When does science say human life begins?

Central to any good conversation about the morality of abortion is the question of when human life begins. Last week I recorded the biblical answer for when human life begins. This week I will record a scientific answer, if you will, of the question, when does human life begin? Do the two agree with each other or is there a clash between them as the two worldviews collide? Why is it important for us to be able to know both?

I made the case last week that, as Christians, we should know what the Bible says, but we must also remember the people to whom we are talking. We are talking to women and men who find themselves in a crisis pregnancy that they did not mean to be in or didn’t want to be in. Now they’re talking about what? What to do about it. Very often it is the science that will sound more concrete to them, especially if they are not Christians. If they do not consider themselves to be people of faith, they will listen more readily to science than they will to the Bible. As Christians, we must know both. And the good news is that science and the Bible do not disagree with each other.

Let me stop and throw in a tidbit here. Anytime science and the Bible disagree with each other, it’s because our understanding of science has not caught up to reality yet. People used to believe that if you sailed across the oceans, you might fall off the edge of a flat earth. But the Bible has always talked about the sphere of the earth and the heavens. Our understanding of science is always evolving. The more we understand it and the more we can rely on science, the more we realize the Bible has always been true. It’s astounding that the Bible is not progressively unverified by what we learned about science.

Everything that we have ever learned about good, solid science verifies that what the Bible says as true. If we are going to talk about human life from a scientific standpoint, then we are turning to the science of embryology or fetal development. Now, I am not a doctor and I am not a fetal development specialist, but I have read enough of the literature to understand the basics of what it is that it’s talking about according to fetal embryology. That which is produced at the moment of conception or the time that we call fertilization, is a whole living distinct human being.

What do I mean by the term whole? I mean within just a couple of days after conception, you’ve got a blastocyst that is just a ball of cells that are multiplying and dividing quite rapidly at that time. Are you saying that that’s a whole human being? Well, scientifically speaking, yes. It is a whole human being from the standpoint of you will add nothing to that to make it become a human being. It will differentiate those cells under its own direction. Again I’m not a scientist here, but the word totipotent cells means that some of those early blastocyst cells will be able to differentiate themselves into specialized cells.

For instance, some of those early blastocyst cells will become liver cells, and some of those early blastocyst cells will become skin cells or bone cells or white blood vessels and all the different things that compose our inner systems. Those cells are going to differentiate themselves without being told by anyone else other than the unit that is reproducing itself what to do and what to become. It is whole. Bicycles are not made that way.

You get some pipe, some pedals, a chain, a seat, some wheels and you start putting them together, eventually you have a bicycle. That is not the way human beings are made. They are whole from the moment of conception. Add a little bit of time, a little bit of nourishment and that will naturally progress into a born human being that will grow into adulthood and beyond.

The other thing that is interesting is that it’s completely distinct. Whatever is conceived at the moment of fertilization is distinct from mother or father. The DNA patterns are completely different. It does not match either mother or father. Oftentimes blood type is different from mother or father. We often hear on the pro-choice side that it’s a woman’s right to choose what she does with her body and that that’s completely true. However, she doesn’t get to choose what to do with someone else’s body.

When I was growing inside of my mom’s body, I was seen as invasive because our blood types were not compatible. Not to mention the fact that I am a male and my mother is a female. Let’s just say that my body growing inside of her did not, was not part of her body. If the pro-choice argument was true, then my mom at one time had four arms and two heads. It’s not true to say that my body was the same as her body. From the earliest moments of conception, science affirms that what is growing is whole, living, distinct human beings. It’s not a potential human being. It’s not something that will become a human being as though it might become a human being, or a hippopotamus or a sunflower. It is already imprinted with the earmarks of humanity from fertilization.

Let me now read to you a quote from a famous secular embryology textbook written by Keith Moore and T. Persaud. This is a textbook that is used in medical universities the world over called The Developing Human Clinically Oriented Embryology. This is a non-Christian perspective that says, “A zygote is the beginning of a new human being. Human development begins at fertilization. The process during which a male gamete or sperm unites with a female gamete or oocyte to form a single cell called a zygote. This highly specialized totipotent cell marks the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.”

There you have it. The beginning of human life is fertilization. According to science, what is growing is human, whole, living and distinct. It is separate from mom and dad in directing its own development from within. Now you have two answers to the question of when human life begins. You have the biblical answer that human life begins at conception and you have the scientific answer that human life begins at conception. They agree with one another and they always have agreed with one another.

So, Christian, stand with confidence that science is behind you. When you tell a woman who is experiencing a pregnancy, that she has a human baby growing inside of her. Later on we’re going to extrapolate some of that into the idea that human rights begin at the moment that a person becomes a member of the human family. Human protections, human dignity, etc. all goes back to the genesis of humanity in each one of us. If we are human, we deserve human rights. Now, that’s not today’s argument, but it is the argument that we are going to make.

Oftentimes in our Passion Life teachings that we do primarily overseas, at this point, we will hand out for people our model of a developing baby in the womb during the ninth week of gestation. We do this for a couple of reasons. Number one, it is a scientific model. The Bible did not produce this. However, a whole battery of people, including ultrasonographers and OBGYNs, have assured us that this is a medically accurate depiction of a ninth week gestational fetus as it grows in the womb.

When we hand these out to people, they can see immediately that this is a growing human baby, just smaller than the one that will be born. This is a model that affirms what the Bible teaches and gives confidence to people in an emotionally healthy and pleasing way. You can give this to a woman who is wondering about her pregnancy and help her understand that this is not a ball of cells or a clot of blood as is so often espoused by our non-science endorsing, pro-choice friends. But they can see that this is a developing human being.

So go out with confidence, Christian, knowing that both the Bible and science are on the side of life as it relates to the abortion topic and when it comes to discussing when human life begins. The science and the Bible answer in harmony that human life begins at conception.