Pregnancy: too badly designed? Zygotes not implanted, miscarriages... where's God?


If we were to believe in God as designer, there are many bodily defects that would make us think God made us badly, or later inflicted bad things on the body because of the sins of one original couple, which to me makes God a caprious monster and the not the Triune God of love.

If we accept on the otherhand that God had a hand in leading our evolution in an inheritance of freely changing organic forms, where mistakes and defects can occur as a consiquence I think it makes more sense.

There has been a lot of discussion in recent times about God and evolution that the character of God revealed in Jesus is wholly “Kenotic” (self emptying servant) in all aspects of activity, in creation and redemption. God set the parameters of the universe in the begining that make suitable environments where life can exist. But God allows creation/evolution to go its own way with freedom, and eventually even our own freedom of will. God could have intervened at certain times or lured evolution in particular directions that result in us, but the other defects from natural free environmental and ecological progression remain. (By the way this is not Deism because God still oversees the world and is involved in it through the Word and Spirit in relation to responsive things and beings).

I can recommend “The Work of Love: Creation as Kenosis” ed Prof John Polkinghorn. (A series of essays about divine kenosis and various apects of rhe universe and natural life).


They laughed when the disabled man was mocked

(Stephen Matheson) #23

This conversation is interestingly focused on human suffering and on human pregnancy, and I understand why.

But biologically, there is nothing interesting or unique about human reproduction in terms of its efficiency or its ‘design.’ In animals, it is common for reproduction to involve vast ‘waste’ and horrific natural evil, and indeed there are specific reproductive strategies employed by animals (and plants) that are based on what appears to be an attempt to beat the odds by throwing the dice a million times. Darwin’s emphasis on overproduction and competition makes the most sense in animals that do this. But the point is that as awful as it is to consider human spontaneous abortion rates, this fact is unremarkable in an animal world that reveals a dozen darling little ducklings trailing behind a parent who seems oblivious to the fact that 9 of them will be eaten alive by fish and herons, some while she watches. All those cute little turtles waddling to the sea are hatching at the same time to serve as each other’s sacrifices; some huge percentage will be digested alive by other animals playing the same game. In short, biologically, the ‘waste’ in human reproduction seems pretty minor compared to what happens in related lineages.

So, whether pregnancy is “too badly designed” to fit in any particular theological story… sure, depending on the story, but I’ll stay out of that. But in the context of evolution and the way animal reproduction works, human pregnancy is not badly designed. It has resulted in the explosive overrunning of the planet by our species, which is one pretty strong argument for good design and evolutionary success. The cost of that success, in losses of embryos/fetuses and in human suffering (of parents like me), is real but biologically trivial.

(Laura) #24

I wonder how much our modern lifestyle affects our view of pregnancy. One hundred years ago I would have been expected to marry fairly young and could possibly have 10 or more kids during my fertile years (assuming I didn’t die in childbirth in the process – that’s a question I would ask right along with eggs and zygotes – what of the great “waste” that pregnancy has made of women too?). Before vaccines, modern health care, and modern safety regulations, it wouldn’t be surprising for a percentage of those children to not make it to adulthood (depending on when/where/social status, etc.). Even though now we still know that bad things can happen, we have much different expectations for the process, so perhaps pregnancy loss stands out more starkly. I think it’s difficult to really understand how different our attitudes are now. I suppose back then (and in other geographical areas now) the “waste” of pregnancy was seen as being much more in line with the “waste” of human life once the baby was born. As I said before, to me it’s just a smaller part of the “problem of evil” in general.

(Jay Johnson) #25

You’re right. Prior to the 20th century, a woman who had six children would expect to see one die before the age of 1, another die before 13, and a third die before turning 19. Only half of live births survived to adulthood, and with median life expectancy around 40, most children could expect to lose at least one parent before reaching maturity. Orphans and widows were a serious societal problem for most of human history, hence the Bible’s repeated emphasis on caring for them.

