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LiveScience Asked Me About Why We Believe

December 23, AD 2013 15 Comments

If you’ve read my blog for long, you know LiveScience is one of the popular science sites I follow. The writers do a great job of publishing short articles about the latest topics, and they provide a balanced set of perspectives. I was pleasantly surprised when Tia Ghose, who has interned at Science News, Wired.com, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and has written for the Center for Investigative Reporting, Scientific American, and ScienceNow, contacted me about the recent Pew Research Center poll.

The Pew Research Center reported that 73% of Americans say they believe in the Virgin Birth of Christ, even though not all of them claim to be religious. She asked how I thought these people reconcile that belief with scientific thinking. Obviously I don’t agree with everything in the article, but I’m satisfied that my views are represented accurately.

About three-quarters of Americans believe in the Virgin Birth, according to a recent Pew survey.

That’s not surprising, experts say.

Belief in Jesus’ immaculate conception [no, the Incarnation*] isn’t such a leap once you accept the possibility of miracles and the supernatural. And from a cognitive perspective, the human brain is primed for a belief in God and the supernatural.

Those polls are “evidence that most people know scientific knowledge is not the only kind of knowledge,” said Stacy Trasancos, a popular blogger on science and Catholicism and the author of “Science Was Born of Christianity” (Amazon Digital Services, 2013). “People find it reasonable to believe in the reality of the supernatural.”

I am delighted that my book got a mention, and that this comment ended the article.

Trasancos, who trained as a chemist and converted to Catholicism in mid-life, used a variant of the scientific method to arrive at her religious beliefs.

“In science they say there are these physical laws and you go into a lab and test them empirically,” Trasancos said. “With moral laws, I tried them in my life — tested them, even when I wasn’t sure how they can possibly work. I tried them and saw the truth of them after I tested them.”

See? People can talk about science and faith at the same time! Read the rest at LiveScience here.

I gave a longer answer on this site earlier.

The Virgin Birth is a miracle, and miracles, by definition, transcend scientific explanation. Since they are beyond all the forces and laws of nature, miracles can only be worked by God. The Virgin Birth is how God chose to reveal Himself to us, the central point of salvation history. God chose—of his own will—to come to us as an innocent and helpless infant born from the purest virginal womb. He chose to be poor to teach us that happiness is not based on the riches of this world, to teach us to be like children and humble ourselves, to become little so that we might enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The Virgin Birth is about life itself. Where does scientific thinking fit into that?

To believe in Christ is to believe in the supernatural, and “super” means beyond and above the natural. Religion answers the “super” questions, the questions about purpose and destiny. Science only deals with quantitative measurement of physical objects. The reminder in Mark’s Gospel is a good one for those who think science can explain everything. “How is a man the better for it, if he gains the whole world at the expense of losing his own soul?” Even if he possesses all knowledge of the natural kingdom, a man still is not saved. Christ taught us which kingdom to seek first, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and all else will be given to you.” Likewise, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, quoting Pope Paul VI, says that science conducted in “accord with moral norms…never truly conflicts with faith, for earthly matters and the concerns of faith derive from the same God.” (Gaudium et spes §36)

I actually see this high statistic of believers as empirical evidence that most people already know science cannot answer every question, and more so that the Christmas miracle touches the heart in the deepest way. It puts numbers to the song: “Long lay the world in sin and error pining,Til He appear’d and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.“ That seems to be the best answer to this question. Fall on your knees!

*Thank you Kari Farrell Matthews.

Hello, and thank you for reading. I am a wife, mother of seven, and joyful convert to Catholicism. I write from my office in a 100-year-old restored Adirondack mountain lodge. Read more about me here, with pictures. Find me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter. "Like" my Facebook page Science Was Born of Christianity to follow updates about my book. God bless you!

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  • Bill S

    Why do people think that the virgin birth and the immaculate conception are the same thing. Are we immaculate by not having sex?

