One classic skeptical challenge to the biblical stories of the birth of Jesus goes something like this: “You cannot trust or believe Matthew and Luke’s accounts of the birth of Jesus because they are pre-scientific. As such, they are superstitious and gullible. Science has proved virgin births are impossible. In fact, there is no historical evidence for miracles. So while you may choose to love the story for its imagery and symbolism, you cannot expect it to tell you anything historical and real. On that level, the account is not accurate and trustworthy.”
So, what have Christians said about this challenge? Very briefly, here are four points in response.
First, the evidence shows that during Jesus’ life people did not believe in His virgin birth.
I acknowledge that the evidence is slim, but it is there, and it is significant. If people believed the story of the virgin birth, they would think Jesus was special. They would not think He was illegitimate. However, the evidence shows that this was not the case. First, people in His hometown did not believe that Jesus was special (Matthew 13:53-38; Mark 6:1-6). Second, Jesus’ brothers did not believe that He was special (John 7:1-5). Third, it seemed to be common knowledge that Jesus’ birth was illegitimate (John 8:39-41). So, while people in Jesus’ time did not know science, they clearly knew how a woman got pregnant. Rather than being gullible, the people in Jesus’ time, including Joseph at first, did not believe the story of the virgin birth.
Second, disbelief in historical evidence for miracles is usually circular.
Matthew and Luke knew how a woman becomes pregnant. They make a clear claim that in Mary’s case a miracle happened. In fact, they claim that a set of miracles occurred in the birth of Jesus. Have skeptics proven that Matthew and Luke are wrong? No. The skeptic’s objection to the truthfulness of what Matthew and Luke wrote often goes something like this: “We know that any account that claims a miracle happened cannot be historically true. We know that there are no historically true accounts of miracles. Therefore this story (the virgin birth) is not true.” Note that this is circular reasoning. In other words, the skeptic defines “history” so it can never describe a miracle, and then blind to their definition, says that there are no historical accounts of miracles. This begs the question. The proper approach is to examine the story to see if a miracle did in fact happen. An assertion by the skeptic is not a proof.
Third, counterintuitively, the more science we know, the more we can be confident a miracle is a miracle.
Assume for a moment that you could prove that Mary had never slept with a man before she became pregnant. For centuries after the virgin birth it might have been possible to believe there was a naturalistic explanation for this, it just had not been discovered yet. However, the more scientific knowledge grows, the more certain we are that there is no naturalistic process that will result in Mary getting pregnant. Either she slept with a man, or God did a miracle. For all miracles, the more science grows, the bigger the WOW! when God does a miracle.
Fourth, the virgin birth does not violate any scientific law.
Science describes natural processes. By definition, science cannot say if there was a supernatural act. Science can only say that a virgin cannot become pregnant without “knowing a man” (or by artificial insemination). Even the famous First Law of Thermodynamics does not rule out miracles. The statement that (roughly) “Matter cannot be created or destroyed” is not a scientific statement. It is a metaphysical statement. The scientific version of the Law is, (roughly) “In a closed system, matter cannot be created or destroyed”. The Christian claim that a miracle happened is a claim that the universe is not a closed system. The Triune God can act in His creation. This is the claim in the birth stories ofJesus. Just as the Triune God made all things “out of nothing.” So He created a zygote out of nothing and implanted it in the womb of Mary.
The reason that Jesus’ contemporaries changed their mind on the virgin birth was because He publicly foretold that He would die by crucifixion, be buried, and be raised on the third day. All of this happened, the death, the burial, the empty tomb and the resurrection appearances. The resurrection of Jesus vindicated who He is, what He said, and what He accomplished in His life, death, and resurrection. This is good news! Great news! The Triune God has invaded His fallen creation to redeem all who put their trust in Jesus – who He is, and all that He accomplished. There is a God who is there, who can dwell with you here, and fit you for glory.