January 2, 2009

"Virgin conception would be more plausible if Mary was a man."

"Could testicular feminisation offer an explanation for the mystery of Jesus Christ's virgin birth, wonders Aarathi Prasad."

What are you wondering about?


George M. Spencer said...

From her bio:

"Dr Aarathi Prasad began her career researching cancer genetics at Imperial College London. She now works in science policy and communication and is writing a book about reproduction without men. She enjoys bi-curious conference social networking nerd sex. The Quest for Virgin Birth is on BBC Radio 4 at 8pm on New Year's Day."

Ron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ron said...

I'm wondering if the Internet has kept up its quota of pictures of women without clothing...I'd better go check, to save you all the chore!

Better that than read that article!

Trooper York said...

It is always heartening to read of the mocking of the most sacred tenants of the Christian faith during the holiday season.

And to view the smug condescending attitude of the academic classes who regard the denigration of the symbols of our faith as something amusing and quaint like drawing graffiti on the cargo crates worshipped by some Southern Pacific islanders.

I have a personal devotion to our Blessed Mother and find this beyond the scope of reasonable discourse

David said...

What am I wondering?

Why Althouse bothered to post this.

Unknown said...

What are you wondering about?

I'm wondering how sad John Travolta and Kelly Preston must be right now.

Methadras said...

Idiots and their idiocy are never parted.

Unknown said...

Methinks Dr Aarathi Prasad needs to broaden her reading material to include parthenogenesis.

Unknown said...

I'm certainly not wasting my time wondering how there could be a scientific explanation for the virgin birth. I mean, what the hell is the point? To assume it occurred through some freak but natural event seems a rather impractical course, since it sort of paints you into the corner of having to explain all of the other Jesus miracles similarly. Just dismiss it as a story Mary made up to keep from getting stoned by Joseph and be done with it.

TosaGuy said...

This clown and the English prof from an earlier post serve as prime anecdotal evidence of the rot and bloat in academia, where it seems intellectual rigor goes to die.

If this recession squeezes universities to dump clowns like these and return to teaching marketable skills and a true liberal arts education then we as a society will be much better off.

rhhardin said...

Virgin birth force exhibited in a modern setting.

Simon said...

This is a lot of huffing and puffing to explain something that really isn't that difficult. The idea that the Almighty is incapable of something that our own science is more than capable of producing is absurd. As Trooper noted, this is just a dressed-up screen by an atheist eager to pour scorn on Christian beliefs.

Synova said...

I'm certainly not wasting my time wondering how there could be a scientific explanation for the virgin birth.

No kidding.

The obvious "scientific" explanation is that Mary had sex.


Anonymous said...

+1 Trooper.

I honestly don't understand atheists. If you believe that something doesn't exist, and others do, what's the big deal about imposing your disbelief on others, or mocking their beliefs? What does it accomplish?

I have a relative who absolutely believes in the existence of flying saucers. I do not hold that belief.

My relative sees no need to accuse me of being an anti-saucerite and demanding that I abandon my belief that flying saucers do not exist.

And I have no compelling reason to demand that she abandon her belief in favor of my disbelief. I don't exhibit posters of ET in jars of urine when she comes over for dinner, don't mock and don't ridicule.

We are both secure enough in our separate beliefs/disbeliefs that neither one of us has need to convert the other.

Atheists are just plain weird. They remind me of 911 troofers. If you don't believe in God, then don't. But let it go at that.

KCFleming said...

OK, college profs and other evangelical atheists, we get.
You really really hate Christianity.

Swell. Now STFU.

JohnAnnArbor said...

Let's see them come up with a natural, scientific explanation for an Islamic miracle.

Wait--the academics like their heads connected to their bodies.

Trooper York said...

It's times like this or the dung covered Blessed Mother when I think that the Muslims have the right idea.

Enough is enough.

jimbino said...

