A proof of the Virgin Birth?

It is a little past the Christmas season when people might expect to see such stories. But I have only just come across this: a post by Anglican Curmudgeon, written in November this year, called The Physics of Christianity: Frank Tipler on the Virgin Birth.

I have come across Frank Tipler before. He is certainly a mathematical physicist with top credentials, as is clear from the Wikipedia article about him. His best known contribution to physics is his Omega Point Theory, an argument that the universe will end by collapsing into a point singularity. But he is also considered something of an eccentric because he has dared to identify this Omega Point with God!

Back in the 1990s I read Tipler’s book The Physics of Immortality (1994), supposedly written for a “popular” audience but in fact mathematically complex enough that I was glad of my postgraduate studies in mathematical physics. In this book Tipler argues that as the universe collapses into the Omega Point an infinite amount of computer power will be available, and will be used to provide for everyone who has ever lived an eternal life in a perfect, but virtual, universe. The problem for me is, in what way would that simulated future in fact be my future – especially if there is potentially a large, even infinite, number of simulated futures for me?

It seems that Tipler has now written another “popular” book The Physics of Christianity (2007), in which he has gone beyond his earlier claims that physics implies the existence of God and immortality in rather general terms, to more specific claims in which he

identifies the Omega Point as being the Judeo-Christian God, particularly as described by Christian theological tradition.

Anglican Curmudgeon has read this 2007 book (I have not) and describes it as

one of the most remarkable books about Christianity that I have ever read. In fact, the book is so remarkable that I have decided, at the risk of my reputation as a reliable curmudgeon, … to tell you instead about some of the things which this amazing book shows are inescapably correct about traditional Christian belief.

The example of Tipler’s brilliance which the Curmudgeon chooses to highlight in this post (he promises a series of further posts, and has written the first of them) is in fact not a matter of mathematical physics but one of genetics. Now this is not really Tipler’s field, not the Curmudgeon’s, nor mine. But if what Tipler has discovered is indeed correct, it is quite amazing! I must say that it is so amazing that I cannot quite believe it. It is the sort of thing I might expect to find in a cheap thriller, but not in a supposedly non-fiction book by a respected scientist.

This is what Tipler claims to have discovered, from what I can tell from the short extracts quoted in the Anglican Curmudgeon post: the bloodstains on both the Shroud of Turin and on the Sudarium of Oviedo (supposedly respectively the burial shroud and face cloth of Jesus) contain a unique form of DNA, exhibiting both the very rare XX male syndrome (a human genetically female but physically male) and some other unique characteristics which I do not understand. Tipler writes that he found, in raw data from analysis of the bloodstains,

the expected signature of the DNA of a male born in a Virgin Birth!

The Anglican Curmudgeon writes:

Thus The Physics of Christianity not only provides a physical explanation for how the virgin birth reported in the New Testament would be possible, but it also uses the available physical evidence to provide a stunning verification of Tipler’s hypothesis—a verification which is all the more amazing because it is based on reported results that were never properly presented or interpreted by those who obtained them.

It is for this reason alone that I commend Frank Tipler’s book to all who wish to ground their faith on the physical evidence and common sense that God has given us. Professor Tipler is a unique breed: he is someone who has followed the available evidence, and who has worked out the consequent mathematics, to a conclusion which, no matter how much his colleagues might wish to avoid it, shows that:

A. There is definitely a God Who created the universe in which we find ourselves (to be faithful to his proof, I should use the plural, “universes”—but more on that later);

B. This God indeed has an only-begotten Son, Jesus, who together with the Holy Spirit constitute three separate persons forming one indivisible trinity;

C. The Son—Jesus—although existing before (and throughout) all space and time, came to this planet and took on the form of a man, the product of a unique and one-time Virgin Birth; and

D. Evidence for that unique and one-time birth, as well as for His Resurrection itself, has been waiting for nearly two thousand years for mankind to develop the skills and technology needed to assess it.

It is, as I say, a remarkable thesis, in what is an even more remarkable book.

Indeed – if the thesis is in fact true.

31 thoughts on “A proof of the Virgin Birth?

