Your Help on When Life Begins

July 8, 2006 | 64 comments

I need your help on when the Church thinks life begins.

I was looking over the new site, Evangelicals for Mitt. Turns out they tout Mitt Rommey for “believ[ing] life begins at conception even though his church does not.”

I fired off a quick email saying Mitt Romney did too think that his church began at conception. They replied that I had misunderstood their point. Whatever.

So I fired off another email saying that as far as I knew the church didn’t have any official view on when life began. They replied that they would love to see some evidence.

All I found is that official church statements on abortion and embryo stem cells at’s newsroom don’t say anything one way or another about when life begins. That’s thin gruel. Any one know an actual statement by an authority? A “we don’t know when life begins” would be great.

I have another question. Do most LDS who have an opinion think “life” or “ensoulment” or “human life” does not begin at conception? That’s my impression.

Tags: ,

64 Responses to Your Help on When Life Begins

  1. D-Train on July 8, 2006 at 8:40 am,15331,3885-1-21582,00.html

    This is an correction of a news article. Here is the full quotation:

    Embryonic Stem-Cell Research

    Lincoln Journal Star, 26 May 2005

    Misstatement: “Mormons, for example, oppose abortion, but find some embryonic stem cell research morally acceptable. According to Mormon belief, life does not begin until a human embryo attaches to the mother’s uterus after about 14 days. That is the moment, according to Mormon theology, at which the human spirit joined with human flesh and a resulting full human being is created.â€?

    Fact: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has no official position on the moment that human life begins. Further, the Church has not taken a position on the issue of embryonic stem-cell research.

    [Editor's Note: This is the answer. Thanks, D-Train.]

  2. Mark Simmons on July 8, 2006 at 8:43 am

    I’ve heard 3 Nephi 1 cited as evidence supporting the notion that a spirit is not bound to its “tabernacle” until birth (since Christ is portrayed as speaking to Nephi just hours before his physical birth). The doctrine of premortality complicates the issue because evangelicals believe that a spirit’s life also commences in the womb, hence conception is perceived as the origin of being (both spiritual and physical).

  3. Dave on July 8, 2006 at 11:00 am

    A post at the All About Mormons site quotes a Joseph Fielding Smith article which cites Brigham Young for the idea that the spirit enters the body at “quickening.” There are really only three defensible options: at conception, at quickening, or at birth.

  4. danithew on July 8, 2006 at 11:42 am

    Far as I have ever known, the Church has no stance on the topic of exactly when the spirit enters the body.

  5. Adam Greenwood on July 8, 2006 at 11:49 am

    we know so little about the relationship between the spirit and the body that any point would be defensible–saying it happens at 40 days after conception or 6 days (because of the symbolic ties to creation) are just as defensible as birth, or the time when the mother can feel the kid (quickening).
    But even in the sense of defensible that you mean, it probably would be defensible to argue that life begins at implantation or when the child first starts having brainwaves

  6. Adam Greenwood on July 8, 2006 at 11:50 am

    Further question:

    I also told these people that I thought a majority of Saints who had an opinion probably thought that life (ensoulment might be a better word) did not begin until after conception. Do you think I’m right?

  7. Julie M. Smith on July 8, 2006 at 11:58 am

    I also told these people that I thought a majority of Saints who had an opinion probably thought that life (ensoulment might be a better word) did not begin until after conception. Do you think I’m right?

    Yes. I would imagine most Saints think that ‘ensoulment’ happens after creation.

  8. Adam Greenwood on July 8, 2006 at 12:03 pm

    Julie S.,
    when you say that you *imagine* most Saints think that ‘ensoulment’ happens after creation, are you saying that most Saints *do* think that? I don’t want to make you an offender for a word, but I just can’t puzzle out what you mean here.

  9. Julie M. Smith on July 8, 2006 at 12:13 pm

    I’m not quite sure what you are getting at, Adam. What I was trying to say was this: If you did a survey at an average ward and asked “Do you think ensoulment happens at conception” I think 70-90% of the Saints would say ‘no.’

  10. Jim F. on July 8, 2006 at 12:24 pm

    My own, not very reliable opinion is that Julie is right.

    But their demand for evidence that the Church does not take a position is strange. If the Church had not said, “We don’t take a position,” the absence of evidence would suggest that they did not, but it is slightly difficult to prove a negative. I take it that the people you are discussing this with didn’t do well in their intro to logic course.

  11. Adam Greenwood on July 8, 2006 at 12:26 pm

    Thanks, Julie S. I don’t know if the numbers would be that high, but I do think that a majority of those with an opinion would say that “life” didn’t begin at conception.

  12. Jim F. on July 8, 2006 at 12:30 pm

    Adam, Julie’s broad range of an estimate–70-90%–seems to me probably to capture whatever the right percentage is, though I suspect it is closer to 70% than 90%. But, of course, we are all just guessing here anyway.

  13. Adam Greenwood on July 8, 2006 at 12:30 pm

    Jim F.,
    I don’t think that it was the logic that concerned them. It was that they had no idea who I was from Adam and wanted something a little more than my say-so to go on.

  14. Jim F. on July 8, 2006 at 12:32 pm

    Adam: “they had no idea who I was from Adam.”

    Very funny!

    I didn’t assume it was the logic that bothered them. I think their logic should have bothered them.

  15. Adam Greenwood on July 8, 2006 at 12:36 pm

    What I’m saying, Jim F., is that they probably agree that the absence of any church statement on when life begins is pretty much as good an official church statement that the church doesn’t know. The real issue they had is whether a solitary email from a stranger is enough evidence for the absence of any church statement.

    My description makes them sound belligerent but they weren’t.

