Sunday, 7 April 2013

The Virgin Birth "A biological impossibility"

Steve Jones is clearly needing to upset some fundamentalists to get some publicity.

According to his new book,
"Modern science, he says, shows that we cannot all be descended from a single couple, that the plagues which were supposedly supernatural punishments were probably contagious diseases, and that the virgin birth is a biological impossibility."
Reading from left to right, I guess my responses would be:

"we cannot all be descended from a single couple" - well, that's defined "Adam" and "Eve" in very specific ways - as the single original human sources of  Y-chromosomes and (I presume - it's not spelled out in the article) Mitochondrial DNA. Which is odd. Because I would define "Adam" and "Eve" as "the mythological actors in a mythological story about how the natural human tendency is to foul things up". Still, to each their own.

"that the plagues which were supposedly supernatural punishments were probably contagious diseases" - well, duh. You mean, like plagues?

"the virgin birth is a biological impossibility" - the thing is, I reckon St Luke knew that as well. You see, if the virgin birth were a biological possibility - if pregnant virgins were wandering the Middle East 2,000 years ago, perhaps forming "pregnant virgin" clubs, and organising virginally-conceived baby showers - I reckon this might have been mentioned in the Biblical record. There would have been no need for Joseph to work out how to put away Mary quietly, as virgin births were not a biological impossibility and no shame would be involved in him discovering his betrothed was with child. If virgins were going round left, right and centre getting pregnant, this would not have been news.

You can say what you like about the virgin birth. You can believe it happened; you can believe that in fact the Incarnation itself is not dependent upon it; you can believe it was all made up; you can believe it is the way that the Evangelists (well, two of them) stress the importance of Jesus' birth. But what we do all agree - atheists, liberals, fundamentalists, and all in between - is that the virgin birth is a biological impossibility. That's why it's a miracle.

These must be tough times for Steve Jones. There are sexier atheists on the block. And he's a snail specialist, not a cosmologist or particle physicist. And most of the other loud atheists are comedians, who at least have a certain charisma and are funny. But there is one line in the article that I thoroughly approve of.
"Jones said he was resigned to the idea that his latest book might stir controversy, but added: "I don't mind if people burn my books as long as they buy them first.""
Good lad! That's what it's all about.

[Late edit - if you're locked out of the paywall, I apologise. I'm guessing you get a couple of views before they try to charge you.]


  1. Not very bright, this Steve Jones. As you say, it isn't only modern science which knows that the virgin birth is a biological impossibility. As to us all being descended from a single couple, he obviously hasn't read the Book of Genesis. While the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) of living humans on the female line would (presumably) be Eve according to Genesis, the MRCA on the male line would be not Adam but Noah. Rather alarmingly for those of us who'd prefer not to take the Genesis account literally, this fits with most genetic studies according to which "Mitochondrial Eve" lived a long time before "Y-chromosomal Adam" (who should, of course, be called "Y-chromosomal Noah".)

    1. Curiously enough, asexual reproduction is possible in some types of snail.

      Perhaps that's why he considers himself an expert theologian.

  2. That's a good, and much-neglected, point. Thanks for that, oh Son (or Daughter - presumably Daughter, with that name) of Noah.


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