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Breath of Life
Written February 3, 2013


Background:  In this fictional interview, the guests are the following.  Their quotes are adapted from the sources listed.

Ed Doerr, essay in the December 2012/January 2013 issue of Free Inquiry.

Joe Schwartz (1922-2010), essay available here.

PZ Myers, post of January 31, 2013, on Pharyngula.


Welcome back to IT'S IN THE BIBLE.  I'm Brother Billy.

We are now joined by three distinguished gentlemen who will discuss the question “Does life begin at conception?”

On our panel we have, from left to right, Ed Doerr, the president of Americans for Religious Liberty; next to him Dr. Joseph Schwartz; and on the end Dr. Paul Z. Myers, from the University of Minnesota Morris.  Welcome!

All:  Thank you.

Dr. Myers, I think we’ll begin with you.

Myers:  You can just call me PZ, Brother Billy.

Very well, PZ.  You’re a professor of biology, am I correct?

With a special interest in developmental biology.

So tell us, from a scientist’s point of view:  When does life begin?

In the case of our particular planet, life first appeared about 3.7 billion years ago.

No, no.  That's only a theory.  I refuse to listen mere theories.  Remember, this program is called IT'S IN THE BIBLE.

Oh, that’s right, the One True Source of Knowledge.  Well, as I understand it, someone added up all the begats and calculated that God created life in 4004 B.C.  So according to the Bible, life began about 6,117 years ago.

That’s still not the answer I’m looking for.  I didn’t mean to ask “when did all life begin.”  What I meant to ask was, when does an individual human life begin?

At birth.

I beg to differ.  A baby still in the womb, months before it is born, is already a person.  It has a heartbeat.

Doerr:  But is it breathing?


The Old Testment word for person is nefesh, which refers to something that breathes.

Schwartz:  Let’s open our Bibles.  In Ezekiel 37:6, the Lord said, “Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.”  In Job 33:4, Job said, “The breath of the Almighty gives me life.” 

More to the point, after God formed man in Genesis 2:7, he “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.”  Although the man was fully formed by God in all respects, he was not a living being until after taking his first breath.

That’s ridiculous.  Fetuses are persons from the moment of conception.  Therefore abortion is murder.  Any woman who obtains an abortion must herself be put to death!  And her doctor too!  And if her husband did nothing to prevent her abortion, he's an accessory.  Throw him in jail!  Christians have always believed this.

Doerr:  No, actually this belief is of recent origin.  The Catholic Church did not hold the view that personhood begins at conception until the middle of the nineteenth century.

But here at IT'S IN THE BIBLE, we don’t pay any attention to Catholic dogma, of course.  We’re evangelicals.

So you are.  Well, even more recently, after Roe v. Wade in 1973, evangelical fundamentalists came to realize that if women could control their fertility they could no longer be kept subordinate to men.  Therefore evangelicals decided that the Bible condemns abortion, which it does not.  And they decided that the Bible defines personhood as beginning at conception, which it does not.  

We didn’t “decide” that on our own.  It’s in the Bible.

Schwartz:  No, it isn’t.  There is nothing in the Bible to indicate that a fetus is an actual person.

God has no regard for the loss of a fetus, any more than he does for the loss of other living tissues that are parts of our bodies such as placentas or foreskins.  According to the Bible, a fetus is not living — does not have a soul — until after drawing its first breath.

In Exodus 21:22 it states that if a man causes a woman to have a miscarriage, he shall be fined.  Only fined.  He is not charged with murder, because the aborted fetus is not considered a living human being.

Myers:  That’s true.  A capital offense is something more serious, such as working on the Sabbath.  Those sinners should be stoned to death as in Numbers 15:32-36.  But a mere abortion?  That’s not a capital crime.

Schwartz:  One cannot kill something that has not been born.

Myers:  I propose that we accept the Biblical definition of living creatures:  they have breath in their nostrils. Therefore, abortion is legal right up to the instant that the baby draws its first breath.

That is unacceptable!

Don’t argue with me! It’s in the Bible! Do you want to go to hell?

This discussion is over.



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