September 14, 2015
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Monday, September 14, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events Christian worldview.
Young woman's hope in cryonics for life after death shows futility of materialistic worldview
The front page of yesterday’s edition of the New York Times had an absolutely heartbreaking, but deeply revealing story having to do with the death of a young woman by the name of Kim Suozzi. She died back in 2013 at the very young age of 23 and yet it was just yesterday, the story ran, again, on the front page of the Sunday edition of the New York Times with the headline,
“Hoping to Transcend Death via Cryonics, a young woman’s brain is preserved on chance it may one day be revived.”Show Full Transcript
Amy Harmon is the reporter for the massive story that not only occupies much of the front page, but at least three major pages inside the print edition of yesterday’s newspaper. The story as I said is deeply heartbreaking. This is a story about a 23-year-old young woman who had died back in 2013, less than two years after being diagnosed with a very aggressive form of brain cancer. And yet what makes this story front-page news for the New York Times is neither her illness nor her death, but the decision she made about her body, or at least her brain after her death, that’s the headline; “Hoping to Transcend Death via Cryonics.”
Just a few days ago in a completely unrelated story in the New York Times magazine, I talked about the fact that in an interview Larry King the cable news interviewer had indicated that he intended to have his body frozen after death on as he acknowledged, the very thin hope that one day, if science were to cure whatever kills him, his body might be thought out and he might be returned to life, that is the so-called technology of cryonics. It was very telling that Larry King acknowledged that the people, to use his own words, behind this technology are a bunch of crazies. But he claimed that this was the only hope that he had, identifying himself as an agnostic when it comes to the existence of God. He actually reveals himself, perhaps, to be more of an atheist, in terms of his actual belief system. But what made the interview with Larry King so interesting was that he pointed to cryonics as his hope, the hope that his body might be frozen and one day far likely into the future thawed out in the slim hope that he might be returned to life. It was also interesting that Larry King referred to the expense of this technology, indicating that for most people, it wasn’t an option. Other people, he said, have no hope.
The saddest thing in terms of the interview with Larry King is the fact that he has no hope for life after death in terms of anything that is close to the Christian gospel. He doesn’t even believe in the existence of God and in the article, he poked fun at those who do. In terms of that New York Times magazine interview with Larry King that ran just a few days ago, the most interesting thing from a Christian worldview perspective is just how rational Larry King’s worldview really is if indeed he does not believe in God. If one has no hope in God, and therefore one has no hope in life after death, that is God’s gift, then there is no reason why one would not cling to something as fantastical and to use Larry King’s word, crazy as cryonics, in the thin hope that there just might be some hope of life after death.
We contrasted this with the sure and certain hope, the only hope for life after death that comes through the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was Christ who said, I am the way, the truth and the life, who made very clear that through him and through the atonement he accomplished there is not only a hope for those who come to him by faith, but there is a real sure and certain hope of life after death. This truth is central to the summary of the gospel found in John 3:16, for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life. But what’s really interesting, as a matter fact just fascinating, is that just days after that Larry King interview ran in the New York Times magazine, here comes this story, based on a death that took place back in 2013 and it lands just yesterday on the front page of the New York Times, something important is going on here. Amy Harmon begins that story with these words,
“In the moments just before Kim Suozzi died of cancer at age 23, it fell to her boyfriend, Josh Schisler, to follow through with the plan to freeze her brain.
“As her pulse monitor sounded its alarm and her breath grew ragged, he fumbled for his phone. Fighting the emotion that threatened to paralyze him, he alerted the cryonics team waiting nearby and called the hospice nurses to come pronounce her dead. Any delay would jeopardize the chance to maybe, someday, resurrect her mind.”
Writing about the young woman and her boyfriend, Harmon writes,
“They knew how strange it sounded, the hope that Kim’s brain could be preserved in subzero storage so that decades or centuries from now, if science advanced, her billions of interconnected neurons could be scanned, analyzed and converted into computer code that mimicked how they once worked.”