(Marvin Adams) #26

If you think of humans being badly designed - it’s just because you did not understand the design brief.
Most humans think that reality is there to provide the happiness of the individual self as they see their own self as the centre of the universe. Whilst it is correct that they are the centre of their universe considering that to themselves they are in the centre with respect to their perceptual event horizon, they are not in the centre of “the” universe.
If you consider the design brief to be the propagation of life the physical of the individual is expendible as the unit of the “self” is not found at that level apart from those who think of themselves as over-important. Whilst it is no problem to God to love all individuals and implement this love by giving them the opportunity to be in his presence (not to keep them separate in a temporary physical / materialistic existence) his interest to keep us caged in a physical body is limited. Whilst it might serve as a learning stage to enlightenment he can happily take you into heaven without having to go through all the classes. To him death is not the end of your existence at any point in our physical existence as he is metaphysical and eternal. The problem is just us having to let go of our physical existence again once we have fully materialised. Some never eat from that tree of realisation of the self and thus can let go much easier w/o having to suffer death, but some do and thus suffer mortality, the logical consequence of defining yourself as your own physical authority. God says "if you eat from that tree you will suffer death, a logical consequence of self realization, not if you eat from it I will kill you. Those who do eat from it suffer from having to go, the other ones are the ones that are grateful for having been here and having had a chance to experience selfless love to learn to understand the self outside of their physical body.

So instead of complaining that you were not amongst the ones dying early celebrate the miracle of your life to make it that far. Learn to appreciate the miracle that is the birth of a baby instead of looking at miracles as God doing magic fixes to fulfill your wishes for reality. If you find people that think the joining of the oesophagus and the windpipe is a design flaw,or the inverted wiring of the retina of the eye, invite them to think about the faulty wiring of their brain instead. Their windpipe is the best possible design to ensure the constant wash of the lung from the dust you experience as a land lubber, to be automatically disinfected in the stomach and recycled to avoid us from dehydrating as a land animal. You learn that when you look at stages where that wash does not work, like cystic fibrosis. They might wish to have a blow hole like a dolphin but should consider their mouth to be a blowhole already for the hot air they let escape through it, not living on land but swimming in their own ego :slight_smile:
It’s a bit like Tyson and some of the other religiophobes to complain about the faulty design of putting the recreational space next to the sewage plant. They just don’t get that these are the “reproductive” organs and they are there for good reason regarding the microbiome. The recreational organ is for most people at the other end, far away from the bum between your ears, but then some people have their head in strange places and still haven’t figured out how to use their brain :slight_smile:

(Phil) #27

Good thoughts. One of the big problems with human birth is the trade off between having large cranial capacity and passing it through the pelvis. there are always trade offs.

(Jay Johnson) #28

Yes, God’s curse upon the woman – pain in childbirth – has been the case since our ancestors first stood on two feet. That’s one that will always give the literalists fits. I wonder how it fits into the “recent Adam” scenarios?

There is a trade-off even with our large brains. The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is the locus of human decision-making and planning, but the trade-off for a highly complex brain is that it is prone to certain failures, such as schizophrenia and autism.

(Christy Hemphill) #29

The Bible doesn’t teach that God micromanages reproduction any more than he micromanages the weather, as @pevaquark beat me to mentioning. I don’t see the problem with affirming he is sovereign over both and all the random processes involved in both. To say that just because we cannot predict random outcomes from the outside or pinpoint God’s intervention necessarily means that God is not involved or active in creation is a logical leap I don’t accept. I personally know several women who were told there was no possible way they could naturally conceive children and they prayed for miracles and got pregnant. Through the eyes of faith, that would seem to indicate that God’s sovereignty indeed extends over the natural processes of reproduction and he can “micromanage” when he so desires.

And I also don’t see how human reproduction and pregnancy is a unique theodicy problem compared to other aspects of nature like birth defects, parasites, and predation. We already have a human over-population problem. The fact that not every egg that comes near sperm results in a child is not really a problem and actually prevents human suffering. Most healthy human couples are capable of having many more offspring than they can care for as it is.



