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 An Introduction to Evangelical Ethics

 Michael Hill

The Nature of Ethics

In ordinary everyday English the words ‘ethics’ and ‘morality’ and their cognates can be used interchangeably as synonyms. One could say ‘stealing is unethical’ or ‘stealing is immoral’. However when it comes to the formal study of ethics this is not the case. As a formal discipline, ethics is the study of morality. Ethics is a discipline where scholars give an account or explanation of moral experience. Not only do these scholars provide a theory explaining the nature of moral experience but they are also concerned to vindicate or justify their theories. As it happens moral experience can be viewed from different perspectives. So it is that we can have Buddhist, Jewish, and Islamic ethics as well as Christian ethics. Each of these religions will interpret and explain moral experience from within the framework of its understanding of life. Various Christian understandings of morality are also possible depending on whether or not the Bible or some other authority is taken as the basis for understanding God and the world he has created.

An Evangelical approach to ethics

A variety of ethical theories are found amongst evangelical scholars.1 These differences may not reflect different moral codes or moral values, but rather are generally due to the different ways these scholars understand the Bible. Individual scholars see different parts of the Bible as more particularly relevant to the study of ethics. John Murray, for example, bases his explanation of the moral life on the creation accounts.2 The norms or standards of the moral life are given by the directive decrees (ordinances) of God as he gives shape to the creation. Other scholars find the foundation for moral values in the Ten Commandments.3 Still others find the moral standards for the Christian life to be revealed in the Kingdom of God as promised and inaugurated by Jesus and made known in the Sermon on the Mount.4 This list of different approaches could be extended but these three examples are sufficient to raise a fundamental question. Given belief in the

Bible as the Word of God, how is one to proceed when developing an explanation or account of moral experience?

Perhaps the best place to start in answering this question is not to focus on the differences between various evangelical scholars but the things in common. Evangelicals believe that the Bible is the active and living Word of God. The Bible is God’s message to the world. The implication of this belief is that the whole of this message and not just sections of the message ought to be used to establish an account of morality. The force and meaning of the message is given through the integration of the parts. Ignoring certain parts and highlighting others can distort the message. Furthermore evangelical Christians believe that the climax and fulfilment of the Scriptures is found in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. The preaching of Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension and its meaning is called the ‘gospel’ or ‘evangel’. The events that the gospel recounts demonstrate that Christ is the Son of God and that through his death and resurrection God has established that Jesus Christ is both Lord and Saviour. Consequently Christ is able to offer forgiveness of sins and eternal life now and in the age to come. The gospel is good news.

The Flow of Salvation History5

Given an understanding of the Bible as a progressive revelation culminating in the life and death of Jesus Christ it follows that the rest of the Bible is to be interpreted in the light of the gospel. Such an understanding is consistent with the teaching of Jesus. Jesus said that he had come to bring to realisation that which was promised in the Law and the Prophets (Matt. 5:17). If one is to proceed in this holistic fashion then the moral insights gleaned from creation, the Ten Commandments, and the promised Kingdom, for example, will all find their proper place in a more comprehensive account of morality. A study of the Scriptures will show that there is a basic flow to the story of God’s activity in securing a people for himself. The creation accounts reveal God’s purposes for creation and the central role for humankind within those purposes. The creation accounts also reveal the unique nature of humankind. Humans are made in the image of God. The shape and significance of humans being made in the image of God will unfold as the account of salvation history advances.

The second stage of this progressive revelation reports the rebellion of humankind against God and his purposes. Seduced by the ability to choose humankind was unwilling to be God’s vice-regent and to keep his order in creation. As a consequence God gives humanity over to its fallen desires and the order of creation is disrupted. Creation was subjected to frustration (Rom. 8:20). Work became toil and humans suffer the disease and death consequent upon, and characteristic of, this disorder.

A new episode in the story of salvation begins in Genesis 12 with the promises made to Abram (later called Abraham). God promises to make Abraham’s seed into a great nation that would inherit the land of Canaan. Through this nation all the peoples of the earth would be blessed. Despite his childlessness Abraham believes God and he is accounted as having a right relationship with God (Gen. 15:6). At one level these promises are seen to be fulfilled in the time of David and Solomon. Under David’s leadership the nation of Israel finally occupies the whole of the land promised to them. Solomon, his son, builds the temple and through his God-given wisdom implements the law of God in the land. Gentiles, represented by the Queen of Sheba, come to Solomon to partake in the blessing that God had bestowed on Israel through him. Unable to resist the temptation to take foreign wives Solomon’s kingdom goes into decline. The subsequent history of the people of God reveals that the people and their kings are slaves to sin. The prophets project the realisation of God’s kingdom into the future and identify it with the coming of a faithful king after the heart of David.

