Ensoulment and Miscarriages

Here’s a nice essay that observes how the prevelance of spontaneous abortions — miscarriages — doesn’t seem consistent with the theological position of “ensoulment,” the notion that God inserts the just-feritilized embryo with a soul.

OnlySky, Dr. Abby Hafer, 6 July 2022: The busiest abortionist

Religious women are often told that their bodies are the result of “Intelligent Design,” and the expectation is that their bodies are the perfect retorts for growing and continuing a pregnancy. Even those who are not religious tend to think that our bodies, having evolved over millions of years, must be nearly perfectly adapted for the process of carrying a pregnancy and giving birth.

Yes, our bodies did evolve. But evolution’s standard for the success of a system is not perfection, or even near-perfection. The standard for success in an evolved system is, “It doesn’t cause death before reproduction too often.” That’s a pretty low standard. It takes no account of human suffering, and it certainly takes no account of the occasional unsuccessful embryo. So long as enough people survive to reproduce, the species keeps going. Deaths or disfigurements in individual conceptions don’t matter, so long as the population itself continues.

As a result, a human pregnancy is actually a pretty tenuous affair. One thing that would help women in general—and men as well—would be an understanding of just how tenuous a situation a human pregnancy actually is.

This line of thinking applies to the eye, too, for example. No, eyes aren’t perfect. You might expect them to be if God designed them — why settle for less than perfection? — but as a product of evolution, the entire body is optimized, not any one part, and only as much as it needs to be for the species to survive. One could argue that human eyes are “good enough” for human purposes, especially considering that most people didn’t live more than three or four decades throughout all of human history, not long enough for failing eyesight to be a problem. Evolution is balancing act; the cost of optimization of one part can’t be so high that it detracts from the maintenance of all the other body parts. It’s another kind of “arms race”…

Moving on:

We are not helped by the fact that anti-abortionists often claim that “life” begins at conception,  especially since what is formed at conception is a cell with a new combination of DNA. The life that allows that DNA molecule to replicate is the woman’s life.

However, when anti-abortionists talk about life “beginning” at conception, what they actually mean is that they believe a divine soul is actively placed into a fertilized egg at the exact moment that egg and sperm fuse. This imagined process of God turning it from meat into a human being by inserting a soul is called “ensoulment.”

She mentions the very notion of fertilization was unknown until modern science and microscopes.

Because a soul is immeasurable and indeed undetectable, once science discovered the fertilization of eggs, religious-philosophical cowards decided that the winking into existence of a human soul took place right at the moment of fertilization.

Why? Because they were unable to figure out where or how to draw a line. … So they decided to play it safe, drawing the line right at the moment of conception. It’s a lazy, cowardly person’s choice.

She then summarizes statistics that suggest that some 31% of all fertilized eggs fail to result in living babies.

So we must ask ourselves: Why, if God creates these souls at conception, does he then destroy so many of them before they even have a chance to breathe? Before they ever experience life outside the womb? Before they can ever have the experience of being human? Before they can ever have an interaction with the world, which we are told, is necessary in order to find their way to God?


If God gives life to each embryo at the exact moment when egg meets sperm as conservative Christians claim, then God subsequently kills tens of millions of little unborn babies every year. Put another way, God performs tens of millions of abortions every year.

This is a good example of the kind of cognitive dissonance that the religious excel at. They believe God ensouls embryos at conception, and must understand the medical evidence of miscarriages, and it doesn’t bother them that these ideas are inconsistent. Their conclusion would have to be that God both ensouls embryos at conception, yet so shoddily designs the female reproductive system that nearly of third of those souls never see actual life. What does this say about the sanctity of embryos, again?


The underlying issue of course is that religion replaces understanding of how the real world works, all by itself, with magical thinking about intent and purpose.

If you need to think that some supernatural ‘god’ is behind it all, think how much more impressive it might be that this god actually set this all up so that it runs all by itself, as it does, without him having to micromanage every moment or worry about whether or not to respond to every prayer. Just set it up and let it run. That’s what it’s doing. The whole world, the whole cosmos.


I’m not familiar with this writer, but it seems she’s written a couple books, including one called The Not-So-Intelligent Designer. It sounds very similar to a later book that I do have, Human Errors, by Nathan H. Lents. These books, like shorter works by many other writers, show how the human body is anything if intelligently designed — while the flaws in its design are completely understandable given the patchwork nature of evolutionary change.

This entry was posted in Evolution, Religion. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.