Last month God and China got pissed off at the committee that awards the Nobel Prize. China because the Peace Prize went to someone they threw in prison for advocating democracy. And God? Well, Robert Edwards won the Nobel Prize for Medicine for his contribution to the development of In-vitro Fertilization (IVF) in the 1960’s. The award promptly raised the ire of the Vatican, whose position is that Edwards is not a hero but rather someone who has contributed to evil in the world. Since the development of IVF, about 4 million “test tube babies” have been born. The Church—and presumably God—is not happy about it.
Why wouldn’t God be happy about a procedure that has allowed millions of couples to have babies who otherwise weren’t able to? Well, it appears he didn’t intend for these couples to have babies, and what happened? They did an end-around with this IVF malarky.
Look at it from God’s point of view. Traditionally he’s been in full control of the creation of new beings—and each new being means a new soul must be created. The production and punishment of souls is God’s primary business. Heretofore, he’s been the one to decide not only when but if a new soul will be united with a physical body and brought into life. Now, science has taken that away from him.
Wouldn’t you be pissed?
Christians, especially those unmarried men at the Vatican, think God is very upset. God is so pissed about IVF that Cathy Lynn Grossman, author of the USA Today religion blog Faith & Reason, decided ask her readers if they thought God considered IVF children to be real children? Do they even have souls?
Now I’m sure no one, regardless of their religion, denies that IVF babies are real babies with human souls.
But here’s the rub. Christians adamantly reject the notion that the soul is a product of biology. They disagree with scientists who see consciousness (and the ability to make moral choices about how to behave) as something gradually developing in the womb and after birth as a baby grows. It’s not that Christians deny that our bodies are biological entities. But Christians insist that our soul—our consciousness and free will—does not have a biological source. The soul, they maintain, is a spiritual entity which comes from God.
If soul is to be a separate entity of its own, not just something that results from biological development, then it has to join the body all at once, in a unitary moment. The soul can’t be something that gradually comes into existence over months or years. Furthermore, the magical fusion of body with soul must be God’s doing.
This last point is important because it gets to the heart of God’s role in the whole life business. According to Christianity, God assigns our soul to a body at the beginning of our life, and then at the end God decides whether or not we are deserving of going to heaven. This joining of soul with body therefore has a divine purpose—to judge the soul’s fitness for eternity at God’s side. The cruel act of saddling the soul with a temporal, flawed body is all a part of God’s rather elaborate testing operation.
In short, God creates souls and then tests us—these souls—for fitness by combining us with biologically limited bodies and placing us into trying circumstances. And the reason is to find out which of us are good enough to be trusted for eternity in heaven. Not all Christians see it exactly this way. Some denominations believe our souls will not be judged for how we behave but only for whether or not we accept the redeemer, Jesus Christ, into our hearts. A test of a different sort, in other words, but still a test which we either pass or fail.
The difficulty is how to reconcile all of this with in-vitro fertilization.
God is supposed to be in charge of the creation of souls. He is supposed to be in charge of deciding when and if a soul will be combined with a body and therefore a new test of a soul will be done. But IVF makes it look for all the world as if God is not in control of the creation of souls at all, much less his whole soul-testing experiment.
When babies are the result of the rather uncertain hit or miss of sexual intercourse, it is easy to imagine that God has some hand in making pregnancy happen—at least for those who are inclined to a supernatural worldview. But now that scientists are deliberately creating new babies in test tubes, it looks like God no longer has any control over the matter. Now he is forced to test souls whether he wants to or not.
So yeah, if there’s a God, he’s got to be pissed. And the theologians in the Catholic Church have got to be pissed too, because now they have to explain away one more thing about life that no longer requires their God.