Squinting At Sperm

In the 17th century, Nicolaas Hartsoeker, after squinting though his microscope at ejaculate, became so convinced that each sperm was actually a little man (homunculus), he produced detailed drawings as shown on the right.

When his imaginative drawings were brought into question by those suggesting that such a notion leads to an infinite regress as each little man himself must possess sperm that also held other smaller little men ad infinitum, bible believers defended the drawings by invoking scripture. The sin nature was able to pass from Adam to all humans since all humans once swung in the testes of Adam.

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. —Romans 5:12-14

Incredibly, scientists today have rejected the theory of Mr. Hoarsoeker. Scientist now claim that sperm do not at all resemble little men. But the track record of biblical insight into natural phenomena has suffered very few setbacks as fundamentalist will attest. It was simply a misunderstanding or misapplication of scripture they will inform you. They’ll get it right next time.

While squinting credulously at microcosms has fallen out of fashion, doing so at a macrocosmic level remains a valuable method of doing theistic science as clear from Romans 1:20.

For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse [and are therefore deemed worthy of eternal torture by a loving god].

Look at the stars! Look at preying mantises eating their mates. Look at earnestly copulating macaques. Can you not see Jehovah, the same god who revealed his “backside” to Moses (Exodus 33)? We can infer, merely from looking at the world around us, that there is a big guy with human emotions such as wrath and jealousy out there, that “sin” exists, that we are guilty of sin, and that to continue in sin will eternally damn us…can we not? You can’t? You’re “without excuse”. Squint harder. The big guy, accompanied with the complex biblical dogmas of sin and redemption, is bound to eventually appear as clearly and indisputably real to you as did the little men to Mr. Hoarsoeker.

Note: The author is not responsible for any subsequent visual or cognitive myopia.


12 thoughts on “Squinting At Sperm

  1. Mike Antonelli says:

    Enjoyed this one Phil !!

    Speaking of peering into small things . . . scientists some years ago predicted with conviction we were at the end of the curve in making electronic circuits smaller.

    Then, whammmo, someone came up with ‘nano technology’ and how to develo and employ it in manufacturing and on we will go.

    btw: Nano is defined as dealing with things essentially at the atomic or molecular level. It is also one billionth of a second in time. A nanometer is also one billionth of a meter.

  2. Paul Wallace says:

    Nice post, Phil. It’s not every day that you get to use the word _homunculus_. Also it was a delight to me when, on the right sidebar of my blog, the title _Squinting At Sperm_ appeared. That’s a link that gets followed every time.

    I think that one takes from nature an enlarged version of what one brings to it. If you’re an atheist, you, like Stephen Weinberg, may come away with an increased sense of pointlessness. If you’re a Christian, you, like C.S. Lewis, may come away with a scarily enlarged God:

    “It is a profound mistake to imagine that Christianity ever intended to dissipate the bewilderment and even the terror, the sense of our own nothingness, that comes upon us when we think about the nature of things. It comes to intensify them. Without such sensations there is no religion. Many a man, brought up in the glib profession of some shallow form of Christianity, who comes through reading Astronomy to realize for the first time how majestically indifferent most reality is to man, and who perhaps abandons his religion on that account, may at that moment be having his first genuinely religious experience.” (Lewis, from _Miracles_)

    Hope you’re well.


    • Well, Paul, I do have to agree with you when you say “Without such sensations [various emotions] there is no religion”. I just don’t think emotions are a very good foundation for truth.

      And geocentrism would have been a much stronger indicator of a god than the universe we actually find ourselves in. That is why christians long resisted new science that seemed to remove us from this presumed center of things.

      Cheers, Phil

      • Paul Wallace says:

        Not that I want to redo our discussion of last week, but when you see “sensations” you read “emotions.” When I see “sensations” I read “profound spiritual insight.” My earliest religious experience came from the contemplation of the geologic time scale — not from anything explicitly religious — at the age of nine or ten. To say it made me feel things is true, but it did something else too. It made me know things.



        • Paul, you said “It [geological time scale] made me know things.

          1. What things did it make you know?
          2. What is the mechanism behind this type of knowing?
          3. When you say “know”, what does that mean?

          Is this perhaps the same type of knowing apparent when a boy says of a girl he has never spoken to, “I just know she is my soulmate!”? It seems to me the type of knowing you are invoking is an emotional confidence devoid of evidence.

          4. How might we test such knowledge for predictive power?
          5. How might we falsify this type of knowledge?
          6. How might we distinguish this type of knowledge from the “knowledge” someone has that they are Napoleon?

  3. Paul Wallace says:

    1. It made me know that, to use the only words that I can think of, there is an abyss within me that is really big and really scary. But it was also exhilirating — that and fear were the emotions that came along with it.

    2. Not sure I understand what you mean here — mechanism?

    3. Only that it carried with it a clear sense of baing knowledge. It was almost palpable. The only thing I can compare it to is when you try and try to figure something out — like a math problem — and all of a sudden the solution dawns on you in one glorious moment. You just know you have solved something. Like pieces snapping together tightly.

