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Feedback archive Feedback 2011

Childbirth pains and human consciousness

Published: 1 September 2011(GMT+10)

Pregnant woman

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This week’s feedback features a supporter from Canada, who asks some thoughtful questions regarding the pains of childbirth and human consciousness. CMI’s Dr Carl Wieland responds.

M.M. from Canada writes:

Hello,
I recently just thought up of a philosophical/theological/scientific issue regarding childbirth. We know that in Genesis 3 God curses Eve with the pain of childbirth. This is what the issue will be about.
First of all, we are all aware that we are living in a very scientifically advanced world. Genetics has enabled us to understand how the human body works at a level never before seen. Genetics also birthed a field called genetic engineering, where there are plenty of opportunities to change how organisms function.
Well, we have heard of designer babies. They can (or will be able to soon, they claim) help parents choose whether they want a boy or a girl, height, eye color, etc.
Let’s go a step further and assume that 50 or 60 years from now, human genetic engineering has reached the level where things previously thought impossible are now possible.
What if some people decide they want their daughter to be genetically engineered in such a way as to make sure she feels no pain when she will give birth later in life.
Would this somehow “disprove” the Bible, if humanity managed to break away from the curse of pain during childbirth?
Thank you, and may God bless you.
M.M.

CMI’s Dr Carl Wieland responds:

Dear M.M.

Thanks for your interesting question. Some dismiss such things as hypotheticals, but I reckon such ‘thought experiments’ can at times be helpful to think through big picture issues of the faith. Your question is somewhat related to the Christian philosophical ‘dilemma’ which Albert Camus muses on in his classic play “La Peste’ (The Plague). This involves a ratcatcher, a doctor and a priest, and in short, the ‘dilemma’ is whether fighting the plague is wrong because the plague is God’s judgment, so fighting it would be opposing God or ‘God’s will’.

Whatever we could do to alleviate such things is a positive, is not opposing God’s will, and would not disprove the statements in Genesis.

Another example would be the situation in any potential healing situation; pain and suffering is obviously part of the curse, so is anesthesia opposing God? When surgery became possible to save lives from e.g. appendicitis, some thought it was wrong because it was ‘opposing God’.

Similarly for anesthesia; the outcry was strong (mostly from people who had never had an operation without anesthetic) from some quarters that since pain was part of the Curse, opposing it was somehow ungodly.

The great Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer pointed out that there are many instances where actions that (locally and temporarily) oppose or reverse the effects of the Curse on creation are called ‘blessed’ in the Bible. For example, the Curse brought enmity and strife, yet ‘blessed are the peacemakers’. And Christ’s examples in healing and alleviating suffering, even the parable of the Good Samaritan are obviously a demonstration that healing, binding up wounds, etc. is also ‘blessed’.

Now I know that this is all slightly tangential to your question, which related to ‘disproving’ the Bible. But the above was, I think, important background. Because the issue is whether in such a proposal as you put, which would in effect mean that humanity had been partially ‘successful’ in reversing or eliminating one aspect of the Curse, the Bible would be disproved. I would say definitely not, based on what has already been said.

But before going further, let’s look at what the text actually says. It refers to ‘increasing’ pain in childbirth (lit. childbearing or having children). That suggests that some level of ‘pain’ was already operative, but that is a separate question. It can also be translated as ‘increase your sorrow/suffering in having children’, i.e. it might apply to the emotional pain and suffering associated with child-rearing that every mother knows all too well. But even if it did only apply to pain in childbirth, here is what I would say. First, a tiny minority of births are already pain free. Not many people would say that this disproves the Bible, as they would see the ‘big picture’ pronouncements of the Curse as large-scale generalizations. Just as man in general earns his living from the sweat of his brow, that does not mean that the minority of people that are born in luxury and never sweat for sustenance all their life somehow disproves the ‘big picture’. And even if at some future time only 5% of people still have to work, for instance, the same would apply. Also, one could point to the fact that putting all people who have ever lived in one space, there would still be billions for whom the Curse was applicable in that regard.

