"Jesus Christ Superchimp?" by Robert Price and Edwin Suominen

Most readers of Debunking Christianity have been deep enough into Christian theology at one point or another to appreciate a nuance to the evolution vs. Christianity conflict that is significant but little discussed: How could the half-human, half-divine nature of Jesus possibly be rationalized scientifically? As this excerpt from Robert and Edwin's book Evolving out of Edenmakes clear, the whole idea of a virgin birth is utterly foreign to modern science, based on ancient, paternalistic ideas about fertilization. The book goes on to explain what a theological mess believers are left with, even if they can make that impossible leap of faith: Jesus would’ve had all the supposedly sinful natural inclinations that Christianity gives humans so much grief about—lust, anger, etc.—because he carried Mary’s human DNA and a supposedly divine portion that would have needed to be defective by design in order to match up with it.

Jesus Christ Superchimp? by Robert Price and Edwin Suominen.

We have seen (and boy, have we seen) the difficulties that modern genetics poses for traditional theology’s understanding of Adam and Eve as the parents of the whole human race. Our intent is not to embarrass the ancient texts but, on the contrary, to defend their right to stand as monuments of ancient belief and thought without warping and twisting them in order to make them seem compatible with modern knowledge. In the same way, we must inquire as to the implications of scientific genetics for the genesis of the Second Adam, Jesus Christ. As with the more sophisticated forms of creationism, the conflict of science is not precisely with the Bible but with certain doctrines derived from a selective reading of it, with theology more than the biblical text itself. Will we find such conflicts in the case of the genetic origins of Jesus?

Christian doctrine has historically held that Jesus Christ was miraculously conceived of the Holy Spirit (the third person of the Godhead) in the Virgin Mary, with no contribution from Joseph or any mortal father. The resultant child, Jesus, was already as an infant both God and man. He was a single person (this personhood being derived from God and divine at its core), supporting two full natures, divine and human. He was not a demigod, half human and half divine. He was not God wearing a fleshly scuba suit. He was not even two-thirds human (possessing human body and soul, but no human spirit) yet fully God (the divine Logos substituting for the human spirit). As the Nicene Creed has it, Jesus Christ, God’s Son, was “begotten, not made.”

Theologians have seldom if ever contended that all these careful nuances were explicitly taught upon the biblical page. Had that been so, it should never have taken three centuries for the underlying issues and questions to arise. The credal definitions were hammered out by convocations of ancient bishops and theologians. Their goal was twofold. They wanted to frame a Christology compatible with the various biblical hints as to the nature of Jesus Christ. And they wanted to stay consistent with a doctrine of salvation by divinization (theosis), the infusion of God’s immutable immortality into humans as if by a kind of transfusion from God (as Jesus Christ). Especially for the latter, the savior had to have been fully God, not some mere angel, prophet, or wisdom teacher.

As if all this were not difficult enough, new conundrums arise when we superimpose our understanding of genetics. For we have to ask: What is the nature of the genetic material that God must have caused to appear inside Mary and to unite with her set of chromosomes? Did God create them ex nihilo? If so, does that conflict with the Nicene assertion that the Son was begotten, not made? Presumably that claim refers to the eternal begetting of the Logos, the Father’s eternally present generation of the Word. Was the divine Logos already united with this created set of human chromosomes when they merged with Mary’s? It would seem so; otherwise we are entertaining Nestorianism, the heresy that the divine and human in Jesus never truly united, leaving two personhoods, as well as two natures, in Jesus Christ. Just as Cyril of Alexandria insisted that Jesus Christ had already been God even in diapers, orthodoxy would have to affirm that the newly created DNA in Jesus was already God as well as human.

Theistic evolutionists might wish to drop the virginal conception doctrine, winking and nodding that of course Joseph was not just an adoptive father, perhaps admitting what the Talmudic writers said about the Roman Pandera. Jesus’ nuclear DNA was 100% human, all 46 chromosomes of it. Otherwise, as Paul Tillich warned, the virgin birth makes Jesus into a demigod. But then they would be stuck with a kind of adoptionism: a human Jesus who at some point was given divine honors. Such a scenario would seem to imply that the divine Logos “descended upon” the apeish chromosomal configuration, which had originally been alien to it. Where is the divinity?

Figure 12: Mary’s egg was fertilized by . . . what, exactly?

Let’s look at what would be required for evolutionary compatibility with the more traditional view of the Incarnation: the union of divinely created DNA with the heavenly Logos. When the Holy Ghost came upon Mary and the power of the Highest overshadowed her (Luke 1:35), it brought a set of freshly constructed chromosomes, which fused with hers. Perhaps a single God-incarnate sperm cell was constructed near her egg to burrow into it and get the job done? This is not mockery, but an honest contemplation of how our Christian naturalists might attempt to bridge—just this once—the chasm between natural and supernatural conception.