There are two proper ways to phrase that in English, either "Virgin conception would be more plausible if Mary WERE a man" or "Virgin conception would be more plausible if Mary HAD BEEN a man," depending upon whether or not you felt Mary to be still among the living, as Jesus is supposed to be.

Any other construction is dead wrong and will confuse the reader and any automatic translation program. Such bad grammar is generally used only by folks who have never studied Greek, Latin, Russian, or any Germanic or Romance Language.

Unknown said...

The obvious "scientific" explanation is that Mary had sex.

Whilst remaining a virgin? Now that is a miracle! :-)

garage mahal said...

Cheer up Trooper. Have yourself some Fishbeer.

I can definitely relate to this guy.

rhhardin said...

None of any of the story ever made any sense to me, as to its motivation and symbolism.

That doesn't mean it isn't material for jokes.

``I don't care what the angel said, Mary, you're in trouble.''

That's a joke from back before abortion was legal.

Anyway since it makes no sense to me, it makes no sense to make it more or less plausible with hypotheticals.

rhhardin said...

An author/guest on Southwest Radio Church, probably in the 80s, said that UFOs were piloted by fallen angels attempting to get the attention of the media.

This was concluded, he said, by the process of logical elimination.

I thought that was great.

``So we see, the only remaining possibility is...''

Synova said...

As a "what if" question, the question "is it possible for some configuration of human to result in asexual reproduction" is interesting just for the fun of it. Could some sort of natural hermaphrodite self-conceive?

But acting like it's got something to do with Mary? It's always useful as an attention getter, but publicity isn't science.

Mary existed or she didn't.

Mary was the mother of Jesus or she wasn't.

Mary was a virgin or she wasn't.

If a person isn't going to accept a miraculous conception then there is no reason, logic, or rationality, behind anything other than the conclusion that she was a young girl who had sex and got pregnant and lied about it. NOT a virgin.

Accepting the virgin birth and then attempting to *explain* it, is moronic.

Synova said...

Because I don't recall anything in the Bible that suggests that anyone examined Mary the way Lady Diana had to see a doctor before her marriage to Charles.

Joseph, after all, didn't *believe* Mary and had to be convinced by an angel in a dream that she was telling the truth.

Geoff Matthews said...

Isn't it possible that the virgin birth was a story concocted after the fact? I mean, if you reject the divinity of Jesus, why even accept that Mary was pregnant before her marriage to Joseph? You're rejecting the whole narrative, so why grasp onto that?

Fr Martin Fox said...

The problem with claiming people made up stories like the Virgin Birth, or the Resurrection, is that these stories were told very shortly after the claimed events, rather nearby those people who would be in a position to say, "not so."

Why create needless difficulties for oneself, if you are trumping up a movement? Why claim Mary was a virgin mother? No one felt it necessary to claim David's mother was a virgin, or the Macabbees' mother was a virgin; even in Jesus' time, there were other claimants to be messiah that never claimed a virgin birth; so why insist your claimant was born in that way?

Isaiah 7:14, you say? Ah, well, it depends on whether you read it in Greek, or in Hebrew.

You think Joseph was eager to tell this story? Mary? Their family?

bill said...

Virgin birth? Tom Waits has a story: The question I get asked the most is ... a lot of people come up to me and say "Tom, is it possible for a woman to get pregnant without intercourse?" My answer is always the same, 'we'll have to go all the way back to the civil war....'

the rest of the story (audio)

William said...

In the Bible it is claimed that James and Jude (the obscure) were brothers of Jesus. Catholics like to claim that they were brothers in the brotherhood of man sense, but none of Jesus's other disciples were so described as brothers. It seems likely that Joseph and Mary had normal marital relations after the birth of Jesus. Mary was a virgin in the sense that Madonna was once a virgin....Also there is nothing in the Bible to indicate that Mary Magdalene was ever a prostitute. The Madonna-Whore divide is the way men perceive women. What we read into the Bible is not necessarily what is in the Bible.