Second, it is highly unlikely that, even with genetic engineering, all childbirth would be pain-free for everyone, forever. There are still things that can and do go wrong, for one thing, with every bodily function. So even one complication of childbirth for one woman on earth, that caused pain, would mean that the Curse is still operative in that department, though hardly the majority as now. For another, the practical likelihood of all of humanity on every corner of the Earth being able to participate in such a medical/therapeutic (or genetic engineering) advance, regardless of their economic circumstances, is vanishingly small. So one could argue that all that has happened is that the statement is still true for large numbers of women, even if it is no longer the majority. Then, too, should it somehow be the case that no women on Earth were ever to suffer pain from a particular point onwards, it would still be true that many BILLIONS of women before them had so suffered, and so it could hardly be argued that the statements of Genesis 3 had been shown to be inapplicable. Especially given that it does not actually say anything remotely resembling ‘all women for all time’. But returning to that issue of the reversal of the Curse. There are passages in the OT that refer to times of blessing and peace, and increased lifespans (such as in Isaiah) but still death, so not yet the full restoration. Depending on one’s eschatological standpoint (CMI corporately does not take a position on eschatology) these could refer to either the millennial reign of Christ or to a time of partial restoration (in the postmillennial view held to by many of the Puritans, for instance) in which increasing godliness will be accompanied by increased blessing, including a partial reversal of the effects of the Curse, even in the animal kingdom. In either case, it is clear that Scripture itself makes it clear that such a future time of blessing and Curse-alleviation can hardly be ‘disproving’ its statements in Genesis 3.

In short, then, I would say that whatever we could do to alleviate such things is a positive, is not opposing God’s will, and would not disprove the statements in Genesis. And those statements have already been shown to be overwhelmingly applicable for so many billions of people that virtually no amount of alleviation of them would ever make any reasonable person state that in hindsight, they were never true.

I hope that makes sense, and thank you once again for your question.

Kind regards in Christ,

Carl Wieland


M.M. replies:

Hello,
First of all, I want to apologize for not replying sooner, but I have been very busy lately.
Second, I want to thank you for your great answer, it was very helpful.