With the coming of Jesus the time has come, the kingdom of God is at hand (Mark 1:15). The New Testament identifies Jesus not only as the Son of David but also as the Son of God. He is the Messiah (or the Christ), the one anointed to be King. Although the risen Christ has the power to externally constrain people to do his will the locus of his rule is found in the heart. Recognising his love and commitment to sinners which was displayed in the cross people are willing submit to his lordship. Obedience is motivated internally. Failure to obey is dealt with graciously through the mechanisms of repentance and forgiveness. While the victory of Jesus over sin and death through his own death and resurrection means his kingdom is established, the final completion and consummation await his return. There is a ‘now’ but ‘not yet’ tension in the New Testament that will find its resolution in the return of Christ.6

Our quick overview of the movement in the biblical material confirms that there is a schema or plan to God’s activity in history.7 The logical flow of this movement is from creation through the fall to Abraham and God’s promises of blessing (salvation). The realisation of God’s promises is foreshadowed in the Kingdom of Israel under David and Solomon. God is present with his people in the temple but access to him is only indirect – through the priests and High Priest. His rule is administered and enforced through his law. His people persist in rebellion and disobedience. The land and kingdom of Israel is but a shadow of what is to come. In Christ, God is present with his people and he rules them through the perfect law of love.

While the revelation of God and his purposes is progressive it does not involve a dispensational view of God’s activity.8 In the progressive revelation of Scripture salvation is always by grace through faith. The one true picture of God’s saving work is not divided into independent fragments but its development is gradually uncovered. Or, to change the analogy, the picture of God’s saving work is like a jigsaw puzzle. As more and more pieces are put in place the picture becomes clearer and more complete.

The Structure of Human Nature9

Human beings are given a number of goals. The first is to be fruitful and multiply. A second is to fill the earth and subdue it. In order to achieve this second goal humans are given dominion over every living thing. In relation to the purpose of subduing the earth God provides humanity with a suitable nature. In the course of our examination of ethics we will see that a doctrine of human nature or anthropology is central to ethics. Every ethic will be based on some understanding of human nature. The biblical writers use a variety of notions to describe human nature. Basically the biblical writers recognise that humanity may be described from two different but complementary aspects. Humankind has an outer and an inner nature. The outer nature is the body. The actions of the body can be observed. The inner nature is referred to in three basic ways. These three basic ways highlight various aspects of the inner being. The various aspects cannot be construed as parts. Things can be dissected into their parts but not into their various aspects.

The three basic aspects of the inner being are the soul, the spirit and the heart. The soul refers to the inner self. Humans are conscious of the self. The spirit designates the internal force that enlivens the soul and gives it direction. The heart identifies the integrated components of the mind, the will and the emotions. These components enable people to think, feel, and choose. The integrated activity of the heart formulates intentions and intentions lead to actions when opportunity presents itself. Thus while the inner being cannot be observed some clues as to its nature can be inferred from the actions of the body. Only God sees the true and comprehensive state of the inner being. The fact that the mind can be aware of creation and reflect upon it provides people with the capacity to understand God and his order and purposes for creation. The emotions or affections locate things of value and people become attached to them. The will provides the opportunity for people to choose to do the right or wrong thing. Human nature is appropriate to the goal of subduing the earth. Humans have the capacity to understand God’s commands and ways. They can attach themselves to the purposes of God and choose to obey him or they can set their affections on other things and rebel against him.

The shape of a person’s inner nature constitutes their character. Their character is established by what they think, what things they value or hold in affection, and what choices they make and intentions they formulate. In the end all these things will determine the actions they perform. Ways of thinking, feeling and choosing become settled or habituated. This habituated or settled nature is what is called one’s character. It is obvious that a person’s character will determine the way they relate to other people. For example, if they think that they are superior to everyone else they will treat other people accordingly. Or, if they think that everyone hates them and is out to hurt them then they will not trust anyone. A person’s character is shaped by their mind (thinking), values (affections), and will (choices). In the biblical way of thinking the heart determines character. Moreover it is clear that a person’s character determines the way he or she relates to others, especially to God. Because of humanity’s fallen nature people need a renewed heart if they are going to be able to love and obey God. This new heart comes by the power of the gospel.