When the gospel stories were written, the Incarnation didn’t seem so outrageous. Perhaps a century later (using the traditional dating), Tertullian thought it quite reasonable that Christ’s flesh “came not of the seed of a human father,” because
Adam himself received this flesh of ours without the seed of a human father. As earth was converted into this flesh of ours without the seed of a human father, so also was it quite possible for the Son of God to take to Himself the substance of the selfsame flesh, without a human father’s agency. [Anti-Marcion, On the Flesh of Christ, Ch. 16]
Mary seems relegated to being a mere sperm receptacle and warming oven with nutrient supply, as Eve was in Acts 17:26: God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth.” In the fourth century, Ambrose made it quite clear that this is how he viewed Mary’s role in bearing Jesus. Augustine quotes him approvingly in his Treatise on the Grace of Christ and on Original Sin against Pelagius, as follows:
It was no cohabitation with a husband which opened the secrets of the Virgin’s womb; rather was it the Holy Ghost which infused immaculate seed into her unviolated womb. For the Lord Jesus alone of those who are born of woman is holy, inasmuch as He experienced not the contact of earthly corruption, by reason of the novelty of His immaculate birth; nay, He repelled it by His heavenly majesty. [Book II, Ch. 47, our emphasis]
The idea persisted in Augustine’s admirer Luther, who mentioned the passage in Acts when commenting on the wonder of human reproduction; “man is brought into existence from a droplet of blood, as the experience of all men on the entire earth bears witness.” The “woman receives semen,” which “becomes thick and, as Job elegantly said (Job 10:10), is congealed and then is given shape and nourished until the fetus is ready for breathing air” (Lectures on Genesis, Ch. 2, v. 21). But that can’t have been a universal view whenever the idea of the Immaculate Conception came along to nix concerns about Mary passing along the stain of Original Sin. (It wasn’t made a Catholic dogma until 1854, with the Papal bull Ineffabilis Deus.) If she was just an incubator, what’s the worry? Cooties?

Of course, we have now left the realm of science far behind. But let’s continue considering this fusing of Marian and made-to-order chromosomes, because it raises some interesting questions. They arise from the fact that the divinely produced DNA would need the appearance of having come from an evolved human father. If those genes were somehow qualitatively different, how could they be compatible with what Jesus must have inherited from Mary? The paternal and maternal chromosomes have to line up:
A single inversion on a chromosome inherited from one of the two parents causes a slight loss of fertility. So does a fusion. In fact, single chromosome rearrangements like inversions and fusions are a major cause of infertility in humans. Although one chromosome rearrangement is usually insufficient for complete loss of fertility, multiple rearrangements can result in complete sterility, as in mules. [Fairbanks 2007, 91]
It is not a question of a miracle to which we might appeal in order to leap the gap. If we say chromosomes are incompatible, we can’t even imagine a miracle helping; that would be like saying a miracle can make a square peg fit into a round hole, or like saying that a miracle can produce a four-sided triangle. It’s just meaningless.

So we are stuck with another case of the omphalos absurdity we saw in “Everybody’s Working for the Weekend.” The Holy Spirit injected a ready-made Y chromosome into Mary (along with 22 others from falsified meiosis in a non-existent human father), complete with endogenous retroviruses, fossil genes, and other hallmarks of evolution. Gosse had to protest that there was no deception intended by Adam’s useless navel, nor concentric tree-rings in the first created trees, nor growth lines in the first shells (1857, 347). God just couldn’t have made plants and animals without their “retrospective marks,” or else we wouldn’t have recognized them (p. 349). Today, all but brain-dead creationists see how ridiculous and dishonest that is, but how is this one special case of the Incarnation any different? “Man would not have been a Man without a navel,” Gosse says (p. 349). Neither would Jesus be one without a Y chromosome faked to look like it had been passed down, with occasional mutations, from an endless line of human paternal ancestors.

Copyright © 2013 by Robert M. Price and Edwin A. Suominen. Reprinted by permission of Tellectual Press.

References cited in this Excerpt:

• Augustine of Hippo. Treatise on the Grace of Christ and on Original Sin.
• Gosse, Philip Henry. 1857. Omphalos: An attempt to untie the geological knot. London: John van Voorst.
• Fairbanks, Daniel J. 2007. Relics of Eden: The powerful evidence of evolution in human DNA. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.
• Luther, Martin. 1535-1536. Lectures on Genesis, Vol. 1. George V. Schick, trans., 1958. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.
• Tertullian. Anti-Marcion. From Schaff, Philip, ed. 1885. Ante-Nicene fathers. Kindle version: Christian Classics Ethereal Library (Vol. 3).