  16. Jim Cobabe on July 8, 2006 at 1:08 pm

    I really don’t make sense of the question. Life begats life — it has no beginning or ending. I don’t see much real utility in trying to define some state where “life” does not exist at one point in time, but is suddenly manifest in the next.

    Some of the simplest basic rules of biology observe that life has certain cardinal characteristics — cells, metabolism, reproduction, heredity, response to environment. To the extent that an “organism” satisfies these fairly workable rules, it is probably “life”. To be sure, there are various organisms that are marginal by these rules. And there are boundary conditions in profusion.

    In fact, it is fairly academic to see that the state we regard as “human life” does not demonstrably turn on like switching on an electrical circuit. The creation of a new human organism is a gradual process. We really can’t make a very good arbitrary rule to say, “this is where it happened”, since the most unambiguous symptoms are manifest over an extended period of time, like say, the first year post-conception.

  17. Starfoxy on July 8, 2006 at 1:21 pm

    I think there is a pretty common belief that ‘ensoulment’ is rather maleable until birth. I’ve heard several discussions in Relief Society where women talk about believing that the spirit of a baby in the womb comes and goes. As if it were trying out its body a little bit then leaving it, normally to return to heaven to learn more stuff.

  18. MLU on July 8, 2006 at 1:39 pm

    . . .it is fairly academic to see that the state we regard as “human life� does not demonstrably turn on like switching on an electrical circuit. . .

    This seems right. It may be simpler to see at the other end, trying to find the moment at which death occurs. The \”line\” tends to move as our ability to make finer perceptions increases–from breathing, to heartbeat, to various levels of brain function. A dying body dies over a period of hours after the heart as various tissues die.

    Is there a particular moment in the process when the spirit leaves?

    I don\’t know. But guessing that flesh is a useful analog for spirit, I suspect not. It seems more likely that it is usually a process, somewhat more like me coming to consciousness each morning.

  19. Adam Greenwood on July 8, 2006 at 2:01 pm

    Jim Cobabe, MLU,
    Do I get you right that you think being human means being conscious to some level?
    Also, Jim Cobabe, do I understand you right that you don’t think human life begins until some point after birth?

  20. DKL on July 8, 2006 at 2:06 pm

    Hatch believes that life begins when the blastocyst is implanted in the endometrium–hence his support for embryonic stem cell research. Ried is pro-choice (though he may sometimes deny it, his voting record is clear). Romney himself was pro-choice when he ran as Massachusetts governor and Massachusetts Senator (years ago against Kennedy–he lost). When defending himself from the criticism that he was only adopting a pro-choice stance as a Mormon because it made him more electable, Romney lied and denied it. His lie was particularly interesting, though. He claimed that his mother had always been pro-choice, and that’s what influenced him. That makes his reversal on abortion related issues seem especially cynical, but such is politics.

  21. Adam Greenwood on July 8, 2006 at 2:09 pm

    I’d prefer we not get into the thickets of whether Romney is honest or not. My personal take is that no one has enough information to no whether his change of heart was genuine or not, but we’ll have plenty of chances to debate that before the elections roll around. Ditto on whether Reid is pro-choice or not.

    DKL, do you think Hatch’s view is representative of most Mormons? Life begins at implantation or even after?

  22. Kimball L. Hunt on July 8, 2006 at 2:46 pm

    For literalists, Christ’s speaking to Nephi just hours before his birth (see post # 3 above) would shade Mormons into being a part of the “LIFE begins at the talking living breath” crowd. Romney’s mom was a liberal who perhaps believed something along the lines that it’s best to allow individual choice with regard to abortion rather than to make it illegal, even though she herself personally believed abortion to be a wrong choice. In any case, should Romney have started out with a belief somewhere in the neighborhood and this one I allege might have been the nuanced one of his mother’s to one more aligned with those of the pro-lifers, why should his change of heart render him “dishonest” more than somebody’s having a change of heart in the other direction? Don’t we ALL go by our very best inkings of things?

    My grandfather was in the NV legislature and voted against expanded gaming; yet there were others who, while they personally disagreed with gambling, still felt it should be legal and regulated ( . . . and, incidentally, in the next election my grandfather was replaced by someone from this latter camp as the state rep from Clarke County). Yet, couldn’t somebody go from their being in this latter camp, through some change of heart, to join the camp of and my grandfather’s . . . honestly? Even when their so doing might be perceived as their having been insincerely motivated by some expedient need to court Conservative votes?

  23. DKL on July 8, 2006 at 2:54 pm

    Adam, Fair enough on the politics front. I only went into that to show that there is a diversity of opinion, even just within Romney himself. I think that the diversity of opinion

    In my experience (anecdotal), Mormons tend to reflexively believe that life begins at conception, but they don’t tend to be avidly opposed to the idea that life begins at implantation idea (in, say, the same way that every active Mormon I know thinks that late-term abortion is a serious transgression).

    But asking to prove that the church has no official position is kind of unfair. Isn’t the burden of proof on them to prove its existence? Can the church be expected to constantly re-iterate “We have no official position” until that becomes the church’s “official position”?

  24. greenfrog on July 8, 2006 at 3:53 pm


    For what it’s worth, I now think that Julie’s guess is correct about when most LDS would say they think “ensoulment” occurs. For me, as we’ve discussed before, it’s consciousness.

  25. Connor Boyack on July 8, 2006 at 4:06 pm

    The Origin of Man by the First Presidency in 1909 says: “True it is that the body of man enters upon its career as a tiny germ or embryo, which becomes an infant, quickened at a certain stage by the spirit whose tabernacle it is, and the child, after being born, develops into a man.”

    “Quickened at a certain stage” leads me to believe that it is at some point during the pregnancy, but not immediately at conception. I have a hard time believing that two cells, nowhere near human shape or form, can or do contain a spirit body.