The story also cites, Winfried Denk, a director at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Germany, who said,
“I can see within, say, 40 years that we would have a method to generate a digital replica of a person’s mind. It’s not my primary motivation, but it is a logical outgrowth of our work.”
The story also tells us the other neuroscientists do not take that idea very seriously,
“Given the great gaps in knowledge about the workings of the brain.”
As Harmon’s story in the New York Times makes clear, this is not widely accepted science nor is it by any means a proved technology. That’s an understatement. As a matter of fact, no one who has been frozen has ever been returned to life in any form, nor as the Christian worldview tells us, should there be any confidence whatsoever in any such technology. As a matter of fact, the Bible actually goes further than that, in the book of Hebrews we are told that it is appointed unto man once to die, and after that the judgment. This strange secular and fringe scientific hope for life after death is as empty as it is to use Larry King’s word, crazy. And yet, the fact that it ran in the New York Times magazine as an issue just days ago, and then yesterday made the front page of the New York Times tells us something deeply significant. I think more than anything else, what it tells us is that even in this incredibly, increasingly secularized age, there is still the deep human consciousness of the fact that if this life is all there is, we are doomed.
Speaking specifically to Christians in 1 Corinthians 15, the Apostle Paul says, if we have hope for Christ in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. The Christian worldview reminds us that every single one of us as human beings is made in God’s image and one dimension of being made in God’s image is the fact that there is within us, built into our very being, a knowledge of the fact that we are creatures made by a creator and there is within us as is even reflected in the book of Ecclesiastes, a knowledge of eternity and that knowledge calls to us. It’s a knowledge that is haunting in this front-page story the New York Times. It is a knowledge that takes many bizarre forms once the Christian truth claim is abandoned, amongst the strangest these forms is this incredible fringe science, known as cryonics. This is indeed a heartbreaking story. It’s the heartbreaking story of a young woman who was given a terminal diagnosis even as she was a college student. It’s the tragic story of the fact that she confronted her death at such a young age, but that heartbreak is multiplied by the fact that she describes herself in the story as an agnostic science geek and she was also to develop the romantic relationship with the young man who became her boyfriend, who held to a similar worldview.
According to the article, Kim and her boyfriend first discussed the possibility of achieving a kind of immortality, because of a book that had been assigned to one of Tim’s classes, a class on cognitive science. The book was Ray Kurzweil’s book, The Age of Spiritual Machines. According to the article,
“Mr. Kurzweil and others who call themselves transhumanists [we’ve discussed them on The Briefing previously] have argued that exponential increases in computing power will generate an assortment of new technologies that will enable us to transcend our bodies and upload our minds onto a computer.”
Eventually, Kim driven by her own agnostic worldview can do believe the cryonics was her only hope for any kind of survival after her death. She eventually went to the website, Reddit in order to raise the $80,000 necessary for what’s called cryopreservation. Eventually, she with the assistance of some of those who were behind the movement raised the needed $80,000 and when her death took place in 2013, her brain was indeed frozen. There’s more to the anatomy and physiology of this story and it is detailed in very gruesome form in the New York Times and its there for every reader to find.
In another very interesting section of the article, she wrote to her boyfriend at one point saying,
“You are a pattern of electrical signals.”
That’s not exactly, we should note, the kind of romantic message one is likely to find in a greeting card for Valentine’s Day, but it does summarize her worldview and her understanding of what it means to be human. I repeat the words, “You are a pattern of electrical signals.”
To put the matter bluntly, if that’s all there is to being human, if all we are is just a collection of electrical signals, then there is no real meaning to human life and for that matter, there’s no real craziness to the idea of cryopreservation or anything else that might give a human being desperate and thinking about eternity some slim hope. Kim Suozzi estimated about a one to two percent hope for herself in some form of life after death. One has to wonder, looking at the story, if the readers of the New York Times would take this so-called science seriously. But it’s far more serious to ask, do they take the knowledge of eternity seriously? Are they concerned at all about what happens after death? You know the very fact that this story appeared just days after the Larry King interview on the front page of the New York Times tells us, very revealingly, that of course they do. They do think about life after death, they do think about eternity and in this article is an affirmation of what is written in the book of Ecclesiastes, God has put eternity into every one of our hearts. And as the great theologian Augustine said,
“Our hearts are restless until they find our rest in God.”
