The Science Of The Virgin Birth

Another long, boring post, folks; of interest only to the most devout and / masochistic of you.

I am always amused by folks who attempt to “prove” religious beliefs are just foolish superstitions, that none of the miracles of the Bible could have possibly happened.[1]

The big bugaboo seems to be the virgin birth, this more so than the resurrection or the miracles of the Exodus.[2]

It’s especially ironic that these folks criticize the Bible’s miracles while embracing the bizarre universe of quantum physics…

…which, when you do any reading on the topic, only seem to prove the existence of a world / universe / existence beyond this one where time & space as we understand them are meaningless terms.

But I digress…

Since it’s the Christmas season, let’s look into the biology of the virgin birth.[3]

The line and lineage of Jesus of Nazareth can be traced back in two genealogies found in the Gospels.

Don’t get too hung up on the genealogies: Paul was skeptical and dismissive of them in his letters.

It’s pretty safe to assume Jesus was indeed of the House of David, but hey, truth be told there musta been tens of thousands of people with the same or similar lineage.

It’s also pretty safe to assume David’s line went back through his father Jesse to his grandfather Obed to his great-grandparents Ruth and Boaz.[4]

Oddly enough, it’s this middle section of the lineage that seems best documented, while the beginnings and endings are less clear.  There are two well known genealogies of Christ, one in Luke, the other in Matthew, that are at odds with one another.  It’s been argued that Luke’s represents Jesus lineage through his earthly father, Joseph, while Matthew traces Him through Mary’s lineage, hence the mention by name of Rahab, Tamar, and Ruth with Bathsheba alluded to as “the wife of Uriah the Hittite”.[5]

David is of the tribe of Judah (who, by simply surviving longer than their brothers and cousins, end up as the last remnants of the Israelites; i.e., the Jews).  Judah is tracked back to Israel ne’ Jacob who is the son of Isaac who is the son of Abraham ne’ Abram.

Luke follows the line all the way back to Adam, but that’s problematic:  Genesis 4 has one genealogy. Genesis 5 has another.[6]

Matthew sidesteps this issue by starting Christ’s genealogy with Abraham.

But let us take a plain text reading of Genesis 5 (which is the basis of Luke’s genealogy).

There’s some awfully long lived people in that line with most of ‘em easily sailing past the 900+ year mark.[7]

By the time of Noah (who was the last of the extraordinarily long-lived generations), the average human life span was 120 years.

By King David’s era, it was a mere 70 years (though some lucky cusses made it to 80).

Further, not only are bearers of this particular set of genes extraordinarily long lived, they had other unusual biological traits.

Abraham, as age 99, is told he’s going to be a father.  This gets a big laugh out of Sarah, his wife:  She’s 90.

But God delivers as promised and Isaac is born.

So now we can add another biological anomaly to the mix:  After nearly a century of being barren, Sarah’s reproductive organs suddenly kicked into high gear and Abraham impregnated her.

And while there may indeed be a supernatural cause for it (see above re quantum physics), a plain text reading would also suggest there is something in this bloodline, this genetic combination that is markedly different from the rest of the human race.

Now, as pointed out elsewhere, God exists outside of time and space as we understand those terms.

God does not “make” things happen in the sense that humans make things (i.e., with a beginning, middle, and end).

Rather, for God, all of creation is a constant, never ending state of being.

He is constantly present with us at all times, only for Him that time is always Right Now.

He does not “intercede” as humans comprehend it; rather, He uses what to Him is always in a state of constantly occurring.

This suggested biological / genetic oddity of the house of David may have been part of that divine plan.

And it may have been perfectly natural.

For example, while reproduction for mammals, indeed for virtually all animal species on Earth, involves some form of sexual exchange of genetic information, parthenogenesis has been reported in insects, reptiles, and fish.

Cloning is a form of artificially induced parthenogenesis, in which the cloned creature has exactly the same genetic structure and information as the parent (although a distinct individual otherwise).

In parthenogenesis, the offspring is invariably female -- just like the mother.  In fact, the offspring is a perfect copy of the mother’s genetic make-up.

Parthenogenesis in mammals has not been known to occur in the wild, but it has been successfully induced in laboratory settings.

If parthenogenesis did occur among mammals in the wild, it might be hard to detect.

For one thing, it’s fairly rare; there’s no way to plan for it happening spontaneously.

For another, breeding stock animals might undergo parthenogenesis but, since they are part of a mixed sex population, it is assumed they have mated sexually:  The offspring might be recognized as looking identical to the mother, but lots of sexually produced offspring resemble their mothers to nearly identical degrees.

If parthenogenesis occurs in humans, it may happen after they begin interacting with males; in that case the parthenogenesis might be mistaken for a normal pregnancy.

Indeed, some women who claim to have been abstinent before their pregnancy may be telling the truth, but medical professionals are disinclined to believe them.

So that could explain the virgin birth of a female child, but what about a male?

There are a number of conditions, chimerism among them, in which a person may be phenotypically female (i.e., has a girl’s body) while carrying XY chromosomes (i.e., a boy’s genes).

While often infertile, human chimeras have been known to reproduce.  A female with an XY karyotype might possess fully function female organs.

But if such a female did experience parthenogenesis, her offspring might not wind up phenotypically female but fully male instead.

Wow!  Talk about your long shots!  Why the odds of such a thing happening, of a woman both being a chimera with XY chromosomes and experiencing parthenogenesis, would be nothing short of…

…miraculous.[8]

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[1]  Even if it means deliberately misreading and misunderstanding the text to do so.

[2]  Which, thank you James Cameron, seem to have been demonstrated as historically plausible if not proven outright.

[3]  Not the Immaculate Conception, that’s a Catholic thing pertaining to Mary’s birth, not Christ’s.

[4]  Since Ruth was a Moabite, not an Israelite, it’s unlikely David’s biographers would invent a fictitious Gentile in the woodpile to undermine his standing as the rightful king of Israel.  Further, David’s great-great grandmother was a hooker who betrayed the city of Jericho, while David’s son Solomon was the first child who lived following his adulterous union with Bathsheba.  Boy, Jesus really knew how to pick His ancestors, didn’t He?  (But y’know, that’s kinda the whole flipping point.)

[5]  These four are the infamous Bad Girls of the Bible, whose notorious stories set the stage of Mary’s miraculous (although implausible to contemporary witnesses) impregnation by the Holy Spirit.

[6]  To those believers eager to rush in and claim the Bible is whole and complete and contains no contradictions, lemme remind you that is not a claim the Bible makes of itself.  Several time in the Books of Kings and Chronicles it invites readers to check out other histories if they want more facts, and John famously ends his Gospel by writing that if everything Christ did had been recorded, the world couldn’t contain all the books.

[7]  It’s been argued that these lifespans are the result of a mathematical error not uncommon in many ancient documents, and that they should be divided by 10 to get a more accurate number.  Okay, fine:  96+ years is more plausible to us as a lifespan that 969 years (Methuselah).  But that knife cuts both ways, and if we reduce the ages they die by a factor of ten, then it means they were cranking out children when they were six or seven years old.  Either way we are talking about some biologically extraordinary people.

[8]  And you skeptics, you scoffers, you people who refuse to believe in the virgin birth but whole heartedly accept the idea that life evolved from inorganic materials here on Earth, remember the same rules apply.  If it only has to happen once for you, it only has to happen once for us.

Unwrapping Christmas Present

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