  26. Doc on July 8, 2006 at 4:23 pm

    I think you could defensibly add:
    4)implantation (any earlier and the vast majority of us die before ever getting a shot at birth.)
    5)with a heartbeat (I don’t know about ensoulment but legally, you cannot be pronounced
    dead prior to this event.)
    6) at consciousness (However, since infanticide is clearly not a good thing, the ethics of
    abortion would then clearly need to focus on something beyond ensoulment in this case
    (i.e. thou shalt not kill or anything like unto it).
    7) Measurable brainwaves (again, legally you can be pronounced dead by their absence.)
    8) First breath- makes more sense than birth which seems rather arbitrary(However, were
    this when it really occurs, the church is clearly against abortion and firm
    reasoning similar to #5 would need emphasis.)
    Dave, you might point out that no one has received the cannonized revelation so there is really, really no oficial statement any more than there is an official statement in the BIble, inerrant and complete as it may be. Only if you want to be snarky, however ;).

  27. MLEH on July 8, 2006 at 4:32 pm

    Years ago, my husband and I attended a graduate colloquium given by the then-science advisor to Senator Kennedy. He began his talk with the following: There continues to be a great debate over the issue of when the soul enters the body. Some say at conception. Some say at birth. Others identify some point in between. The real truth is simply this: After grad school, if ever.

  28. Jim Cobabe on July 8, 2006 at 4:40 pm

    Do I get you right that you think being human means being conscious to some level?

    As we have seen so dramatically with Terry Schiavo, human life is not a well-defined state. Medical experts and lawyers cannot easily find univeral agreement.

    But common sense knows pretty well what it means to be “alive”, for the majority of cases. I would say cognition is one of the defining attributes. Where cognition is evident there is not much question that we see a living human. Where it is not evident, then we are not so sure, and have to resort to less definitive rules.

    Also, Jim Cobabe, do I understand you right that you don’t think human life begins until some point after birth?

    Honestly I don’t think my own human life started until some point after my exwife divorced me. And most of us older folks are pretty sure that intelligent human life really begins some time after 30.

    But if I had to speak more formally, I would prefer to regard a human embryo as at least having potential to become a living human. I just don’t see that such potential equates to the same quality as for, say, a one-year-old baby, for whom we can with some confidence project the finality of a fully developed human life. Thus I see some sense in regarding unbirthed babies as of somewhat undefined quality early on, but within the following year progressively becoming firmly established as miniature human simulacra.

    This is a process we are viewing. Not an event.

  29. Sideshow on July 8, 2006 at 4:51 pm

    Mitt Romney thinks his church began at conception? If that’s what you wrote to them, Adam, I’m not surprised they thought you misunderstood the point.

    This should have been caught within 27+ comments. Is anyone really reading what’s being posted, or do you all just get an idea of the topic and then assume the post says what you think it says? Or have I misunderstood the point? :)

  30. Seth R. on July 8, 2006 at 4:59 pm

    I don’t think “life” begins at implantation.

    By “life,” I mean full unification of the LDS “spirit body” with a physical body (whatever the pysical body’s stage of development).

    This is why I reject the idea of “abortion as murder.” I don’t think it is the same thing.

    My own personal view is that the connection between spirit body and physical body is tenuous throughout prenatal development. Perhaps the spirit “commutes” between the “spirit world” and the womb. Or perhaps it resides in two places at once. Or perhaps there is no “drawing of the veil” until the baby is out of the womb and breathing.

    Pure speculation on my part. But it resonates with me, for whatever that is worth.

    This does not mean I see abortion as “no big deal” or “the same as removing a wart or a tumor.” I still feel that there is something sacred happening between conception and birth and that it should be treated with reverence and respect. But I find the whole movement to get embryos legally classified as “people” to be somewhat contrived, and out of touch with reality. It isn’t even necessary either.

    Dallin H. Oakes tried to frame the whole Church stance on abortion as almost solely an issue of personal accounatbility – you have sex, you accept the consequences of that choice. But he didn’t try to frame it as a “what is murder?” kind of discussion.

    I’m not sure Elder Oakes’ take has the whole story though.

    Personally, I believe that an abortion simply means that the spirit being who would have been born will now have to be born someplace else. Given the fact that rich contries are the ones having abortions and poor countries are statistically having more children, that spirit child who is denied a body will most likely be born into a “rough neighborhood” and have a harder life.

    In a certain sense, I see the high abortion rate in the “First World” as purely an unwillingness to share with our spirit brothers and sisters. We want to keep the birthrate down so we can monopolize the good things in life for our own selfish ends. Like when I didn’t want to share the popsicles in the freezer with my siblings when I was a kid.

    There are plenty of ways to skin a cat. You don’t have to get abortion legally classified as “murder”, and embryos legally classified as “people,” in order to oppose abortion.

  31. Starfoxy on July 8, 2006 at 5:00 pm

    I think Jim Cobabe hits upon a good point when he mentions potential, but potential is hard to work with because it is an intermediary state. It is that yucky in-between space where something can be regarded as and treated as having some quality (in this case: life) because it could eventually have that quality. In other words abortion, stem cells, birth control, or whatever may not be wrong because it is actually murder, but because it is an active failure to preserve a highly potential life, the greater the potential the more wrong it is.

  32. Kristine Haglund Harris on July 8, 2006 at 5:42 pm

    Sideshow–we noticed; we were just ignoring it as an Adam-being-Adam kind of stunt.

  33. Kevin Barney on July 8, 2006 at 5:54 pm

    We of course have a prophet on record with his conviction as to when life (or ensoulment) begins. According to Brigham Young, it begins at quickening. This appears, however, to simply be his opinion, and not the result of revelatory insight. Further, we know today that “quickening” is not a scientifically meaningful concept.

