How Would You Answer the Question? Can a Virgin Give Birth?
Today on Slate.com, a wonderful online magazine in line with Time or Newsweek but with an edge, the “Explainer” section dealt with the question: “Can a Virgin Give Birth?” This was also the article’s title. Ultimately, in answer to the question, the explainer concluded by saying “Yes—but it is very, very, very, very unlikely.”
How did the explainer justify his answer?
Notably, the explainer did not refer to any holy texts to justify his view that yes a virgin birth could possibly happen.
Rather, the explainer’s answer was justified by reference to science, to people who are credentialed and recognized authorities and practitioners of science—namely, the explainer cited Jose Cibelli of Michigan State University, George Daley and Willy Lensch of Children’s Hospital Boston, Shoukhrat Mitalipov of the Oregon Stem Cell Center, and Kent Vrana of Pennsylvania State University.
These are two distinct ways of justifying one’s view that a virgin birth is possible.
Because the explainer gets to the same conclusion as the Christian, but gets there by referring to scientific arguments and not the Holy Bible, some Christians might be inclined to conflate scriptural justifications with scientific justifications. That is to say, some Christians might make the claim, as did Pastor Comfort on ABC, that “I believe God’s existence can be proven absolutely, scientifically, without even mentioning faith.” Or they may write a book entitled: Evidence that Demands a Verdict. In conflating scriptural justifications with scientific justifications, these men of faith are suggesting that faith in Jesus Christ and his virgin birth are matters amenable to science, they are presented as hypotheses that can be empirically tested and validated. Thus, we get a situation where some people believe that the empirical evidence adds up to Christ just as plainly as the evidence adds up to the force of gravity.
But tell me, who made scientific authority the arbiter of truth? When was it that scientific authority was able to explain God? When was it that scientific justification for a virgin birth became more significant to us than a scriptural justification?
Toward these very types of questions, John D. Caputo has written a small and illuminating set of essays on the relationship between philosophy and theology in a book entitled, Philosophy and Theology. Caputo says that sometime during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as the modern Enlightenment project started to take hold, “the relationship between faith and reason was reversed” (22). He artfully puts it like this:
So, it has not always been the case that Evidence demanded a verdict. And it has not always been the case that a pastor could or would claim to be able to “prove absolutely” and “scientifically” that God is real. And it has not always been the case that the virgin birth of Jesus Christ could or would be justified by reference to the authority of science. This is only a rather recent possibility, as in the past few hundred years since the rise of the Enlightenment faith in Reason and science as the arbiter of truth. Five hundred years ago, to justify the virgin birth of Jesus Christ by reference to science would have made no sense to anyone.