Saturday, August 16, 2003

A Kristof Column

Via Oxblog, I found a brand-new blog by an Orthodox Christian Rhodes Scholar, Newman Nahas. One of his first posts is a superb response (reminiscent of C.S. Lewis's Miracles) to a NY Times column by Nicholas Kristof:
[W]ith the Virgin Birth, if going into the investigation you think that the probability that a man could be born of a virgin woman is 0, or extremely close to 0, then it is going to take a ton of evidence to convince you (as well it should); indeed, it may even be the case that no amount of evidence could ever convince you. Now, if, on the other hand, going into the matter you thought that while it is surely unlikely if not downright impossible for a virgin birth to occur in the natural course of events, if God were to get involved in the matter, such a wonder is surely possible – for you, the same public evidence will quite rightly carry more weight. But these prior convictions -- that there is a God, that God is capable of bringing about a miracle (such as the virgin birth) -- are not themselves empirical, historical questions.

If one thinks that there is no God, or that God would have no reason to work such a miracle as a virgin birth, either in general or in the specific case of Jesus of Nazareth – then the testimony of various people asserting that Jesus was born in this unusual way, is going to strike one as most insufficient. But if going into the matter, you had reason to think that there was a God, and that this God both possessed the ability and had good reason to mark off the birth of Jesus of Nazareth in this particular way, then the testimony which we find in the relevant historical documents will carry much greater weight for you (as well they should). So the rationality of believing in the Virgin Birth is a much bigger matter than simply what the historical evidence has to say. It is equally a matter of what the prior philosophical evidence has to say. The rationality of believing in the virgin birth will depend, then, just as much on the rationality of one's 'antecedent beliefs' as it will on the public evidence.

So Kristof seems to think that there is something necessarily absurd in believing that a virgin birth took place. But as we have seen this is only true if one possesses certain (highly controvertible) antecedent beliefs (such as that there is no God), and thus one was imagining that the virgin birth took place in the ordinary course of events, that it was not a miracle. But we have also seen that if one had independent reason to believe in a God who is able to work miracles (and one also had reason to think that that the life of Jesus of Nazareth was such as to qualify it for being marked off by a miracle) – then, to believe that God brought about a virgin birth is hardly irrational. After all, if God was able to bring the universe into existence out of nothing, it doesn’t seem like too tall an order for him to bring a sperm into existence out of nothing.


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