The Shape of Biblical Ethics

None of the biblical writers were ethicists advancing a theory of morality. Nevertheless they were concerned about people living godly lives and they engaged in theological reflection about the nature of godly living. Paul, for example, relates four moral rules, and by implication all moral rules, to the commandment to love one’s neighbour (Rom. 13:8–10). James conjectures that whoever stumbles morally at one point is guilty of breaking all of God’s law (Jas 2:8–11). His reasoning is that it is the one God who issues the commands and in offending God at just one point one has fractured one’s relationship with God. Given this theological reflection about morality and the moral material in the Bible we have enough data to generate an ethical theory. We discover three levels of reality in the moral material in the Bible. The first level has to do with nature and purpose. The second has to do with personal relationships and the third has to do with community and social institutions and the structures it brings with it. We will examine these three levels one by one.

Nature and Purpose

The creation accounts stress that God created things according to their various kinds (Gen. 1:11, 12, 21, 24, 25). The indications are that these various kinds were ordered towards a purpose. For example, seed bearing plants were given to humans as food (Gen. 1:29). In like manner green plants were given to the animals for nourishment (Gen. 1:30). At creation God willed that things be structured in a certain way and in accordance with certain purposes.10 Because God is a God of love he has designed these natural kinds in such a way that they find their good in the purposes assigned to them. Consequently if we understand the nature of a thing and its purpose we can determine its good.

One school of ethical thought with a very long history has maintained that people can read off the nature and purpose of things from the created order. This approach to ethics is known as Natural Law. From a biblical perspective, the problem with the Natural Law approach is that it does not take account of the Fall. At the Fall people’s minds were darkened (Rom. 1:21) and God’s good order was violated and disordered (Rom. 8:20). Hence, we must conclude while the nature and purpose of the created order tells us what is good, fallen humans cannot see God’s order and purpose in creation without the revelation of his will contained in Scripture. The creation accounts, the Law of Moses, the prophets and the vision of the Kingdom of God in the teaching of Jesus and his apostles provide the data needed to come to an understanding of God’s order and its purposes. It is only as this data is unfolded throughout salvation history that we get a valid picture of God’s abiding will. At this level the moral command is to do good. The implementation of this command involves the mind that can know and understand God’s good order and the affections to bind one to that order.

Personal Relationships

At the fundamental level believers are to do good to all people as they have opportunity (e.g. Gal. 6:10). Another way of stating this obligation is found in the command to love one’s neighbour (Lev. 19:18; Matt. 22:39). Neighbours are people with whom one comes into contact and they include one’s enemies (Matt. 5:44). The logic of doing good and love overlap. Love, in the Bible, may be defined as an unconditional or gracious commitment to the good of others. It must be noted that love is other-person centred. The loving person treats others as he or she would treat himself or herself. The logic here is compatible with that found in the creation accounts. Humans are to treat others as one of the same kind. The logic of kinds is crucial in biblical ethics. The nature of love as other-person-centred suggests that the goal or purpose of love is not an end in itself. Paul makes the logic of love clear when he says to the believers in Rome that love was to be mutual (Rom. 12:10). The goal is mutual love relationships that reflect the nature of the Trinity. For humankind the good is found in sharing and participating in mutual love relationships. The idea of being loving in splendid isolation is nonsensical as is the idea that one can love without doing something to express that love.

