To abort or not to abort, that is the dilemma.

The main purposes of religion is to give a rationale of why we are here, how we should live our lives, and where we might go after we leave this mortal coil. The latter requires the existence of a soul (some essence) that survives us after death. To propose that humans have a soul is an extraordinary claim.

The immortality of the human soul is one of the core tenets of Christianity, and one that is based in pagan beliefs that well-preceded those of the early Christians. The ancient Babylonians and Egyptians believed in life after death and a path to a heavenly reward.

If we have a soul, do other animals have a soul? Do chimpanzees have a soul? Do dogs and cats have souls? How about fish, spiders, ants and bacteria? If none of these and other animals have a soul, where in the evolution of Homo sapiens did the soul arise? At what point in the evolutionary sequence of hominids up to Homo sapiens, did the soul suddenly pop into existence? The timespan is on the order of 5 million years or so, and humans have been around for 200,000 to 400,000 years. Also, assuming that a soul exists, at what stage does a soul enter a fertilized egg that develops into a blastocyst, an embryo and then a fetus?

If religious conservatives want to use the Bible as a guide, they won't get much help from its pages. Jesus and Paul never mentioned abortion. If it was a serious moral problem, they certainly would have expounded upon it.

Passages in the Bible actually condone a test that may produce an abortion. In Numbers 5:11-31, there is the jealousy test that a man can use to determine if his wife has been faithful. If he thinks his wife has been "defiled" by another man, he will bring her to the priest who will apply a test whereby she will be required to drink water mixed with dust from the floor of the tabernacle. If she is guilty, "her belly shall swell, and her thigh shall rot (she will abort the fetus)." Unfortunately, because the Bible was written by men, there is no similar test for a woman to use when she suspects her husband has strayed.

Abortion foes may evoke the Sixth Commandment: "Thou shalt not kill."

Actually you shall not murder fellow Hebrews, but you can kill heretics and people of other faiths. The Bible is full of killing and mayhem abetted or committed by the biblical god.

The Noachian flood, supposedly precipitated by the god of the Bible, that killed millions of men, women and children, save Noah, his family and selected animals, was genocide on a massive scale. According to various passages, the Bible god ordered his chosen armies to invade neighboring countries and slaughter everyone including all the men, women and children. A significant proportion of the women would have been pregnant and their fetuses destroyed. Pregnant women were sometimes ordered to be eviscerated.

A miscarriage is a natural abortion. Approximately 1 in 4 pregnancies ends in miscarriage. There are about 4 million confirmed pregnancies in the U.S. every year and around 1 million of those end in miscarriages. Assuming this rate for the rest of the world, there would be more that 20 million miscarriages worldwide in a year and the Bible god has done nothing to save the fetuses.

For a well-reasoned compromise between abortion foes and those that favor a freedom of choice, see Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan's article published in Parade magazine as “The Question of Abortion: A Search for Answers,” April 22, 1990. See

David Keranen of Bakersfield is a retired educator.