The Seed of the Woman is a book by Canadian gap creationist and physiologist Arthur Custance which was recommended to me when I was discussing about the historical Adam with some more theologically traditional-minded people. The question I was thinking is how traditionalists think the sinful nature from original sin is inherited from Adam and Eve to their descendants, given what we know about biology. The whole book is online here, but the relevant chapter is chapter 18. Regardless of the merit of his ideas, I don’t think I’ve come across anyone who wrote with so much detail on a theory of how original sin is propagated.
Custance’s proposal is basically that original is only passed through the male sperm. As part of his argument, he goes into a detailed explanation of reproduction. I don’t have any background at all in this area so I don’t fully understand what he’s saying, but the basis of his argument is the claim that in contrast to male sperm, the female ovum is in a sense “immortal”:
When any attempt is made artificially to promote self-replication and further development of a single spermatozoon, the results are negative. The sperm are not viable for more than a few days unless fused with the ovum. But when the female ovum is treated suitably (at least in the animal world below man), it may develop into a mature organism. It is capable, therefore, of replicating itself indefinitely, even in the absence of fusion with a spermatozoon. When this is observed in nature it is referred to as parthenogenesis, meaning essentially virgin conception leading to virgin birth. The fact of parthenogenesis is clearly established for the female seed: (195) the same cannot be said to have been observed for the male seed.
The ovum is, in fact, a unicellular organism. And by virtue of its ability to replicate itself indefinitely under appropriate conditions, it must be assumed to have retained the same kind of physical immortality which other unicellular organisms (like amoeba or paramecia, for example) still enjoy. By contrast, although the individual spermatozoon has all the appearance of a highly active and extremely complex unicellular organism, it does not have the power to replicate itself, and therefore does not enjoy a like physical immortality. It does not behave like a unicellular organism.
It is therefore clear that these germ cells constitute a very slender thread in the continuity of immortality, for the initial cell (the fertilized ovum) retains its own identity for between two and five doublings (depending upon the species) before differentiated cells begin to appear which can no longer be considered as part of the original germ plasm. These few pure germ cells will continue to replicate themselves in isolation, though at a much slower rate, but for a short interval of time the stream of immortality is entrusted to a tiny handful of cells.
Again, I would modify this statement slightly by noting that it is really the sex cells in the female line that are “the only physically immortal things.” The statement does, however, show how widely it is recognized that at the very root of our individual existence there is an immortal constituent, the seed of the woman.
Thus, when Adam and Eve sinned, Adam’s sperm (but not Eve’s eggs) was corrupted in some way, such that mortality would be passed on to all of his offspring. However, this also explains why Jesus was without original sin: because he did not have a biological human father.
But if the seed of the woman could be activated without fertilization by the seed of man, it must be supposed that the result would be the emergence of an individual escaping the mortogenic factor which Adam bequeathed via his seed to all subsequent generations. Such an offspring would recover in his person the original physical immortality with which Adam was endowed at his creation.
Custance also makes an argument for the necessity of Lamarckism in the case of original sin (since he believes Adam and Eve were created originally immortal, acquiring sinfulness only afterwards, which was then transmitted to all their descendants).
Needless to say, this is a very concordist proposal. But I am curious to see what is the opinion of people who are more informed about biology and human reproduction think about this theory. Plausible speculation? Complete pseudoscience? Something in between? (@jongarvey, I noticed you have quoted Custance before in your blog, though not this particular proposal. )
While I don’t have the knowledge to properly judge whether he’s presenting the science correctly, I am generally skeptical because 1) He doesn’t seem to talk about genetics and DNA - perhaps because this is a pretty old book from 1980, 2) Just because the ovum is “immortal” (in a sense) in isolation doesn’t automatically have any consequence for the immortality of a whole, developed human being, and 3) I’ve read many instances of creationists taking pieces of legitimate science and twisting it to support much more speculative or even straight out false conclusions, so I have to admit that I just don’t fully trust Custance on this matter.