  1. Yes, Steve, we are still enjoying the twelve days, but the media silly season for Christmas stories is usually in advance.

    Craig, that book was hard work, but in the 1990s I had the leisure time without blogging to waste it on!

  2. Doug Chaplin, I too wondered about why the available information on the Shroud in English did not include the facts about the DNA testing done on both the Shroud and the Oviedo Sudarium by a team of Italian experts in January 1993. Here is how Professor Tipler explains it (I have added the bold emphasis):

    “In January 1993 a group of Italian researchers, led by Professor Marcello Canale of the Institute of Legal Medicine in Genoa, conducted a DNA analysis of the blood on the Shroud. This group included several workers who had invented the standard DNA test for gender. And their experiment was much more complete than the one conducted by Leoncio Garza-Valdes, since it included detailed information about the amount of DNA obtained. Contamination can thus be quantified.

    “This group simultaneously tested the blood on the Oviedo Cloth.

    “I had great difficulty acquiring a copy of their article [Casarino, Lucia et al. 1995b. “Ricerca dei Polimorfismi del DNA Sulla Sindone e Sul Sudario di Oviedo”. . . Sindon. S. Quad. 8 (December): 36-47]—Tulane University Library was unable to obtain a copy, and this failre is very unusual—but the Turin Shroud researcher Barrie Schwartz put me in contact with Ian Wilson, who e-mailed me a copy. I was surprised at my difficulty. Normally, the results of a DNA test of the blood on such a famous object would be published in English in a major scientific journal . . . .

    “Not so the results of this DNA test. The results were published, in Italian, in the very obscure journal devoted to the study of the Turin Shroud. Furthermore, only the raw data were published. That is, the Genoa team published black-and-white Xerox copies of the computer output of the DNA analyzer. This is never, never done. Always, the data are presented in a neat table or figure, and they are accompanied by a discussion of their significance. The Genoa team made no effort to interpret their data. The combination of these four facts—obscure journal, non-English language, raw data only, and no attempt to interpret the data—almost certainly means that the researchers thought the data to be worthless, incapable of interpretation.

    “But I was able to interpret the data at once. . .” (The rest of the quote may be read in the article to which Peter links in his post.)

    It would be wonderful if someone there in England could get Ian Wilson to comment or furnish more explanation as to why no one but Prof. Tipler has followed up on this data.

  3. Thanks, Doug and A.S. Doug, I assume we can rule out deliberate faking of the evidence from a respected scholar. The journal is a genuine one, but it is surprising that this article is not listed here. But I did find a reference to it here (reference 47), also here (in a comment) but this one depends on Tipler. So the article in Italian does actually exist.

    Whether it proves anything, I don’t know. The Shroud supporters Fanti and Marinelli apparently thought not, for they wrote, in a paper presented in 1998, that researchers

    found a modest quantity of female DNA due to a contamination during the TS restoration

    with a reference to the article in question.

    Ian Wilson, although British by birth, lives in Australia, so neither Doug nor I have any closer links with him that you do, A.S.

  4. A couple more points here:

    Despite his apparent claims, Tipler was not in fact the first to analyse Casarino et al’s results. Someone before him noted that these results implied female DNA. Presumably this was Casarino and co-authors – the information is not from the other paper referenced by Fanti and Marinelli, their reference 21 by Barrett which is here.

    I wonder if Tipler has any evidence that the female (or at least XX) DNA he refers to is not in fact the result of contamination, as suggested by Fanti and Marinelli among others.

  5. I’d just point out two (no, three) things.

    1) The virgin birth was not part of the content of the earliest preaching. It’s not mentioned in Acts, Mark or John, or Paul’s letters. I question whether the first two generations of Christians either knew about this doctrine or believed it.

    2) As a woman, and as someone who has looked into this a bit, I’d say that the virgin birth has had a less than positive effect upon the view of female sexuality within the church. This can be boiled down to: virginal woman, good; sexually mature woman [even if married], bad. Or, the madonna/whore complex. This has had a profound and deleterious effect on the position of women in the church.