PatCA said...

Thank you, Trooper and Pogo.

Ha, Ha, isn't Christianity stupid?

Ann Althouse said...

"What am I wondering? Why Althouse bothered to post this."

Because I found it a weird application of intellectual intensity with a bizarre headline.

Palladian said...

"Because I found it a weird application of intellectual intensity..."

I know, right? Didn't she have anything better to do?

"AARATHI PRASAD was born in 1975 and has a PhD in biology and worked in cancer genetics..."

Yeah, like that's a more important subject than pseudo-scientifically scrutinizing the Virgin Birth!

"...at Imperial College London before moving out of the lab and into the world of science policy and communication"

Ahh, so she was a failure at real science and now she's a professional bullshit artist and publicity hound. I'm thinking a duo act with Kathy Griffin.

Check out her picture. You don't get glamour shots like that in the world of cancer genetics!

a psychiatrist who learned from veterans said...

OK guys. Just remember SHE (not the Virgin Mary, Ann Althouse) of devious cruel neutrality fame started this and YOU are reading her blog. I kind of like what a Rabbi Zimmerman said: that the word 'virgin' in Hebrew meant a young woman. Beyond that however Catholic tradition has it that Mary had taken a vow to God of celibacy. The priestly vow of celibacy relates in a way to being like Mary who was called. Catholic understanding of Jewish betrothal at that time is that the two were in a sense married in such a declaration but the husband was to go out and build a house for them before taking her to live with him. Psychologically, some people who are prone to anger do, at a certain point of anger, have periods which they don't remember. It looks there was a looming conflict in the relationship of Mary and Joseph. Fill in the blank here. Beyond that, part of the Gospel story is that Jesus is of the line of David. That line comes through Joseph.

JohnSteele said...

I'm always amused by people who try to bring a secular, reason-based, scientific approach to the narratives in scripture -- but not to the text itself. Their efforts are a strange hybrid of modern rationality and inexplicable credulity.

For example, it seems that every Christmas I run across an account of what the Christmas star really was, be it supernova, comet, etc. But if we bring that kind of modern mindset to the narrative, we'd quickly conclude that the narrative is a late addition that was added to comply with standard tropes of the miraculous. We wouldn't labor to violate Occam's Razor and concoct strained explanations, regardless of how scientific the explanations might sound.

So, too, with explanations of the Virgin Birth. It was a standard Greek trope found mostly in the most Greek of the Gospels and largely absent from the other Gospels. Why would a modern mind pursue the issue any further than that?

John Steele

Fr Martin Fox said...


In the Bible it is claimed that James and Jude (the obscure) were brothers of Jesus. Catholics like to claim that they were brothers in the brotherhood of man sense..."

No, if you are going to dispute Catholic teaching, at least be accurate; we allow that they were likely kinsmen, and they may have been step-brothers--if Joseph had been older and brought children to his betrothal to Mary--but what we deny specifically is they were not full brothers, meaning born of Mary.

"...but none of Jesus's other disciples were so described as brothers"...

Which might only mean they weren't near-kinsmen.

But what is very clear from Scripture is that the term "brother" was used far more broadly than siblings born from the same set of parents--we use the term that way today--so why folks act as if this is so tendentious is itself tendentious.

A few other considerations, you may or may not be aware of:

> You will notice Stephen, the first Christian martyr, refers to his fellow Jews as "brothers" -- were they born from his same set of parents?

> This one you will have to do some homework to see this, but: if you compare the information provided in the Gospels about the women who came to the cross, and/or to the grave afterward, you will see a woman named "Mary" who is referred to as "sister" to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Now, tell me; do you think it's reasonable to take that to mean a set of parents named two siblings "Mary"? Or are they kinswomen, in the sense the Catholic Church means?

> Also, you will note that these brothers do not treat Jesus as the elder son, at any point. And when our Lord is concerned for his mother, he entrusts her to...John Zebedee, who no one has claimed was his sibling. Why not to James or Jude, or Joses or Simon (the others referred to as "brothers"), or to the unnamed "sisters"?

