In an article from scienceblogs.com, the writer opens with this statement: “If there’s one universal trait among humans, it seems to be an unquenchable thirst for certainty.” We want to know what is provable beyond a shadow of doubt. Where would you guess that most of us think that type of certainty is found? The realm of science! How is it that Science supposes gives us this certainty we long for? Through the Scientific Method. Let’s take a look.
The Scientific Method (or empirical method) works like this:
- Ask a question
- Formulate a Hypothesis
- Perform an Experiment
- Collect Data
- Draw Conclusions
And then, viola, we are assumed to have a conclusion that is PROOF based on evidence This is what most schools and nearly every text book teach about how science works. That sounds pretty great, but it’s not really how science works. The University of California at Berkeley believes that we have oversimplified the scientific method and how it works saying, “ (the Scientific Method) more accurately describes how science is summarized after the fact— in textbooks and journal articles — than how science is actually done.” Let me give you an example.
In 1980, Mount St. Helens erupted. I was 1 year old when that happened. Sadly, my intellect was not developed enough go through the Scientific Method in order to prove it actually happened. Beyond that, I was not in perceptual range of the event; in other words, I did not ‘see, smell, taste, touch, or hear’ the event take place. Anyone younger than me was not around yet when Mount St. Helens erupted. So, they definitely can’t run our 5 steps of the scientific method.
How can I be certain that it actually happened? Well, if we are looking for 100% undeniable certainty, then we can’t. But, could we have that level of certainty with anything? Even if Mount St. Helens erupted yesterday, we are not there to witness it. Our certainty is not based on our own scientific endeavor of observation and experimentation. We find our certainty in a trust or faith in the testimony of those who were there. That’s how science works – we trust the testimony of others who were in perceptual range of the event.
The Berkeley article continues, “The simplified, linear scientific method implies that science is done by individual scientists working through these steps in isolation. But in reality, science depends on interactions within the scientific community. Different parts of the process of science may be carried out by different people at different times.”
To think that every scientist runs every test for themselves is too much to expect; there is too much to be observed. Science is instead built upon a trust or faith in the community of people who run the tests. We trust the testimony of those people who do run the test.
So, someone will run the scientific method and everyone after that will accept the evidence until someone gives evidence as to why that is not the case. We are unable to prove on our own whether Mount St. Helens actually happened or not because we we do not have the ability go back in time and run experiments. We are not there, so we need to trust those who were there to give testimony to what happened. We have some level of certainty, but it is based on testimony of those who were there.
Why are we talking about science? you might ask. I believe if we apply this standard to Jesus’ birth, we will see evidence for His claim to be God. Christmas gives us certainty. Jesus’ birth gives us proof. So, lets apply these same principles to Jesus. Now, you don’t perform experiments on Jesus, but we can see that the same rules apply when discussing the birth (and life, death, and resurrection) of Jesus.
Scientific Method of Christmas
1. The Question – is Jesus the Son of God?
2. The Hypothesis – Jesus’ miraculous birth and the events surrounding it demonstrates that He is the Son of God.
3. The Experiment – While we are not running an experiment, what observations can we make of the events that took place? What evidence is there for Jesus’ Deity? Let’s look at Luke 1. This is one of the accounts of the Birth of Jesus and the events surrounding the birth. We will find here evidence for Jesus being the son of God.
Exhibit A: an old woman gives birth – Vs. 12 – 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John” and skipping down to Vs. 24 – “Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”
Imagine an old woman (lets say 60+) came in 9 months pregnant. What do you think would happen? The news cameras would be everywhere because this would be a significant event. God did not do this just to show off, though. He wanted to not only have a miracle around Jesus’ birth, but around John’s birth, who would be the one to announce who Jesus is.
Exhibit B – a virgin gets pregnant – This is perhaps the most famous and most obvious one we know found in vs. 26 – 6 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.”
Continuing in Vs. 31 – 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” 34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[b] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God.”
I need not labor this point. The fact that a virgin becomes pregnant is not just abnormal, but impossible in the natural order of things. But, as Mary rightly points out in vs. 37 – nothing is impossible with God.
Exhibit C – an unborn baby leaps – Vs. 39 – 39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth.41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”
Even the baby inside of Elizabeth (John) gave testimony of Jesus being the Son of God. This may be insignificant evidence on its own, but in light of the other evidence, it further demonstrates the events surrounding Jesus’ birth.