And as the Bible assures us, that rest will be found and will only be found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Medical associations help California assisted suicide law pass and UK bill fail
Next on the related issue of euthanasia and assisted suicide, two huge developments as we went into the weekend, in the first place in California, as Ian Lovett of the Times reports,
“In a landmark victory for supporters of assisted suicide, the California state legislature on Friday gave its final approval to a bill that would allow doctors to help terminally ill people and their own lives.”
The big political background of this is the fact that the California legislature turned back similar legislation just a matter of a few weeks ago. But in a special session called for other purposes, proponents of the bill pushed it through and it was adopted by the legislature on Friday. It now goes to California Governor Jerry Brown who must do one of three things, either sign the bill or veto the bill, or do nothing and within 12 days the bill will pass into law. If he does not veto the bill and he simply allows it to pass into law, the effect will be the same as if he signs the bill. This is putting Jerry Brown in a very interesting position, because even as he is the Governor of California, serving as you’ll recall as that state’s chief executive decades after he first served in that role, Jerry Brown is not only a liberal Democrat, he was also a former Roman Catholic seminarian and at least on the issue assisted suicide, he has sent signals that he did not support the legislation. But there is no clear signal that he will not sign it or that he will not simply allow it to pass into law. The law adopted Friday by the California legislature is modeled after a very similar law in Oregon. If California does become the next state to legalize doctor assisted suicide, it would become the fifth state in the United States to do so. As Ian Lovett reports for the Times,
“Since Oregon approved the country’s first assisted-suicide law in 1997, supporters have struggled to expand their reach, amid opposition from religious groups, some medical organizations and lawmakers whose skepticism crosses party lines.”
One of the legislators in California behind the bill identified as Mark Leno, a Democrat from San Francisco said,
“It allows for individual liberty and freedom, freedom of choice.”
He went on to compare the issue of assisted suicide to same-sex marriage. Here you see again the actual worship of personal liberty and personal autonomy, the worship of the very idea of choice, now that is extended to the very end of life and to the claim that to be truly human and to be truly autonomous means we must have control over our own destiny when it comes to the end of our lives. Choosing what is described in the word euthanasia, a so-called good death and that means death on our terms. The Christian worldview reminds us that our life is God’s gift, we have no right to terminate that gift and we have no right to claim an autonomy to even consider doing so. One of most important sections of Lovett’s article includes these words,
“Opinion within the medical community here has also begun to shift. After decades of opposing physician-assisted suicide, the California Medical Association switched its position this year, adopting a neutral stance and stressing that the decision was a personal one for doctors and patients to make.”
Some months ago we discussed the shift in the position of the California Medical Association and we pointed to just how ominous that shift is. And the shift in this case is supposedly from opposition to doctor assisted suicide to a neutral position. But on an issue like this neutrality is not only moral cowardice, it is actually an insubstantial and inauthentic position. This kind of neutrality is actually a veiled form of support for the legislation and it is cited by the proponents of the bill as one of the reasons why it passed in Friday in terms of the California legislature. California, thus, is Ground Zero in the United States right now for the issue of human dignity when it comes to the end of life, and especially when it comes to doctor assisted suicide.
But I said there are two developments over the weekend. The other took place in the United Kingdom, where in Britain Parliament turned down decisively a very similar piece of legislation. A law proposed in Parliament that was modeled also after the Oregon legislation, but it failed overwhelmingly in the British Parliament and one of the reasons it failed was because according to reports from the British medical authorities, only one in seven physicians in Britain said they would even consider taking part in a physician-assisted suicide. The medical establishment in the United Kingdom there in Britain is and remains decidedly against the idea of doctors participating in bringing about death. Trevor Grundry reporting for religion news service writes,
“British parliamentarians on Friday soundly rejected a right-to-die bill that would have allowed people with less than six months to live to end their life legally.
