Sister Encarnación: Well, my favorite color is light tan. My favorite animal is puppies. I like serving the Lord. Hiking, play volleyball…
Nacho: You gotta be kidding me. Everything you just said, is MY favorite thing to do, every day!
From the movie Nacho Libre
I nodded off last night watching The Star of Bethlehem, a DVD proving conclusively the date of Jesus’ birth using a hodge-podge of astronomy, astrology, Biblical interpretation and wishful thinking. The author of the book and DVD is Frederick A. Larson, a lawyer from Texas. Interesting that another landmark of homebrew Biblical investigation Who Moved the Stone? was written by lawyer, Frank Morison. I suppose my tone is not quite right. I should be more balanced and allow Larson a fair hearing. But Christians get so excited about cockamamie pseudo-scientific explanations for Biblical miracles that it just makes us look really dumb. It’s not just that our science is bad, it’s that we’re leaning on science at all. Christianity in the last two centuries has never really escaped from its Napoleon Complex that started in the Enlightenment. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-intellectual. But the same Judeo-Christian worldview that allowed a flourishing rationalism sent many Christian thinkers on a snipe hunt for scientific proof of the Bible’s claims.
At this stage you might accuse me of disrespect for the divine Scripture because I am insisting that you can’t prove the miracles and events of the Bible through scientific enquiry. But the truth is that those who read the Bible in a way it was not intended by its author do more violence to the spirit and intent of the Scriptures.
Larson in his presentation explains the reality of God’s interaction with the stars by quoting texts like these:
He makes the Bear, Orion, and the Pleiades,
and the constellations of the southern sky;
(Job 9:9, NET)
By the LORD’s decree the heavens were made;
by a mere word from his mouth all the stars in the sky were created.
(Psalm 33:6, NET)
He counts the number of the stars;
he names all of them.
(Psalm 147:4, NET)
If the intent of these passages were to give a scientific explanation of the creation of the universe we might conclude that it happened by words coming out of God’s mouth, perhaps the name of each star, and thus the universe was created. Does God sit around counting the stars? Does he really name all the stars? I suppose he might. But the intent of these poetic passages is to say something about the majesty of God and his relationship to the created order. He’s big. He’s all-knowing. He’s pre-existent. Wow! But these verses aren’t meant to tell us anything about the actual mechanics of the universe and its origins. (Consider isaiah 40:12 for a more obvious example of poetic description as opposed to scientific description)
In addition to mistaking Biblical genres, Larson and his ilk quite frequently resort to an argument from statistical improbability. The idea goes like this: “The chance of these events all occurring at the same time is so improbable as to be impossible unless God did it.” This is sometimes called Hoyle’s Boeing 747. Ironically, many of these theories are based on the movement of stars within constellations which are by nature subjective ordering of random dots in the sky. So we’re meant to accept that Jupiter, the king planet bonking into Regulus the king star is amazing evidence of God sending us a message about the veracity of the account of Jesus’ birth.
If there really is a God who created the entire universe with all of its glories, and He decides to deliver a message to humanity, He will not use, as His messenger, a person on cable TV with a bad hairstyle. —Dave Barry
To take a spin on Dave Barry’s wise words, if God wants to get a message out to humanity about the birth of His son He will not use, as His messenger, astrological symbols and a lawyer with a laptop.
Proof of the “un-proof” of Larson’s claims is that truckloads of other star-gazers have looked into the stars and come to different results, using different stars, different dates, etc. Scientific claims should be predictable, testable and repeatable. But the star-gazing of Larson isn’t any of this. It is simply presuppositions and coincidence sprinkled with scientific jargon.
So, you might be wondering what I think about the star of Bethlehem? What was that thing described only in Matthew’s account of the nativity?
Here are some options which I feel are at least as plausible as Larson’s theory:
- It was the choir of angels singing to the shepherds.
- It was a big angel holding a torch.
- It was a weird glowing orb.
- It was a twinkle in God’s eye.
- It was Tinkerbell.
Pardon my mockery but any of these explanations has just as much weight as the other. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter what the “star” was. I’ve never doubted that the magi saw something which led them to the place where Jesus was born. See Clayboy O little town of … somewhere or other and Ox and ass and we three kings: Christmas harmonies and evangelical humbug for origins of the Bethlehem story.
My view is that there’s simply too much that we don’t know about the Bible to make dogmatic assertions about peripheral realities. As Martin Luther pithily stated, “Whoever wants to be a Christian should tear the eyes out of his reason.”
Check out this post for a similar rant: Check your brain at the door | lingamish