May 23, 2007
Virgin shark births
Still no evidence that mammals can reproduce asexually, keeping the Incarnation classified as a miracle.
Scientists have discovered that sharks can reproduce asexually. "Scientists began their investigation after a female hammerhead shark was mysteriously born at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo in December 2001, in a tank that held three adult, female hammerheads but no males," reports the Washington Post. "Yes, indeed this is a virgin birth," said one of the scientists who studied the birth.
Ted Olsen interjects:
If you want to read the actual study from Biology Letters, it's available for free. I'll also just note that we're talking about bonnetheads rather than great hammerheads, though bonnetheads are considered a type of hammerhead shark.
Parthenogenesis isn't all that rare. Birds do it. Bees do it. But there is an important question here, as the Biology Letters article puts it, regarding "possible negative effects of this form of asexual reproduction on the genetic diversity in small natural or captive populations." Bonnetheads are an abundant species, but if this further research indicates that other, more endangered sharks also reproduce asexually, then there could be consequences for human-aided conservation efforts.
That's one "Green Christian" angle on this. But let's not dismiss the "virgin birth" angle of this as just a joke. Earlier generations of Christians saw in the animal world many echoes of theological reality. They didn't always (or often) get their animal behavior right, but that's no reason that actual animal behavior can't serve as reminders of biblical truth.
But then some of the differences between the Virgin Birth and its "echo" in parthenogenesis is fascinating to me, too. In parthenogenesis, you're basically talking about natural cloning. In the case of Christ's Virgin Birth, you're clearing talking about something radically different. Jesus, after all, was not Mary's genetic equivalent. (For starters, consider the chromosomes.) And any time I start thinking about Jesus' DNA, I marvel at how much mystery there really is in the Incarnation.