> Then there is Our Lady's response to the angel: "how can this be since I have no relations with a man?" Now, if, as you say, Mary anticipated having marital relations with Joseph, why in the world should she react as she does to the announcement that she will conceive? Didn't young, about-to-married-women in those times hope and expect to conceive? They do nowadays! But: her response makes perfect sense if she knew she wasn't planning to do the one thing she (apparently) knew you had to do to have a baby--"have relations with a man."

Now, your point illustrates one very good rationale for heaven to have conceived this plan, as Catholics (and Orthodox) suppose: that Mary would have Jesus, but no more children. It is that people would certainly snicker at the claim of Jesus's conception by the Holy Spirit. Especially if Mary and Joseph went on to have more children. But if they never did? It doesn't prove it, obviously, but it bolsters the claim. In my judgment, the same thing can be said for Mary being without original sin: someone who is impeccable in character is a lot harder to accuse of being a liar or loose in morals.

Finally--when Christians, Catholic or not--refer to the Virgin Birth, they mean Mary conceived without the help of a man. As far as I know, Madonna (the singer) hasn't reported any such phenomenon occurring to her.

Synova said...

Oh, I don't mind the Christmas star thing. Supernova or comet or a light with no physical reality and they all equally appear at the right time and signify the birth of Christ.

I don't mind the explanations of the plagues in Egypt that show how one natural event led to another because... Moses did predict them after all, and how could he have? He also told the Hebrews what to do to be saved, and how could he have known? How to part the Red Sea? If it was a natural occurrence it has never happened since and it was right on time.

Trying to explain how Mary was a virgin *but* that it wasn't God is different.

Trying to explain how Jesus was a woman and had some medical condition that allowed her to cry tears of blood is different.

Fr Martin Fox said...


"...Beyond that, part of the Gospel story is that Jesus is of the line of David. That line comes through Joseph."

Well, instead of psychoanalyzing the text or the people involved, you could just read what the text says: both Matthew and Luke make clear Joseph did not help conceive Jesus; and it also becomes clear that Joseph accepts Jesus as his own--i.e., he is adopted.

This is especially significant insofar as this is in Matthew, which begins with the genealogy, most people skip over, and thus fail to notice how it highlights others who were adopted into the family line, before Jesus himself.

Where in the New Testament do you find an insistence on blood connection as key to the Gospel? The point is to be grafted in by faith; so Jesus not being of Joseph's blood, to be heir to David, is not important; but his being human--the second Adam--clearly is.

Fr Martin Fox said...


You said before, "...but none of Jesus's other disciples were so described as brothers."

Actually, this is directly contradicted by Matthew 28, where our Lord said, "go tell my brothers" to meet him in Galilee (Matthew 28:10); in relation to Matthew 26, where he told the apostles he would rise, and go before them into Galilee, it would be pretty strange to insist 28:10 only means those suggested as younger siblings--it certainly means other disciples.

a psychiatrist who learned from veterans said...

Father, when I describe what happens to 'people prone to anger,' you mistakenly say that this is 'psychoanalysis.' That's an interesting and common dismissive flattery. 'Psychoanalysis' has nothing to do with it. That is merely what I have observed; it is descriptive. Like an Eskimo naming a type of snow is not being a crystallographer; he's just familiar with that structure. You may think Joseph adopting Jesus puts him in the line of David but I don't recall in the line of succession in the Gospel a point where 'Jebediah adopts Noshua.' So I regard your justification as thin. The larger point to me is the Gospels are much better used in the manner of Schweitzer's 'Quest for the Historical Jesus' which makes them something of a chess game and what may be "plain" may simply be, though it is not quite the right adjective, polemic. Your thought is 'to get people to know Jesus,' a worthy objective but sometimes certainty misleads.

Kev said...

