In this recent video, Sir Anthony makes various relevant points. As I said in part 1 of this series, his linguistic argument against “pre-existence” is not his only one. At 3:11ff he gives a version of the linguistic argument I’ve been criticizing. It seems to me that the title of this video is false. To have been “begotten of God” I think, just means to be the Son of God – “begotten” neither means nor uncontroversially implies having been caused to come into existence.
I completely agree with him, by the way, that the NT strongly and repeatedly warns against any teaching that Jesus is not a real human being. But as we’ll see, we Christians disagree about what it is to be a real human being. And what it is to be a real human being is a philosophical question, and one not definitively settled by the Bible.
At 1:29-1:51 Sir Anthony says, basically, that it is doubtful that a human can exist as a non-human before its human existence, i.e. before its conception. At 4:21-38 he seems to make the stronger assertion that any human must come to exist in his or her mother’s womb.
Of course, there are test-tube conceived babies. I think he means
to assert that any human must come into existence at his or her conception – at the union of a human sperm and egg. He presents this as if it is simply what 2 John 7 says, but of course, it is only insisting on the genuine humanity of Jesus – to have “come in the flesh” is to have been a real, flesh and blood human – not an illusion of a human or an “aeon” in disguise or something.
An aside: I don’t think the NT really tells us the mechanics of the virgin birth: did God create a human sperm to unite with Mary’s egg, or did he just miraculously change a non-fertilized egg of hers into a zygote? I have no idea. I would think that either one counted as a “conception” or, as the NT puts it, as God having made Mary pregnant.
But does being a real human imply having come into existence no earlier than the union of a certain sperm and a certain egg?
The answer is: it depends!
- If a human being is a purely material object, then yes it is obviously impossible for you to have existed before a single one of your parts existed. So if materialists about human selves are correct, the answer is yes.
- Another view with some popularity amoung philosophers right now is that a human being isn’t just a physical object with the right parts in the right order, but rather that a human is a certain living biological organism. But this, surely, doesn’t go back to before its conception. So if these philosophers, called “animalists,” are right, the answer is yes.
- But what if a human being is essentially a soul? It seems possible that a soul should should at one time exist disembodied, and then come to be embodied – and maybe that’s all it takes for a soul to be human – to be embodied (whatever that is exactly) in a human body.
Such a view is explored in eminent Christian philosopher William Hasker’s The Emergent Self. His position, roughly, is that God has so made the world that when a certain sort of brain comes to be, it naturally causes to exist a soul, which uses the brain in thinking. This soul, in principle, can survive death, and God ensures that it does, and that it is resurrected in the future. The position is neutral about whether or not this soul existing without a body would be conscious, or be able to do anything. And note that Hasker (correctly) puts no stock in traditional arguments for “the immortality of the soul.” Nor does the view imply that human souls pre-exist. Presumably it implies that human souls come to exist some time during the existence of the fetus – not at conception, but perhaps by the end of the first trimester? (This may be a welcome conclusion, given the number of spontaneous abortions, aka miscarriages which occur.)
See the last chapter of that book, “Prospects for Survival” for a nice discussion of the possibilities for life after death given various views about human persons. Particularly interesting are the arguments against this scheme, which I think some unitarian Christians have held: that death is your ceasing to exist, then there’s a longish period where you don’t exist, and then at the resurrection God causes you to start existing again. Essentially, the view is that humans have a time-gap in their existence.
But that’s beyond the scope of this series – perhaps another time.