Scientists Establish Virgin Births Are Possible
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34 NIV)
Scientists have long known that virgin births — a birth without the participation of a male of the species — do in fact occur. According to Warren Booth, co-author of a study published in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, such virgin births have “now been observed to occur naturally within all lineages of jawed vertebrates, with the exception of mammals. We have recently seen genetic confirmation in species such as boa constrictors, rainbow boas, various shark species, Komodo dragons, and domestic turkeys, to name a few.”
The phenomenon is known as parthenogenesis. It has never been observed in a mammal, at least not by scientists.
In other cases, the females of some species have been known to store male sperm within their bodies for long periods — one rattlesnake did so for five years — before giving birth. But actual parthenogenesis, virgin births or births without any male participation, while extremely rare, do in fact occur.
It has also been established that the offspring of such births can be male (note that the Discovery News article above mentions the possibility that such offspring might be “all-female or all-male”.) And a two year old story at CBS reported that scientists seeking ways to avoid the ethical problem of using fertilized embryos for stem cells have developed a process that they believe might one day lead to a true “virgin” (male-less) human birth.
Why does all this matter to Christians?
The short answer is, it doesn’t.
An atheist made the following comment in a forum at a well known atheist website: “If it were possible that Jesus was born of a virgin by natural means (as with certain rare occurrences of parthenogenesis in sharks, for instance), it would merely be a freak medical phenomenon and not a miracle. What makes the event important to the dogma is that it is not possible except with divine assistance.”
This comment is an example of a common misconception about miracles, or more specifically, about God.
It’s true that authentic miracles are deviations from the typical behavior of nature, what the atheist writer called “natural means”. It is not true that miracles are distinguished from the “natural means” by the presence of “divine assistance.” If that were the standard of a miracle, everything that takes place in the universe would qualify as a miracle.
For example, if a baby is born in the usual way, it is only because God created the man and the sperm, and the woman and the egg, and every other detail of the natural process that resulted in the baby. Thus, as most parents realize in the first moments after their baby is born, every new birth is miraculous.
In writing about the first miracle Jesus performed, turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana, C.S. Lewis explained the true nature of a miracle very elegantly:
“God creates the vine and teaches it to draw up water by its roots and, with the aid of the sun, to turn that water into a juice which will ferment and take on certain qualities. Thus every year, from Noah’s time till ours, God turns water into wine. That, men fail to see. Either like the Pagans they refer the process to some finite spirit, Bacchus or Dionysus, or else, like the moderns, they attribute real and ultimate causality to the chemical and other material phenomena which are all that our senses can discover in it. But when Christ at Cana makes water into wine, the mask is off. The miracle has only half its effect if it only convinces us that Christ is God: it will have its full effect if whenever we see a vineyard or drink a glass of wine we remember that here works He who sat at the wedding party in Cana.” (“Miracles,” God in the Dock)