“When Did I Begin?:” A Review Article -- By: Norman L. Geisler

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 33:4 (Dec 1990)
Article: “When Did I Begin?:” A Review Article
Author: Norman L. Geisler


“When Did I Begin?:” A Review Article

Norman L. Geisler*

When Did I Begin? (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1988) by Norman Ford is a well researched and carefully documented pro-life book by a noted Catholic scholar who argues surprisingly that, while human life begins genetically at conception, nonetheless individual human life does not begin until some two weeks later. His thesis deserves careful attention since there are many significant issues—such as pre-embryonic experimentation, freezing, genetic engineering, and abortifacients—that bear on the two-week period after conception.

I. An Exposition Of Ford’s View

According to Ford, “it is necessary to distinguish between the concept of genetic and ontological individuality or identity” (p. 117). Genetic identity is established at fertilization. This is not, however, “speaking philosophically about the concept of a continuing ontological individual” (ibid.). The “establishment of the new genetic programme at the completion of fertilization is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition, for the actualization or coming into being of the new human individual at the embryonic stage of existence” (p. 118).

At pre-embryo stage (first fourteen days) “we could legitimately ask whether the zygote itself would be one or two human individuals” (p. 120). Why? Ford offers several reasons.

First, twinning can occur up to the embryo stage, and thus it seems to him implausible to speak of an individual human being where there is still the possibility of two. We would have to assume, for example, that the original individual (zygote) died when it gave birth to the two twins. This means that, say, “Susan, as in the case of the zygote, would cease to exist in giving origin to her identical twin offsprings, Margaret and Sally. In this case these would be the grandchildren of their unsuspecting mother and father” (p. 136). But, adds Ford, “there is no evidence to suggest an individual person ever ceases to exist when twinning occurs” (ibid.).

Second, experiments on sheep and mice—who, like humans, have interuterine births—show that there is no one individual being before the completion of implantation (fourteen days after conception in humans). For

* Norman Geisler is dean of Liberty Center for Research and Scholarship in Lynchburg, Virginia.

“the early blastomeres of sheep and mouse embryos could easily be disaggregated and be variously combined by techniques of micromanipulation” (p. 139). That is to say, by taking cells from one embryo and combining them with those from another, scientists have been able to p...

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