    So I think the correct answer is the one given by D-Train back in comment no. 2: the Church has no official position on the question.

  34. S. on July 8, 2006 at 6:34 pm

    We don’t have an answer, but we do have two puzzling questions, namely:

    1. If ensoulment occurs at birth, then why does the church say abortion is (usually) wrong? Without a spirit, the body is a mere tabernacle of clay. Why is it so wrong to destroy it if it seems like the best thing for the potential spirit (say, because the mother is genuinely not ready or able to care for a baby — in utero or otherwise — and the spirit might otherwise go to someone who is ready)?

    2. If ensoulment occurs at conception, then why does the church ever permit the abortion of a healthy fetus (for reasons which would never justify infanticide)? And why does the church support IVF? And not actively oppose stem cell research?

    Of course, no blogger worth her salt is going to have much trouble dreaming up a long list of plausible answers to both of these questions. I can think of several possible answers to both questions. But here’s one speculation that deals with both questions at once:

    Maybe ensoulment timing is simply not a very important issue. Maybe it doesn’t really matter whether the spirit inhabits a fetus or not when the fetus dies — because the only occasions when the spirit does inhabit a fetus that dies are occasions when God has already determined that this spirit does not need this life experience. Maybe God opposes abortion not (even partially) because of the harm it does to the infant soul but entirely because of the harm it does to adult souls.

  35. dangermom on July 8, 2006 at 6:40 pm

    3#, Dave, wrote: “A post at the All About Mormons site quotes a Joseph Fielding Smith article which cites Brigham Young for the idea that the spirit enters the body at “quickening.â€? There are really only three defensible options: at conception, at quickening, or at birth.”

    “Quickening” doesn’t make a lot of sense, really. That’s just the point at which the mother begins to be able to feel the baby’s movements (usually in the 4th month). But the baby has been moving pretty much the whole time; it’s just too small to feel. An embryo is in constant motion. [/nitpick]

  36. Kristine Haglund Harris on July 8, 2006 at 10:25 pm

    Well, as long as we’re nitpicking, it’s pretty hard to pinpoint “conception” as well–it can take 24 hours or so from the time the sperm first encounters the egg until any cell division begins–there’s no instant at which one could say the soul must enter. First breath is the best if you want something neat and definite. And (I can’t believe I’m saying this again) church practice, in terms of performing ordinances, takes the first breath as conferring a different status on the baby.

  37. Jeff Fuller on July 8, 2006 at 11:32 pm

    Life begins . . .

    when all of the kids grow up and move out of the house!

  38. Ryan on July 9, 2006 at 1:03 am

    “I fired off a quick email saying Mitt Romney did too think that his church began at conception.”

    *Flag on the post*

    Penalty on the offense – off-beat and unexpected humor, 10 yard penalty, repeat second down.

    That one had me chuckling for a good ten minutes.. Now my wife thinks I’m an even bigger nerd for trying to explain Mormon Blog humor. Thanks a lot Adam.

  39. John Welch on July 9, 2006 at 1:45 am

    I think Jim Cobabe #10 is correct in his observation of dissonance between the process nature of life and our linear desire to define a moment when life both begins and ends.

    Many Biology courses begin with a discussion of life and how to define it. Change, movement, metabolism, reproduction, these are all evidences of life. But developing an all inclusive list of life’s qualities and characteristics is difficult. Recognizing the deference between a rock and a puppy is not hard, but coral reefs’ movement, metabolism and reproduction are on a time scale that makes measurement difficult. Radioactive atoms change as they decay, but this does not seem sufficient to define life. Viruses do not move, but they reproduce. However, they lack the ability to do so independently. They must dissolve themselves into nucleic acid sequences that direct hijacked cellular machinery to produce new viruses de novo. Prions reproduce, but do not change, metabolize or move; they drift through the cellular milieu until contacting another protein, whose folding configuration they transform to match their own. Distinguishing animate from inanimate is not an easy proposition.

    When does one life become two? When a cell divides it undergoes a process. The DNA doubles, the nucleus dissolves, the chromosomes condense and line up. Mitochondria, proteins and lipids migrate to appropriate poles. The chromosomes are rent apart and one cell is cleaved into two. It seems obvious that there is only one cell until the two cells are permanently and irrevocably separate. Simply having the components necessary for potential life is not sufficient. Doubling the DNA does not transform one cell into two. But with human development we feel differently. Having the potential seems sufficient, even if the new life hasn’t separated itself yet. Birth, the first breath and the cutting of the umbilical cord mark elements of physical separation and independence, but even after these, humans continue an intermittent reattachment: a metabolic rapprochement through a mammary connection. Our moment of irrevocable separation is almost as much a process as our embryogenesis (and yes, sometimes we drag out this moment of separation until after graduate school).

    Death may be slightly easier to temporally recognize and define, but there are also cases where it is clearly more a process than a moment. In the ICU there are patients who hover in a state of unclear life. Is someone with injuries, which are incompatible with life, still alive because their metabolic function is generally preserved by IV fluids and ventilator management? Massive intracranial bleeding and severe anoxic brain injury both lead to deranged, but not flat brain waves. Neither is compatible with life. But until the ventilator is stopped, the heart may keep beating. A husband asked me if his wife was “there,� while we looked at her on the ventilator. Her cerebral bleeding was irreversible and incompatible with life off a ventilator. Her brain stem had stopped responding to stimuli and no long directed the diaphragm to breath when her body needed oxygen. But her metabolic function was largely still normal because of the vent. Was she “there�? I answered him, “No.� I felt I was being honest. He said goodbye and we stopped the vent. I recorded her time of death to the minute, although I don’t think the number recorded more than perfunctory meaning.

