies a living soul.

The prophecy concerning him also predicted it:

for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. (ESV Luke 1:15)

Here I could not refer to the NIV as to be clear the word for womb is koy-lee'-ah in Greek and must mean womb. Some translations for ease of street-language just say 'from birth' but without any doubt whatsoever it means 'before birth'.

Therefore it happens sometime in the womb and one can figure out how old the Baptist was and say definitely before then. However I do not see the at conception argument made in scripture. It might be? It might not be?

Therefore since we know the soul is in the womb, but do not know one way or another at exactly when, when a woman is thinking about having an abortion, if she believes the Bible, she must assume at a minimum it might be a living soul. But IMPORTANT if a woman has had an abortion and believes it was a sin, by believing in the Bible, her sin is no greater than the sins we have all committed and she can find perfect full forgiveness and cleansing from guilt, by simple faith in Christ apart from any good work she may want to do to atone for it on her own.

Regarding instantaneous or continuous, I would go with instantaneous as God gave Adam a soul instantaneously by breathing into his human body.

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-1 Wonderful answer except that last part where you try to make your answer politically correct. "her sin is no greater than the sins we have all committed". Really bro? Could I just go out and commit a murder in cold blood and then ask for forgiveness? If she didn't know Christ then we can hope for forgiveness. If she was a Christian and already knew that it was a sin then it makes a whole lot of difference. Hebrews 10:26 "if we sin willfully after we have gained a full knowledge of the Truth, there can be no further sacrifice for sin" –  Monika Michael Sep 6 '12 at 6:13
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@MonikaMichael - I am not sure, yes or no, if a believing Christian can commit this sin. The closest sin I can think of a believer committing in the Bible is King David, where he committed adultery and then conspiracy to commit murder. His psalms are full of the guilt and eventual full cleansing that he felt by faith. The Hebrews verse you quote I think can only be done by an unbeliever. I think I have committed worse sins than abortion and murder. –  Mike Sep 6 '12 at 9:13
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A bad example is actually worse than no example at all. I could also point out the prophet sent to Jeroboam who died only for eating bread when he wan't supposed to. If you read the entire account of David you'll see that he had to pay dearly for his sin. And if by that account you argue that it is a general pattern then why did God give the Mosiac law to not let a murderer live? –  Monika Michael Sep 6 '12 at 9:34
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"I think I have committed worse sins than abortion and murder" I doubt that. Unless you somehow forgot your wife's birthday. –  Monika Michael Sep 6 '12 at 9:44
    
@MonikaMichael - My wife will easily verify the truthfulness of your observation. ;) –  Mike Sep 6 '12 at 11:02

Regardless of whether you actually wanted a Biblical Answer, (there was a tag until it got nuked) here is the answer, from the undisputed captain of answers like these St. Thomas Aquinas:

The human soul, by reason of its perfection, is not a form merged in matter, or entirely embraced by matter. Therefore there is nothing to prevent some power thereof not being the act of the body, although the soul is essentially the form of the body.

Summa Theologica - Part 1 - Question 76 - Article 2 - Reply to Objection 4

So, it's really the premise of the questions that is wrong, as far as theology is concerned, the soul exists outside of time, the body is matter. The soul exists outside of time, it is not matter and yet it has no corollary in quantum physics.

If the soul has always existed, it was predetermined to haunt a particular carcass the moment the soul enters the body is irrelevant because, just as the embryo was meant to develop into the child, the soul was meant to conform to that same matter.

The human soul, however is a created thing and it is created along with the body

If the soul by its nature were a complete species, so that it might be created as to itself, this reason would prove that the soul was created by itself in the beginning. But as the soul is naturally the form of the body, it was necessarily created, not separately, but in the body.

Summa Theologica - Part 1 - Question 90 - Article 2 - Reply to Objection 1

But clearly, and this is the point I'm trying to make, without becoming Origen and handing in my Catholicism Badge, is that somewhere, God has a plan for sex. The plan is to make babies who hopefully will worship Him forever and live with Him in Heaven. The plan shouldn't be confounded by human means.

But, to your question, there is no funnel which God pours the soul through into the human body. Aquinas says the soul merely takes the form of the human being as it exists.


