Thursday, July 30, 2020

Reproduction and the holiness of God

  1. Necessarily, every finite person is in the image and likeness of God.

  2. We should not make something in the image and likeness of God except when we have good positive reason to think God gave us permission to do so.

  3. The only case in which we have good positive reason to think God gave us permission to make something in the image and likeness of God is through marital intercourse.

  4. So, we should not engage in either in-vitro fertilization or the production of strong Artificial Intelligence.

The philosophically difficult task here would be to analyze the concept of “image and likeness of God”. The main controversial premise in the argument, however, is (2). I think it somehow follows from the holiness of God.


SMatthewStolte said...

Haven't their been entire generations (or perhaps nations) of people who remained unaware of the “good positive reasons” that God has given permission to reproduce through marital intercourse? Are we supposed to say that they were wrong to reproduce?That sounds wrong.

Alexander R Pruss said...

If you mean atheists, they are also unaware of the fact that they were reproducing something in the image and likeness of God.

SMatthewStolte said...

Your argument doesn’t say anything about the need to be aware of the imago Dei; it only talks about an awareness of good reasons for permission. So at most, the fact that atheists would be unaware of the imago Dei would be a way of removing culpability for wrongdoing. It wouldn’t be enough to say that they were doing something morally permissible.

Furthermore, I would expect that this problem applies to many more people than just atheists. I don’t know what kind of evidence you would be willing to count as good, positive reasons that God has granted permission for X, but I can imagine lots of cases where people would seem to be lacking those reasons. For example, some Christians might believe that sex within marriage is morally permissible, but when you press them on their reasons, they give you an argument that is internally incoherent or obviously fallacious. Or others might just never have given it much thought. Others might believe that God has forbidden sex outside of marriage, but that there was no need for him to grant any kind of positive permission for sex within marriage.

Alexander R Pruss said...

"Make" can be read as implying intention. Let's do that. :-)

I think the voice of a well-formed conscience telling one that reproduction via marital union is (ceteris paribus) a good thing could count as such a good, positive reason.

SMatthewStolte said...

I’m happier with (2) if we count the voice of a well-formed conscience. (Not sure I’m happy with it, but definitely happier.) But it does make (3) harder to prove.

Walter Van den Acker said...


Let's say Bob and Alice are a married couple. They have marital intercourse, but they are unable to reproduce.
Doctors are able to take Bob's semen from Alice's vagina just after they have had marital intercourse. They use Alice's egg and Bob's semen for IVF. Alice gets pregnat and gives birth to a healthy baby.

I think we have good positive reason to think God gave B and A permission to make something in His image and likeness in this case. In fact, I see no reason to think He didn't give permission.

Martin Cooke said...

It also follows from 1, 2 and 3 that

5) Christ should not appear in icons, or on crucifixes, et cetera

The falsity of 5 implies the falsity of 2

Alexander R Pruss said...


I don't think of representations of God as the same thing as items "in the image and likeness of God".

Martin Cooke said...

I suspected as much ;-)

(but what about good works? Are good works not in the image and likeness of God?

Alexander R Pruss said...

That's a promising counterexample! (Though I suppose good works are clearly commanded by God.)

JCarver said...

Whatever is in the image and likeness of God is necessarily good, thus we should create as many things in the image and likeness of God as possible. This has at least as much intuitive support as (2).