November 10, 2015
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, November 10, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Obama immigration executive order blocked by court, sets up Supreme Court ruling
By any measure yesterday was a big day in the news. It was a big day and a bad day for President Obama. The fifth U.S. circuit Court of Appeals in a three-judge panel ruled 2 to 1 against his efforts to change American immigration policy by executive order. This sets up a likely appeal to the United States Supreme Court by the president and it sets up another big constitutional question to be confronted by this court even before the end of President Obama’s term. As we look at President Obama’s administration, we note that he has been more willing than any previous president to make major changes in American policy by executive order. This has raised many questions including those of constitutionality and eventually those questions often arrive at the United States Supreme Court, especially a question of this magnitude. That raises an interesting aspect of this particular issue. It may well be that if the Supreme Court hears this case; it does so only after President Obama has left office. That will make it an even more interesting question as the court may decide it.Show Full Transcript
University of Missouri system president resigns in midst of racial concerns
Big news also came yesterday in Missouri where the President of the University of Missouri system and the Chancellor of the campus, the main University campus in Columbia, Missouri announced that they would be resigning in light of massive protests over racial issues that have developed not only on that campus and in the University of Missouri system, but throughout the state of Missouri and especially with the epicenter in Ferguson, Missouri with the very significant upheavals there. The resignations of the University of Missouri system came after a significant number of African-American football players and then a significant number of faculty either walked out or threatened to walkout from their duties and responsibilities in protest of a lack of action by the administration of the University in light of several recent racial incidents. It is not yet clear how we are to understand the full meaning of these recent events that took place in Missouri, especially yesterday, but as we look to weeks and months ahead it is likely that this will be an unfolding story and one we will watch quite carefully.
Concern about trajectory of nation shared by both partisan groups, with problem differing
Next, yesterday’s edition of the Baltimore Sun had a very interesting headline story,
“Values, Outlook Worry Voters.”
David Lauter reporting for Tribune newspapers and for the Baltimore Sun tells us of a recent poll that shows unease with the economy on the one hand and changes in morality on the other. Recently we talked about a major story in the New York Times indicating that the great partisan divide in the United States is not only over the answers to the questions, the fundamental questions facing our society, but over the questions themselves. This is a similar report based upon recent research. Lauter writes,
“One year before the presidential election, a pervasive disquiet has shaped voter attitudes, with a majority of Republicans pessimistic about moral values and the increasing diversity of the country’s population, and Democrats uneasy about an economy they see as tilted toward the rich.”
The subhead of the article is really interesting because it gets back to that previous New York Times analysis about the fact that in the partisan divide there’s not even an agreement about what the major crises are or what the framing questions are. In this case, Lauter points to research showing that on the Democratic side, there is incredible unease in the very base of Democratic voters, but that unease is primarily directed towards matters of the economy and in particular was identified as economic inequality. On the other side of the partisan divide the major concerns are moral, thus the subhead in the article,
“Poll shows unease with economy and changes in morals.”
But the interesting thing is not really revealed by that subhead. If you read those words, you might think that the same people were concerned mutually about the economy and morality. But as the article makes clear, it is two different groups of people with these two very different sets of primary concerns. Lauter reports,
“By more than 2 to 1, voters nationally say they are more worried than hopeful about changes in the country’s morals and values. By nearly the same margin, more worry than express hope about the changing national economy.”
That’s really interesting. Because once again you could believe at least at this point in the article that you’re talking about Americans writ large sharing these two huge concerns. But as the story unfolds, these are two different groups of Americans and their concerns are rooted as we know in two different worldviews. On the Republican side, on the social conservative side, there is a deep and abiding concern about the nation’s morals and yet we need to notice that was a 2 to 1 ratio. By a 2 to 1 measure, Americans are very concerned about the moral direction of the country, and we would add, there is good reason for that. And the reasons for that have not only to do with the frontline headline issues, but with the very issues we just talked about in terms of the unrest in the University Missouri campus. There are moral issues that range from racism to abortion, to euthanasia to same-sex marriage, all across the moral front there are very serious issues at stake and a direction that is now being perceived that worries fully two out of three Americans. But on the Democratic side, economic insecurity and economic inequality are the primary issues.