As being the original poster, I read most of the replies, however I felt I was misunderstood. This topic quickly derailed to the problem of natural evil. However, as a person who strives to follow God, it’s not the problem of evil that irks me. Thousands of articles have been written on the subject, and that’s OK.

My personal problem with the biological conception… as well as with evolution (to lesser extent is simple):

They kill the magic.
They kill the magic of creation.

Instead of seeing a loving Creator, who gently crafts a person within His own hands inside the woman’s womb, we have… randomness, randomness, more randomness (until the zygote is conceived), then ugliness (if the embryo isn’t viable).

Thus said, on the problem of natural evil : Miscarriage may happen because it’s for the greater good. Okay, it could save the wife of the mother, okay, and it could prevent us from raising a deformed kid, okay.

But it’s godawful. It’s ugly.

It goes against my imagination of God as a Creator, and … I dare say, an artist.

Now I know that you, some people at Biologos, have found Joy and God’s love in the Laws of the Universe. Perhaps this worked for you… as for me… I know the historical consensus for Jesus is strong. I believe in Him as a real person who got crucified and then He was risen, because … well, History is strong here. I also see that the Fine tunning of the Universe is quite a compelling argument for a God.

However, speaking in terms of biology, this is where things get ugly.

In fact, by looking at biological laws, I never EVER felt the urge to bow in awe and praise the Lord as a creator. I just don’t see the love of Jesus in nature, that’s that.

In the end, if imperfect laws rule the biosphere, how am I supposed to believe in perfect heaven?!?

(Laura) #31

I wouldn’t entirely disagree with you here – and I understand the need to ask these kinds of questions and feel like things aren’t adding up. But I guess I’m still not getting why this is so much different from the sin and brokenness that permeates every other aspect of creation as well – volcanoes that erupt and wipe out entire villages, tsunamis that do the same thing, unpredictable diseases, etc. Is it what you consider to be the lack of predictability that’s the problem? I.e., we can sometimes predict weather patterns and a person’s likelihood of contracting an illness, but not why or when a zygote will be proved viable?

(Christy Hemphill) #32

For me, the hope of heaven is the hope of a perfected creation. I think the glaringly obvious imperfections fuel the hope. If things were more perfect and more beautiful, we would be less hungry for the consummation promised in the Eschaton. The glimpses of beauty and redemption that God’s inaugurated but still contested kingdom provide are promises of what is coming.

Plus, my faith is not based on seeing God as a creator of perfection, or in the historical evidence for Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, or in the literal trustworthiness or accuracy of the Bible, but in real personal encounters with the risen Jesus. So when I have doubts and nagging questions and things that don’t add up and when I look around and see only ugliness, that is what I fall back on. Like the disciples I remind myself when I’m confronted with “hard teaching” that makes people turn away, that I don’t have anywhere else to go for words of eternal life. (John 6:68) I don’t expect that to be compelling for anyone else, but that’s my personal take on it.

(Andrew M. Wolfe) #33

I appreciated @Elle’'s mention of

While today it’s not quite so bad as you describe, it’s not far off from your “19th century” description in many parts of the world even today. Where @Randy grew up, for instance, in Niger, the average woman has 7.6 births, but the child mortality rate (children dying by age 5) is 9.1%. If you do the math, that means that fully 69% of Nigerien households have experienced the death (not miscarriage) of a child. (And more, if by “households” you include same-father-different-mother polygamous households.)

In such areas, death is, while tragic and no less heartfelt, not as scandalous as it is to our modern American sensibilities. Nobody is thought to have the right to live into their 80s and die a natural death.

(Marvin Adams) #34

looks like a flat earth view to me. you demand that God gives you a treatment better than a fair chance. Ask yourself why that is. Do you want a fair God or one that favours you over others because he loves you more than others. It can’t get muh flatter than that to me. A personal God that favours you and gives you special presents because sounds to me that you look for a big Santa Clause, not God.

