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To return to matters pertaining to Christmas and the Nativity of Jesus, let us think briefly about the virgin birth claims. I have elsewhere discussed the may issues with the claim (see “Debunking the Nativity: The Virgin Birth” and “Debunking the Nativity: The Mistranslation of ‘Virgin’“). Today, I am going to talk about verifiability.

The first thing to note is that there is only one source for this claim: Mary. She is the only person who could make the claims to her own virginity (with any kind of certainty) and to the subjective experiences of the Annunciation. Yes, authors could have made this up wholesale, but if you are a Bible-believing Christian, Mary is your source.

Imagine you are either Joseph or an early disciple listening to the attestation of Mary of either of those claims (being a virgin or having the experience of the Annunciation). How do you verify the claims? Seriously, what could one do to verify that Mary was a virgin after becoming pregnant, or more realistically, years after Jesus was born? Could you check her hymen? What are the realistic options?

We have an extraordinary claim that requires extraordinary evidence and what we would have here, if any such attestation actually existed, is the single solitary claim of Mary, a woman who is pregnant or who had given birth. There is simply no other evidence to bring to bear concerning the virgin birth claim. There were no other witnesses to the Annunciation, there can be no witnesses for Mary’s virginity.

Is either Joseph of someone later on down the line within their epistemic right to believe such a claim? If we think back to Hume and take on his mantra that believing (Enquiries p. 115ff) that “no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavors to establish.” We must always decide in favour of the lesser miracle, it seems. For someone further removed from the incident, for some of the earlier acolytes, this verifiability is even more problematic (for instance, not having even access to Joseph who, most scholars agree, seems to have died by the time Jesus was an adult).

The simple and obvious conclusion here is that we would be more warranted in believing that Mary was lying or misguided in her claims.

[Please grab a copy of my book on the Nativity (The Nativity: A Critical Examination) [UK].]


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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...