To all this, I must add the pro-life mantra

Jeremiah 1:4-5 (NIV)
4 The word of the Lord came to me, saying,

5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew[a] you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

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"there was a christian-thermodynamics tag until it got nuked" And someday you'll regret it Peter Turner. (eerie background music) You'll regret it. –  Monika Michael Sep 6 '12 at 17:31
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And let me get this straight. You as a champion of orthodoxy are suggesting preexistence? –  Monika Michael Sep 6 '12 at 17:33
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Ooh boy, I may have wandered off a bridge. I better do what my piano teacher always said, "engage brain before putting hands on keys". –  Peter Turner Sep 6 '12 at 17:51
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That last verse says "Before" we were formed in the womb, so while it is commonly used in this context, it sure seems to be speaking of the power of God, not of when like (and souls) begin. –  thursdaysgeek Sep 7 '12 at 1:26

If you define personhood as "having a soul" then you've already lost because it is then necessary to define such impossible notions as "what is a soul". If you then define a "soul" as something that is distinct from a body now you have several problems. Either the soul has always existed (which creates theological difficulties) or it is a separate creative act from biological conception and now you're stuck trying to correlate these creative acts temporally. If you say "at conception" then what about identical multiples where the embryo divides after conception? Does the "soul" then divide accordingly also? If there's any possibility of "some time after conception" then you've opened the door to abortion being acceptable on a technicality.

There is something fundamentally broken with the idea that our "soul" is a separate thing from our "body", or even worse that we have "soul", "spirit" and "body" which is also a common theme where "biological life" is categorized as a separate thing from physical matter. These are all artificial divisions of our "person" and serve only to complicate and confuse.

The best explanation for this I've read to date is: http://www.scribd.com/doc/75080212/The-Six-Dawns-by-Dr-Alexander-Kalomiros

The person is a mystery: the mystery of the divine seal upon the earthen human nature. The mysteries are not familiar to man. But the pagan meaning of the soul held no mystery: a different nature is intertwined and coexists with material nature. It is the spirit that becomes intertwined with matter. The body dies and the material nature dissolves, but the spirit remains as a second, independent nature. These are very easy things for the rationalistic mind to grasp. Thus, for some Christians the meaning of the word soul slowly regained the ancient pagan meaning, and man, at least in the people's mind, became compounded of two natures. In this way, a spiritual nature of its own was imputed to the personality of man that remains after the body has dissolved. This means, of course, a clear return to paganism. In this conception, man's person is preserved after death because it has its own independent existence and nature, and not because it remains "in the hand of God", in the knowledge of God which is true existence and is also completely dependent on God. An immortality of this kind, therefore, would be of the same nature as the immortality of God. And even if it were believed to be given by God, in the final analysis, it would be self-sufficient and independent. God, of course, could have given such an immortality outright; it would have been a gift from God by grace. But if it were given, from that moment man would have perceived it as his own natural possession, in other words, as a second nature in man. Thus, he would believe he is compounded of two natures, of mortal matter and immortal spirit.

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In Genesis 2:7, the first human was created in the following steps:

1) God formed man out of the dust ( creation of the human body)

2) He then breathed into its nostrils and became a living soul ( making alive of the human body)

From this creative act of God, we learn that a human body is not alive or functioning without a human spirit which is also evident in James 2:26.

Therefore, a functioning body is called "soul" for it has a spirit.

Eve was created out of Adam ( Genesis 2:18-25). In Romans 5:12, it is said that "by one man (i.e. Adam) sin entered the world". Based on this, we can conclude that Eve's spirit wasn't created separately but is in Adam.

Also,it is written that God finished creating on the seventh day ( Genesis 2:2). This implies that the offspring of our progenitors, Adam and Eve, has their spirit at the instance of their conception. Hence,our spirit wasn't created separately but is in Adam. This explains why it is said that "through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men"( Romans 5:18).

" He [ God] made every nation out from one [Greek: ek henos] to dwell upon all the face of the earth,having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation " ( Acts 17:26)

Although the human spirit is pre-existing in some form in Adam, it is only functional if it is united with the body it's prepared beforehand to enliven ( Job 33:4,Psalm 139:13, Acts 17:26 compare to Romans 5:18 to Genesis 2).

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