The naturalistic attack on the Virginal Conception and Resurrection
Published: 20 November 2007 (GMT+10)
The Virginal Conception and Resurrection of Jesus Christ are doctrines central to biblical faith. They are explained in the historical context in the Gospels, and then the doctrinal context is expounded throughout the rest of the New Testament. These core doctrines have been upheld and affirmed by the Church for the last 2,000 years. They are indispensable aspects of the life-transforming Gospel message. However, truth always has its enemies—the false philosophies of this world. So it is not surprising that the Virginal Conception and Resurrection of Jesus are facing attack from an anti-biblical philosophy called naturalism. In this article, we will first examine the biblical account of the Virginal Conception and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Then we will look at how to defend these doctrines in light of the arguments coming from the naturalist camp.
I. The Biblical Account: What’s Under Attack?
In order for Christians to defend the Virginal Conception and Resurrection, we must first know what the Bible says about these events. Does the Bible really say that Jesus was literally born of a virgin and that He literally rose from the dead? Yes, it emphatically does!
The Gospel of Luke gives us a very detailed account of Jesus’ life and ministry. In describing the events surrounding Jesus’ birth, Luke repeatedly emphasizes that Mary was a virgin.1 When informed by the angel that she would give birth to a son who would be called the Son of the Highest,2 Mary asked, ‘How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?’3 It can’t be any clearer—Mary was indeed a virgin.
The Resurrection accounts recorded by Mark,7 Luke,8 and John9 agree with Matthew, reporting that the disciples were eyewitnesses to the fact that Jesus ‘is risen.’10 John describes how Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene,11 then to groups of the disciples, on multiple occasions.12 Paul also confirms that the resurrected Christ was seen by numerous eyewitnesses.13 The scriptures leave no room for doubting the clear message of a literal Resurrection: Jesus was dead for three days, but now He is alive!
The Doctrinal Implications
The Virginal Conception and Resurrection are significant from a doctrinal standpoint. If Jesus is truly God, then He had to be born of a virgin, and He had to rise from the dead. Belief in a literal Virginal Conception and Resurrection is the only consistent Christian position—anything less amounts to an affront to the Divine nature of Jesus Christ. And if Jesus is not God, and if the Virginal Conception and Resurrection are not literally true, then Christianity is meaningless.
If Jesus is God in the flesh, fully human, and fully God, then a virgin birth makes good sense. He was born of a woman, but without a sin nature inherited from Adam. And if Jesus is the all-powerful, living God, then He had to rise from the dead. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, death would be more powerful than Him, and none of us would have hope of a future resurrection. Also, Jesus would have been lying when He said that He would rise again after three days.
The Virginal Conception and Resurrection are also required by prophecy. Speaking of the Messiah, Isaiah writes, ‘Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.’14 So for Jesus to be the Messiah, He had to be born of a virgin. The Old Testament also speaks of the Resurrection of the Messiah, ‘For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.’15 It is clear that Virginal Conception and Resurrection are vital to the Messiahship of Jesus.
II. Attack from Naturalism
Naturalism is the idea that nature (the physical world) is all there is.16 In other words, there is no supernatural. This philosophy stems from a misunderstanding and glorification of science. Naturalism says, in effect, ‘If something cannot be explained in purely naturalistic, scientific terms, it is invalid.’ Staunch proponents of naturalism do not believe in God, the spiritual realm or miraculous events. It is easy to see how naturalism attacks the Virginal Conception and Resurrection—it rules out these events by default because they are supernatural. According to naturalism, the literal Resurrection and Virginal Conception are myths.