Photo stockxpert

Brain

You have my permission to use my initials (M.M.) if you decide to post this on your website.
However, I have come across something fairly disturbing just today while surfing the web (it is unrelated to my previous question). If you will read this [Web reference removed as per feedback rules—Ed.] article, you will notice that the man in this article, David Eagleman of Baylor College of Medicine, he claims that a lot more crimes in the future will be pardoned because of the lack of likelihood that someone will do the crime again, based on neural assessments, and that most people just do things because they have brain disorders. It’s a totally deterministic type attitude that doesn’t even consider the fact that we as humans have free will. It’s a totally atheistic notion that all evil behavior is reducible to what atheistic (biased) neurologists somehow perceive to be “disorders”. Not only this, he actually claims that in the future, perhaps even the common criminal will be excused, because of some “brain disorder”. They act as though neuroplasticity [Web reference removed as per feedback rules—Ed.] doesn’t exist, and our brains are purely fixed and thus outside of our control. But neuroplasticity has demonstrated that our brain can change through time, so it’s not like we were born this way and we have absolutely no say in it. Yes the brain of a drug addict looks different than the brain of a normal person’s, but that’s only because they changed their own brains through the behavior they got into.
To give you an example of how INSANE some neurologists are, check out the following article please: [Web reference removed as per feedback rules—Ed.].
The above article argues that people who think too much have a brain illness … I’m not really sure what you can say to someone who thinks even thinking too much is a disorder. Sooner or later some dedicated atheist will try and find the brain disease that leads us to believe in religion.
Perhaps he’ll wish to cure us of our illnesses? And with the New Atheist movement out there which actively wishes to abolish all religion, they would have a lot of support.
What is the response we as Christians can give to this? Are there any Christian neuroscientists out there that can give support for free will? Or any neuroscientists for that matter?
Another issue mentioned by Eagleman should probably treated as its own separate issue—the granting of personhood rights to robots and artificial intelligences. See: [Web reference removed as per feedback rules—Ed.].
These are the people who believe that eventually machines will become so well programmed that they will be “conscious”, see: [Web references removed as per feedback rules—Ed.]
I don’t know if this is possible or not, but in theory, if they manage to replicate a human brain, it should behave very similar to us and have the same cognitive abilities as the human brain gives us. However, these “entities” are not living biological beings, they are still simply more advanced computers, so it is only from an atheistic viewpoint that you view robots as being “persons”. Artificial intelligence is based on truly deterministic behavior, and a robot can only do what it is programmed to do. This would be even worse than some of the past and current movements that advocate giving more rights to animals, as apparently some have advocated for dolphins not too long ago [Web reference removed as per feedback rules—Ed.].
This is perhaps the epitome of materialistic / naturalistic / deterministic / physicalist / atheistic / evolutionist-type mentality that wants to creep up on us. These people want to give personhood rights to whoever has “intelligence” (see the above link on the dolphin nonsense). This is a behaviorist type mentality as well, as an A.I. might appear to be conscious because of how complex it behaves, but that doesn’t mean it truly is conscious. And even if it is conscious, animals have certain levels of consciousness as well, that doesn’t mean we should give them rights as we give humans. But again, this is the evolutionary point of view, where man is relegated to being no better than an animal … and it would seem in the eyes of some, a machine.
I realize that these issues are very disturbing, and believe me, I feel sick that people truly think like this, but clearly these people are out there and they won’t go away just because we want them to go away.
What response can we give to these people?
Thank you once again for your help thus far, and may God bless you.
M.

Carl Wieland responds:

Thanks for your detailed and thoughtful email.

If we are just a ‘bag of chemicals’ then it is logical to ask whether legal responsibility as such even exists

Concerning the matter of free will and criminal responsibility, this is an interesting article that is not entirely irrational by a long shot. If we are just a ‘bag of chemicals’ then it is logical to ask whether legal responsibility as such even exists, and in such an evolutionary world, can arguments about enforcement ultimately be based on anything more than utilitarianism, i.e. the greatest benefit to the majority of people?

If there is no God, then there is no absolute standard of right and wrong.

As you indicate, it’s scary, but since it’s the logical outcome of society’s evolutionary thinking, how can one be surprised as things keep heading more and more in such directions? We have an article that addresses a similar set of opinions to the ones your email comments on, though expressed by another: Are we nothing more than a bag of chemicals?

Re artificial intelligence, machines being smarter one day, etc., the following article may add some much-needed balance to any discussion you might have on this: Robots will not take over the world.

I hope this is helpful, and thanks once again for this.

Kind regards in Christ,

Carl W.


MM continues:

Dear Carl,
Thank you for your reply and the great article on AI. It is refreshing to see the opinion of a person involved in AI who doesn’t espouse to same views as so many others.
I already read the other article you sent me, “Nothing more than a bag of chemicals”. Everything being said in there is true. If evolution is true, everything is just led by the random laws of nature.
My issue is, are there any scientists out there who DO claim there is free will that you may know of? There’s so many out there who are determinists and their numbers are growing, so I would like to hear at least one person put in a view different from the mainstream one. There has to be at least SOME proof out there of free will.
It is a disturbing thought to imagine that we are just machines with no say in our actions. Very disturbing.
But I suppose the whole issue comes down to whether or not we have an immaterial soul. Mr. Mark Goldblatt has an interesting and very modern (in the sense of being up-to-date with science) take on the soul [Web reference removed as per feedback rules—Ed.]. He solves the issue of consciousness being affected by brain damage, drugs, etc. and points out that the soul is somewhat “behind” the consciousness.
I suppose you could make an analogy to the soul being the computer programmer, the brain being the hardware, and the mind being the software.
Though any damage to the hardware will make the whole system not function properly.
Of all the most difficult beliefs we have to defend, the soul is perhaps one of the hardest, because we have so little evidence that we can show. I don’t buy into any of the philosophies out there for the mind because it’s so hard to understand the issue until we know how the brain really functions. Then we can know for sure if everything is caused by the brain or not. Even if everything is reducible to the brain, it shouldn’t worry us too much.
After all, according to the Bible, animals don’t have souls. Yet they too have some sort of limited “consciousness”, and have feelings as well. Not on the same level as us, no, but they are conscious to a certain extent, at least some animals. This doesn’t mean they have a soul. So we as Christians shouldn’t be against admitting that consciousness can come from natural means. I personally have always believed that FREE WILL is perhaps the greatest impact the soul might have. Think about it. It’s like the evolutionists say. If it’s all physical, it’s all determinist anyway. But a soul is outside of the laws of nature. That means that (as long as there’s no brain damage, etc.) the soul can give you a nudge, or push you in a certain direction, at least in my mind that makes sense.
I suppose what I say is a form of dualism, but I make changes because I accept that consciousness can come from the material world (like with animals, or the argument of brain damage, drugs, etc. affecting consciousness), but I believe that free will probably comes from the soul.
Or maybe not. Maybe God made the human brain so amazing that it alone is enough for free will. Perhaps the soul’s influence on the mind is much more subtle than we think. According to these definitions [Web reference removed as per feedback rules—Ed.], soul, spirit, and mind all have different words used to describe them in the Bible. While it is clear that they may INTERACT, this doesn’t mean that our mind is 100% the soul and nothing more. They can be distinct, as evidenced by the fact that the Bible uses those different words presumably to illustrate that they are not all one. It is the Greeks (Plato and Aristotle, and perhaps Pythagoras) who believed that the soul was the mind. We are not Pagans.
It’s just so difficult living in today’s world. Before I came to Canada, I used to live in Romania and the folk there are much simpler (though many young teens have begun to adopt Western ideas). Here, morals are going away, bit by bit. It all started with evolution. Sometimes I wish I could just have my own small island somewhere in the middle of nowhere and just get away from it all, society is just so damaged when it accepts atheistic ideas. I am only 19 so I can’t really imagine what will happen when I grow up. I assume it will only get progressively worse. Perhaps the best thing to do is move away from the city. I hear things in the rural areas aren’t as messed up and perhaps there aren’t as many moral deviants there as in the city (also, the city does breed forms of alienation from your fellow man as well, it’s beyond any doubt that it does, all psychological studies show this).
Anyway, I thank you for your help, you have been VERY helpful to me. May God bless you and I hope you have a wonderful day.
M.

Carl Wieland responds:

I would not have bothered you with another email, only I felt, on perusing your latest, that we really should not be thinking that we have to ‘defend’ things like the soul and free will in that sense. What I mean is that, while we have to have answers to rationalist attacks, to most people, free will is self-evident (not in the theological sense I hasten to add, I am not entering into the debate about whether we are free to be sinless prior to regeneration, that sort of thing). I (freely) choose to have rice bubbles rather than cornflakes for breakfast. The existence of a transcendent part to our personality is also something that even skeptics admit is a basic part of our ‘feeling about ourselves’.

Arch-humanist Paul Kurtz wrote a book on it, called The Transcendental Temptation. Others call it the transcendent illusion. They recognize that it is a nigh-universal human phenomenon to believe in not just a reality that transcends the material world, but a part of oneself that transcends the body and has an independent existence. The onus of proof really rests more with the soul-deniers. However, when they do bring up arguments attempting to ‘demonstrate’ the soul’s non-existence, one needs to engage. One such attempt is an article I did a very long time ago, Brain chemistry and the fate of the personality after death—it may be of interest.

Your blessings are returned.

In Christ,

Carl W.

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