Exhibit D – man loses speech – Zechariah, Elizabeth’s husband, wanted certainty, so God gave it to Him. Vs. 18 – Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be certain of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” 19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”
So, time passes, and John is born to Zechariah and Elizabeth after Zechariah had been silent for 9 months. It was the Father’s job to name the child, but there was only one problem, he couldn’t speak – Vs. 59 – 59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, 60 but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John. 61 They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.” 62 Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. 63 He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God.65 All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. 66 Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.
Zechariah wants certainty saying “how can I be certain?” The angels strikes Zechariah with 9 months of silence. Immediately after John is named, Zechariah regains his voice and sings a song of praise.
Exhibit E – eye-witness to the events – Chapter 2, Vs. 8 – 8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Picking up in vs. 15 – 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’ So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
Of course, we know from other accounts of this that others came to serve as a testimony of this event as well. These shepherds serve as further eye-witness testimony to who Jesus is. An angel came, told them where Jesus would be, they went there and found this Jesus exactly as the angel had told them. There is no downplaying the significance of these events!
Exhibit F – ancient prophecies fulfilled – We don’t have time to go into all of the details, but there are prophecies upon prophecies that Jesus would be born to a virgin, in Bethlehem, in this way and those prophecies were given centuries before it happened. Just to give you one of many examples, Micah 5, which was written about 750 years before Jesus’ birth, predicts that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem – 6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel”
There is a lot more evidence for Jesus’ birth. If we were to show up at a court of law and have this many eye-witness testimonies, the court would rule overwhelmingly in our favor. But, how can we trust this? How do we know that the writer, Luke, accurately recorded these things? Aside from the copious amounts of manuscript evidence we have, we can simply inspect the person who wrote the account: Luke was a man of science. He was a doctor and historian who was very careful to record things accurately. He opens his gospel this way in Luke 1:1:
“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3 With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus (which means “God’s beloved”), 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”
Luke writes to give us certainty. He expects that, just like in science, several eye-witness testimonies around the event would be enough to secure our trust in what is being reported. In Science, we have certainty based on the eye-witness testimony of people who were there. Jesus birth was surrounded by overwhelming evidence and eye-witness testimony that it actually happened. We have as much certainty about Jesus’ birth as we do of any scientific report.
So, far in our scientific method we have asked the question, ‘is Jesus the Son of God?’ The Hypothesis is ‘His miraculous birth and the events surrounding it demonstrates He is the Son of God’. The evidence (our experiment) through eye-witness testimonies report that these things did occur. What other data is there to collect?
4. The Data – In science, the only valid data is that which can be perceived through the five senses. Now, I think this is insufficient if we are going to have a holistic view of knowledge. There is more to know than just what physical things we can perceive through the 5 senses. We will be left limited and frustrated if we place all our certainty there. But, for the sake of this post, let’s play by those rules. We can only talk about what is seen, touched, heard, smelled, and tasted.
God did not have to come to us as a baby or at all. He was not obligated to take on the form of a human. He did not have to empty himself and become like us. But, He did. He became a baby at a moment in history, born in the physical location of Bethlehem to real people. He did this to present himself to our senses. And because He did, he gave us them and us, the certainty we are longing for. Now, this is not merely a scientific or historical event to be objectively studied, He also presented Himself for interaction and relationships. 1 John 1 says it this way:
1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life (Jesus).2 The life appeared; we have seen it and give testimony to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
Science is a community of eye-witnesses building off of the experiments of those gone before. The apostles give us eye-witness testimony of this Jesus who they have seen and heard and touched. Jesus presented Himself to a community and we trust their testimony. Like any historical event, we trust the reports of those who were there unless we are given a good reason why we shouldn’t.
5. The Conclusion – We can have confidence, that this Jesus really was born and that remarkable events surrounding his birth indicate that Jesus really is who He says He is. This should give us great confidence. Some may be thinking, “but if it is proved as solidly as any scientific evidence, where does that leave faith?”
We misunderstand faith today. We place our faith in science when we trust the testimony of those who have run tests before. I accept on faith that Mount St. Helens actually happened. Faith is not accepting that which can’t be proven. Faith is an act of trust in something. The real test of faith is not knowing God exists or that Jesus is who He says He is. The act of faith that is required of us as Christians is to devote our entire lives and beings to Him as we live in relationship with Him and with one another. Don’t put your faith in the evidence (though useful for determining where to place your faith), but put your faith and therefore your entire livelihood in the God who gave the evidence in His Son Jesus Christ who was born to give us certainty this Christmas.
Follow Jim on Twitter: @jimhshultz or on his blog: jimshultzblog.com