Lauter argues that this explains the unexpected popularity of Bernie Sanders, a declared socialist, the independent Senator from Vermont who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, most importantly against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Lauter points to research indicating that Bernie Sanders has gained support not only in the left wing of the Democratic Party, but among independents who generally vote Democratic and would be expected to be more supportive of former Secretary of State Clinton, but that’s not the case and Lauter suggests it is because there is a very deep concern about economic insecurity and economic inequality in terms of the left of this country. And that includes, once again, a large number of Americans measured by the millions. This is a very interesting study. It doesn’t tell us that there are no individuals that share the concerns across the spectrum. But the research is very clear we’re really talking fundamentally about two different groups of Americans who have two very different concerns about why the country is headed in a wrong direction. But what makes this report, even perhaps most interesting is the fact that a vast majority of Americans agree that the country is headed in the wrong direction. They’re just not an agreement about why the direction is wrong or how it is to be fixed.
The article cites Neil Newhouse, a veteran Republican pollster who says,
“That sense of the country headed the wrong way has been true now for a dozen years, through two presidencies.”
And what makes that interesting is that one was a conservative Republican and the other was a liberal Democrat and that tells us that there is deep unease that is bipartisan and transcends many of those partisan divide. But the roots of that unease and the way that unease is defined varies radically between these two groups and we understand why, it is because they operate fundamentally out of two very different worldviews.
Study finds journalists, interpreters of news overwhelmingly identify as politically liberal
And next, speaking of worldview, there was a stunning front-page story in yesterday’s edition of the Washington Times. The article by Kelly Riddell reports on academic research indicating that the vast majority of practicing journalists lean not only Democratic but very liberal in worldview. As Riddell reports,
“A mere 7 percent of journalists identify as Republicans, and when they do give money to political campaigns they usually donate to Democrats, lending evidence to Republican presidential candidates’ claims that they are facing a hostile audience when they deal with the press.”
As Riddell reports, the research indicates that those journalists who identify as Democrats outnumber those who identify as Republicans by 4 to 1. And the research here is by Lars Willnat and David Weaver, professors of journalism at Indiana University. According to the report,
“They found 28 percent of journalists call themselves Democrats, while just 7 percent call themselves Republicans — though both numbers are down from the 1970s. Those identifying as independent have grown.”
As you get closer to Washington D.C. the numbers are even more distorted. The report indicates that,
“More than 90 percent of D.C. journalists vote Democratic, with an even higher number giving to Democrats or liberal-leaning political action committees.”
That analysis was attributed to author Tim Groseclose. Later, the article cites David D’Alessio, a communications sciences professor at the University of Connecticut at Stamford. He says,
“There is bias in the press, but his research shows it evens out.”
He said and I quote,
“If you stop to think about media as larger than just reporters and owners, they’re business entities and their job is to make money. If you look at where people’s opinions are, they are in the middle, so that’s where a lot of reporting goes because that’s where the eyeballs go.”
Well, as many people look at this analysis, it’s hard to believe that actually the press is aiming for the middle, but he does make an interesting point. Reporters are not alone in terms of the news making business. Journalists are matched by editors and producers, advertisers and yes others in the executive suites of major media, who are also shaping the news that we see. But by an overwhelming analysis, it’s clear that the majority of the mainstream media skews rather significantly to the left and in favor of Democrats. Again, 90 percent of journalists in Washington, D.C. vote Democratic. That should tell us something. But for Christians there’s another very interesting question here, which comes first, the media attention or the values? Which comes first, the media reporting or the affected worldview? This article makes a very interesting point. It cites research undertaken by Alan Gerber, a political science professor at Yale University. He studied people in Metropolitan Washington, D.C. who had been offered a free subscription to either the Washington Post, which leans left or to the Washington times, that leans right, and for several weeks they were given this free subscription ahead of the gubernatorial election. By Professor Gerber’s analysis, the Washington Post during those weeks skewed left just about as much as the Washington times leaned right. This is how the article concludes,
“In a survey he conducted after the election, Mr. Gerber found those who were given a free subscription of The Post were 8 percentage points more likely to vote for the Democratic candidate for governor than those assigned to the control group.”
