Monday, December 28, 2009

Book Review: Can Reindeer Fly? The Science of Christmas

I've previously talked about seasonal reading, and this book had been in my library for several years without being read. In fact, it was one of those bargain bucket finds in Eason's which I regularly made in both Belfast and Dublin. But every year, as December rolled around, I missed the chance to get through it. This year, then, in addition to the book on preaching the Christmas story, I fitted in the scientific Christmas book by Roger Highfield.

Can Reindeer Fly is actually a collection of Highfield's science articles on Christmas topics from the Daily Telegraph over the last few years. An interesting series of chapters ask and seek to answer questions such as what was the Star of Bethlehem? Could the virgin birth have happened? How can MRI scanning help find a sixpence in a Christmas pudding? What does alcohol do to the body? Why is Santa so fat? How does he deliver all those presents in one night? Where did Christmas cards and Christmas trees originate?

The articles are humorous, but sometimes get somewhat complicated with too much detail. There are the expected over-reliance on the theory of evolution a few times, and a scepticism about the miraculous being possible. So the chapter dealing with the virgin birth (really, a virgin conception) discusses many far out possibilities for parthenogenesis to occur, ending up with Mary having to be a hermaphrodite with female sex organs but too much testosterone which enabled her/him to produce a male son by him/herself (because creatures which do have parthenogenesis only produce female offspring, but Jesus was male). It seems that the science is virgin on the ridiculous rather than admit that God intervened and formed the life of Jesus in Mary's womb.

I'll probably return to the book for some Christmas sermon illustrations as the stories and details were interesting. But can reindeer fly? Definitely not!

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