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The Virginal Conception of Jesus

This issue provides an opportunity to compare the work of Arthur Peacocke and John Polkinghorne (see Peacocke and Polkinghorne compared; Peacocke and Polkinghorne: comparison of models of divine action; the question of miracle; and the resurrection of Jesus.

Arthur Peacocke is very little disposed to accept the virginal conception of Jesus. In a careful analysis he points out how strange it would be if God’s action in the world amounted in this particular case to supplying a complete set of chromosomes as from a human father. The old images of God’s relation to living things: the pre-Darwinian specific designer of creatures (see Darwin’s challenge to theological positions), the pre-Humean cosmic tinkerer (see the question of miracle), would return with a vengeance in such a scenario. For Peacocke ‘it is theologically imperative that the birth stories and the doctrine of the virginal conception of Jesus be separated from the doctrine of the incarnation.’Peacocke, A, The Idreos Lectures (Oxford: Harris Manchester College, 1997) p38

Whereas John Polkinghorne, without concerning himself too much with the biological details, considers that ‘the dual origin of the X and Y chromosomes ... seems a possible physical expression of the belief, in the words of the Nicene creed, that Jesus “by the power of the Holy Spirit became incarnate of the Virgin Mary and was made man”. In other words, his conception was an act of divine-human co-operation.’Polkinghorne, 1996, 79

So two highly-trained scientist-theologians, both pursuing programmes of critical realism in science and theology, reveal how junctures arise when one has to accord one programme, the scientific or the theological, priority over the other. Both thinkers agree that the scientific data necessitate dispensing with an Edenic paradise from which humans ‘fell’ (see the doctrine of the Fall), but they disagree over miracle, empty tomb and virginal conception.

Email link | Feedback | Contributed by: Dr. Christopher Southgate
Source: God, Humanity and the Cosmos  (T&T Clark, 1999)

A Test Case - Divine Action

Index - God, Humanity and the Cosmos, 1999 T&T Clark

The Virginal Conception of Jesus

Related Book Topics:

An Introduction to Divine Action: Isaac Newton’s God
God of the Gaps
Determinism, Indeterminism and Their Implications
Law, Chance and Divine Action
Different Understandings of Chance
How to Think About Providential Agency
A Classification of Theories of Divine Action
Neo-Thomist Views of Divine Action
Body-of-God Theories of Divine Action
Peacocke’s View of Divine Action
Polkinghorne’s View of Divine Action
Quantum-Based Proposals on Divine Action
Criticisms of Quantum-Based Proposals on Divine Action
Process Models of Divine Action
Peacocke and Polkinghorne Compared
Peacocke and Polkinghorne: Comparison of Models of Divine Action
The Question of Miracle
The Resurrection of Jesus
Science and Divine Action


Dr. Christopher Southgate in God, Humanity and the Cosmos. Published by T&T Clark.

See also:

Isaac Newton
Charles Darwin
Does God Act?
Ward on Divine Action