    • Jeff_McLeod

      They’re repeating what they’ve heard on TV and in the movies, which isn’t exactly a world class source for catechesis.

      I think sometimes the confusion is deliberate deception, to make young adults believe that the Church thinks sex is sinful. You would think that after 20 years of theology of the body popular culture would get it right. Unfortunately, I think popular culture doesn’t want to get it right. They benefit from the lie because it advances their culture of death.

      • Bill S

        The Church does think sex is sinful, but for only one exception: sex between a man and a woman who have married each other in the sacrament of matrimony and are not using any means to prevent pregnancy with the exception of natural family planning. Any and all other sex is sinful according to the Catholic Church.

        • Jeff_McLeod

          “The Church does think sex is sinful” is a false statement.

          You are confusing sex with infidelity.

          The Church thinks infidelity is sinful.

          Baking a cake is not sinful.

          Baking a cake with poison in it is sinful.

          It’s the attempted murder part that is sinful, not the baking of the cake.

          As I said, the culture of death wants so badly to say the Church thinks sex is sinful!! Oh how easy it makes their mission if they can just slip that lie into their propaganda and hope nobody notices. Guess what? We notice.

          • Bill S

            “The Church does think sex is sinful” is a false statement.

            “The Church does think sex is sinful but for one exception” is a true statement.

            Infidelity is wrong. But that is not the only sex act that the Church is against. It is easier to list the ones that the Church is not against than the ones that it is against. A couple married by the Church for the primary purposes of unity and procreation. All other sex is “sinful”.

          • Jeff_McLeod

            There are three sources of the sinfulness of an act:

            1. The end the person has in mind (their intention)
            2. The means they choose to reach the end (the act itself)
            3. The circumstances surrounding the act

            There is a fourth factor that plays a role in determining the gravity of a sin, which is

            4. The consequence of the act.

            You are trying to claim that the Church denounces infidelity because of 2. This is not true. What is wrong with infidelity is 1 and 3, and very likely 4.

            Sex is an intrinsically good act. The sin comes from the intention, the circumstances, and the consequences.

            I will restate the analogy, even though you don’t acknowledge it, I hope other readers will get the point.

            Baking a cake is never sinful in itself. But if you bake a cake to poison someone, you have sinned. The source of the judgment against you has to do with what you intended to do. It does not flow from baking a cake. In fact, baking a cake is quite superfluous.

            So if you want to say hey in that case baking a cake was evil, then sure I’ll let you say that. But you are trying to deflect attention from the pesky little issue of attempted murder to focus on something quite arbitrary about the crime.

          • Bill S

            The baking of the cake analogy does not seem applicable to what we are discussing. You said: “I think sometimes the confusion is deliberate deception, to make young adults believe that the Church thinks sex is sinful.”

            And I said that, with the one exception stated, the Church DOES THINK SEX IS SINFUL. That IS what young adults are told because it is TRUE. For example, an unmarried couple living together, a same sex couple, a couple using contraception, remarried divorcees, etc. Any sex they have is sinful to the Church. So it is true when I say that but for one exception, the Church sees sex as sinful.

          • Monique Maryssa…

            Sorry… had to jump in. The way you’re understanding it and stating it… you’re saying sex BY ITS’ NATURE is sinful. Seems important to make a distinction. SEX by its’ nature is creative. It’s powerful. It becomes sinful ONLY if it’s done outside the original intent for it… within marriage, one commitment, one man, one woman. Philosophically, you’re still misunderstanding its’ true purpose and intent.

          • Bill S

            It becomes sinful ONLY if it’s done outside the original intent for it.

            This statement seems to make sense but has caused a lot of unnecessary division and pain, especially for same sex couples and people who end up with more children than they can afford to raise.

  • jenny

    Was Saint Joseph a virgin too?
    Can we call him Virgin Joseph ?

  • VelikaBuna

    This is new feminism.