    3) Additionally, the virgin birth as taught more accurately reflects the (incorrect) notions of Aristotelian “biology,” which thought that women only contributed the “ground” that a child was nurtured in. It was hugely important, therefore, that Mary give her fiat, her Yes, to God’s action. But, as we human beings have suspected for a couple of centuries and confirmed only at the beginning of the 20th century, women do contribute half the genetic makeup of the resulting child.

    I consider myself outside the church and Christendom now and it’s not awfully likely that I’ll be going back in my lifetime, considering that church people are so anxiously grabbing at straws to try and prove the more bizarre parts of doctrine (the virgin birth). If your beliefs are such that I have to suspend my critical thinking to approach them, they’re really not worth my time anymore.

  6. Mirele, thank you for your comment.

    I’m not sure what dating of Matthew and Luke you have in mind, but there is now plenty of evidence to discredit 19th century suggestions that these are 2nd century works. The teaching of the virgin birth, which is by the way clearly alluded to in John 1:13, can certainly be traced back to the 1st century. I accept that the teaching has been wrongly applied to the detriment of women in the church.

    Please don’t think that I am grabbing at straws. My reason for posting about Tipler’s argument is that I find it interesting, and I thought my readers would. My own faith by no means depends on any external proof of the virgin birth.

  7. FWIW, there seems to me to be a renewed argument to place Luke-Acts at least well into the second century, with recent works arguing that he uses Josephus as a source and is engaged in the dispute with Marcion. I disagree with both these views, but they are far from being simply outdated or discredited.

  8. Just catching up on some of your old posts, and the XX male thing caught my attention. I knew about XY genotypes not actualizing and developing female phenotypically. The default development is female. It takes a change from the Y-chronomosome to get a male. Sometimes it doesn’t work.

    So it made no sense to me that there could be such a thing as an XX male. According to Wikipedia, my initial thought turns out to be correct. There are people who are called XX male, but they aren’t really XX. The cause of the condition is when an X and Y chromosome cross over unequally in meiosis. So the condition is not a result of two X chronomoses, and thus it can’t have anything to do with a conception that didn’t involve a father, unless the mother herself was XY female.

  9. Jeremy, I must say I was surprised by Tipler’s claim, but supposed that he had at least got the basic facts right. If you are right, it seems he hasn’t. But I don’t think any of us are experts on this. It would be good to get an opinion from someone who is.

  10. Pingback: Threads from Henry’s Web » Proving the Virgin Birth

  11. It is possile that the males genes from the Y chromosome can be inserted in the X chromosome from a male predecessor anywhere down the line. Hence it is possible that Mary had lets say XXY so a Y chromosome but it is not necessary it could have been further down the line that she inherited a modified X chromosome. In any case, it is possible what Tipler claims that Jesus was an XX male and hence giving a potential scientific explanation for the virigin birth.

  12. Elvira, I think the issue is whether XX males actually exist. I suppose they could if a copy of the Y chromosome gets copied into an X chromosome by mistake.

    The XXY female idea is perhaps more promising. There do appear to be XXY females, and perhaps XXY hermaphrodites. Dare I suggest that biologically Mary was an XXY hermaphrodite (with the male organs perhaps very small but still functioning) who managed to fertilise her/himself with his/her own sperm to produce a normal XY son?

  13. I’m checking through some posts I’d linked and not got back to, and I noticed you’ve been back to this one recently.

    I don’t think your latest comment will do the trick. If Mary was also Jesus’ human father, then was it really a virginal conception with no human father?

  14. Well, Jeremy, perhaps not if we look at this with the eyes of modern science, but of course the Bible verse which says Jesus had no human father (actually, is there one?) was not referring to DNA. In other words, the Bible needs to be referred to in the terms and context understood by the original authors.

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  16. Today i read your info on the shroud about the virgin birth and i would like to think that common sense would alert people to the truth. Science has solved that virgin birth problem for us. A virgin is described as a women who has never had sexual relations or intercourse with a man. In fact it is also a medical proof that a virgin still has her hymen in tact, (although it can be broken by other means) let us say that a 18 year old women is a virgin with her hymen in tact. You also have a test tube fetus, which is designed by a living sperm and a living egg coming together in a scientific lab, fertalized and grown in a tube until a gestation period has arrived. Can it then be impanted into this 18 year old virgins womb through her belly button. After nine months she gives birth and only then is her hymen broken. Would you call this a virgin birth and if men of science can do this why couldn’t God do the same. It seems that the more science discovers, it also discovers that the bible has already fortold these discoverys.