Since miracles do not fit within the paradigm of naturalism, its adherents must find a means of ‘explaining away’ all reports of the miraculous, claiming that all miracles have a naturalistic explanation. Naturalists dismiss the Virginal Conception of Jesus as a myth. When considering the Resurrection, some claim that the disciples faked the whole thing. And as to the reports of people seeing Him after the Resurrection,17 those people were crazy, or hallucinating, or just imagining things. Michael Ruse, a staunch naturalist, advocates a total reinterpretation of Scripture which would subject the Bible to a standard of naturalism. Here is what Michael Ruse has to say about reinterpreting the Resurrection:
‘The real miracle was not some reversal of life-death processes, but that, on the third day, the disciples who were downcast … suddenly felt a great lift and that life was meaningful for them … Jesus had left a message and example that they wanted to promulgate. If some psychologist explains this in terms of mass hysteria … so be it. There will always be a natural explanation.’18
The idea that we can reinterpret Scripture and subject it to ‘higher criticism’ has serious theological implications. This amounts to exalting man’s ideas above God’s Word. If anyone can interpret Scripture any way they want, then the Bible becomes meaningless. And if the Resurrection can be reinterpreted as something other than a literal event, then Christianity is meaningless (1 Corinthians 15:12–19).
Defending Against Naturalism
How should Christians combat the attacks from naturalism? First, we must recognize that naturalism is not a proven fact. How do naturalists know that nothing supernatural happens? They don’t. Their assertions are based entirely on assumption. Their commitment to naturalism is just as much (if not more) axiomatic as the Christian’s commitment to the (supernatural) biblical God. Furthermore, the argument for naturalism is inherently circular. Andrew Wilson, a Christian apologist, succinctly exposes the circularity of naturalism as he rebuts the arguments of atheist Richard Dawkins:
‘The space-time continuum, [Dawkins] assumes, is closed, brooking no intervention from a deity; therefore “miracles” never happen by definition; therefore God does not exist. But, as he would no doubt say of theists, this argument is damagingly circular, for it assumes that which it sets out to prove.’19
Assuming that there is no supernatural does not prove that miracles do not happen. All this assumption proves is that naturalists have ruled out the supernatural by default, not on the basis of any evidence.
Naturalists will be quick to say that Christians also employ circular reasoning (Wilson hinted at this in the above quote). Christians rule out naturalism because we assume God. So the conflict really boils down to one question—is it more logical to assume God or to assume naturalism? It is my contention that logic and evidence favor the existence of God (their very existence, in fact, is premised upon it); however, the arguments for God’s existence are beyond the scope of this article. It is also my contention that natural processes are wholly insufficient as the cause of everything in the universe. One thing is clear—the Bible undeniably asserts that there is a God (Jehovah) and that He does miraculously intervene in His creation whenever He chooses. This makes perfect sense—if God is the Creator, then He must be outside of/above His creation; therefore, He is not limited by the bounds of the natural world (and its scientific laws); therefore it is only logical that God can perform acts outside the natural—acts that we call miraculous.20 If God was limited by the laws of nature, He would not be God. When Christians try to force-fit God into the mold of naturalism, they are compromising Scripture and compromising the Divine nature of God.21
It is worth noting that just because Christians believe in the supernatural does not mean that we blindly accept any report of a ‘supernatural’ event as fact.22 If someone claims that they saw a UFO with little green men on board, Christians should be skeptical. The biblical position is that the miracles recorded in Scripture are literal, historical fact. I personally believe that God still works miracles today, but when He does, it is always in agreement with how He has revealed Himself in Scripture. If a ‘miracle’ is not consistent with God’s revelation in the Word, then I would have to conclude that this ‘miracle’ is not of God. Christians also believe that Satan and his demons have a certain amount of supernatural power, so it is possible that some supernatural events can be attributed to demonic activity. However, Christians should also recognize that some miraculous claims really are hoaxes, the result of natural phenomena, or the result of hallucination or imagination. And to the extent that naturalist sceptics have brought these things to light, we should be grateful that they have exposed erroneous claims. The fact that these claims are erroneous does not shed a bad light on Christianity; rather it shows the importance of evaluating miraculous claims in light of Scripture. After all, these claims (even when they come from Christian circles) are extra-biblical; therefore, they could be erroneous. They are based on the experiences of fallen men who are easily deceived. However, we can fully trust the miraculous accounts in the Bible because they are part of the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God.
