Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The nativity story #3

A Happy New Year! Continuing from part #2 with the nativity story in my own words, based mainly on the Gospel accounts in Matthew 1:18-25; 2:1-6 and Luke 1:26-38; 2:1-40,

[Above (click to enlarge): "Annunciation to the Shepherds," Benjamin Gerritsz Cuyp (1612-1652)]

specifically in this third part on the aftermath of the actual birth of Jesus in Luke 2:7-20 and Matthew 2:1-6, and commenting on those aspects that have implications for creation/evolution.

Luke, by his, "While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born" (Lk 2:6) seems to indicate that Mary did not give birth to Jesus immediately she and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem.

Also, the "and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son" (Lk 2:6. My emphasis) indicates that after the virgin birth of Jesus, Mary had children by Joseph (see also Mt 1:24-25; 13:55; Mk 6:3; Lk 8:19; Gal 1:19), contrary to later non-Biblical doctrines of the "perpetual virginity of Mary" and the "immaculate conception of Mary."

Matthew and Luke's complementary accounts of the birth of Jesus have a `truth is stranger than fiction' quality. If they were at best pious fiction, and at worst deliberate fraud, why make up such a convoluted story about Joseph and Mary having to go to Bethlehem for a Roman census, especially one that named names and gave dates that would be known by their contemporaries to be false, if they were false? Why not just say an angel told them to go to Bethlehem (since an angel has already in both accounts given instructions to both Mary (Lk 1:25-38) and Joseph (Mt 1:18-24 )? Or why bother with Nazareth at all, but just have Mary and Joseph living in Bethlehem?

And why, if you are writing an account of the birth of a King (Mt 2:2; Lk 1:33), let alone God's Son (Mt 1:23; Lk 1:32,35), why would you have Him being born in a stable, and for His crib being "placed ... in a manger" (i.e. animal food trough), "because there was no room for them in the inn (Lk 2:7)? As Jewish Christian Alfred Edersheim (1825-1889) asks, "Would Jewish legend have ever presented its Messiah as born in a stable...?" and answers, "The whole current of Jewish opinion would run in the contrary direction":

"On the other hand, the circumstances just noted afford the strongest indirect evidence of the truth of this narrative. For, if it were the outcome of Jewish imagination, where is the basis for it in contemporary expectation? Would Jewish legend have ever presented its Messiah as born in a stable, to which chance circumstances had consigned His Mother? The whole current of Jewish opinion would run in the contrary direction. The opponents of the authenticity of this narrative are bound to face this. Further, it may safely be asserted, that no Apocryphal or legendary narrative of such a (legendary) event would have been characterised by such scantiness, or rather absence, of details. For, the two essential features, alike of legend and of tradition, are, that they ever seek to surround their heroes with a halo of glory, and that they attempt to supply details. which are otherwise wanting. And in both these respects a more sharply-marked contrast could scarcely be presented, than in the Gospel-narrative." (Edersheim, A., "The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah," [1883], Hendrickson Publishers: Peabody MA, Third Edition, 1886, Reprinted, 1988, p.i:186)

The same for Jesus' birth being announced to "shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night." (Lk 2:8). Edersheim points out that such "shepherds. ... were under the ban of Rabbinism, on account of their ... manner of life, which rendered strict legal observance unlikely, if not absolutely impossible":

"A passage in the Mishnah [Shek. vii. 4] leads to the conclusion, that the flocks, which pastured there, were destined for Temple-sacrifices, and, accordingly, that the shepherds, who watched over them, were not ordinary shepherds. The latter were under the ban of Rabbinism, on account of their necessary isolation from religious ordinances, and their manner of life, which rendered strict legal observance unlikely, if not absolutely impossible." (Edersheim, Ibid, pp.i:186-187).

Again, the supernaturalism of the account of angels:

"An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.(Lk 2:9) But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.(Lk 2:10) Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. (Lk 2:11) This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."(Lk 2:12) Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,(Lk 2:13) "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."(Lk 2:14) When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."(Lk 2:15) So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.(Lk 2:16) When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,(Lk 2:17) and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.(Lk 2:18) But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.(Lk 2:19). The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Lk 2:20).

and of Jesus fulfilling prophecy (see part #1), this time Micah 5:2 (750-686 BC) that, "Bethlehem ... out of you will come ... one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are ... from ancient times [Heb. "from days of eternity"]:

"After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem (Mt 2:1) and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."(Mt 2:2) When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.(Mt 2:3). When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born.(Mt 2:4). "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written:(Mt 2:5) 'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.' " (Mt 2:6)"

allows no middle ground. Either this account is true, in which case Christianity would be true and then the two main philosophical underpinnings of evolution: Materialism (i.e. matter is all there is = there is no God) and Naturalism (i.e. nature is all there is = there is no supernatural = there is no God) would be false. Or else Christianity would be false.

If this account (and therefore Christianity) is true, and materialism/naturalism false, then evolution could still be true in some sense (because God could have chosen to work solely through natural processes). However, then evolution could not depend on the false metaphysical assumptions of materialism and naturalism for support, but would need to be established solely on the evidence.

In particular, if this nativity story is true that God has supernaturally intervened into the living world and changed it, then the fundamental assumption of Darwinism would be false, that all mutations in life's history have been random (in the sense of undirected) because "no mechanism is known ... that could guide mutation in directions that are non-random":

"There is a fifth respect in which mutation might have been nonrandom. We can imagine (just) a form of mutation that was systematically biased in the direction of improving the animal's adaptedness to its life. But although we can imagine it, nobody has ever come close to suggesting any means by which this bias could come about. It is only in this fifth respect, the 'mutationist' respect, that the true, real-life Darwinian insists that mutation is random. Mutation is not systematically biased in the direction of adaptive improvement, and no mechanism is known (to put the point mildly) that could guide mutation in directions that are non-random in this fifth sense. Mutation is random with respect to adaptive advantage, although it is non-random in all sorts of other respects. It is selection, and only selection, that directs evolution in directions that are nonrandom with respect to advantage." (Dawkins, R., "The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design," W.W Norton & Co: New York NY, 1986, p.312. Emphasis original).

It is not as the sub-title of Richard Dawkins' book above has it, that "the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design" (my emphasis) but that fully materialistic-naturalistic "Evolution" (which is what Dawkins means) is based on the starting assumption that there is no Designer and therefore no design, irrespective of the evidence!

As Phillip E. Johnson pointed out, "An essential step in the reasoning that establishes that Darwinian selection created the wonders of biology ... is that nothing else was available," but Christian "Theism is ... the doctrine that something else was available" (my emphasis):

"Theists who accommodate with scientific naturalism therefore may never affirm that their God is real in the same sense that evolution is real. This rule is essential to the entire mindset that produced Darwinism in the first place. If God exists He could certainly work through mutation and selection if that is what He wanted to do, but He could also create by some means totally outside the ken of our science. Once we put God into the picture, however, there is no good reason to attribute the creation of biological complexity to random mutation and natural selection. Direct evidence that these mechanisms have substantial creative power is not to be found in nature, the laboratory, or the fossil record. An essential step in the reasoning that establishes that Darwinian selection created the wonders of biology, therefore, is that nothing else was available. Theism is by definition the doctrine that something else was available." (Johnson, P.E., "What is Darwinism?" Lecture at Hillsdale College, Michigan, November 1992. Leadership U., 19 April 2003. My emphasis).

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).

Genesis 39:19-23. 19When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying, "This is how your slave treated me," he burned with anger. 20Joseph's master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined. But while Joseph was there in the prison, 21the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. 22So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. 23The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph's care, because the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.

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