  17. Anne, you make an interesting point. Yes, of course God could have caused a virgin birth, in this way among others. That is not in itself proof that he did so. I don’t think we will ever be able to find such proof, except of course from the reliable accounts in the Bible.

  18. mirele, if I understand what you have written correctly, I am saddened to see that you have walked away from your faith. Perhaps you might like to read my testimony at http://www.gatewaytolife.info which you might find helpful if not interesting. As a young man, I took a very simple and direct approach to this subject and obtained the results I needed.

  19. If Tipler is not a geneticist, I’m dubious as to how he was able to “interpret the data at once” that he saw published about the Shroud DNA. I’m not buying into his idea of the virgin birth until/unless I see it corroborated by someone who is a known expert in that field.

  20. I am not a religious person, but I find the debate on virgin birth interesting, however, too focused on DNA. Many species of turtles do not begin gender development until the embryonic stage, and all male ants are the product of unfertilized eggs. I do not know whether or not there was ever a virgin birth in humanity, but it certainly has to be technically possible. The problem has been with the “central dogma of molecular biology” pronounced by Francis Crick in the 1950’s. He later admitted that he did not know what the word “dogma” actually meant. As soon as we learn to acknowledge that biology is in the power of the enzymes, not the chromosomes, then we may discover a number of new things. DNA becomes protein, protein becomes enzyme – just as sand becomes brick, and brick becomes factory. However, the bricks do not control the processes of the factory. Considering how many of the main founders of the gene theory were actually physicists, not biologists, it is amazing that they have never been able to understand that.

  21. Jeff, thank you for your interesting thoughts. I suppose Jesus could have had female DNA but developed anomalously as a man. But I would find that hard to accept because, as a Christian, I see him as the perfect man, not as some kind of freak.

  22. Sorry. I did not mean to imply Jesus as a freak of any kind. I probably did not explain myself very well. I only meant to point out that although the scientific community views DNA as the control of biology, when we look at what actually takes place in biology, then enzymes can be seen as the “computer chip” of life. Chromosomes effect physical phenotype, the difference in appearances between members of the same species, but they do not control body growth, cellular differentiation. In mammals the sex chromosomes are only a signal of gender, just as temperature is the signal of gender in many turtle species. The ATPase enzymes are the only logical “storehouse” of body growth, and we inherit them from our mother. This would mean that technically a female human does have the capability to produce a child, even a male child, without fertilization. This is what occurs with male ants. Though most people would certainly disagree with me on this point, and I understand that many Christians might be offended, my only point is that although the virgin birth of a human child is considered anti-scientific, it can not be. The reproduction differences in various organisms shows otherwise.

  23. Jeff, no offence taken. I accept that it would be biologically possible, although anomalous, for Jesus to be XX but male. The Holy Spirit’s activity in Mary’s womb could easily cause the required hormonal oddities. But this is something we can really only speculate on – unless anyone can really find Jesus’ DNA on the Shroud of Turin, which I don’t believe.

  24. Ultimately one has to place faith and belief separate and apart from rational scientific proof regardless of which scientific discipline and method is applied. It might also help to keep in mind the failure of logical inference to prove a negative since Greek times. Without offending anyone why cant believers just believe without any scientists help as the majority of faithful do?

  25. I’ve been reading all comments … and enjoing the arguments.
    When we refer to more ancient texts, or, books written by way of “messengers”, etc more recently; when we read the letter from Paul to the Corinthias referring to two types of “humans” living on earth: The Humans of God’s Light and the humans of the dirt … ; most myths and legends from very ancient times, including the Hopi legends; the androginous being IS God’s .. the angels are considered androginous, as are the first inhabitants of this planet.
    So.. it does not come as a surprise that the DNA found is androginous .. God is often called Father/Mother …

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