The Implications of Evolution
Evolution and naturalism go hand in hand. Evolution is the naturalistic explanation for how the universe and everything in it came into being—instead of God creating the world, the natural process of evolution is responsible for everything. This, of course, has dangerous implications for Christianity. If science has shown how the universe came into being without God, then why believe in God? Evolution gave people the excuse they needed to get rid of God.23 And once people get rid of God, they can throw out the Bible and make their own rules. Evolution attacks Genesis, and once people start doubting the truth of Genesis, why should they trust the rest of the Bible?24 Even though many evolutionists herald evolution as a proven fact, the truth of the matter is that evolution is not a proven fact—to the contrary, the evidence against it is substantial.25 For the past several decades, biblical creationists have been busy challenging evolution and showing how the evidence from science is really in favour of the biblical creation model.
Despite the excellent scholarship coming from creation apologists, some Christians still believe that evolution is a proven fact. This puts them in the awkward position of trying to make the Bible and evolution both true at the same time. In an attempt to do this, they reinterpret Genesis to make it conform to evolution. This approach is fraught with numerous inconsistencies and theological problems, which we will not discuss here. However, one point is relevant to the subject of this paper—mixing evolution with the Bible has serious implications concerning the Virginal Conception and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Creation apologist, Lael Weinberger, explains the dangerous inconsistencies that arise when Christians accept evolution:
‘It is certainly true that one can be a Darwinian and a theist, and a Christian; the real question is whether this is in any way consistent. Evolution either implies that God did not create as He said; ergo, the Bible is not trustworthy; ergo, God (at least the God of the Bible) does not exist (at least not as He has revealed Himself in His supposed Word). Or else, to save God from the dishonesty charges and save Christian theism from that reductio, a reinterpretation of Genesis is necessary; once this is done, I have yet to see a consistent reason to suggest that a naturalistic reinterpretation of the Resurrection is not also necessary, and this again would be a reductio of at least Christian theism.’26
If we can reinterpret Genesis, what is to stop us from reinterpreting the account of the Virginal Conception and Resurrection? Once the historicity of Genesis is denied, there is no logical reason to believe that the Virginal Conception and Resurrection were actual historical events. This strikes at the very heart of Christianity. There is a real connection between the creation account and the Virginal Conception and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
There is a flipside to this as well. If Christians believe in the Virginal Conception and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, why not believe in the literal meaning of the creation account? Dr. Jobe Martin, author and lecturer on the creation/evolution controversy, stated the case well:
‘Why do we Christians accept the Biblical ideas of virgin birth and resurrection, which go against known “science”, but we do not accept the biblical teaching on the age of the earth (around 6,000 years, not 16 billion years) or the flood of the days of Noah (global, not local), when much true science is in support of the Bible? Perhaps we love the approval of men more than the approval of God … (John 12:43).’27
When Christians start picking and choosing what parts of the Bible they are going to take literally, they are heading down a dangerous, slippery slope of inconsistency.28 The only consistent position is to accept the entire Bible—from creation to the Virginal Conception and Resurrection—as literally true and historically accurate. Anything less is a compromise of scriptural truth.
As Christians, we have a duty to always be ‘ready to give an answer’ when asked to defend our beliefs. In defending these two important doctrines, we can utilize the weapon of Holy Scripture. It is clear that the Bible teaches a literal Virginal Conception and Resurrection, and the details of these accounts support their validity. The Virginal Conception and Resurrection are also confirmed from a doctrinal and prophetic standpoint. Thus, the only consistent Christian position is to affirm that these were historical events that occurred exactly as recorded in Scripture. If these events are reinterpreted to mean anything else, Christianity crumbles.
