Clerk’s log, MJDate 54091.7: Book One of J.C. Hutchins’s thriller 7th Son, “Descent,” is now complete, and it’s available for download in audio form at http://www.jchutchins.net (book plus extra material) and http://www.podiobooks.com (book only). If you haven’t yet heard it, and don’t mind a bit of strong language and violence, I recommend it. Book Two, “Deceit,” is now in progress, and Father Thomas is still in the game — not to mention his clone brothers and others with “installed” memories — and so the current discussion is alive, well, and germane.
Father Thomas is afraid for one reason. That reason has to do with the question, Where does the human spirit, so often casually called the “soul,” come from?
Here’s what we’ve said about it thus far:
- It’s the immaterial part of the human being. Spirit + body = the total person, and the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
- God breathed it directly into the crafted body of Adam, changing that body from a lifeless mannequin into a living, sentient being in the image of its Creator.
- The words for “soul” vary from one speaker to another. The Hebrew Bible generally uses the Hebrew word usually translated “soul” to mean “life” or “being” or “self.” Much of the Greek New Testament follows suit, although the Apostle Paul’s letters tend to use the Greek original for “soul” to mean the mind fixed upon the physical realm alone (rather than also including the spiritual dimension).
Thomas believes he doesn’t have one. He’s convinced that although his body is “animate,” the principle that animates it is something other than a human spirit. What that something is, what the source of his mind may be, he doesn’t know; but of two things he is certain:
- God has determined the kind of being to which he will relate.
- He, Thomas, doesn’t qualify.
Where, then, does the spirit come from? And given that source, do Thomas and his fellow Beta clones in 7th Son indeed not have it?
“Would you like the imported variety …”
Reviewing the history of the Christian church, we find two answers to that first question.
One answer is Thomas’s, and it’s the one held as Catholic doctrine. It’s usually referred to as Creationism — but not in the way you’re probably thinking. In this use of the word we’re not referring to the creation of the universe out of nothing (as in, say, “creation vs. evolution”). Direct, divine creation ex nihilo is indeed in view, but not of the cosmos; rather, it’s the creation of the individual human spirit.
Creationism holds that at the moment the body is physically conceived — when sperm meets egg and fertilizes it — God creates and implants a spirit into it, producing the total human being in a re-enactment, as it were, of Genesis 2:7. That process is not part of conception, but occurs together with it.1 Here is where Father Thomas has his problem: he didn’t originate from sperm plus egg, but from cells taken from his progenitor, the first John Michael Smith, also known as “John Alpha.” Those cells were manipulated and force-grown to maturity in the Womb machines at the Project 7th Son facility. He wasn’t conceived, not by the standard method anyway. And if there was no moment of conception, then, he concludes, neither was there a moment when he received a spirit. However his body is animated, he isn’t human.
“… or the home-grown?”
The second answer comes from the church father Tertullian around the turn of the third century, and is called Traducianism. This view, popular among Protestants, holds that the spirit is not created apart from conception but is instead the product of conception — that it emerges from the contribution of father and mother, by means not yet known. There is a spiritual procreation as well as a physical one.
Evidence for this view includes the biblical doctrine (see Romans 5:12, for example) that every human being was born sinful because of Adam’s original sin — Traducianism makes this “sin nature” an actually-inherited, “natural” trait. It relieves the frustration of those who cannot see why God would create spirits that are dead and condemned from the get-go (since, in this view, he doesn’t). It also explains why, to be sinless, Jesus the Messiah had to be the product of a virgin birth: if he had had a human father, he would have inherited human sin.2 On the other hand, the Catholic church has opposed Traducianism, on the grounds that it blurs the distinction between the material and the spiritual parts of humanity and thus leads to materialism, or, as we called it earlier, the “mechanist” view — a not unreasonable concern.
Would a Traducian solution help Thomas? Well … not in itself, for it still revolves around conception, Thomas’s sticking point. It does, however, suggest a path to an answer. For there is a conception in Thomas’s past — not his own, but John Alpha’s. Thomas’s body is an extension of John Alpha’s; it could be that in some way his spirit is derived from John Alpha’s as well.
Geordi, we have to fix the replicators again
Which brings us to a third proposal, which we might call Replication. We have biblical precedent for what happened in the Womb, and as with Creationism, it’s in Genesis 2. Thomas and his brothers aren’t Robocops: they’re Eves.
