For some, the miraculous claim of the virgin conception of Jesus disqualifies the Gospel accounts as reliable history. The famous writer, atheist and debater, Christopher Hitchens regularly referred to the virgin conception as a clear example of the unreasonable nature of the Gospels. Hitchens would occasionally attempt to demonstrate the illogical, unreasonable nature of his debate opponent by asking the simple question: “Do you believe Jesus was conceived miraculously and born of a virgin?” when his Christian opponent replied, “Yes,” Hitchens would typically say, “I rest my case.” For many atheists, the virgin conception is so obviously irrational it disqualifies the story of Jesus before it even begins.
Skeptics and critics of Christianity reject the mere possibility of the virgin conception because their philosophical naturalism (their belief that the natural world is all that exists) precludes the possibility of the miraculous intervention of a supernatural Being. As it turns out, this presupposition of naturalism lies at the heart of the dilemma:
Naturalism Is the Worldview Under Examination
When we begin to examine the possible existence of God (the aforementioned supernatural Being), we are actually examining the viability of philosophical naturalism. We are, in essence, asking the questions, “Is the natural world all that exists?” “Is there anything beyond the physical, material world we measure with our five senses?” “Is there any way to actually know immaterial, spiritual entities (or truths) exist?” In asking these questions, we are putting naturalism to the test.
Naturalism Shouldn’t, Therefore, Be Our Presupposition
It would be unfair, therefore, to begin by presupposing nothing supernatural could ever exist or occur. If we are attempting to be fair about assessing the existence of God (or assessing the reasonable nature of the virgin conception), we cannot exclude the very possibility of the supernatural in the first place. Our presupposition against the supernatural would unfairly taint our examination of the claim. Instead, we ought to remain open to the the miraculous to fairly examine any claim of supernatural activity.
Naturalism Accepts At Least One “Extra-Natural” Event
Most of us already accept the reasonable reality of at least one “extra-natural” (aka “miraculous”) event. The Standard Cosmological Model of naturalism is still the “Big Bang Theory”, a hypothesis that proposes that all space, time and matter (all the elements of the natural universe) had a beginning (a “cosmological singularity”). Whatever the cause was, it could not have been something from the natural realm, as this realm was what resulted from the “singularity”.
Naturalism May Not, Therefore, Be An Accurate View of the World
It appears that the beginning of the Universe can be attributed to an all-powerful “extra-natural” source. If this source was the supernatural God of the Bible, it would appear that He has the ability to intervene in the natural realm with creative force. The virgin conception, in light of this kind of power, is a reasonable prospect.
The virgin conception defies naturalistic explanation, but that shouldn’t surprise us. Christianity has always argued that the supernatural (the miraculous) is reasonable; Christianity has always challenged naturalism. We cannot reject the virgin conception on naturalistic grounds without first examining the larger claims of the Christian Worldview. If there is sufficient reason to believe God exists (and created everything from nothing), then the virgin conception is certainly within His power and equally reasonable.
For more information about the reliability of the New Testament gospels and the case for Christianity, please read Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. This book teaches readers ten principles of cold-case investigations and applies these strategies to investigate the claims of the gospel authors. The book is accompanied by an eight-session Cold-Case Christianity DVD Set (and Participant’s Guide) to help individuals or small groups examine the evidence and make the case.
J. Warner Wallace is a Dateline featured Cold-Case Detective, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Adj. Professor of Christian Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, author of Cold-Case Christianity, God’s Crime Scene, and Forensic Faith, and creator of the Case Makers Academy for kids.
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