“Only 118 members of Parliament voted in favor of the bill while 330 voted against it. Prime Minister David Cameron opposed any effort to legalize assisted dying.”
Here you see that on one day, on Friday of last week, you had America’s most populous state, through its legislature approve physician-assisted suicide, largely because the medical authorities withdrew their opposition, while in Great Britain the bill also modeled on the very same type of legislation failed overwhelmingly because the medical establishment there in the United Kingdom was resolutely on the side of life when it came to the end of life, not on the side of death. They did not believe that physicians should participate in any way in bringing about death. Those who oppose the idea physician-assisted suicide often rightly point to the fact that it never stops even with physician-assisted suicide as dangerous as that is. It continues to euthanasia, often from a voluntary euthanasia to what can only be described as involuntary euthanasia. Again, those who oppose assisted suicide and euthanasia are often claimed as using slippery slope arguments. To his credit, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Anglican Communion, and the chief prelate of the Church of England said,
“Some slopes are slippery.”
And undeniably true statement. The Archbishop of Canterbury was joined by Lord Ribeiro, the former President of the Royal College of surgeons, currently a member of the House of Lords in
The British Parliament who said bluntly,
“Assisted suicide has no place in the British healthcare system.”
For now, and again we have to say for now, the British Parliament has decisively turned back an effort to legalize physician-assisted suicide. Now all eyes are on California Governor Jerry Brown with the clock ticking he has a huge decision to make. Will he veto the bill? Will he sign the bill? Or will he simply let the bill pass into law? Either way, we have to recognize this and so does he, it is a matter of life and death.
Time Magazine raises the question of the expiration of mongamy
Next, this week’s cover story in Time magazine is about major questions facing our society and the headline over the masthead is this,“Is monogamy over?”
Now what’s really important about this particular issue of time magazine is not so much the articles that are included under this theme. Most of them are rather superficial and for that matter, rather predictable. There are columns in this particular question area of the article that are written by those who claim that monogamy is simply invalidated by the realities of human evolution. And yet, even that author concedes it’s important for children to have a mother and a father. So for that reason he argues, practically monogamy might still have a value. There are those who are arguing that monogamy is simply over and there are those who are arguing that monogamy should continue and of course predictably, there’s an article calling for the legalization of polygamy. Again, the articles are superficial, they are largely sensationalist and they’re not very important. What is important is the signal that is sent on the front cover of Time magazine. When Time magazine, long considered one of the most important and influential sources in this society, raises the open question “Is monogamy over?” That’s a very telling development. The fact that Time not only listed the question among those considered by the magazine, but highlighted it above all others and put the question above its masthead in this week’s issue, well that’s the really telling thing. It tells us that in our society, the elites are already asking the question, is monogamy over? In this case it’s not the responses to the question that are all that important, it’s the question, and how the question was asked and where the question was asked. The background to the question in Time magazine is implied that monogamy is simply an idea, perhaps an idea that has outlived its date in usefulness. And yet for Christians, of course, monogamy is not an idea. It’s not even just an ideal. Monogamy is a command and that command, to state the very obvious, will never be over.
Republican candidates narrow before a single vote cast
Finally, if you are counting, there were 17 now there are 16 declared candidates for the Republican nomination for President of the United States. Also on Friday, former Texas Governor Rick Perry announced that he was suspending his campaign, which means he’s basically ending his campaign for the Republican nomination. Rick Perry served as governor of Texas for 14 years, more than any other person who ever held that office. In any normal presidential election cycle, he would be a formidable candidate, especially for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, but not this year. Henry Barbour, one of the consultants for the Perry campaign said,
“People want to see the new candidates and we’re in a cable news reality TV primary. It’s a weird dynamic.”
That’s probably an understatement. And so it’s interesting that Rick Perry has suspended his campaign before a single vote has been cast in a presidential primary or caucus. He may have been the first to drop out of the Republican race, but he will not be the last, you can count on that. And his consultant was absolutely right when he said,
“We’re in a cable news reality TV primary.”
He went on, you recall to say,
“It’s a weird dynamic.”
Well, that’s profoundly true. And it’s not over, not even close.