So that tells us that those who read the Washington Post had their worldview affected to the extent that by an eight percent margin they began to vote Democratic. But wait just a minute, this evidence doesn’t actually tell us that, because these individuals chose the Washington Post as a free subscription rather than the Washington times.
So what we should learn from this as Christians is that the relationship between worldview and media consumption probably works both ways. It’s almost assuredly true that our worldview determines our inclination in terms of media habits and media preferences. In other words, what we believe in terms of worldview probably has a very significant effect on the choices we make in terms of the media we consume and how we analyze that media. But at the same time the opposite principle is also true, profoundly true. The media we watch and consume also affect the development of our worldview and inevitably so. Because the media that we read, that we watch, that we analyze, the media that has an influence in our lives and in our thinking, eventually this will show up at the most fundamental level. Our worldview thus influences our engagement with the media. But perhaps in an even more powerful way, our engagement with the media affects our worldview. Christians need to be very mindful of both of these patterns.
Authoritative view of science overlooks role of politics in scientific formulation
Next, another very important worldview issue that Christians must keep in mind in our contemporary culture in our context is the authority of science. As a matter of fact, it’s very interesting that that one word, science is often used in isolation now as if it is an independent authority. People will say science says, or science proves, but there is no such thing in that sense of science. Science is made up of people and science is a project and science is not a unified whole. And furthermore, it is a method, an intellectual method rather than an assumed and complete body of knowledge. That’s what makes a couple of articles that appeared in a single day in the New York Times very interesting. Sunday’s edition of the New York Times included an article by David Kaiser entitled,
“How Politics Shaped General Relativity.”
It’s a really interesting article. Kaiser is a professor at MIT, that is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he is a physicist. He writes about November of the year 1915, where in one lecture each week Albert Einstein rose to the podium at the Prussian Academy of sciences to deliver what Kaiser called,
“Updates on what he came to call his “general theory of relativity.”
Kaiser tells us that Einstein was,
“Working at a frenzied pace, adjusting details between each presentation. By the end of the month, he had arrived at a form for his equations that physicists still use today. Elegant and crisp, they are brief enough to tweet.
“In the 100 years since, Einstein’s theory has been famously successful.”
But the major point of his article is that back in 1915, and even in the decades that followed his theory wasn’t so successful. One of the barriers he writes about here is explicitly political. There was political opposition not just scientific opposition; there was explicit political opposition to Albert Einstein. Politics explained why Albert Einstein’s lectures on general relativity were limited to the German Academy and why during a time of war, let’s remember World War I was taking place at this time, there was no way that his ideas could be vetted or gain an erring in Great Britain or in the United States. In years afterward anti-Semitism reared its head in Germany and Albert Einstein would eventually emigrate to the United States, he eventually landed at the Institute for advanced studies at Princeton University and his general theory of relativity had a very different hearing here in the United States.
But Kaiser raises a very important point. Science is not an adventure that simply takes place in a political vacuum. Science is something that takes place like every other element of culture in a context in which other things are happening and other authorities are present and as is in the case of this particular article, politics plays a role, economics plays a role, the prevailing moral climate certainly plays a role, and it’s hard to overestimate the role that a world war would play in the same endeavor. But that’s another very interesting aspect of this question, because Kaiser’s making the point that when you’re looking at science often times politics can in a very identifiable way be traced as an influence in terms of science and its development or its lack of development. But then in the very same section comes an article with the headline,
“The Price of Denialism.”
It’s by Lee McIntyre, he’s a research fellow at the Center for Philosophy and History of Science at Boston University. He writes,
“With the United Nations’ conference on climate change set to begin in Paris this month, and the presidential election only a year away.”