Much of the impetus for reinterpreting Scripture has come from a paranoia that Scripture must conform to standards of naturalism because naturalism has been ‘proven by science.’ In reality, naturalism rests not on a foundation of science, but rather on a foundation of unprovable assumptions. And the validity of these assumptions is highly questionable from both a scientific and logical standpoint. Naturalism is a dangerous philosophy because it attacks the whole Bible, including the doctrines of the Virginal Conception and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, Christians need not shrink back in fear. 2 Corinthians 10:4–5 tells us how to deal with false philosophies like naturalism. We must combat false philosophies (not integrate them!) and take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. It is clear that there are two aspects to this warfare—exposing the error of false philosophies and then showing the true, biblical perspective. Thus, the success of our warfare hinges upon our understanding of the Bible and how it speaks to every issue. We must know what we believe and why we believe it—from faith in creation to faith in the literal Virginal Conception and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- ‘And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary’ (Luke 1:26–27). Return to Text.
- Luke 1:28–33. Return to Text.
- Luke 1:34. Return to Text.
- On the reliability of these accounts as historical documents, see Briese, C., Can we believe the Gospels? 28 March 2007. Return to Text.
- Matthew 27:62–66. Return to Text.
- Matthew 28:1–6. Return to Text.
- Chapter 16. Return to Text.
- Chapter 24. Return to Text.
- Chapters 20–21. Return to Text.
- Luke 24:5–6. Return to Text.
- The fact that Christ appeared to a woman first is itself a strong indication that John’s account is a first hand report, not a doctored propaganda piece. See Holding, J.P., The Impossible Faith, 2005. Return to Text.
- John 20:19, 20:26, 21:1, 14. Return to Text.
- 1 Corinthians 15:4–8. Return to Text.
- Isaiah 7:14. On the accuracy of the translation, see Sarfati, J., The Virginal Conception of Christ, Apologia 3(2):4–11, 1994; Bott, M., and Sarfati, J., What’s wrong with Bishop Spong, Apologia 4(1):3–27, 1995. Return to Text.
- Psalm 16:10. Return to Text.
- Haught, J.F., Is nature enough? No, Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 38(4):769–770, 2003. Return to Text.
- See, e.g., 1 Corinthians 15:3–8. Return to Text.
- Ruse, M., Darwinism and Its Discontents, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p. 280, 2006. Return to Text.
- Wilson, A., Deluded by Dawkins? A Christian Response to The God Delusion, Kingsway Publications, Eastbourne, pp. 41–42, 2007. Return to Text.
- See Geisler, N.L., Miracles and the Modern Mind, Baker, Grand Rapids, p. 111, 1992; Bott, M., and Sarfati, J., What’s wrong with Bishop Spong, Apologia 4(1):3–27, 1995. Return to Text.
- Bishop Spong is an excellent example; see Bott, M., and Sarfati, J., What’s wrong with Bishop Spong, Apologia 4(1):3–27 1995. Return to Text.
- A good example of Christian critical analysis of claimed supernatural events is Sarfati, J., Near death experiences? What should Christians think? 11 July 2000. Return to Text.
- As Richard Dawkins famously stated, ‘Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.’ Dawkins, R., The Blind Watchmaker, W.W. Norton, New York, p. 6, 1986. Return to Text.
- Rendle-Short, J., What should a Christian think about evolution?, Creation 3(1):15–17, 1980. Return to Text.
- For good general introductions, see Sarfati, J., Refuting Evolution, Master Books, Green Forest, AR, 1999; Sarfati, J., Refuting Evolution 2, Master Books, Green Forest, AR, 2002. Return to Text.
- Weinberger, L., Fighting fire with fire, Journal of Creation (forthcoming). Return to Text.
- Martin, J., The Evolution of a Creationist, Biblical Discipleship Ministries, Rockwall, TX, p. 147, 2004. Return to Text.
- A tragic personal example is recounted in Ham, K. and Byers, S., The slippery slide to unbelief, Creation 22(3):8–13 (2000). Return to Text.