When Harry 1.0 met Sally 1.0
DNA replicates when a double-helix molecule splits down the middle in the presence of component amino acids. Those amino acids take their place on each half of the molecule, creating two new double helices where once there was one. This happens in normal, microscopic, cell growth. In the macroscopic biblical world, it happened at least three times: twice when loaves and fish were broken and distributed among seven thousand men plus wives and children (possibly more than twenty thousand people!), once when tissue3 was taken from Adam’s side and “built” up4 — minus the Y-chromosomes — into a woman.5 Eve was a clone of Adam. The appropriate building blocks were produced (summoned? Created ex nihilo? Not important6 ), took their place along the incompleted edges, and the final product emerged.
And the spirit? God didn’t breathe a separate spirit into Eve’s nostrils as he did Adam’s, so it must be assumed that the spirit-in-potential was present with, and linked to, Adam’s cells (I won’t say “in them”; perhaps we may picture it hovering around the material cells like an unseen nimbus). This isn’t a materialistic or “mechanistic” view exactly, for I’m not saying that the material produced the spiritual. Rather, they were always there together. And they were enough to produce a spirit for the first woman.
The cells thus grew into a human body, and then there was Eve. And then there were John Michael Smith times seven.
Whether this is what will happen when we actually produce human clones (and yes, I said “when” — for good or ill, I doubt that anyone could keep it from happening) will depend in large part on whether a person emerges from the process. If all we get is a made-to-order corpse, then the issue is not an issue after all. But if the result is a living, breathing, thinking, dreaming human being, then we have discovered merely an additional method of human reproduction. And what comes from that method is included in Mr. Jefferson’s clause, “All men are created equal.”
The belief test
Let’s get to the real issue, shall we? Here’s my concluding note to Father Thomas:
“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”
— John 6:37 esv
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
— John 3:16 esv
Forget about whether or not you qualify. The definition of grace — giving favor to one who doesn’t deserve it — tells us you don’t.
Forget about when you believed, i.e., the specific moment. Granted, you should be able to recall that you knew there was a transition to be made, a border to be crossed, and that you crossed it. But we’re not talking about the calendar here.
The crux of the matter is, Do you believe?
If not, then your fears are true, and you have nothing to look forward to — not God, not companionship, not anything that makes existence worthwhile. Which is the essence of hell.
But if so — if you are convinced that you have been alienated from God as the result of your sin, and that Jesus the Christ, God the Son made human, died to remedy that situation (without any participation by you) and rose again — then how you got your humanity is moot. Whether you were cloned, conceived, or cobbled together in someone’s garage, you will not be excluded.
You will be welcomed.
All God’s children got to sing and shout
Come on, children, come on
There ain’t nobody ’round bound to kick you out
Come on, children, come on
— Arlo Guthrie,
“Gabriel’s Mother’s Highway Ballad #16 Blues”
[That’s the end of “The Soul of the 7th Son” … for now, anyway. But stay tuned for more 7th Son-related discussion (with some spoilers) in “7th Son Sidebar: The Soul of the Palimpsest,” in which we ask the question: Just who was that in Jesse Fowler’s head?]
- In the case of Thomas, it would be up to God whether or not to place the spirit there, and there’s no biblical basis for saying he couldn’t decide to place one in a clone. Granted, that might not be enough to assure Thomas. Incidentally, this would not be the only time God is active in such a situation, according to Catholic doctrine: it is taught that at the ordination of a priest, such as Thomas, God infuses him with a priestly character that enables him to perform the sacraments. This priestly character belongs to him regardless of his subsequent actions (a teaching that has no doubt taken quite a few hits in light of some individual priests’ behavior). [↩]
- The question of whether the transmission of sin is therefore confined to the sperm is a good one, but it’s meat for another discussion. [↩]
- Not just the rib bone but also the surrounding flesh; see Gen 2:23. [↩]
- Hebrew yibben, from banah. One of my seminary professors, Dr. <ahem> Smith, observed, “There you are. Man was made, woman was built. It says so in the Bible.” [↩]
- The fourth time, it can be argued, took place in the womb of the virgin Mary, when the Y-chromosome was added. But again, that’s another discussion. [↩]
- Here we can also consider miraculous healings — where did the added healthy tissue come from? [↩]