    Our moral and ethical conscious demands a defined moment for the start and end of life so we can answer questions regarding abortion and organ harvest. But we’re kidding ourselves if we think the continuum of life will make this process simple or easy.

    Those are my thoughts. I don’t think the Quorum or the First Presidency has made a statement regarding their thoughts. Clearly, this question was never directly addressed by an author of scripture, so their writing is of limited value in divining an answer. It would be hard to guess the general opinion of church membership. Maybe time for a poll?

  40. MikeInWeHo on July 9, 2006 at 2:21 am

    re: 28
    Question for the active members in here: How did the average TR-carrying Mormon view the Terry Schiavo situation? It was such a huge deal for the Evangelicals.

  41. Mark Butler on July 9, 2006 at 5:12 am

    Mike (#40), My problems with the Schiavo case are two fold:

    The serious problem is that any reasonable person would have to conclude that the question of her current state was ambiguous. There were people who were readily and willing to support her in that ambiguous state indefinitely, and yet we have that law supporting someone who insists on a right to terminate that state, essentially granting a right to homicide, call it unconcious-side or whatever.

    If that actually is the law, it should be changed to allow virtually *anyone* to adopt a person in that state, if no one else will. First do no harm, right?

    Now the second, perhaps lesser problem, is that as I understand it, a person cannot long remain alive even in a brain dead state, without the presence of the person’s spirit. i.e. if the person “gave up the ghost” that person would die.

    Thus the fact that Schiavo’s heart was still beating is prima facie evidence that she indeed had not given up the ghost, that rather, for whatever reason she wanted to live. I believe we should honor that wish, or even the suggestion of that wish, whenever possible.

    Now on “ensoulment” – it is my similar understanding that an embryo cannot grow and develop into a unborn child, without the presence of the child’s spirit. The mother’s spirit is roughly co-extensive with her body, and there is a definite physiological boundary between her body and the child’s body. Somewhere at one or the other end of the umbilical cord must be the boundary between the mother’s spirit and the child’s spirit.

    If this is not the case, we have some very serious problems defining what it means to be animated by a spirit / intelligence. The child is dependent to be sure, and continues in that state until the age of maturity some twenty years later. Why should being in the womb versus out of the womb make any metaphysical difference?

    One alternative is that the mother’s spirit does extend to the operations of the child’s body while in the womb, but this is hard to justify. When has one spirit ever been able to occupy and direct two bodies simultaneously, or be both in the body and out of the body at the same time? How is it that mothers do not feel both the impulse to kick and the subsequent reaction if that were the case?

    The last option is that an unborn child is kind of a zombie, in which case we must naturally wonder if that is possible, why are not zombies possible out of the womb as well?

    One final problem, is that to avoid being subject to the severest genetic + environmental determinism in the character of the child, we really need the spirit/intelligence in there directing mental development from very early on. Arriving in a brain that has developed by accident would be a rough blow – I for one would want to be there as early as possible – so the physiological capacities I had at birth were more “me” than a result of random evolution of parental genetics alone.

    The more interesting question of course, is whether God influences the particular combination of the parents genes for a specific spirit, or alternative whether he chooses which children are born when according to the outcome of the combination, or whether the particular variation of genetic heritage we get from our parents is purely random, raising some potentially serious issues about foreordination and the necessity/ability of overcoming ones inheritance, and the dominance of the spirit over the body.

  42. elizabeth on July 9, 2006 at 5:37 am

    I am 100 procent sure that when I was pregnant of my son his soul was already with him.
    Studies have shown that babies growing in their mothers womb are influenced during pregnantcy and not only what comes in trought the embilicolcord.

    What has been theached here in the beginning 80′s was that the church said that the moment the heart is beating in the foetus that is the moment the soul enters in the body.

    But if you look at a play like satuday worior you might think to believe that the sould does not enter until birth.

    But I have a deep faith that my son was with me all the time that he grew in my womb.

    Elizabeth ( from Holland)

  43. John W. Redelfs on July 9, 2006 at 5:42 am

    Life never began. It has always been. We can end it, but we cannot start it. Allow me to explain:

    The Prophet Joseph taught that there never was a son who did not have a father, and there never was a father who was not first a son. He then went on to point out that there never was any living thing that sprang into being without a progenitor. Hence, it follows that the chain of life goes back forever in one eternal round. Who can intelligently deny it? That is what the opposing mirrors are all about in our sealing rooms.

    Consider: a dead sperm and a living ovum cannot produce a living zygote. Neither can a living sperm and dead ovum. For conception to take place at all, both have to be alive. And that living “seed” has to be produced by another living organism of the same species in virtually all cases. Hence, life never began. No matter how you cut it, to perform an abortion, one must kill something. And in this case, that “something” is both alive and human. It certainly isn’t nonhuman such as a cat or dog. Hence, the whole discussion of “when life began” is an attempt to answer a stupid and irrelevant question. Life doesn’t begin. It just continues or it does not.

  44. Norman on July 9, 2006 at 9:10 am

    A sperm and an ovum may be said to be alive before they combine, but is either one alone a human life? Does anyone feel that the death of a sperm or an ovum is equivalent to the death of an embryo?

  45. MLU on July 9, 2006 at 12:10 pm


    No, I wouldn’t define human in a way that necessarily involved “consciousness”–except in a general way that all life has some level of consciousness–awareness of environment and ability to respond. I wouldn’t want to be judged less than human if I dozed off.

    My post had more to do with my unwillingness to draw bright lines where I see only gradual processes, of which consciousness is certainly one and “ensoulment” may well be one.

    Is the death of a sperm equivalent to the death of an embryo? No. Is the death of an embryo equivalent to the death of a six-year-old? I would answer no. Is the death of a six year old equivalent to the death of Joseph Smith, the Prophet? In some important ways, no.