Now, tell me; do you think it's reasonable to take that to mean a set of parents named two siblings "Mary"?

Probably not, but don't forget that George Foreman really did name all five of his sons George. (I love the quote in the Wikipedia entry where George the elder explains that he did this because he expected to sustain brain damage while boxing--which, I assume, means he feared he'd forget his sons' names if they were different.)

Anonymous said...

A note to Fr. Martin Fox: Thank you for your enlightening commentary.

Fr Martin Fox said...



Matthew 1 gives a genealogy, that clearly leads to Joseph, and then indicates a break:

"Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Of her was born Jesus who is called the Messiah" (1:17); compare with the rest of the genealogy, and similar language is used where the mother is mentioned: Tamar, whose children were a product of incest with father-in-law Judah; Rahab, the harlot who welcomed the spies of Joshua; Ruth, the Gentile woman who chose Israel over her own people; and Bathsheeba, who was taken by King David in an adulterous relationship; and then Mary.

Hard to understand what all these episodes have in common, except: they all anticipate Christ's message of seeking sinners or outsiders and including them.

What does this have to do with your claim of Joseph's parentage? Well, this: if you are going to try to cover up Joseph's parentage, this is a very odd way to do it; on the other hand, if you aren't trying to cover it up, this is also a very odd way to do it.

Moving on: 1:18 clearly asserts Joseph did not help conceive Jesus; and since he was "a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame," he decided to divorce her quietly. For him to divorce her, if he actually was Jesus' father, is anything but "righteous."

Now, what is my basis for saying Joseph adopted Jesus?

Note in v. 21, the angel of the Lord tells him: "you are to name him Jesus." Why is it important that Joseph do it? Jesus is not his son. The point is that Joseph is to accept him as if his son.

After this encounter with the angel, Matthew gives Joseph the highest praise you will find in Sacred Scripture (and you won't find it often) from heaven, to someone mortal: "When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him" -- and "he named him Jesus."

Moving on to chapter 2, in which we have the visit of the Magi. You will see, again, a reminder of Jesus' unique conception: "Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt" -- not, "took his family," or "took his wife and son." Matthew is reiterating Jesus's virginal conception. Matthew uses the exact same construction three times in this section.

Indeed, references to the claim of Jesus' virginal conception can be seen throughout all the Gospels, especially when his critics make the jibe, "we know where our father comes from" in John.

Now, it is true, you don't find the exact words, "Joseph adopted Jesus," but so what? What you do find is (a) reiteration of Jesus' virginal conception, and yet (b) Jesus is "Son of David" which -- as you say -- must come through Joseph and (c) Joseph treating Jesus as his own, after he receives the message from God.

Now look at Luke. Luke also makes clear--by filling in the story of Mary's encounter with the Angel Gabriel, which Matthew does not tell--that Jesus would be conceived by the Holy Spirit--but curiously omits any account about Joseph's reaction to all this, which Matthew did tell. (One wonders if Luke was aware of what had already been told elsewhere--see Luke 1:1: "Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us..."?)

Notice this: Luke spells out that Joseph is "of the house of David"; and yet, the Angel makes clear that Jesus would gain the throne of "David his father." But not with Joseph's help: "But Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?"

Next chapter: Joseph takes Mary to Bethlehem, "because he was of the house and family of David"--some have said Mary was too; but in any case, neither Matthew nor Luke has said anything about it; they are stressing Joseph being in David's lineage--which means, if Jesus is going to be counted in the lineage, it must be by adoption.

Now, Luke clearly being aware of, and telling us all about, Jesus' virginal conception, note that after Jesus is born, he begins referring to both Joseph and Mary as Jesus' "parents" and "father and mother": see vv. 27, 33, 43, 48.

I.e., given the premise, which the Gospels work from, that Jesus was not conceived with Joseph's help, Joseph nonetheless accepts Jesus as his own son.

