MANN TALK: Jeremiah Might Have Been Mistaken

by Perry Mann
Perry Mann
Perry Mann

Among other citations and references, pro-lifers turn to Jeremiah 1:5 to prove that a fetus is sanctified by God and thus abortion is not only murder but an abomination in God’s eyes. They argue as well that life begins at conception and that even then the embryo is endowed with a soul. New scientific evidence seems to contradict Jeremiah and those who depend on his insight as to the timing of his sanctification and the moment that a new life inherits its eternal soul, if indeed it ever does inherit one.


Biologists long ago predicated that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny; that is, the growth of the individual of the species repeats the evolution of the species. The child’s development is from a single cell to a multicellular adult, much of which development takes place in the womb and the rest after birth and on until development ends and decay begins. Obviously, the age at which development ends varies from one person to another. And also obviously there are stages of development before and after birth that are pretty much the same for every person. For instance, sexual maturity. Moreover, there is the parallel psychological development, development that can be readily measured after birth and until maturity by a multitude of tests that measure personality, intellect, imagination, etc.


The stages of man as he evolved can be roughly categorized as follows: lover, hunter, soldier, farmer, craftsman, artisan, artist, and saint. Individuals exhibit the influence of these evolutionary stages, among other ways, as follows: teens’ preoccupation with procreation; man’s predacious panting at deer season ; the martial excitement that grips males and females on autumnal Saturdays; the ubiquity of garden clubs; male habitues of hardware stores with an insatiable need for more tools; the proclivity of men and women to build nests; man’s passion to create; and his concern with conscience.


The species has gone from cell to saint and so goes the individual from cell to saint, except that often the individual languishes and stagnates in one stage or another often far short of sainthood. If one studies the character of men and women he can mark it down pretty close to how far they have evolved.


Now, it has been discovered that the brain does not fully developed, as was once thought, at or about age 12, but that it continues to develop past age 20; and the part of the brain that develops last, the corpus callosum or prefrontal cortex, is responsible for self-control, judgment, emotional regulation, organization, and planning or is responsible for, in essence, rational consciousness, moral intelligence or Godhead.


One who has been aware of the theory that the individual’s growth is a repeat of the evolution of its species and has observed human nature is not surprised to learn that the brain does not fully mature until after age 20 and that the last area of the brain to mature is that area that governs one’s ethical and moral judgment. Born-again Christians almost invariable are people who have sown wild oats through their teens and early twenties or longer and who suddenly realized how wanton and wayward has been their conduct, on which occasion they convert their life style to accord with the voice that comes from the newly matured corpus callosum. Saul’s prefrontal cortex finally got through to him on the way to Damascus and precipitated the most celebrated conversion in history, one that Saul as Paul attributed to God’s intervention.

Many preachers take up the profession upon, as they say, receiving a call from God. Many of them get that call after a youth of debauchery. What they think is a call from God probably is a call from a mature corpus callosum. But since the brain and everything else is a product of nature and since one can make a convincing case that nature is a creation of God, then one can argue persuasively that the call is indirectly from God But if, in fact, the human brain’s growth extends well beyond majority and is concomitant with moral judgment, then one will have a much more difficult time making a case beyond a reasonable doubt that the soul is present at conception and that God sanctifies the embryo.

The human embryo is hardly distinguishable from the embryo of many other vertebrates, for instance, the pig. At one stage the human embryo has the remnants of gill clefts, evidencing the evolution of all life from a common ancestor whose earliest ancestors inhabited the seas. The human embryo may have the potential for a soul and have what could be reckoned as one only if it lives until the prefrontal cortex matures. Thus, abortion at worst destroys a potential of a soul, not a soul. The beliefs that God sanctified Jeremiah in the womb and that the embryo has a soul may be sustained by faith; but to sustain the beliefs by admissible evidence beyond a reasonable doubt would sorely challenge even an advocate with divine help.


That there is evidence that man’s rational consciousness or moral being is the result of the maturing of the brain or the coming of age of the prefrontal cortex and that the maturation of it is often well into the twenties, or sometimes not at all in the case of sociopaths, should give pause to those who clamor for adult penalties for juveniles and for criminal sanctions against women who have abortions and against those who aid and abet them. If, in fact, juveniles are handicapped in that they have not the brain maturity sufficient to endow them with judgment and conscience adequate to inhibit recklessness, wantonness, and criminality, then society should certainly take such disability and immaturity into consideration in the administration of juvenile justice and not take the mindless attitude that harsh punishments will stop juvenile indiscretions.


And pro-life fanatics who base their passionate beliefs on Jeremiah and on Biblical faith need to hear reason, the divine gift of every person, and weigh their faith against it before committing themselves to zealous opposition and to heedless crusades against what they abhor sentimentally and emotionally. Faith should be a buckler of comfort to the believer and not a sword to discomfort others.


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Perry Mann is a former teacher, a lawyer, a former prosecuting attorney of Summers County and a columnist for Huntington News Network. He lives in Hinton, WV. He was born in Charleston, WV in 1921. For David M. Kinchen's review of "Mann & Nature," a collection of Perry Mann essays, click:

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