    I favor a maximum definition of human life when it comes to laws about what the government will do, combined with considerable humility in judging what other individuals do.

  46. Seth R. on July 9, 2006 at 2:48 pm

    Re S #34:

    “If Church thinks life begins at birth, why is abortion bad?”

    I already gave some reasons why it would be bad that have nothing to do with “murder.”

    a) it’s a denial of personal accountability – i.e. “I had sex, but now I don’t want any of the uncomfortable consequences that come with it.”

    b) it’s possibly a selfish refusal to share the richness of your own life with another of God’s spirit children. Children will be denied sharing in your prosperous situation and possibly be condemned to suffer in less happy circumstances with other parents.

    Second, “If Church thinks abortion begins at conception, why is abortion ever allowed?”

    Because preservation of mortal human life is not always an absolute priority. It certainly isn’t the highest priority in our theology. Killing has been justified, and even commanded in the scriptures before.

  47. Mark Butler on July 9, 2006 at 7:29 pm

    S (#34), That is a genuine puzzle, except the proper answer is that the Church doesn’t *officially* think any such thoughts. If they thought a doctrine, however tenative was worth formulating we would have an answer, and the principles to be used to guide our pondering over questionable cases would be much clearer. Saying we don’t have a position is basically like saying we don’t think it is worth having a position.

    We (properly) care about parimutuel bettting and minor alcohol regulations, but can’t be bothered to have a coherent doctrine on when abortion is wrong and why. The only rationale I can think of is the idea that abortion is so enormously rare among the Latter-Day Saints that we can safely leave the boundary cases to individual inspiration.

  48. Seth R. on July 9, 2006 at 7:55 pm

    American dialogue on morality has lost its footing.

    Increasingly, we are starting to view righteousness and legality as the same thing.

    Pro-choice activists look for a point at which they are “morally required� to view an organism as “a person� under law.

    Before God, the entire procreative process is sacred regardless of whether the embryo received the “human life� bar code sticker on the assembly line of the American legal system.

    Before God, we are required to give all men and women a LOT more than mere constitutional legal rights.

    Pro-life activists seek to gain the coveted “personhood� designation from our courts and our lawmakers. They seek to make “the abortion question� the focal point of our nation’s political and moral dialogue.

    Before God, we are forbidden to classify, rank, and compartmentalize “spiritual matters� in isolation from each other. The question of aborting a fetus is not a separate issue from how a husband treats his wife, what guidance we provide to our children, what aid we extend to suffering women and children, how we care for the poverty-stricken, how we regard our orphans, how we consume the bread that is meant for others, how we respect our elderly, how we respect ourselves.

    The law requires that life be divided into manageable “legal issues� for convenient procedural handling.

    God requires that all life, all thought, all emotion be directed toward Him. He requires that we listen to His voice, regardless of whether His voice is easily compartmentalized.

    We seek to make God manageable by requiring His legal opinion on each of our artificially isolated, moral standardized test questions.

    God seeks to make US manageable by requiring that we open our entire holistic lives to His influence and guidance.

    The law asks how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

    God asks how many mules, wagons and men we will send to help our fellow stranded pioneers in life.

  49. Bookslinger on July 9, 2006 at 9:29 pm

    I remembr Elder Nelson’s first conference talk as an apostle (not sure on the date though, but 1984, I think). He stated life begins at conception. And President Hinckley (3rd counselor in the 1st presidency at the time, I believe), gave it his “amen” in his talk.

    So look up Elder Nelson’s first conf talk as Apostle, then look up Pres Hinckley’s first talk after that in the same conference.

  50. S. on July 9, 2006 at 9:29 pm

    Mark (#47),

    Well, as anyone who works in PR, diplomacy, sales, politics, etc. is aware, there can be all kinds of good reasons for leaving a doctrine ambiguous (besides “not caring”).

    Some people are comforted by the feeling that the fetus has a spirit very early on—and may feel a bond with that spirit. Others may not want to believe that every miscarriage represents the death of an actual child (particularly someone who has repeated miscarriages). What is to be gained by pinning this down? And maybe it really isn’t the same for anyone?

    In fact, from a physics perspective, we have only a very vague idea of what it _means_ for a spirit to be _in_ a body. How do spiritual and physical particles interact between the earthly sphere and the heavenly sphere (and what do any of these words really mean?) Can a spirit be _halfway_ in a body? Or _designated_ to enter a body but not really controlling the body yet in any way? It might be that when a spirit enters the body has multiple correct answers, depending on how you interpret the question.

    How do you interpret the question?

  51. Barbara Roberts on July 9, 2006 at 9:49 pm

    If I remember correctly, Sir Thomas Moore in Robert Bolt’s “Man For All Season” reminds us that silence under the law means agreement. Is it possible that under the law, by being silent on the question of when life begins and stem cell research the LDS position becomes apparent?

  52. Doc on July 9, 2006 at 9:51 pm

    Seth (#49),
    You have cut right through all the rhetoric and got right into the heart of the matter. Thank you for one of the most inteeligent, well reasoned arguments I have read online in a long time.

  53. comet on July 9, 2006 at 10:26 pm

    My two cents is that most members believe that there is “ensoulment” by the time of birth but that the spirit’s relationship to the growing body in the womb during pregnancy is fluid and indefinite. Stories about spirits coming and going, making appearances at various stages of the pregnancy, tend to keep the timing of ensoulment an open question.

  54. Mark Butler on July 10, 2006 at 2:13 am

    S (#50),

    I suggest that we have actually had a very good idea of what it means for a spirit to be in a body in our Church for some one hundred and sixty odd years now, and a decent idea for some millennia before that.

