Had it been one other sperm cell that fertilized the egg at the time of my conception, I would not be writing this.

Was it a second? A split second? Less than even that? Would who I am have depended on the egg as well? Had it been another egg and the same sperm cell, would I exist?

Those are questions that possibly have no answer. Yet what the odds that if another sperm cell had broken that barrier, in a, shall we say, desperate attempt to fertilize the egg, would I have another name, another body, different hair and eye color? What truly makes us, us?

Why so many sperm cells in the first place? It would seem rather inefficient to produce so much sperm to make that frenzied dash to the Fallopian tube on the chemical hunt for a waiting egg. Of course, we (should) know that not all sperm are for fertilizing: many are made for combat, seeking battle against foreign sperm to prevent them from reaching the prized egg at all. Our very existence begins as a mad dash, in competition with others even in the womb.

For the millions of sperm that are specifically for fertilization: what of the ones that never make it there? The sperm cells that take a wrong turn or become trapped somehow, unsuccessfully using their tails to free themselves only to die? Life and death in the womb well before there is the potential for life.

We are told that life begins at conception; that the Supreme Being has fashioned us at the moment of the unification of healthy sperm and egg to begin the wondrous process of simple cell division, replication, and the repetition of such until a more complex structure emerges. True, the zygote of a pig, a dog, a fish, a chicken and a human appears strikingly similar, but we are human! We are made in the divine image! This is us, you and I, precious in the sight of God and all those who know the Holy Spirit is present at the moment of conception, fertilization, cell splitting and differentiation.

And yet, the bothersome question lingers: if I was meant to be, why so many other spermatic brethren? What of all those other potentialities for human life? Why cannot it not be just one single sperm that is made to fertilize an egg, with perhaps a coterie of bigger brothers who will fight off sperm from another man? What is the ultimate purpose of such a setup?

The Catholic Church forbids contraception on the grounds that we are commanded to be fruitful and multiply, and that rubbers and the Pill prevent the potentiality of life. Yet I have never heard of the argument that our reproductive systems are rather unintelligently designed when we see this vast waste of sperm. Why not one single sperm, or perhaps just tens or dozens owing to the treacherous nature of navigation (in the dark!) to an egg? But then again, why make it so difficult to begin with? Why is it not an assured thing? Of course, we surmise that human males produce such huge quantities of sperm for precisely the reason of dealing with a stacked deck: swim in the dark, find the chemical scent, fertilize that egg all while avoiding getting trapped, going to the wrong Fallopian tube or other natural dangers. (Too bad Freud wasn't also a gynecologist.) For what purpose is this dastardly game? Either it's evolution's way of beating the odds or designed with malice by a creator who tells us we're special and resemble him but makes things like conceiving so difficult. A test! We're being tested before we're even beings.

It is pure chance that I exist. It is not ordained or foreseen. If otherwise, then all the potential other people that could have resulted are forever lost, and what theological trickery is required to let God off the hook for this one? One can imagine the papal bull issued to explain it away as a manifestation of mysterious, divine will. But because my existence is pure chance—that evil concept for so many clerics who seek determinism at all costs—let me comfort them somewhat and say that there is not a multiplicity of me's existing in some parallel world because the element of chance suggests that it was another sperm cell that fertilized my mother's egg. I am a unique individual, whose very being is never to be repeated. Ever. So in this respect, maybe every sperm really is sacred owing to the fact that so many others are wasted whether or not a contraceptive device is present.

Religious fundamentalists often rail against atheists for promoting a world view that is devoid of hope, but our existence is not a guarantee at all, no matter how many religious niceties we pile on. For an atheist, chance is part of the miracle of life but nothing more. For the devout, chance is removed from the equation because it's too unsettling, so God must be the author of it all. God directed one sperm cell among millions to fertilize one egg, discarding all those other potentialities, one of which might have been the doctor who cured cancer. God guided one sperm to fertilize the egg that resulted in a mass murderer, or someone who lacks any empathy for his fellow man so he may cause havoc and destruction for the sole purpose of teaching mankind...what? Calvinism is wrong because we are not determined to be. Nihilists are wrong because there has never been poetry or philosophy or a culture of life stemming from fatalism. We have been trapped between the twin poles of this dilemma for too long: who goes to heaven or why bother existing at all? With both, our worst nightmares have been realized.

We might be the products of chance, but as thinking animals, we have the capacity to mold the mysterious nature of our existence for a brief amount of time. But even that is no guarantee, especially if you were born poor with no opportunity of economic escape or born into a household of violence and anger with no prospect of change for the future. Even for those of us born into favorable circumstances, chance is merely part of our makeup: before conception our existence is a gamble. The cell division that leads to correct differentiation is a gamble that this millions of years-old process will work without interruption or mutation. However, given the odds of how we turn out (fully formed, everything functioning), it appears less likely than some benevolent supernatural being is behind it all and more just the luck of the draw. Evolution has molded our program, so the speak, but chance is there to muck it up.