Given the biblical understanding of human nature as having inner and outer aspects, three features of personal activity can be morally assessed. Firstly, the action or type of action itself can be assessed as morally right or wrong. For example, the acts of stealing and adultery are evaluated as morally wrong (Exod. 20:14–15).11 Secondly, the character of the agent doing the action can be morally evaluated. The Bible highlights lists of virtues such as kindness, gentleness, forbearance, humility and meekness.12 Finally a person’s reason or motive for acting can be morally appraised.13 We must be careful not to limit the domain of moral evaluation to mere behaviour. Jesus, in a section of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:21–32), specifically attacks those who limit moral assessment to the outer nature.14

As we noted earlier when we looked at personal relationships, the goal is mutual love relationships. God wills that his people should share in the same kind of joyous fellowship that he himself knows. Two details must not be neglected at this point. The first is that love is an activity of human persons. It requires the person to think about what is good in each situation and thus it engages the mind. It also requires the person to make a commitment to the good and as a consequence it involves the affections and the will. Furthermore, if love is to be effective and genuine it must be expressed through the activity of the body. The second point has to do with the notion of command. The idea of command can seem overbearing and constraining. Yet the fact that God has our good in mind dissolves these negative elements and the command becomes a gracious invitation to participate in the good that our Heavenly Father has prepared for us.

Community, Social Institutions and Structures

Personal relationships generate community or a network of personal relationships. These networks of personal relationships necessitate regulation and order. The Bible explicitly acknowledges the need for leaders or governors to keep good order in the Christian community or the wider society.15 The biblical writers implicitly recognise social institutions such as the family, government, synagogues etc. and the cluster of social structures that make up these institutions. These institutions embody patterns of relationships and roles.16 Just as we can ask the question what ought I to do?’ so we can ask the question ‘what social institutions and structures ought we to have?’17 Social institutions and structures can be morally evaluated in the same way that personal actions can.18 In both cases they can be evaluated in terms of what is good.

A Formal Theory

In the light of the inclusive nature of the biblical material that has been discussed we can now formulate a biblical ethic. Biblical morality can shift its focus from action to agent, that is, from outer nature to inner nature. Sometimes moral sections in the Bible offer injunctions that prescribe or proscribe actions. Other sections offer lists of virtues and vices that should shape the moral character of the agent. In the light of these factors an evangelical ethic (EE) may be formally stated in the following way.

EE = A type of action or trait of character is right if and only if it promotes (creates or maintains) mutual love relationships between (a) God and humans, and, (b) humans and humans.19

Perhaps it needs to be reiterated that love is based on the good lest it be thought that this formal statement ignores the level of nature and purpose. The statement as presented also appears to overlook the relationship between humans and creation – an important arena of ethical discussion. However, since God upholds the creation by the power of his word and creation provides the context of human relationships with God, the relationship of humans to creation may be seen as an aspect of the relationship between God and humans. It is also important at this point to note that the expression of love towards God and towards other humans is different in kind. The expression of love towards humans requires the doing of good. Love towards God cannot be expressed in this way for God is complete in himself. Humans can only please God through their obedience to his will; a will that requires that people do good to others.

Given a general knowledge of the content of the Bible, and an understanding of mutual love relationships as spelt out earlier, this theory now provides us with a general picture or vision of the moral life. The theory gives us a sense of the general direction in which we ought to be heading. This sense can give us rough moral guidance and set the parameters of our moral deliberations. More detailed guidance will require a comprehensive study of the relevant biblical material.

Moral Choices

Moral choices are matters of the heart. Moral choices, like so many other types of choices, involve the mind, the affections and the will. An understanding of the context and issues is followed by reflection or deliberation and a decision is made by the will. For the evangelical Christian knowledge of the vision of reality as presented in the Bible will provide the interpretation or understanding of the situation and its context. The affections, guided by the notion of what is good, will locate and attach the Christian to the right values.20 The will formulates intentions and commits one to the course of action that will secure what is right, good and pleasing to God. Some scholars see this process of choice as a three-stage procedure where each stage follows the other in sequence. However, given the integrated nature of the heart it is often impossible to separate the moment when we understand the facts from the moment we evaluate them. On the other hand many decisions are made after long reflection. Whether decisions are made instantaneously or after prolonged deliberation they are all expressions of the mind (cognition), the affections (values) and the will.

Moral Understanding – Two Examples

Because some aspects of reality are dealt with in some detail in the Bible and some aspects of reality are not mentioned at all two methods of approach to the cognitive aspects of moral reflection or deliberation will be necessary. In the first case the biblical material can be directly applied and will be determinative. In the second case since there is no directly relevant biblical material inferences will have to be made from what biblical material is available. Two examples will help illustrate the different approaches.