    Let us start with the implications of Christ’s post mortal appearance:

    And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit.
    And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.
    And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet. And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat?
    And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them.
    (Luke 24:36-43)

    This account confirms both the disciple’s belief and Christ’s confirmation that a spirit is a person, generally with bodily form (i.e. a ghost). Otherwise the disciples would not have been confused (no one had ever been resurrected before, but they knew what a spirit was like).

    Now the idea that a spirit can enter and depart a body (sometimes more than one at a time) is further confirmed by the account of Mary Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, the man with a legion of unclean spirits whom the Lord cast out, and who then entered a herd of swine, both in Luke 8.

    The idea that Paul believed the one’s own spirit can leave a body temporarily to be caught up to heaven, etc. is taught here:

    I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.
    (2 Cor 12:2)

    The idea that at death one “gives up the ghost” is taught regarding the death of Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jesus Christ, Ananias, Herod, and Sherem. In fact when Jesus Christ died he spake as follows:

    And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.
    (Luke 23:46)

    Now we know that a spirit has bodily form in pre-mortal life particularly from the following account:

    Behold, this body, which ye now behold, is the body of my spirit; and man have I created after the body of my spirit; and even as I appear unto thee to be in the spirit will I appear unto my people in the flesh.

    And now, as I, Moroni, said I could not make a full account of these things which are written, therefore it sufficeth me to say that Jesus showed himself unto this man in the spirit, even after the manner and in the likeness of the same body even as he showed himself unto the Nephites.

    And he ministered unto him even as he ministered unto the Nephites; and all this, that this man might know that he was God, because of the many great works which the Lord had showed unto him.

    And because of the knowledge of this man he could not be kept from beholding within the veil; and he saw the finger of Jesus, which, when he saw, he fell with fear; for he knew that it was the finger of the Lord; and he had faith no longer, for he knew, nothing doubting.

    Wherefore, having this perfect knowledge of God, he could not be kept from within the veil; therefore he saw Jesus; and he did minister unto him.
    (Ether 3:16-20)

    Then we have the further assertions in modern scripture:

    There are two kinds of beings in heaven, namely: Angels, who are resurrected personages, having bodies of flesh and bones—
    For instance, Jesus said: Handle me and see, for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.
    Secondly: the spirits of just men made perfect, they who are not resurrected, but inherit the same glory.
    When a messenger comes saying he has a message from God, offer him your hand and request him to shake hands with you.
    If he be an angel he will do so, and you will feel his hand.
    If he be the spirit of a just man made perfect he will come in his glory; for that is the only way he can appear—
    Ask him to shake hands with you, but he will not move, because it is contrary to the order of heaven for a just man to deceive; but he will still deliver his message.
    (D&C 129:1-7)

    The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us.
    (D&C 130:22)

    There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes;
    We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter.
    (D&C 131:7-8)

    And I cannot help but mentioning a couple of curious assertions of Paul’s:

    But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?
    Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die:
    And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain:
    But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body.
    (1 Cor 15:35-38)

    For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
    (1 Cor 15:22)

    It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.
    (1 Cor 15:44-45)

    It is worth mentioning here that the post-resurrection spiritual body Paul is talking about here is a tertium quid, not what we normally think of as a spirit. And of course we should mention:

    Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.
    (Jeremiah 1:5)

    and finally:

    And it came to pass that he cried mightily unto the Lord all that day; and behold, the voice of the Lord came unto him, saying:

    Lift up your head and be of good cheer; for behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world, to show unto the world that I will fulfil all that which I have caused to be spoken by the mouth of my holy prophets.

    Behold, I come unto my own, to fulfil all things which I have made known unto the children of men from the foundation of the world, and to do the will, both of the Father and of the Son—of the Father because of me, and of the Son because of my flesh. And behold, the time is at hand, and this night shall the sign be given.
    (3 Ne 1:13-14)

    So what is required for the voice of the Lord to come to Nephi the day before he is born? There are three basic possibilities:

    (1) Divine investiture of authority – i.e. some other messenger, possibly Heavenly Father himself was speaking on Christ’s behalf

    (2) Jesus was caught up in to heaven from the womb temporarily so that he could deliver his message. (remember this was a *voice*)

    (3) Christ’s spirit never entered until the next day.

    Now I consider (3) highly unlikely for a variety of reasons, some of which I have already explained, especially given that options (1) and (2) are both plausible and have adequate scriptural precedents.

    Now the main reason I reject (3) is because according to the scriptures, when a person gives up the ghost *permanently* the body cannot long sustain itself – minutes sure, hours are rather problematic.

    The spirit particularly needs to be present for growth / healing operations to proceed in good order, as testified by multiple scriptural and temporal accounts, notably the one where the woman with an issue of blood touches the hem of Christ’s garment and Jesus feels “virtue” (spiritual energy) leave him, and turns around and asks “who touched me” – a nice demonstration of the conservation of energy, by the way (cf. Matt 9:20-22).

    Now of course, that seems to be rather “bosonic” (light like) rather than “fermionic” (location stable) spirit matter. What we are really interested in is no so much the entry of the pre-mortal spirit body (if such is actually possible), but rather the entry of the eternal mind / intelligence – the without which not of the soul, as testified by Joseph Smith just prior to his death – the part of us that is co-eternal with god – our personal identity and will.

    Well, if a spirit body is composed of finer, largely fermionic particulate spirit material, and the essential part of us is everlasting and indestructible, then it goes without saying that a “spirit” generally speaking is an intelligence clothed with a tabernacle of spirit, and that in principle they could be separated, not that it is a great idea by any means.

    Metaphysical complications aside, certainly a spirit lifts his hand when the intelligence wills it or “tells it” to lift his (or her) hand, i.e. the intelligence directs the operations of the spirit body in a manner parallel to the way it directs the operations of a spirit + physical body, or a glorified post mortal body.

