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Centuries ago it was not certain when human life began. We had no proof that the growing entity in the womb of the mother was a person from either the first day of pregnancy or after one month or even later. We knew it took nine months. Even the Gospel writer, Luke, called “the Physician”, (Col 4:14) was aware of this. He began his Gospel story of the birth of Jesus by marking the months of Elizabeth’s pregnancy: “in the sixth month…” (Lk:1:26)

Nonetheless, even if we did not know exactly when life began, we did know that the “fetus” growing in the womb of the mother was a child. In the original third century BC manuscript of the Hippocratic Oath, doctors who took the oath vowed not to do any harm to patients or to the child in the womb. (www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/greek/greek_oath.html) Moreover, Luke himself tells us that “the child leapt” in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary visited, bringing her own unborn child, Jesus, still in the womb. (Lk 1:41-44)

It was a discovery in molecular biology in 1827, however, that removed any and all philosophical guesswork. The scientific discovery proved that when the sperm pierced the egg and formed an embryo a new human being was created with all that was needed to become you or me. Since 1827 practically all scientists agreed that life begins at conception. (www.usccb.org/prolife/constantchurchteaching)

This truth was accepted by scientists, religious scholars, philosophers and politicians right up until 40 years ago. Some political leaders made headlines during the 2008 election year when, basing their “religious” opinions on fifth and twelfth century Catholic theologians, they not only misrepresented Catholic teaching, but missed the point completely. The beginning of human life is not a religious truth – it is science. Inconvenient as it may seem to some, science does know when life begins, even if public policy makers do not.

In 2003, Dr. Francis Collins, then director of the Human Genome Project, the largest scientific effort ever undertaken in the field of human biology, was part of a discovery much like that of molecular biology in 1827. He and his collaborators were able to completely identify the blueprint for the human person, a complex and carefully assembled pattern that we call Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), which contains the genetic instruction needed to create an individual organism.

Every living being has DNA. It is simpler in plants, more complex in animals and most complex in humans. By comparing the DNA of different creatures we are better able to study the feasibility of Darwin’s theories on evolution. Like the discovery of 1827, the 2003 research bears an “inconvenient” truth. The DNA of man is more complex than that of the animals he resembles and the theory of “natural selection” cannot adequately describe it.

In order for a single-cell amoeba to evolve to a much more complex and organized multi-cell human being, the organism must climb a very long and steep “entropy” hill. The chance of this to happen is mathematically next to impossible. Unless there was a divine “spark” that made it happen.

Science has proven that life begins at conception and math has shown the staggering odds by which a human being possesses the most complex DNA blueprint in all of nature. Such “inconvenient” truths lead us to posit something or Someone other than “chance” to explain life, and impel us to go beyond the scientific question of how and when life begins, to the philosophical question of why there is life in the first place. Is there a reason for the universe? Can that reason be love?

A third “inconvenient” truth comes not from science or mathematics but from philosophy, articulated well by the Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber, in his epic work, I-Thou. He posits that every I is by nature related to others (Thou). Each person is an end in him/herself, never to be used as a means to an end, a unique gift never to be objectified or used for any purpose, but rather a being worthy of love. We can use things, but we ought to love people – never the other way around. This truth, the foundation for ethics, is an unwritten and indisputable rule of life that defines friendship, marriage, human rights, human dignity and in fact, all matters of human interaction.

If we have the courage to face such “inconvenient” truths we may naturally find ourselves asking questions that can be answered by science, mathematics and philosophy, much like Albert Einstein before us who discovered that there is reason, beauty and order in the universe, and even love! This being true, we are then obliged to bring good order to our lives with reason, beauty and love.

The late Pope John Paul II, in a recently discovered manuscript written to help young couples understand the wisdom behind Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae, speaks of a “rule of love”, saying that there is no such thing as love without rules and good order. These unwritten rules, inscribed in the very nature of our humanity, like the laws of nature and the good order of the universe, lead us to God Himself, the very Source of love, order, reason and beauty.

Basing his understanding of human dignity on these “inconvenient” truths, the late Pope John Paul II countered the prevailing Madison Avenue and Hollywood utilitarian philosophy, which deceitfully proposes that our worth consists in how we look, what we possess, or what we do, instead of who we are and how we love.

Inconvenient as it may be, from the moment of conception to natural death, believers and non-believers alike are capable and worthy of love. In fact, the key to life is to love and not use others. Science, mathematics and philosophy cannot deceive. They teach truths. Behind these truths there is a moral, even religious, imperative. If there exists a Creator who has fashioned us with a capacity to love and be loved, then we ought to live our lives accordingly, no mater how inconvenient.

+Gregory John Mansour

(Reprinted with permission.)

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last updated: July 2009