Sex and Marriage

There is a great deal of information in the Bible in relation to sex and marriage. To understand it properly the data must be examined within its place in salvation history. Space does not allow a detailed examination of all the material. I shall simply summarise an examination undertaken elsewhere.21 The ideal of marriage is introduced in the creation accounts (Gen. 2:24). This standard is re-affirmed by both Jesus (Matt. 19:4–6) and Saint Paul (1 Cor. 6:16). The pattern established in Eden is the norm confirmed when the kingdom is at hand in the person and work of Jesus. The material on sex and marriage introduced at the fall and found in the Law of Moses is not determinative. The practices of polygamy and divorce were tolerated in ancient Israel and regulated by the law ‘in such a way to soften or eliminate their worst effects’.22 The people of Israel were slaves to sin, as Paul would say, and their sinful actions did not provide a model of morality. A thorough examination of the pertinent texts discloses that sex and marriage are intertwined in such a way that they cannot be considered in isolation from each other.

The Scriptures reveal that there are two aspects to marriage and these correspond to the two aspects of human nature. The first aspect corresponds to the inner nature of humanity. Ironically, the Bible confirms the popular notion that marriage is a thing of the heart. In regard to the inner nature marriage is basically a covenant or agreement between a man and a woman based on mutual love. Love is the unqualified commitment of one person to the good of another through every circumstance of life. The purpose and goal of this type of personal relationship is a unique form of unity. As such it provides the basis of a new social unit into which it is appropriate for children to be born and nurtured. The marriage relationship is to bear all the marks and virtues of a mutual love relationship. Breaks in commitment are to be healed through repentance and forgiveness.

The second aspect of marriage incorporates the outer being. The commitment of the inner being finds a unique expression in the bodily act of love. The nature of human sexuality is such that the goal and purpose of sexual intercourse is mutual indwelling and unity. Sexual intercourse is primarily an activity by which one person gives themselves as a whole person to another person through the body within the framework of covenantal commitment. It is an act that should incorporate and symbolise the giving of the self and the reception and acceptance of the other. Secondly, sexual intercourse may be an act of procreation. The social unit arising out of the unitive nature of sexual intercourse is the appropriate context for the nurturing of children. Personal and relational beings ought to be nurtured in the framework of the personal relationship of marriage.

The nature of sexual activity is such that marriage is the only truly appropriate framework for sexual activity. In locating the biblical ideal in relation to sex and marriage we have located an ideal that will act as a standard by which we can evaluate the morality of various sexual activities. In the light of this ideal it is not surprising that the biblical writers consistently condemn fornication (sex between unmarried people), adultery, rape, and homosexual acts. Moral choices, made by those who are new creations in Christ, ought to be made according to the standards contained within this ideal.

Abortion

Abortion is an ancient practice, designed to meet the problem of unwanted pregnancies. The offspring of sexual union is removed from the life-support of the womb before it is fully developed. The biblical writers do not explicitly address the issue of abortion. Abortion was practised in the ancient world and the Jewish people undoubtedly knew about it. The reason why no biblical writer comments on the practice is unknown. Some scholars argue that abortion was so abhorrent to the Jewish mind that no comment was necessary. Others interpret the silence to mean that the practice was widely accepted and was not considered a moral problem. But silence is no argument. We will have to consider the overall perspective of the Scriptures and draw out any legitimate implications for this topic.23

Two questions are central to this issue. What kind of thing is the conceptus? What attitude should the parents have towards the conceptus?

Our biblical approach to ethics operates in a straightforward way and is in accordance with common sense. A full and explicit definition of human nature is not required. The conceptus is an entity that issued forth from other human beings and will, if the circumstances are conducive, develop into a full human being. It is human in kind.24 The issue of properties and capacities is irrelevant. The conceptus is a being of a certain kind and acquires the value given to that kind. The nature and the purpose of the fertilised ovum confer on it the status of a human being and an emerging person. The Christian response to the establishment of this new entity is to be one of love. Love will want to see the entity flourish and accomplish its purpose. To this end love will want to welcome and nurture the emerging person and surround it with the opportunities that will encourage it to engage in mutual love relationships. The hope will be that through this community of mutual love the emerging person might come to know the forgiveness of God in Christ and share in the blessings of his Kingdom.