Miscarriage could save one from raising a disabled kid, so one better aborts disabled children as we can do it, because to leave it to chance would be really stupid as to accept what we have been given, and a life of the handicapped isn’t really worth being a life in favour of me who lives an unhandicapped life.

To think that God would kill the babies in the womb to make my life more comfortable is an ugly thinking indeed, the most selfish of thoughts to describe my big Santa who favours me instead of the handicapped child.

Now for an intellectual person you might want to appreciate the logic and the love that evolution is based on, not the magic. I can see that the children that do not yet understand the power of reasoning appreciate the magic, but at some point one should reach the age of reason and start to appreciate the logic over the magic, as magic is after all a make belief reality, the logic is reality.

This is why I think you still see a flat earth, missing a dimension. Have a look at Carl Sagan explaining the 4th dimension The dimension a lot of us have not experienced is the dimension of selfless love. Once you understand that all our existence is ruled by the word of God to love thy neighbour like thyself and see how biology eradicates the selfish I can believe that in heaven the selfish does not exist. Now if we perceive this law to be imperfect it could only be because we want the biosphere to be ruled by the law that favours some self over others - or because we have not seen the dimension of selfless love. As I mentioned earlier, there is a perceived problem in the process of visualisation of reality, but it is not in the design of the eye, nor in the wiring of the brain. It is in the ability to acquire an ego, but then is is what allows us to consciously experience selfless love and to practice it. If you do not see the love of Jesus in nature than it might be that he is not alive in you to make his love felt present in the nature around you. You should however still se plenty of others who practice his love - or do you think they are not part of nature because they are humans? I can see his love in abundance, so why can’t you?

(Randy) #35

@AMWolfe, Thank you for your correction and insight! I put an addendum above in my earlier, erroneous message. I deserve to go in the statistician’s naughty corner on my earlier hearsay report of 50% under 5 mortality in Niger (from my childhood, in 1985, that was an estimate given to me). It was in the 40-50% range, like the rest of the world, in the 1800s, and still lags far behind–but the decrease is from 30% in about 1990 to the current level.

It’s very interesting that the rate of religiosity among the poor, despite suffering, is so high. While the US remains about 80% religious, Western Europe and other richer countries have lower religiosity. In contrast, Niger, with its suffering, is still 99% religious

The article above doesn’t say why the US is an outlier, but it implies that the more we don’t worry about day to day existence, the less we rely on God. I would never say that poverty or children’s death is a good thing. I think that my faith in God evolves as I require less from day to day. As with @Reggie_O_Donoghue, it can evolve to help those who suffer. Thanks.

(Andrew M. Wolfe) #36

I actually didn’t mean to correct you… I somehow missed your earlier comments, or forgot I’d seen them.

I agree with your insights about poverty and religion.

May write more later with more time…

(Jay Johnson) #37

We do have a warped view of life and death in Western culture. Good reminder.

(Randy) #38

No problem! It may have been correct to be 50% death rate in the 1980s, especially in our rural region. It was 2 hours from the nearest hospital to our hospital, so there was no care, to speak of–may have been like the 1800s in Europe. But this made me more attentive to detail! I’m so glad that is much better!

I remember that one missionary couple lost their young child to meningitis and nearly lost their other daughter in one day when I was young. (Jane Philpott, the current minister of health in Canada ) Working in the hospital in Galmi 2 years ago was stunning to me to see so many children suffer and die (

Regarding poverty:

I like Proverbs 30:7-9 as a perspective on poverty and riches.
“Two things I ask of you, Lord;
do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.

(Jay Johnson) #39

No one understands this better than the subsistence farmer. Yet, long before corporate farms and supermarkets, Deuteronomy warned the people of Israel that when they grew fat and prosperous, they would forget the Lord their God. Some things never change.

(Randy) #40

I want to add that by no means is my quote reason to say that we should avoid helping the poor. I am so glad that mortality has improved. I think it is God’s plan to help the poor as in 1 John. Thanks.