What Lee McIntyre is trying to do is to sideline, marginalize and silence anyone who would question what is now claimed to be the mainstream scientific consensus on climate change. He looks at two words, one is skeptic and the other is the denialist. He’s arguing that those who claim to be skeptics related to climate change actually should be labeled denialists and he has a very clear political ambition in view. He wants to silence, he wants to marginalize, he wants to end any major media attention to anyone, whether a scientist or otherwise, who would question the prevailing arguments now about climate change. He suggests that using the word skeptic actually gives too much intellectual credibility to those he says should be called denialists because they are denying science. But this just makes me wonder, how can anyone read the article by David Kaiser arguing that in the case of Albert Einstein politics was very influential in terms of how even his general theory of relativity was either received or not received, how can we consider that that’s important, and then turn and find that in the next article, Lee McIntyre is arguing for an explicit political agenda when it comes to science. And yet, of course, he doesn’t admit that it’s a political agenda. He doesn’t do so explicitly but he states it actually when he says that he’s writing with the United Nations conference on climate change very much in mind and as he says the 2016 presidential election.
There’s no way to cite those issues in the foreground without acknowledging he’s making a political point and he makes that abundantly clear. He goes so far as to say that not only should those who in any way question the prevailing theory of climate change be identified as denialists rather than skeptic. At the conclusion of the article he actually calls them ideological crackpots. This flies in the face of the fact that many of them are credentialed and very influential scientists. But there’s a very interesting point from the Christian worldview to be made here. It turns out that science is always in every case, at least taking place in the political context, if not driven by political ambitions. Science as an intellectual enterprise does not take place independent of a foundational worldview, nor does it take place in some sanitized world apart from political, economic and social considerations, not to mention moral issues. The debate over climate science will continue, and Christians have a stake in this especially because of our understanding of the fact that the cosmos isn’t an accident, but rather it is God’s creation, for his glory and for our pleasure and the fact that we are given not only the responsibility of shared dominion, but we are also given the responsibility as stewards.
But as we look at the unfolding controversies related to climate change, it is very interesting that in Sunday’s edition of the New York Times there was an article lamenting the fact that political pressures silenced in many ways, Albert Einstein in terms of his general theory of relativity and then there is an article driven by an explicit political agenda arguing for shutting down discussion about climate change and doing so in an explicitly political and coercive manner. So to go back to the principles learned in the last issue. It turns out that even as our media engagement influences our worldview and our worldview influences are media engagement, it turns out that our worldview also influences science and once again our understanding of science influences our worldview. And by the very same measure Christians need to be very attentive and aware of both principles.
Morality looms large even in article on demand for 'natural' food for dogs
Finally, as we mentioned issues of economic inequality and also matters of the intersection of economics and morality, a very interesting article appeared yesterday in the Washington Post. It didn’t appear to have much moral meaning attached to it, but upon closer look I believe that it does. The article is in the value added column by Thomas Heath and he writes about a couple that has started a very upscale business in terms of natural food for cats and dogs. As Heath tells us this couple started their business,
“Just as people were focusing on healthy foods for themselves.”
The couple figured out that healthy food for pets was next. The wife told the reporter,
“We hit the market at a very key time. There was an increase in demand in the human food industry for organic and healthy food. So because pets are part of the proverbial family, people began thinking about what they were putting in their pet bowls.”
So as the article continues, it’s clear that this is a very upscale business for natural and organic foods for cats and dogs, primarily for dogs, but also increasingly for cats. As you might expect it’s quite pricey. As the article says,
“On the long raw-food list, you have your pick of things like six pounds of raw rabbit patties for $53.25, frozen ham bone two-count for $9.50 or two pounds of beef chub for $11.99.”
Just to state the obvious, this is extremely expensive food for dogs and this is a society that is now harboring enough interest in natural and organic food for pets that this business is not only thriving but expanding. So there are people who evidently in large number are ready to spend $53.25 for six pounds of raw rabbit patties for a dog. You just have to wonder when you see an article like this where is all this supposed interested in economic inequality among the people who according to most demographic analysis will be leaning left politically, and as they say they’re very concerned about economic inequality and then turn around and spend this kind of money on dog food. Dogs, you remember, are naturally scavengers. This is a very interesting story and it’s not one of the greatest moral importance considering other major headlines and events facing us. But it does tell us something, we live in a society where people are ready to spend over $50 for a few pounds of raw organic natural rabbit for their dog. There seems to be no acknowledgment whatsoever that there just might be a moral issue involved here. But it turns out that morality is inescapable and sometimes can even lean large in an article about pet food.