 

[1] For a brief outline of the various positions see O.R. Barclay, ‘The Theology of Social Ethics: A Survey of Current Positions’, Evangelical Quarterly, 62:1 (1990) 63–86. Unfortunately Barclay’s review of evangelical approaches to ethics does not include the approach known as Divine Command. This is the view that actions are right because God commands them and wrong because God forbids them. The approach is open to criticism because it seems to make God’s will primary and therefore arbitrary. For a sophisticated defence of the Divine command approach see R. Mouw, The God Who Commands, Notre Dame, Univeristy of Notre Dame Press, 1990.

[2] John Murray, Principles of Conduct, London: Tyndale Press, 1957.

[3] For example, Klaus Bockmuehl, The Christian Way of Living: An Ethics of the Ten Commandments, Vancouver: Regent College Bookstore, 1993.

[4] For example, George Eldon Ladd, The Presence of the Future, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974, 278–304.  

[5] The major concern in the history of God’s saving work is how he saves a people for himself. It is revealed that salvation is by grace through faith. Forgiveness comes through Christ’s atoning death. Participating in Christ death, by faith, believers also participate in his resurrection. They are raised to new life in Christ and now live to serve and please God. The concerns of this paper focus on the moral and ethical dimension of the new life in Christ and ignore much of the soteriological material. For a broader study of the flow of salvation history see G. Goldsworthy, Gospel and Kingdom, Carlisle: Paternoster, 1994.  

[6] This movement or flow towards the last thing (the eschaton), the return of Christ is called eschatology.

[7] Graeme Goldsworthy op. cit., detects six basic stages in the revelation of God’s kingdom. These are: the Kingdom Pattern Established (Eden), The Fall, The Kingdom Promised (Abraham), The Kingdom Pattern Foreshadowed (David and Solomon), The Kingdom at Hand (Jesus), and The Kingdom consummated (the Return of Jesus).  

[8] Dispensational views of God’s revealing activity divide salvation history into segments where God acts differently in each of the segments. For example, there might be a dispensation of law and then a dispensation of grace.

[9] For those interested in a more detailed analysis of biblical anthropology see the following. H.W. Wolff, Anthropology of the Old Testament, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974; J.W. Cooper, Body, Soul and Life Eternal, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989.  

[10] For a fuller discussion of this order see Oliver O’Donovan, Resurrection and Moral Order: an Outline for Evangelical Ethics, Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1986, 31–52.  

[11] Some theories have limited themselves to explaining morality in terms of actions. These theories have been called the ethics of duty (or obligation). The basic types of approach to the ethic of duty are deontological, teleological and consequentialist. See M. Hill, The How and Why of Love: An introduction to Evangelical Ethics, Kingsford: Matthias Media, 2002, 21–40.

[12] Theories that explain morality solely in terms of the agent’s character have been called the ethics of virtue. See Hill, op. cit.

[13] Here it must be noted that people can do the wrong thing for the right reason and the right thing for the wrong reason. It is not all that uncommon for people who have a commitment to do good to act in a morally inappropriate way due to an ignorance of what is good.

[14] The Bible contains rules proscribing and prohibiting certain actions as well as lists of virtues and vices. In philosophical terms the Bible amalgamates the ethics of duty to the ethics of virtue.  

[15] For example, Deut. 1:9–18; 16:18–20, Rom. 13:1–7, 1 Tim. 3.

[16] For example, the family is normally constituted by a father, mother, children, and other relatives.

[17] These two questions correspond to the domains of personal and social ethics.

[18] The major social institutions have to do with family, government, judiciary, education, religion and economics.

[19] Philosophically speaking this theory combines ethics of duty with ethics of virtue. The ethics of duty (that is, of actions) seems to be primary in the sense that the virtues of agents are only known through the behaviour and actions. The ethic of duty is teleological and not deontological or consequential.  

[20] The affections have a major role in determining our attitude to things.  

[21] See Hill, op. cit. 139–54.

[22] See C.J.H. Wright, Living as the People of God: the Relevance of Old Testament Ethics, Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1983, 175–76.  

[23] For a fuller discussion of this topic see Hill, op. cit. 207–28.

[24] The scientific evidence is helpful at this point. From the moment the sperm penetrates the membrane surrounding the ovum changes occur. The membrane alters so that other sperm will not be able to break through. The ovum becomes a functional whole teleologically orientated towards the development of the human foetus that will grow into a full human being.