    4. Not sure, other than to predict that others have had the same insight. The same sense of darkness, void, and of having figured something out.

    5. I’m thinking it’s not falsifiable. I know what that means: It’s not scientific knowledge. And I’m good with that.

    6. I’m not sure you can, except, as I said before, many other people have had the same experience, and it is the kind of experience that changes lives. If thousands of people throughout history and throughout the world had had the idea that they were Napoleon and if entire religions were based upon this fact, I may give the Napoleons of the world a bit more of my attention.

    Can you distinguish between this knowledge of mine, about which I have become more and more convinced over my lifetime, from the knowledge of the Napoleons? Does this really put me on their level in your eyes? If so, you’re dealing with one hell of a wacko and you better not ask me any more questions!

    • Paul Wallace says:

      Phil wrote,

      Is this perhaps the same type of knowing apparent when a boy says of a girl he has never spoken to, “I just know she is my soulmate!”?

      I don’t know. That has never happened to me.


    • 1. But you did not come to know anything outside yourself?
      2. What was the causal mechanism that brought you to knowledge?
      3. As long as this is internal knowledge (#1), I can’t argue with you.
      4. It sounds as if the predictive power of this means of knowledge is not important to you. It there any better means of testing the veracity of a claim beyond predictive power?
      5. If it falls outside science, do you think we ought to be calling it “knowledge”?
      6. Does the fact that a high percentage of Japanese claim they have seen ghosts make ghosts any more real? Or does the fact speak more to the fallibility and inherent weaknesses of the mind?

      I see nothing that distinguishes your “knowledge” from an unsubstantiated emotion of confidence.

      I’m suggesting that genuine knowledge is acquired and substantiated through the scientific method, and those who deviate from this method, are actually simply tagging their emotion of confidence “knowledge”.

  4. Paul Wallace says:

    Hey Phil.

    1. Not sure, except that, after reading a lot — from the Bible to Anne Lamott to Nicholas of Cusa — and talking a lot — with friends, family, mentors — I have come to believe that everyone has such a place within them. So I think it’s about us as human beings, not just me.

    2. I don’t know.

    3. Skip. It was internal. And I should say that this particular piece of knowledge was not shown me once and then gone. It has returned, only deeper and more significantly, throughout my life. Last time was in February 2006.

    4,5. You and this predictive power thing! Goodness! You know, I don’t know about this. I’m having a hard time (again) seeing how predictive power applies. Not that it doesn’t necessarily, but I’m having a hard time coming up with anything more than I have already said.

    This is not, I repeat NOT scientific knowledge. And yes, I’m okay with that. What I mean when I say it’s not scientific knowledge is that it is not directly demonstrable, it is not falsifiable and it may not be useful for making any predictions. Does that necessarily make it false? And yes, *I* think it should be called knowledge. In fact, compared to the scientific knowledge I have been exposed to — and added to — over the last 25 years, this knowledge was more palpable, more textured, more real. Scary-real.

    I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again. It has of course occurred to me, as it has occurred to many before me, that these episodes may have been so much sound and fury, signifying nothing. But I have to live according to the information I have on hand, the data set. And within my data set is the following: I have come to believe that these events are not due to pathology but are glimpses of reality. I say this in great seriousness. This conclusion has not come easily to me because I’m so skeptical. It has taken, as I said, many years of reading, praying, and talking to trusted mentors. Most folks I know who have had similar experiences accepted them much more quickly than I have. Most people aren’t so hard-headed about these things as I am!

    6. No, of course not. And yes, of course so. But that doesn’t mean that every single unfalsifiable claim in the world belongs in the trashcan. Not only that, but maybe my mind IS weak. I’m willing to accept that as a real possibility.

    Do you think my mind is weak?

    • Hey Paul,

      I think your mind is human. Your mind is certainly a great deal better than mine would have been had I remained in Evangelicalism. But, unsurprisingly, because we disagree, I think my mind is a bit stronger than yours on this point of epistemology.

      I have a difficult time clumping knowledge acquired through the scientific method with an unfalsifiable, untestable sensation of internal confidence. It removed semantic resolution from epistemic statements, and makes equivalent mind states that, in my opinion, are worlds apart.

      I also have a human mind that is prone to subjective errors, so I’m leaning much more on the more objective and reliable methods of science that will give my subjective experiences a more reliable foundation.


  5. Paul Wallace says:

    Good morning Phil (it’s 6:37 AM here),

    I get where you’re coming from. I admire your devotion to your hermeneutic. Although we disagree, I can only wish that more people took life as seriously as you do — and enjoyed life as much as you seem to. You are truly single minded — a true virtue, in my book. And although we disagree, I am glad that you got out of the evangelicalism of your youth. It sounds dreadful.



    • Thanks, Paul.

      Life is certainly at full-throttle here in Tokyo. And feel free to respond to certain other theists on FB who dismiss the big bang and might benefit from another theist setting them straight.

      Cheers, Phil

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