    As a rule, where is there ever a precedent for a body to grow and thrive without a spirit (intelligence) inside it. Humans tend to die (cease autonomous functions) right quick if they “give up the ghost”, especially if the body is under strain.

    So why in the world should we assume that a unborn child can perform a far greater miracle, growing from a tiny handful of cells to a newborn of extraordinary complexity without a directing spirit / intelligence, or to even do all the more apparent things that unborn children are known to do.

    So far as we have evidence it seems to nearly all point in the direction of early “ensoulment” of the child’s tabernacle and not anything in particular that happens at birth, the possibility of momentary departure notwithstanding. Permanent departure implies death, pure and simple, not the most concentrated example of growth and life outside of the resurrection.

  55. Mark Butler on July 10, 2006 at 2:46 am

    I should correct the idea that all bosons are light like – only massless bosons are – some composite bosons form nice liquids. Fundamental (gauge) bosons tend to be transitory field particles, of course.

  56. JC on July 10, 2006 at 5:49 am

    bookslinger (#49),

    I looked up Elder Nelson\’s first talk as an apostle (link) and President Hinckley\’s talk afterward (link) and didn\’t see anything related to what you suggested… do you have any idea where it might be?

  57. Adam Greenwood on July 10, 2006 at 6:33 am


    Elder Nelson’s talk saying life begins at conception was in 1985. If you go the, click on the Newsroom for News Media link, then click on Abortion under the Issues Resources tab, you’ll find his talk linked to there.

    Mark Butler,

    I’m very glad for your thoughts on the matter. It seems to me that there are more or less three options. We can believe that organic life can function without a spirit; we can adopt some sort of Orson Pratt idea that the cells in the embryos each have their little spirit helping them function, but that the embryo does not necessarily have the ‘master-spirit’ which is the human spirit; or we can think that the embryo has a human spirit.

  58. Adam Greenwood on July 10, 2006 at 6:34 am

    Comments will be closed at 75.

  59. Kimball L. Hunt on July 10, 2006 at 4:05 pm

    I like what’s apparently Orson Pratt’s take best!

    However, tracing ancient conceptions of what life is, words we now take to mean “spirit” also originally meant breath. While the ancients also often believed the heart (Which they might have sensed as representing what we now would conceive of as the hormonal secretions which become secreted into our blood streams?) as opposed to the less-difined/ harder-to-know-about nerve tissues, was also the seat of our thought and perceptions. But, in any case, when your organs function (independently or not) you’re alive. Just as a cell, in its own way, is alive, et cetera — per thinker Pratt!

  60. Mark Butler on July 10, 2006 at 5:06 pm

    It is important to distinguish Orson Pratt’s doctrine of intelligences from later hylozoistic theories. To Orson Pratt, every particle was a first class intelligence, capable of full awareness of the thoughts of the full being. Furthermore, he held that each body, or collection of intelligences was governed by just one “master” intelligence, with whom all the rest came into sympathy with, by covenant no less.

    He further held that each intelligence was everlasting, and progressed through participation in a series of bodies, spiritual and physical. In that strikingly unusual way his doctrine was compatible with the eternality of intelligences (note discrete plural) as revealed in D&C 93 and taught by Joseph Smith in the KFD.

    More modern LDS hylozoistic theories tend to deny the eternal *identity* of intelligences in favor of amorphous stuff hardly distinguishable from magic pixie dust, at best, using the term “intelligence” in a non-discrete sense, like sugar.

    This begs the question of course, of why “stuff” is worth saving at all? Surely not for God’s own entertainment. And indeed why does God himself have any eternal value, if he is, in essentials, a contingent combination of stuff? Why does God even exist at all? Why is a world with assembled stuff a better place than a world with dissembled stuff? Is Johnny 5 alive? No disassemble! No! (smile).

  61. Adam Greenwood on July 10, 2006 at 5:16 pm


    Evangelicals for Mitt has updated their information. Thanks D-Train, thanks all.

  62. Bored in Vernal on July 10, 2006 at 10:36 pm

    Wait…don’t stop yet! If the Church has no official position on this matter, that means we are free to speculate, right? Speculating with all of you on when “ensoulment” occurs has been fun. I like the idea that the spirit can move in and out of the fetus during the pregnancy, and is not bound to the body until after the breath of life occurs.
    But here’s another thought that no one has mentioned. If one takes the position that life begins at conception, what are the moral implications for birth control such as birth control pills and others, which allow conception but not implantation? I wonder what Dr. Joseph Stanford would have to say on that matter?

  63. Adam Greenwood on July 11, 2006 at 12:27 pm

    Positions could vary, Ma’am. I’d still think birth control is probably ok, because (1) the evidence the birth control allows conception but prevents implantation is disputed and the frequency of it happening would be pretty low anyway and (2) the intent is not to kill the child but to prevent a child from coming into being.

  64. andrew olsen on July 12, 2006 at 10:57 pm

    link to the Russell M. Nelson conference article is:$fn=default.htm

    here is a pertinent quote:

    It is not a question of when “meaningful life� begins or when the spirit “quickens� the body. In the biological sciences, it is known that life begins when two germ cells unite to become one cell, bringing together twenty-three chromosomes from both the father and from the mother. These chromosomes contain thousands of genes. In a marvelous process involving a combination of genetic coding by which all the basic human characteristics of the unborn person are established, a new DNA complex is formed. A continuum of growth results in a new human being. The onset of life is not a debatable issue, but a fact of science.

    Approximately twenty-two days after the two cells have united, a little heart begins to beat. At twenty-six days the circulation of blood begins. 9

    Scripture declares that the “life of the flesh is in the blood.� (Lev. 17:11.) Abortion sheds that innocent blood.


Times and Seasons is a place to gather and discuss ideas of interest to faithful Latter-day Saints.