It seems a far more reasonable way to interpret the Gospels than to hold they were being coy about Jesus' true parentage, or that Luke first asserts divine action, then somehow forgets, and has Joseph as responsible. Of course, they could have been lying about the virginal conception, but once again--why?

raptros-v76 said...

I'm under the impression that the two stories about the birth of Jesus are more concerned with the idea rather than the history. Matthew, I have been told, was written with a Jewish perspective; Jesus is (or must be) adopted by Joseph because the narrative parallels that of Moses. Luke, on the other hand, is written (as someone upthread mentioned) with a Greek perspective. Joseph's feelings on the matter are not mentioned because he doesn't have any. In Greek mythology, gods were constantly getting various women pregnant (and heroes were often born from such occurrences). Luke then sets up a narrative of Jesus starting from the very bottom. Luke is the gospel in which Jesus is born in a manger in Bethlehem (sp?); in Matthew, Joseph lives in Bethlehem. Too many people are concerned with the historical accuracy of the gospels, when what is far more important is the underlying symbolic meaning.

gefillmore said...

to me, this topic has turned from quite controversial to very interesting-

my thanks to Father Martin Fox for his exposition-

William said...

I also thank Fr Fox for his scriptural knowledge which is far superior to mine. I ask this--and not in a hostile way--would anything about the essential teachings of Jesus be different if his mother had had normal relations with her husband....It seems to me that the family of Jesus is in some way exemplary. By making Mary an eternal virgin the Church is downplaying the role sex has in life and marriage.....As life is lived nowadays sins of the flesh more often involve obesity, cigarette smoking, ETOH abuse, etc. Very few lives outside the confines of Hollywood are ruined by excessive sexuality....There were many saints who wore hairshirts all their lives. The irritation of the constant itching was supposed to help them avoid the sins of the flesh. But wasn't the constant itching itself a sin of the flesh?.....If you extrapolated from the temptation of the apple that eating was the central sin of humanity, here is what would happen: chocolate croissant sales would skyrocket, overweight people would feel shunned and guilty, and many with eating disorders would become clergy.

gefillmore said...

why a virgin birth?-

"One of the most important controversies relative to the birth of Christ has been because of the presentation of the Scriptures that He is born of a virgin. This has been opposed as both unnatural and as unlikely, and therefore an invention rather than a solid historical fact. It might be granted that if the person and work of Christ had been that of an ordinary prophet there might be good grounds to question His virgin birth. The whole tenor of Scripture as presented in both the Old Testament prophecies that He was to be God and man and the New Testament fulfillment make the virgin birth a divine explanation in so far as it can be explained of an otherwise insuperable problem. How could one who was both God and man have perfectly human parents? The account of the virgin birth therefore, instead of being an unreasonable invention, becomes a fitting explanation of how in the supernatural power of God the incarnation was made a reality."

The Person and Work of Christ—Part I:The Incarnation of the Son of God
By: John F. Walvoord

from bible.org

a psychiatrist who learned from veterans said...

Fr. Fox says, "Of course, they could have been lying about the virginal conception, but once again--why?"

Let me start out by saying that 'lying' is maybe suggesting the contrary position by a reductio ad absurdum argument. These were good people and they wouldn't "lie" if you will. Nothing that I have inferred about Mary or Joseph suggests that they were lying. In fact it is part of the essence of my argument that it achieves my conclusion without demanding that they lie. I think I've made my point pretty clear with regard to Mary. Joseph, if my speculation is correct, would've been faced with a wife who denied what happened to her. To (attempt to)convince her otherwise, if we go with developments, would have seemed like an argument not worth having. Nevertheless, maybe he made his point in an oblique manner by pointing out that Jesus was in the line of David. The Gospel writers then followed by lines of thought abetted by contemporary mythologies.

a psychiatrist who learned from veterans said...

Sorry, the above was meant to be: "The Gospel writers followed both lines of thought (the reports of Mary and Joseph) abetted by contemporary mythologies."