Certain scientists feel a need to explain all phenomena by means of natural processes, including reports of miracles.  The word “natural,” however, is slippery, taking on a variety of meanings.  Is scientific reasoning, for instance, natural?  If so, it is not composed of atoms and forces acting according to “natural law.”  Is it possible that the tables can be turned on the naturalizers, to rescue Christmas from materialist re-interpretation?

Angels we have dreamed on high:  Natalie Wolchover’s in-your-face headline on Live Science casts immediate doubt on Biblical stories of Christmas: “Visions of Angels Described in Bible May Have Been Lucid Dreams.”  It’s a fact, she suggests: a team of LA psychologists basically told Matthew and Luke to step aside: “Sleep researchers say they have established that many of the visions of angels and other religious encounters described in the Bible were likely ‘the products of spontaneous lucid dreams.’”  (It seems odd to say something is both “established” and “likely.”)  And even if lucid dreams of angels do occur in some people, it’s another thing to claim they all are, or that God cannot speak through dreams. After describing her expert researchers’ experiments on dreams with modern subjects, Wolchover realized they crossed their eyes but didn’t dot their tease: “The research … has not been reviewed by peers for scientific publication….”  And besides, as one dream researcher countered, many of the Biblical dream stories occurred in the daytime.  Wolchover pointed out that the dream or hallucination theory is really an old skeptic’s argument.  Whatever she hoped to convey, it generated some lively comments.

Star of Bethlehem:  Of all the miracle stories in the Bible, the Bethlehem Star has been one of the most tempting targets to interpret as just a natural phenomenon.  Planetarium speakers around the world are undoubtedly re-telling one of the favorite natural explanations: it was a comet, a planetary conjunction, a meteor, a nova, a supernova, an especially bright apparition of the planet Venus.  Astronomers can investigate the story, because with planetarium projectors, they can turn back the clock of the night sky to see what shows up in the time period of Christ’s birth.  In addition, they can research from historical records the beliefs and knowledge of the Magi, who were professional astrologers. It’s a story ready-set for naturalism….

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